I mentioned that I was starting a new series interviewing people about the contents of their fridges and cupboards, purely for fun, because I absolutely leaving reading those look-inside features in magazines. Even though it’s a bit odd to interview oneself, I am kicking the series off with a look at my own fridge, cupboards and kitchen.
I’m 28 (for another week!) and live in south-west London with my boyfriend. I work full-time and cook for myself and David; I do most of the cooking.
Do I have a cooking philosophy or approach of any kind?
Last year I realised I had gained quite a lot of weight. Some of it had accumulated piecemeal since leaving university, but the majority had come on while I was studying part-time for an MA (while working), especially after I experienced a bereavement during this period. I worked very hard to lose weight and dropped 24 kilos (around 4 stone, or 52 pounds). This experience pretty much informs my approach to cooking: I want it to be light, filling, nourishing, and not set me back. I also love to experiment in the kitchen and use my cookbook collection, but most nights of the week I need to cook something that won’t take too much time to make. Weekends are more for experimenting, but even then I’m often busy.
I buy organic, free-range chicken and free-range eggs. I occasionally buy organic vegetables; organic is important to me because the impact of pesticides and intensive farming on biodiversity is alarming, but the heart and the wallet cannot always be aligned on this one.
Where do I buy groceries?
We usually get a lot of our food from supermarkets. David does most of the shopping; we do one big Sunday shop at Lidl, and anything we can’t pick up there we get from our nearby Sainsbury’s. I work near a large Waitrose and will pick up bits and pieces from there during the week; it’s also where I pick up slightly more left-field ingredients. I do regularly (but not weekly) order fruit, vegetables and meat from Farm Direct; I love the quality and the provenance and being able to bypass the supermarket structures, but I have a tendency to get overexcited by the beautiful and often unusual fruit and vegetables and order an excess of stuff, which keeps us going for a while but often leaves me feeling a little overwhelmed. I’m trying to be a bit more mindful of what we can actually reasonably get through in a week. Occasionally items (often stuff to make granola) will come from health food shops, usually Holland and Barrett and Alara, which I have been going to since I was a student, or very occasionally Planet Organic (there are two near where I work, which is a lot of Planet Organics within a smallish area of Central London. The demand surprises me because of how expensive they are, but I guess it works for them…)
Talk about the kitchen
My kitchen is big by London standards. It has a large expanse of worktops and plenty of storage space. The problem is that it’s also very, very cluttered. I would prefer that this wasn’t the case but I don’t think I can get away with not mentioning this! I’m not a minimalist when it comes to anything in my life and I have heaps of cooking gadgets, utensils, serving dishes, bakeware, you name it. There are usually a few cookbooks cluttering up the surface, too. I currently have about seven different types of flour on one shelf. I use shelf extenders from Lakeland to create more storage space; they are piled high with spices and condiments, and also a jar of ginger preserves I bought to make a Nigella Lawson recipe but which I haven’t opened yet.
What’s in the fridge?
I wrote this on a Monday so the fridge is reasonably full (since, as above, we shop on Sundays).
I always have skyr in the fridge , usually the Arla brand, as it’s sold in Sainsbury’s, though at the current moment there are three types (vanilla, plain and strawberry) from a brand called Esja, which a friend recommended. It uses organic British milk and is very smooth, thicker and not quite as tangy as others I’ve tried; it’s delicious, and I stocked up recently while it was still on offer at Planet Organic. There are several cheeses: light halloumi (I often go for the ‘light’ version of feta and halloumi and don’t care if this compromises my ‘foodie values’), a chunk of mature cheddar, and parmesan. I also have a tub of Yeo Valley Vanilla Yoghurt, which is half full ; it’s not a typical purchase for me, though. We have half a pack of bacon, and I’ve decanted a box of strawberries into a plastic box lined with paper towels in the hopes that this will keep moisture away from them and keep them fresher for longer. I slice them up in the mornings and eat with the skyr and granola. There are some blackcurrants but they’re hidden at the back, and the multiple boxes of cherries I bought have been taken to work for grazing. There are also several very small containers, the kind intended for salad dressing, filled with egg whites dotted in various places around the fridge.
Moving down a shelf, I have half a pepper and half a lemon, each saved in a Food Hugger (they really do keep cut up vegetables fresher and it’s greener than constantly using clingfilm). There’s a bit of leftover applesauce in a container; every Sunday I make chicken, potato wedges/oven chips and serve it with applesauce, which is a very traditional homey Belgian meal. There’s a tub of cut-up carrots hiding at the back of the shelf and several plastic containers which hold chillies and ginger. I find if I leave them at the bottom of the vegetable drawer loose, I forget about them entirely and they go to mush.
In the vegetable drawer, there is a bag and a half of rocket, an infinitely useful salad leaf which makes everything taste and feel a bit more robust, a bag of watercress and two packets of endive, which I ended up taking to work as a snack. At the very bottom there are three leeks, and a packet of chives is in there somewhere.
Finally, the fridge shelves hold random spreads and condiments, such as preserved lemons. I also keep maple syrup in the fridge as it goes mouldy quite quickly outside. There’s also a jar of homemade kumquat and passion fruit marmalade (the recipe is from Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke). Finally, some ketchup, mayonnaise, milk and a bottle of dessert wine. The bottle of dessert wine is an outlier; we don’t usually have it in the fridge but I fancied some on Friday and opened the bottle, which an intern gave me as a gift when she left (she was paid, before anyone gets prickly). I did feel a bit odd that she gave me a gift when she left, but it was very nice of her.
