At the moment, you can't guess which aisle of the supermarket is going to be empty next. Meal planning is out. It's all about impromptu cooking. That means it's a good idea to know what you can whip up with whatever you've got lying about. Here are some ideas to get you thinking. All you'll need is a blender.
For all the blender tips in this article, except the final one, we used the the Russell Hobbs Desire. We think it’s a really handy piece of kitchen equipment. It’s a hand blender with multiple attachments including a chopper and a whisk. At the moment, it’s on sale at Very, for only £29.99.You can read our review here.
1. Make self-raising flour
No self-raising flour? No problem. Just add half a teaspoon of baking powder to 100g of plain flour.
No flour at all? Try the next tip.
2. Make a no-flour cake in your fridge
There are lots of no-bake cake recipes you’ll be able to find online. This is a good one for now as lots of the ingredients can be swapped out for whatever you can find in the cupboard.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 250g of digestive biscuits (or similar)
- 150g milk chocolate
- 150g dark chocolate
- 100g butter
- 150g Golden Syrup (honey or maple syrup will do)
- 175g dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, cranberries, dates, figs, whatever)
- 60g nuts (pecans, pistachios, almonds or leave the nuts out altogether)
Here's what to do:
- Line a rectangular tin with cling film or baking paper.
- Break up the biscuits. You can whizz them in a vegetable chopper.
- Melt the chocolate, butter and syrup in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. (Make sure the bowl is heatproof, or it’ll crack.) Stir the ingredients together.
- When it’s well mixed, remove it from the heat and add the rest of the ingredients.
- Spoon the mixture into the tin.
- Flatten its surface and leave it to cool.
- Stick it in the fridge until it sets (1.5-2 hours).
- Cut it into chunks and serve.
- To yourself.
3. Make cauliflower mash
I know, I know. You just want to get a gigantic plate of mashed potatoes and sit down in front of the TV and watch The Office nonstop until the world rights itself again.
But if there are no potatoes to be had, you can give cauliflower a try. Here’s how to turn it into mash:
- Break the cauliflower into florets.
- Add the florets to a pan of salted, boiling water. Boil them only until they become tender. Don’t let them disintegrate.
- Stick the strained cauliflower into a blender, along with 85g of parmesan, 8 tablespoons of butter, a quarter of a lemon (juice and zest). If you don’t have parmesan, you can use any other kind of hard cheese. If there’s no cheese, try tahini. If you don’t have a lemon, add a tablespoonful of vinegar.
- Blitz the mixture until it’s smooth and creamy.
- Add salt, pepper and more butter to taste.
- Start eating.
4. Make courgetti
If you were hoping for a bowl of comfort food in the form of spag bol but your local shop has been picked clean of pasta, try making courgetti.
If you don’t have a spiraliser, use a vegetable peeler and cut the courgette into long ribbons. Slice the ribbons lengthwise to make thinner spaghetti. Blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain well and serve with your usual bolognese sauce and cheese mountain. After all, spaghetti is really only a delivery system for cheese and sauce.
5. Bake bread without a breadmaker
- 500g of strong white flour, plus a bit extra for dusting
- 300ml of water
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- A 7g sachet of fast-action yeast
Here's what to do:
- Drop the flour, salt and yeast into a bowl and mix.
- Make a well in the middle of the mixture. Add the olive oil and water and mix it up until it’s smooth and slightly tacky to the touch.
- If it seems stiff or grainy, add another tablespoon of water and mix it again.
- Dust your counter with the leftover flour and plop the dough onto the surface.
- This is the hard bit. You want to knead the dough for 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and shiny. Set a timer because this is going to seem like an eternity of hand cramps.
- When your dough is ready, stick it in an oiled bowl and cover it with cling film.
- Leave it to rise for at least an hour, by which time it should have doubled in size. If you prefer, you can put it in the fridge overnight.
- The dough will be full of air pockets. Get rid of them by roughly handling the dough and pulling and stretching it into itself. (This is called 'knocking back' the dough.) Then reshape the dough into a ball.
- Line a tray with baking paper and put your dough ball on it for another hour to prove. It should double in size again.
