Anyone who has spoken to me, or has read one of my previous posts on life in lock-down will have realised that I’ve become slightly obsessed with food over the last month or so. I think about food a lot. I’ve barely finished one meal and I’ve already started planning the rest. Why? Well I do enjoy food and lock-down is as good a time as any to eat well and take time preparing it. Underpinning this there is probably also a slight anxiety about when it will be time to do our next food shop, but I’m choosing to focus on the fact that lock-down has helped me to rediscover my enjoyment for cooking and planning meals which are tasty and varied.
I pride myself in having quite a healthy and balanced diet. We eat a lot of fresh food, eat ready meals only occasionally and eat a good mix of different things. However, we also usually lead quite busy lives where spending an hour cooking something from scratch isn’t always an option. Coming home from work and having exactly an hour to cook, eat, get ready and go back out again means that often quick and easy options such as stir-fry or tuna pasta are eaten more frequently then perhaps we’d choose. Even at the weekend if we’ve been out all day, often we’re not in the mood to cook something exciting by the time we return home. However, lock-down and working from home means we no longer have those excuses and as a result James and I have spent much more time in the kitchen.
Revisiting Old Favourites
The first thing we did was to start revisiting some of our old favourites. Typically meals which we left till a weekend to make or would cook if we had friends coming over. Without a commute, and if we’d been for our daily exercise at lunch time, we had a lot more time in the early evening to think about preparing a meal. Lasagne, Fish Pie, Turkey Shepherd’s Pie, Sausage Casserole and Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry were all things that we were eager to enjoy again and, more excitingly, to eat on a week night.
Unsurprisingly, after a week or two we were eyeing up the recipe books on our shelves and thinking a lot about the fact they don’t often get opened, let alone used. Over the years between us we have a collection of different books and a significant number of recipe cards picked up from supermarkets. Like many people we see these, get excited about a suggested recipe, pick up the card and put it somewhere to never see the light of day again, or until a deep clean 8 months down the line where you can’t imagine why you ever would have picked up a card for something when you dislike half the ingredients. However, we’ve now gone back and tried a few different things, some of which have been more successful than others.
Spiced Lamb Burgers and Sweet Potato and Halloumi burgers were from our burger recipe book. Both sets of burgers were really tasty, weren’t that difficult to make and reminded us that we should probably go through this book for some more recipes. We also tried a Chorizo Patatas Bravas Salad, and a Lentil and Aubergine Ragu from recipe cards picked up in Waitrose. The Patatas Bravas was really tasty as a side and I think we’ll have this again, although perhaps without the grilled lettuce (lettuce really isn’t designed to be warm!). The Aubergine Ragu we both agreed wouldn’t make it to the top of our list of things to have again, but at least we’d tried it.
We’ve also spent quite a bit of time trying a range of different curry recipes, thanks to our Curry Legend Kit. This kit contains a recipe book and four different spice blends which makes it really easy to cook delicious curries without it taking too much time at all. It does mean we’ve spent a lot of time chopping up onion, garlic and ginger and we’ve been lucky we’ve been able to have the windows open most days…
Twists on Classic Meals
In addition to following new recipes, we’ve also tried out a couple of twists on classic meals. Two of these we had had before, but not for quite a while and so it still felt quite novel trying them out.
First up was a Lasagne made using leftover chill con carne. This worked really well and I’ll try to remember in future for using leftover chilli. This came about as we had a box of lasagne sheets at the back of our cupboard, and had had a lot of rice in recent meals so decided it was time for a change. It’s made the same way as a usual lasagne, but using chill instead of a bolognese sauce. We served it with guacamole and salsa and it was really good.
Next we revisited one of James’ childhood favourites – scone based pizza. Making your own pizza at home is quite good fun anyway, but this recipe uses a sundried tomato scone recipe as the base rather than usual pizza dough. It give the pizza a slightly different texture, makes it much more filling and adds more flavour.
We also revisited a recipe that I’d made over the winter after getting one of Nadiya Hussain’s cookbooks out of the library. Bolognese Pie is basically spaghetti cooked in a white sauce, made into a nest, filled with bolognese and cooked in the oven. An alternative version of a pasta bake or a spaghetti bolognese but it’s very filling and quite tasty. It was perfect for when the weather started to become grey, cold and miserable again.
Lunch is usually my least favourite meal of the day, usually because it is the most boring. At work, I’d usually have soup over the winter, or a salad in the summer which I’d eat in a packed lunch. Working from home suddenly opens up a range of different options simply because I have access to a full kitchen. To begin with, just having a boiled egg with toast, or cheese on toast was a bit different and felt like a novelty. Since then we’ve branched out to some more filling lunches but which are still packed with flavour.
Egg fried rice is filling and really easy to make. Because we’ve had lots of curry ingredients lying around, my favourite was the batch that we added fresh ginger and coriander to in addition to the soy sauce and egg. We made cheesy bacon and leek tartlets again one lunch time which is a recipe we really like but haven’t made in a very long time. My most recent invention which I’ll be making again was homemade hummus bowls. This involved getting a soft taco shell, lining the inside with hummus and then filling with a fried vegetable, halloumi and cous-cous medley. Delicious!
The one thing I really haven’t done as much of as I first expected is baking. Initially we really struggled to get hold of eggs, flour and sugar. Gradually it’s become a lot easier to find things but we’ve continued to find flour elusive in the shops. Luckily, we’d bought a new bag of flour before all of this started but I think I’d have got through it a lot faster if I knew we’d be able to get another when it runs out. That being said, we’ve still made a few bits and pieces.
My favourite chocolate cookie recipe has been made a few times, and we also tried an eggless cookie recipe which we’d found online. Not really baking, but we made Easter egg nests over our Easter break and we also made a banoffee pie. Unlike the many people producing sourdough starters and endless loaves of bread, so far I’ve only made one loaf of bread at home. It was really good and a recipe I’ll definitely follow again, but we’re reluctant to use up our flour making more when we can still get bread quite easily from the shops.
How has your relationship with food changed since lock-down started? Have you noticed any difference on your diet or any changes you’ll keep when all this is over? I really hope that I keep on trying new recipes and start to make myself some more exciting packed lunches when I return to work. I’d like to bake more and also remind myself that some of my favourite things don’t actually take that long to prepare. I think I’m also more likely to plan out meals for the week ahead to ensure greater variety and so that my shopping list is a bit more focused.
Which new recipes have you tried?