The fridge is small and we don’t have a freezer, just a shoe box-sized space at the top which just about fits some peas on a good day. When we were looking at flats, the trade-off seemed to be freezer/electric stove or no freezer/gas stove. I went for the gas stove. It was the right choice. Because the fridge is right on the floor, the back shelves can sometimes be a little awkwardly inaccessible. Despite its tiny size, things do go missing at the back. In my most recent clearout I found a metal tube of anchovy paste whose origins baffles me.
At the time of writing the freezer space is entirely frosted over. This happens regularly; defrosting the fridge is a damp ordeal and one we frequently put off. There is some scone dough in the freezer at the moment, believe it or not; obviously it’s both totally invisible and completely inaccessible. Probably very well-preserved, though. Since writing this we (by which I mean my boyfriend) have defrosted the freezer but the ice monster is rapidly taking over again.
What three foods are always in the fridge?
The most useful foods in my kitchen are probably eggs and avocado. What I like about both of them is they make any food a meal and are appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Plus they are really delicious. They even go well together! Both do need seasoning to lift, though. I really like Maldon sea salt – I know it’s a horrible cliche in the UK among middle-class foodies – but lime juice is also essential for avocados.
In the fridge, we always have butter – which is funny because I rarely eat it. I still like to bake, though. There’s always a 4-pint bottle of semi-skimmed milk in the fridge, because my boyfriend has porridge every morning, barring summer, when he has it with muusli. We go through a bottle a week, which I think is quite a lot for a household without children. My breakfast rotates between a routine of green smoothies (by which I mean spinach and banana – I don’t do hardcore things like kale and coriander and broccoli); overnight oats (in which case there’s always a tub of my favourite Yeo Valley 0% Greek yoghurt); or my current routine, skyr with some kind of homemade granola and fruit. Very rarely I will eat toast and jam – these days, it’s often homemade jam, since I caught the preserving bug.
Outside of the fridge, we always have garlic and onions – the basis of so many good meals – and also a jar of honey, as I take a spoonful in my tea.
Is anything currently missing from the fridge?
Usually there are bits and pieces missing because I usually can’t get everything I need from the one Sunday shop, but there wasn’t anything glaring at the time of writing.
Whar treats do I keep in the fridge or cupboards?
The aforementioned weight gain and weight loss challenge mean I avoid stocking up on things like chocolate and cookies. They do make their way in there but I only buy them when I have a craving. I usually try and snack on healthier things such as Medjool dates when I want something sweet, often with a little almond butter. I think Medjool dates are starting to become quite unfairly maligned in the food world because of their very close association with the clean eating trend, but of all the things clean eating has introduced me to, it’s probably the best. Normal dates tend to be a little drier and sometimes even mealy, whereas Medjool dates have a soft and tender flesh and so feel richer and more satisfying to eat.
What foods were always in the house when growing up?
I grew up in Singapore and of necessity we kept literally every item of food in the fridge, barring dried rice and beans, to ward off ants, which were everywhere. It took me years of leaving in the UK to get out of the habit of putting opened bags of sugar and jars of honey in the fridge. We always had brown rice, tofu and brown lentils in the house – my mother is a yoga teacher and we were both vegetarians for a long time. A lot of people say they don’t like brown rice but my palate is utterly acclimatised to it. We always used firm, silken tofu, but I only discovered that it’s normal practice to press it when I moved to the UK. I’ve posted about one of the classic dishes of my childhood, crispy tofu with broccoli and rice.
What three gadgets or tools are most important/helpful for you when cooking?
I love my food processor – it’s a real boon on work nights if I need to, say, slice or chop up a lot of vegetables. The food processor has a jug blender attachment and I use that constantly, usually for smoothies in the morning and for soups to take to work. I used to love my stick immersion blender but I am completely converted to a jug blender now.
However, probably even more important is my large, heavy chef’s knife. It had been left behind by a previous tenant in one of the flats we lived in and I really like it. I sharpen it from time to time, not as often as I should.
I’m also completely in love with my fine Microplane graterI’m also completely in love with my fine Microplane grater, which actually purees garlic and ginger and turns the tiniest scrap of Parmesan into a mountain. It’s a cliche but I can’t believe I lived without it for so long!
I also would struggle in the kitchen without my electronic scales – I measure almost everything I eat, which is boring but necessary for me to stave off weight gain. I am often reliant on my kitchen timers for anything from cake to tea. Timing the tea is my boyfriend’s habit – he wants it brewed for four minutes with the precision of an Orwell – and I’ve picked it up.
If I had to make a meal with the food in the fridge (and pantry) right now, without going to the shops, what would I make?
I am literally about to go and make a watercress and bacon salad with a poached egg and (homemade) sourdough soldiers. So I would make that.
When there really is nothing in the fridge, where, or what, do I eat?
It’s rare that the fridge and cupboards are bare – usually this only happens when we come home from holiday or something. I wish I could say that in such circumstances we’d venture to our nearby Wahaca (one of my favourite places) or Franco Manca for a sophisticated foodie dinner. But really we’re much more likely to go to our local fish and chip shop or (if very desperate) to buy a pizza at the Tesco Express down the road, which is, yes, in a petrol station. This is why I always keep my fridge well stocked! Usually it’s more effort for me to leave the house than to scrounge something from what we already have. I even cooked on the day we got back from New York…