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Are we too keen on quick and easy?

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Fiona Beckett Fiona Beckett | 12:43 UK time, Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The new crop of spring cookery books is out and as usual publishers seem to be convinced they’re onto a winner with titles featuring the words ‘quick’, ‘easy’ and ‘simple’. (‘Slimming World’s Extra Easy All-in-One’ must tick every box going.)

It’s the same with cookery mags and even estimable cookery sites such as this one have endless links for 'quick and easy' recipes of every type. The implication being that . . . well . .  cooking is really a terrible drag, to be got through, like housework, as quickly as possible.

OK, there are some people who loathe cooking and - to my eternal bewilderment - prefer swabbing their work surfaces, but what are the rest of us saving time for? Ironically, it seems, to watch cookery programmes like Masterchef or Come Dine with Me where contestants take a lot more time and trouble making a meal than the viewers are prepared to.

Baked pappardelle with porcini and pancetta

Simon Hopkinson's Baked pappardelle with pancetta and porcini defers gratification by all of forty minutes - too long to wait?

Maybe we’re just too ambitious: overawed by the clever creations we see on telly we just give up. When I was brought up, my mother - not a great cook, admittedly - had a limited repertoire. Monday and Tuesday used up leftovers from the roast. There would be macaroni cheese another night (my favourite), mince another. If it was Friday we knew it would be fish - grilled plaice usually. It wasn’t too demanding because they were all familiar friends.

TV implies that every meal must be accompanied by a frenzy of chopping, sizzling and flipping but all many recipes need is 10 minutes preparation than an hour or so left to their own devices.

But the array of convenience foods you find in the average supermarket implies we’re not even prepared to do these simple tasks. Vegetables are peeled and cut up for us, cheese ready-grated, bread - of course - pre-sliced. That’s nothing new.

OK it’s not easy to rustle up a family meal night after night when you get home from work, but what’s wrong with cooking ahead for nights you know you’re going to be late? I used to use the freezer constantly when my kids were growing up. (Ed. Have you seen our make and freeze collection?)

And there’s no reason why the load should always fall on one family member. Once kids are older they can help out. Even reluctant cooks should have one speciality they’re prepared to cook once a week. A bit more fun than the cleaning the bathroom rota, surely?

Grilled lamb with feta

Some dishes are naturally easier - like Nigel Slater's Grilled lamb with feta - and can be tackled by a novice cook.

If you live on your own it’s harder, I realise, but if when your friends come round you put them to work in the kitchen rather than shouldering the load of rustling up a meal single-handed then you don’t have to stick to recipes that can be cooked at speed. Cooking is companionable, as any Italian family will tell you.

So how do you manage juggling work and feeding the family? Do you enjoy spending time in the kitchen or are you a sucker for speedy recipes? Give the rest of us your tips!


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm a bit of both, as I work really long hours, during the week I tend to go for the quick and easy when I get home. At weekends I indulge and cook more elaborate things and take my time. It's a nice balance.

  • Comment number 2.

    Cooking ahead, and cooking extra batches and freezing those for quick nights is my preferred way to cover the gaps. But slow roasting and crock pots are also great ways to minimize prep time and have a meal ready to go after work. But even just roasting a chicken and veg in a pan involves 5-10 minutes of work, 1.5 hours of playing with my kids, and then eating dinner.

  • Comment number 3.

    As a student I love quick and easy food and I think that fresh simple food using good ingredients is essential. I don't eat much meat so find that it really doesn't take long to boil some pasta and blanch some fresh veg, poach an egg to make a great meal. Although I do sometimes make up large batches of ratatouille I find it's a hassle to freeze when I only have one shelf and a nuisance to have a large tub of sauce clogging up my shelf in the fridge. I do love cooking more time intensive things when there's my whole family to eat it and I'm not paying for the electricity though!

  • Comment number 4.

    When I was working full time the quick and easy option was important to me and the "slow" stuff kept for the weekend. I was made redundant last year. One of the greatest pleasures of being at home all day is being able to spend the time that I want to in the kitchen. For example, today I made an onion tart that involved long slow caramelisation of the onions - something I would not have had time for on a week night when I was working. I just love spending my time in the kitchen and am grateful that I now have the time to do it!

  • Comment number 5.

    You said it yourself with "TV implies that every meal must be accompanied by a frenzy of chopping, sizzling and flipping but all many recipes need is 10 minutes preparation than an hour or so left to their own devices." There's your quick and easy, in one fell swoop! As a disabled person who can't dot about the kitchen whizzing this, frying that, rolling the other, I find good "quick and easies" a real boon.

  • Comment number 6.

