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March 26, 2012

Those of you still following the blog may have noticed me going AWOL for the past few months. I’m not sure quite what happened – it seems I was writing all about cherry and coconut cake one day and then suddenly I notice that three months have gone by.
Last week I finally got the kick up the arse I needed in the form of the comment from The Bystander. Bystander – you did make me feel an ickle bit guilty, but also kind of proud – it’s pretty cool to know that someone enjoys reading my witterings enough to actually miss them when they’re gone. Without wishing to be too self-depreciating, I honestly don’t get praised for many things in my fairly average everyday life, so it means a lot to know somebody actually appreciates something you do. It’s also inspired me – I’m going to get back to it. If people enjoy the blog, it’s worth doing, and it’s worth doing regularly. I’m going to try and update at least once a month from now on, no matter what. You have permission to jeer and throw pies at me if I fail.

So where have I been? Well, probably everyone knows how life just takes over sometimes. You’re in the office all day every day – every evening somehow seems to be filled with stuff to do, every weekend has a plan and all that non-urgent stuff on your “to do” list just seems to get pushed further and further down towards the section at the bottom marked “will possibly never do” way below “hoover the stairs” and “sort out my bank statements” – which is a shame and I try to avoid getting like that too often.

 

A wise person once wrote “When you’re on your death bed are you more likely to say ‘I wish I’d written the Great British Novel’ or ‘I wish I had cleaner stairs'” (I may be paraphrasing here. Or completely making stuff up because I don’t remember where I originally read this quote and I may have just dreamed it)

In amongst other things I’ve been working full time since Christmas, which is pretty unusual for me as I tend to work on short term temp contracts with nice, if slightly poverty stricken non-working periods in between – this is usually when I start experimenting with cooking new dishes and writing about the more successful ones. I’ve also just graded for my 2nd blue belt in kung fu; I’m paying tribute to my adopted homeland by attempting to learn Welsh, and doing as much work as I can on what I hope might one day become my first proper book.

So with all this going on, I find the blog falls by the wayside – and to be honest, cooking occasionally falls by the way side too. Occasionally I bake biscuits or bread.  I actually find baking quite meditative, and so if I start to feel stressed out, rather than get into lotus position and consider one hand clapping, I tend to head for the kitchen and whip up an old favourite biscuit recipe (though I have cut out sugar for Lent, so for the past few weeks, not so much) – usually some adaptation of this Nigella one does the trick:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nigella-lawson/cut-out-cookies-recipe/index.html

It’s a recipe I pretty much know by heart now so it’s relaxing to make. Being a big chocolate fan I often add cocoa powder, but you can also replace some of the flour with almonds, or coconut flour for more grown up biccies.

I’ve already touched on the meditative possibilities of bread making in the past, so rather than re-iterate my spiritual relationship with flour; I thought instead I’d go more practical. When time is short, like it has been for most of 2012 so far – what do you eat?

It’s totally against my principles to yield to the lure of the ready meal and let someone else dictate the ingredients in my lasagne.  Although I’m not sure I’d call it a lure as such – after all, does anyone actually like those things?

 

The main thing that bothers me about ready meals is that they’re so tiny! I admit I’m a bit of a greedy pig sometimes, but I just can’t imagine ever being full on one of those titchy £2 portions. In my student days I would occasionally by packets of 9p instant noodles from Lidl to have as cheap lunch – I’d add a handful of frozen peas and maybe some tinned kidney beans to jazz them up and kid myself that it was nutritious, but it still wasn’t unusual for me to eat three packets in one sitting. Even if you have a normal sized appetite, ready meal portions do seem a little stingy. Also, I find the level of salt in them generally makes them pretty unpalatable (and that’s before you even think about what it might be doing to your arteries – eek!)

 

 I do occasionally have a takeaway – Great China takeout on Whitchurch Road, in Cardiff do a cracking bean curd in black bean sauce (give it a go, if bean curd/tofu isn’t your thing, that dish could well be the one that changes your mind).  But I’m not wealthy – I can stretch to takeout maybe a few times a year before it starts to badly show on my overdraft. Plus I actually like cooking. I like eating food I make myself. That’s why I blog about it. I don’t want to give that up anymore than I want to stop writing my novel, or quit kung fu. (On the other hand, I’m not against the idea of giving up work, but again, not sure how my bank account would deal with that!)

So after that long ramble of excuses, let me share some of the things I eat when I’m time pressed. Please feel free to return the favour, cos this is one of the things I always need new ideas about!

Leftovers

 I kind of lied when I said I don’t eat ready meals. I make my own ready meals on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. During busy times of my life, I tend to cook maybe twice a week – usually once on a Sunday evening when I have a decent stretch of free time to spend in the kitchen, and on a Wednesday, when I’ll cook something reasonably simple, like a stir-fry, or tomatoes and pasta.

