I wonder if you too have asked this question. It’s perfectly reasonable; when you think about it, cooking is a total bother. By the time we’ve had a full days work who has time to cook? And that’s not accounting for all the family commitments.
Sad to say it, but I think cooking has become a luxury. I write about food and I say that hand on heart that sometimes I just don’t have the time to cook.
I have an analogy that I say to myself (and others) constantly, it’s called ‘The Aeroplane Analogy’. If you’ve ever flown, you’ve heard the safety message. When they get to the bit about the oxygen mask, the message always says to fit your mask before helping others, children included. It’s common to perceive that looking after yourself first would be considered selfish, and selflessness as doing ultimate good. This is martyrdom in it’s negative form and it boils down to this; you’re no good to help and assist others if you’re not first fit and able yourself. It’s not beneficial for your health, it’s not beneficial to your family, it’s not beneficial to society if you don’t look after YOU first. Then henceforth go on and do good.
That said, I really feel for people with children, partners, full time jobs and a list of commitments enough to keep you busy for the next 10 years. It’s hard enough for me to take the time to nurture oneself living this busy urban life.
Through my experience and deep desire to do everything, I have cultivated a few tricks to make the job of caring for the colloquial ‘me’ little easier. Don’t be fooled, this isn’t about 1980’s microwave cookery. Sticking with a healthful approach, here’s my top 10:
- Make stock to freeze in batches. Defrost when called upon in recipes and as broth base with a few fresh veg, herbs, poached chicken and noodles thrown in. Easy.
- Pre-prepare a couple of different varieties of aromatics that form the base of most mediterranean dishes to freeze and keep ready. My fave combinations are:
Sofrito: garlic, onion, carrot, celery, parsley
MIrepoix: carrot, celery, onion
For Risotto: onion, garlic, celery
For soup base: onion, garlic, carrot, celery, fennel
Cook in olive oil, butter or a combination of the two, until soft. I always add a pinch of salt.
- Cook a variety of legumes and freeze in portions in their own cooking water to have on hand when needed. Cheaper and healthier then canned. Don’t know how to cook legumes? Visit here.
- Learn some basic sauces which can be used as dipping sauces and marinades or baking. They’re alarmingly easy way to make almost anything really tasty. Some examples:
Chinese: garlic, ginger, spring onions, soy sauce, chinese rice wine (Shao Shing cooking wine), black vinegar (can substitute with balsamic) and sesame oil. Great for cooking eggplant and meats. Serve with rice.
Thai: Rice wine vinegar, brown or palm sugar, garlic, ginger, chillies, fish sauce, soy sauce, coriander. Use to flavour rice and noodles
Vietnamese: Lime juice, brown or palm sugar, water, fish sauce, coriander. Spring rolls anyone?
Mexican: salsa of finely diced tomatoes, chipotle, coriander, white onion – anything from tacos to fish to spooning over steamed asparagus.
Béchamel: Roux made with butter, flour and milk. Make the basic then vary it up by either adding mustard, herbs, cheese or use chicken stock instead of milk (veloute). Use in lasagne and especially good to bake vegetables with.
I recently learned this Lebanese fave: 1 cup tahini + juice from 1-2 lemons. Mix with a dash of water then simmer until smooth consistency. Top Trevelly, then bake finishing with toasted pinenuts, or sautéed spinach with caremelised onion.
- Already got the oven on? Pop in some cubed root veg of any combination (whatever happens to be laying around). It’s amazing what you can do with some roast veg + a carb (ie. cous cous, rice, pasta, soba noodles) and a few flavourings (see point 4). I like to add a handful of nuts (quickly pan roast to kill off any surface bacteria and bring out a real nuttiness flavour) which really makes for a rounded vegetarian meal, however there’s nothing stopping you pan frying a nice cut of free range meat, slicing and mixing that in as protein content. Add some fresh herbs (see point 8 below).
- Cook your breakfast porridge the night before, ready to heat ‘n eat on weekday mornings when time is a factor.
- Stewed seasonal fruit ready to go. Kind of goes with point 6 above. Having a batch of stewed fruit ready to dollop on porridge saves a bunch of time. Or enjoy for dessert – just top with a crumble made from oats, butter, brown sugar and bake on 180C for 15 – 20 mins until crisp.
- Potted fresh herbs ready to use. It’s amazing what one can do with fresh herbs to add flavour and healthful content. I haven’t banged on too much about herbs in the past (don’t worry, something is brewing), which is a shame because these are nature’s vitamin pills and anti-everything’s all rolled into one.
- Have a small selection of nuts and seeds on hand. Sprinkled over the top of salads, noodles, porridge, bakes, roasts really impresses folks.
- Keep a supply of pita bread in the freezer. They can be great for wraps (hello falafels!), easy pizza bases or cut up and toasted in the oven for crisps. Use corn tortillas for a gluten free option.
I’d love to hear of any shorthand tips for the kitchen you have.
Look after yourself,