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These Cooking Shortcuts Will Make Your Lockdown Meals More Bearable

Cooking is getting annoying at this point in the pandemic. That might be a generalisation but for many, not having the option to eat out or the budget to order in means that the act of feeding oneself day in, day out has shifted to become more of a chore than a joy.This could just be the third lockdown, February weather and lack of human contact talking. It could also be that repetition has led to laziness, with the same few meals being made over and over and over again. On the other hand, exploring new flavours and recipes that aren’t guaranteed to work can feel risky rather than exciting, as there’s no guarantee of success. Plus, it’s time-consuming.But it doesn’t have to be this way! With the right shortcuts (or hacks, as the internet insists on calling them), making food can be quick and, crucially, you won’t sacrifice flavour. Happily, chef Rosie Reynolds knows all the shortcuts you can think of and now she’s pulled them together in a cookbook.”Chefs and kitchen professionals have always used shortcuts to create great food,” writes Rosie in her introduction to The Shortcut Cook. “Home cooks have not always been allowed the same privilege and are often made to feel guilty about using certain tricks and ingredients.” So embrace the cheats and secret ways of making food faster and tastier. It’s your pandemic kitchen – there’s no one within at least two metres to judge you for it.PrepHow and what you prepare ahead of cooking is one of the most boring but most impactful ways of speeding up the cooking process. That doesn’t just mean having a clear workspace and all your equipment ready (though that’s important too). It’s also how you prepare your ingredients. This means things like: – Making sure meat is not fridge-cold when you put it in the oven, as it will take a good 20–30 minutes to warm through before it can start cooking. – Like meat, eggs need to come to room temperature before cooking. This will prevent them curdling cake mixesor being undercooked when boiled.Prep is especially key when using store-bought ingredients like curry paste or ready-to-roll pastry. Instead of feeling like a cop-out, small additions in the prepping process can elevate an ingredient from mundane to chef’s kiss. Rosie’s tomato and ricotta galette (pictured here) is a great example of this. “I add thyme and Parmesan to store-bought pastry so that their flavour infuses as it cooks. Store-bought pastry with added flavour and the use of sun-dried tomatoes will make this taste – and look – like the makings of a deli, when actually your prep time is 15 minutes at most.”Tomato and Ricotta GaletteServes 4Prep 15 minutesCook 30-40 minutesIngredients 150 g mixed cherry tomatoes plain flour, for dusting 320 g all-butter puff pastry sheet 2 tbsp thyme leaves50 g Parmesan, finely grated250 g ricotta cheese, drained3 large eggs8 sundried tomatoes in oil, finely chopped, some of the oil reserved for drizzlingsea salt and freshly ground black pepperInstructionsTo halve the cherry tomatoes, put them all on a chopping board and cover with a flat lid or another light chopping board. Use a large serrated knife to cut through the middle of every tomato in one movement. Set aside. Unroll the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle over half of the thyme leaves and half of the Parmesan, lightly pushing them into the pastry. Roll the pastry up into a long sausage shape, then curl the pastry sausage up like a snail. Use a rolling pin to roll the pastry out into a 30 cm (12 in) circle. Transfer to a lined baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/400°F/Gas 6 and put a second baking sheet in the oven to heat up. Mix the remaining thyme and Parmesan with the ricotta and 2 of the eggs and season well. Scatter half of the sundried tomatoes over the centre of the pastry base, leaving a border of about 4 cm (11/2 in), then spoon the ricotta mixture over the top. Quickly fold up the edges of the pastry to enclose the filling. Beat the remaining egg and brush the edge of the pastry. Remove the preheated tray from the oven and slide the galette onto the hot tray using the paper to move it from one to the other – this will help to cook the pastry base. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and place the halved tomatoes on top.Return to the oven and continue to cook for 15 minutes. Check the base is cooked and golden – if it isn’t, cover the top of the galette lightly with foil and continue baking for 5–10 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Scatter the remaining sundried tomatoes over the top. EquipmentPreparation is nothing without making the most of your equipment. Taking shortcuts in the kitchen is all about the foundations but it’s also about making the most of what you have. That means enabling speedy reuse: – Fill the sink with hot soapy water to keep your hands clean and to speedily wash up used or dirty bowls and equipment for quick re-use. Keep a clean cloth close by for wiping and some paper towels for patting, drying and draining foods.