Convenience Foods: Dried and Tinned Foods
Convenience foods are exactly what their name suggests, and no sensible cook would be without them — to a certain degree. Whilst they are generally not included in the self-sufficient kitchen cupboard, there are some times when they come in useful and it is for that reason that they are included here. Used wisely, and with discretion, they can make life in the kitchen much, much easier — and they can add zest and interest to everyday meals.
Convenience foods are essential to cooks who either have little time to spend in the kitchen or who dislike spending hours preparing and cooking meals.
Your choice of convenience foods is obviously a very personal one, dictated by the tastes and habits of you as the cook — and your family, friends and guests. However, there are certain basic foodstuffs in the store cupboard which are essential if the kitchen is to run smoothly, and meals —whether they be grand affairs or simple snacks — are to be made without too much fuss and too many expeditions to the shops. A well-stocked cupboard is a must for successful, impromptu entertaining, and family meals in moments.
Obviously, for the happy owners of freezers, life is much simpler: whole meals, either cooked or uncooked, can be frozen away for some future date, and many basic fresh items may be put in the freezer and stored for weeks or months. However, a well-stocked store cupboard is still useful.
Dried foods, seasonings, etc.
For the best flavour in all dishes fresh herbs should be used, but at certain times of year these are not readily available, and the dried variety is useful to have on hand. However, remember that dried herbs and spices should be renewed every two to three months. Parsley and chives can be grown indoors throughout the year; the dried equivalents are not really worth using. In general, use half as much dried herbs as the fresh ones stated in any recipe.
Stock cubes should be used with caution. Wherever possible, use homemade stocks, as these will add far more flavour to a dish. Stock cubes are fine if you are in a hurry, but they do tend to be salty and make dishes taste alike. Powdered bouillon has a far better flavour than a stock cube.
Stuffing mixes are like stock cubes, fine if time is limited, but obviously the homemade variety is preferable. Stuffing mixes can be made far more palatable if fresh ingredients are added: chop an onion, fry in butter and add to sage and onion stuffing mix with 1 x 15 ml./1 tablespoon freshly chopped sage and plenty of black pepper. Or add freshly chopped parsley and thyme with the finely grated rind and juice of 1 medium lemon to a packet of parsley and thyme stuffing. Season well with freshly ground black pepper.
Different kinds of pasta, rice and pulses (beans) are also very useful to have on hand.
Tomatoes are the most versatile of all canned foods, especially in winter when fresh tomatoes are expensive and rather tasteless; use in dishes such as Spaghetti Bolognese, Lasagne, Navarin de Mouton.
Sweetcorn, also available frozen (on the cob/kernels), adds colour and flavour, especially to rice-based dishes, soups and chowders; also available with chopped red peppers. French beans could be served cold in salads with a tangy French dressing.
Red kidney beans should be drained and refreshed under cold running water before using; quick to use in dishes such as Chili con Came and Minestrone Soup.
Potatoes are a good winter standby; can be used in salads with mayonnaise and/or cream, snipped chives and plenty of freshly ground black pepper; use for Potato and Mushroom Sauté, a quick vegetable accompaniment; can also be fried in butter and oil.
Canned petits pois are quite good cooked in butter (not water) with freshly chopped mint, chopped spring onions, sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Mushrooms canned in brine are expensive, but good as a standby vegetable to use in casseroles, soups and stuffings, etc.
Cooked meats make quick tasty meals; canned pâté de foie is useful for stuffings and fillings.
Stewing beef and minced steak can be used for impromptu meals like Chili con Came, Steak and Kidney Pudding, curries, etc.; must be seasoned well with herbs and/or spices to taste, adding fresh or frozen vegetables wherever possible. Chopped ham/corned beef, etc. for fritters, deep-frying, pies, sandwiches, corned beef hash, salads, etc; good standby for children’s teas and weekend snacks, picnics; also can be diced and combined with a well-seasoned sauce for vol-au-vents.
Tuna canned in oil is good in salads particularly Tuna and Bean Salad and Salad Niçoise; mixed with mayonnaise, lemon juice and a sprinkling of cayenne pepper, tuna fish is good in fish cocktails, makes a good sandwich filling, or quick starter served on shredded lettuce or watercress.
Anchovies in olive oil should be drained and soaked in milk for at least 30 minutes before using, to remove excess salt; anchovies are good with meat — use them in pâtés, terrines and stuffings to add extra bite and to bring out flavour; also good in summer salads and on toast.
Mackerel either smoked or in tomato sauce makes good sandwich fillings combined with mayonnaise; especially good for open sandwiches.
Salmon red or pink can be used for sandwich either mixed with mayonnaise or well-seasoned béchamel sauce. Also useful for quick supper dishes, such as Kedgeree.
Sardines in olive oil or tomato sauce may be used as salmon. Prawns/shrimps are a good standby to use for sauces, fish cocktails, avocado with prawns, rice-based dishes, canapé toppings, sandwich and vol-au-vent fillings.
Crab is handy for cocktails, sandwiches and rice-based dishes.
Cherries, particularly Black Morello, are good for trifles and sauces, or combined with kirsch to taste and the finely grated rind and juice of an orange. Chill and serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream for a luscious dessert.
Prunes may be served for breakfast and make delicious fillings for open flans. They also can be used as a garnish for roast pork and for other pork dishes. Stoned dried prunes are also used in cakes, sweet loaves, etc.
Raspberries/strawberries/loganberries/blackberries etc. in syrup can be used for trifles, flans, souffles, etc.
Pineapple, available in rings, pieces or crushed, can be used in rice-based dishes and salads as a garnish for ham, bacon and pork.