it's been hard to muster up much enthusiasm for cooking this past week. bruno was in basel all week, madly trying to get ready for this, so i was flying solo at home with the grommets 24/7. at the end of each day it was all i could do to flop down, exhausted, in front of the telly. and by friday, i was a wreck. no end in sight, though, for at least the next two weeks (wail!), until the damn exhibition is finished. i quake at the thought of what type of screeching harpy i will be by then....
sometimes i just wish there was some kind of decent take-away around here. i'm having a moment of oz-nostalgia, so indulge me a moment while i fondly recall the many excellent take-aways i enjoyed whilst living there....so cheap! so good! so....everywhere! i have vivid happy memories of the great japanese take-away in dolphin st in coogee, which we used to frequent at last twice a week (vegetarian udon with tofu, sesame glass noodles, miso soup, rice, sushi box...mmmm, all for under $20), as well as hapy chef in chinatown for awesome laksas, agadashi tofu, miso and rice at a sushi place in newtown that i can't remember the name of, even the ubiquitous chain of indian take-away places (there were a couple in newtown along king st, although i can't remember the name of those, either). oh! and fish and chips. how could i forget fish n chips? sitting on the steps at coogee beach scoffing fish n chips from chish n fips with our neighbours, sarah, sim and jasper (just a babe in a sling then), max on his trike and seagulls flying everywhere.
*sigh* ah, yes, those were the days when i didn't have to cook or prepare practically every single meal that is consumed by this family (with odd nights off when bruno cooks or we go to his parents place for dinner, or the occasional lunch or coffee out somewhere). some evenings i absolutely dread the thought of having to make a meal for all of us. me, i'd be happy with an apple and a cup of tea. bruno too. but since i have kiddies, i feel a pressure to provide something a little more nutritionally adequate. just my luck, my kids aren't keen on any of the fast-ish foods that are available to me here - baked beans (what kid doesn't like baked beans!), toast, sandwiches (even if i could cut the bread thinly and evenly enough - the sliced bread you get here is the long-life bomb-shelter version which i wouldn't touch with a barge pole), fresh ravioli etc etc. pasta usually always goes down well, but by the time you boil the water and then cook said pasta, it's hardly fast food. lola has usually had a melt-down on the floor by then.
so in my lethargic, exhausted state, i've lately been making up a gigantic pot of basic tomato sauce - onions, garlic, olive oil, sugo or tinned chopped tomatoes, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a spoon or so of sugar, whatever veges are in the fridge, some fresh or dried basil or oregano depending on what i've got around. sometimes i add some speck, or tuna, or a frozen cube or two of spinach, or capers, or red kidney beans. i've found that this sauce can be the basis for many a lazybones meal. how many meals you can stretch it out for depends entirely on how big yr pot of sauce is, and how willing yr family is to eat a tomato-based meal yet AGAIN.
- basic sauce + pasta (varying shapes and sizes to fool family into thinking it is a different meal every time!) + parmesan etc. speck makes this a tastier pasta sauce.
- basic sauce + pasta sheets + cheesy white sauce = lasagna
- basic sauce + polenta (soft or grilled - for grilled, cook polenta according to instructions, brush a baking tray or the base of a springform cake tin - what i use - with oila nd smooth on the polenta. brush with olive oil and grill under high heat under golden brown and crispy. good finger food for older babies, too). add some blue or other soft cheese for grown-ups.
- basic sauce + pizza dough + sundry toppings + cheese = pizza! i make up a big double batch of pizza dough every once in a while, use some and freeze the rest. the dough is also excellent to have on hand for some quick breadsticks (roll in either fine semolina, finely grated cheese, or seeds of some sort). my kids love these breadsticks and love to eat them with a small pot of guacamole each for dipping. see below for recipe.
- basic sauce + pizza dough = calzones. roll out dough nto a rough circle, place a small amount of filling in the centre and fold over one side of the dough. seal by pressing the edges together and folding over again. bake until brown and risen nicely.
- basic sauce + red kidney beans + rice + natural yoghurt. both bruno and max love this.
- basic sauce + stock + adjusted seasonings + good bread = quick vege soup
- basic sauce + browned chicken pieces (simmered for a long time, particularly good with a speck-y sauce) + pasta/rice = chicken stewy thing.
...and so on and so on.
it's kind of depressing for the taste-buds, and indeed there are many nights when i crave some more 'adult' foods, but at the moment i'm in no mood to hear 'is this all we're having for dinner?', or ' i don't like this', or 'can i just have an apple?' after i've slaved away making something 'interesting'.
yes, i want my kids to be exposed to lots of different tastes, textures, flavour sensations etc BUT i don't want to be getting up in the night to hungry kids who've eaten no dinner, or waking up to grumpy grommets who are STARVING and must have food NOW because they only picked at dinner last night. so i'm sticking to my 'safe' store of meals which i know will at least be tolerated, if not eaten.
some day in the future we will break free of the (albeit comforting) bonds of the tomato-based meal...we have to!
basic pizza dough (adapted from stephanie alexander's 'a cook's companion'). note: i use her recipe for breadsticks, rather than pizza dough specifically. the pizzas always turn out fantastic, as do the breadsticks.
500g plain flour (a strong flour is preferable)
1 tsp instant dried yeast
300 ml lukewarm water
1 tsp salt (note: steph uses 2 tsp of salt but i find this is too salty for my kids)
- mix flour with yeast and salt
- mix in water
- knead firmly for 10 - 15 mins, or at least 5 mins with an electric mixer.
- once it is smooth and firm, place in a covered, oiled bowl to rise for at least 3 hours. oh, and make sure the spot is draught-free.
- when ready to use, knock down dough and use as required.
- freezes excellently. just make sure you take it out of the freezer in time ... last weekend saw bruno and i trying to defrost a giant lump of dough in the oven (we don't have a microwave), shaving off bits of dough as they defrosted, before they cooked...