When it comes to wholesome home-cooking, the most common complaint that I hear from people is that they simply don’t have time to cook. I used to face the same dilemma – after a long day at work and a tedious drive home, I would often find that I had little time to whip up anything substantial, let alone healthy for dinner.
But after many years of cooking I finally learnt that if you shop for your food at a good quality outlet – be it your back garden or local market, most of the hard work is already done for you. Nutrient dense, whole foods require very little food preparation and when sourced fresh – be it picked from a tree, or fished from a local ocean they are ready to eat – require very little cooking, flavouring or fiddling-around-with.
So of course, this is what brings me back to the beauty and benefits of fresh market shopping: all the food is fresh, wholesome and for the most part, locally sourced. Most of the time all that you need to do to ‘prepare’ your meal is get out the dinner plates and set the table.
With this in mind, it surprised me to find that most 10 minute meals found on Google feature processed and pre-packaged ingredients. Ingredients that come out of a can, out of a freezer or have been stored at the supermarket for a period of months. The ‘effort’ required in cooking them usually involves unwrapping them and placing them in the microwave. Why do we associate quick and easy cooking with foods that are processed, pre-packaged and artificially flavoured?
So, I braved the market on a frosty morning earlier this week. I wanted to see how many dishes I could prepare from fresh market ingredients in less than 10 minutes. I left with an abundance of freshly sourced food – organic vegetables, grass-fed meat and locally-sourced seafood – foods that require very little effort other than a quick pan-fry or salad-toss to make them delicious and ready-to-eat. I also had the opportunity to stock my fridge with plentiful nutrient-dense snacks: home-made spanakopita, artisan cheeses and freshly prepared dips and pickled fish.
What I realized during the course of this shopping trip is that the benefits of shopping at the market go far beyond fresh, local and sustainable produce. Many of the storeholders prepare dishes using recipes and techniques that were passed down to them by their parents or grandparents. Their home-prepared dishes – be it home-spun bourek, or traditional spanakopita – are made with the same love and care of their home kitchens passed down through many generations.
These foods are very different from the convenient items available at the supermarket or fast food outlet– those which are packaged, and pre-prepared several miles away. Many pre-packaged supermarket foods might also be convenient and easy to prepare, but they lack the nutrients and flavour of fresh, home-cooked food.
Shopping tips for cooks-in-a-hurry:
- Look for ready-made, nutrient-dense food items that can keep well in your fridge or freezer: ie home-made chicken stock, good quality artisan cheeses, ready-made pickles, dips and home-made deli goods.
- For foods that require minimal cooking, look for fresh seafood that can be eaten raw or quickly pan-fried. Try some oysters, mussels or sashimi-grade tuna. Also opt for the quicker-cooking cuts of meat such as steak, mince – which can be made in to hamburgers, or eye fillet – which can be diced and turned into steak tartare.
- Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, parsnips and onions can keep well in your pantry or fridge during the week. They also go deliciously well in winter-warming recipes such as soups, stews and casseroles.
- Try to squeeze in a market trip before work or during a lunchbreak. Although much quieter than later in the day, the market atmosphere is literally buzzing in the morning, and you’ll be glad you got up that half-hour earlier than usual when you sit down to a warm coffee or hot donut amidst the market chaos.
Seasonal produce this week:
Beautiful winter fruit such as apples, custard apples, citrus fruit, kiwifruit, nuts, papayas, passionfruit, pears, persimmons, quinces and rhubarb.
Winter vegetables such as Asian greens, avocados, beetroot, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, fennel, garlic, ginger, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, okra, olives, onions, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins, shallots, silverbeet, spinach, swedes, sweet potatoes, turnips and witlof.
Quick-and-easy Saffron Straciatella
Chicken soup is one of the most nourishing foods that you can enjoy during wintertime. I was pleased to find this recipe, which required less than 10 minutes of cooking to deliver a truly satisfying and wholesome meal.
1 litre chicken stock (try K & L Poultry)*
Several sprigs of saffron (try Stall 38: Asian Groceries)
3 free-range eggs (try K & L Poultry or any of the deli’s)
½ cup grated parmesan cheese (try Theo’s or Emerald Hill)
1 slice of stale bread, pureed into breadcrumbs (try Vangeli’s for a good loaf of sourdough)
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (try any of the fruiterers)
In a medium-sized saucepan bring the stock up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add in the saffron and stir well. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, and then add the cheese, breadcrumbs and parsley. Season to taste.
Gently pour in half of the chicken stock to the egg mixture and continue to whisk. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and keep the mixture simmering. Within a minute you should notice the eggs thicken and cook. Turn the stove off immediately and pour the soup into individual serving bowls. Serve with a generous garnish of flat-leaf parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.
