Most people’s fridges and freezers are stocked with ready-made, easy cook meals and with today’s busy lifestyles, it’s easy to become reliant on them. But how hard is it to create a few simple dishes or accompaniments from scratch?
In the second of our two-part blog, White Rabbit’s very own kitchen goddess Amy Fenner reveals her top tips on how to banish the same-old boring food routine and create some simple, wholesome meals that you can knock out in not much more time than it takes to oven-cook a ready-made dinner.
A labour of love
“There’s nothing wrong with having a bank of easy meals at the ready,” said Amy, “sometimes it’s the only option, for all sorts of reasons. We all lead busy lives and tend to cut corners, but it is good to do something every now and then that requires the investment of a little bit more time and love.
“Also the more effort you put in and the more processes you do yourself, the more reward there is in eating it. With things like pizza, yes you can buy it off the shelf and cook it in 10 minutes, but if you make it from scratch it becomes a labour of love. You can really enjoy the step-by-step process of stretching your own dough and preparing a selection of toppings then choosing what you fancy if you’re making more than one pizza.
“It makes the end result more special, and fun – especially if the whole family have joined in!”
Experimentation is the key
Other things Amy recommends having a go at making at home include hummus, salad dressings and bread.
“With hummus you can create exactly the flavour you desire by adjusting each ingredient, you might prefer less oil or more lemon,” Amy explained. “You can really go to town with your salad dressing experimentation, try walnut oil, garlic, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, have a play around and see what works for you.”
You could be forgiven for thinking bread just takes way too much time and effort, but it’s actually deceptively easy and can be very satisfying. Amy said: “With home-made bread you know exactly what’s in it, and can be sure there’s no extra sugar, salt or preservatives. There are so many interesting ingredients you can pop into the mix too, such as dried fruit, seeds and nuts.
“Freshly baked bread is incredibly wholesome, it fills your home with that lovely smell and just helps create a feeling of wellbeing.”
Home-made sweet treats
Supermarket shelves are full of ready-made cakes but is it really so hard to make your own? Not according to Amy. She said: “It doesn’t take ages or need to be messy, there are lots of gorgeous recipes out there that do it in just one bowl, and you can use ingredients to suit your budget. You can turn it into a fun experience with the kids and get them to help decorate it.
“It’s always nice to have a few home-made sweet nibbles in the cupboard that can serve as a handy little treat for all members of the family at any time of day too, such as a honey and nut flapjack, which is quick and easy to make.”
When time is tight…
Another quick and wholesome go-to meal that can be knocked out in no time is a classic Spanish tortilla. “This is good in an emergency, the only effort is peeling and chopping the potatoes,” said Amy. “Be sure to use good eggs, and fry the potatoes in whatever you like to use for frying. I prefer lard, which is a good alternative to dairy and has been eaten for centuries. It has similar properties to butter although it isn’t as naturally sweet, and it’s a natural product unlike a margarine, which is pumped full of chemicals to make it solid at room temperature.
“Fry the potatoes until they are golden on outside, chuck the whisked egg mix into the pan, just leave it until the bottom has a nice crust, then finish off the top under the grill. Have it as it is with a fresh tomato salad or some roasted veg on the side or build in more protein such as cheese or fried chorizo.”
Amy’s top tips
Look after your store cupboard
Make sure you have a well-stocked store cupboard and keep on top of anything that is running low and needs replacing. This way you’ll never have the excuse of not being able to make a dish because you don’t have the basic ingredients.
Shop with an open mind instead of a list
Change your focus when you’re out food shopping. People tend to shop to a list, but try going with an open mind and just see what catches your eye, like you would in a market. Don’t be blinkered, open your eyes to things you might not have noticed before. Look for something that speaks to you and then build a dish around it. It doesn’t take much, just a bit of simplistic pairing. Be intuitive and listen to yourself, what would you like to eat with it? If the obvious doesn’t appeal, what’s similar yet different?
Most folk are social eaters, and a lot of the pleasure in food can come from who you are eating it with. If you’re feeling flat, go for someone’s favourite thing, a crowd-pleasing no-brainer such as steak and chips, or a platter of bits and bobs so people can build their own meal. Having different courses can help – you can make a decision on what to have as a starter to get you going, then move onto choosing something to do as a main course once that’s polished off. Maybe inject a bit of a challenge by limiting yourself to using up leftovers!
If you’re a meat eater, always keep a good steak in the freezer
Frozen steaks don’t take long to defrost, and in our home it’s our go-to treat meal. If you’ve had a tough day, there’s nothing like steak with fried potatoes and a side salad to cheer you up.
Sex up your salads!
Salads are very important in our household. Some people think they’re dull and tasteless but they absolutely shouldn’t be, and they can be incredibly nutritious. They are so diverse – think about flavour, texture and colour. Pair crunchy lettuce and bacon; bitter leafs like chicory with blue cheese and walnut; potato or beetroot salad chopped up with mayo or gherkins; roasted vegetable salads... the options are endless! Be playful with colours – for example create a delightful pink salad using chopped beetroot, red onion and radish.
Naturally, chocolate is one of Amy’s favourite ingredients, and she’s always dreaming up delicious new ways of using it in both savoury and sweet dishes. She added: “It’s such a versatile ingredient, and I’m constantly surprised by the ways in which it can transform a dish. It’s definitely one of my store cupboard essentials!”
Keep an eye on our Facebook page for details of future White Rabbit pop-up restaurant evenings, where you can enjoy Amy’s creative cuisine.