I’ve been thinking ….
That right there might be news for some people, but it’s something I do on occasion.
I’ve been thinking about food. That’s more like normal daily news in my world.
What I’ve been thinking is that everyone needs a basic repertoire of go to dishes. Meals/foods for various occasions that we are able to whip up without too much bother. Even if we don’t know the recipe by heart it should be familiar, done before and the process should flow for us. At pinch, we should probably be able to shop for this meal or dish even if we left the list at home … or never in fact made the list in the first place.
The rough list I came up with (inspired by s myriad of other lists, which are of course splattered all over the internet, looks something like this:
1 A risotto, any flavour
2 A lasagne of some sort
3 A salad that includes or is based on pulses
4 One decadent dessert
5 A damn good curry
6 Not your garden variety salad – like one that includes roasted veggies
7 Eggs Benedict (unless you are vegan, in which case – cashew hollandaise)
8 One simple signature cake
9 One awesomely simple and delicious stir though type pasta dish
10 A roast dinner
11 A shepherds pie or similar comfort casserole
12 A hearty pasta classic, like Bolognese
13 Some kind of stir fry
14 And for goodness sake, be able to make rice!
15 A one tray baked dinner
16 Some kind of noodle soup
18 A savoury pie (the kind with pastry)
19 Tomato sauce (for pasta and so many other reasons!)
20 A big breakfast (with or without bacon, sausages and eggs)
21 Bread and butter pudding
22 Burgers at home
23 A chuck together pav
24 A crumble
25 A potato bake
26 A cream of some kind of vegetable soup
27 Some kind of chilli for a crowd
29 A good trick with leftover pasta
30 Salad dressing
31 A quirky pizza (at least one)
32 An easy but delicious dip, like guacamole
33 Cookies, bickies -whatever you want to call them
35 A classic salad (like a Cobb, or a Caesar)
36 A signature salad of your own
37 A pasta bake that is not lasagne
38 A finger food, for bring a plates
39 A crowd pleaser
40 A kid pleaser
41 A really good sandwich
42 An awesome egg dish (unless you are a vegan) like an omelette
43 A soup based on (or containing lots of) pulses
44 One global classic (butter chicken anyone?)
45 Brownies, or blondies …..
46 At least one go to slow cooker dish
47 A rice dish that can double as a main
48 A kitchen sink type soup, for the soul
49 A mind blowing mash
50 A loaf, be it sweet or savoury
51 A pulled meat (if you eat the stuff)
52 Some kind of slaw
53 Some kind of stew
So there you go – one for each week of the year, plus one for good measure. So if you are building up your recipe bank and want a focus for each week, you might like to try some of these.
Why these, and what are some examples? Well …
Maybe not a classic all over the world, but this is a dish that is considered a classic among many. Risotto can come in so many different flavours, so getting the basic process down can serve you really well. It can be simple, fancy, even sweet or savoury. I could sing many songs about risotto, but my main tune is going to be “just give it a go”.
A couple to try:
I’m probably biased, but I love lasagne- it’s one of the yardsticks by which I judge a cook. There are so many amazing possibilities and of course there is the classic, with a gorgeous and traditional ragout. The recipe my Mother has followed for years and which set the bar for all other lasagnes in my life came from a Time Life recipe book and involves chicken livers and lots of love.
A few to consider:
SALAD WITH A PULSE
I was vegetarian for a number of years once. Life took a different path and so did I, but I still love to eat lower down the food chain a fair bit of the time for a myriad of reasons. Pulses are awesome. Easy to keep in the pantry and whip up a range of healthy and delicious dishes with, and it doesn’t always have to be dahl.
Consider giving these a go:
I’m not much chop with desserts really. My butt doesn’t need anymore encouragement. It nearly needs its own postcode as it is. However, for the sake of entertaining, and for the simple joy in it – I think that most people with even a mild liking of cooking should give a few desserts a go at least occasionally.
Here’s a couple of possible inspirations:
CURRY IN A HURRY
Universal food? Sorry – maybe I’m biased, but really. Do you know anyone who doesn’t love a good curry?
Some possible staring points:
SALAD THAT ROCKS
There’s salads and then there are OMG!!! salads. A decent home cook should be able to make both. Really. Yup. Cos I said so. Or should I say Oakleaf I said so?
