Easy recipes, top tips, little-known facts and food hacks

12 months, 12 things we’ve learned

This time last year, the Spinneys Magazine opened its arms to a fresh section – Essential Food. This new kid on the block arrived with plenty of promises: it would show thrifty ways to put meals on the table and demonstrate crafty tricks that use up leftovers. It would be home to advice from Spinneys’ experts, and ingredients would be looked at from a different angle and shed in a new light.

Twelve months on, we feel confident that each of these promises can be ticked off as delivered. And to celebrate Essential Food’s one-year anniversary, we spent some time flicking through the back catalogue and rejigging our memory of everything it’s taught. Here is our selection of favourite moments from each edition.

March 2016 – Beauty runs skin deep

One thing you’ll always find in Essential Food is a desire to make stars out of scraps, the bits and bobs that are sometimes overlooked. It’s been this way from the start. In March 2016, we paid salmon skin – that nutritious, delicious diamond in the rough – the attention it so richly deserves. Simply lay the skin on a lined baking tray, drizzle with oil and season. Bake in a fierce oven (about 200°C) for roughly 15 minutes until the skin crackles and crunches and you have the most surprisingly moreish crisps you’ll ever have the pleasure to eat.

April 2016 – Good eggs

Done properly, an omelette turns everyday eggs into a meal we want to eat every single day. Why? Because it works at breakfast (with cheese) and brunch (draped with slivers of smoked salmon). It’s ideal for a light lunch in January (tuck some griddled asparagus in there) and as a breezy dinner in December (served with a salad on the side). Our go-to recipe brings the technique back to basics and is always speedy, dependable and there for you.

May 2016 – Piece of cake

In each version of Essential Food, we take one classic staple recipe (the sort that all keen cooks have up their sleeve) and strip it back to its core. And that’s what guides this Victoria sponge recipe. The ingredient quantities are so instantly memorable, the steps so simple, that once you’ve read the recipe once, it will be nestled away in your memory for ever – for your next office bake-off, for Mother’s Day, for a birthday.

June 2016 – Sesame sweet

To us, no kitchen is complete without a jar of tahini. It is so much more than ‘that ingredient you put in hummus’. With tahini to hand, a feast of flavour is never far away: do of course use it in hummus, but in moutabal too. Whisk a spoonful with olive oil, honey and lemon juice (and if you want to fold that through a chick pea, halloumi and pomegranate salad, can we be your guests for dinner?), or even try it in place of peanut putter when a recipe for chunky blondies comes a-callin’.

July 2016 – Chill out

A common theme of Essential Food is that it’s nifty to be thrifty – the idea that during the week, when time is tight, meals should be as effortless as possible. And as we showed in July, chilli con carne is a brilliantly successful way to cook like this. Make a big batch and (if you can resist scarfing it all down in one sitting) set some aside to be stretched over the course of a few meals: baked under cheesy cobblers, spooned over hot dogs for sloppy Joes, or simply stashed away in your freezer so that next time you wake up in the mood for chilli that evening, the hard work is already behind you.

August 2016 – Matters of fact

We like to highlight a fewer lesser-known food facts. In August, we looked at how the tomato vines we’d usually throw away actually contain a lot of aroma that can be infused through soups and stews. We discovered that one reason tomato is thought of as a vegetable is because of its relatively low sugar content (about three per cent – similar to cabbage). And we learned some interesting pasta titbits too: did you know that orecchiette means little ears, and that some pasta shapes tell a sinister story – like strozzapreti – which means priest strangler?

September 2016 – Paste taste

If you have a batch of curry paste at home, you’re already on the road to an endless array of dishes. Our back to basics recipe can be made in a flash and tweaked to suit – make it as hot or mild as you like, or take it in a different direction by adding lemon grass, curry leaves or tamarind into the mix. Make sure not to skip the spoonful of tomato paste – it adds real body and depth to the curry paste.

October 2016 – Common threads

In October, we injected colour into the month by playing a numbers game with saffron. Because though it’s an expensive product, an incredible amount of effort goes into its production, and a tiny little pinch goes a very long way. It takes 200 hours of work (and 70,000 flowers) to yield just 500 grams of dried saffron. To get the most out of your threads, gently crush them first and soak in a little drop of water or milk.

November 2016 – Rise to the occasion

For many, a roast dinner just isn’t complete without a Yorkshire pudding, that crispy, absorbent edible gravy boat. But it has a reputation as something that’s fussy to make and tricky to get right. Wrong. As our easy recipe showed, just rest your batter (a simple mixture of flour, eggs and milk), get your fat really hot and work at a fairly brisk speed. The golden rise will take care of itself…

December 2016 – The gift of leftovers

The December 2016 issue of Essential Food sought to tackle one subject: what to do with Christmas leftovers. The key is to carry on the indulgent flair of the days before. From turkey and camembert croquettes to a cheesy leek and stuffing pasta bake and loaded potatoes, we learned that options are pretty much limitless. Remember to be flexible – if you have more or less leftovers than any recipe calls for, it will be absolutely fine. The festive season is no time to fret over precision.

January 2017 – Hummus goals

New year, new you, new ways to eat hummus. The spinneysFOOD Hummus is rich with tahini and packs a punch with garlic and lemon. Up your game by serving it with crispy cumin lamb or finishing with a swirl of store-bought pesto. Make hummus toasts topped with feta and pomegranate seeds or whip with yogurt until your mix is as light as cloud.

February 2017 – Hots for chocolate

In the February collection of Essential Food, our heart was beating for chocolate. We went for a brief walk through how it’s created (a long old process that involves fermenting, drying, roasting and grinding), took a little look at its history (like how white chocolate has only been around for about 80 years) and spent a fair amount of time daydreaming about all the reasons we love chocolate: in cookies and pies and tarts, in Valentine’s Day boxes and poured over ice cream.

That’s it – a little taster of what the Essential Food section has offered up so far. But there’s plenty more where that came from. Be sure to pick up your copy of the Spinneys Magazine each month, and keep an eye on our website and social media channels for more easy recipes, must-have advice and nuggets of interesting info.