Meal Planner

Basic store cupboard items - from jam to eggs - are indispensable in every kitchen, but they really come into their own when you have to produce an interesting yet unexpected meal. A few carefully-thought-out items are well worth buying and storing, as they will prove invaluable for unscheduled meals. 

Using your Store cupboard 


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Choosing food to store 

The first problem is deciding which store cupboard items to keep in stock. The list of modern convenience food - whether dried, canned, packaged or bottled - is endless; no one could keep every type. Just because they may be needed unexpectedly, one needs to keep store items to cope with all situations, especially if you do not own a freezer. Work out the possibilities and keep a few stores to cope with each type of emergency - chiefly family emergencies and slightly better meals fit for guests. 

Dry Goods

Basic dry goods are the first  'must' because they are multi-purpose, and are bulky fillers. Rice or pasta supplies a complete meal with just a sauce and garnish and can be used for sweet dishes too. Choose long-grain rice because you can get away with using it for either a savory risotto or sweet pudding at a pinch. Spaghetti is a must: keep elbow-cut macaroni too, as it will do for side dishes, main courses, soups and salads. 

* For a quick main pasta dish, layer parboiled pasta with a rich sauce in an oven-to table dish. Sprinkle well with buttered breadcrumbs for some oatmeal and put in a moderate oven for 20-30 minutes, or until heated through. This type of dish is useful because you can prepare and chill it ahead; or if you want a super after an outing to the cinema, you can leave it in the oven at the lowest heat, loosely covered with foil - it will wait good-temperedly.

Canned fish and meat

Pasta or rice can be layered with chopped luncheon meat, corned beef or ham, together with a suitable sauce, to make first class family meals. Canned pink salmon used in this way can make an emergency bake fit for guests, if the layers of salmon are sprinkled wit dry white vermouth and the finished dish is garnished with some canned prawns. Keep rather more interesting canned goods like these on your shelf in anticipation of unexpected guests rather than sardines or herring fillets in sauce which have insistent flavors and betray their source at once. 

* For an almost 'instant' informal guest meal, roll quick-cooked lasagne sheets round canned fish or meat mixed in a little thick sauce sharpened with sherry. Sprinkle the rolls with grated Parmesan cheese, and heat briefly in a hot oven. For alternative fillings, try mixing chopped cooked bacon with tuna, or a few canned oysters (Japanese ones are cheapest) with left-over or canned chicken. 

* For a family snack, mix canned liver pate with sliced canned grilling mushrooms and beaten egg as a filing for halved, hollowed diner rolls. heat through, then top with chopped cocktail gherkins. 

* Canned artichoke hearts stuffed with tuna give a lift to frozen fish fillets. 

Canned Vegetables and pulses

We are all so used to frozen vegetables that we forget the standby value of caned ones, including pulses. Most vegetables need only a few moments' reheating with butter; improve this flavor by adding a little lemon juice. Or they can just be drained and tossed in dressing for salads. 

    Canned tomatoes and pimentos are good for their color and flavor and are cheaper than fresh ones. Canned new potatoes are delicious: canned sweetcorn kernels add color to an otherwise drab dish. More versatile, however, are the familiar dried beans - butter, cannelloni and red kidney and the canned variety saves hours of pot watching. Use them whole instead of pasta, or in stews, Mashed to a paste, they can be uses as thickening for soups, or for stuffing's. 


Canned soups are a ready-made first course - though accelerated freeze-dried ones (powders in packets) take up less space. Be creative about them, Eggs and cheese can all be added to consomme or float sieved hard-boiled egg yolks, chopped parsley and, of course, croutons on top. Dry sherry or white vermouth or a pinch of cayenne pepper or nutmeg will add individuality to commercial soups. Always check your vegetable drawers for those few fresh additions that will lift the basic soup. 


You need a sauce to make almost any plain store-cupboard food appetizing. Condensed soup makes the best type of sauce. Always keep in stock one white type, (cream of mushroom is the most useful) and one thick brown soup. 

* Sprinkle a white soup with lemon juice and a touch of grated nutmeg, or mix in a spoonful of cream and sprinkle with dry white vermouth. 

* Add sherry or Madeira to a brown soup. or try tomato ketchup and paprika. 

* Soy sauce or walnut ketchup will add spiciness to a brown soup to make a sauce for steak. 

* Add to either a white or brown soup any suitable fresh herbs to hand; for instance chopped feathery fennel for a white fish dish, basil for tomato or brown dishes. 


A topping gives a well-groomed look to any dish. For a simple savory one, scatter golden breadcrumbs mixed with grated Parmesan or chopped mixed nuts over a dish before baking, or before serving. To make a white dish vivid, mix grated cheese with crumbled hard-boiled egg yolk instead of crumbs. 


Fresh parsley is the conventional garnish for most dishes, but if you do not have nay, try finely chopped green olives or bright yellow piccalilli relish instead.

* Top plainly grilled or fried meat with sweet pickles or fruit chutney. For instance, top steak with a spoonful of apricot chutney.

* Coat white fish fillets with chutney or marmalade, then sprinkle them with sesame seeds and melted butter before grilling and garnish with grilled canned apricot halves. Seedless grapes make a classic fish garnish.

* Peach halves or pineapple rings dress Turkey or ham vividly; so do canned Cherries and mandarin segments (good with duck!) 

For a dessert  

Try to buy fruit canned in natural juice. It is worth keeping a bottle of unsweetened lemon juice in stock; a small spoonful will lift the flavor of canned fruit. Crepes filled with drained canned fruit or even pie filling make a good hot pudding. 

* For a luxurious hot dessert from canned fruit make a simple caramel by heating a little sugar and butter together until the sugar colors and then add drained peach halves. Toss until hot, adding a little syrup from the can if necessary, and/or a spoonful or two of rum if you have it. 

* Simpler still, puree canned fruit in a blender with natural yogurt; or fold it into honey-flavored whipped cream with a spoonful of kirsch for a delicious fruit fool. 

* For a topping for a cold dessert, nothing really beats lightly whisked long-life whipping cream. Sweeten it by adding 15 ml / 1 tbs clear honey to 150 ml / 5 fl oz cream, then add 5-10 ml / 1-2 tsp of sweet liqueur.

* For sweet sauces, the simplest to use is ready-to-serve custard, cold or heated. Your can jazz up its flavor by warming a 411 g / 14 oz canful and mixing it with 30-45 ml /2-3 tbs of dried skimmed milk powder moistened to a cram with cooking brandy.  

General Tips 

There are of course crowds of other store cupboard goods - many of them essential. Dried fruit, cocoa, instant coffee, flour and two grades of sugar are all very basic. 
Try to keep two grades of oil, olive for salads and better dishes, and corn or another vegetable oil for frying. 
    Spices and herbs are indispensable. Black and cayenne pepper, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla essence appear on every list and dried mixed herbs have a fast turnover. Avoid dried parsley, which can taste dusty. 
    Dry sherry and dry white vermouth will instantly pep up white soups and sauces and have the advantage over wine that they do not deteriorate once opened, so it is economical to use a small quantity. Bottled sauces, such as Tabasco and Worcestershire, and spicy pastes like yeast extract, are useful additions for brown stews and soups. And there can be no cook who has not discovered the wonderful stock cube - store two sorts for either brown or white stock !
    Try to keep your refrigerator stocked with versatile items such as eggs, cheese and bacon. Bottled mayonnaise, which keeps much longer than home-made mayonnaise, even when opened, is useful for quick salads and starters. 


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