Category Archives: Tips

The Weekly Shopping

On Thursday last, I gave you all an insight into how I plan meals for the week, This process is (usually) quickly followed by the weekly shopping.

Having an outline of your meals for the week is a great start to making a shopping list. I used to be one of those “ah shure, I’ll remember it when I get to the shop” types but what I’ve discovered is that tends to lead to a few problems.

  • I’d always forget something that I really needed
  • I’d buy things that I didn’t want or need
  • I’d buy more ‘treats’ and less actual food
  • I’d spend more than I intended to

These days, once I have my meal plan done up, I’ll make a shopping list of all the items I need, including the quantities required, even if I think I have it in the kitchen already.

Being the geek that I am, I use google tasks for my shopping list. It’s actually much better than a paper list because I can type into google tasks quicker and more legibly than I could ever write it. it’s easy to organise the list, once you have an idea of the locations of the items in the shops and it’s much easier to tick things off as you go round the shops than carrying a pen and a piece of paper, plus I can load the list on my mobile phone.

So once I have my list made up, I start the shopping at home by ticking off all the items that I don’t need, which leads to me discovering that I’m out of marmalade or coffee or whatever other items aren’t actual ingredients of the recipes I’ve planned. Once that’s done I’ll organise my list as per the shops I’m going to have to go to and a rough order that they appear in as I walk around the shops and off I go.

The first stops are usually the Fruit and veg shop and the butchers, why not buy everything in the supermarket?

Time was I’d buy all my fruit, veg and meat in Superquinn but since the change of owner, I’ve found the selection and quality have reduced while the pricing has remained the same. It’s taken me some time to find them but a good fruit and veg shop and butcher will be as good, if not better, quality produce than the supermarket has available and they’re usually no more expensive. Plus I get a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that I’m supporting a local business :)

After that it’s off to the supermarket and this means Tesco or Superquinn for me usually, as they are the two that have the easiest access locally although I’m finding myself in Tesco (Maynooth) more and more, as my favourite fruit and veg store as well as my favourite butcher are across the car park from them :)

With most meals, I can find all the ingredients by doing this, but there are some speciality items that need to be picked up elsewhere. A while back I was pointed towards ‘Fresh’ for Tipo 00 flour. I was disappointed with the fruit and veg selection (all organic, but very expensive even compared to organic in the supermarkets) at the Dublin food co-op. I did find a good selection of herbs and spices, some unusual cheeses and a great selection of oils and vinegars there. I’ve also been surprised by how useful Google has been to find some ingredients and also both the Not Junk Food Facebook and Twitter pages, so if you’re having trouble finding something specific don’t be afraid to ask and we may be able to help.

So to sum up, make a shopping list and stick to it, buy only what you need (saves money and waste), check out the local fruit and veg store as well as the butcher (they may surprise you), anything you can’t find between these and the supermarkets ask us on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll do our best to help you find it :)

Cooking for one – Part II

Possibly the two most important skills when cooking for one are imagination and division.

Let’s look at the second of those first, division. It’s a fairly basic skill and this will allow you to take a recipe meant to serve 4 and allow you to cook a single portion of it. Of course it can help if you have a handy way to convert measurements.

Thankfully Google does this and it’s really easy to use. Say you see a recipe that serves 4 and calls for 1 cup of wine. You could try to measure a quarter cup or you could go to google.ie and type “convert 1 cup to ml” hit search and here’s the result, now you continue dividing :)This doesn’t just work for cups either, you can convert almost any measurement just type “Convert xxx to yyy” and google does the rest, very handy.

It’s not always that simple of course and this is where imagination comes in, how could you roast a quarter of a chicken, for instance. In this case I can think of two options.

  1. Use a piece or two of cut chicken, say a chicken breast on the bone, or a few wings and a leg (you get the idea)
  2. Cook a whole small chicken and use the leftovers for sandwiches or salads or even an omelette.

And I’m only using the roast chicken as an example here, of course I’m not suggesting that you live on chicken, but it is a great example for imagination. When you roast a piece of chicken (or roast anything) you can rest it on some veg (peppers, carrot, parsnip and onion spring to mind) and you have your roast veg along with the chicken.

