After almost a year of on-again, off-again, will-they-happen or won’t-they social engagements written into diaries and onto calendars with the most precarious of pencil strokes, I find myself bewilderingly thrust back into a revolving door of entertaining sorely-missed friends and family as lockdown restrictions have started to ease once more. Sure, I’m planning for sturdy trestle tables in the garden and plenty of blankets for the British weather, but long languid lunch picnics and early evening dinners are back on the menu.
But after a year of - let’s be honest, a lot of instant ramen, packet mash, and crisp sandwiches, I’m easing back into entertaining, waking up my culinary muscles gently rather than throwing them straight into the legendary seven course marathons of old. And if you, too, fancy a little legal get-together without using every pan in the kitchen, I have some ideas that might come in handy.
1. Yes, you can: Save time and effort by using convenient ingredients such as quality canned, jarred, or frozen foods. You can effortlessly whip up something that will look impressive and if you shop smart, is good value too. Use canned fruit cocktail to make a yummy trifle, saving you time, effort and avoiding food waste. Pop some of your favourite jarred tomato and basil pasta sauce onto a frozen pizza base, cook it in the oven and you’ve got a great starter for people to nibble on while the BBQ fires up. Use frozen fish and frozen peas to make a delicious fish pie and canned pineapple is fantastic to use for upside-down pineapple cake or as a tasty addition to a curry.
2. Make ahead: If you want to impress, choose something that you can make in advance, so that you are not rushed or flustered last minute. I created the pork belly recipe below for Del Monte®, using their delicious, canned prunes in juice to make a marinade and chutney [Del Monte Spicey Pork Belly with Prune Chutney]. It can be prepared the night before and finished in the oven low and slow, or on the BBQ. Delicious hot or cold, and leftovers make for a lovely sandwich.
3. Keep it simple: Puddings can be a challenge al fresco, but cake is easy and always goes down well with a crowd. Just keep it light and summery if you are serving it as a pudding. This peach drizzle cake [Canned Peach Drizzle Cake] is deliciously moist and delicately sweet thanks to the juice from the canned peaches. It also keeps for around three or four days in an airtight container, but I’ve never known it to last that long! Enjoy warm on cooler evenings with custard, or cold with ice cream in balmier weather.
4. Raid the cupboard: You may find yourself totally unprepared for last-minute visitors, but are you? Take a look in the cupboard. You’ll be amazed at what you can do with what you already have. For example, add an unexpected and impressive twist to everyday recipes with canned fruit! It’s been a favourite of mine for years, to add a sweet note to curries or casseroles, bring freshness to traybakes, but also in salads (canned mandarins pair well with soft salty cheeses, like feta and goats’ cheese, for example). It saves time because it’s already been peeled, stoned and sliced for you and tends to be good value. You can even use the juice in the can as a long iced drink with sparkling water, as a salad dressing, or reduce it down to a syrup by rapidly boiling it with a little sugar for desserts [Fruit Cocktail Dutch Baby].
Find some more inspiration and time and budget-friendly ideas, visit Jack’s blog Cooking on a Bootstrap.
JACK MONROE’S PEACH DRIZZLE CAKE
Prep time: 15 minutes, Cooking time: 60 minutes, plus 30 minutes cooling time
Skill level: Easy
· 1 can (425g) Del Monte® Peach Slices in Juice
· 250g butter (softened) or baking spread
· 200g finely ground white sugar
· 3 medium eggs
· 250g self-raising flour or 250g plain flour plus 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
· 100g icing sugar
Method:1. Preheat the oven to 180oC, Gas Mark 4. Lightly grease a large loaf tin.
2. Strain the can of Del Monte® Peach Slices, reserving the juice to use later on for the icing.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter (or baking spread) and sugar. Mix well to form an even buttercream.
4. Break in one egg and mix well, using a fork to combine it with the buttercream mixture. Repeat the same process with the remaining two eggs.
5. Add the baking powder, a pinch of salt and the flour, a quarter at a time, mixing well to combine evenly each time before adding more.
6. Finally, add in the drained peaches and stir in. They will carry some residual juice that will pool at the edges of your batter, so mix this in well, but try not to break up the soft peach slices too much in the process.
7. When the batter is even and smooth, pour it into your prepared tin, jostling the peach slices so that they are evenly distributed throughout.
8. Bake in the centre of the oven for 50 minutes to an hour or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out almost clean (if the knife comes out with some batter attached, turn the oven down to 140oC and check every 10 minutes until done). Oven temperatures may vary, so check your cake carefully.
9. Remove from the oven and loosen the edges of the loaf with a sharp knife or palette knife. Let it stand for 30 minutes before removing it from the tin and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.
10. For the icing: Ensure the loaf has cooled enough before you start icing - you want to be able to touch it with your fingertips for a few seconds and not register that it’s warm. Sieve the icing sugar into a large mixing bowl and add 1 tbsp of the reserved peach juice. Mix well to make a smooth, thick icing. Drizzle the icing over the top and leave to set for 30 minutes.
Tip 1: If you would like a little more moisture on the cake, you can boil the juice down a little to make a syrup (add a few teaspoonfuls of sugar if you want it really sticky and sweet). Gently punch some holes in the top of the cake with a fork, drizzle the syrup over and allow it to sink in a little before topping with the icing drizzle.
Tip 2: Leftovers will keep for up to four days in an airtight clean container in a cool dark place, or four months in the freezer. Best frozen in slices and defrosted whenever you fancy a quick treat!
