Posts Tagged With: couscous

Emergency Back-Up Dinners

Back in December, when I rescued dinner disaster from jaws of defeat with a Tortilla Pizza, I mentioned that I was adding that particular recipe to my Emergency Back-up Dinners list. After finding myself making emergency back-up tortilla pizza for my dinner this evening, I thought it was probably high time that I actually wrote about emergency back-up dinners.

I am, and indeed have, if not always been, certainly been my entire adult life, a chronic procrastinator. I can procrastinate anything, some people merely procrastinate on things they don’t want to do or things that are hard, I procrastinate on things I want to do and enjoy. As a student I tried to use food to motivate myself, which was a truly terrible idea, as I’d end up procrastinating eating until I started to feel nauseas. Hence why I ended up turning food prep into a self-care routine. I make detailed plans on what I want to cook, because otherwise I’m capable of standing staring at a cupboard full of food for the best part of an hour, frozen by inertia, unable to figure out what I want to eat and getting ever hungrier. While as an adult, my relationship with food is much healthier, if I’m having a bad day, I’m entirely capable of procrastinating on making dinner until its two late to make whatever I actually wanted to make.

So for those days, I have Emergency Back-up Dinners. Simple, straightforward dinners, that require minimal prep, short cooking times and only a few ingredients. They almost always involve some variety of cupboard staples that I almost always have in the cupboard and can use as a base. Also, because, often once I get started on cooking I’ll feel inspired to do something more adventurous, they’re also recipes that can be easily made more complex if you find yourself with extra energy or ingredients.

Melting Sunshine Rice
This was the very first of my vegetarian appropriate emergency back-up dinners. I’ve made so often over the years that it never even made it into my hand-made recipe-book, instead its ingrained in my brain. It came from a ‘Low-fat cooking’ recipe book I found at the back of a drawer in my mother’s kitchen over a decade ago. I think, technically, it was probably meant to be an accompaniment rather than the main dish, but its pure sunshiny comfort in a bowl all by itself. The main theme of the recipe is yellow. Cook the rice with a generous teaspoon of turmeric. Throw in a couple of handfuls of frozen sweet corn. Chop up half a yellow pepper into small pieces – I don’t think that’s actually in the original recipe but it does taste good – and depending how crunchy you prefer your peppers either add while the rice still has few minutes of cooking left or once you’ve drained your rice. Once you’ve drained the rice, return to the pot and tear up some mozzarella cheese (or any other suitably melt-y cheese you have in the fridge) and stir through the rice so it gets nice and melted. Spoon into bowls and enjoy. (You can put leftovers in a box in the fridge for an edible hug for lunch on a cold day, or eat straight from the pot if it’s been that sort of day.)

Sesame Hot Noodles
This has been in my repertoire almost as long as the Melting Sunshine Rice, and is a recipe firmly in the ‘that shouldn’t taste as good as it does’ genre. Cook a nest (or two) of egg noodles according to the packet instructions. Mix together a couple of tablespoons of sunflower and sesame oils, with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a crushed or finely chopped garlic clove. Once smooth, add finely chopped chilli to taste, three tablespoons of sesame seeds, four tablespoons each of soy sauce and lime juice and mix well. Drain your noodles, dump the gloopy disaster into the pan and stir through noodles until heated through. Serve and wonder aloud why on earth this tastes so good. If you’re feeling fancy, you can always stir-fry some spring onions, mushrooms and the protein of your choice and them to the pot, but its pretty satisfying just the way it comes.
Sesame Chilli NoodlesSesame Hot Noodles
Apparently some people have couscous in their cupboard that isn’t quick cook? I’m not one of those people. Couscous has always been an emergency food for me, whenever I go on holiday or other long journeys I take an emergency packet of lemon and coriander couscous with me in case of food disasters. In more civilised circumstances, I just dump a few ounces of couscous into a pint of vegetable stock, leave until its drunk all the stock, wilt some spinach in a pan with some feta cheese and stir through that and a couple of generous teaspoons of harissa paste. The best part of this dish – aside from being, as far as I’m concerned, the tastiest way to eat couscous – is that when you take your leftovers to work for lunch the following day, your colleagues will act like you’ve made the fanciest of lunches. Especially if you used the giant couscous they sell now. Unless your colleagues are actually from either side of the Mediterranean, then they’ll be on to you…
Harissa Couscous with Spinach & Feta
Emergency Back-up Ramen
Packet noodles – with those little sachets of flavouring – were a staple of my student days that I look back on with mix love and loathing. However, more recently I’ve discovered some in the world food section of the supermarket, that actually lives up to the name. They do in fact attempt to make a semi-decent basic noodle soup. So for ages I kept them in the cupboard as an emergency dinner, when I looked in the fridge and thought, that’s an odd assortment of veggies, and I’ve got some cooked meat and I really can’t be bothered making a stir-fry… These days I can only use the sesame flavoured ones, which handily makes a nice noodle soup all by itself, and I now have to throw in a handful of frozen quorn pieces in a the small frying pan, with a couple of spring onions, and a mushroom or two, and maybe half a pepper you’d forgotten was in the fridge. And suddenly you’ve got enough food for two, and can divide the noodles and accompaniments in two, have noodle, quorn and veg soup for dinner and noodles, with quorn, veg and whatever stir fry sauce has been lurking unloved in the fridge. (In a true emergency mix a tablespoon each of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, corn flour and Chinese five spice together in a pot heat through until it thickens and pour over your leftovers. Despite almost never buying it, I almost always have sticky plum sauce in the fridge. It keeps well.)
Ramen!

