I’ve been reminded by Zoe’s post about convenience, preprepared and packaged foods that I’ve been meaning to document some of my DIY convenience foods for a while now.
I’m a big fan of convenience. I’m not opposed to preprepared foods, my line tends to be drawn at the attractiveness of the packaging truth be told. If it’s brightly coloured and has cartoon characters on it I’m unlikely to purchase it, if they use nice fonts to tell me how quickly the noodles will cook it may well end up in my trolley. Apart from attractiveness my criteria are “how much unnecessary stuff is is in it?” and “how much does it cost?”. If there’s only one or two ingredients I’m generally happy. I usually buy bread and rice crackers and I have a whole section of cupboard devoted to tins of tomatoes, chickpeas and lentils. I buy dried chickpeas and lentils too, but I think it’s ok to use tins if you didn’t plan your meal 24 hours in advance, in much the same way, I can make bread and crackers (although not rice crackers) but generally I don’t. I have lots of sauces, and I’ve never made my own vinegar (although I have read instructions for doing so out of interest). My partner brews most of our beer, and we grow some of our vegetables. I make some of our yoghurt, but certainly not all. I am a fan of frozen berries and frozen peas, but can’t abide frozen carrot. I’m not opposed to frozen corn when the Bloke turns it into Nigella’s Sweet Corn Chowder. While I have been known to look longingly at advertisements for a local sausage-making class, I am yet to experiment with making small goods.
At the moment my partner and I are both working for money and sharing the domestic and childwrangling work. He works from home, so he cooks on the days I’m at work. I cook the other days, unless someone invites us to their house. When I was at home fulltime with the kid we had a pretty careful budget and I wanted to make sure that:
a) I didn’t go batshit crazy with being stuck at home with a toddler and no money for doing fun stuff
b) we didn’t go nuts or get sick eating a restricted diet of cheap carbs
c) figure out some ways of making the beginnings of some recipes ahead of time to keep in the freezer for days when I couldn’t be arsed, the boy was hanging off my leg at dinner time, or for when I went back to paid work.
So I set myself some challenges. I picked one of the Bloke’s cookbooks that I’d never used, and I started working my way through it one new recipe a week. After that I worked on one new recipe a week from any source. The first book was Mridula Baliekah’s best-ever CURRY cookbook: over 150 great curries from India and Asia, which the Bloke purchased for $9.95 probably from the bookshop outside the Nova cinema when he was footloose and fancyfree and went to the cinema with time to spare for book browsing. There may be millions of better curry cookbooks, but this one was already in the house and therefore free. Are you noticing a theme yet? Thrift was of the essence.
In my usual brilliant fashion I worked through the book from front to back, skipping anything that was unappealing. The book is organised regionally, fortunately, otherwise I’d have been eating alphabetically and it could have been very strange.
We started with chicken saag. Saag, as it turns out, is really easy to make ahead of time. You can cook and puree the spinach, fry up the onion & spices, add chopped tomatoes, and then bag it up for the freezer. Obviously if your recipe feeds four and there are only two of you this is a good time to divide it in half. When you want to eat it you defrost the sauce & simmer with chicken (or paneer, or tofu), add yoghurt & cook the rice. It’s a handy thing to remember if the spinach or silverbeet is looking a bit sad but you don’t want to eat it today. Or if silverbeet comes in your random veggie delivery and you can’t fit it in the fridge without removing everything else. That probably doesn’t happen to you, we still have a single lady fridge. Cooked silverbeet takes up much less room than raw. If you had oodles and oodles of silverbeet all in one go you could try preserving it in jars instead so you weren’t taking up the whole freezer, but I haven’t been in that position. Yet.
Following the incredible success of my frozen saag came the Roasted Aubergines with Spring Onions (the book is from the UK). Roasting eggplants isn’t hard, but it does tend to stink out the house and leave you with little bits of black under your fingernails so when I see a recipe start with First Roast Your Eggplant, I tend to think “maybe on the weekend”. But then it occurred to me that there’s no reason one can’t roast a whole heap of eggplants at the same time, get the skins off, and then bag them up individually with careful labelling. A preroasted eggplant and a tin of tomatoes and you’re on your way to a very nice curry sauce. Fry some onions, chilli & spices, throw in some mushrooms, combine defrosted eggplant & tinned tomatoes and you’re done. If you freeze things in small batches they’re easy to defrost while you chop the fresh last minute stuff.
That’s it for now, because I should be in bed. More to come. Possibly. If I remember.