Do you like having an easy life? I sure do! I used to think that cooking something tasty (especially for other people) meant that I had to pull out all the stops; I had to buy the finest veal and serve it cooked sous-vide on a bed of salad leaves plucked from my very own garden, garnished with extra virgin olive oil I pressed myself from olives imported from Italy. Naturally, I always fell short of my own expectations, but I was the only one who minded.
Realistically, all you need is coffee.
Shortcuts are fine – wonderful, even! They give you a bit of extra time to spend with your family and friends rather than slaving away over a hot stove, and they take away the stress of cooking. Life is stressful enough. World War 3 is imminent, let’s not get caught in the trap of thinking that we have to eat haute cuisine every night after work. Who has the time?
And if you really can’t be bothered, there’s no shame in a takeaway.
- Passata with basil
…or whatever other delicious additions you can find at your local supermarket. I’m newly in love with the Frito range from Heinz, and we’re running away to Santa Monica together next week to start a new life in the sun. Regardless of the brand, you don’t have to add much to make it a happy clappy joyful taste experience and it’s great for soups, stews, pasta sauces… I could go on. I won’t though. Time’s a-wastin’.
- Tinned tomato soup
This is actually a great alternative for the above, though it depends on the brand as to what kind of flavour you can get out of it. I have a smashing recipe for roasted squash and tomato soup lasagne that’s super duper easy (and will eventually go on the blog) but you can use it for pretty much anything where you’d usually have to whizz up tinned tomatoes.
- Ready-made polenta
I love polenta chips (having first tried them at Pizza Express) but cooking your own polenta? Seasoning it while you cook the grains and then again once it’s set?? Mentioning that – waiting for it to set??? I don’t have the patience. Ready-made polenta is a great alternative to potatoes when you’re making chips; it’s much easier to cut into even slices just for starters (it’s a block, not a distorted – if delicious – knobbly oval). Also it is really cheap.
- Freezer steam bags – veg & rice
Steam bags are quick, easy, and an incentive to work towards that seemingly unattainable 10-a-day that’s hanging over everyone’s head now. Freezer bags of brown rice are incredible, because the consistency of the end product is virtually indistinguishable from regular rice (as opposed to the microwaveable pouches which, while handy for quick egg fried rice, are not for everyone). This leads me onto…
- Frozen spinach
By now you know how much I love frozen spinach, but I’m happy to wax lyrical about it for a while longer. You get so much more bang for your buck than with fresh; a typical 300g bag of regular spinach is £1.00, whereas you can get a 1.3kg behemoth of the frozen stuff for £1.50 from the same supermarket. I’m sure you don’t need maths to tell you which is better value (but just in case you do, that’s £3.33/kg vs. £1.15/kg*). Add to that the fact that you don’t need to wash the frozen stuff…? Join me in the frozen spinach revolution.
- Packet spice mixes
My cupboard is chock full of spices I used once back in 2015 to make a single recipe – I’m sure most people have a similar story of woe to their name. When it comes to chilli, tacos, enchiladas, or anything that requires a decent number of flavours in order to really sing, just break out the packet mix. There is no judgement here. There is only good sense.
- Wonky veg
One of the most ridiculous things in this world is our food waste. On average, the UK alone wastes SEVEN MILLION TONNES OF FOOD AND DRINK per year, which is an absolutely mind-blowing figure, and amounts to £470 wasted annually per household. And when you realise that 40% of food crops are disregarded because they don’t meet aesthetic standards, you don’t really need to wonder why there’s so much poverty in the world and so many cannot afford to eat.
The wonky veg revolution is very much at hand, and supermarkets are starting to catch on – we as consumers are becoming more aware of what we’re eating, and those of us with half a brain and a conscience don’t mind if our carrots are all different sizes. You’re gonna cut them up anyway. Cheaper, funkier, and 100% more likely to look a little bit like a small man with his goods on show. What’s not to love?
- Get to the supermarket before work for the good stuff
This is the main reason that my freezer is usually full of fish with yellow stickers on; fresh food gets marked down in the morning and at night when it’s bordering on its sell-by date, but there are much fewer people in your local supermarket at 8am, so you’ve got a chance to get in there before anybody else. If you’ve got a fridge at work this is the perfect cheap way to get your freezer stocked, as you just ferry it home at the end of your 9-5.
- Go veggie at least once a week
Vegetable- or plant-based protein is a lot cheaper than meat or fish, and so it benefits your taste buds and your wallet to add a little variety to your week. Tinned lentils, tofu, beans, cheese, Quorn** and eggs are all vegetarian proteins that are almost always cheaper and leaner than meat. Speaking of beans…
- FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOCK UP ON TINNED BEANS
Tinned beans of any kind are cheap, will last forever, and are much easier to prepare than dried beans. Do you want to simmer black beans for an hour before you even start on your chilli, or do you want to use a goddamn tin? You wanna use a tin. There are so many options out there, and this blog is definitely going to explore the many wonders of tinned beans in due course. Lentils and pulses are delicious and easy as anything to use from cans, so don’t turn your nose up, my dudes.
There you have it – some of the things I do to make my life a little easier in the kitchen. Most of these tips also double up as excellent advice for the apocalypse. Given certain world leaders’ track records I’m stocking up on tinned lentils just in case. If the end is nigh I’m at least going to eat well.
*I’m unreasonably annoyed that I worked this out on my calculator rather than just looking at ASDA’s goddamn website.
**Quorn is usually on offer somewhere, but this is probably the priciest of the available “veggie” options – it’s still generally less expensive, but some people baulk because it’s kind of pretending to be meat. For a substitute that’s pretending to be nothing but itself, pick beans or tofu.