I don’t know how many weeks we are back at school now — it is all a haze of packed lunches and homework and dinner and snacks and rushing from activity to activity and getting them washed before bed.
I’m absolutely wrecked, and I know a lot of you are too.
Even though I am a big fan of batch cooking, there are nights when the idea of cooking a meal from scratch is just too much to bear, and that’s when I reach for some of my most prized shop-bought shortcuts.
We are so lucky that all of our supermarkets now stock high-quality pre-made pizza bases. I choose sourdough when I can find them because I find them easier on our tummies, but yeasted versions are great too. I keep jars of homemade tomato sauce in my freezer so that I can make a pasta dish in minutes, so if I am thinking ahead, I'll take one of these out to defrost in the morning. If not, I buy a tin of crushed tomatoes and stir in a glug of olive oil, salt, and a grating of fresh garlic. Onto the pizza goes a smear of sauce, some grated cheese and whatever leftover lunch meat and vegetables are hanging around the fridge. On extra lean days, it's some finely sliced onion and a scattering of frozen sweetcorn straight from the bag.
I always have a bag of gnocchi in the freezer and it's not always to serve with a slathering of pesto. These pillowy dumplings are my route to near-instant roast potatoes when time is tight. I will throw some meat and vegetables on a roasting tray with some olive oil to cook and fifteen minutes before they are cooked, I'll pour the bag of gnocchi onto a heated baking tray with olive oil, salt, and pepper and pop them in the oven too. Fifteen minutes later I'll have a whole tray of crispy crunchy baby roasties.
A roast chicken is always welcome in my house, but I don't always have the time to cook it. Sometimes I give my family the dinner that they really want, which is hot chicken sliced into pre-baked rolls with mayonnaise and lettuce but when I want to be satisfied that they are eating something more substantial, I'll pop a few pouches of precooked brown rice into an oven dish, shred in the cooked chicken with some olive oil and heat for just under 10 minutes. I'll spritz over some lemon juice to freshen it up and scatter in some chopped scallion before serving.
It will not look as gorgeous as some of the grazing platters we see on Instagram, but a 'picky dinner' is one of the best ways to feed the family in minutes when you have no time or inclination to cook. In the middle of the table, I put chopped raw vegetables such as cucumber and carrot, premade hummus (I always look at the ingredients to make sure that it is made with high-quality oil and has no nasties), crackers, bread if I have it, leftover meat, olives, and chopped cheese. This not only clears out my fridge but gives us all a chance to assemble plates of what we feel like eating.
This is my go-to meal when I am stressed out. I heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan, and into that goes a pouch of precooked brown rice, whatever leftover veg is in the fridge, and a grating of garlic and ginger if I have it. I fry, stirring all the time, for about three minutes, stir in a good glug of soy, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and a drizzle of honey. I top with a fried egg — and for the grown-ups, a drizzle of sriracha.