So, you’ve been rushed off your feet with the kids and work and the house and so on, and you realise at the last minute you’ve promised to take something along to a pot luck supper or gathering. What to do, what to do? Here are some suggestions.
Watermelon cut into wedges – always popular.
Berry dessert – mix fresh or defrosted raspberries with a bit of sugar (vanilla sugar is best) and whipped cream and/or Greek natural yoghurt. Ricotta cheese is another good option. Serve with shortbread biscuits.
Kebabs – put cubes of halloumi cheese and cherry tomatoes onto bamboo skewers. These can be grilled as well, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil before sprinkling with freshly ground black pepper.
Nibbles – for a modern take on the 1970s, put gouda cheese and seedless black grapes onto cocktail sticks. Another quick and clever offering is to fry up some shelled mixed nuts in olive oil with chopped dried rosemary and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Even better if you can wrap them in foil and serve them warm.
Cocktail sausages – buy pre-cooked ones and serve with wholegrain mustard or salsa as a kind of dip.
Finally, if you really want to impress, and you know someone who is visiting Germany or Austria, get them to bring home a packet of Dr Oetker Tarte au Chocolat or Tarte au Citron mix. Add four eggs and some softened butter and you have a magnificent cake that looks like you spent all afternoon in the kitchen.
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An alternative to cooking every day is to ensconce yourself in the kitchen for a few hours at the weekend while the rest of the family is busy, or while the roast is cooking, for example, and prepare several dishes at once that can take the pressure off the rest of the week. It can also be a more economical way of making the most of your ingredients. To that end, I am introducing a number of different weekend batch cooking projects that you can work on with the radio on in the background, a cup of decent coffee by your side, and hopefully any offspring taken outside for a bit of a walk and a play by someone else, to come back rosy cheeked and fresh faced to gobble up all your food with gusto.
Bolognaise sauce, lasagne, chili con carne
- 3 lbs mince
- 3 large onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 tins chopped tomatoes
- Dash Worcestershire sauce
- Packet no-soak lasagne sheets
- 2 oz butter
- 2 oz flour
- Pint of milk
- 2 oz strong-tasting cheese (Gruyere or Parmesan)
- Tin red kidney beans
- Pinch chilli pepper
Technique and organisation
STEP 1 – Bolognaise
Chop 3 onions and fry up in a little sunflower oil in a large deep pan, until they are transparent. Add 3 lbs best mince, and cook until the meat is browned. Then add 3 tins of chopped tomatoes and three crushed cloves of garlic, as well as a dash of Worcestershire Sauce and any herbs you have to hand, such as thyme, basil or oregano. You can also add a slug of red wine if you have a bottle open. Allow to simmer for about 20-30 minutes until the meat has taken on the flavour of the seasoning, and it is reasonably thick. Set aside about a third of this mixure for bolognaise sauce, allow to cool and put into the fridge. On the day, serve with pasta or rice.
STEP 2 – Lasagne
You will need to set aside another third of the sauce for this. Get a baking dish, or deep baking tray, and lay out a layer of no-soak lasagne sheets in the bottom, pour a layer of the sauce over it, top with another layer of no-soak lasagne sheets, and so on, carrying on until you have more or less reached 4/5 of the way up the dish. Now you need to make a white sauce for the top. To do this melt 1 tbsp of butter in a milk pan and when it is liquid add about the same amount of plain flour. Taking the pan off the heat, beat them both together frantically to make a paste. Return the pan to the heat. Add a pint of milk little by little, beating with a wooden spoon as you go along, until you get a smooth sauce. If it goes lumpy, beat it aggressively with a whisk, or if the situation is very desperate, put it in a blender for a few moments. Once the white sauce is ready, use it to pour on top of the lasagne, and grate a bit of parmesan or gruyere cheese over the top. Allow to cool and putinto the fridge covered with cling film. On the day, heat for 20 minutes in a hot oven, until the centre is hot and the top browned. Serve with a side salad and/or garlic bread.
STEP 3 – Chili con carne
Add a tin of red kidney beans to the remaining 1/3 of the sauce, and a pinch or two of chilli powder (as much as you will all be comfortable with). Allow to cool and put into the fridge. On the day, heat thoroughly and serve with rice or tortillas.
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I’ve been nosying around my winter survival cupboard today to see what needs topping up, and I am about to make a big trip to the cash and carry to stock up on tins. Interestingly enough, a lot of tinned foods have more vitamins in them than fresh food that things that have been lying around your kitchen for a week or so. Here are some great additions to a store cupboard that I will be bringing home later.
Tinned tomatoes – these come in different forms but particularly useful are the ones with garlic and herbs already in the mix. Passata in large jars can go onto home made pizza bases with a big of grated cheese and some salami for a Saturday treat.
Pulses – try different kinds such as lentils, chickpeas, borlotti beans, butter beans, mixed spicy beans and canneloni beans. Great with mince, in salads, to bulk out a bolognaise or shepherd’s pie, or to make an instant vegetarian chili.
Stone fruits – cherries, plums and mirabelles make great crumbles and pies, can be served with cream or yoghurt for a quick dessert, and can even be added to smoothies or put on top of muesli.
Exotic fruits – pineapple, lychees, mangos are all wonderful to have around, and give you the makings of a very sophisticated winter fruit salad, but look for tins which state they are in their own juices rather than in syrup.
Fish – Sardines, mackerel, salmon, tuna and even shrimps are all great for sandwiches, pasta dishes, fish pie, salads and little toasts to have as a nibble with a glass of wine.
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