Tired of deciding what to cook?

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“I’m just buying loads of food and hoping it might arrange itself into a meal like monkeys writing Shakespeare.”

That’s my creative caption for the featured photo. Are you tired of deciding what to cook for your family week after week? Are you stuck in a rut, cooking the same things every week? Are you tired of buying expensive ingredients to try something new, only to have your kids reject it?

I know I am. In my house, I’m responsible for cooking 3 days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My husband does the other days, and he is a much more creative and resourceful cook. Moreover, he doesn’t get quite so cross about the soul-destroying experience of slaving over a hot stove to produce something the kids won’t even eat.

So from a combination of being busy with work and a general sense of ennui, I rely on the same old failsafes every week. And even I’m getting tired of it.

I do “Freezer Food Monday”, which is fish fingers or previously frozen Richmond sausages, accompanied by potato waffles and frozen peas (I do cook the peas; I don’t serve them frozen. I’m not that bad). Come on, don’t judge me … it’s Monday and I can’t be bothered. If we’re all very lucky, we had a roast chicken on Sunday and instead of freezer food I mix the leftover chicken with a jar of Korma curry sauce.

We then have “Mince Wednesday”. My kids are mad for mince, so I might as well be the one to cook it for them. I usually do a mild chilli con carne (the Hairy Bikers one is best) or a spag bol. But I get so bored and think there must be some more ways to serve the mince.

The week is rounded off by Pizza Friday. Usually it’s one of those ones they make for you in Morrisons. Sometimes we get one delivered or even occasionally go out for one. When the day is very special, I buy the pizza bases and other ingredients and we build our own. I’m quite happy with Pizza Friday, actually. I’m sure I read somewhere that a pizza each week keeps you on fleek. Although I am over the age of 30 so I don’t actually know what that means.

In any case, I really would like – for my own sanity if not for the sake of expanding my children’s tastebud horizons – to try some other stuff. But the problem for me is that the stakes (and the price of the steaks) are too high. I don’t want to make things that require a lot of effort and expensive ingredients, only to have my kids reject it.

This very website actually has some great family-friendly recipes to try out if you’re in a rut (written by a mate of mine, not me, in case you didn’t realise I had a reclusive guest poster). But another cool idea is to try out new recipe subscription service, Mum’s Meal Planner. This is a small business venture by a normal mum named Becky, who felt just the same about the difficulty of getting meal inspiration.

The way her service works is you pay £2.50 per month, and she sends you a weekly email with a whole week worth of meals (and 2 substitutes on the list if you really don’t like some of the main options). This is accompanied by a full shopping list that will cover everything for the week and use all of the ingredients without excess waste.

I’ve been getting her emails for a while now and I’m really impressed by the variety of easy recipes that keep things a bit fresh, along with the convenient shopping list. As I don’t cook every day of the week, I don’t use all of the recipes, but I enjoy getting some options each week to choose from. It’s fantastic that they’re all easy to follow even for those among us (like me) who have the bare minimum of culinary skills.

For this “Mince Wednesday”, I tried doing her cottage pie and beans recipe. There is minimal chopping and throwing the can of beans in adds loads of flavour and bulk with a minimum of effort. It tasted just as good as the much more labour-intensive cottage pie we usually make. It had a bit less depth of flavour (because our usual one has wine and worcestershire sauce in it), but that’s all well and good when you’re feeding children (the culinary cretins). My husband and I both really enjoyed it.

Sadly, my kids basically still didn’t eat it. But I didn’t mind so much because the expense and effort was low. Normally, when I worked so hard on a meal and my kids don’t eat it, I’m all like:

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But I didn’t feel that way today because the meal was low effort. I just shrugged and cracked open a beer. I’m looking forward to trying more of Becky’s meals. I’m sure my kids will find one or two they might deign to eat.

Becky subscribed me to her service for free for a short time so I could evaluate the service, but this is my honest opinion. I just like helping out small businesses. 

