Sometimes I just cannot be bothered cooking. I have no inspiration, no initiative, null bock (as my German husband would say). When this happens, I open the cupboards and the fridge and have a Ready-Steady-Cook moment.
I have learned over the years that having some basic ingredients in the house makes it possible to throw things together at the last moment. Even if we have guests, I can forage in the freezer and fridge and find something worthy of serving up.
Not being organised enough to plan a menu for the week, this is my normal way of deciding what to make for dinner each evening. So I might have chicken or beef in the fridge, but not bought with a particular meal in mind. I rarely plan in advance what I am going to make, preferring to make it up as I go along to following a recipe. Sometimes I have a look through some recipe books for inspiration – I can highly recommend the Jamie Oliver books, particularly Ministry of Food and 30 Minute Meals. And Fay Ripley’s Family Food is good for quick and easy family meals.
These are my basics for last minute meals:
Lardons – bacon bits
Puff Pastry and/or Shortcrust Pastry (ready to roll)
Spinach (fresh or frozen)
Tomato puree or tinned tomatoes
Pasta and Rice
Cheese – gruyere, parmesan, cream cheese, mozarella
Cold meats – ham, salami..
With these ingredients, you can whip up so many different dishes.
Take the tomato puree or tinned tomatoes, make a pizza base and bung on some ham and cheese, salami, olives – whatever you fancy.
Use the pasta, spinach (or Swiss Chard), tomatoes, sour cream to make a Pasta Bake.
Pastry – this time the shortcrust – to make a Quiche. So simple. Use the prawns or ham, whisk 4 eggs with a spoonful of sour cream, sprinkle some grated cheese over the top and bake in oven for 25 mins. This one was with prawns and courgettes – slice the courgettes very thinly and cook for 5 mins before putting them on the pastry base.
Pasta is so quick and easy to prepare – salmon pasta with cherry tomatoes and herbs and a slug of olive oil. Spinach and courgettes go well with this.
My favourite last minute meal is Spaghetti Carbonara. Not the creamy sauce with ham that you get in tubs in the supermarkets, but proper Carbonara with egg and bacon (it should really be Italian pancetta, but any bacon or ham works well).
One Pot Pasta Carbonara
Boil pasta in a large pot – I use American measuring cups – one cup per person. A good pinch of salt and cook the pasta as per the instructions on the package. While the pasta is cooking prepare the other ingredients. Finely chop the garlic, whisk together the eggs (one per person) and a spoonful of sour cream and a handful of grated cheese.
You can add other veg if you want – I sometimes chop up courgettes very small and put in with the ham, so hiding the nasty veg from my critical son. If you peel the courgette and chop it very finely the children cannot detect it. It is what I call Stealth Veggies.
Drain the pasta into a colander, drizzle some olive oil onto the pasta to stop it sticking.
In the pan, gently fry the garlic, ham and veg then bung the pasta back into the pan and stir through. Season with salt and pepper.
This bit is crucial. You must have the table set and the family sitting at the table now – before you add the eggs. Carbonara is supposed to be served very fresh, if the egg is in the pan too long, you will have pasta with scrambled eggs.
Now pour the egg mixture over the pasta, mix and take the table. You don’t have to keep the pan on the stove, there is enough heat to cook the egg. It tastes best when the egg is still a little bit runny – so obviously you need to ensure that your eggs are fresh. Serve with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan. Done!
This takes pasta cooking time (around 10 mins) plus 10 mins prep time. All in all, not more than 25 mins.
I had a chat with Daddyblogger (ha! See what I did there?) Danny on Mumsnet recently about store cupboard ingredients and we agreed to both write about this topic. I have done this single post and Danny has gone one further and is doing a whole week of posts. Showing that cooking for a family on a budget can be fun, nutritious and extremely tasty. Have a look at his blog here