There have been two periods in my life when I’ve been the one in the family working from home, and I sort of fell into cooking the meals most of the time. What follows amounts to some of my (rather naive) coping strategies.
At our local Probus club each June we have an annual midwinter ‘Soup & Buns’ lunch. I usually contribute a soup or two that I’ve made, and one that I’m often asked the recipe for is Cauliflower and Blue-vein Cheese. I don’t know where I got it from originally, but here’s my version. It fills a large saucepan, so you might need to cut the quantities down.
Heat the onion and garlic in a bit of oil in a suitably sized saucepan for about 3 minutes. Add the cauliflower, the potatoes and the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes or until everything is tender. Add the cheese, adjust the taste with salt and pepper, then blend everything smooth with a stick blender.
If you don’t have a stick blender for blending by hand you could use a food processer, but it gets messy pouring from one thing to another and you end up with more things to wash. If you don’t have either I suppose you could use a potato masher — it doesn’t matter if there are little bits of cauliflower in the soup, but it might be difficult getting all the bits of potato.
I make a distinction between cooking and baking. Baking to me is cakes and stuff, and I really don’t do it. I’d always choose something savoury instead of something sweet. However, here is something which is baking, and savoury, and is dead simple and quick. It’s from a 1970s school cookbook, but I doubt if it originated there.
One cup of flour, one cup of grated cheese, and one cup of milk. Mix them all together with one egg and two teaspoons of baking powder. Place spoonfuls of this mixture on a greased tray or in a muffin pan. Bake for about 10–15 minutes in a fairly hot oven at 200°C. That’s all there is to it, and it makes about a dozen.
It’s the sort of thing you can knock up when you have to bring a plate, or when you have visitors for afternoon tea.
Hard to spell, easier to say (ratatooey). Actually, it’s just a simple vegetable stew.
The most important ingredient is an eggplant (aubergine). Cut it lengthwise into quarters and then into chunks. Cut the next ingredient, zucchini (courgette) into similar-sized chunks. Probably use a capsicum (bell pepper) as well. That would do, but I sometimes like to add chunks of brown mushroom, because they’re quite meaty, and cauliflower florets, because they add a bit of crunch. You’ll also need an onion and a can of chopped tomatoes. Plus a wee pinch of chilli flakes; leave this out and it will all be a bit bland, put more than a small pinch and you’ll regret it also. Finally, the usual salt and pepper to taste.
Peel and slice the onion (and perhaps a clove of garlic) and fry it until it’s soft in a bit of oil in a frying pan deep enough to take all the ingredients. Then put the eggplant in to soften it up somewhat as well. Finally, put everything else in and simmer the mix until it’s all cooked — maybe 20 minutes, but it’s not critical. Put a bit more liquid in if looks like it needs it.
That’s all. It’s a meal by itself, but you could have it with meat. Serve it with something to soak up the juices, such as mashed potatoes or crusty bread.
This is a simple but tasty emergency meal — a stir fry. There four components: meat, vegetables, noodles and sauce.
Put some oil in the wok and cook the meat, then add the the vegetables. This takes the longest, particularly if they’re frozen, and especially the little bits of broccoli that they all seem to include. Next add the noodles and the sauce. This is the quickest bit, because it just needs heating through and stirring to get everything coated in sauce.
Done. Go to whoa in about 20 minutes. If you want to be fancy, slice a spring onion up thinly and sprinkle it on top.
There’s a quick meal I do sometimes that’s sort of a bit like a stir fry and a bit like a barbecue. It’s a kebab, which needs cutting up like a stir fry, and cooks like a barbecue.
The meat can be anything, but I use lamb cut into cubes. The vegetables can be just about anything — zucchini, capsicum, mushrooms and red onion work for me, but it depends on what’s on hand. For seasoning I sprinkle the meat with a bit of Moroccan seasoning, but you could use just salt and pepper. Intersperse everything on bamboo kebab skewers that you’ve had soaking in water while you did the cutting up, sprinkle with a little of oil, and cook under the grill, turning once. It doesn’t take long, so keep an eye on it.
At the beginning of all this, throw some rice in your $20 Warehouse rice cooker or put some 40-second rice in the microwave.
And that’s all.
When I was growing up, the family always made poached eggs in a special pan by cooking the eggs in little aluminium dishes suspended in boiling water. They had a pre-determined hemispherical shape and somehow ended up with a sort of skin.
I cooked my own by breaking the eggs into a pan of simmering water, but it was always very messy and nothing like the perfect white poached eggs served in cafés. For years I’ve been trying to avoid the problem of egg white spreading everywhere while cooking.
Adding vinegar to the water helped, but only a bit. Breaking the egg into gladwrap and making a parcel was a disaster. Breaking the egg into a sieve didn’t help at all. Swirling the water just seemed to spread the mess.
Then I discovered something by accident. While on holiday, I got some eggs, and poached them. Bingo: nearer to the goal than I’ve ever managed before. They were free-range eggs. So — it seems that it actually does depend on having fresh eggs from happy hens.
(Stop press: I’ve found an easy way that works magic on ’ordinary‘ eggs — use the microwave. See below.)
When you look at enough recipes, you start to see what underlies many of them. And the basis of many dishes is a sauce, so it’s worth trying to get to grips with some of them. Two of the most important are a white sauce and pasta sauce.
We have a microwave, and for years I’ve used it for defrosting frozen food. Lately, I’ve been discovering that it can be used for cooking some stuff more quickly and with less washing up. Here’s what I’ve worked out so far:
© 2017 Tony Pritchard