The cupboard is bare... oh no ours isn't!
Our store cupboard always has the essentials needed to make a meal. It's one of those things that goes back a long way, to the years when we really struggled to make ends meet as work was very seasonal. One thing I learned was what was needed to be able to put together a simple healthy and filling meal when times were tough. Old habits die hard and I still keep those things in the cupboard, just in case... after all, if we get snowed in we'd be stuck! :)
So what do we have in our store cupboard... well here is our list of essentials:
Green and red OXO, plus own brand basic vegetable stockcubes. The basic ones are only around 35p for a box so not worth being without but be aware that some of them contain milk so are unsafe for anyone with a dairy or lactose intolerance. (No we didn't realise that at first either!) OXO we tend to buy when they are on a special offer as they keep well if in a dry space.
Tinned Vegetables. We have red kidney beans, butter beans, chick peas, and chopped plum tomatoes. We get all ours from ALDI, and they are usually around the 25p-35p/tin mark. As well as adding colour and texture interest to a meal, they can be used to bulk out a small quantity of meat or fish and make it go further. They are also very handy for making soups and stews with, and being tinned you can just open, rinse and use. Tinned tomatoes are great for making a simple pasta sauce, and much cheaper than buying ready made jars of pasta sauce!
Tinned fish. Ours are usually ALDI tinned sardines in tomato sauce (around 39p./tin) and ALDI anchovies (around 60p/tin), plus any other tinned fish that we may happen across as a reasonable price - this is often herring if we are in LIDL or ALDI, although we do sometimes pick up other tinned fish in places like Home Bargains or Poundland - once we found tinned crab at 69p/tin in HB which was worth stocking up on! ALDI also stock line-caught tinned tuna at £2.50 for 4 tins.
Herbs. We use loads of herbs in our cooking, and they are expensive in most supermarkets, so we buy ours from the Grape Tree shop in Kendal. A big tub for £2, and they have a great range of single herbs and mixtures, and often have a 3 for the price of 2 offer on as well. We tend to go once or twice a year and get what we need. They also have large bags of dried fruit and seeds, so it's a good excuse to stock up on those for baking too!
Pasta. Both Tesco and ASDA do 3 kilo bags of Fusilli (spirals) and Penne (tubes) which work out much cheaper than buying small bags. Once open, the contents get tipped into a large square airtight cake box, so it keeps well. Usually less than £3 for 3 kilo, both stores do offers on these big bags from time to time - we recently found them in Tesco for around £2.25, which is a good saving!
Rice. Cheap rice is pretty yucky in our experience! We tend to stick to two or three types: ALDI's Thai Jasmine rice (around £1.69/kilo) which is a good general savoury long-grain rice that cooks well in the steamer but goes a bit sticky if cooked in a pan of water, and Arborio risotto rice, which we get either from Tesco (£2/kilo) or LIDL (about the same price.) Arborio cooks well in the paella pan, wok or saucepan. Alex loves brown rice so we have to have that as well, even though it takes longer to cook. It does go so well with Cajun gumbo though!
Flour. We buy bags of flour from ALDI or LIDL (around 50p for plain/SR flour) and it gets used for all sorts of baking. We also have cornflour for making sauces, baking powder, and dried yeast (all from ALDI.)
Sugar. Again we buy white, Demerara, and dark brown sugar from ALDI as it tends to be much more economical than anywhere else. Our sugars are used for baking, pickling or brewing, not in tea or coffee!
Oats. As my son loves baking, oats are a staple in the store cupboard. Plain own-brand from ALDI or Tesco (around 75p/kilo) work just fine!
Golden syrup. Usually just over £1 - £1.20 for a tin from ALDI or Tesco, essential for that flapjack!
Fresh stuff we try and keep in...
Onions and Garlic. These go into practically everything we cook, meal-wise. They add flavour and help boost your immune system, and garlic keeps your heart healthy! We find them in ALDI much cheaper than anywhere else. Smoked garlic comes from Morrison's (huge bulbs!) at a fraction of the cost in the posher shops.
Potatoes. Red one from ALDI, which make the best mashed potato. Incidentally, leftover mash (if there is any!) can be used to make delicious potato cakes by adding a bit of flour and some herbs, then baking in the oven. I'll have to add the recipe one day soon!
Vegetables. Mushrooms, courgettes, peppers, carrots, leeks are all really useful to add flavour and texture to dishes, and keep well in the fridge. Ours come from ALDI (you might have guessed that!)
If you have a freezer then it is worth looking for bargains in the reduced section of the supermarkets, as many of them can be frozen safely for later use. Raw meat, fish, vegetables and bread all freeze well, as do most hard cheeses (not the soft ones!) and cooked meat. If the packs are big then split them into usable portion sizes before you freeze them. Pastry products such as pies, sausage rolls, and some cakes will also freeze.
In addition to buying our reduced bargain items (we bought two large joints of meat: one pork, one beef, for less than £8 total recently, and earlier in the year we picked up a whole large salmon for the same cost in Tesco!) we also buy fresh chilled meat from Booth's, our local supermarket. Booth's is more expensive for many things, but their meat is good quality and value, plus they do a 3 for £10 offer which saves a bit more. Their big trays of pork and beef meatballs, the chicken breasts, and their low-fat mince are genuinely the nicest we have found in any supermarket. They are all chilled, but they can be frozen on the day you buy them and they keep well.
Bacon, toasting muffins and Pink Lady apples we buy from ALDI, as this is our standard daily breakfast. ALDI fruit juice cartons are also excellent value at around 59p/litre, and come in a wide choice of flavours, not just apple and orange as in other supermarkets. Pomegranate, cranberry, pineapple, exotic, forest fruits, and others are all regular items in our trolley.
ALDI's own brand sweetened soya milk features on the blog regularly, and is much cheaper than Tesco or ASDA own brand, and according to Alex, much nicer in taste. ALDI's Greenvale butter and Tesco own brand baking fat are always in the fridge, and ALDI's Smoked Lardons (99p/200g) can be found lurking in our freezer, as they add a lovely flavour to soups and rice dishes. For vegan recipes we use PURE Soya or PURE Sunflower spread.
We do tend to shop around a bit, but it saves us a lot overall, especially as we combine shopping with other essential trips out!