SIMMER DOWN: EASY, EFFICIENT AND FUN COOKING FROM HOME

 

Now that most of us are eating at home for every meal of the day, the stress might be starting to

show from producing so many dishes on top of shopping, running a household and working from

home as well. Even if you fancy yourself as the next MasterChef, it can still be hard to stay inspired

and energised about cooking when you're doing so much of it.

 

So we've come up with some ideas to help reinvigorate kitchen time – and free up some brain

space in to the bargain – with a bit of batch cooking, a bit of store-cupboarding, a bit of mini

growing-your-own, and some much, ahem, kneaded bread making!

 

BATCH-COOKED BASICS

Cooking up a large batch of good tomato sauce, curry sauce or stock – which you can freeze in

portions – gives you the basis of many healthy meal options that you won't have to cook from

scratch every time. As well as helping you quickly create a host of dishes, having these three

basics will give you the mental energy to be more inventive in what you add to them, rather than

exhausted at the prospect of the empty pan. And you can do it all in the knowledge that you're

keeping your sugar and additives down.

 

The famous tomato sauce recipe from the New York Times –

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015178-marcella-hazans-tomato-sauce – is one of the

simplest and tastiest you can make. And once it’s done, there are endless possibilities.

 

For a chilli con (or sin) carne, all you need to do is add beans, meat/quorn/TVP, chilli, cumin, a

square or two of dark chocolate and a bit more garlic. Serve with a baked potato or rice, yoghurt

and optional fresh coriander. If pasta is more your thing, simply add chilli to the sauce for an

arrabiata, or drop in some tuna and olives for a puttenesca. And keeping with the Italian theme,

you can use the sauce on your pizza base then add your toppings of choice, or go for a delicious

slow-cooked Mediterranean stew by adding chorizo slices, courgettes and potatoes, served with

toasted bread (or use up your stale for croutons). You can also layer the sauce for a lasagne or

aubergine bake.

 

If you’re craving Asian flavours, making a curry sauce will give you the foundation for a variety of

exotic meals. First make a paste by mincing onion in a food processor along with fresh ginger,

garlic, one tomato and your chosen curry spice (or a Masala mix) until it binds together. Now heat

up some butter, oil or ghee in a pan and drop in some mustard seeds until they pop. Add your

paste along with tinned coconut milk and some water or stock then cook down to the required

thickness (use a ratio of one large onion per two tin volumes of liquid, and look to reduce it all

down by half in the pan). This will freeze well and can be used to make cauliflower and potato

curry, chicken curry, or for your chips! Add extra chilli, fresh coriander and lime juice for a great

basis for noodle dishes.

 

Finally, stock, which is extremely easy to make. Keep all your leftover chicken or beef bits and

bones in the freezer or fridge. When you’ve gathered them all, add them to a deep saucepan of

cold water along with an onion, leek, bay leaves and garlic to your taste. Simmer for at least an

hour, then add salt. Reduce down to a small volume, but don’t let it boil dry and burn, e voila! Pop it

in the freezer in portions and use it as the base for gravies, sauces, soups and stews, or for extra

flavour when cooking vegetables.

 

BEYOND BOLOGNESE

There’s more to pasta than a spag bol (although you do have that delicious tomato sauce you

made for that). There are many ways to serve pasta fast and fresh that deliver a comforting and

delicious dish in fifteen minutes, so forget thick sauces for a moment and think of adding some

fresh and cooked ingredients together.

 

Grate some garlic; chop some cherry tomatoes into quarters; add olive oil, chilli (to taste) and

rocket or watercress; toast some nuts (pine nuts are the classic, but walnuts, almonds and

pumpkins seeds – or a mix – also work well); add some bread crumbs that have been sprinkled

with olive oil. Mix all that with your cooked pasta and pronto! - you have the taste of spring on a

plate.

 

Or try frozen peas cooked for the last two minutes with the pasta. Drain and throw in some

julienned spinach so it wilts, then add olive oil, chilli and garlic. Sprinkle with toasted nuts and

grated parmesan or cheddar for a warm, nourishing dish.

