In England they say "Dangerous ice on the roads!" and we get to stay home from school. Ice in Bournemouth is inclement, but with our ice yesterday came SNOW! Which is very seldom seen here. Yesterday our neighbourhood was blanketed in pure, sparkling white. Fat snowflakes flurried around. Sound was muffled and time seemed to stand still. It was beautiful.
At lunchtime the boys' schools texted to say that school would be let out early, and within fifteen minutes the neighbourhood was a mass of muddy slush, dotted with snowmen wearing plastic flowerpot hats and more children than I ever knew there were around here! We played in the snow, and when Sean came home he and the boys made a huuuuuge snowman, as tall as themselves, with a very Dr. Seuss look. It snowed on and off for the whole afternoon.
I retreated to the warmth of the kitchen, my favourite room in the house, to make a lasagne, and I read some of the recipe books I got for Christmas (thanks, Beans!): Delia's How to cheat at cooking; and Nigella Express: Good Food, Fast.
Both books are supposed to make cooking easy and fast, but they come at it from different angles. Delia Smith's is a true cheat book, and reading it I got some great ideas. She has ways of avoiding work by simply buying the pre-made stuff and putting it together to make something wonderful. I agree with Delia's philosophy: Why make a roux when you can buy a very nice one chilled in a plastic pot? The cheese sauce for my lasagne nearly came to a sticky end yesterday, as I forgot all about it while hanging out of the kitchen window taking photos of the kids in the snow. You could say that it was roux-ined! But with my Restaurant Training from Hotel School days, and a childhood of helping out in the kitchen and learning from my Mum and Grandmothers, I knew how to rescue it. Not everyone is so lucky, and a sauce in a packet without the trauma of lumps and separation would make their lives much easier.
Think about it, most of our favourite recipes are time-consuming. I love mashed potatoes, but some days there is just no time. Delia argues that there are really good frozen mashed potatoes available, nothing like the icky dried stuff, so why not keep some in the freezer for those days when a shepherd's pie would just ROCK? She uses canned mince too, and adds herbs and veg for a "home made" shepherd's pie with no fuss.
Gordon Ramsay, in his "Cooking For Friends", says: "The phenomenal confidence that Delia gave people, the impact that she has had over thirty years, has to my mind been shattered in one book.... I was astonished when I saw her using canned mince. Where is the feel-good factor in that sort of compromise?" He goes on to say that he has given away his entire Delia Smith collection in horror.
I tend to disagree with Ramsay. While I am a decent cook, having been well taught, and nowadays I have the time to enjoy cooking from scratch, there have been many times in my working-mom past when a can of mince would have saved my sanity. Plus, less time in the kitchen is more time doing other stuff. And a mini chopper, which Delia recommends, is a brilliant idea, I am so getting one. No more onion tears!
Nigella Lawson's Express book is more traditional. The recipes are mostly 'made from scratch', but really quick and easy. I particularly liked her "Quick-Quick-Slow" section, with some really delicious-looking food with hardly any prep time and a long slow cooking time, great for melt-in-your-mouth meats. There is also a Packed Lunch section with great lunchbox and picnic ideas, great for our next hike on the cliffs! (When the weather gets warmer, of course...)
Nigella has some very good vegetarian recipes, not in their own section but sprinkled throughout the book, and both books have ideas for speedy snacks for entertaining.
I love to curl up with a good cookbook during inclement weather. Gordon Ramsay's is a great read, and when I have a quiet afternoon I will make make a delicious supper out of "Cooking For Friends". Our kids love to eat, and we are all friends here! In the meanwhile, I'll let Nigella and Delia's philosophies speed me along in the kitchen, and I'll garnish everything with fresh basil for that Five Star look.
How to cheat at cooking; Delia Smith