I know there are people who read my blog who are far too ill to make their own meals, but for those of you who are ill but “well” enough to cook you’ll know how absolutely exhausting, and often painful, it is. There are days, weeks even months when I can barely stand upright long enough to clean my teeth or make a brew let alone spend an hour cooking a meal. However, my diet is so restricted due to my histamine intolerance I’m not able to buy much of anything pre-prepared from a supermarket, so if I want to eat I absolutely have to cook. I have found ways of making that easier, though, which I thought I’d share with you.
On the days I feel up to cooking I batch make several meals and freeze them. I’ll make 8 burgers at a time, wait for them to cool, wrap them in clingfilm, pop them in a tupperware box and freeze them. I make burrito fillings, the base for a lentil bake, shepherd’s pie, curries, soups, pates, spreads, pies etc. (not all in one day I hasten to add) and freeze them, making enough for 4-8 people so that I have a couple of month’s worth of meals. I also make several jars of red pepper sauce, chilli sauce, pesto etc. and freeze those too. I even make a weeks worth of smoothies and freeze them in individual tupperware beakers, defrosting one each day. All this means that I only have to cook once a week which saves huge amounts of energy.
Of course, not everything is freezable so when I make a lentil bake, for example, I make and freeze the lentil base but make the pasta/cheese topping fresh on the day I’m going to eat it which only takes 15 minutes. I make and freeze burrito fillings and pesto, then on the day I want to eat them I heat the filling in the microwave, spread my pesto over my tortilla, add the filling, add some mozzarella, and place in the oven for 5 minutes to warm through.
2. PRE-PREPARED FOODS
Pre-diced frozen onions are one of the best inventions known to man and taste no different to fresh onions. Of course, you can’t use them in a meal which you are going to freeze but they’re great if you are making a fresh dish. Other than that I’m not a fan of frozen veg, but Marks & Spencer do gorgeous fresh veggie tubs, which just need to be microwaved for 4 minutes (although they are expensive). They even do fresh mash and hand-cut chips if you’re too knackered to make your own.
Due to my EDS I really struggle to chop up hard veg like carrots, squash and parsnips but many of the supermarkets do fresh pre-prepared and chopped veggies although again they aren’t cheap for the amount you get – they’re fab for a quick stir-fry though.
I’ve found that Supermarket ‘finest’ ranges usually have superior ingredients and are very low in additives and preservatives compared to the regular or cheaper ranges, so it’s worth checking out the finest range to see if there is anything you can buy in the ready meal or ready-sauce aisle. Making every single thing from scratch is beyond me some days and it’s great to have a back-up ready meal in the freezer I can just shove in the oven or microwave. The same goes for things like pastry – there’s no way I’d faff on making my own, so compromise with ready made and ready rolled from the supermarket, even if it does contain “mono and di-glycerides of fatty acids” whatever the hell they may be (I try not to think about it!).
It goes without saying that if you’re going to be batch cooking and freezing lots of meals you’re going to need a lot of freezer space. I have a tall fridge freezer in my kitchen, but bought another upright freezer for my shed ( I didn’t want a chest freezer as I struggle to bend and an upright takes up much less room). Do check, though, if you buy a freezer for a shed or garage that it’s suitable for use outdoors, as not all of them are! Get yourself some freezer labels from Lakeland Ltd to label all your jars and meals – they’re brill and peel off without leaving any sticky residue (just don’t get them wet!).
I couldn’t live without my food processor, which doubles up as a liquidiser for my smoothies. It takes all the exertion out of chopping veg and there’s no way on earth I’d be able to make things like pesto or mayonnaise without it. As I have a small kitchen I like the Kenwood multi-pro as it only takes up a small amount of counter space.
Electric soup makers are fab. You bung everything in there, press a button and 20 minutes later out comes either smooth or chunky soup. I learned the hard way to always place some vegetable oil in the base first to stop the ingredients sticking and burning, and that the soup maker will cut out if you overfill so I now place everything in a plastic measuring jug first to make sure I haven’t gone over the limit, but other than that they are so easy to use. Mine even has a self-clean button and of course you can freeze any left-over soup.
As I either make my own bread, or buy an uncut yeast-free loaf from a local deli, I bought an electric food slicer similar to this one so that I could cut even bread slices. There’s nothing worse than door-step sandwiches or wafer thin toast and I use my food slicer at least twice a day, every day.
A good stool is a must as there’s no way I could stand for the length of time it takes to make a meal. I found the perching stool given to me by Social Services was way too big and took up too much room, plus I found the fact it was sloped at the front uncomfortable, so I just use a simple tall bar stool with a back rest.
Timers are a must. I’ll leave something to cook in the oven or on the hob, go into the lounge for a lie down and totally forget it’s there. I’ve nearly burned the house down on a dozen occasions! So I always use a portable digital timer, the type which clips onto your belt but also has a magnet on so can be left on the fridge when not in use.
It goes without saying that my Dishwasher is one of my bestest friends 😉 I was bought a set of pans with detachable handles as a present which means they take up less room in the dishwasher, important when you’re batch cooking and have lots of washing up to do.
My other best friend is my Superkettle/water boiler. I fill it with water once a day and have permanently boiling water 24/7 at the press of a button. I freakin’ love my water boiler not least because having to constantly tip my regular kettle killed my wrists, plus I don’t waste energy standing waiting for a kettle to boil 20 times a day.
I have a small set of American measuring cups, which I use for things like pasta and rice. I’ve found the ½ cup filled level is exactly 3oz of rice which is my usual portion for a risotto and the 1 cup is exactly 3oz of penne pasta which is my usual portion for a pasta bake – little things that just make life easier than having to get your weighing scales out.
Of course, most of this stuff is expensive so I’ve had to gradually build up my equipment range over a number of years. I’m that rare woman who was actually pleased to get a food processor for Christmas or delighted to get a food slicer for my birthday 😀
4. THOSE SLIPPING STANDARDS AGAIN!
It takes me a whole day and half to cook anything from scratch. Firstly I prepare the ingredients, then I have a brew and something to eat because that’s used up a fair amount of energy and I’m already feeling it. Then I do the actual cooking. Then I have a longer rest and more food. A few hours later I stack the dishwasher, though I can guarantee if I’ve batch cooked it won’t all fit in, so I tidy the rest of the dirty pots up on the counter where they stay until the next morning because by then my energy has completely conked. The next day I unstack the dishwasher and re-fill it with the rest of yesterday’s dishes, although sometimes I’m so exhausted they’re still there on day number 3 😉 .
My super-woman, perfectionist, pre-ill self hates the fact my kitchen looks like a bomb has hit it for two whole days each week, but my ill self knows it’s that or nothing and just prays I don’t have any visitors 😉