Dinner really can be a flash in the pan…
Cooking up satisfying and nutritionally substantial meals midweek can sometimes be difficult. With our busy lives, juggling work and family can be hard. We ask super mum, Katy Hofstede-Smith, how she cooks up a storm every night of the week…
“The key to avoiding midweek meal mayhem is organisation. Unfortunately, as far as I have found at least, there is no avoiding that.
Planning is key. Know at the beginning of the week what you want to eat during the week and make sure you buy all of the ingredients you need in one big shop. By planning in advance you can save yourself the dreaded ‘what’s for dinner’ battle each night and save yourself time on the multiple shop dashes to pick up forgotten ingredients.
Plan meals to work with each other, so if you roast a chicken for Sunday lunch, use leftovers to make several midweek meals, such as chicken pie (using up any leftover gravy) and chicken fajitas. Use up the leftover veg to make bubble and squeak with smoked fish and a poached egg. This ensures that the time consuming element, cooking the chicken and vegetables, has been done and all you have to do midweek is some quick prep and reheat.
Use all of the tools that you have to make sure you spend as little time cooking when you walk through the door. The freezer is the midweek cook’s friend, allowing you to reheat entire meals or elements. A lovely roasted tomato sauce is always in the freezer. It can be simply poured over a piece of fish with some finely sliced fennel or other vegetables, and baked to be served with rice or potatoes, or could be combined with some frozen roasted veg and added to pasta.
If you’ve got a slow cooker these are also great for prepping in the morning and coming home to a meal with minimal effort. I recently discovered (I know I probably should have known this years ago!) that my oven has a timer on it, which is a fantastic tool for midweek meals. By getting everything prepped and in the oven before I head out for the school run or the various jobs that I have to do in the afternoon, all I have to do when I get back is some quick vegetables, or if I’ve planned well enough, just take it out of the oven. Tray bakes are obviously fantastic for this, but it works really well with roast chicken, stews, casseroles and baked curried meats too.
The other trick that I use a lot to make things quicker in the evening, so long as I have a little time in the day, is the restaurant favourite, mise en place. This is the art of preparation that allows restaurants to cook amazing dishes in a matter of minutes, surely something that every home cook could learn from. Take the dish that you are planning on cooking and prepare as much as you can in advance.
For example, for a Thai green curry, midday I will prepare the curry paste, chop the chicken and marinade it in a dish in the fridge. The vegetables to go in it are washed, chopped and left covered with a damp cloth. All the other ingredients for the recipe are taken out and left together on the worktop, measured out if necessary, which means when I’m rushing to get everything done and everyone wants my attention, I don’t need to worry about reading a recipe or remembering what needs to go in. As soon as we walk through the door, the pan gets heated, the chicken cooked with the other ingredients and a meal that could take close to an hour to make is done in the time it takes to cook the rice. Plus, it usually tastes better as it has had the chance to marinade and most of the washing up and clearing away is already done, definitely a win win.”