- Preheat your oven to 220°C (200°C in a fan oven) or Gas Mark 7.
- Dust the loaf and slice a line across the top with a sharp knife.
- Bake it for 25-30 minutes until the loaf is golden brown. If you tap it on the base, it should sound hollow.
- Cool it on a wire rack.
- You are now a baker. Eat your bread.
6. Bake without eggs
There are plenty of potential egg substitutes you can use in baking, depending on what’s in your cupboard. My top tip, if you’re making something sweet like pancakes, muffins or cakes, is to use a banana. If not, here are some other options:
- One teaspoon of baking soda and one tablespoon of vinegar
- Silken or firm tofu
If you’re thinking that’s all useless because you don’t have tofu or flaxseed in your cupboard, do you have a tin of chickpeas? If so, you have aquafaba. All you need to do is separate the liquid from the chickpeas. Add half a teaspoon of baking powder to the chickpea liquid and blend it for three or four minutes. You'll get a creamy egg white-like foam that you can use instead of eggs in a recipe. I know it sounds disgusting and unlikely but give it a go. It's a cool trick.
7. Use your freezer to make soup (and stock)
When you’re next cooking, get two large Ziploc bags or Tupperware containers and label them ‘Soup’ and ‘Stock’. Put today’s date on it. Your vegetables will keep for up to a year in the freezer.
Dice up any leftover veg. While you’re at it, do the same with any still-edible veg lurking in your fridge. This can include broccoli stalks and cauliflower leaves and stems. Drop the diced veg into your soup container and stick it in the freezer. Add to it every time you cook.
When the container is full, add it to a pot of boiling water. Drop in some stock, herbs, spices, garlic or chilli. Simmer and reduce a bit. If you prefer a thick soup rather than broth and bits, use a hand blender to whizz it up.
Add some rice, beans or barley (or whatever you can find in the cupboard). Voila, you genius! You've just made a delicious vegetable soup.
Stick any bits of veg that are a bit too stalky or chewy to eat into a colander and give them a good rinse. Chop them roughly and add them to your stock container. Put that in the freezer and add to it each time you cook. When it gets full, boil up the scraggy veg bits to make a stock.
8. Make French toast with the ends of your loaf
Ah, French toast (or as we sophisticates call it, eggy bread): there’s no better way to turn cruddy food you might otherwise throw away into a mouth-wateringly delicious breakfast or supper. The best thing about this recipe (apart from its tastiness) is that you can use any old bit of stale bread: the dismal end of a loaf. Tough French bread. Rock-hard stale rolls. As long as it won’t kill you, it can go in.
All you need is one egg per two slices of bread, and a little bit of milk. Beat together the eggs and milk (once again: it’s blender time). Heat some oil or butter in a pan. Dip your sad bread into the egg mixture and fry until it's transformed into golden brown loveliness.
You can serve it with sweet (a sprinkling of sugar and some maple syrup) or savoury (brown sauce or ketchup) condiments, depending on whether or not you’re a monster. I won’t weigh in on that.
9. Freeze yoghurt ice cubes for smoothies
If you’ve got cream or yoghurt you’re not going to get to before it turns, empty an ice cube tray and freeze it in batches. As each tray freezes, decant it into a Ziploc bag. You can drop yoghurt ice cubes straight into your blender when you want to make a smoothie, or add cream to coffees and sauces. Bear in mind that thin cream won’t freeze well. It needs a 40% fat content to do so. If you whip the cream up with a whisk and add a little sugar, it’s less likely to separate in the freezer.
10. If all else fails, make blender compost
As well as making smoothies, soups and cocktails, you can also use your blender for less obvious things. Eggs for breakfast? Stick ‘em in your blender for super-fluffy omelettes and scrambles.
But when you have organic waste and kitchen leftovers you absolutely can’t do anything else with, stick them on the compost heap.
To kick-start your compost, once you’ve collected a batch of otherwise inedible matter (eggshells, coffee grounds, banana peels), give it a whizz in the blender before you stick in on the heap.
Caution: only try it if you have a serious, hardcore, proper bartender's blender. Don't destroy your hard-working little hand blender for this.