    I am currently a student working about 60+ hours a week in the run up to my finals. For me, cooking and making are down time that I savour - pottering around in the kitchen can be very therapeutic. I have also recently started baking as a stress relief - honestly making macarons is less stressful than my studies!!! Saying that, some evenings I just throw some meat and potatoes in the oven, pop some veggies on from the freezer and take the time to chill. It's all about balance - do what makes you happy. I love eating good food, it gives me pleasure, I also love feeding other people.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am about to try out a cake recipe - the oven temperature is given for 180C/Gas 4 - is this the setting for fan heated ovens?

  • Comment number 8.

    Interesting and timely question and subject-matter.
    In the USA, since the advent of the mostly appalling cooking or food channel and it's "celebrity" cooks or chefs (some of who's credentials are shaky to say the least) and stupid, over-hyped competitions like "Iron Chef", it has been shown that more people are WATCHING food shows and COOKING less.
    One imagines them sitting in front of the big screen with huge slobbery, delivered pizzas, MickeyD burgers and gassy drinks "ooh-ing" and "ahh-ing" at food porn shows from Napa to Nantucket and Singapore to Scotland.
    I've loved deeply-flavored food and cooking since I was in my teens in the Scottish Borders (my mother was a brilliant natural cook) and even when a student in Edinburgh, was known for always having something good to share if somebody "dropped in" and subsequently all over the world, where I thrived in the street-food cultures from India, Indonesia, Singapore, all over South and Central Americas and many others.
    I personally think that "Quick and easy" is almost a pandemic, an open invite to mediocrity and a product of the corporate era where, at least in the USA, people live to work and work to shop! Not to say that everything has to be long, drawn-out and labour intensive either, as wok-based cooking ably demonstrates but in the current context, I find "quick and easy" the culinary equivalent of Karaoke as opposed to live music and is -in my 'umble opinion, both fear and vanity based (Food and drink is marketed here for it's allegedly "Healthy and "Slimming" or "Lite" qualities -a true oxymoron, as it has just been processed even more to remove any scraps of surviving flavor) -but obesity is everywhere apparent anyway!
    Yet people look aghast if I make a rich and deeply flavourful steak and kidney pud' or pie with my own flaky butter pastry (my mother's recipe), or ask for pork that has NOT had the fat and crackling trimmed off; -and don't even mention Haggis (my favorite response being "do you know what goes into Ball Park Hot Dogs?"). I could go on but hopefully you get the point as related to the subject.
    How are such things in the UK these days -haven't been back for five years?

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with quick and easy , Just as long as it is done properly , An omelette or a 10 min pasta dish etc can be just as good as one taking hours to produce ,Sure in an ideal world we would all spend hours cooking but often a busy life does not allow ..

  • Comment number 11.

    Quick and easy certainly has it's place. For some people, spending time in the kitchen is a chore and a bore. Quick and easy cookbooks therefore can provide a range of simple dishes using a range of flavour combinations which they might not have previously considered. Personally I love to spend time in the kitchen and try to alternate a quick and easy dish with something that requires a bit more preparation, but I'll do some of the prep the day before eg making pastry, sweating down onions etc so they are ready. I find it really helps to plan a weekly menu, to avoid wastage and to allocate tasks to family members so everyone chips in. I confess I love to spend Saturday afternoons baking!

  • Comment number 12.

    Cooking ahead, and cooking extra batches and freezing those for quick nights is my preferred way to cover the gaps. But slow roasting and crock pots are also great ways to minimize prep time and have a meal ready to go after work. But even just roasting a chicken and veg in a pan involves 5-10 minutes of work, 1.5 hours of playing with my kids, and then eating dinner.
    My URL IS [Unsuitable URL removed by Moderator]>

  • Comment number 13.

    I am watching BBC World news regulerly.In terms of local area corspondent i noticed one issue that in Indian subcontinent countries all of them have there own country man as BBC's local corespondent except Bangladesh.It is very painfull and shoking.BBC is not capable to find one Bangladeshi born corespondet from 170 million people for thair own. What a sad.

  • Comment number 14.

    It's the shopping that takes the time - once you have the right things you should be able to rustle up great tasting, healthy nosh quickly.

  • Comment number 15.

    Wanna be gastronaughts learn the jargon by watching the ever increasing number of foodie programmes but in my experience fail to deliver when it comes to slapping something on the table.

  • Comment number 16.

    Speedy eating requires expensive cuts of meat with fancy veg and fresh herbs. I see many recipes using fillet of beef, chicken breast etc and unless you want to buy some cheap, factory raised tat then its no good for a family - its not economical nor is it ethical in some ways. Having raised animals for a meat business I know the amount of waste and ridiculously expensive these cuts are, its no good. Quick cooking requires prime cuts of flash fly meats. If I want a super quick meal then I make omelettes, pre-made foods etc. We should be teaching people to plan ahead, make lists and when making - do batch not just feed one meal. Seeing that so many people say they can 'multi-task' and have 'organisation' skills I dont see parents putting priority in menu planning for a healthy and varied diet.


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