One of the most daunting or boring aspects of cooking is when you have to do it daily. It's not as much the cooking that is tedious but the act of having to decide what to cook on a daily basis. With jobs, families, television serials and a zillion other things to do in a day; it is not always possible to prepare a lavish spread. Neither is it always possible - or feasible - to use a cookbook. Add to that the availability (or not) of ingredients and rising costs; cooking quickly loses its charm when faced with reality. Personally, I find nothing more unrewarding as an unappreciative partner/family. Sometimes it seems that the more you cook for others, the lesser they seem to recognise your efforts!
My mom was mostly unhappy about cooking because firstly, it was a pain to think about daily dishes and secondly, all of us never really bothered to tell her we appreciated her cooking for us. While I have quickly learnt to compliment anyone who cooks -- they/mothers can easily feed you pre-packaged food -- I am also learning (still) the art of cooking food with minimal effort.
My Partner for instance is a master of cooking things in 10-15 minutes. Anything that involves a can and a microwave, he can cook. I, on the other hand, have so far been quite disdainful about 'cooking' that does not involve fresh food or 'proper' preparation. It has led to some fights where despite really tasty food being made, Partner will say something like, "But you did not need to spend four hours cooking this!" and me getting very upset and calling him ungrateful.
However, human beings are supposedly the most superior species because we learn to adapt. To save myself cooking time -- and thinking time -- now I am happy enough to mix 'n' match. Meaning, I will use some ingredients that come out of a can/bottle and throw in other fresh stuff. Here's the dinner we had on Friday night that takes only 30 minutes from start to finish. The only lengthy period involved is an hour of refrigeration.
Fish cutlets and Russian salad with fresh bread
Cooked on: High heat; involves refrigeration
Accompaniment: Dinner rolls or soft bread of your choice and hard-boiled eggs
Try this with: Any delicious white wine
- Make the Russian salad first since you need to allow it to chill for an hour or so before serving.
- To enable faster cooling, keep the salad vegies in the fridge for as long as you can. Pull them out for chopping just before you toss them in the salad.
- You can use fresh fish for the cutlets; however, canned fish is far quicker and saves you the effort of steaming the fish etc.
- You can use plain canned fish and add whatever herbs and spices of your choice; however, I prefer using flavoured canned fish as it is even faster! I used tuna with semi-dried tomatoes and olive oil.
- If using fresh fish or plain, canned fish, you can add basil, parsley, rosemary or chopped coriander to the fish for added flavour. For more zing, add a tablespoon of some sweet-chilli sauce as well.
- If you are using tuna in water, drain all the water and then squeeze the fish so that no water/liquid remains. Soggy fish will make it difficult to 'bind' the cutlets and cause them to break when frying.
- If using fresh fish: Steam the fish -- in covered saucepan or pressure cooker -- drain all the water and de-bone. Remove the skin and then mash the fish checking again that there are no bones. You don't want people choking on the cutlets!
- When peeling hot potatoes straight-off-the-stove, hold them under running cold water -- or in a bowl of cold water -- it won't burn your hands.
- While I have fried my cutlets -- deep fried is not healthy! -- you could also bake your cutlets. Just remember to bake on high heat (250 degree celcius) for 15-minutes, with both top and bottom oven rods turned on. While baking is the far healthier option, it also increases your cooking time. Frying is quicker, and though unhealthy, bloody tasty.
Tuna cans: 2, flavoured or plain
White potato: 2
Salt: to taste
Egg: 1, lightly beaten
Bread crumbs: 1 cup
Canola or other vegetable oil: 2-3 TBS
Green chllies: 2-4 (optional)
Garlic: 2 cloves (optional)
Coriander, basil, rosemary, thyme: 1-2 TBS
White potatoes: 4-5, medium sized, boiled, peeled and diced small
Red capsicum: 1, large, diced small
Vegetable or chicken stock: 1 cup (can use 2 cubes dissolved in one cup hot water)
Green beans: 1 cup, diced small
Peas: 1 cup, fresh or frozen (thawed)
Grapes: 1 cup, washed (halved if the grapes are big; optional)
Mayonnaise: 2 TBS
Eggs: 2-4, hard-boiled and quartered (optional)
Carrots: 1 cup, peeled and diced small (optional)
Corn: 1/2 cup, steamed (optional)
- Take the chicken/vegetable stock in a deep saucepan with lid and bring to a boil (on high flame).
- Reduce the flame and put your diced potatoes (carrots and corn if using) in the boiling stock. Cover the pan and cook for 5-6 minutes.
- Remove the lid and add the beans, peas and capsicum to the cooking potatoes. Cook -- uncovered -- for another 5 minutes.
- Remove the pan from heat, place the vegies on a big sieve and allow all the stock/ water to drain out. Once drained, place the vegies in a bowl/ resealable plastic bag and place in your freezer for 10 minutes.
- In a big serving bowl, place the (now cooled) vegies, grapes and two tablespoon mayonnaise. Mix them all well. You can add seasoning if you wish so. I prefer not to.
- Your Russian salad is ready! Place the bowl in the fridge and allow to chill thoroughly. Serve with cutlets and bread.
- Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes in a saucepan with the lid closed. Alternately, you could also cook them in the microwave or your pressure cooker. For microwave: Place potatoes in a oven-proof bowl with 4 TBS water. Poke holes into the potatoes with a fork. Set the timer for 2 minutes 30 seconds and cook the potatoes. Turn the potatoes in the bowl (bottom side up now) and cook for another 2 minutes 30 seconds. For pressure cooker: Place potatoes in the cooker with 1 cup water, place the lid and cook on low heat. One whistle means the spuds are done.
- Peel potatoes and mash them with your fingers/ fork/ potato masher. Ensure that there are no lumps in the mashed potato.
- Add the canned fish to the mashed potatoes, salt according to taste and the herbs (if you're using them). Mix all of them properly and keep aside.
- Beat an egg in a medium sized bowl; keep aside.
- Spread the bread crumbs evenly on a big plate; keep aside.
- Make even-sized, round balls from the potato-fish mash. Once you've made balls from the mash, keep them aside.
- Heat the oil in a deep wok/ frying pan; make the oil smoking hot on high heat then reduce heat to low.
- Take two fish-potato balls; flatten them on your palm slightly (see picture of cutlets above). Dip the fish cakes in the beaten egg and coat all sides properly. Pick the cakes out of egg mix -- use soft hands else cakes will break -- and dip them in the bread crumbs.
- Delicately place them in the hot oil -- please don't burn yourself -- and raise the heat to medium. Do NOT poke fish cakes when frying. You will see when one side is fried, it turns brown. Gently, with a flat spatula, turn the fish to allow the other side to fry.
- Once both sides are fried, gently pick fried fish cakes out of the wok/pan and place them on a plate/tray lined with paper napkins/paper kitchen towels.
- Repeat steps 8-10 til all fish cakes are fried. Your fish cutlets are ready!
PS: And lemme know if you do try this!