Getting ahead with food prep

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Are you a “last-minute-Lucy” or someone who likes to get started with tasks early?

I’ve typically fallen into the latter camp. When issued with an assignment at university (a looongg time ago now!), I’d be the first to head for the library as soon as the question was issued. That approach has stood me in good stead throughout my career, especially when issued with directives from a one-time CEO whose deadline was usually 12:00 noon the following day (no matter how challenging the task).

What I’ve only just realised, though, is how much simpler life becomes if you adopt the same approach to food preparation. Why didn’t I work this out before?! I’ve written about meal planning in the past and I almost always shop to a list (either online or in person), knowing exactly what I’ll cook in the days to come.

However, what I didn’t always do was get ahead with the necessary food prep required to make the actual cooking a lot easier. This would mean I’d arrive home after work then have to start (literally) from scratch. That’s a pretty exhausting prospective if you left at 07:30 and didn’t get home until around 18:30.

Mise en Place

If you’re a trained chef, or experienced foodie, you’ll know how valuable the ‘mise en place’ can be. It certainly makes the production of a specific dish seemingly more effortless. Literally, ‘putting in place’ what you need for a specific recipe may seem like a lot of effort, but it also helps avoid you making mistakes, especially if the dish is unfamiliar.

Watch any TV cook and everything will have been pre-weighed and chopped, leaving them simply to demonstrate how to combine and cook the ingredients in the right order.

Getting ahead

Prepping specific parts of a dish is something I could have been doing before, but never have until now. Imagine needing a cooked sweet potato for fish cakes. In the past, I’d have had to wait for the potato to cook, let it cool a little, then mix in the remaining ingredients. Now, with my newly-discovered cooking super-power, I’m ahead of the game. The potato is baked in the oven the day before, so all I have to do is some deft chopping, a bit of stirring, and we have ready-to-go fish cakes. This helps when family members are wont to say, “What time’s dinner?” at a moment’s notice.

Weekend cooking

At the weekend, there are lots of opportunities to get ahead with food prep. I’m loving Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi’s Diabetes Weight-loss Cook Book, which I mentioned in my last post. Their low-carb lasagne is delicious and I now make my own vegetarian version of it. But, like any lasagne, it requires several stages to prepare. So, yesterday, I made the ‘spinach lasagne’ sheets in advance, cooked the bechamel when I found 20 minutes to spare, and assembled the whole thing during the evening. Today, we’ll have a home-cooked ready meal, with none of the chaos associated with trying to organise the various components all at once (and I’m not a very tidy cook, so this is a good thing!).

Slow cooking

I like the idea of prepping different dishes slowly, over a day or so. Who says you have to slave over a hot-stove, ready to serve a meal as soon as it’s cooked? It certainly takes the stress out of weekday evenings to have food partially prepared. And although you do have to think ahead, taking the slow route to food prep’ is even better if you realise that you’ve run out of something. It’s not unheard of in our house for tasty morsels, destined to go in a particular dish, to be eaten by someone who fancies them as a snack!

So often, we say there isn’t time to cook. But perhaps there is. We just have to fill those spare moments, say while the kettle’s boiling for a cup of tea, with some casual weighing of ingredients or some gentle stirring on the hob. Preparing food in this way also – for me – means that when we do sit down to eat, I enjoy it all the more.

p.s.

Low Carb Lasagne, adapted from The Diabetes Weight-Loss Cookbook

Spinach ‘Pasta’ layers:

Blend together :
370-400g defrosted spinach, squeezed from a 900g bag of frozen spinach
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
8 tbsp almond/cow’s milk
1 heaped tbsp psyllium husk powder (get this from Amazon)

Spread across 2 baking sheets that have been lined with oiled baking parchment. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees C (fan) for 8-10 minutes.

Allow to cool.

‘Ragu’:

I make a simple veggie version of what could otherwise be a beef ragu.

Combine a large jar of passata with capers, olives, lemon zest, a dash of olive oil and a ti of lentils (I like puy lentils for this).

Use this as your ragu layer.

‘Bechamel’:

550ml almond/cow’s milk
4 tbsp cornflower
4 tbsp double cream
50g butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1 bay leaf

Mix 3 tbsp of the milk with the cornflower in a small bowl. Pour into a saucepan with the remaining ingredients, then put over a medium heat. Whisk to combine, removing from the heat when the sauce has thickened and is bubbling. Season.

If you don’t want to make a bechamel, you could use some ricotta cheese, which I used in the version shown below.

Making up the lasagne:

With 50g parmesan and 125g mozzarella, proceed as follows:

Drop spoonfuls of the bechamel and ragu into a lasagne dish measuring c. 22 x 26 cm. Don’t mix them together. Layer onto this some parmesan and mozzarella, then use some of the spinach lasagne (cut to fit) as your ‘pasta’ layer. Keep going until you have used up all the ingredients.

Bake for 30 minutes at 200 degrees C (fan), then let everything settle for 15 minutes before tucking in.

My version looked like this:

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