– Start your cooking sessions by putting on the kettle – this will mean you can make up stock from cubes quickly, rinse out tins to add the liquid to sauces and stews, or get pasta on the boil much quicker.The most mundane pieces of equipment can even be employed to work miracles. Rosie’s recipe for eggs Benedict uses the microwave(!) for the hollandaise.”I think we can all agree that the most important part of eggs Benedict is the hollandaise – the rich, buttery sauce that has such a bad reputation for being difficult to make. Well, I make my hollandaise in the microwave – it’s super quick and really easy and it works every time. Making the hollandaise in the microwave will save you a good 10 minutes, plus this method means it’s much less likely to split, saving hours of heartache.”Eggs BenedictServes 2Prep 10 minutesCook 8 minutesIngredients 1⁄2 tbsp white wine vinegar4 large eggs2 English muffinsbutter, for spreading 4 slices of good-quality ham For the hollandaise 75 g butter2 large egg yolks1⁄4 tsp white wine vinegar2 tsp lemon juice2 tbsp hot watersea salt and freshly ground black pepper Instructions Bring a small deep saucepan of water to the boil over a high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the vinegar. Pour the remaining vinegar into 4 ramekins or small glasses and swirl to coat the insides with vinegar, then tip out the excess. Crack an egg into each ramekin. Swirl the boiling water to form a vortex, then slide 1 egg from its ramekin into the middle of the swirling water and cook for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.Repeat with the remaining eggs, one at a time, re-swirling the water as before and sliding the egg in. Meanwhile, split and toast the muffins and spread with butter. Put the muffin halves on 2 serving plates, and top each half with a slice of ham and a poached egg. Keep warm.For the hollandaise, put the butter in a small microwave-safe jug and heat in the microwave for 15–20 seconds, or until melted. Beat together the egg yolks, vinegar, lemon juice and hot water in a separate microwave-safe bowl until smooth. Season well, then gradually pour the melted butter into this mixture, whisking continuously to incorporate. Heat in the microwave in 15-second bursts for 1 minute, whisking between each burst until the hollandaise is thick and smooth. Pour the hollandaise over the poached eggs and serve immediately. Photo courtesy of The Shortcut CookFlavourPerhaps the most important factor when it comes to shortcuts in cooking: making sure you are not sacrificing on taste. While rich, deep flavours can come from long and slow cooks, the faster options don’t have to be bland. In fact, speed can be your friend when it comes to flavour. Umami-rich sauces and pastes like fish sauce and miso can be worked into meaty dishes like shepherd’s pie, and cooking on a high heat can intensify the flavour worked into the crust of meats. A particularly good tip is to grate, not cut, your vegetable bases as Rosie does for her minestrone. “I grate the vegetables directly into the pan to save time on chopping. Grating also means the veggies start cooking as soon as they hit the pan, not to mention cooking evenly at the same time. Since there is more surface area for flavour to develop, you start packing those sweet caramelised flavours into your soup immediately – so important when you need to harness all the flavour available in a short period of time.”A lot of this, of course, comes down to the seasoning. Rosie advises paying close attention to salt levels in whatever you’re making.”Start seasoning your food. Taste when you’re cooking (as long as it is safe to do so), then use a fine sea salt to season before and during cooking. Only use a flaky sea salt once food is cooked. If you need to check seasoning, remove a small amount of food from the pan and taste it, then add a tiny sprinkle of salt and taste again. If it tastes better with the salt, then add seasoning to the whole dish.My MinestroneServes 4Prep 15 minutesCook 15 minutesIngredients1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling 100 g smoked bacon lardons or pancetta cubes 2 carrots1 onion, peeled1 celery stalk2 garlic cloves, peeled2 fresh or dried bay leaves1⁄2 tsp dried oregano400 g tin good-quality chopped tomatoes1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar or cider vinegar100 g kale, chopped75 g orzo pasta or small soup pasta75 g Parmesan or Cheddar, finely gratedsea salt and freshly ground black pepperInstructions Heat the olive oil and the bacon lardons together in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Holding a box grater directly over the top of the pan, use the coarse side to grate in the carrots, onion and celery, then flip the grater around and finely grate in the garlic. Increase the heat to high and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring frequently until the veg is soft. Throw in the bay leaves, oregano and tinned tomatoes. Use the tomato tin to measure out 21⁄2 tinfuls of water and add to the soup along with the vinegar. Stir in the kale and orzo, pushing them down with a spatula to submerge them in the liquid. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.Remove the pan from the heat, quickly add a quarter of the grated Parmesan and stir into the soup until melted – the soup should turn a creamy red colour and thicken slightly. Season well with salt and pepper and leave to stand for a few minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve drizzled with olive oil and plenty of the remaining Parmesan. Photo courtesy of The Shortcut CookHardie Grant The Shortcut Cook, $, available at BookshopLike what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?The Pandemic Killed Meal Prepping. Good!Sick Of Cooking? Here’s How To Get Back Into It5 Women Who Know Food Share Their Seduction Meals

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