When the kitchen is a far cry from the wonderful dine-in palaces one sees on television – or when it’s actually the Garreteer classic of two-ring Baby Belling with small oven – the temptation is to give up on producing top class food. And often, of course, there’s every reason to bail out and buy an oven-ready prepared meal: we all do it from time to time.
But even with the smallest kitchen and the least equipment, there are a number of things that wherever possible, you should make at home rather than resort to a can, a jar or a packet. It’s worth remembering that Raymond Blanc won a Michelin star cooking with an oven that had lost its bottom. The following five are just better, and, with practice, open up a whole new world of cheap but superb cooking.
1. Mashed potato
It shouldn’t really need to be on this list, but with frozen and pre-prepared mashed potato gaining in popularity by the week, here it is. Mashed potato is the simplest and most flexible of things – boiled potatoes, mashed with butter, milk, salt and pepper – and it can go with sausages, or top a shepherd’s pie or cottage pie, or any number of other uses. Simple things make mashed potato even better – increasing the butter content, insisting on Maris Piper potatoes, boiling the potatoes in their skins before removing the skins, adding more salt – but with enough masher and fork action, it’s hard to go wrong.
2. Sauces. All kinds of sauces. Salad dressings, sauces for curry (start by making your own marsala), sauces for pasta, gravy with roast meat, the classic French white and brown sauces – even mayonnaise. Confidence with sauces, next to quality of ingredients, is core to improving your home cooking and thus your willingness to undertake it. We will be publishing ideas for all of these on the Garreteer, and we’ll link them from here as they go up.
3. Sandwiches. Before the 1980s and the arrival of the admittedly miraculous M&S Chicken Tikka sandwich, instructing people to make their own sandwiches would have seemed too obvious. But it’s time to go back. Shop-bought sandwiches, with the notable exception of Prêt à Manger’s, have declined in quality and climbed in price, and must now be restricted to late night train journeys and service station visits. Use your own bread, of course, and choose your own fillings.
4. Soup. Heinz tomato soup is probably better than any tomato soup you could make for yourself – at any rate, you’ll probably want some at some stage, and why not? But otherwise, even some boiled vegetables added to a bowl of stock with miso paste stirred into it is going to outclass any canned or cartonned soup for nutrition, flavour and personal satisfaction. A book like Lindsey Bareham’s A Celebration of Soup will provide a route map for you should you wish to take soup-making to a higher level, and there’ll be frequent ideas for good soup here on the Garreteer.
5. Bread. Again, and of course, bread. Start with 5-minute, no-knead recipes, then explore further. Home made bread is always revelatory put against supermarket bread, and, with practice, you’ll be able to outdo even the artisan bread at specialist shops because you’ll know your own tastes and preferences.