Top Tips: Better Family Meals

I don't know about you, but I find that I cook the same things over and over, week in week out. My culinary repertoire could do with expanding, but finding the time to cook complex meals between breastfeeding, school runs and work can feel a bit daunting. My enthusiasm for cooking is also minimal for two reasons: I am partner to a very talented chef, which means by comparison my meals are unimpressive; and I am a wild and dangerous woman, rebelling against the patriarchy, and though meal times fall to me I am wholly begrudging of conforming to any presumed household roles.

That said, here are some ideas on how to ramp up dinner times, without spending hours slaving away in the kitchen!

Get imaginative with your appliances

We often don't make best use of lots of our kitchen gadgets. Did you know that you can use a bread maker to make pasta, jams, cakes and all sorts of things other than bread? Take a look at theseĀ bread maker recipes for inspiration.

Your slow cooker isn't just for stews too. There are so many imaginative and easy one pot recipes out there, from lobster to rice pudding. You can also make mulled wine or cider too… not strictly a meal but definitely worth a thought! How about making ice cream in your food processor and hash browns in your waffle iron..? The possibilities are endless.

My favourite quick lunch is microwave soup, using frozen veg and blitzing in the food processor to blend. A trick I learned when working in a cafe with a tiny kitchen – and one with surprisingly delicious results.

Delegate, delegate, delegate

It may not always be practical, and it may start off being a little more of a hindrance than a help, but training the kids up to help in the kitchen can be great for them and keep them occupied while also doing something useful. Obviously, we're not talking about toddlers wielding knives and the such, but getting older children to wash the potatoes or peel the carrots can be one less thing we have to do ourselves! Can't delegate to the kids? Then I suggest some in depth pet training instead.

Batch cooking is the way forward

This is advice I know to be true, but I really do fail to follow. I'd love to take a day out to cook all the weeks meals but reality never has it that way for me. If you can do this, great! Otherwise, why not just double your recipe for one meal and slowly build up your freezer stock? Simple!

Master one new dish

Instead of trying to learn a load of new dishes, master one new dish at a time. Think of something that you would really like to learn and practice until you can cook it perfectly without the recipe. Even if it is something simple like mastering the perfect omelette, it's so much nicer to enjoy a well cooked simple dish than lots of mediocre ones.

Be adventurous

I like to have lots of staples in my cupboards which is great for knocking up a cake, but it limits what I cook to what I have in the store cupboard. I notice that when the Chef is home to cook, he introduces many different ingredients into our meals, things that I would never just "have in" but that make a real difference. With a little planning, you can add different elements to your usual meals and have some fun with it.

See that weird shaped vegetable at the greengrocers? Use it! See what happens!

Been branching out in the kitchen too? Share your tips, successes or failures with us below! For further inspiration, find a selection of recipes from our resident chef, Jim Hamilton here.

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