Desperation dinners

Quick fix ....  good scrambled eggs are almost soupy.

Quick fix .... good scrambled eggs are almost soupy. Photo: Julian Kingma

There are some shameful episodes in my past. No, not the guilty McDonald’s Filet-O-Fishes or the dodgy floppy kebabs, the pizzas indistinguishable from the flat-packs in which they arrive or the execrable supermarket freezer dinners-in-boxes.

I’m remembering instead, wretched late-evening meals pulled together when weariness is saturating, cash is short or the fridge is like an art installation, full of condiments and dead things.

The burnt toast and the canned soup and the cheese-on-crackers. The quinoa porridge (the Rotorua mud pool of suppers) attempted during a fleeting, misguided health-farmish phase and rejected even by the compost worms. The murky, scavenged-vegetable soup made with good intentions but no clue. The “taco” assembled from ancient frozen pita bread and leftover curry (I can only explain the creative muse for that last to a glass or more of something white and crisp on the way home.)

I’ve discussed the pressing first-world problem of desperation dinners with friends and realise I have a great deal to learn. One buddy, who has eaten at stellar restaurants from New York to Barcelona, keeps her freezer stocked with bags of pork and chive dumplings from her local Asian grocer. "I do a mountain of dumplings and slurp them down with black vinegar," she says. "It's basically starch, meat and some chemicals." (This particular friend still pines for her days living in Manhattan, where she kept a “library” of home-delivery menus. Meat-loaf sandwiches from the Lyric Diner on 3rd Avenue, noodles from the Laotian place around the corner, udon from the local Japanese.)


Another friend reports on her impressive efforts: “I have taken to doing quick couscous, with currants, spring onions, Italian parsley from the garden, pine-nuts or slivered almonds, and whatever not-too-ancient veg might be in the bottom of the crisper ... a knob of butter, olive oil, salt and pepper and a glass of riesling — not too shabby!”
And Twitter acquaintances have shared their thoughts too: "Cheese on toast — Quite elaborate little mini-pizzas, actually, with olives, mushrooms, whatever is in the fridge," confided my colleague Michael Bachelard (@mbachelard), Indonesia correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

The demands of the health system must take their toll on @pathologic_kt a doctor in Wollongong, who takes a line of least resistance. “Baked beans on toast. Or peanut butter on toast.”

And from the co-editor of The Age Good Food Shopping Guide 2011 Roslyn Grundy (@onetui), outdoing herself as usual: “Egg fried rice: leftover rice fried with garlic, eggs, soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil.”

Still on the rice theme, and for those who just happen to keep a bucket of kimchi in their fridge, @jazzmeintea suggests kimchi fried rice. “Easy! Cooked rice with scrambled eggs, sliced kimchi, kimchi juice and dash of soy. Perfect late night snack.”

“Pesto? Check! Spaghetti? Check! Dinner? Check! ;),” wrote Katoomba-based graphic designer Andrew Faith (@andrewfaith)

“A peanut butter and mashed banana sandwich, a microwaved rice casserole, crackers and Nutella!,” @SashG chimed in from Mumbai, India, where she is a writer and editor for

And one of my personal favourites, suggested by Sydney blogger Tina (@foodboozeshoes): “Pasta with parmesan and whatever herbs on hand,” she suggested. Add garlic and call it pasta aglio olio. Add chilli, call it spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino, and it's even better.

I have had my triumphs in the desperation dinner stakes. The stars came into alignment a couple of nights back, for example, when I stumbled home in an artistic fever from beginners drawing classes. I can thank a colleague’s happy hens and their feather-stuck eggs and some decent leftovers — a sliver of roasted ocean trout and some labne (yoghurt cheese — a story for another day).

Scrambled eggs, I decided. “Good scrambled eggs can be slurped up with a straw and they need to be cooked slowly,” Melbourne-based, London-bound chef Greg Malouf once told me.

With that in mind, I melted the tiniest bit of butter in a saucepan and rolled in a couple of Sahlan’s Special Eggs. Over a low heat I broke them up gently and, as they started to stick to the bottom, nudged them up with a wooden spoon, from time to time lifting the pan up from the heat to slow the cooking. Five minutes or so of nudging — I like them so the eggs are almost soupy — a little salt and white pepper, and that’s it. Flaked ocean trout and a dollop of labne on top. A not-quite-so desperate dinner.

But I’ll take more suggestions. I’m still getting flashbacks about that taco.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @StephanieAWood1