Eat the pantry, continued

In Food on April 4, 2014 at 7:16 pm


I’ve just eaten a rather eccentric lunch. The last meat off the chicken – the bones and bits now simmering nicely in the stock pot – with warmed-up gravy poured over, with a side of last-possible-day salad leaves and beetroot.

It was absolutely delicious.

When I was assembling this Leftovers Lil repast I wondered whether I would want to admit to it, but with my tummy now full and smiling, I feel no shame. And it’s actually made me realise something.

We’ve all got caught up in a collective delusion that every meal we eat has to be some kind of landmark food event. It doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful cookery books and great food telly as much as everyone else. I adore fabulous food shops, farmers markets, artisan bakeries, ethnic eating adventures and all the other joys of lifestyle food.


I remember when it all started, in the 1990s with the glory days of Vogue Entertaining – when the peerless Sharyn Storrier-Lyneham was editor.

That was one of the defining experiences of my magazine life. Up there with the first few years of The Face and Wallpaper mag. Game changingly fab.

I still set those pages as my own entertaining benchmark. I want my table to look that generous, the food that tempting (and unfussy), my guests to look that happy.

But a quick lunch on my own at home, grabbed between stints of work and putting a few loads of washing on? Random bits of chicken and microwaved gravy is fine.

I wasn’t about to Instagram my plate (don’t get me started…), but it tasted great and filled the gap. Does it matter that it doesn’t have a name, or cultural reference? No. Sometimes a bit of simple grub is all that we need.

I don’t mean Cup-a-Soup, but as long as the ingredients you cooked with in the first place are good (cf the horrid potatoes in my earlier post), unadorned leftovers are fine.



So that was today’s revelation from Cooking My Pantry, an experience which is turning out to be giving me far more than clear shelves. Now nearing the end of Day 5, with some frozen fish and spinach planned for dinner, I’ve still spent less than £10 on food this week and I’m starting to understand a lot about the way we shop for food – and why.

Really annoyingly, I’m going away tomorrow, for at least a week, so I’ll have to leave the rest of my food mountain where it is for now. But when I’m back, Operation Clearance will continue.

Meanwhile, please tell me your stories and keep sending those links.

Cupboard Love Day Four

In Food on April 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm


I write this keeping an eye on the clock so I don’t forget the FLAPJACKS I have in the oven, although it’s quite hard to see out for my enormous halo…

The reason I’m making flapjacks is that Peggy needs to take food into school tomorrow, as she is staying behind for her dance show at 7pm. As we no longer do packed lunches I initially panicked thinking, ‘oh no, we don’t have that stuff in the house any more, I’ll have to go shopping…’

The old me would have gone straight to M&S for ham, cherry tomatoes, a tetra pack drink and a sugary snack, but no… cupboard love me stopped and thought.

We have left over chicken, there are plenty of carrots, still some pitas (although after this week, I never want to see them again…), apples, satsumas and she can take her water bottle. Then came the inspiration: and I can make some flapjacks.

So that’s her packed tea sorted and I haven’t had to buy a single thing, although I did treat her to a hot chocolate after school today because it had suddenly turned chilly and there was an hour before gymnastics.

As I handed over £2.20 for one hot drink, it made me think: that’s half of what I’ve spent on food this week. If I hadn’t bought the stupid biltong snacks o’shame on Monday it would have been the same.

Saving money wasn’t the inspiration for this project, I just wanted to clear my overstuffed pantry ready for fresh spring food, but it has really made me stop and think how much cash I’m wasting food shopping in such a careless manner.

Which makes it OK that I bought these fab new chairs for my garden this morning. (What a bargain at £50 for the four, including the perfect cushions.)

What I’ve eaten today:
Bircher muesli with prunes (another of Liedl’s finest lines).
Some random bits of salami and cherry tomatoes.
Toasted pitta bread with cold roast chicken, slightly limp salad from bag opened two days ago, cherry tomatoes, Hellman’s mayo.
Burnt corners of flapjacks, straight from oven.

Cupboard love day 3

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2014 at 8:45 pm


It’s so interesting to read in comments (and on Facebook and Twitter) how many of you also have groaning pantries, yet still keep buying food.

Also to hear something I didn’t know about one my best pals (yoohoo Miss Nicki Davidson…) that she clears all her cupboards once every three months using this method. And she’s a caterer, so she knows from food and says she has fun making tasty meals from whatever’s there.

Particular thanks to Golly Gumboots (who blogs here for putting me onto The $21 Challenge by Fiona Lippey and Jackie Gower.

This Aussie duo came up with the idea of eating only cupboard love style – plus $21 (about £12) to spend on a few extras to make your meals work – one week each month.

They claim families could save $3,600 (£2000) a year doing this, which would be a great bonus on top of the feel good eco factor I’m getting out of it.

I struggled with the poor graphic design of the website (a magazine editor’s eye never leaves you…) and testimonials mentioning powdered milk, but it’s worth a look.


Here’s what we ate today.

For me, my usual Bircher-style muesli with oats, grated apple, cold milk and yogurt. Peggy had a tortilla with grilled cheese and an orange.

Leftover kidney bean burger from last night in a pita with lots of chili ketchup, and a side salad including beetroot.

The roast chicken, gravy and frozen peas. We had a bit of a disaster with the mashed potato. I peeled every potato I had with the idea of having some mash tonight and then using the rest tomorrow (the most versatile of leftovers…)

Peggy wanted to do the mashing and unfortunately I left her to it, only to turn round and see she had put half a pint of milk in it. So we had a thick potato soup.

I haven’t binned it, I have an idea to make vichyssoise, but I think part of the problem was the nasty potatoes I’d bought in Morrisons (a second rate UK supermarket, without the sick thrill of the Euro budget chains Liedl and Aldi). The last lot of mash I made with them was also pretty yuk. So I’m going to have to decide whether it would be throwing good food after bad to try and rescue it.

Memo to self: never buy anything ever again from Morrisons apart from branded goods.

squirrel nuts

For pudding we had something verrry unlikely, semolina.

I found a big jar of it at the back of a shelf, leftover from when I made roast potatoes Nigella style, which involves tossing the parboiled spuds in the stuff (not worth the effort).

It’s quite mellow here tonight and not really semonlina weather, but with a blob of jam it was a novel treat – which I was pleased a 21st century child was prepared to try – but I think it will take a while to finish that jar.

So far, including the off piste biltong and pork scratchings I’ve spent £4.95 ($9) on food this week. That’s less than my lunch normally costs me.

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Anti-poverty campaigner for Oxfam and Child POverty Action Group, and supporting the Trussell Trust. Guardian recipe columnist. Mother. Food blogger. Cookbook author. Twitter@ :MsJackMonroe

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