Need some inspiration?
Do I need to explain why? Seriously?
There’s heaps of cheats hollandaise recipes out there too – if you must. If you don’t do eggs, try a vegan hollandaise and drizzle it over (well anything really) asparagus.
LET THEM EAT CAKE
I’m not a big baker, and only make cakes on rare occasions. Definitely less than once most years. However – it’s nice to know that it can be done, and that you can do it and every now and then, there’s nothing quite like being able to share a freshly home baked cake with friends and family.
I’ve had a few favourites over the years. Butter cakes are lovely but I’ve got one kid who doesn’t like icing much, and having lived in Townsville for a couple of decades a while back, one of the things you learn is that icing (the yummy ones anyway) MELTS!
Another universal food perhaps? Other than your low carb and maybe your gluten free buddies and just the occasional odd-bod who doesn’t like the texture (go figure!) pasta is one of those things you can knock together with whatever is around and serve to just about anybody.
Pastas I have loved:
It doesn’t have to be Sunday – but it does help to have the afternoon off. Roast dinners don’t work that well for me on work nights. You might be more organised.
PIES FOR SHEEP HERDERS AND CAT HERDERS
Getting the family all together around the dinner table really can feel like herding cats some evenings. Putting a delicious meal on the table does seem to increase the inspiration around attendance.
Stuff like this:
Because …. pasta.
You might like to try:
WOK THE STIRFRY
Fast, flavourful, friendly and healthful. What’s not to love about a stir-fry? Sometimes the longest part of the process is waiting for the rice (if you choose to have it as an accompaniment) to cook. So get your rice on (see below for thoughts on rice) and start slicing and dicing! Stir fries are basically only limited by your imagination.
If you need a couple of kick starters in the stir fry stakes (or tofus), here are some:
Have you eaten (rice) yet? This was a greeting that I learned in my very short and long ago couple of years as a student of Mandarin. It’s a greeting that has fallen mostly out of use in modern day China, from what I can gather … but something about it conveys the importance of rice (and eating!!) in the culture. It used to be a way of saying ‘how are you?’ pretty much – not that I’m an expert on the culture, or the language. Too lazy right now to walk next door and ask Sue (daughter in law). Might ask her later.
Anyway – this is a must. Rice is a basic. It’s cheap, it goes with almost anything. You can turn it into so many other things – before, during or after cooking it. Get your head around it. Seriously.
ONE TRAY WONDERS
I didn’t discover these kinds of dinners for years and then I wondered where they had been all my life. Less work, less washing up but no way are they in any shape or form short on flavour or appeal.
Consider giving these a whirl:
OODLES OF NOODLES
You getting the picture that I’m a fan of comfort foods? Oh ha ha. Yes, I hear you say … I’m just a fan of food in general. Yup. Agreed.
PANCAKES FOR THE FLOCKS
Oddly – this is one that much to my teenaged sons hilarity, I have struggled to master. Such a basic food that so many of my friends, colleagues and family do so well, and yet … for me the perfect pancake has been a little elusive.
Notes for me then:
PIE IN THE SKY
Show me a person who does not like a pie … and I’ll be at a loss. Not the kind of “cold pies, hot beers” pies that you get at the football … more like the glorious, golden, fragrant mystery parcels that show up on home dinner tables … mmmmm. Once again – you are only limited by your imagination.
Don’t make me wait! Let’s just jump in and get started:
I saw a hilarious recipe clip recently. Along with captioning olive oil as ‘pan lotion’ and garlic as ‘vampire kryptonite’, it called passata ‘Italian Water’. Maybe it’s not that funny really, but it tickled me.
Give one of these a go and try chucking it on some pasta, with grated cheese maybe, or whatever ….
MEAL OF KINGS
Tony (hubby) cooked us all breakfast this morning. He is the champion of using up what’s in the fridge and the freezer (and the pantry). We ended up with a feast of fried bacon, baked beans, mushroom and tomato fryup, hot buttered toast and parsley and truffle cheese scrambled eggs. It was delicious!
LIKE MY GRANDMA DID ….
