I love cooking but if you tumble into the house late, or it’s been an exhausting day, or you are feeling lazy, then the most useful kitchen tool is having several quick-sticks meals up your sleeve.
Having these ideas handy will prevent you filling up on biscuits and cheese or a tub of ice cream. Nice as they are, they are not great nutritionally, and it’s at these times – when we are tired or rundown – that we most need good food.
An old coach of mine used to love saying “prior preparation prevents poor performance”. This applies to the kitchen too, so avoid poor performance by stacking your pantry with:
• Extra virgin olive oil (this is full of flavor and ideal for salads but is not to be used for cooking) and coconut oil (excellent for salads and cooking).
• Flavoured vinegars – balsamic, white and red wine vinegars plus, say a raspberry vinegar. These can magic your salad from sad to fab.
• Tinned tomatoes, passata and semi-dried tomatoes are all essential basics.
• Olives – there are lots of different marinated green and black olives in vacuum-sealed packs that will add a lovely texture and flavor to many dishes.
• Stocks – I love The Stock Merchant’s Mushroom Stock, which is vegetarian and vegan friendly, and it’s the only locally produced mushroom stock.
• Spices – there are lots of fantastic spice blends and basically you can’t go wrong. Just remember spices are best used within six months of purchasing them.
• Tinned red kidney beans and chickpeas are also essential.
• Nuts and seeds add some crunch and plant based protein to your dishes.
• Fresh herbs – no matter how small your place is, you can grow fresh herbs. A window box of herbs with parsley, mint, coriander, will add a fresh flavor to any sauce, salad or soup.
• Cheese – a marinated feta cheese in olive oil will keep for ages in the fridge, plus a blue or Parmesan cheese is terrific to keep in the fridge for your quick meals.
Now with these things, plus a few other ingredients, you will be able to knock up a meal in 10 minutes.
1. Puttanesca Pasta
Cook pasta according to packet directions. Fresh pasta cooks more quickly than dried pasta. Meanwhile, heat oil in a frypan. Add garlic and chili and cook over medium heat for one minute. Add olives, semi-dried tomatoes, capers and diced tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with pepper.
2. More-than-mushroom soup
Bring mushroom stock to the boil, add cooked cheese tortellini (or left-over penne pasta). Toss in some greens like baby spinach leaves or snow peas, and cook for a few minutes until they wilt. Season with salt and pepper then top with grated Parmesan cheese. Alternatively, instead of tortellini, add thinly sliced mushrooms.
3. Smokey Baked Beans
Sauté a chopped onion and red pepper in a small amount of oil. Season with chili, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Cook until onion is translucent and starts to caramelize. Add a tin of tomatoes and cook over a medium-high heat. Towards the end of cooking add a drained and rinsed tin of red kidney beans. Serve on a piece of sourdough toast with a good dollop of avocado smash.
4. Waldorf Salad
As we are now in the warmer months, salads make a great meal. Roughly chop a handful of walnuts, one granny smith apple, one celery stalk, then toss in a handful of green grapes and feta. Add a splash of vinegar, and then season with salt and pepper. Or make a dressing with natural yogurt, a teaspoon of seeded mustard and some lemon juice and honey.
A true fast food. Asparagus is quick and easy and works better when cooked for less time. Steam a bunch for three minutes. Meanwhile soft boil an egg (for five to seven minutes), peel and pop on top. Season well with salt and pepper. Once cut, the yolk will spill over the spears. Delish.