Easy cooking

I found a picture of mixed fruit online somewhere ages ago and Photoshopped it a lot.

Easy cooking and baking using mince and fruit to provide a series of meals.

To be honest, I find this easier than using convenience foods – less time spent reading lists of ingredients and instructions. Less time, too, finding stuff in the supermarket or online. Just make sure you have the basics in pantry, fridge, etc. Then, knowing you don’t have to weigh, measure, etc. you can go ahead and create basic dishes without much need to think once you’ve done it a couple of times.

Basic mince

I usually cook a big batch of this. Some goes in the fridge for meals later in the week and some goes in the frezzer for easy meals in the future but remember to thaw it properly or you’ll have lumps of semi frozen mince in your dinner.

Quantities are flexible.

Beef mince. This is my default but the same things can be done with lamb or pork mince, or with Quorn mince for vegetarians.

Add all or most of the following:

*Chopped tomatoes. Tinned are best but if you have some fresh tomatoes at their last gasp in your kitchen just add them as well.

*Chopped onions. I recommend wearing glasses (even if you don’t need glasses) to prevent tears.

*Chopped mushrooms (fresh or tinned).

*Chopped sweet peppers – any colour.

Again, quantities are flexible.

Also add:

*Herbs, fresh and/or dried. I like any fresh herbs but also like Italian seasoning and Herbes de Provence. Choose your herbs according to your own tastes and what’s available but try to stick to just one or two or they will drown each other.

*Seasoning. I add salt, black pepper and smoked paprika. I don’t add chili etc.at this stage because I don’t want ‘heat’ for all the uses

Throw in:

Anything you happen to want to use up e.g. leftover gravy or small amounts of leftover cooked vegetables.

Start by softening the onion in oil (any) in a large pan.

Add the mince and brown, stirring to prevent burning, then add everything else.

You might need more liquid. You can add any or all of: water, wine, a splash of wine vinegar, or the liquid from e.g. a tin of chopped mushrooms. Only add enough to prevent sticking but have some more handy just in case.

Bring to the boil, stirring. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes.

That’s it. Now you can divide it into smaller batches for refrigerating or freezing once it’s cool.

Use with:

*pasta of any kind (spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, canelloni, etc.). Serve with black pepper and grated cheese – I like a mixture of cheddar and parmesan.

*pancakes (UK type) – stuff them and grate cheese on top then melt the cheese. NB if you make the pancakes fresh and grill or microwave them once the cheese is on, you don’t need to reheat the mince. It will heat nicely inside the pancakes.

*stuffed vegetables e.g. sweet peppers, marrow – top with cheese or breadcrumbs (steam the veg first then stuff and bake for half an hour)

*with a suet crust

*with a topping of mashed potato/sweet pototo/swede

*with rice – top with cream

For some of the above dishes you can add extra seasonings such as chili flakes, harissa paste, and whatever extra veg you have around e.g. leftover peas/beans. You can top dishes with grated cheese, breadcrumbs or cream.

Ringing the changes gives you the possibility of a lot of different dishes all from the same original pan of mince.

There’s something very satisfying in knowing you have the basis of a lot of meals from one fairly easy and inexpensive beginning.

Basic baked fruit

For this you can use any amount of fresh apples/pears and any variety. But don’t use cooking apples because they ‘fall’ during cooking and give a totally different texture. You can mix apples and pears.

Core the fruit and chop into thinnish slices. Don’t peel but remove stems while you’re coring.

Add sultanas, sugar (brown is nice but not essential) and some spices – cinnamon and nutmeg work well but if all you’ve got is a jar of allspice, use that. Ginger is a welcome addition, too.

Add some fruit juice (I usually have fresh orange juice in the fridge but apple would also be good) and a tablespoon of cornflour and mix gently, trying not to break up the fruit slices too much. Don’t go mad with the liquid. If you have no fruit juice use a small amount of water.

Cover and bake in a hot oven for about three quarters of an hour. I use a pyrex dish with a foil lid. Remove the lid and carry on baking for another fifteen minutes. The fruit will be soft and the liquid will be thickened.

You can eat this hot or cold with cream, custard or ice cream, or you can use it to make a strudel using bought filo pastry. Once you’ve made the strudel you should brush the top with milk, sprinkle with sugar and bake for about half an hour by which time the fruit filling will have had an hour altogether and will have changed a little.

So that’s at least three desserts from one lot of prep (plus the enormous effort of wrapping the fruit in filo pastry…)

You can also bake peaches, nectarines, plums and fresh figs the same way but I don’t add sultanas and I do tend to add alcohol (Amaretto is good). I halve these fruits instead of slicing them. Those pretty red plums that seem determined to stay as hard as bullets in the fruit bowl do very well with this treatment. Again, a choice of cream, custard or ice cream rings the changes and you can eat them hot or chilled. If you feel lazy you can refrain from stoning the fruit and let people take the stones out once they are served.

Enjoy! And use the time and mental energy you save to do something rewarding!

2 thoughts on “Easy cooking

  1. You stole my mince recipe! 🙂
    Back in the day I stretched 1/2lb of mince to 5 days of dinners for two adults and two children – mince and mash; cottage pie; spaghetti bolognese(ish); chili with rice; and sludge and potatoes. Sludge: I would advise against adding porridge oats as an extender to bulk up the last portion…

  2. I suppose it isn’t as much a recipe as advice! I keep coming across people of all ages who rely on convenience meals and wouldn’t know what to do with 1/2lb mince! As you say, it can be made to go a long way with a bit of care!! And yes, once upon a time I was young and poor. Now, I just want an easy time! So the same recipes and suggestions work. The only thing I add porridge oats to is crumble topping… I might post about that one month!

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