Ways to improve your home food during times of difficult food supplies.

There has been a great deal of chat online about boosting the immune system with various foods and supplements. There is no one food that will do this. Supplements will never be a better  alternative to a good diet. The message, albeit not exciting, is to eat a good balanced diet. I’d like to point out that this can include treats! That is what a balanced diet consists of where you do get your 5 fruit and vegetables a day, but don’t make it into a battle of wills with a strict diet where certain foods or food types are banned. The odd piece of chocolate is  fine and makes a healthy, balanced diet more sustainable!

Maximise fruit and veg box deliveries. Many greengrocers will deliver locally, or try one of the national schemes. There are many to choose from and you will be supporting farmers and suppliers at a difficult time. This has also been an area of growth for butchers where they can save you that journey and add you to their delivery round.

Take a good look at what you actually have in the store cupboard and don’t worry too much about best before dates. Sadly I decided a few weeks after Christmas that my pantry needed a jolly good clear out after discovering some items were 2 or 3 years beyond their “Best Before” date! Best Before literally means the food item will be better before the date stamp.  It’s a quality issue, not a safety issue. Your ginger biscuits may not be as gingery and your carrots may be less crisp. That is an ideal opportunity to repurpose them. A crumbled biscuit base for a cheese cake with added ground ginger or a carrot soup. What’s not to like? You would not want to use cook chill items that are beyond their “use by” date as this is dangerous and this is a food safety issue.

So let’s have a look at some staple items you may have that you can turn to good use. If you have baking powder this can be used as a raising agent instead of yeast. Okay, so it’s soda bread and isn’t quite the same, but it really can be tasty in a different way and it’s quick! You could also add flavourings to it such as dried herbs or add seeds to the top. A little grated cheese into the mix also gives a lovely savoury tang to the bread. The recipe below is adapted from Leith’s Cookery Bible by Prue Leith and Caroline Waldegrave. 

Brown Soda Bread (Leith’s Cookery Bible, adapted)

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450g wholemeal flour or plain white flour or a mixture

1 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda

2 teaspoons of cream of tartar

1 teaspoons sugar

20g butter

280ml milk wholemeal flour is thirstier so you need to judge the consistency as you add it

Grease a baking sheet

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/Gas Mark 5

Place all dry ingredients into a bowl

Rub in the butter until evenly distributed

Add sufficient milk to make a soft dough – you should be able to press your finger into the dough and it not spring back immediately

Shape (no kneading) and place on the baking sheet

Cut a cross in the top to allow it to rise without being inhibited.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped on the base.

Tinned tomatoes and tomato pasta are often loitering around in the cupboard. They will add lots of flavour in many dishes. They are good partnered with beans and spice, or chicken. I have a lovely recipe with chopped chicken in tomatoes which is really tender and tasty. The tomatoes are a little acidic so help make the chicken more succulent and tender. Serve with fluffy rice. This is a very moreish dish. Sometimes I vary the texture of the tomatoes by processing them before I add to dishes.

Tasty Chicken in Tomato (4 portions)

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Ingredients

2 medium sized onions, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

4 cloves of garlic crushed

2x 400g tins chopped plum peeled tomatoes (if not chopped carefully use a pair of scissors whilst still in the tin, this does the job)

4 skinned chicken breasts (alternatively use skinned thighs)

1 tablespoon tomato puree (or tomato ketchup if no puree)

Optional: 250g mushrooms, washed and  left whole or chopped as preferred

Optional bell pepper, washed and chopped the sweeter ones such as yellow, red or orange go well

Dried herbs – good ones in this dish are mixed dried herbs, oregano, coriander or basil

Salt and pepper

Method

I do not enjoy washing up so I use a dish that will go on the hob, into the oven and then onto the table on a heatproof surface.

Cook the onions in the oil until soft and transparent

Add the garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes, stirring to mix in 

Pop the cooked onions and garlic onto a plate and set aside

In the same pan add the chicken, moving it around so that all the surfaces become opaque. 

Add all the other ingredients apart from the bell pepper

Do not taste for seasoning at this point as your chicken is not cooked. You can adjust for seasoning when it’s cooked when it’s come out of the oven

Add the bell pepper and allow the dish to rest which also allows the pepper to slightly soften

Serve with fluffy rice and any additional steamed vegetables or a crisp dressed green salad.

Tinned beans of any description may be processed to a pulp or roughly mixed to break down the texture with some added garlic to make a hummus. Don’t forget to season for flavour and add a splash of lemon or lime juice if you have it. I grow fresh herbs and these are useful to add too. Coriander is a lovely addition.

Hummus

Ingredients

1 400g tin beans, drained

Splash of lemon juice

2 garlic cloves peeled and crushed

White pepper

A few turns of sea salt

Method

Place all ingredients into a processor and process to preferred texture.

Alternatively use a fork or a masher

Serve with fresh bread, biscuits and/or vegetable sticks

Dried pulses are useful. Marrowfat peas are a staple in our house for home made mushy peas but did you know you can also sprout them? However, my favourite and easiest to sprout are mung beans. A word of caution though it is essential to rinse any beans you sprout thoroughly twice a day and never try this with dried kidney beans as they contain a toxin called lectin which can make you very unwell. Once sprouted pop them straight into the fridge and eat within a couple of days. 

Mung Bean Sprouts

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Ingredients

Take a handful of dried mung beans, thoroughly rinsed and leave at room temperature. Rinse at least twice a day under cold running water. Once showing shoots pop into the fridge. Add to salads, sandwiches and soup. Add to anything really, the nutty crunch it adds is a delight.

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