Fridge Basics: Cooking from Scratch Without Starting From Scratch

There are people in this world who make lists, plan meticulously, have a tidy desk, and write menus for the week ahead.  Sadly, I am not that person.  I mean, who knows on Sunday what The People will want for dinner on Thursday? Instead, I prefer my weekend ritual of trawling the farmers market, greengrocer and fishmonger for seasonal cooking inspiration.

While lists may not be my thing, I do like to be prepared at any time for any meal and be un-phased by late additions to the table. And for this I have a plan. Fridge Basics (FB for short, not to be confused with Facebook) are condiments, sauces and marinades that sit in jars on a shelf in the fridge, each for up to two weeks. They can be used on a variety of vegetables, proteins, grains, you name it - to bring your ingredients and meals to life. With this plan and your FB jars ready and waiting in the fridge, you never have to start cooking a meal from square one.

Each of the Fridge Basics listed below takes no more than five minutes to assemble.  They can be whipped up in a quiet moment so they are ready and waiting to rustle up a quick weeknight dinner, or turn leftovers into something completely new and exciting. This is essentially my no meltdown method to producing meals.

I taught a class on this topic last week, and it turned out to be much more fun than it sounds. FB most clearly explains how I cook, especially during the week. My (not so secret) stash of fridge jars makes the most mundane components of any meal into an appetising, colourful and tasty dish. No fuss required.

Here are my current top choices and suggestions for how to use them and with flavours options to make them your own.

Marinated Feta

I like to make this in a mason/kilner jar but you can also make it in a small square dish and cover with cling film

This marinated feta is fab sprinkled on salad, crumbled in soup and frittatas and smeared on crackers or toast.

300g block of Feta type cheese (a hard goats cheese works well too)

1 small shallot, thinly sliced

1-2 red chilli peppers (depending on their heat), seeds removed and thinly sliced OR 2 small dried chillies

3 bay leaves

4/5 sprigs of thyme

500-600ml olive oil (depending on the size of your container)

Cube the feta into large bite size blocks

Cover the bottom of the jar with a film of olive oil and start adding some of the feta cubes.

On top some of cheese cubes, layer the shallots, chilli, a bay leaf and some thyme and pour oil over the feta until it is covered. Keep layering the feta and the aromatics in the jar until they are all used up, making sure they are completely submerged with oil.

Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours. The longer the better

It will keep sealed in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Flavour Variations:

Replace the above aromatics with:

1 tsp dried mint

1 tsp dried oregano

3 strips of lemon zest

a few sprigs of fresh mint and oregano

a pinch of chilli flakes or a good grind of pepper


5-6 sprigs of fresh coriander

3 bay leaves

1 sliced shallot

2 turkish chilli peppers

3 strips of lemon zest

Hot Honey

This is a multi-use condiment. Here are some of the ways I use it:

-drizzled on cheese and crackers or on top of ricotta smeared on toast

-top roasted carrots, sweet potatoes and squash with a generous drizzle

-delicious drizzled on chicken thighs (before baking) or on sausages in their last few minutes in the oven

-thinned with a little more vinegar and some oil for a salad dressing

340g (1 cup) honey

80ml (1/3 cup) red wine vinegar or cider vinegar

3 tsp chilli flakes

2 tsp salt

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cool and transfer in to a sealed jar or container and keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Confit Shallots

Along with confit garlic these are a staple in my fridge. I use them in dressings, mixed into cooked grains or lentils, or tossed with steamed or roasted vegetables, and as a flavour base for just about everything. The oil from the shallots is sublime and I often use it to rub on chicken before it is cooked. The oil should never be wasted - use it on everything from sauteing vegetables, bases for dressings or marinades, even frying eggs!

8-10 shallots peeled and quartered

2 bay leaves

400ml olive oil (approx depending on your dish)

Preheat oven to 170C

Place shallots in a 20cm pot with a tight fitting lid

Add the bay leaves and cover with oil. The shallots need to be completely submerged, so the oil quantity is really a guide.

Bake for 45 minutes until the shallots are lightly golden and soft.

Transfer confit shallots and oil to a clean jar and refrigerate once cooled. Keeps for up to 2 weeks in the fridge

Roasted brussel sprouts with confit shallots and anchovy butter. photo  Emma Parlons

Roasted brussel sprouts with confit shallots and anchovy butter. photo Emma Parlons

Flavoured Butters

Flavoured butters are a fridge essential. They are fantastic melted on steamed or roasted vegetables, smeared onto fish fillets before baking, on steak or chicken or stirred into warm rice or grains before serving. I also like to keep some in the freezer to grate onto baked potatoes. I hope you experiment and find your flavour of choice.

Anchovy Butter

100g butter at room temperature

10 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry

1/2 clove of garlic or confit garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp finely chopped parsley

10 anchovy fillets

Finely chop together the garlic, parsley and anchovies. You can either do this by hand or in a mini chopper. Mix into the softened butter with a wooden spoon until all combined.

Chill mixture and mould into a sausage shape and roll with cling film or baking parchment.

Miso Butter

100g butter at room temperature

75g (1/4 cup) white miso

15g chives, finely chopped

1 spring onion, finely chopped

1 tsp grated fresh ginger (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon.

Chill mixture and mould into a sausage shape and roll with cling film or baking parchment.

Herb Butter (this is the butter I used here on salmon)

100g butter at room temperature

3 spring onions (scallions) roughly chopped (white and green parts)

1 small clove of garlic

1 small bunch of each parsley, dill and tarragon and thinly sliced chives (you can also use coriander, basil, marjoram)

zest of 1 lemon and the juice of half a lemon (approx 1 tbsp)

salt and pepper

Put all the herbs, spring onions, garlic and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade.

Chop all the herbs together and add the softened butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper and blitz until combined.

Chill mixture and mould into a sausage shape and roll with cling film or baking parchment.

As we are on the cusp of winter, these are ones I use more at this time of year, but if you are a BBQ fiend, this sauce is great to have in the fridge at all times even if you are only oven baking your chicken or sausages to give you that summer feel.