It’s been a while since I wrote about a hero gadget of mine, so I started thinking about equipment in the kitchen I literally could not live without. It dawned on me that of course, I had to write about my freezer. Duh. It is singularly the most useful thing that any busy parent can own. Make friends with your freezer. Feed your freezer. Fill it with food. It will repay you with unimagined riches!
In my 20s my ‘freezer’ was a small box at the top of the fridge, in which we kept ice cubes for gin & tonics, a tub of Häagen-Dazs and maybe a small bag of peas. Fast-forward 15 years or so, and while ice cubes and the peas are still there, my relationship with my – much bigger – freezer has taken on a whole new dimension.
The joy of being able to reach into it and pull out a labelled container full of homemade soup, or a little tub of pasta sauce or a casserole, carefully divided into portions (some adult sized, some kid sized) is truly a thing of wonder. Of course, it requires some work in terms of stocking it, and labelling it all, but it still honestly feels like magic sometimes. You forget the time spent making the dish, and just feel a huge sense of gratitude that tonight’s dinner is already made. All you have to do is remember to take it out of the freezer in the morning. (It also gives me a reason to buy clip ‘n’ lock containers – hurrah!)
I don’t tend to batch cook specifically for the freezer, although I do sometimes if we have a glut of vegetables from the Riverford box, when I’ll make some butternut squash soup or a veg curry or whatever. But when I cook a one-pot dish, I’ll squirrel away a portion here, or a couple of portions there, knowing how handy they’ll be when we are late home from after-school and Biggest is ‘starving’.
The other thing I have learnt in recent years is that you can freeze practically anything. Between my freezer-obsessed mother-in-law (she has two) and this brilliantly practical book, How to Freeze by Carolyn Humphries, (I have the old edition) I have been merrily freezing all kinds of things. And so, I give you my Busy Person’s Top 5 Things to Freeze list. Wild.
1. Cheese. Can you freeze cheese? Of course you can. I have discovered that most cheeses freeze really well, particularly soft French ones (Brie, Camembert etc). They should be just ripe when you freeze them, and need to be really well wrapped. Defrost and bring to room temperature before serving. Cheddar cheese is best frozen grated. A handful or two is perfect for a quick cheese sauce for cauliflower or pasta – just use from frozen!
2. Soup. Don’t forget to leave a little headspace between the top of liquid foods and the rim of the container when you freeze liquids, as they expand by about 10% when frozen. Soup freezes really well – just cool it quickly and get it in the freezer as soon as you can.
3. Smoothie ice lollies. Make or buy 100% fruit smoothies and freeze in ice-lolly containers. Instant healthy frozen goodness. No added sugar.
4. Onions. Sometimes you get on an onion-chopping roll. Sometimes. If you’ve got to chop some for a dish you’re making, do a couple of extra ones, then blanch the chopped onion in boiling water for one minute, then drain and plunge immediately in a bowl of iced water. Drain again and dry on sheets of kitchen roll. Freeze in small portions in freezer bags. Next time you can’t face chopping onions, you don’t need to – just use straight from the freezer.
5. Purée for baby. Probably lots of you are doing this already, but it really is very simple. Cook if necessary (juicy fruit can be puréed raw), freeze in ice-cube trays, and once frozen, turn out into freezer bags and label. Defrost on the side or in the microwave.
I thank you *takes a bow*
I will soon be following this up with the Top 5 Things to Keep in Your Freezer.
Happy freezing, folks!
So it’s the Easter holidays and we’ve seen snow, the death of a former prime minister (politics aside, I grew up in the 1980s and having a female PM did make it entirely conceivable – and indeed normal – for a woman to be in charge, running the country – wise Hannah from Muddling Along has more on this very topic here), and – I am sure most of you are with me on this – eaten a lot of chocolate. We went away for a week to Northumberland with friends – 8 grown-ups and 8 children in one enormous house with an Aga, an open fire, a huge garden and a swimming pool (indoor, heated), some delicious meals and a lot of nice wine. As a result, am now on a bit of a health mission!
Coming home to London, the sun seems to be trying to come out and the buds and the flowers are opening. In honour of Spring I bought a large basil plant in Waitrose at the weekend. Having a pot on the windowsill always feels like I am bringing summer into the kitchen. I love the colour and smell of basil – that lovely green, so fresh, with that wonderful odour – it inspires me to cook simple, healthy dishes.
And so I bring you this very simple basil pesto. You need a decent, heavy pestle and mortar for this one. I know some folks swear by the food processor for making pesto, but I think, frankly, it’s too much hassle for such a simple sauce, plus I enjoy making it by hand. Oh, and I don’t bother toasting the pine nuts, either, but you can if you want to.
This is one to make when you get home tired from the park on a Saturday, or when the kids have had a party and are hungry but don’t want much, or simply for a weeknight post-work supper. Sometimes when I get home and am not sure what I am going to whip up, I start by just putting a saucepan of water on to boil – by the time it’s bubbling, I’ve usually thought of something to rustle together (a top tip).
You will need
Serves 2-3, but you can easily up quantities to taste
Small clove garlic, peeled
Pinch sea salt
Big basil plant, leaves removed and (ideally!) washed and patted dry
50g pine nuts
3tbsp Parmesan, grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Simply crush all the ingredients, bar the olive oil, in your pestle and mortar. If your mortar is very sturdy, you will even be able to do this one-handed. Hurrah indeed. Once it is all mashed together, drizzle in the olive oil until you get the consistency you like. Serve with hot, drained spaghetti or linguine – or other pasta shapes, with extra Parmesan grated on top if you fancy. Yum.
