Dinner, Anyone?

My dears, my computer died. It was inevitable really - The Man is on a business trip, and whenever he goes away a major appliance always breaks down. However, on the bright side, The Boy ordered a new laptop last week, and when it comes, I get to inherit his old one (you know you are getting old when you start getting hand-me-downs from the kids). Until then, my cursor only works on the far right, which rather limits its usefulness, and I have to snatch 'computer time' from the seventeen minutes a day that neither of the older children are using theirs, or that the younger children haven't pinched them. This is a post I mostly wrote last week after I left a comment on e's blog about how I was 'stuck in a groove' with cooking dinner. I really am.

I am not an early adopter. Technology, fashion, food. Whatever the arena, my motto should be 'I fear change', which means I am about thirty years out of date in most arenas. And why not? If something isn't broke, why fix it? So when it comes to cooking - well, that bag of quinoa is still languishing in the cupboard, but I tell you, I am all over the 1970s. If it was new when I was nine, it is probably one of my staples, along with all the things my grannies used to cook, because those have definitely stood the test of time. I thought I'd compile a list of my basic dishes, the ones I cook week in, week out, that require basic ingredients;  nothing that can't be found at the local corner shop in a culinary emergency.

Granny Dinners

Roast Chicken with Lots of Veg. Always do this with the traditional bread stuffing, and gravy from the drippings. Although last week, as a departure from tradition, I cut a lemon in half to use instead of stuffing. The chicken tasted quite lemony, and so did the gravy, made from the pan drippings. Different, but good! Fancy that!

Cottage Pie. My granny ground up the leftover roast in her tabletop hand-cranked mincing gadget. I buy my beef ready minced. Such a modern layabout. It is basically a bolognese recipe, without any Italian flavourings like garlic and oregano, but with the addition of Worcestershire sauce and chunks of veg: carrots, swede, peas. Lashings of mashed potato on top, and a little cheese, browned under the grill. If you slice boiled potatoes over the top instead, you can call it Lancashire Hot Pot.

Scotch Broth. Traditionally made with lamb, generally left over from the roast. I use any meat available, or none. Various veg. Always onion and celery, never garlic. Handful of barley. Can be served with scones, bread, or vegetable pancakes.

Pies. Once I discovered that you can make pastry in the food processor, I was unstoppable. You can put almost anything in a pie, as long as you make enough yummy gravy to moisten it while it cooks. I always make sure all the pie ingredients are cooked and hot before they go in the pastry. You can make meat pie mixtures out of stewing beef, stock, vegies in the stockpot. Shake the meat in seasoned flour before it goes in the pot to thicken the stock for gravy. Chicken pie - leftover roast chicken, sauteed mushrooms, stock, cream, a little flour, any gravy left over from the roast, some sage, rosemary or thyme. Can't go wrong.

1970s French Knock Offs, or Dinner with Margot Leadbetter

Tuna Mornay. Can't go past this for warming comfort food. A cheesy bechamel sauce with canned tuna and frozen corn. Cheesy is definitely the word! My granny always did it with a breadcrumb and cheese topping browned under the grill, so I do too. Its first cousin is Macaroni Cheese, to which we always add peas, sometimes broccoli or cauliflower, as a sort of easy to eat Cauliflower Cheese. Always add paprika and chili to the cauliflower version, and bacon to the broccoli version.

Boeuf Bourguignon. Your basic beef stew with the addition of red wine and mushrooms. In the slow cooker, nothing could perfume the house better on a cold day. Serve with lashings of mash.

Devilled Chicken. Why is it called that? Sauteed chicken baked in the oven over a bed of slow cooked onion or leeks, with a cream, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and French herb (tarragon or thyme, whatever is about) sauce.

Quiche. Real men don't eat it. Apparently no real men here. I have discovered that the best quiche is made with two eggs, and two egg yolks. Makes the texture wonderfully smooth and rich. Lots of cream. I sometimes hide a little zucchini in the quiche, but compensate with lots of bacon..

