Thursday, 14 March 2013

Convenient, but not Junk!

I used to enjoy watching Ready Steady Cook on TV. Two chefs were presented with £5 worth of ingredients that were chosen by the contestant. They were then given 20 minutes to come up with some kind of gourmet meal. I was always amazed at what they created. Now lets be honest. How many of us ever made any of the dishes we saw them make?! Yet we would all love to have dinner on the table within 20 minutes of walking in the door from work wouldn't we. I am fortunate enough to be at home all day looking after our young son and doing the admin for our building business. I love cooking and make all our meals from scratch. I enjoy spending time looking through cookery books and planning our weeks menu. However, when choosing recipes I still consider how much time is involved in making a dish and whether the taste is worth the effort. Even though I love cooking I do like meals that taste fantastic but don't take 2 hours to make. Here are a few ideas that may help you in your meal planning.

1. Invest in a slow cooker. I have had one since we were married and wouldn't be without it now. It is great for casseroles, curries and stews. One of my favourites is beef and apricot stew. You can put the dish in the slow cooker in the morning and leave it cooking on low all day while you are out, You then come home to the delicious aroma of something yummy that just needs rice or potatoes and veg to serve with it.

2. Cook in bulk. If I am making a chilli, curry, soup or pasta sauce I will normally make double the portion so that there is either some for the next day or one that can be frozen. Then on a day when I am extra busy I can leave it to defrost and reheat. It is a bit like having a ready meal or takeaway but much more tasty and nutritious. I even make flat breads and pizza dough in a large quantity and divide into individual portions to be frozen.

3. Make use of tinned foods or convenience foods. I use tinned chickpeas quite a lot. They make great curry's. River Cottage Veg everyday has a great chickpea ketchup curry that takes 10 minutes to make and is great with flat bread. Recently I made a salmon pie, using tinned salmon and ready made puff pastry. It took 15 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook.

4. Go oriental. Thai food is one of my favourite meals and recently I have also started getting into Japanese cookery. The good thing about most of the recipes is that they can be cooked in about 15 minutes. This is probably quicker than heating the oven up and putting a ready meal in. Thai green curry needs very little preparation as the ingredients are generally thai curry paste, chicken breast, coconut milk, thai fish sauce and sugar. Teriyaki tuna or beef is another favourite. It only takes 10 minutes to cook with very little preparation.  

Salmon and Spinach Pie.

Serves 4

100g mushrooms sliced
6 spring onions sliced
418g tin salmon, drained and cut into chunks (or you can use two 213g tins)
zest of a lemon
250g ricotta
100g baby spinach or 100g watercress
100g frozen peas
320g sheet of reduced-fat puff pastry, thawed if frozen

Preheat the oven to 210C/fan190/Gas7
Heat a tsp of sunflower oil in a non stick frying pan and fry the mushrooms for 3-4 mins until softened
Add the spring onions and fry for another minute
Add the tinned salmon, spinach or watercress and peas
Warm through
Take the pan off the heat and stir in the lemon zest and ricotta
Season with black pepper
Spoon into a large oven proof dish
Lay the pastry lid on top. You may need to cut it into a round for a circular dish or I found I could just scrunch it to fit 
Seal the edges and cut a slit in the centre (this stops the pastry going soggy)
Brush with a little milk or oil
Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden and puffed and filling is hot

Chickpea Ketchup Curry

Serves 2

1 small onion, thinly sliced
2cm of ginger, finely grated
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 garlic clove crushed
2 teaspoons of curry powder or paste
400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
5 tbsp tomato ketchup
Juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of coriander to finish

Heat a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat  
Add the onion and sweat over a low heat for 5-10 mins
Stir in the garlic, ginger, chilli flakes and curry powder or paste
Fry for a minute or two
Add the chickpeas, tomato ketchup and a few tablespoons of water to loosen to a thick sauce consistency. Simmer gently for 5 minutes
Check thickness and add a bit more water if required 
Season to taste with salt and black pepper 
Scatter with chopped coriander
I like to serve this with home made flatbreads and stir fried greens 

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