(Cleopatra, Lawrence Alma-Tadema)
If you like cooking, please go away. Those of us who hate cooking are having a moment. [Also, Ramadan is coming so that means little or no access to food until sunset. Creativity is essential.]
The laws of Rom-Com (which are stronger than the laws of physics) state that there will come a time when someone you want to have a positive relationship with will walk into your kitchen. Those twits who like to cook are safe, but you… no. You are not safe unless you follow my system.
If you listen to me, Darling, the object of your affection will saunter into your kitchen to find a toaster (and immediately start to think about toast for breakfast). He/ she/ it will open cupboards (to find tea and coffee), open fridge (ok, it’s a little bare but you have CONDIMENTS!), look at shelves (enough glasses and mugs to have a few friends over) and deem that you are a social, organized, well-adjusted person worthy of smooching.
Now remember, the point is NOT TO COOK – the idea is to toss stuff with other stuff so that you have something mildly healthy, filling and fast with minimum of clean up.
Do NOT be aspirational. Buy the ready-made quinoa and the just-add-water-and-stir-for-5-minutes risotto. Do not buy the cornstarch and the powered sugar and the food coloring and the accoutrements for cake-decorating. Know your limitations. Melt chocolate (small bowl fitted into pan half filled with water) and drizzle over the cake. Or better yet, order from a good bakery or a friend who bakes.
- whenever you eat out/ get delivery – get extra to re-purpose
- buy realistic and easy stuff
- add stuff to other stuff
- anything portable is ok for breakfast
- frozen spinach disappears into any dish
- mix ethnicities with wild abandon
- cous-cous is the perfect base for whatever food you have on hand
- if all else fails: soup
Also – figure out at least one fruit you like and eat it every day
Also – be very alert for people you know who cook. People who love to cook (such odd ducks) love to share, so accept left-overs with humility. If possible, PAY THEM to bring extra for you. And by ‘pay them’ I do not mean money. I worked with an Italian woman who brought me home-made pasta dishes once a week. In return, I made sure she had fresh flowers on her desk. We did this for years.
1 – always take left-overs
- meatball sub – cook pasta, put in colander, put meatballs in pan with tomato sauce, frozen spinach and some herbs. Put bread on top of toaster and toast, add some garlic and butter if you want. Dump pasta back into pot and mix with sauce.
- French fries – tear into pieces and add to omelette
- onion rings – put into grilled cheese sandwich
- side salad – chopped fine and add to cous-cous or tomato sauce
- extra lemonade – freeze in ice cube trays, dump into freezer bag/ decorative lemon slices – freeze
- middle eastern appetizers are the leftovers of the gods – tabouli disappears into tomato sauce for pasta, into ramen, into an omelette, into nachos – hummus disappears into any kind of soup
2 – keep it simple: buy pre-sliced cheese from the deli, the little jars of pre-cut feta in olive oil with herbs, mixes that are ‘just add water’, mac & cheese in a box
3 – doctor up simple meals: if you have an egg, fry it in the pot, put on plate. Put frozen spinach, whatever vegetables you have in pot with water and whatever spices you want. Add ramen and ramen spice, add egg. For frozen pizza, add extra cheese and whatever condiments you want (sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers in oil, sliced kalamata olives…)
4 – if you live somewhere which has no morning options beyond rolled pita bread with eggs for breakfast, you have royal Etiquette Central permission to eat dessert. Add dark chocolate chips and chopped nuts to a peanut butter cookie mix or add chopped, candied fruit and almonds to a lemon cake mix and bake as cupcakes
5 – throw frozen vegetables into everything: put a can of black beans in the pan, add frozen spinach, frozen corn, seasoning, sliced olives, fried onions and whatever cheese you have, et voila a dip for chips
6 – mix your ethnicities: heat frozen paratha, turn over and put on plate (cold side down), add whatever you want (tuna, leftovers, cheese, veggies, chutneys) and fold in half. heat each side and eat with condiments. one pan – one plate – filling, semi-healthy and easy
7 – the joy of cous-cous: put cous-cous in bowl, add boiling water from kettle. Let sit for five minutes. Stir and then add some frozen vegetables. Let sit a few minutes, stir and then add everything else: herb mix, cubed feta cheese, artichoke hearts, dried fruit, nuts, whatever you have in the fridge. one bowl – one spoon
8 – put whatever vegetables you have in the blender container and spin until liquid. Add to pot. Add herb mix and whatever kind of milk/ cheese you have, toss in some flavor (soy sauce, wasabi, peanut sauce, hot sauce, fried onions, artichoke hearts, tahani, olives stuffed with garlic, sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers in oil) and crumble a bread-something on top or toast yourself a slice of bread and add butter-whatever and garlic sprinkles.
You will survive (and if you are wondering what Cleopatra has to do with cooking – think about how she spent her life: standing in a kitchen making petits fours or being wafted about on rose-strewn barges? Yes, well, it was a sad ending but my goodness how she packed vim, vigor, wise management of her country and les amours into the time she had. Role model!)