Friday, 11 November 2011

Cooking for my parents

I’m 24 and until September I’d never cooked for my parents. This was a big deal to me given that for most of my life I had always eaten my mother’s cooking but I had not yet had the chance to share with her my culinary developments since moving out. The opportunity presented itself when I was invited over for dinner one night to take a break from my hectic commuter full-time-job life to which I was adapting slowly, having only graduated in July: I lept at the chance and offered to cook! It took a bit of fighting with my mother’s maternal instincts in order for her to relinquish the job of feeding us, but then that Sunday there I was, standing outside their door holding my bulging Tesco bags and ready for action!

Deciding what to cook for a family of three was the hardest part. I tend to cook only one day a week, and make enough food to take to work with me each day for the next 3 – 5 days. The basic formula tends to be: Some form of mince, some form of beans, half a rack of spices. Occasionally there’s some variation; I might throw in a new vegetable or some pulses, buy a jar of paste from morocco or somewhere in the orient, and hope for the best. I can honestly say that exploring the possibilities and cooking for myself has resulted in my making some of the nicest food I’ve eaten. The secret isn’t in being an amazing cook per se, instead it lies in the fact that the textures and flavours are new, and they’re entirely to my taste.

For this meal, I would go ad-hoc. I decided not to plan it more than my regular meals, and instead just leave the house in plenty of time and wander around Tesco until I felt inspired. I toyed with a jar of Tagine paste (which I highly recommend) and put it in my basket, but after wandering around a bit longer I decided that no – this meal would be made from scratch! The advantage of this recipe is that most of the spices and the oil you can happily use again in many meals to come or as an excuse to throw some dinner parties where you’re the chef.

Preparation time: Overall preparation time was two hours, but if you want it done faster you can include less water with the stock and add the carrots a little earlier.

Cost: Just over £10.
Feeds: 3 people, twice, with some leftovers.

750g Beef (but can equally be pork or lamb)
2 Onions
200g Shallots
600g Carrots
3 Peppers
1 Tin chopped tomatoes
1 Tin chickpeas
2 Garlic cloves
Hot Chili Powder
Ras El Hanout spices (black pepper, coriander, ginger, paprika, allspice, cardamom, mace, nutmeg, turmeric, cayenne, cloves) but you can easily replace this with just ginger, turmeric and nutmeg.
Olive oil
Beef stock cube
4 tablespoons of flour
6 Chapatis

500g Spinach (frozen)
150g Feta cheese

Chop the onions into chunks and crush the garlic cloves, fry in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil and leave to brown before adding all the beef. Wait for the beef to be fully cooked – add salt, cumin and paprika. Add the stock cube to about 300ml of boiling water then mix in with the meat. Add the peppers (chopped into slices), the shallots (peeled), the tin of tomatoes, and the chickpeas. Stir well then leave to cook so that the vegetables soften and the water from the stock evaporates – but not completely. You can make the side dish while you wait.

After about 20 minutes add the Ras El Hanout, or your preferred combination of spaces and add the carrots (sliced). Mix well, and leave for another 20 minutes. You can heat the chapatis while you wait. Add the flour and the hot chili powder, stir well, and you’ll see the stock water “vanish”. The meal is ready.

Side: In a frying pan, add the spinach and wait for it to defrost. Spinach stores a lot of water, so keep it at a low heat for the spinach to dry but not burn. Some people might fry the spinach in a bit of olive oil or add chopped onion, but personally I prefer it without. Once it is dry, chop the feta into blocks, and add it to the spinach, mixing it in to melt well.

Chapatis: Once you’ve made the spinach and your main is almost done, you can give the frying pan a wash and then just heat each chapati on the frying pan for about 10 seconds on each side. You can place them in a clear dishcloth to keep warm while you wait for the meal to be done.

Dessert: I blitzed yoghurt and raspberries with three tablespoons of sugar the night before and left it to freeze. Once frozen, leave in the fridge to soften a little and then mush it up with a fork – voila! Home made frozen yoghurt. - Blog

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