Forget Nigella, she's having a night off

WHEN it comes to the family menu, like many mothers I have a top 10. Okay, maybe that's a bit ambitious, better make that a top five.

This rating system has nothing to do with my family's taste buds and everything to do with what I can throw together quickly on any given week night.

There are 365 days in a year and apart from pizza night (which is every second Tuesday or whenever mama has had one too many chardys to be trusted with the oven) you're sure to hear the same words at my place, "Mum, what's for dinner and when is it going to be ready?"

Tempting as it to reply, "Did you just move in? What do you think is for dinner - roasted stuffed quail with tamarind and thyme served on a bed of ambrosia salad?" I usually reply with "wait and see" which buys me enough time to whip up one of my top five.

Oh sure, thanks to Ramsay, Nigella and Manu, it's all the rage nowadays to carry on with exotic ingredients, intricate recipes and organic this and free range that, but then there's the real world. The world of the tired mid-week mother whose level of interest in creating a five-star meal is on par with her level of cooking skills.

So as a goodwill gesture to other mums who may be struggling to serve up a different meal every night, here's my top five to add to your weekly repertoire.

Meal number one: Pastry Surprise. Take last night's leftovers, disguise them by wrapping in filo pastry, bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes and serve with a green salad. The "surprise" is if anyone actually eats the green salad.

Meal number two: Spag Bol. An oldie but a goodie. Just remember to hide the empty jar before you brag about your secret sauce handed down from great-grandma.

Meal number three: Grilled fish with chips. The reason this dish made it to my top five is more about benefit than flavour. We all know fish is good for you and nutritionists recommend we should eat it at least once a week but the real reason to serve fish, especially grilled or baked, is because it stinks the house out. You'll get one night off from "What's for dinner mum?", because everyone will know what's for dinner - even the neighbours.

Meal number four: Fruit of the earth with baker's bounty. Now this dish can be made a couple of different ways depending on your culinary expertise. Often referred to by its more common name of "baked beans on toast" this meal can be taken to a whole new level by adding a sandwich maker. However your decision to take that step will be dependent on your commitment to cleaning the sandwich maker, also often referred to by its more common name of "that mongrel thing".

And drum roll please - meal number five. Now I understand this isn't for everyone. It's an acquired taste and only the most experienced of suburban chefs will be able to carry it off. Presentation, execution and timing are crucial. If you're prepared to give it a go you'll need one barbecue, one tray of barbecue meat, one pair of barbecue tongs and one hubby who thinks he is a barbecue whiz. The success of this dish is hidden in the subtle blending of these ingredients and the joy is being able to ask someone else, "What's for dinner and when is it going to be ready?"

Topics:  cooking, family taming, opinion, wendy andrews




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