I like to use the “Indian” brands such as TRS, East End, Rajah and Top Op or The Spiceworks on eBay are excellent for bulk fresh spices. They taste much better and are so much cheaper than buying the small jars in the supermarket and if you use as much as I do that soon adds up. You can find the branded spices in local Indian shops or Tesco stock some of the TRS spices. Keep them in an airtight container in a cook, dark place.
It might be a bit of a veggie stereotype but I eat a lot of lentils, they are a lovely, earthy, comforting food especially in the colder months. Always make sure you wash lentils well to remove any dust, you’ll get a horrible grey foam and nasty tasting lentils if you don’t. I usually put them in a sieve and rinse them under the tap thoroughly, most lentils don’t need pre-soaking but check the packet to be sure. I go through phases of checking them for stones or not, I know most recipes advise this but I’ve never found one so am undecided on the necessity; Of course sods law dictates that the one time you don’t check is the time there will be a huge rock in there hence my indecision. Make your own mind up on that one and don’t blame me if you break a tooth.
A lot of the supermarket and major brand cheeses are vegetarian these days, even some of the continental ones, the vital info can often be hidden away in the small print on the back though and it might just say “vegetable rennet” or “microbial rennet” in the ingredients. I guess they don’t want to put non-veggies off by making them think it’s not real cheese. Parmesan alternatives in particular can be a bit harder to find but similar things are available, for instance Sainsburys do one that is just called “Italian Hard Cheese”. Personally I’m not that strict that I won’t use something with real rennet in it if there is no alternative available.
Pressing tofu firms it up which is better for stir frying or making curries and removes excess moisture which allows it to take on more flavour. First drain the tofu then wrap in a couple of layers of paper towel and place between two chopping boards and weigh the top one down with a heavy pan or cookery book and leave for 15 minutes.
I usually use olive oil except when making an Indian style dish in which case I always use sunflower oil or rapeseed oil as olive oil can be a bit strong tasting in these recipes. More recently I’ve been using the Frylight “1 cal” olive oil and sunflower oil sprays a lot, they work really well in most situations and really do keep the calories down.
If you like curries, get a Wok
Buying a good carbon steel wok, the type you have to season yourself was a revelation for me, it’s so versatile and I cook almost all my curries in it now. The reason I advise a proper carbon steel type is that the type with a none stick finish won’t stand high heat (the none stick will burn off… in your food) and a good carbon steel wok will last a lifetime, the worst that can happen is that you need to scrub it clean and re-season. I have a 12″ flat bottomed “London Wok”.