Nobody can bake ….. (hmmm hmmm) like my Gradma did (can’t remember who sang it, can’t remember all the words) … nobody can make … bread and butter custard, quite the same …. (la la la). Even if you can’t do it like Grandma did, a bread and butter pudding is a great one to master because it’s cheap and fast and can use up all kinds of weird stuff you might have lying around going a bit stale. You’d be amazed at what kinds of things (odd bits of dried fruit, the ends of jam jars, that weird almond milk you never got around to using) can go well in a Bread and Butter Pudding.
Give one a go?
I’ve struggled (which I thought was odd) to find a really good burger in Sydney’s Inner West. Not yet have I found one to write home about. But when we make them at home? Bam! They are almost without fail awesome.
Turn your kitchen into a burger joint, even just for a one night stand:
Us Aussies and those Kiwis across the ditch will continue our quarrel over the origins of this delectable delight for all time, I would imagine. In the meantime – just accept and move on. On to actually throwing one together. I for one, and many of you I am sure – will just go ahead and use purchased meringue bases. It is for far more serious cooks than I to go the next step. Like pretty much every other dish/genre in this post – the variations are as wild and far flung as your imagination.
Get your laughing gear around a few of these:
CRUMBLE THEIR DEFENCES
Even people who are not really dessert lovers will sometimes go for crumble. It’s mostly fruit, after all. Also – it makes a really nice occasional breakfast. The fruitier and mueslier (yeah yeah – I get that it’s not a word. It could be though) the better.
Starting to crumble:
Properly called Potato au Gratin perhaps – but a rose by any other name …. yadda yadda. Get one of these under your belt – beware though – not too many, or you will be loosening that belt!
THE ORIGINAL MEAL WAS NEVER FOUND
Somebody (I have no idea who) once said that their mother served leftovers for 30 years … the original meal was never found. Well – vegetable soups don’t have to be cream of yesterday … but they can be, which to be honest is occasionally handy. I recommend starting from fresh to begin with, until you master the genre.
CHILLI FOR A CROWD
The original ‘chilli for a crowd’ recipe was one that a friend of mine had in a recipe book called the Silver Spoon I think. It served something massive, like 20 or 40 people, and was amazing. Beware, some chilli recipes around the net are a bit bland and ho hum. Persevere – the good ones are good.
Try these (no promises):
Molly Katzen (Moosewood Cookbook, Enchanted Broccoli Forest) said something along the lines of ‘if even you had reason to rejoice that you had a nose’ in her description of pesto. Her recipe is a good one, if you can get your hands on it. Another one where there are many variations – but I do love classic basil pesto.
I recently discovered that leftover pasta (with the sauce already on) makes a darn good frittata base. Bingo! For years I kind of scrambled the eggs into leftover pasta as a way of reheating (and recycling) it. I think I like the frittata solution better. Doesn’t even really need toast cos the carbs are built in.
You might like to try a few of these tricks:
LEARN TO DRESS YOURSELF
I don’t really get that whole section of the supermarket aisle that is given over to salad dressings. They are so damned easy really. I do remember NOT knowing how to make a decent dressing and then coming across THE french dressing recipe that I loved and followed for years. What a difference it made to my life (and my salads!). My mum has a thingamy – with a special name – for making salad dressings. Me I just whisk it with a fork, in a glass – whatevs.
Try it, you might like it:
One day, you should Google Adam Hill’s pizza story. It’s not about cooking pizza at home – but it’s hilarious.
In the meantime – cook some pizzas!
Sometimes you just need a nibble. Friends drop in – there is talk, there is wine … but there is not yet dinner. Pre BBQ … etc. Master a few basic ones because often the makings are right there under your nose.
Start your dip trip:
BE A COOKIE MONSTER
Cookies weren’t a thing for me, growing up. They were BICKIES. But, as with lots of things, we (Aussies) have become more Americanised and so now I use both words fairly interchangeably. I don’t, however EVER (except when consciously translating) think of SCONES as biscuits.
Go easy or it will morph to muffin tops – but nevertheless these are a handy fast go to and great if you need kids school morning tea type stuff. I’ve always found muffins more forgiving than cakes and as a result, made a lot more of them over the years. Savoury ones can be pretty awesome too.
Salads don’t always have to be healthy. They can be elegant, evil, decadent …. salads can be a feast.
I challenge you to a feast of salads!