JACK MONROE’S DUTCH BABIES WITH FRUIT COCKTAIL
Prep time: 30 minutes, Cooking time: 20 minutes
Skill level: Easy
· 1 can (415g) Del Monte® Fruit Cocktail in Juice
· 2 eggs
· 2 tbsp finely ground sugar
· 150ml semi skimmed or whole milk
· 100g plain flour
· A pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon
· 4 tsp light cooking oil
Method:1. Drain your fruit cocktail, reserving the juice from the can and set it to one side.
2. For the batter: crack the eggs into a bowl and beat together with the sugar, then slowly add in the milk, flour and nutmeg. Place the batter in the fridge to chill for around half an hour.
3. For the syrup: pour the juice into a small saucepan, bringing it to the boil, then reduce to a simmer until it has reduced by around half. The syrup will thicken by itself, but if you want to make it thicker and stickier you can add another two tbsp of sugar to help it along. Remember it will thicken as it cools. When the juice has reduced down to a syrup, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool.
4. Once your batter is chilled, turn your oven on to 200oC and ensure there is a shelf set in the middle. Divide your oil evenly between four Yorkshire pudding cups, if using a Yorkshire pudding tray, or pour it into a cake tin. Place the tin with oil (not the batter, not yet) into the oven for 5-6 minutes to get it super-hot. Remove it carefully with a thick oven glove.
5. Using a soup ladle, carefully pour batter into each pudding cup, or pour into the cake tin and immediately return it to the oven for 14 minutes. Do not be tempted to open the door until those 14 minutes are up!
6. When ready, carefully remove from the tin (or tray) and top with your homemade syrup and the fruit. Serve immediately, dredged with extra sugar if you really can’t help yourself.
Tip 1: Leftover Dutch Babies can be frozen, plain, and defrosted overnight in the fridge and refreshed in a hot oven for a few minutes to serve. Leftover fruit and syrup can be transferred to the fridge in an airtight container and should be enjoyed within three days.
Tip 2: Once you’ve transferred the syrup to a jug or mug to cool, add some washing up liquid and hot water into the pan you were using and clean it to avoid the syrup setting on the bottom of the pan.
JACK MONROE’S SPICY PORK BELLY WITH PRUNE CHUTNEY
Gluten Free, Dairy Free
Serves 4 -6
Prep time: 6-24 hours, Cooking time: 12 minutes, plus 10 minutes cooling time
· 1 (425g) can of Del Monte® Prunes in Juice
· 2 fat cloves of garlic
· 1 tbsp light coloured vinegar - cider, red, white or rice are all fine
· 1 tbsp light cooking oil
· 1 tsp Chinese five spice
· 1 tsp fennel seeds
· 1/2 tsp coarse salt or 1/4 tsp table salt
· Plenty of black pepper
· 800g pork belly, sliced
· 1 large onion
· 2 large stalks of celery
Method:1. Strain the prunes, separating the juice into a large jar with a lid for the marinade. Set the prunes to one side while you make the marinade for the pork. Peel and crush (or mince) your garlic and add to the juice, along with the vinegar and a little oil. Mix together the Chinese five spice, fennel, and salt and pepper. Add most of this seasoning to the marinade jar, keeping a little to one side. Screw the lid on tightly and shake well to mix and emulsify the marinade. Pop the pork into the smallest food-safe sealable bag or container that will hold it and pour three quarters of the marinade carefully all over. Refrigerate for 6-24 hours, but no longer.
2. When it’s time to cook the pork, remove it from the fridge and leave for 20 minutes to reach room temperature. Preheat your oven to 210oC, gas mark 6, ensuring there is a shelf in the middle of it or just below. Transfer the pork to the small roasting dish and pour over the marinade to just below where the top fat layer starts. Rub the remaining salt-and-spice marinade onto the exposed fat. Pop the pork belly in for 10-12 minutes to crisp the fat to crackling. Turn the heat down to 140oC, gas mark 1 and cook for a further 90 minutes. Note, oven temperatures may vary, so do check your dish every now and again.
3. Place a wire cooling rack on top of a roasting or baking tray (with sides) for when the pork is ready. Remove from the oven and place each piece on the wire rack to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
For the gravy:1. Combine one tbsp each of oil (or butter) and flour in a small saucepan over a low heat. Gradually add the juices, stirring the whole time, and thin with a little stock or water as desired. Taste and season. Serve hot - it will thicken as it cools
For the chutney: While the pork is marinading, it’s time to make the accompanying chutney.1. De-stone the prunes by gently squeezing them - the stones should pop right out. Discard the stones and pop the prunes into a medium saucepan.
2. Peel and halve, then very finely slice your onion and celery. Add to the pan along with the remaining marinade and an extra tablespoon of vinegar. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the veg is very soft. You may need to add a splash of water here and there, so keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t dry out, but it should take around 25 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and transfer to a clean, heat proof jar, screw the lid on while it’s hot and leave to cool completely, before labelling and popping in the fridge.
Tip 1: When adding the fennel you can either use a large heavy knife or crush it in a pestle and mortar - leaving it whole works fine too.
Tip 2: If you’re planning on keeping the chutney for longer than a fortnight, you should use a sterilised jar.
Tip 3: If you don’t want to use the left-over juices to make a gravy, you can use them as the base for a casserole or stew with any leftover pork, beans and root vegetables - it’s far too good to waste!
It's an admission you won't hear much among chefs and cookbook authors, but it's the reality for many of us. And for people living with a mental health issue, the relationship with cooking and nurturing ourselves with food can be especially complex. "No one really tackles it, what to cook for yourself when you really don't feel like cooking, or what to eat when you really don't feel like eating," says Monroe, 32. Having been open about living with depression, anxiety, PTSD and ADHD for years, the food writer and poverty activist has used her own, very raw experience to put together her latest collection of recipes in Good Food For Bad Days...