Sunday, November 09, 2008

"instant meals" from scratch aka the joys of spring

Our table’s been on the move this week.

Solid yet light enough to move without much effort, this piece of reclaimed timber has been taking the few short steps from living/kitchen area to the deck outside a number of times this week.

Spring means – picnics, friends, a reawakened social life, impromptu gatherings, dinners, drinks and lunches. I’m not into horses and frocks but in this town the spring racing carnival heralds a time of change, as we go out into the light and mingle.

It also means its time to rethink the fridge contents and pantry stores in terms of casual nibbles and meals that can be thrown together at a moments notice.

Neighbours dropped in for an informal celebration yesterday. Most of the wine that had been chilling in the fridge was still there (imagine that!) – crisp whites and summery rosés. With the first bottle down and mid afternoon approaching, a late lunch was on the agenda. But what? I wanted to throw some food on the table but not spend time thinking about it or missing the conversation, toiling in the kitchen while others chatted outside.

Fortunately I think best on my feet. First some fresh raw nuts decanted into bowls. A couple of perfectly ripe avocadoes mashed with lemon, garlic and some wickedly hot, kick-arse chilli sauce. A three minute dip on a platter with rice crackers.

The remains of a generous baked vegetable dish from last night already warming in the oven and the water boiling for pasta on the stove. There is another bottle of wine opened and nibbles being gratefully consumed. The sun shines and there is time to have a few sips and chat before retuning to the kitchen.

A no-brainer tuna pasta salad, handy (gluten-free) carbs to soak up the wine, spiked with olives, herbs and vegetables for flavour and healthy goodness, all bought together with a garlic and mustard vinaigrette. Fifteen minutes from start to finish, the dish is put together. The table moved and set. Our friends blink and say – "how did that happen?"

If I’d taken more time the cos lettuce in the crisper would have been augmented with more vegetables and tossed in a simple salad. But why show off, when the dip, bake and pasta would suffice? I wanted to whip up some no fuss food to fill our bellies, not produce a mulit-course banquet and create a fuss.

This time of year highlights this household's total lack of keeping instant food on hand. Almost everything we eat is cooked from scratch. We don’t each cheese and rarely buy premade dips these days. If I’d had no avocado, there is reliably chickpeas and tahini in the cupboard that in minutes becomes hummus when thrown in the blender with lemon and garlic.

We never have chips but almost always rice crackers and nuts. Often olives or mini-gherkins (cornichons if you prefer) lurking in the fridge.

Canned beans can become salads, when rinsed well and thrown together with onion, parsley and lashings of lemon and garlic. (Yes there is a theme here – I am bereft with the bowl is empty of citrus and alliums).

But I’m curious, what other foods from scratch can the dairy and meat-free home keep on hand for spontaneous feeding of the masses?


But in the meantime, like they say on TV “’s one I prepared earlier”.

A variation on yesterday’s salad.

Pasta salad with tuna

1 packet of pasta spirals (we prefer gluten-free)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced (or spring onions)
tomatoes, preferably cherry, if not larger ones cut into small wedges
Kalamata olives, squished with the back of a knife to remove stone, halved
something green – blanched asparagus or beans, cucumber or a large handful of continental parsley
1-2 medium cans of good quality tuna (I like the ones packed in oil that comes in yellow tins)

olive oil
lemon juice
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Boil a large pot of water and cook pasta as directed on packet. When cooked, rinse well in cold water.

Prepare your vegetables.

Mix your dressing, to taste.

Combine before eating.

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Blogger docwitch said...

Yum! That sounds like a sublime day, and a very sociable way to cook.

We've been doing a lot of GF pasta salads of late. It's funny, but as recently as last year I despised pasta and never ate it. This is before I discovered the gluten issue too. I hadn't tried GF pasta, which is a completely different experience, (not just because of my tum). It's so much 'lighter'.

I've also been into the 5-minute-beans-and-whatever's-in-the-fridge-salad. Chickpeas, cannellini (or whatever's on hand), asparagus, loads of avo, great swathes of fresh basil and/or parsley, toms, olives, tuna, broad beans and rocket, and whatever else I can throw in. Tossing it all in lemon juice and olive oil.

Spring is wonnerful innit?

9:58 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

It sure is!

After they'd eaten, I said - did the pasta taste any different to them? (they are parents of preschoolers, they eat a lot of pasta!). They remarked how light it felt but they didn't realize it was GF. I'm thinking the next test might be the Italian not-in-laws who are visiting at the end of the week.

10:24 am  
Blogger Johanna said...

I am impressed at your improvisation - luckily I don't often do impromptu feeding of the masses - I agree that dips and salads at this time of year are good - dukkah and good olive oil can also be on hand for dipping veg and bread into - and I think pudla (Chickpea pancakes) would impress if you had chickpea flour and frozen peas on hand!

5:23 pm  

you've done an excellent little round-up of outdoor snacks - enjoy your spring as it turns into summer. we're trying to work out here if winter has forgotten us...

9:06 pm  
Blogger Armchair Foodie said...

Springtime! You lucky people. The fall foliage is gorgeous up here in the Columbia River Gorge right now, but there's definitely two down comforters on my bed at night.

Enjoy the season of produce and sunshine... I'll check back regularly to enjoy it vicariously.

5:47 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

GG dukah sounds like a good idea, though we often don't have bread in the house (strange, I know!).

Northern hemisphere friends - will try not to complain too much when summer hits and we are parched and toasted.

5:13 pm  
Blogger Bwca said...

I like to mash avocado onto a lettuce leaf for a fast no-bread snack. (Mung sprouts can be sprinkled onto the mash before rolling the leaf into a tequito-shape ), but back on topic: for fast food at home, 1. do realise that not all store-able food is unhealthy, and 2. never be without lemon and good garlic (no poisonous chinese rubbish.

*munch munch*

6:58 pm  
Blogger Wendy said...

Bravo! I'm impressed. Especially since my ideas for feeding the masses at short notice tends to be takeout.

8:13 am  

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