At present, on my health kick, I am into Seeds of Change semi-wholewheat tortiglioni pasta which is available in Waitrose, Tesco and other supermarkets. I find 100% wholewheat pasta a bit too ‘earthy’ tasting, but this is a good compromise. You still get some of the nutritional benefit of the whole grain – so, the B vitamins, vitamin E and fibre, plus a slower release of carbohydrates than white pasta – but it still tastes like ‘proper’ pasta. Plus the sauce clings to it well. Well worth a try, if you’ve had wholewheat pasta before and weren’t keen. Plus the children like it!
Ciao for niao!
What a week. I’ve been poorly, both kids have been poorly. Work has been missed. School has been missed. Appetites have been lost. It’s all been a bit topsy turvy, so it was a relief to get back to normal this weekend and do some cooking and baking. Lovely husband bought me Annie Bell’s Baking Bible – woah, now there’s a baking book and a half. I loved it from the moment I saw it, and chose to make Blueberry and Orange Muffins, which were delish, and look, I even managed to find the recipe for you here. I have long been a fan of Annie Bell and this is a super book for the home baker.
Today we caught up with old friends who live out in the countryside, which was lovely. It’s always nice to have a breather from London. Seeing our five (between us) children playing and growing up together is a joy. Seeing my friend’s large and well-stocked larder, however, is not a joy as I am proper jealous.
Macaroni Cheese with Chicken and Rosemary
One of the things busy parents are always on the lookout for are simple pasta dishes for a family meal. We are all huge fans of macaroni cheese, but I started thinking about how it could be tweaked, plus made a bit simpler without having to make a white sauce each time, which can be a faff if you’re just trying to get Dinner On The Table. This recipe just uses crème fraîche – use half-fat if you like – and works a treat.
This rather moreish pasta dish, which you could also make using penne, rigatoni (or whatever really) is a great dish for a Monday night after a roast chicken on a Sunday, because you can use leftover cooked chicken. Which we like.
Note that stages 1 and 2 could be done in advance and left to rest (refrigerate the chicken once it’s cool if necessary) until you are ready to make the whole dish. I’m a big fan of stage-by-stage cooking, and using the windows of time available while the children are occupied, as you know!
What you need
300g macaroni (which you can cook in advance)
Approx 150g leftover roast chicken, or two medium-sized chicken breasts
400ml crème fraîche
½ clove of garlic, crushed
A sprig of rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
2 handfuls of grated cheese – Monterey Jack, strong Cheddar, Gruyère all good
Salt and freshly ground pepper
What to do
- Cook the macaroni or other pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Once cooked, drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, if you need to cook the meat from scratch, slice each chicken breast into smallish pieces (bite-size for kids), heat a griddle pan or frying pan, add a dash of olive oil and sauté until cooked through. Set aside.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C/180˚C (Fan)/gas 6
- Put the crème fraîche into a non-stick saucepan and set over a gentle heat. Add the rosemary and garlic, stir, and bring to a simmer.
- Add the cooked chicken and the cheese and season (go gently if serving to toddlers). Remove the pan from the heat and add the cooked pasta, stirring it together well.
- Pour into an ovenproof dish, top with a bit more grated cheese (you could also add some ready-made breadcrumbs if you have some, or scatter on a bit more chopped rosemary) and bake for 18-20 minutes until golden and bubbling. Nice served with green beans.
Now the nights are drawing in, warm hearty fare is on my mind as I plan and shop for family suppers. Pasta with bolognese sauce is a firm favourite in our house, but it can be pretty time-consuming to make (and time is one thing I am always bit short of…) So, one way to speed things up is to use sausage meat for your meat sauce – you still get a really tasty savoury sauce, but it takes much less time to cook. I usually use pork sausages with some fennel in for a bit of extra flavour (and having read about ‘kind meat’ in Hattie Ellis’ brilliant book What to Eat? earlier this year, I do my best to select free-range pork sausages).
The most time-consuming bit is preparing the vegetables, but remember you can chop them in advance and simply keep them a bowl in the fridge with a bit of cling on top until you’re ready to cook later. You can do the veggies by hand, or just whizz them in the food processor or mini chopper to save time. Or even quicker, use a bag of ‘soffritto’ from Waitrose (who said you couldn’t cheat? I do!)
Note, you will need a decent sharp knife to slit the sausage skins.
Now there’s a wizard idea.
Super Sausage Pasta Sauce
Dash of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
1 red pepper, diced
400g sausage meat (approx. 6 sausages)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
A squeeze of tomato puree
1 tin chopped tomatoes (I’m a Napolina girl)
Salt & freshly ground pepper
What to do
- Sweat the vegetables in the olive oil over a medium heat until soft, stirring from time to time.
- Meanwhile, slit the sausage skins and remove the sausage meat.
- Add the sausage meat to the vegetables, and use your wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat in the pan, until lightly browned.
- Add the red wine vinegar, and reduce. Once reduced, add the tomato puree and the chopped tomatoes and cook for approx. 20 mins until the sauce is reduced, thick and tasty. Season as required.
- Serve with pasta – we like farfalle or twists as the children tend to struggle with spaghetti.
Liz (aka TOHC) x