From keyboard to chopping board: Our Fresh Food expert Tom Rutledge tells you why we should cook more during the week.
I'm forever ripping recipes out of magazines and resolving to try something new. And I'm almost just as guilty of loading up on a delicious new ingredient that I have grand plans for, only to quickly put it to an unintended and far less exciting use as its “best before” date rapidly approaches. It would seem that my recipe and ingredient in-tray is greater than my kitchen output, An organisational - perhaps aspirational - equivalent of my eyes being bigger than my stomach.
So where does it all go wrong? How do the best laid cooking intentions (and ingredients) go to waste? How can we cook more during the week?
For sure, there are too many recipes not enough time. Just like there are too many books to read and too many travel destinations to visit. I love cooking but I still don’t make as much time for it as I should - even during a busy work week. And when I think about it, there are no good excuses.
Eating is a necessity, but unlike most other necessities, it can also be recreational. During weekdays it is a welcome open-and-shut creative process that is an almost meditative end to the day. Good music, a snifter of gin, and a hot stove can achieve a sort of transcendence that would make a Yogi's eyes water. And it's not just a passing happiness that evaporates once you've had your way with some carrots and a mandolin.
The satisfaction of bringing food to a table of family and friends is immense. There's happiness in eating real food off real plates. There’s a certain pride in the accomplishment of turning a bunch of ingredients into dinner. Comfort in the knowledge that you're eating proper, identifiable ingredients and not some tub of god-knows-what that you've just sent on a few laps of the microwave. And maybe there's even a little bit of smugness in wielding your leftovers around the lunchroom the next day!
The thing is, cooking a mid week meal doesn't need to take very long at all. The simplest things are always the best, and if you start with good ingredients you don't need to do very much to them to get a good outcome. Of course there are things that you might want to put your back into like a 37 hour shoulder of lamb or a rose water soufflé - but isn't that what weekends should be for?
Here are my top tips for cooking more during the week:
1. Enjoy the process - We have to eat. Let's make it fun? Look forward to a meditative process at the end of the day. Unwind in your own little creative world. And then enjoy the outcome.
2. Don't aim too high - Keep it simple on weekdays. Good ingredients and simple flavours don't need much work. You can always try new things that are quick, achievable, and with little washing up. Stretch your legs on the weekend.
3. Don't get stuck in a rut. Spaghetti Bolognese? Must be Tuesday. You wouldn't watch the same movie every Tuesday. Don't do it with your dinner. Sure you can have favourites that you can trundle out frequently, but don't get to thinking that you can only try something new when you have more time.
4. Invite people over - Or a person. It doesn't need to be special. People will turn out for happiness around the table before asking what's on it. Paint yourself into a corner. If there's someone lobbing on your doorstep in half an hour your default option of 2 minute noodles won't come into play.
5. Embrace failure - For some reason, the growth in cooking shows and food media has many believing that they can't cook, rather than encouraging them to try. Don't be scared of trying something new and botching it. Some of the greatest foods are a product of unintended consequences.
6. Turn off the tele - You won't have to worry about Scott and Charlene or only being able to check the oven in the ad breaks it’s not on. Pour some wine. Play some music. Be the star of your own cooking show.
7. Plan - Sad but true. Knocking together something at the end of the day does require a little planning so the cupboard is not bare. Build up the essential pantry items so most new recipes will only need a trip to the butcher and the green grocer.
Remember – if you can read, you can cook! So dust off the work day, grab your apron and off you go.