The end of the year is always seen as the perfect time to reflect on the year that’s just gone by, and look forward to the next year. Since we’re a food blog, it’s only fitting that we look at the past year in terms of food and its impact on my life. So here are my top ten ingredients of 2015.
The smell of garlic has always reminded me of the best kind of home cooking. It was my uncle who first inspired me to cook, letting me sit at his butcher’s block as he chopped and fried, throwing together the most delightful array of tasty little dishes in seemingly no time at all. Now I’m older and can look back on it, I suspect he lost whole mornings making lunch!
Garlic always featured heavily in his cooking, and was the predominant smell in his house, but in a “welcome to the nourishing bosom of our home” kind of way. So that’s what got me into garlic. And I just can’t seem to look past it. If it’s a pasta sauce, curry sauce, marinade, soup, roast or stir fry, garlic is the starting point. It’s good for you and it does so much flavour work!
This year has been a turning point for me in terms of food and nutrition. I’ve finally had the willpower to make a few healthier changes which have helped me to drop the dress size I wanted to shed before our wedding, as well as helping me to realise that eating healthily is a lot less difficult, and much more tasty, than you might think.
Soups for lunch and stir fries for supper have played a massive part in this, particularly when I learned that it’s pretty easy to keep stocked up with the makings of a great stir fry marinade, delicious enough to forget about those calorie stuffed sachet sauces. Ginger is a big hitter for me, and I always have a knobble in my fridge (especially since Charles told me off for resorting to ginger purée!).
3. Soy Sauce
For similar reasons to the above story about stir fries, soy sauce has been hugely helpful in letting me throw together healthy but filling suppers, satisfying enough to stop me rescuing for a takeaway menu or a bag of pasta. Even if it doesn’t feature in your stir fry, it’s a slightly heather way to ass on your Asian food, so stick it on the table in case there isn’t enough salt on your noodles or rice.
The legend says that light soy is for flavour, whilst dark soy is for colour, but I just prefer dark soy sauce – it seems a little less bitter to me.
Honey has been getting a bad rep, recently – “oh it’s not as healthy as you think”, “it’s as bad for you as sugar”, yadda yadda, but everything in moderation. A teaspoon in your marinade isn’t going to kill you, but it will give you the perfect dash of Asian sweetness, as well as the most beautiful sticky glaze to your stir-fried meat (see my Chicken Teriyaki for the evidence!). I like to buy the runny kind in a squeezy bottle for easy dispensing, but I’m not at all fussy about brand so don’t take the photo as a specific recommendation – whichever is on offer will be the bottle which makes it into my basket.
5. Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
Really, I could be giving you a top ten rundown of my favourite/most eaten fruits and vegetables, so I’m afraid the title of this item will have to be as general as this! You may remember (if you’ve followed my blog from the beginning) that one of my major resolutions for 2015 was to do my darnedest to eat my 5-a-day. And, for the most part, I’ve achieved this (apart from the odd Saturday and Sunday, but that will change in the Brooker household). It’s really much easier than you think. I’m sure I’ll eventually get round to a post about the little changes you can make to the everyday to make your diet that little bit healthier, but generally melons and grapes have replaced my lunchtime packet of crisps, homemade soups and salads take the place of M&S sandwiches, apples and clementines float around my handbag in case I get peckish mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and bulking out my suppers with lots of fresh vegetables helps me to cut down on the carbs. It can seem like an expensive way to eat, but once you’ve figured out your favourites, your weekly shop becomes a lot easier and a lot better for you.
6. Ribeye Steak
Charles has the credit for introducing me to this one. The lovely, succulent, tasty ribeye. It has more flavour that a sirloin or a fillet, and it’s generally pretty easy to trim out the excess fat. It just has more…steakiness about it. We had ribeyes from my butcher for our first supper as an engaged couple (I didn’t know we would be an engaged couple but we were otherwise celebrating heading off for a wonderful week together on Skye, it just worked out quite well) and Charles has also introduced me to the wonders of Aldi steaks. Seriously. Try them. They beat the butcher hands down because they are hung for a bit to tenderise and mature the beef, and yet they are sourced locally from farmers who meet the highest standards. When I’m not celebrating, however, I love these Tesco ribeyes, which, at £3 a pop and big enough to make two stir fries, are my protein-packed best friend for a tasty midweek supper which will help my muscles to recover from HIIT and Pilates.
7. Brown Rice
My name’s Alyson and I used to be a brown rice sceptic. Until I bought a bag, learned that it took forever and a day to cook it, and tasted it. It’s easier to prepare than basmati (provided you have 20+ minutes to let it simmer),it won’t turn stodgy on you, it tastes beautiful and nutty and delicious enough to eat alone, and it has a low GI, which means it takes longer to break down in your body and is therefore less likely to turn to fat. Sorted. Although you should definitely stock up when i’s on offer as it can get fairly pricey (£2.50 from Tilda in Tesco right now ….on the shelf you will stay).
8. Olive Oil
Everyone, surely, knows the benefits of olive oil. It’s a staple. It’s always kicking around somewhere in both of our kitchens. If I’m stir frying, I prefer groundnut oil as it can handle a higher heat without burning (be careful if you’re allergic to nuts), but olive is still a great starter for dressings, marinades, pestos, and getting a gently sweat or fry on the go. Let’s try some new oils in 2016…
Such a staple, even my Mum keeps them in the house, tinned tomatoes are a must-have store cupboard ingredient. They’re a great start to a pasta sauce, a curry base or a casserole and they help to make an excellent minestrone. Buy a four-pack when they’re on offer. I used to be all about the chopped tomatoes but I think I’ve convinced myself that tinned plum tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes if you’re feeling flush) give you a better flavour and texture.
10. Stock Cubes and Stock Pots
I’ll probably be breaking a “foodie” (yeurgh) law by telling you that I swear by Knorr stock cubes. Chuck two or three in some boiling water and add to some vegetables in a soup pot and you’re halfway to a week of nutritious hot lunches. They also give a great savoury backbone to sauces, and one beef stockpot added to a stew or casserole will hit all the right notes. By all means, make fresh stock if you have leftover bones and the wherewithal, but don’t be too much of a snob to reach for reach for a helping hand from your cupboard. Cooking loses it’s shine a little if make things too difficult for yourself, so take shortcuts when you can!
Let us know which ingredients you haven’t been able to keep out of your shopping basket this year, and have a great time at New Year!