Chef challenge: can Woolworths' Basic Box be used to create something delicious?

Melbourne-based Chef Matt Wilkinson.
Melbourne-based Chef Matt Wilkinson. Photo: Simon Schluter

What do you do when a retail giant hands you cornflakes, peanut butter and long-life milk? You make cookies, says Melbourne chef Matt Wilkinson.

"Reduce the milk with sugar in a saucepan until it's thick and caramelised, and stir in the peanut butter and cornflakes. Form a few balls from the mix and whack 'em in the oven for super simple cookies."

The ingredients are part of Woolworths' new home-delivery "Basics Box", launched to support vulnerable Australians unable to leave the house during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Woolworths Basics Box, created to help provide essential products to vulnerable customers currently unable to visit ...
The Woolworths Basics Box, created to help provide essential products to vulnerable customers currently unable to visit stores. Photo: Supplied

Delivered with the support of Australia Post and DHL, the supermarket's $80 box is also filled with basic grocery items such as canned tuna, baked beans and other goods not traditionally found in the larders of hatted restaurants. 

Just because the staples are standard-issue, however, Wilkinson says that doesn't mean home cooks can't fashion a half-decent meal from the box.

"I reckon the trick is to ask current or former students for ideas," says the founder of The Pie Shop, Brunswick and former Pope Joan chef.

Chef Jordan Toft at Mimi's, Coogee.
Chef Jordan Toft at Mimi's, Coogee.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

"A solicitor or top-end accountant who spent years at university will probably know their way around these staples better than a chef who has spent most of their life in professional kitchens. Women's Weekly cookbooks from the 1970s should also come in handy for inspiration!"

Contents of the carbohydrate-heavy box may change depending on availability, says a Woolworths spokesperson. A customer in Victoria might receive pasta, while a NSW home is delivered rice. In order to streamline the packing process, customers can't choose, switch or select specific products for the box either. 

"It's a bit like wartime rations, isn't it?" says Jordan Toft, executive chef of Mimi's restaurant in Coogee, Sydney. "Times are hard if you're making canned tuna tortillas." 

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Nevertheless, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald set Toft and Wilkinson a challenge to create recipes going beyond Vegemite on a cracker by using the Basic Box ingredients. Here is the chefs' self-isolation banquet.

Baked curry rice

Preheat the oven to 190C. Saute diced onion in a saucepan with a pinch of Keen's curry powder, which everyone has lurking in the back of the cupboard. Drain the canned vegetables and add them to the pan. Add the rice and give everything a good stir. Cover with boiling water and bring the liquid back to the boil. Put the lid on and bake in the oven for around 25-30 minutes. When the rice comes out of the oven, let it sit and cool for 15 minutes before fluffing it up with a fork and serving. Good times. Matt Wilkinson.

Caramelised tomato and tuna pasta 

Sweat a diced onion in a frypan with lots of olive oil. (You can use the oil from the canned tuna too.) If you have a couple of anchovies in the fridge, now is the time to add them for extra depth. Add a couple of spoonfuls of tomato paste or the pasta sauce and stir and cook until the mixture begins to caramelise. Add the canned tuna and cook for a minute or two. Add a can of tinned tomatoes if available, otherwise a tin of water is fine. Bring to a hard boil and keep stirring. Add some pasta cooked to packet instructions (penne is good) and hey, presto. Done! You could also add chilli sauce to serve. MW.

Rice pudding with biscuits and jam

I remember rice pudding from back in the day. Mum would always make it when we had a roast dinner. Preheat the oven to 160C. Add a cup of rice to two cups of the long-life milk in a saucepan. Stir though a couple of tablespoons of sugar and gently heat. Add a drop of vanilla extract if you have it. Bring the milk to the boil and place the rice mixture into the oven. Let it cook until the pudding becomes thick and creamy, giving it a stir once or twice in the process. While it's cooking, take any sweet biscuits you have and crush them in a zip-lock bag. Serve the rice with the crushed biscuits on top and a few dots of jam. Jordan Toft.

Woolworths' Basic Box Ingredients

Essentials

Flour

Sugar

Toilet paper

Soap (or other hygiene products)

Breakfast

Long-life milk (or a dairy substitute)

Fruit juice

Weet-Bix, oats (or breakfast cereal)

Crackers (or similar)

Spread (jam, Vegemite, honey or peanut butter)

Lunch and dinner

Pasta (or rice, lentils, noodles, quinoa, couscous)

Pasta sauce (or similar)

Canned tuna (or other canned meat)

Canned items - soup, vegetables and fruit

Baked beans (or similar)

Tortilla bread (or similar)

Snacks

Tea

Biscuits (or chocolate wafers, sweet snacks)

Muesli bars (or dried fruits)