Food: How My Cooking & Ingredient-Shopping Has Changed Over Time

I started this blog way back in 2012, before I headed off to university, before I was responsible for my own food shop. I’d like to think my cooking has gotten a lot better in this time (it’s certainly got a lot more adventurous!), but I know a whole lot has changed about what I buy, what I cook, what I order in a restaurant. I’ve grown up and my tastes have changed – which considering I was probably only 17 when I started writing makes a whole lotta sense!

Budget

Back when I started university, and in fact most of the way through my degree, my weekly food budget was a maximum of £20. And it worked. Most weeks I spent around £15, some weeks it would be £25 but more often that not I came in on budget. Nowadays I am part of a pair, but our weekly food budget is still a fairly thrifty £50. We try to include “housekeeping” in this too, be it loo roll or cleaning items. Obviously there’s weeks it’s over, like the time someone (ahem, me) accidentally over-ordered in the butchers to the tune of £40 worth of meat for what was meant to be one meal – there’s still nearly half of that in the freezer. I actually quite like sticking to a budget, it’s made us more inventive, we eat more seasonally (it’s noticeably more expensive to buy out-of-season and imported produce) and when we do treat ourselves it feels more special.

Herbs

This is where I’ve probably changed the most. At the start of my cooking journey, a tub of dried mixed herbs would do for everything and anything. Yep. It actually makes me cringe to think back as I’m sure most of my dishes must have tasted exactly the same. As I started to enjoy cooking more and more my dried herb collection grew, but now I’ve gone in completely the other direction – fresh herbs. Whether it’s coriander to garnish curries (usually blitzing the stalks into the paste), or thyme up a roast chicken’s bottom, the flavours are just so much better.

One of my major points of embarrassment is that I used to try and replace fresh coriander in recipes with the spice. Nope. Just no.

Spices

Likewise, my spice rack has grown considerably. I’m pretty sure my go-to spices when I moved to university were curry powder, cumin and chilli flakes. Which was probably more than some of my housemates had in first year (given the amount of times they used to go ‘missing’), but even so – I know have a whole cupboard dedicated to spices. And it’s not even a small cupboard. From the individual whole spices (so we can make our own distinctive blends of curry powder no less), to two types of paprika, three jars of cinnamon (not entirely sure why), and fancy thinks like za’tar and sumac. I genuinely don’t think I’d get through a week with such a basic spice rack anymore!

Meat

Now, I’m not ever likely to be vegetarian. I love animals, I really do, and I’m also very environmentally concious – but I also recognise that my body runs best when I eat some meat. However over the last year I’ve cut down the amount I eat and started buying from local butchers rather than supermarkets. No doubt about it, it’s pricier BUT I can tell you want farms it has come from, exactly how the animal is kept and it also tastes so much better. We try and eat vegetarian dinners at least twice a week, if not more, and I am absolutely loving experimenting a bit more with veg. Expect a lot more veggie recipes in 2018!

Things I “Don’t Like”

When I met W at 16 I was a reasonably fussy eater – in particular I ate no fruit, and was picky about what vegetables I ate. I didn’t like peas or carrots, cauliflower was a no go and I never really ate pulses. Nowadays I’m a lot better. I still don’t like plain boiled/steam carrots, but will eat them roasted, stewed, raw or stir-fried. I’ll eat roasted cauliflower. Peas are no problem. My fruit intake is better (not that that’s difficult!) but I do find it irritates my stomach so don’t eat a huge amount. I do now like cooked fruit through – helllooooo crumbles!

I also really, realllyyyyy used to dislike fruit in savoury dishes – however the above Cauliflower, Caramelised Onion and Pomegranate Salad is one of my current fav lunchbox dishes!

Fruit & Veg

Keeping on the topic of fruit and veg, I know buy a LOT more. We try and buy loose pieces where possible, to avoid excessive packaging and also to pick out the freshest bits. We also try to eat seasonally – it’s not always easy, given you can pretty much buy anything your heart desires in the Sainsburys aisle, but we do try. Our next plan is to find a veg delivery box we are happy with. We’ve tried a couple and been sorely disappointed so any recommendations would be great!

The long term plan? I’d love to have an allotment or veg patch to grow our own. This isn’t going to happen for a long, long time, but it’s been a dream of mine for a while. My paternal Granddad kept an allotment until very late in his life, and I guarantee there is nothing better than vegetables picked on the day. Homemade grown rhubarb in particular is a delight.

Buying Premium

As I said earlier in this post, we do still stick to a budget when it comes to food shopping – living in London means despite my good graduate wage we don’t have a huge amount of spare cash. However there are some things we do splash out on. We buy decent eggs, particularly for breakfasts. I’ll still buy supermarkets own (free range, of course) for baking, but I’ll treat us to some extra special ones with bright golden yolks for a good brunch. Our biggest “extravgence” however is pasta. Own-brand pasta just doesn’t cut it for us any more, so we’ll buy premium brands or make our own. I think it’s because we don’t tend to have hugely flavoured sauces, veering to more delicate choices (like this Fennel Linguine) – so the pasta needs to taste good. This brand is particular good (available in Sainsburys).

And that’s pretty much it. On the whole I’ve got a lot more adventurous with my cooking, trying out new cusines, new flavours, new recipes. How has your cooking style changed over the years?