Victor being subsumed into frantic kitchen activity, today’s guest blogger reveals the dark side of Victor’s kitchen. Yep. We aspire to eat beautiful food, delicately prepared from the freshest, farmer’s market ingredients.

However, in real life, I get home from work and we discover that we’ve yet again failed to get the shopping done, and can’t face another cheese sanwich. Sometimes we’re out of cheese. Too often we bail and eat out, but I have a few techniques for getting dinner on the table with bare cupboards and no time to cook.

SECRET TECHNIQUE NUMBER ONE
Stone Soup Principle

Boil a pot of water.

You don’t actually have to use the water. Boiling water is so easy that you can’t persuade yourself it’s too hard. Boiling water gets you into the kitchen, banging pots and pans around. If you’re really cunning, you can keep a clean pot on the stove so you can’t even complain that it’s too much work to dig out a pot.

Once you’re in the kitchen, ‘stone soup’ kicks in and dinner tends to happen.

“Well, the water’s about to boil – let’s make noodles and dump some jarred sauce on them.”
“Ok, but I don’t like red sauce, I’ll just put some butter and pepper on mine.”
“You can’t just eat noodles with just butter… let me start a roux while we’re waiting and you can put in some milk and cheese”
“...Oh… I forgot we had the salami in the fridge… here’s some salami and olives to decorate your pasta”
“...that looks good…I’ll have some too…”

SECRET TECHNIQUE NUMBER TWO
_Leonard of Quirm Principle_

Leonard of Quirm is a brilliant fellow in a series of novels by Terry Pratchett. Leonard’s wild flights of imagination never quite make it to the names of his devices. The net effect is like those very literal translations on Vietnamese menus. “Beef tendon with fungus” is very tasty, but the name … lacks a certain something.

This technique requires a partner in cooking, preferably one who doesn’t mind being manipulated.

“You’re tired. You shouldn’t have to cook. It’s my turn to get dinner on the table.”
“What will you make?”
“Mmmm… rice and ... thing!”
“What kind of thing?”
“Thing.”
“Thing?”
“Thing.”
“I’ll cook!”

Note that “Je ne sais quoi on rice” gets you landed with dinner cookery. There is an art to the unappetising name.

SECRET TECHNIQUE NUMBER THREE (for when number two fails)
_ Making dinner anyway __

If your bluff is called, stagger off to inspect your kitchen cupboards. There may still be a few tins of this and that lying around. One of my favourite standbys from pantry ingredients is pumpkin ‘curry’ over rice.

Start rice.

(Aromatic rice like Jasmine or Basmati are best, long grain rice rinsed to reduce stickiness gives some more texture to the meal.)

Chop an onion (or even use frozen, pre-chopped onions)

Fancy people can drop a dab of butter into a saute pan or skillet and start to cook the onions for a minute or two,

Then add to that skillet –

1 tin pumpkin (not pie filling please) chopped onion a blob of tamarind powder/paste (or some sumac and a bit of brown sugar, or a few cranberries from the freezer or …) splash of vinegar (cider or white would be the first choice) your favourite garam massala (or whatever is cluttering your spice cabinet)

Cook, stirring periodically until the onions soften/go translucent

Optional – add green beans, spinach or other handy veg bits.

Serve when rice is done. If I have them handy, toasted nuts are nice sprinkled over the top.

OTHER “AND THINGDINNERS

Beenz – tinned beans with some lime, onion, cilantro, vinegar, and some sage or fresh cumin or a bunch of black pepper, served with rice. If you’re too tired to make rice, you can use bread, or crackers, or …

Chicken Out Chili – tinned beans with tomato, mole base from a jar, onions, barley (or quinoa or steel cut oats) and maybe a few finely chopped hot peppers.

Sneaky Soup – bring chicken broth (real, boxed or tinned) to a simmer, cook some orzo in it, adding a pinch of bonito flakes (or a tiny glug of fish sauce) and sumac, served with lime.

Stir fried green beans with ginger, soy and garlic. (Better with real green beans, but even frozen ones are pretty edible. Spinach, chard or rocket also go nicely. Stir fried stuff in general is quick to cook, but you need to either be a fast chopper or keep a bunch of pre-chopped veg or meat in the fridge.)

Potatoes (baked with salad dressing, or broth, or butter, or just salt. Takes half an hour or an hour, but it takes less than five minutes to wash them, stab them and throw them in the oven, then you can go take a nap or play video games while they cook. Wrap them in foil before piercing if you like the skins more tender. Then you can add a little Parmalat and spend a couple of minutes with a fork or pastry cutter for mashed potatoes. Add garlic, or do artistically plated servings with a couple sticks of 2-minutes in the microwave broccoli for ears. Or run the taties through a slicer and stick them in a shallow dish. Crumbs with a little butter or cheese make a nice crust on top… )

Odds and Ends Sandwich (grated cheese rinds, salad dressing, three different kinds of leftovers… I know someone who will happily eat ketchup sandwiches – though I think they’d need pickles to be really nice… if your bread is stale, toast it or fry it in butter or cheap olive oil)

Next episode – “Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel”