SINCE you had children, has cooking changed? Sisters Claire and Lucy McDonald pose a question that will resonate with many parents.
“Instead of dinners à deux, glass of wine in hand, do you spend evenings chiselling porridge off the walls?” they ask.
Yes? Then raise a cheer, because you are not alone. Pre-children, Claire and Lucy would spend an afternoon hunting down spices in an Asian market to complete a long list of ingredients in a recipe cut from a Sunday supplement.
Post-children, they were churning out four child-friendly meals a day, doing endless washing-up, and crawling around on their hands and knees chasing peas under the dinner table.
“Food went from being our greatest comforter to being our harshest taskmaster,” Claire, journalist and mother of Rufus (seven) and Bruno (five), tells Feelgood.
“I looked for help, but I felt I was living in some kind of parallel universe. There was a real disconnect between what I really needed and what was out there,” she says.
What she needed were fast, nutritious, child-friendly meals; what was available were recipes for smiley pizzas or meals with long ingredient lists. So, Claire and Lucy, also a journalist and mum-of-two, wrote their own book, Crumbs, which is funny and irreverent. It takes simple ingredients — the fewer the better — and turns them into great dishes in as little as five minutes.
“We started baking, braising, basting, whisking, whipping and weighing. Every meal our families enjoyed, we noted down on the blog (www.crumbsfood.co.uk). But these weren’t any old recipes. Nope! These were fast. These were easy. These were tasty and, most importantly, could be done while keeping an eye on the children/supervising homework/cooling forehead on kitchen floor (delete as appropriate).”
Their approach struck such a chord with time-pressed parents that they started their own YouTube channel ( www.youtube.com/crumbsfood ), which has 22,000 subscribers.
Now, the sisters have put 150 of their quickest, most popular recipes into a cookbook for people who want to make good food quickly. “This book is about cooking nutritious food quickly,” says Claire. “It is about validating simple recipes. We wanted to show that you can make a great meal out of the ingredients in your store cupboard.”
Her favourite, broccoli pasta, takes as long as it takes pasta to boil, plus one minute. “I’m always surprised that with these humble ingredients you can get this great dish. We wanted to tell people that you can make great food quickly — and that it can be done with a few ingredients.”
Here’s an edited version of broccoli pasta. Put the pasta into a large pan of boiling, salted water. After five minutes, add the broccoli and let it cook with the pasta. Strain and leave in a colander, while you heat two glugs of olive oil in the pasta saucepan. Add garlic, chilli (optional), for a minute. Turn off the heat, add the pasta, broccoli and a dollop of sauce. Give it a good shake. Stir in some cream, if you have it. Serve with black pepper and grated cheese. Delicious.
* The Crumbs Family Cookbook, by Claire and Lucy McDonald, CICO Books, €24.50.
Quick cheats to create fast food
Claire and Lucy McDonald’s five amazing cheats that make cooking easier (from Crumbs).
1. Quick-cook pasta
Admittedly normal pasta isn’t exactly long-cook, but 11 minutes can seem like an eternity when you’ve got hungry children baying. A packet of this in the cupboard means a meal is only ever five minutes away.
2. Frozen fruit
Admit it, you were already worried your children weren’t eating five portions of fruit and veg a day, when experts say we should now eat seven. Never fear, frozen fruit is here. Bung it in the blender with some juice and yogurt for a fruit smoothie in the morning and one of those portions is ticked off, before you’ve had breakfast. You don’t even need to defrost.
It might sound obvious, but make too much of everything. Mashed potato can be transformed into potato bread, stew can become a hearty soup. Once you’ve cooked something, it just takes a few tweaks to turn it into something else, and you are not having to start from scratch.
The filling is irrelevant if you stick it in a wrap. Chop it up small (you might even get some vegetables in there), smear the wrap with hummus and ta da! Turn them into quesadillas (sandwich grated Cheddar cheese between two wraps, fry in butter on each side in a large pan until a gooey mess) and your kids will love you forever.
5. Tinned fish
Admittedly tinned fish suffers from an image problem, but it is your friend. If you have a couple of tins of tuna or sardines in your cupboard, you will never order takeaway pizza again.
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