One of the joys in the kitchen for me personally is to be able to prepare the foundations of a meal and split up the contents into the bases for other meals. As a very busy bead embroidery artist, I sometimes work up to 80 hours a week on my designs during the design and construction phase; leaving me precious little time for domestic duties. Back in the Dark Ages during home economics class in early high school, I had a basic cookery book for beginners as the instructional bible for life’s culinary essentials. This cookbook definitely harks from another time, yet I collect ancient cookbooks and enjoy poring through them to reacquaint myself with the culinary and societal shifts that have occurred in my life time alone.
One concept I grew up with was the concept of convenience cooking. These days, this concept is more often associated with “convenience meals” and purchasing ready made food from the explosion of choice available both in supermarkets and online. Never has there been so much choice for meals and meal preparation concepts as we see today and never had it been easier to part with your hard earned cash. That’s fine if you like wasting money on such foodstuffs because anything prepared outside the house is value added in financial terms. When I grew up, “convenience cooking” meant cooking ahead for the freezer and preparing meal bases for use later on in the week. There were no multitudes of culinary choices back then so the canny housewife had to prepare her own using basic, seasonal ingredients; a long forgotten concept in this day and age which is replete with expensive choice throughout the year.
I maintain this style of food preparation because at the end of the day, home cooking is the most cost-effective and nutritious way there is of feeding the family. We are led to believe that we live in affluent times but the reality is with an Australian population of around 24 million people, approximately 3 million Aussies live below the poverty line and the cost of living is insidiously rising every year, making household budgeting harder and harder. Australians pay the highest cost for groceries in the world. In a country which is replete with agricultural abundance, this is a shocking and damning statistic. Mortgage stress will be the tipping point for many younger Australians who have never known mortgage interest rates of 18% of the 1980’s. An entire generation of Australian has grown up without ever having lived through an economic recession. Time for change and to reduce waste; not only for the bank balance but for the environment. Prepared foods are convenient. There is no denying this fact. Any prepared food comes at a cost. The reality is, home cooking is the cheapest of all methods of getting meals onto the table and the most nutritious and flavourful as well; not to mention the inherent satisfaction of scratch cooking. We just have to rethink out blase attitudes towards cooking, I think.
I have carried this concept of convenience cooking throughout my life and still enjoy being able to turn out a nutritious hot meal and have the foundation elements of other meal possibilities in the freezer and fridge. Living in country areas for many years now has resulted in the old fashioned cook’s bastion of food preservation with orchard and vegetable garden produce being high on the agenda. No room for an orchard I hear you say? Consider a small raised vegetable garden. The raised concept of growing vegetables is an old Italian and French method. Raised beds means you can plant things closer together to maximise crops. I have grown our own food for the past 35 years in all sorts of housing situations. Also consider a multi grafted fruit tree. There are distinct possibilities. Some large pots can be pressed into action too for vegetable growing. Those extremely expensive salad greens can successfully be grown in pots. The best value are those cut and come again varieties where you pick off a few leaves. Once you grow your own salad greens, you will be wondering why you did not do this years ago.
A good quality beef mince was on sale at the “right price” in the local supermarket so my husband Jonathan who does the grocery shopping for the household, was instructed to bring home two kilograms. I had decided to make up a nice meatloaf, alongside other meal foundations.
I used the ingredients as a foundation for both a meatloaf and for some beef burgers to pop into the freezer for other meals. Two kilograms of beef with adjuncts resulted in a meatloaf that fits into a loaf tin plus eight generous beef burgers for the freezer. The meatloaf is very easy to make. A good quality minced beef foundation is combined with finely ground up carrots, bacon, Chorizo sausage, bacon, breadcrumbs, Italian flat leafed parsley and a fistful of grated Parmesan cheese. I also add a blend of dried herbs I grew and a good sized dollop of red capsicum chutney from my preserves pantry. Three eggs act as a binder and Jonathan set to work with his big hands, blending all the ingredients into one mass.
Eight beef burgers were made up and immediately frozen on a tray. Once frozen overnight, the burgers are bagged up, dated and ready to use. Burgers are an excellent foundation recipe to have on hand for meals. I also decided to make up a quantity of cooked down tomato salsa to serve on top of the meatloaf. Tomato salsa is an excellent foundation recipe to have on hand; not only for this meal today but also to freeze in small portions for pizza topping or for dressing over vegetables and rice dishes. I also use this tomato salsa in lasagna al forno (baked lasagna) recipes and for steak pizzaiola (steak cooked in tomato sauce). At the very least, you can dress a quantity of freshly cooked pasta with some of this sauce for a quick and easy meal. There are endless possibilities for this base. A lovely home made embellishment that is always found in the freezer in our house.
I always start off preparing a nice soffritto as the foundation for any tomato based salsa or sugo (the meat version). The vegetables are cooked down until translucent with some golden colouring. The sauteing brings out the flavour in the vegetable base. I added two jars of tomato passata from the preserves pantry, seasoned the blend and slowly cooked it for one hour. The blend needs stirring towards the end of cooking as the Rotorua-style “plop, plop” bubbles make a mess all over the hob as the salsa thickens beautifully. I do keep the lid on the pan to minimise mess. I placed seven portions of this rich salsa into freezer safe containers, cooled them down and Jonathan popped them into the freezer for other meals.
Vegetable “sides” in our house are anything but minor. “Vegetable stars” would be a more appropriate term I use in meals. This is the way of cooking I was taught by my parents. The meat is never the main focus but an adjunct to the meal as vegetables are paramount in my ancestral cuisine. I popped out into the garden and harvested the last zucchini for the season, which was washed and quickly sliced up and grilled off on the ridge grill. I finished off this lovely vegetable with some grilled Haloumi cheese and topped it all off with extra virgin olive oil, white balsamic vinegar glaze, salt and pepper.
The end result was a delicious, hot meal at the end of a cold day, the first real taste of winter time to come in lovely dairy country. I added some roasted potato cubes into this meal, alongside the ridge grilled zucchini slices. The salsa on the meatloaf was delicious indeed. I saved enough salsa for two serves of meatloaf.
Of course, with meatloaf, there are other possibilities. Another enjoyable way of finishing off the leftover meatloaf is to thinly slice the loaf and place it into a flat bread of your choice, alongside a good quality relish or chutney and a thick layer of delicious Butter Crunch lettuce leaves. Don’t skimp on the quantity of lettuce mind you. You want to have a good, thick layer of greens in this recipe. You can gild the lilly as they say and top the lot with a mayonnaise if you like. Delicious indeed. If you prefer a crispy, heated up version, leave out the lettuce and add a layer of baby spinach leaves and pop the roll up into a commodious sandwich press. A delicious preparation for Sunday night supper when a break from cooking is appreciated. I would add a bowl of home made soup with this sandwich for a complete meal.
As for the beef burgers and tomato salsa, they will emerge from the freezer another time when I am pressed for time and bereft of ideas of what to put on the tea table. Have sauce, will eat:)
Long live home cooking and baking.