Chili Con Carne. Made this in Year 8 Home Economics. Make it in the stockpot now, and after eight hours the stewing beef is meltingly tender in its sauce of tomato and kidney beans, chili, onion, garlic and cumin. Serve with lashings of sour cream, salsa, corn chips, corn and pickles.

1980s Italy via the US of A, or Dinner with Garfield

Spaghetti Bolognese. Always put onion, garlic, oregano, bay leaves in that sauce now...

Lasagne, or Cheat's Lasagne, which negates the need to faff around with layers - pasta mixed with the bolognese sauce, topped with a layer of bechamel sauce, with or without a layer of healthy veg between the pasta and the cheese sauce..

Pizza. We bought a pizza stone and cook our pizza on the grill in the BBQ. Yum. Smallest child is wedded to The Hawaiian, everyone else is very adventurous with toppings.

Spaghetti Carbonara. We make ours with half cream, half stock, and add peas, beans or spinach, and substitute cooked chicken or sliced sausage for the bacon if so inclined.

Startling discoveries

In one meal, as a ten year old, I was introduced to two new startling dishes by American acquaintances. Pumpkin soup, and cheesecake. Loved both, but was apprehensive about cake that tasted like cheese. Was quite relieved to discover it didn't. The children all like pumpkin soup, in fact they all lived on that and pureed apple as babies, so that's not surprising. I only make a cheesecake for special occasions, and then it has to have blueberries in it, always be baked, and have a crust that consists of ginger biscuit crumbs, hazelnut meal, and butter.

Lentils. When we moved to Tasmania, we accidently fell into a den of hippies and homeschoolers. This turned out well, and they have proved the kindest and staunchest of friends over the years, and incidentally introduced me to lentils and beans as something one might eat, as opposed to say, stuff bean bags with for school PE.

Leek and lentil soup. Saute leeks, celery and bacon, add stock and lentils. There is something about this combination that is more wonderful and winter-comforting than all its parts.

Dhal. Surprisingly popular with children. Saute onions, garlic, ginger with whatever curry paste is in the cupboard. Add stock, lentils, bay leaf, cinnamon stick. Various vegetables, coconut cream if there's some in the cupboard, though that's not really in the spirit of the original recipe. That's OK, I make stuff up all the time. Serve with rice and naan. Add various ingredients to make any other curry. Chicken and cream = butter chicken. Veg, lemongrass, coconut milk = korma. Tomatoes, chili = rogan josh.

Well, that's about it I think. My skeleton meal plan. Sometimes I cook something different, and surprise everyone, not always in a good way.. the good thing about having a basic menu that I cook over and over, is that I generally have all the ingredients on hand for everything above. Also, when the children get really bored with the menu, they cook something new themselves in self-defence. Heh, heh.

Will be back when technical difficulties are resolved...

By the way, if anyone wants an actual recipe, you know, with quantities and things, let me know, and I will post it up when I've worked out how to turn on the new computer..

Edited to add: Salad Nicoise. How could I forget? Margot Leadbetter would have rocked this one. A summer staple. I tumble a warm potato salad onto a bed of crispy lettuce, top with quartered medium boiled eggs, still warm, hot-smoked salmon, and a selection of summer vegetables. I only make this with veg I want to show off from the garden - cute grape tomatoes, green beans, snow peas, baby capsicum. Don't forget crumbled feta.
Cornish Pasty. A granny dish from my Cornish ancestors. I cheat and make a vegetarian version (shredded cabbage, or other greens, cubed carrot, swede, potato, sauteed onion and celery), and I do one big log-shaped pasty to slice.