I try and make sure on these occasions that I cook a nice big batch of something that’s mainly liquid based – mess-on-a-plate type dishes like casseroles, stews, curries, Bolognese etc tend to be easier to portion up and freeze ready for reheating as a meal in one, whereas things like omelette and chips not so much. I’ll usually make about three times as much as I need.

My housemates are less takeaway averse than I am, so there are always little plastic takeaway containers around my house that I wash out and spoon in a bit of the sauce/chilli/curry – and a bit of rice as well, then stick it in the fridge or freezer ready for reheating when I need it (If you have a microwave at work, you can take in things like this as a packed lunch – it is a guaranteed way to make your cheese sandwich munching colleagues jealous.)

Soup is even better – I make a massive pan when I make soup, then when it’s cooled down a bit I stretch a polythene sandwich bag over the mouth of a mug and ladle in a portion. Tie the top shut and chuck it in the freezer. This is awesome because it takes up hardly any space – you can do it even if you only have an icebox.

This brings us to….

 

Tomato Soup

I may have mentioned this before as it’s one of my favourite meals I learned from my Mum: It’s possibly the easiest dish in the world. You buy a jar or carton of passata (sieved tomatoes). You add some cayenne pepper and smoked paprika, maybe a little oregano, and you heat it up in a pan – hey presto, soup. You can stir in some tofutti or cream for a milder soup. I also like to add a tin of butter beans or canellini beans and use the hand blender to mix them in, just to make sure there’s some protein in there. This is a double whammy because you can also bag and freeze it as above.

Pasta and Pesto

My go to “can’t be arsed” comfort food – I often resort to this when I’m knackered because it has a nice, stodgy reassuring quality as well as being piss-easy. I try to keep a jar of vegan pesto in the cupboard as much as possible – when I feel the need, I boil up a pan of pasta and do the old Lidl noodle trick: pour some frozen peas into the water after a few minutes, together with a tin of beans (kidney beans, canellini beans, chickpeas, borlotti beans – they all work fine). Then when it’s done I drain off the water and stir in a nice big dollop of pesto. I do try and make enough of this to save some for the next day, but I like it so much I invariably eat it all in one sitting.

 

Baked Potatoes

Now theoretically, baked potatoes are a great quick and simple meal. 10 minutes in the microwave and just add baked beans. But I’m afraid I’m a traditionalist – I like my potatoes slow baked in the oven so the skins are crispy and delicious and the inside is fluffy and hot. Microwave potatoes just aren’t worth the bother in my opinion – the skin is soggy and the inside is hard, and the whole thing just seems a bit plasticky somehow.

So I sometimes compromise – seven minutes in the microwave, then finish them with half an hour or so in the oven – you get the skin to crisp up that way, even if the inside isn’t as soft. Half an hour still seems like a long time – but the thing with baked potatoes, is that they don’t need any input from me when I’m cooking them – in fact, the less often you open the oven door to interfere with them the better. As long as I’m in the house to make sure it doesn’t catch fire, I can stick a spud in the oven, then go and do something else: make a phone call, do some writing, get a workout done – whatever, so they can be a good choice if whatever is making me busy takes place at home.

A word of warning though: usually I am hungry enough and looking forward to potato enough that I remember the spud is in the oven. I have known people forget about them though, only for the next person to use the oven to discover a disturbing charred black lump inside. This is why mobile telephones have alarms.

I could probably eat a good potato plain, with a bit of Vitalite and some salt, but I usually have them with houmous, sweetcorn or baked beans. Left over vegetable chilli is a good one too (or you can make a cheat chilli by just frying up some onions, adding a drained tin of kidney beans and a pinch of chilli powder and cooking for a few minutes).

 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. The Bystander permalink
    March 26, 2012 22:24

    No need for guilt, an ickle bit of pride is entirely justified though. I’m just happy that my inspirational kick did the trick.

    It was worth the three month wait just for the left overs.

    Welcome back!

  2. The Bystander permalink
    April 3, 2012 16:30

    All I had in the fridge was some broccoli, garlic and ginger. In the cupboard I found some soy sauce, dried chillies, honey and long grain rice.

    So my fast food meal last night went like this: While the rice was boiling I chopped the garlic and ginger and chucked them in the wok with some of the dried chillies. When they were fried to the point of deliciousness I drowned them (unintentionally) in the soy sauce. It was all looking a bit runny so I added a dollop of honey and once it started looking a bit thinker and bubbly I chucked in the broccoli and stirred it around until it looked both cooked and coated which coincided with the rice being ready so that got drained and added to the wok to soak up all the sauce.

    I was a bit concerned that I’d over done the chillies and the soy, but it was the kick from the ginger that caught me out.

    All pretty delicious though, felt like a proper kitchen anarchist I did.

    • April 3, 2012 20:13

      That sounds bloody amazing! The ginger & honey combination seems to work with almost anything. Love the unintentional soy sauce drowning too – clumsiness is the mother of invention sometimes (I once made an insanely sweet curry by accidently empying most of a bag of sugar into the pan – boyfriend thought it was awesome even if I wasn’t so sure myself!)

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