Category Archives: Kitchen Cheat
When I was growing up I thought that twenty-four hours was the perfect length for a day. With age, this has changed: I’d now like thirty-six at least so that, among other things, I’d have more time to cook delicious things which take ages to prepare. As it is, I am your typical time-poor, full-time, professional woman with limited stamina and a pile of ironing that I’m never quite on top of. In spite of this, I’m ready meal-averse so at the end of most workdays, I cook. Sometimes I get so tired that by the end of it, I have no energy left to eat. Ironic, I know, but apparently quite common among my ilk.
Roll on the weekend – that blissful ideal of rest over two whole days, which seldom happens by the time housework, paperwork, special occasions and familial duties are taken into account. For just those times when hunger pangs hit but there’s little time to spare, I’ve got just the thing: a quick and easy lunch that can be thrown together in a jiffy.
Fill a bowl with cherry tomatoes cut in half, cubes of feta cheese, plenty of chopped parsley, a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Toss and spoon onto your plate. Leftovers can be added to another meal later. Put slices of mozzarella onto slices of beef tomato, season and heat in the oven until just melted (just a few minutes at 150C). Add a few of these to the plate and garnish each with a basil leaf. That’s the hard part. Now just add anything vaguely Mediterranean you might have to your lunch: slices of prosciutto or salami, a handful of olives, some lettuce leaves topped with emergency artichokes (from the jar that dwells in the pantry) – their preserving juice creates an immediate dressing so no vinaigrette-concocting required.
For the above example I grabbed some herby ciabatta from our local deli and warmed it through while I was heating the tomatoes. Other additions might include marinated anchovies, leftover grilled vegetables, a spoonful of couscous drizzled with lime juice and coriander, a few slices of grilled halloumi tossed in lemon juice and parsley, marinated peppers, some burrata (if you’re lucky enough to have it in the fridge) sprinkled with a handful of sliced green grapes.
One last point: if you have visitors and don’t want to spend too much time wearing your trusty oven gloves, just set out all of the Mediterranean foods that you have to hand, give them each a plate and tell them to help themselves, buffet-style. Couldn’t be easier! This is a seriously low-maintenance lunch that’s tasty, healthy and just as easy to make for a crowd as it is for one person.
If you have guests and want to show that some sort of effort was made in the feeding of them, you can even tailor this lunch to a specific Mediterranean country with a minimum of hassle. For instance, if you want to put the emphasis on things Italian, drinks might include San Pellegrino with a slice of lemon, prosecco, a glass of Pinot Grigio or a chilled Nastro Azzuro. Don’t fuss over dessert: just put out some fresh fruit or have a scoop of gelato. A really snazzy ice cream trick is to serve lemon gelato with a shot of limoncello poured over the top, but don’t plan on finishing the laundry afterwards! It works just as well with strawberry gelato and fragolino… divinISSimo! Finish with espresso. If you have a machine, all well and good, but if not, there are some really good instant espresso grounds on the market nowadays - trust me, I’m über- fussy about my coffee. Serve it with a bacio or two and get everyone to read out the love messages wrapped inside. Now, that’s what I call la dolce vita.
Buon appetito a tutti!
I am a full-time working woman with a full and demanding life. I know perfectly well how to cook pancakes from scratch, be they crêpe, American-style, potato or blini, but I’d rather get the fillings right than muck about with batter after a long day at work. As Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day/ Mardi Gras falls invariably on a weekday, that dictates the need to cheat if Monsieur and I are to do the traditional thing and dine on pancakes. This is how I blitzed it for us this week:
Pop a knob of butter in a frying pan and, once melted, place a galette darker side down in the pan. Immediately start to place your filling ingredients on one half of the galette, wait for the edges to brown a little and flip the other half across the fillings so that you have a perfect half-moon oozing with deliciousness. Make sure both sides have been adequately heated (this involves a bit of flipping for the culinary gymnasts among us) then place on a plate and set aside.
In the meantime, heat the oven to about 150 Celsius. If, like me, you have an audience who will eat the galettes as fast as you can make them, and if you prefer to eat at the same time as those you’re cooking for, this is a useful trick – wait until about a short while before you want to serve the already-filled galettes, slip them into the oven for 10 minutes and they will be piping hot, as if they came straight from the pan, when they arrive at the table.
I have an entire book filled with recipes for galette fillings and the options are endless. Here are three surefire favourites that Monsieur and I enjoy, not just on Shrove Tuesday:
- The Classic Complète. Place thin slices of ham (honey roast is delicious if available) to cover half of the galette. Crack an egg on top and allow it to start to heat through, but don’t leave it so long that the galette burns. It can always continue to cook a little once in the oven. Sprinkle with grated cheese, and/or a little parmesan. Grind black pepper over the whole and close. When in half-moon shape, i.e. the fillings are covered by pancake, flip to ensure the egg gets heat from both sides. If you’d like to be a little more ambitious with the presentation, place all the ingredients at the centre of the galette, leaving about 5 centimetres uncovered around the circumference. make sure the egg is situated as close to the centre of the galette as possible. Fold in 4 edges, leaving the egg exposed but creating a roughly square shape. Serve.
