Let's be straight from the start: This here blog ain't ever gonna be a food blog.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the consumption of food. Even more so if someone else has cooked it for me. It's just the shopping, preparation, serving and clearing up afterwards that I don't like.
I blame my S2 home economics teacher. "Clare tends to be rather slap dash in the kitchen," she opined on my end-of-year report. Perhaps I just gave up at that point.
In fairness, I think cooking can be fun when you have the time, the money for exotic ingredients and kitchen counters the size and cleanliness of Nigella's. It's the daily grind of planning what you're going to eat, throwing it together, then watching your fellow diners pick at it grumpily for 40 minutes (child one) or wolf it down in 40 seconds (child two) that gets to me.
However, until I win the lottery and can afford to dine out every night, this is the reality of my situation. And, like all good mummies, I do try.
So, for all of those average (or below average like me) cooks, here are some of my favourite "go to" dishes. I'm a lover of recipes that are prefixed by the words quick/speedy/simple/easy, so most of these have a limited amount of ingredients that should be effortless to source. For any US readers who need to convert measures, there's a handy table here.
For starters, a snack lunch or when you finally get round to entertaining...
This bruschetta recipe came to my attention via the wonderful Complete Guide To Imperfect Homemaking blog by Kelly Oribine. Kelly now has a new blog here but she's kindly left all her previous words of wisdom in cyberspace for us to access. What I really like about Kelly is that she seems to understand those of us who aren't natural cooks. Her posts include lots of extra little tips to make the process of entertaining less stressful (yippee). I also love the fact that this is a pretty healthy take on bruschetta with plenty of extra veggies hidden in there.
(Apologies for the strong pasta theme folks. If I ever get around to writing another food-related post, I'll aim for a little more variety.)
A child-pleasing comfort dinner when you have a bit of time to spare...
My own mum's mac and cheese is super-easy and economical to make. Funnily enough, she doesn't have her own website to link up to so I've battered out the recipe right here: Melt 25g butter and a rounded tablespoon of cornflour over a low heat for one minute. Add just under half a pint of milk, salt and pepper and a spoon of mustard (I like to use Dijon). Bring to the boil for one minute. Add 75g grated cheddar (take it off the boil for this part), stir and add to cooked macaroni. Top with some more grated cheddar and sliced tomatoes. Dash around the house multi-tasking while it bakes in the oven for around half an hour at 200°C. I should probably also be responsible and suggest that you serve up this stodgy dish with some steamed veg.
A child-pleasing dinner that is just about palatable to adults when you have zero time to spare...
This second recipe is like a posh pasta and sauce but you'll feel ever so smug that you refrained from popping that jar of Dolmio open. It takes minutes and is just perfect for those nights when everyone is "starving" and you're exhausted from a full day at work followed by the kids' swimming run. Vanity hint: This one always looks a little better if made with spaghetti and sprinkled with parmesan.
These two represent my little lad's favourite hot and cold puddings:
Delia's cheat's Eton mess involves Greek yoghurt, chopped strawberries and meringues crumbled into a bowl. If you can be bothered, she suggests making a sort of compote by blitzing half the fruit with some icing sugar in a mini blender, then swirling it through the mixture to create a marbled effect. We sometimes cheat the cheat's recipe (that's how low I'm willing to stoop) by drizzling over some Easi-Yo fruit squirt instead.
One of my favourite recipes in our well-thumbed edition of Can't Cook Won't Cook Leaves Home (yip, people still gift me student cookbooks) is this shortcut sticky toffee pudding. In a nutshell, you need to butter an oven-proof dish, crumble in some Madeira cake and make a sauce by melting 50g of butter with 100g of brown sugar and 150ml of double cream. Pour sauce over crumbled cake and whack in the oven at 190°C for 10 minutes. Serve with whichever calorie-laden accompaniment you prefer: cream, ice cream or custard.
Purists might complain that it doesn't taste like the real thing but it is incredibly sweet, incredibly fattening and tastes rather nice. What's not to like?
For an easy cake when you have a bit of time, I recommend this fail-safe lemon drizzle. And when you crave cake but have no time, try this easy chocolate microwave cake instead (I make mine using a square silicon baking tray). I realise that Mary Berry wannabes will be cringing at the prospect of cake-making and microwaves. To this I respond as follows: It takes eight minutes - EIGHT MINUTES PEOPLE - to bake. It's therefore a winner in my book.
Do you love or loathe cooking? What's your 'go-to' family-friendly recipe? Leave a comment and let me know.