 

An alternative take on that is to add green veg such as bite-sized broccoli florets, or asparagus,

into a boiling pasta pan. Drain and add the olive oil, chilli garlic, toasted nuts or seeds, toasted

breadcrumbs (both add texture and bite, as well as protein and fats from the nuts and seeds), then

grate over the cheese.

 

And if all you have in is oil, garlic and chilli, you’ve still got everything to make the classic Italian

comfort dish (and perhaps the ultimate fast food), pasta aglio, olio e peperoncino. Serve with a

generous grating of hard cheese – parmesan, pecorino or an English relative like mature cheddar

– and a big salad, and that's another meal done.

 

SPROUTING FOR BEGINNERS

Now is a great time to start sprouting, which is possibly something you’ve never heard of but is

rewarding and also a fun project for children.

 

Sprouted seeds – mostly legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans, mung beans, soya beans or

lentils – have more protein than their unsprouted siblings from a jar and also have vitamins and

enzymes that are super nutritious and delicious. You can eat them raw in sandwiches, salads, or

just as a snack, or cook them in a stir fry to add protein and vitamins.

 

The websites https://sproutpeople.org/about/ and https://www.buywholefoodsonline.co.uk/seeds-

for-sprouting both give you advice on how to start, but it boils down to these rules:

 

soak for between eight and twelve hours, rinse well, drain, rinse well every day and within three

days they’re ready to either eat or refrigerate. Rinsing and using clean containers is important as

sprouting seeds can harbour listeria, although cooking does kill any issues with bacteria and most

people following sprouting hygiene rules have never had any problems.

 

Just as easy is growing micro herbs or seedlings on a paper kitchen towel which brings out the

child in everyone. Fold the towel till it fits in a low-sided dish, dampen, then sprinkle with seeds like

raddish, broccoli or cress and wait for them to grow. Spray with pure water from a mister once or

twice a day – do not let them dry out – and you have more fresh vitamin C and tasty additions to

salads and sandwiches.

 

BOREDOM-BUSTING BAKING

Bread making isn't nearly as hard as it looks. Well, getting to Paul Hollywood handshake-level

might be a challenge, but most people can produce a tasty loaf to go with soup (using your basic

batch stock), or chilli (using the batched tomato sauce), or salads.

 

Bread is such a satisfying thing to learn to make and you’ll find a remarkable number of YouTube

demonstrations on various types of kneading: just need to pick one that suits you! Kneading is

stress relieving – whether for zen meditation or thumping out your frustrations – and there’s no

need to worry if you don’t like your first attempt: simply Google what the problem was and you'll

find a home-baking expert with a solution. Just enjoy the process.

 

For a regular loaf you would use bread flour, but you can also use ordinary plain flour. For

something weightier, go for one of the more exotic ancient wheats like spelt or barley, but

remember to add a little extra water as whole-wheat absorbs more than a white flour.

 

Even if you can't get hold of any yeast, you can still make make Irish-style soda bread which uses

baking soda as the raising agent. It makes a cakey style of bread which is delicious and faster to

make than yeasted loaf. Recipes usually call for buttermilk, but if you don't have any you can use

yogurt mixed with water to the right consistency (somewhere between single and thinner double

cream). Try the wonderful YouTube channel Bon Appetit: they have videos of everything from

making bread to fermenting sauerkraut: https://www.youtube.com/user/BonAppetitDotCom

 

COOKING WITH CHILDREN

Kids love mess, which means flour is your friend. So once you’ve practiced acceptance of the

ensuing chaos that will most surely come, it’s time for fun and entertainment in the kitchen.

 

You’ll find loads of recipes out there and a brilliant place to start is the BBC’s website:

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/kids-cooking.

 

As some ideas to get you started, try making:

 

burgers with minced beef, onion, flour and egg (you can also make vegan version replacing the

meat and egg with black beans and rice);

 

pizza dough (flour, yeast, salt oil) for personal pizzas to suit the tastebuds of each member of the

household;

 

or of course, cakes and cookies (ultimately butter, eggs and flour then whatever you fancy) for

naughty but nice treats.

 

Now don’t tell us that doesn’t sound like a load of manageable, tasty and healthy fun!

Written by Paul Travers

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