- The Neptune. Arrange slices of quality smoked salmon to cover half of the galette. Dollop three tablespoons of creme fraiche on top of the salmon and spread. Sprinkle chopped chives (dill also works beautifully here) and a little parmesan cheese over all. Close as the salmon’s colour starts to turn pale but before the galette edges start to curl.
- The Vegetarian Italian. Put thin slices of mozzarella around half of the galette, dot with 5 or 6 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half. Sprinkle with parmesan and chopped or torn fresh basil leaves. You have to keep an eye on this one because if you leave it in the pan for too long the tomato juice will make it soggy and difficult to flip. One solution, if you have time, is to use regular slicing tomatoes and remove the juicy flesh and seeds beforehand.
Sweet pancakes are usually called crêpes in France, to distinguish them from the savoury galettes. To cheat for this type I used the following pre-made version, also from Ocado, although most supermarkets in the UK offer something similar:
Once again, they come in packs of 6. I am a complete traditionalist when it comes to sweet pancakes. If at all possible, Monsieur will do the French thing and fill his with Nutella, but I prefer to keep it simple:
As for the galettes, heat a knob of butter in the pan and place the crêpe darker side down in the pan. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of sugar across one half of the crêpe, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the sugar, add a dash or two of cinnamon, fold in half and serve. An optional extra might be a squirt of chantilly or a scoop of proper vanilla ice cream. If I weren’t so convinced I’d set my head alight, I might attempt Crêpes Suzettes, but for the moment I leave that to the experts in restaurants like Les Halles, where they’re so practised that I couldn’t hope to compete.
One of our favourite weekend brunches consists of eggs Benedict. Monsieur positively demolishes them and insists on eating eggs Benedict when we’re out of town, just to compare and contrast with what he gets at home. Most of the time my eggs win the draw, however I cheat 100% when I make them; it’s more of a combination of heat and assembly than true cooking. I don’t make my own muffins, nor do I make my own hollandaise sauce from scratch. I just source the best components possible, most of which can dangerously be found within our postcode.
First up – choosing the muffins. To avoid confusion, these must be English muffins, as fat as you can find. The supermarket variety tend not to have a particularly good consistency for the support of a poached egg. Use them with your eggs Benny and I promise you, you will regret it. Here speaks the voice of experience. Seek out a good artisan baker instead and buy their English muffins. The best ones are about 2 inches thick. Slice in half and toast until just golden brown.
Eggs may well be eggs but happy chooks make tastier ones. Go for large free range organic everything. You will definitely taste the difference.
I admit to being a messy poached egg maker on the best of days. No matter that I use white wine vinegar in the water or make a whirlpool before dropping the egg into the water, I get stringy whites everywhere, so I use Kitchen Cheat devices to make my eggs presentable. There are various kinds. Don’t go for the non-stick black metal ones; I’ve found that over time their non-stick coating comes off with the heat of the water and colours the eggs an unappetising grey. No one wants to eat grey eggs, even if they are hidden by fish and sauce. Try something like these silicon Poach Pods, which I found at Lakeland:
At £4.99 each, they’re worth it for the perfect egg shape to fit atop the toasted muffin. Zero skill required apart from knowing how to boil the water and crack an egg.
Smoked salmon is central to the success of eggs Benedict. Spending a little more than your average supermarket price on this key ingredient will pay dividends. Go for the best Scottish smoked salmon that you can afford (or Norwegian, if available). Stick to the traditional type – no fancy beetroot marinades or similar varieties because they’ll interfere with the flavours.
Have you ever tried to make home-made Hollandaise sauce? It’s an exercise in patience, trial and error. Personally, I don’t have time to make my own. Cheating once more I’ve tried various Hollandaise sauces and find that although the Maille brand is good, Mary Berry’s version is much better in both flavour and consistency, and if you happen to be in a good deli where they make their own, try theirs. No need to worry about curdling.
Have the oven on so that you can pop the eggs and muffins inside to keep them warm on their plates while you heat the sauce, which should only be done at the very last minute because it cools quickly, ruining the consistency. When it’s loose and ready to pour, whip out the plates, top the eggs with a neat criss cross of smoked salmon and pour the sauce across the smoked salmon. A sprig of dill popped on top completes the picture. Eat immediately.
I quite like a dollop of creme fraiche on the side to help cut through some of the vinegary tang of the Hollandaise, and to make it look less anaemic sitting there on its lonesome, I might add a spoonful of salmon ‘caviar’. Monsieur, being a traditionalist, thinks this is unnecessary and declines the additions. It’s a question of taste, I suppose.
Some trivia for you: you probably already know that Eggs Benedict is traditionally served with ham. When smoked salmon is substituted for the ham this dish becomes Eggs Royale, and across the pond it may be called Eggs Atlantic or Eggs Hemingway. I quite like that. Eggs Hemingway.