Mission Mindfulness

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Tortilla Soup recipe

Pretty much any restaurant that serves Mexican food serves a version of Tortilla Soup. It’s brothy, fragrant and delicately spiced. Most recipes ask you to have a bit of shredded chicken on hand to pour the broth over when serving. I don’t usually have baked or boiled chicken laying around, unless I have a leftover roast that hasn’t been picked bare, so my recipe includes cooking the chicken in the broth. As per the name, tortillas are usually grilled and sliced to top the soup, but I’ve found a handful or corn or flour tortilla chips add the texture, flavour and namesake without the fuss of grilling my own.

If you haven’t tried Mexican soups, you haven’t truly embraced the winter warmer. This is a simple dish, but the depth of flavour may surprise you. Many recipes for tortilla soup have as little as four spices, keeping a clear broth to pour over shredded chicken. I like to incorporate as many vegetables as possible when cooking for my family, so I load this one up with onion, carrot, white beans and tomato. I also thinly slice chicken breast whilst still slightly frozen, and then boil it in the soup to keep it moist and tender, and add natural chicken flavour to the soup. This allows the chicken to begin to shred after boiling away for just twenty minutes or so. It’s an all in one pot, midweek meal that smells and tastes amazing.

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You’ll need:

  • 1 teaspoon oil of choice
  • 1 cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (fresh or dried)
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1 8oz tin diced tomato
  • 1 tin 8oz white/cannellini beans
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano flakes
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (optional depending on kids’ heat threshold)
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4-6 cups of water
  • 2 cups chopped coriander/cilantro (fresh is best)
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 small bag of corn or flour tortilla chips the break up on top when serving
  • Optional shredded cheese for serving

The method:

It’s easiest to prepare your chicken first, so that you have clean hands for stirring and adding spices. I like to slice chicken breast when it’s slightly frozen, so this dish is perfect for a packet I’ve had out thawing for dinner. Fresh chicken (or no chicken for the vegetarians) is still perfectly wonderful – I just tend to keep small freezer bags with meal-size portions of chicken and minced beef on hand for meal planning. Slice the chicken against the grain in thin strips. I find this works best for the shredding you want to achieve in a short amount of time.

I like to do this in one pot, so I begin with heating the oil, onions and garlic together over a medium high heat in a large soup pot. After a minute or two, the onions should be translucent and the garlic lightly frying.

Add the grated carrot, tomato and salt, and stir into the mixture. Drain and rinse the beans before adding to the pot.

Once the beans are mixed in, add the dry spices and give it a good stir before allowing it to bubble.

Once the tomato and carrots have softened slightly – 5 minutes or so should do the trick – add the chicken slices and just coat with the mixture.

Add the water straight away to avoid frying the chicken, you want the chicken to be submerged to boil.  

Allow the water to come to the boil before adding your chopped coriander.

Once the pot is bubbling nicely, the chicken will go white quickly and the beans will begin to break down. I have been known to add only half of the tin of beans to begin with, and save the second half for later to retain texture, but it’s up to you if you want to add this step.

I allow this soup to boil with the cover on for about 15 minutes before reducing the temperature to a simmer and removing the lid. This helps the chicken to soften and absorb the flavours of the soup.

You can let this simmer for ages, but it’ll be ready after 30 minutes if you’re hungry – even sooner if you just make the broth and pour it over leftover chicken or no chicken at all.

To serve, my kids like this ladled over rice, with a few corn chips broken on top. I love a big, steamy bowl as it is, a couple of corn chips and a small handful of shredded cheese on top. My husband just wants a bowl of soup with a few drops of hot sauce and he’s happy. However you take it, this is a family favourite that offers a Mexican flare and isn’t heavy with refried beans and cheese. It’s veggie packed, bursting with flavour and aroma, and is sure to make your family think you slaved for hours to get such succulent chicken. Buen apetito!

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Sparkly Mummy
A Mum Track Mind