Heather said…
I go through phases where I'm really inspired and excited to cook and will try out a new recipe every day. Then I will get bored with all the planning and fall back, for a time, on a weekly rotation of tacos/burritos, Asian stir fry, roast chicken, italian pasta dishes, pozole, and multiple versions of pot roast or stew. It all depends on the seasons, too. In the summer we eat a lot of different versions of meat and vegetable salads because I can't bear to turn on the oven. You have a lot of variety in your meal rotations. Those meals are going to be the dinners your children will request when they visit you after they are grown and out of the house. They will be reminders of their youth.
A cheeky question if I may- Although you live in Australia are you British by birth? Those evening meals are very very British!! xxxx
GretchenJoanna said…
Wow - what a resource for ideas! I'm trying to remember lately the sorts of meals I used to make when I had a houseful of little kids and little time for fancy things. Most meals came out of a soup pot in those days, and everyone was happy because there were biscuits or muffins to go with.
I hope you get your computer - or any computer - back SOON!
Jo said…
The Boy's computer is temporarily available because even he can't think of a reason to take his laptop to his new part time job on a sheep farm!
Heather, I am still cooking my grannies' dishes, for reasons of sentimentality, and because they taste good. I like the idea of the children wanting to come back home to Mum's roast chicken..
Mrs Frantic, we ARE colonials you know. Everybody's grannies either are British, or descended from the British, and certainly cooked British! It is only in the last 30 years or so that we have really embraced multiculturalism here, and started cooking anything other than roasts and three veg! I remember my mother-in-law at a BBQ reminiscing with an old friend about the days when coleslaw was the exotic new salad that everyone
was making in their sleepy country town!
GJ, soup and bread, I would happily live on that combination. So comforting, and so unlikely to burn during a domestic crisis!
Anonymous said…
If it wasn't so muggy, and I hadn't just indulged in a lush dinner, your favourite dinners would have me drooling. Many of your dinners are our cool weather favs. Tonight was a "made-it-up-as-I-went-along" dinner. Stir fried some chicken breasts, thinly sliced - well, sort of, I really just hacked at them. Add half a sliced red capsicum and a red onion sorted of chopped in eights. Add slurps of sweet chilli and sweet soy sauce (aka Kepis manis) and leave while you have a drink of bubbles. When the family whinge that they are hungry, grab some handfuls of mixed lettuce, chopped very roughly a tomato, open container of sour cream (I had creme fraiche - very flash but was marked down so cheaper than sour cream, and I love it more). Bung soft tacos in the microwave and have family put their own wraps together.

Oh, I added fresh coriander, to the stir fry. It made it. (And needed to be used up as it was a tad old.) Yummo!

Took me about 15 minutes. Including pouring my drink. Jamie Oliver in training!
Jo said…
Go Jamie! You have just reminded me of more dishes - yes, random items from the fridge in tortillas, check. I love that onion, capsicum, sweet chili, kecap manis combo, will definitely pinch that idea. Yum.

And stir fry. Thankyou China for that 30 minute meal wonder. Honey, soy sauce (I like tamari for no MSG), Chinese five spice, stock, vegies, meat, rice.

Yes, most of our dishes work so well as cold weather dishes...don't need much else down in Tas..
Judy said…
Tonight I made Jamie's 5 minute cheats cheesecakes in a tumbler. You start by putting the tumblers in the freezer but I am too impatient and skip that. Then you roughly bash up some ginger biscuits and hazelnuts in a bag and mix them with some melted butter (I use 2 biscuits and 4/5 hazelnuts per glass). Share them out into the glasses (If the glasses are cold then this immediately sets hard.) Dollop on a spoonful of lemon curd, sprinkle on some raspberries (I often use blueberries too), dollop some mascarpone ontop and dust with icing sugar. Ta-dah! (Jamie stirs the icing sugar and some orange zest into the mascarpone first, but I'm too lazy for that!) Tastes delicious and can be made just for one for a quick treat.

Use the leftover mascarpone with cherries the next night. Soak fresh cherries in a bowl of water and ice for 2 minutes, then scrunch them up and put in a bowl with mascarpone and some posh biscuits. Delicious!

Both these come from Jamies 30 minute meals book, which I love.
Bookmarked, and I shall refer to this next time I don't feel like anything I know I have

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