* I was super excited to see that K & L Fresh Poultry are now selling ready-made chicken stock. The stock is made using their own free-range chicken bones with fresh vegetables and herbs. If you happen to have ever attended one of my cooking classes you would be aware that I am passionate about good-quality, home-made chicken and meat stock, which is FAR superior to any ready-made stock cube or stock mix that you buy at the supermarket. But if you can’t make your stock at home, K & L Poultry can do the job for you! If you have a preference for organic, free-range chicken stock, try purchasing some carcasses from Tom’s Butcher and make it yourself.
Quail egg and bacon salad:
This light and breezy salad is quick and easy to prepare – you should have it cooked in just on 10 minutes. You can buy quail eggs from several of the fresh food outlets – including K & L Fresh Poultry.
18 quail eggs (try K & L Poultry)
4 large rashes of bacon (I enjoyed Barossa Bacon strips from Tom’s Butcher)
2 cups fresh green beans, topped and tailed and cut in half (any of the fruiterers)
4-5 medium sized potatoes, washed and cut into bite-sized cubes (as above)
1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half (as above)
1 packet (3 cups) organic winter salad mix (try South Melbourne Market Organics)
2 tsp cumin seeds (try Stall 38: Asian Groceries)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (try Patrina’s Potatoes and Herbs or any of the deli stores)
½ tsp apple cider vinegar (try South Melbourne Market Organics)
½ tsp balsamic vinegar (try Steve’s deli, Vangeli’s Deli or Rita’s Coffee & Nut Shop)
Heat a large fry pan to a medium heat and add a little bit of cooking fat (try a small dash of olive oil or butter). Cut the bacon into bite-size pieces and place it on one side of the pan and place the tomatoes, cut-side down on the other side of the pan. Allow the bacon to fry until evenly cooked on both sides. Don’t worry about turning the tomatoes over. Just let them simmer away.
In a vegetable steamer, place the potatoes and beans and allow them to cook until the potatoes are just soft, and the beans are al dente. Remove them from the steamer. Allow the potatoes to cool and rinse the green beans under cold water. Shake off any excess liquid and combine the potatoes and beans together in a mixing bowl, season to taste and then toss through the olive oil dressing. Stir through the salad leaves and place them in the serving bowl. Sprinkle the bacon and tomatoes on top.
Finally, in a small saucepan filled with boiling water, add the quail eggs and allow them to boil for 3 minutes. Drain them from the saucepan, then place them in a bowl full of iced water. Peel the shells from each of the eggs. The iced water will help the shells separate from the eggs. Toss the eggs with fresh cumin seeds and a sprinkling of sea salt. Place them on top of the salad and serve.
Frittatas are one of the quickest and easiest meals to prepare when you arrive home late from work. You can interchange the vegetables and fillings as you like – I often substitute the broccoli for a fresh handful of silverbeet from the garden but leftover baked pumpkin and parsnip also works well.
1 small head of broccoli, chopped into small, bite-size pieces (try any of the fresh produce stores)
1 tsp dried oregano (try stall 38: Asian Groceries)
4-5 eggs (try K & L Poultry or any of the fresh food outlets. South Melbourne Organics sells organic, free-range eggs).
70 grams gruyere cheese, grated (try Emerald Hill)
1 heaped tbsp sour cream (try Emerald Hill)
1 heaped tbsp spring onions, finely chopped (try any of the fresh food stores)
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs with a fork. Add the remaining ingredients and season to taste. Place a small (20cm diameter), oven-proof omelet pan on a high heat. Line the pan with a little olive oil and butter. Pour in the egg mixture. Cook on a high heat until edges are lightly browned. Transfer the pan to a preheated oven and cook at 2500C for 5 minutes or until the eggs are sufficiently cook. Serve immediately with a fresh salad.
Pan-fried banana with butterscotch sauce:
I realize that bananas are not the cheapest or most popular fruit at the moment, but these soft little beauties were on special at South Melbourne Organics and I just couldn’t resist. The butterscotch sauce was a real winner and I used the leftovers to pour over our porridge the next morning.
4 medium-sized bananas (try South Melbourne Market Organics)
2 tbsp butter, plus extra for frying (try Steve’s Deli or any of the other delis)
½ cup brown sugar (try Billington’s Natural Molasses Sugar available at Vangeli’s)
¼ cup cream, plus extra to serve (try Emerald Hill or any of the delis)
a few drops of vanilla extract
½ cup white sugar
Start by making the butterscotch sauce: Place the white sugar in a small saucepan and place on a medium heat with 1 tsp of water. Bring to a boil and allow the sugar to caramelise. Combine the butter with the cream, brown sugar and vanilla and add this to the white sugar. Reduce the heat and continue to stir the sauce until it thickens (usually just under a minute).
Meanwhile, place a large fry pan onto a high heat and add 1 tsp of butter into the pan. Peel the bananas and allow them to brown on either side. Remove the bananas from the pan and either serve them whole or cut them into bite size pieces. Drizzle on the butterscotch sauce and add a dollop of cream. Serve immediately.