Go on – while your at it – stretch those salad wings a little bit further. One of my friends, years ago, introduced me to her ‘signature salad’ which was a kale salad with mozzarella and I don’t remember what – but I remember that it was mind blowing and that I played around with massaged kale salads until I came up with a combo of my own that I trot out from time time time and always love (mine involves fetta, and pomegranate usually).
Leave me alone! I LIKE pasta, OK. I think it behooves (that’s a word, right?) you to be able to do a range of pasta dishes. Do I need to reiterate the reasons?
Doesn’t have to be KFC every time. Know how to smash out a great party bring along and you’ll always have friends. Provided you share!
What do I mean by that? Well, make of it what you will. It might be something that already falls into one of the other categories I have listed here. Nice to have something handy up your sleeve for the times when you need to feed (or contribute to the feeding of) a big mob.
The toughest critics ever, right? I guess everyone’s kids are a bit different … but some things do seem to be a bit universal with kids I’m basing my suggestions on things my kids have loved over the years.
The guy who first put food between bread had no idea just how far the idea would go. In his honour … learn a couple of good ones. Maybe invent something all your very own.
Or sunny side up. Eggs are awesome. They keep in the fridge for ages, they are easy to cook, hold stuff together, are a great source of protein. Hard boiled they are so portable as snacks. Master eggs and you’ll probably never go hungry.
SOUP WITH A PULSE
Great for your wallet, your waistline and your heart. These kinds of soups are not difficult, but can take a little time – though canned beans can speed this up considerably.
A few classics to consider:
A GLOBAL CLASSIC
If you can’t already name a few and don’t have a favourite – what are you doing? Educate yourself! If you’ve gotten that far already, perhaps learning to cook at least one is an obvious next step.
NOT HASH BROWNIES
I’m not up for mind altering substances for the most part. I do make exceptions for the odd glass of wine, or a shandy on a hot day. I even do my coffee mostly decaf. BUT – chocolate I do. I love it. If you don’t blondies might be more your thing. Chewy, sweet, delicious, shareable.
SLOW FOOD MOVEMENT
Coming home to a hot dinner already waiting and a house full of warm savoury smells is awesome, especially on a winters evening. I love leaving the gift of a slow cooked meal for my family when I am on afternoon shift and they are doing standard day work. It means I have the morning to shop and prepare but that the meal won’t spend too long unsupervised. It’s also just a nice way to tell people that you love them.
You might like:
RICE IS ALWAYS NICE
Main meal rice. Why? Why not? A global food for so many obvious reasons. Feed a crowd, use what’s available, carb on up. And yup – there’s a lot of crossover between categories by this stage. However – I’m sticking to my guns. It’s my story and I’m telling it and I DO think that these are all serious categories to master. If you want to cheat a bit by checking off two at once – all power to you.
Some examples of styles of main meal rice:
Once you get the hang of soup it’s another one of those dishes where you can just open the pantry, the freezer, and the veggie drawer and dig around and then, with just a little bit of time and effort, come up with something quite magical.
Draw some inspiration from these:
I wrote a post, ages back, about Smash (being way cooler than mash). I think I was more on about word usage than food styles, at that point. But – however you do it an whatever you call it – mash (done right) is pretty awesome. If I know you, and I ever catch you using Deb instant (powdered) mash, I will personally stuff it up your nostrils. OK?
Portable, tasty, generally kid friendly. I should cook more loaves. My favourite used to be a cottage cheese loaf that was called “mock salmon” by the lady who gave it to me. I haven’t cooked it for ages. Maybe it’s time ….
This is a recent (this decade) discovery for me. I wondered what all the fuss was about and why it kept turning up on cafe menus everywhere. I made it. I got it. I made it again, and again … you may feel the same way. My take – it’s a pretty good dinner, but it’s better the next day, on sandwiches.
Especially on a sandwich, with pulled meat, oh – and a good homemade BBQ sauce (I will NOT create another category, LOL) but any way you want to have it – side dish for a BBQ, whole bowl for lunch – slaws are fantastic and in my experience, a bit longer lasting and better travelling than some other types of salads.
Give slaw a chance:
Warm, hearty, fragrant, filling. Another big family pleasing comfort food that can gobble up all the weirdness lost in the depths of your fridge.
That’s it. That’s my fifty three food genres that I think you should master.
Earlier I was hungry, but now I’m just tired!
I’ll be aiming at kicking (or at least refining) some of these goals this year.
Happy cooking to you!