Grant Allen overcomes his panic and gets down to dinner basics with ideas straight from the cupboard.

Help! I was in a jam and about to be in a pickle. Writers are not meant to use cliches, but these food-related ones described my situation well.

I had just arrived back to Auckland, a photographer was due for my weekly food shoot and I had still not really thought about what to cook.

What does one do in such circumstances? Go back to Plan A or call a friend.

Plan A was to do a story about "What's in the Cupboard". The editor and I had discussed this when first planning my Savour column. A friend was due to call by, so she could be roped in.


Robyn McDonald has been my cooking friend forever. In her various lives she has gained a home science degree, flown for Air New Zealand, founded the Avocado Promotion Board, been a cabinet minister and is currently CEO of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

We have cooked together in many circumstances and her amazing food knowledge and skills constantly inspire me. She is the kind of woman who could produce a degustation menu on a single stove element. In her calm and stylish way, using whatever was on hand, she would achieve a magic result. Thank God for friends!

This is what we found in my kitchen cupboard, fridge and vege bowl:

Tins of: Tomatoes, corn, baby beetroot, white beans, smoked tuna

Dry goods: Brown rice, risotto rice, flour, seeds, olive oil, vege stock powder

In the fridge: Bacon, eggs, bread, milk, butter, cheese, mayo, packaged chicken stock, various sauces

Veges: Potatoes, parsnips, garlic, onions

You may find yourself caught short these school holidays, with unexpected mouths to feed. Here is what we came up with.

Patatas bravas
This Spanish tapa is a tasty snack. It can be used as a side dish or extended with a topping of some sausage slices, traditionally chorizo. If you had some leftover cooked chicken in the fridge you could shred this and scatter it across the potatoes.
1 Cut peeled potatoes into bite sized chunks. Blanch them in some boiling salted water for 5 minutes, drain and dry.

2 You can now either shallow fry the chunks or toss them in a little olive oil and bake them in the oven until crisp.

3 In a solid pan, using olive oil, gently cook some chopped garlic, some finely chopped onion and a few chilli flakes.

4 If you have it, add a tablespoon of tomato paste. If you have some red wine vinegar, add a splash of this. Add a can of tomatoes and turn up the heat. Cook this until the sauce is thickened, then season well.

5 Mix the cooked potatoes through the sauce and serve with a "fake" aioli made by blending crushed garlic through a bought mayo. Offer toothpicks to eat with.

Use up these ingredients:
* Canned corn, pumpkin seeds and bacon for scrumptious fritters
* Canned tuna and brown rice for a delicious bake
* Cannellini beans and stale bread for crispy cassoulet
* Beetroot for a warming risotto