A friend of mine was lamenting the big bang that marked the passing of her cooker yesterday.
Not an easy position to be in when you have a family to feed and I should know, I’ve been in that position many times: once when we’d had enough of the ring on the electric stove turning on whenever it liked in our tiny flat (I suspect that cooker was probably older than me at the time) and another occasion when we were refitting the kitchen and the food prep involved an old garden table, a gazebo, a microwave amongst the junk on my dining table and a few prayers for good weather.
This got me thinking, so these are my tips (feel free to add your own):
Firstly, get a copy of this book – The Dairy Book of Home Cookery. Originally published in 1968, it was distributed by the local milkman. It has been reprinted so many times, updated in the nineties and is still available second hand on line. It is said to be one of the most trusted cookery books of all time but its winning feature for me has to be the fact that just about every recipe has an alternative set of instructions for using the microwave. Packed full of practical meals like beef stew & dumplings and Leicester cheese pudding (a personal favourite), it also features some fabulously dated dishes like layered turkey & broccoli loaf and blancmange that I think I’m going to have to have a go at making purely for kitsch value. Oh, and I’ve just read that another updated version came out in 2012. I know what I’m going to be ordering this afternoon.
Pouch rice. Not the cheapest way to cook this cheapest of staples but rice doesn’t respond well to cooking in the microwave so these little life savers come into their own when you don’t have a hob. Sainsbury’s have a lovely selection at the moment for only 50p a packet but my favourite has to be this grain mix by Merchant Gourmet. Pricey at around £2 a pouch, it’s rammed full of goodness and easily bulks out a meal. If you’re a vegetarian like me, it’s a great source of vitamins, minerals and it contains protein.
- For a really simple sauce, cook a chopped onion, a knob of butter a teaspoon of oil and some crushed garlic on full power in a covered microwavable dish for about three minutes. Stir in a can of chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree, 300ml of hot vegetable stock and some dried herbs and then put it back in for another five minutes, uncovered. Take it out, give it a good stir and then cook again for another ten minutes but stir regularly and keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over. Serve up with some heated pouch rice or pasta with plenty of cheese or tip in a packet of the Merchant Gourmet mix mentioned above for the last couple of minutes of cooking to make an easy risotto. Fish also poaches well in this tomato mix – check the packaging for how long to do this for and check it’s cooked through properly before serving.
Remember there are some great things out there that don’t need cooking. Bulghar wheat is a great source of fibre, B vitamins, protein and iron and because it is already partly cooked, you can get away with just soaking this wholegrain for 30 minutes. About 225g serves 4 and you just put in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Drain it thoroughly and mix in some chopped fresh herbs, some finely chopped spring onions or diced peppers and then top with feta and walnuts. If this sounds a bit too healthy try some chopped jarred peppers and a shredded rotisserie chicken from the supermarket instead. It’s very filling comfort food and my kids love it – and because it’s a staple of Eastern European, Middle East and Indian cookery it is perfect with robust spices like chilli, coriander and cumin. What’s not to like?
- Fine noodles and couscous are also fine to soak. There are some great flavoured varieties available.
In case you’re thinking I’ve popped my laptop down next to the carob in a health food shop, I’ll admit that the above tips lean slightly towards the fact that my friend is following a vegan diet for lent, which is very commendable. But as I cater for both carnivores and a vegetarian for most meals, I know it wouldn’t be difficult to slip some cooked or tinned meat in there somewhere. I guess some pancetta or chorizo might be good chucked in with the onions if you’re making the tomato sauce or to go for some all-out fusion food try some good quality prosciutto and figs with the bulghar wheat along with the chopped fresh herbs. Imagine the rich, earthy, sweet, salty flavours served with a cold glass of Prosecco.
You’d soon forget all about your broken stove.