Taking Stock

I was in excellent company last weekend at the Food and Wine Magazine Christmas Food event at the RDS in Dublin.

I was in excellent company last weekend at the Food and Wine Magazine Christmas Food event at the RDS in Dublin.

I was there in a butcher's capacity as part of a master class on lamb and the chef I was working with was none other than the highly regarded Neven Maguire. Not only is Neven an excellent and much admired chef but the softly spoken one is also a gentleman and we had great fun. If you are ever in the Cavan area I couldn't recommend his restaurant, Macnean House highly enough, but if you aren't planning on being in Cavan any time soon then Neven's highly acclaimed TV show is certainly worth catching or any of his seven cookbooks will definitely delight.

As it happened this was the weekend when the Artic conditions struck suddenly. Now it had been promised by the good folks at Met Eireann but whether we just don't believe them or assume it won't be as bad as they forecast, it managed to take me by surprise. Interestingly as I was driving to Dublin on Friday without the snow I was mulling over this article and was conjuring the idea in my head that this week would be a good time to discuss store cupboard essentials in preparation for Christmas. As I was driving to Dublin again on Saturday, this time through an Alpine winter wonderland like I was in an entirely different country to 24 hours earlier, I realised that talking about a store cupboard wouldn't be a minute too soon!

Many say that the key to successful Christmas entertaining is planning. I say the key to successful living, regardless of entertaining, is to adopt the boy scouts' code of always being prepared. Planning is to be recommended but even the best plans can be thwarted by a change in one variable. As Robert Burns put it, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray." In other words, always have plan b. My plan b is very simple always have a well stocked store cupboard. This will take care of all eventualities from the unexpected pop in guests who stay during meal times and sometimes are still there for the following morning's breakfast, to the more unwelcome visitation of inclement weather. In a way we can take our lead from the squirrel. They gather and store nuts for winter when really a well stocked store cupboard is something similar. I would also extend this to take in the fridge and the freezer as well. Between these three locations you should be able to knock wonderful meals together at the drop of a hat and without the stress of wondering if you'll have enough. The main thing is to check the cupboards this week and make sure everything is in date, you know what you have and what you need to replace. Store cupboard and freezer items have a good shelf life and so this will also work well right into January. A well stocked store cupboard, fridge and freezer also saves money in the long run as you will always have the right things needed to perk up the leftovers and create an entirely new and tasty meal. Obviously my list isn't a definitive one and should only be used as a guideline. Finally before we get to the list I would say that now is a good time to make mince pies and brandy butter as you can freeze them and don't forget to order any meat you might need.

Store Cupboard List

Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Red Wine Vinegar, White Wine Vinegar, Pasta (Several varieties), Cous cous, Rice, Egg or rice noodles, Sugar: granulated, brown, caster and icing; Syrups, Honey, Raisins and dried fruit, Plain flour, Self raising flour, Tins of Tomatoes, Tomato Puree, Tomato Ketchup, Black Olives, Kidney Beans, Chick Peas, Spices, Herbs and Seasonings, Stock: Beef, Chicken, Vegetable; Gravy Granules, Soy Sauce, Chilli Sauce, Tins of fish: Tuna, salmon, sardines; Mustards, Tins of Coconut Milk, Thai Curry Paste, Stir-fry Sauces (One or two in case of emergency); Chutneys, Preserves and Jams, Crackers for Cheese, Containers for leftovers and extra meals.

Fridge List

Crme Fraiche, Butter, Cheese, Eggs, Mayonnaise, Yoghurt, Milk, Black Pudding

Freezer

Pastry

Sausage Meat

Prawns

Garlic Bread

Chicken Breasts

Steak Mince

Ready to bake bread

Frozen Vegetables

Potato Wedges

Fish Fillets

Sausages and Rashers