Lucy Corry: The joy of not cooking
Can’t face the kitchen? Lucy Corry knows the feeling.
Do you know what you’re having for dinner tonight? Me neither. Frankly, I just can’t face thinking about it. Sometimes, even people who love to cook cross a culinary rubicon. It’s not the cooking that’s the issue, it’s the mental labour beforehand (ok, sometimes it is the cooking). Perhaps it’s no surprise then that one of my most prized cookbooks is a 1963 edition of The No Cooking Cookbook by the fabulously-named Lillian Langseth-Christensen.
“The world is full of wonderful combinations, eagerly waiting to be tried,” Mrs Langseth-Christensen writes. “The ease in which mix and serve recipes may be followed, the time and annoyance saved in following them and the assurance of unfailing success should all be regarded as bonuses.”
I quite agree. The recipes in The No Cooking Cookbook are inspired by the basic premise of cocktail making: ‘mix and serve’ — though Mrs L-C stretches this a bit with elaborate concoctions like ‘Mousse of Peas’ (pureed tinned peas and onion, folded into whipped cream tinted green with food colouring and set in aspic), Beef Tongue with Oranges (I’ll spare you the description) and an intriguing Iced Paradise Soup that involves various liqueurs beaten into cream and orange juice, decorated with orange slices and fresh mint.
Mrs L-C, a noted artist and designer, wrote dozens of other cookbooks and was something of an authority on Viennese cuisine and culture, so she moved in some fairly high-falutin’ circles. I wager she was probably an excellent party host, if the drinks and canapes sections of the book are anything to go by. The drinks section veers from surprisingly wholesome (a banana, milk and honey smoothie) to surprisingly shocking (would you serve up a drink called ‘The Bishop Misbehaves’?) and her approach to most snacks and sauces is to slosh in some alcohol or add a tin of crab meat.
Unfortunately, this means the book is somewhat short on advice for the modern household where cheddar with vermouth or Eggs Alsace (hard-boiled eggs stuffed with foie gras) might not be so suitable for an average Wednesday night.
So while I appreciate Mrs L-C’s joie de vivre, I’m much more likely to follow the sage advice once given to me by my friend Ann’s wonderful mother-in-law, Joan Browning. Joan changed our lives a decade ago when she introduced us to The Nibbly Tea.
A Nibbly Tea is what you have for dinner when you don’t know what to have for dinner. “You just open the fridge and pull all those little bits of things out,” Joan said, as she conjured a feast for us from a supposedly empty fridge. A Nibbly Tea can be as fancy or as basic as you like. We try to maintain a rough equilibrium between carbohydrates, protein and greens, accompanied by all the “little bits of things” – the last spoonfuls of sauces and chutneys at the back of the fridge – to jazz it up a bit.
In the spring and summer we’ll have at least one Nibbly Tea a week. A really good one means leftovers for lunch the next day, which is an extra bonus. At this time of year it could mean some roasted baby potatoes, some hot-from-the-pan halloumi, perhaps some stir-fried beans and some sliced peppers. For some reason, the cooking involved here doesn’t seem to count…
Pasta also features heavily in my Not Cooking repertoire. My favourite is Pasta with Not Sauce. I know the pasta has to be cooked (things have to be going very badly if I can’t even face boiling water) but the sauce doesn’t.
A Not Sauce could be a finely chopped red onion marinated in red wine vinegar, some olives, capers or anchovies, lots of finely chopped fresh parsley, a handful of currants and perhaps some toasted pine nuts, all bound together with a generous slosh of extra virgin olive oil. Or a slosh of cream, lemon juice and lemon zest, with a shower of freshly grated parmesan. Or some flaked smoked fish, with capers, more lemon juice and zest, some parsley and some greens cooked at the last minute in the pasta pot.
My only rule with a Not Sauce is that it must be able to be assembled in the time that it takes the pasta to cook.
One of the obvious benefits of Not Cooking is that it greatly reduces the cleaning up required afterwards. It also makes the division of labour easier. If you can convince someone in your household to pick up a roast chicken on their way home, then you can turn it into any number of excellent chicken salads (shameless plug: I have two great recipes in Homecooked) and still have enough left over for the next night.
You don’t have to be a genius to understand that the only thing better than not cooking tonight’s dinner is not cooking tomorrow night’s either.