The Single Gourmet Traveller’s Top Ten ‘Can’t Live Without’ Ingredients

Can't live without ...

Now, before you think this is some useful guide to what you absolutely must keep in your fridge and cupboards to be able to knock up a meal in minutes … No.  No, this is a ‘if I find I’ve run out I simply have to dash to the local Tesco Express a couple of minutes before they close at 11 pm’ or I will be having a major panic attack. These are the foods of love and craving. Cravings are not necessarily healthy, especially if indulged in too heavily, but they are about nurture and feeling good – and actually, mine do turn out to be quite healthy too …

When he was about ten, my son told me very seriously that he didn’t think he could live without tomatoes (my daughter had a love for honey and apple sandwiches which she apparently still makes to take into work sometimes!). Now this may sound a weird thing for a kid to say but it only reflects the passion with which we treated food and cooking; always sitting down to eat as a family and discussing the food in front of us with appreciation. Even the simplest supper made with love is a wonderful thing, from choosing the best ingredients to laying the food carefully on the plate so it looks good too.

So, I thought it would be fun to tell you what foods I ‘can’t live without’ … and it would be great if you could write in and let me know yours!

In no particular order …

1.  Tomatoes: I’m with my son on this one. I really love tomatoes and it would be a rare thing to come into my home and find there were none in my kitchen. I’m always surprised by how many people tell me they don’t like tomatoes. How can anyone not love tomatoes! I like them all ways: sweet and raw, perhaps sliced with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top and a few torn basil leaves; roasted on the vine in the oven, either very, very slowly if I have time or quickly on a high heat if it’s a last-minute thought with a dash of balsamic in the last couple of minutes; stuffed with rice and herbs Greek style; gently fried in olive oil with seasonings and herbs to make a fresh tomato pasta sauce; roasted with onions and butternut squash as the base for a wonderful winter soup.

2.  Dark chocolate: OK – I know! It’s such a joke that all women love chocolate … but actually they don’t (even if most do) and I only like dark chocolate (I find milk or white too sweet). For me, there’s just nothing like a bar of Green & Black’s Dark with Cherry. Now, I have to confess I really have gone out late at night if I’ve found my chocolate drawer bare … I like my chocolate cold and always keep it in a ‘Safe Keeper’ drawer in my fridge door. I’ve never worked out what I’m supposed to keep in it … but keeping my chocolate safe seems like a very good idea.  The Mayans (300 – 900 AD) thought the cocoa tree was a gift from the gods and who could argue with them. They used chocolate medicinally to relieve fatigue and stimulate their mental abilities. This no doubt arose from chocolate’s caffeine content – too much chocolate can make you high. But good, dark chocolate is still a source of antioxidants and minerals – or at least, that’s the story I’m sticking to!

3.  Avocadoes:  I can remember quite vividly when I first given an avocado at a friend’s home when I was about eight. I hated it; thought it quite disgusting. I can’t remember when it was I changed my mind but now I love them and wouldn’t be without them in my home. They have a high fat content but of a good kind; in a health-conscious age, we need to remember that some fats are not only good but essential. Avocadoes are full of goodness. Usually I just eat them with a little dressing, but occasionally will make an avocado and bacon sandwich; and homemade guacamole is wonderful. Then there’s the Italian Insalata Tricolore – a perfect matching of avocado, tomato and mozzarella cheese.

4.  Cashew nuts:  My mother has always been fond of telling me about her craving for cashew nuts while she was pregnant with me and that my dad would be sent out late at night, and if he could only find the salted variety, he would wash the salt off for her … need I say more? Let’s blame it on my mother!  Not that there’s any ‘blame’ to attach as cashews are an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and folic acid – so the fact that I am addicted to them is probably only a good thing. I too only like the non-salted kind. I occasionally cook with them, throwing them into stir fries or rice dishes, but generally they are just a snack and a few times a day I’ll raid the jar in my cupboards.

5.  Lemons:  I love everything lemony from the edible to shower gels with lemon in them. I start each day with a mug of hot water and slice of lemon (an excellent cleanser); I use them for marinades, salad dressings, cakes; I stuff chickens with them or lay quartered lemons round the edge of a roasting chicken to caramelise. Always, when I cook spinach or broccoli, I squeeze over some lemon juice and dribble over some olive oil – Italian style -and it lifts a simple vegetable into something marvellous.

6.  Half a bottle of champagne:  I love champagne and although it’s a sometimes treat rather than a daily or even weekly occurrence, I firmly believe there should always be a half bottle in the fridge, ready not only to celebrate (my most frequent excuse is my daughter visiting because she loves it too) but sometimes to soothe and put the world to right. Half bottles are a silly price compared to whole bottles … but gosh, a Single Gourmet would need such a good excuse to open a whole bottle so that’s why I always have a half bottle available (usually a Waitrose own make, which is excellent and very reasonable in price).

7.  Coffee:  I don’t know when I first tasted coffee but it’s been almost a lifelong love. I think I was given it when I was quite young because back then (you didn’t want a date did you?) no one thought anything of it. My daughter is well versed in seeking out good coffee houses when on holiday with me; she knows once we get to the 10.30 stage, if I haven’t had a good coffee (I will reject mediocre ones) then I’m going to be a jittering pain. She doesn’t drink coffee at all herself but has an excellent nose for a good cafe!  See more on my coffee love in my Coffee Heaven post.

8.  Bread:  I had a bread craving when I was pregnant – which explains why when we were holidaying in France when my daughter was just eighteen months, baguettes would come back from the boulangerie – in her arms – with large chunks missing! I love good bread – not the heavy, stodgy English kind but light, open-holed French campagne loaves from places like Paul; wonderful Italian foccacia; and a great favourite is olive fougasse. A good bread is delicious on its own and doesn’t need accompaniment, but if I do want something, it’s either some very cold butter or fruity olive oil. Bread is for mopping up delicious dressings and sauces; the irresistible smell of toast; a spicy bread pudding with memories of my childhood and helping my gran make them; a light, custardy bread and butter pudding; it’s a summery Gazpacho … it’s a traditional flute from Paul that you just have to tear the top from before you get home.

9.  Olive oil: when I was a child, olive oil was mainly something you bought in a chemist’s to treat a dry scalp. Yuk! you say. My first memory of something extraordinarily different and wonderful was in the 1970s when a boss at the publishing company where I worked, brought me back a large, unlabelled bottle of dark green extra virgin oil from his holiday in Tuscany. Nowadays, the choice of olive oils in the supermarket is enough to stop you in your tracks for half an hour while you consider what’s available. It’s generally better to cook on a high heat with a lighter oil, but there’s just nothing like a good extra virgin oil for dressings and some slowly cooked dishes. In Greece in June, see Beautiful Kardamyli, I enjoyed local Kalamata olive oil; in Puglia last year drove through fields and fields of olive trees stretching into the distance. I really wouldn’t want to live without a good extra virgin olive oil now – and of course it goes very well with the avocadoes, lemons and bread above!

10. Yeo Valley Natural Yogurt: I just love this yogurt. I can only buy it locally in Waitrose and occasionally I don’t want to go there but somewhere else and buy a different make … and it’s never as good; never does the ‘satisfying my craving’ job. It’s obviously a very personal thing and I just like the taste of this particular yogurt.  Organic yogurt is good for you too with lots of good probiotics.  I have it in the morning with my breakfast and I often have it in the evening too with some fruit or maple syrup or, at the moment, the last scrapings of Yiannis’s wonderful mountain honey which is now sadly almost used up.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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