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 Whatever the arena, my motto should be 'I fear change', which means I am about thirty years out of date in most arenas.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.
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.
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.