Not Remotely Mexican Quesadillas
I love quesadillas. I do not, in any way shape or form, make remotely authentic quesadillas. Generally I make them with leftover veggie chilli and lots of cheese. However I have also been known to fill them with anything that fits the bill of thick, unctuous and spicy. Almost always, when I’ve made a stir fry or a curry in bulk, will end up with a three decent sized portions and one, awkwardly small sized portion. A portion that, if it were chilli, would be the perfect size for quesadillas. And honestly if you’re using up leftover korma or goan curry, and you happen to have some paneer in the fridge, its amazing in fake quesadillas.

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Categories: being veggie, challenges, feeling philisophical | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Cooking the Book – July Edition

So July turned out to be the first month this year that I didn’t actually cook anything out of my new recipe book. Actually, that’s not strictly true. I did in fact cook several things out of my new cookbook. They were just all things I had previously made for this challenge. Which actually makes it a bit less of a failure I think? Because it means that I’ve established new favourites. New recipes that I won’t just make once and forget about, but things that I enjoy and will cook regularly, meals that have worked their way into my regular repertoire of recipes. When I find myself with an excess of a particular vegetable, I think ‘ooh I could make x’ and x will be a recipe from my new cookbook. (For example, on Monday night, faced with a glut of spinach and a lack of inspiration for my dinner, I made a pot of Saag Aloo soup.) I’m trying things out in different combinations, finding what works and refining the recipes to my own tastes.

In finally got some harissa paste and spiced up my couscous, and let me tell you that was an excellent life choice. I sometimes find harissa paste to be somewhat overwhelming but in couscous it binds and lifts the dish without becoming overwhelming.

Harissa Couscous with Spinach & Feta

I mean, look at this loveliness, I just wilted some spinach and warmed up the feta cheese before I chucked it in and it just looks so fancy and tasty. To think that for years I thought couscous was rubbish because of terrible supermarket couscous salad tubs. Now I get to eat all sorts of lovely couscous based lunches just by making it myself.

Oh and there was that time that I made pasta bake with a sauce that was essentially broccoli and blue cheese soup without the potato, the most unctuous cheesy deliciousness was created.

Broccolli & Blue Cheese Pasta Bake

So I may not have achieved the targets I wanted to last month, I did have some arguably more lasting successes in embedding the recipes into my wider cooking repertoire.

Categories: challenges, cooking the book | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

List Progression

Slowly and surely, progress is being made. I ended up having to knock one of the recipes off the list, as I’d mistakenly thought I had couscous in the cupboard when in fact it was polenta. However the list is now 20 items long, and I have been making decent progress on cooking up the cupboard contents, though not necessarily from the list.

  1. Dal Paneer Nawabi (Dal Cookbook)
  2. Parsee Dal
  3. Rasam with Gourd and Toor Lentils
  4. Lentil Kutu with Green Beans
  5. Moong Dal with Cauliflower
  6. Flaked Rice with Potatoes/Batate Pohe (India’s Vegetarian Cooking)
  7. Bamboo Shoots in Coconut Milk/Kirla Ghassi
  8. Rice and Mung Stew/Mung Khichdi
  9. Rich Root Soup (Easy Vegetarian)
  10. Lentils and Couscous (Guardian)
  11. Pappardelle with Leek
  12. Pumpkin Curry (Wagamama)
  13. Yasai Dotenabe
  14. Yasai Yaki Soba
  15. Sake Poached Pears
  16. Rosemary and Thyme Focaccia (Packet)
  17. Cheddar Cheese Scones (Lighter Way to Bake)
  18. Bite-sized Pinwheel Snacks
  19. White Chocolate Chunk Cookies
  20. Baked Lentil and Bean Cottage Pie

 

I have made a few things from the list though, largely because last week, I finished compiling my list and was utterly horrified by how little I’d actually cooked off the list so far and went on a bit of a cooking spree. That’s actually harder than it sounds for me, as I tend to bulk cook to accomodate my shifts and we also have a tiny freezer so I have to strike a happy medium between making several days meals at once and making so much of one thing that I scunner myself of the meal in question.

Rich Root Veg

I made the Rich Root Soup, which was very tasty and filling, though mostly brought home to me that I need a proper BIG pot for making soup in, my current large one really isn’t up to the task.

Lentil and 'Couscous'

Then I decided to make the Lentils and Couscous recipe, only to discover that I don’t actually have any couscous in the cupboard. Handily though, the recipe had a variant option where you replace the couscous with brown rice (which I do have in the cupboard) so I made that instead. It was a bit bland, but I suspect the couscous takes on the lime juice flavour more so worth trying again with actual couscous.

Then I had a go at making focaccia. This is actually my second attempt at focaccia – I wasn’t happy with my original attempt so a while back I picked up one of those little flour bags that claim to be bread mix to see if that would work better. No. Nope. Not at all. Total disaster. Wouldn’t rise, wouldn’t cook, I ended up cooking it for twice as long as the recipe recommended and still when I cut it open the dough was still raw inside. Win some, lose some, I guess. Perhaps I should just take it as a sign that I’m not meant to make focaccia…

So four recipes tried; sixteen to go. Clearly I’m not going to make them all before the end of the month, but I’m going to have fun trying to squeeze them all in!

Categories: being veggie, challenges, October cook-up | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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