All those who are fed up with cooking, figuratively and literally, raise your hands.
I thought so. After all that festive planning, shopping, preparing and serving, why can't one just send a plaintive note up the chimney and have a Mary Poppins fly in to supply effortless meals for the next month?
Alas, I don't have any magic words. What I do have are some simple recipes that could be described as "practically perfect in every way." The first two are adapted from Modern Vegetarian Cookery by Walter and Jenny Fliess.
SPINACH CREAM SOUP
1 250-gr. packet frozen spinach
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. oil
4 Tbsp. flour
a bit more than 1â„2 liter stock or water
a bit more than 1â„2 liter milk
salt to taste
pinch of nutmeg
Cook the spinach on low heat, stirring continuously until soft. Press
out the liquid into the stock; chop the spinach. Set aside. Saute the onion in the oil until golden. Add the flour and cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Add the stock and milk and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the spinach, salt and nutmeg. Serve with croutons.
1 little over 1 liter stock or water
1 large head of celery, cut into 1.5-cm. pieces
2 small carrots, sliced
3 Tbsp. butter or oil
1 tsp. yeast extract (like Marmite)
1 tsp. salt or celery salt
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and add the celery. Stew without water for 5 minutes, then add the stock or water and salt and cook, covered, for 20-30 minutes until the celery is nearly soft. Add the yeast extract, the rest of the butter or oil, and the carrots. Simmer for 10-20 minutes until the carrots are soft. Serve with chopped parsley.
FISH NIGHT once a week is our current thing, and nothing gives such a satisfied feeling without a hint of heaviness. This is the reigning favorite:
1 bream (denise) filleted, per person
fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
Buy your fish from a reputable fishmonger. Lay the fillets on an oiled tray and rub olive oil gently into them. Season, then sprinkle generously with lemon juice. Grill under medium heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the fish looks done. Test with a fork.
TO GO with the fish we like potato chunks steamed or boiled, and this side dish:
GARLICKY GREEN BEANS
whole green beans
a few tbsp. olive oil
garlic cloves, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
It's worth making your own bread crumbs if you can - I use a delicious, nutty, whole wheat loaf from my supermarket that keeps very well in the fridge, whizzing a couple of torn-up slices around in the grinder attachment to my blender. It takes just a minute.
Trim the beans and steam (or boil) them until barely tender. Drain well. Saute the garlic in the oil for a few seconds, then add the bread crumbs, lower the heat and mix well. Turn off the heat. Add the beans and mix.
Lazy option: Steam the beans until just tender, drain and serve. I do this when Eastenders is about to start on the telly and I'm counting every minute.
I INCLUDE the following recipe in case you've been tempted to buy this interesting fruit but haven't quite known what to do with it - and also because I wanted an excuse to share a bit of trivia: Film extras in crowd scenes used to be told by their directors to say "Rhubarb, rhubarb" over and over again to each other, to give the impression of animated conversion. For all I know, they still do.
RHUBARB COMPOTE IN THE OVEN
500 gr. rhubarb
3â„4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. water
Put half the rhubarb, cut into 2.5-cm. pieces, into a casserole. Sprinkle with half the sugar. Add the remaining rhubarb and sugar and sprinkle with the water. Cover and bake at 190 for 40 minutes, stirring once.
2 egg whites
1â„2 cup caster (superfine) sugar
2 cups ground almonds
1 level Tbsp. cinnamon
Beat the whites into stiff peaks. Fold in everything else. Wet hands and form into balls. Bake on a greased tray at 170 for 25 minutes, or until just firm. Roll in confectioner's (icing) sugar while warm, and again when cold. Makes about 24 balls.
This and the previous recipe are from Evelyn Rose's The Complete International Jewish Cookbook.