So cooking for one doesn’t have to be all about things you can make in advance and freeze in portions :)

Freezing Soups and Sauces

Freezing is one of the most convenient ways to preserve food. There really is nothing to it, just pack your food in something and put it in your freezer.

A lot of people use tinfoil trays (like you get your takeaway curry in) or plastic boxes to freeze almost everything. While they are definitely a great option for Lasagne Slices or even mini “oven bakes” they do take up a lot of space in the freezer, and with most of us not having a chest freezer, it doesn’t seem practical to freeze food in portions.

But, there is a way to freeze food in portions, at least some types of dishes anyway. The technique we use most is for freezing those “thicker liquid” type of dishes, your soups, sauces, currys, stews etc. and it really is straight forward. here’s how…

a plastic bag in a pint glass
A pint of plastic bag

First you’re going to need some sealable plastic freezer or sandwich bags (not the ones that you tie). You will also need to let the food cool before doing this.

You will also need a pint glass or a measuring jug. Now place the Bag in the glass or jug and fold the open end over the side as shown in the picture.

Then simply add your soup, sauce, curry or stew into the bag. We usually add two portions per bag, simply because there’s 2 of us to cook for, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do less or more portions either, so long as you have appropriate sized bags. I will sometimes use a Kitchen funnel with soups and sauces as it reduces the potential for making a mess. 😉

Funnel plastic bag and jug
Funnel, plastic bag and jug

Next you want to lift the bag out of your jug or glass and close the top about three quarters the way across. While holding the open corner, you want to lay the bag on a flat surface (remembering to hold the open part up a little so the contents don’t flow out) and gently push all the air towards the opening.

Once you have the air out, try to make the liquid reach the seal by gently pushing down on the bag and then close the bag the rest of the way.

Using a freezer marker, write on the bag what you put in, when and how many portions, you might think you’ll remember but chances are you won’t.

Bag of Soup
Ready to go in the Freezer

Once you have the bag sealed, simply lay it flat in your freezer and leave it to freeze. You can stack multiples of these at a time and leave them to freeze, just make sure the outsides are dry and they won’t freeze/stick together.

The biggest benefit that we’ve had from doing this apart from the obvious saving on wasted food, is that these “skinny” bags defrost in a few hours on their own, but also if your’re in a hurry a soup or a sauce can be defrosted even quicker by propping up the frozen bag in your sink and letting cold or slightly warm water flow over it for a few minutes.

Once defrosted, simply re-heat the dish and serve as normal.

Cutting Onions

In this post we’re going to give you a number of quick tips for cutting onions in lots of different ways. Firstly there is no magic cure, some onions will make you cry when you cut them no matter what, but there are a few things that you can do to minimise the effects.

  1. Breath through your mouth
  2. Do not lean your head in over the onion as you cut it
  3. Smaller onions tend to make you cry quicker, so use larger onions if possible
  4. Turn on the extractor fan and cut the onions near it

Unfortunately, I have yet to come across a “secret” trick that works every time, once those vapours get you, you’re gone. Thankfully the tips listed above do help.

Now onto the cutting, the video below shows my limited knife skills doing onion rings, half moons, chunks and lastly diced onion.

These techniques also work well with Shallots, after all they are a type of small onion as well 😉

Fresh Pasta

Farina Tipo 00 Flour
Farina Tipo 00 Flour

Once we found out how simple this is to make, a pasta machine was ordered and while we still keep some dried pasta on the shelf, most of the time we make our own fresh pasta.

When possible, it’s best to use Italian tipo 00 Flour, which is very easy to source in Italy (about €1 per kilo) but I’ve yet to find a reliable source in Ireland. Superquinn has come closest, having Tipo 0 in stock from time to time but not always (When they do I tend to buy all the stock).

You can use plain flour (the finer, the better) for this recipe and it will work perfectly, but if you happen to spot somewhere that sells Tipo 00 in Ireland please let us know as it does make the pasta taste much better.

We’ve been rather lucky in that whenever we hear of anyone going to Italy, we’ll ask them to bring some back for us and on our last trip we brought back a few kilo’s and were very close to having to pay excess baggage charges. So is anyone going to Italy any time soon and would you like to do us a big favour?