Food editor TRISH DESEINE invites you to TAKE BACK CONTROL of your WEEKEND KITCHEN and make COOKING A PLEASURE, not just more work …
When your weekends are a non-stop whirlwind of to-dos, giving you little time for real relaxation, and the thought of entertaining becomes a source of stress, it might be time to rethink your relationship not only with cooking, but with shopping too.
These days, even your humble corner deli is an ethical, financial and even medical minefield. Do you choose the organic air miles or the locally produced pork? Is that convenient spice rub simply one more gateway condiment into Shock! Horror! A fully processed meal? Can we really fool ourselves that the inviting “Cook it Tonight” signs above some pretty fancily packaged almost ready-made dishes should not in fact read “Heat it up Yourself Tonight”? And why on earth would we, professional, grown-up women, still feel guilty about making life easier in 2017?
And then there is the indecipherable code of what is nutritious and what is not. How does “all things in moderation” translate to your kitchen when you have to satisfy not only your own, but also the disparate appetites of your friends and family? What are you to do if (assuming that you can afford it) the nearest farmers’ market is an hour’s drive away and you can’t make it home to put everything in the freezer before 5pm because of the other million things you have to fit into your Saturday or Sunday?
There are now so many choices, so many issues linked to why and how we buy our food that we are exhausted long before we pull our Kenwood out from behind the Tupperware and spend 15 minutes looking for the correct attachment to achieve soft peaks. We have become so bombarded with the life-changing possibilities of food, we are missing out on how beneficial the slowing down and simplifying of the entire business can be. Here are my pointers for taking back control of your weekend kitchen and making cooking a pleasure, not just more work.
As always, forget trying to do it like a chef. Cooking is their work, you are supposed to be enjoying your time off. They have to move quickly and skilfully because their time is money and scaling up the cost of waste of an orange matters when there are 500 a day to buy, peel and sell. Not so much when it’s fruit salad for four. If you are a busy person, and even if you are not, consider cooking as therapy – the best sort. Think about it, no other type promises food afterwards. Slow, repetitive gestures accompanied by soothing sounds and smells help you stay in the moment, and the knowledge that you will get to eat what is in front of you makes for wonderful meditation.
Cooking together helps communication and allows bonding. With teens, in the same way as long drives with them beside you eventually lead to some kind of conversation, no eye contact is expected as you chop, stir and whisk. If you are cooking with your partner, there’s nothing sexier if you choose the right dish. In either scenario, don’t fuss. Think pasta, or chocolate mousse.
Here’s a thought: forget about Saturday entertaining altogether and invite guests to a late Sunday lunch or hearty afternoon tea. For lunch you can fit planning, shopping, defrosting and marinading around more important pursuits on Friday evening; some Saturday and Sunday morning. For afternoon tea you can centre the weekend around making an impressive cake. No guests? Take your time over something that will feed the family in the coming week. Restrict yourself to using what you have in your cupboards, keep it simple and don’t think of it as work, but a rewarding weekend project. Have fun!
Slow Roast Ragu
Simple but delicious, this is an antidote to a frazzled week. It takes just 20 minutes, and a couple of hours in the oven: have your hair done, go for a run. The house will smell good on your return. Use good quality beef, not too lean.
Serves 4-6 (20 minutes preparation; 2-3 hours cooking)
150g bacon or pancetta lardons
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
500g minced beef (brought up to room temperature)
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
A squeeze of tomato paste or sundried tomato paste
100ml red wine
250/500ml veal or beef stock
Sprig of thyme
Salt and pepper
1. Pre heat the oven to 150?C.
2. Heat the butter in a heavy-based casserole with a lid and brown the bacon or pancetta with the chopped vegetables, onion and garlic. Keep them cooking at a low sizzle for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time until they are golden and softened.
3. Turn the heat up slightly and add the meat gradually so as not to lower the heat in the pan and have the meat stew instead of brown.
4. Let it brown all over, mixing it with the vegetable base. Pour in the red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up the delicious sticky bits with a wooden spoon.
5. Add the tomatoes, stir. Then pour in a little beef stock and add the herbs.
6. Season very lightly and bring to a very slow, plopping simmer.
7. Pop the lid on and cook in the oven for about 1.5 hours, adding a little stock halfway through if it looks a little dry.
8. Season well with salt and pepper and serve with good, fresh pasta and freshly grated parmesan.
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