Right now, in my life, two powerful forces are currently conducting a battle. My habitual laziness in respect of all domestic matters is locked in a death struggle against my powerful hypochondria.
Well, I probably won’t die – but like I said, I’m a hypochondriac.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was trying to reduce my excessively high blood pressure – a challenge at which I’m succeeding, fortunately. Well, fortunately for me, at least. I’ve also revealed the results of my various inept experiments with gym classes. But as many commenters have somewhat snarkily pointed out, the remaining element in the formula is cooking for oneself.
Now, I live by myself (the subject of yet another plaintive column), and I’ve long maintained that it’s not economically effective to cook for one, especially when you factor your own time into the equation. But the reality is that it’s the only way you can exercise substantial control over what goes into your body. So if you’re trying to watch your intake of things like salt and fat, you really do need to bite the bullet, unless the bullets in question are those tasty chocolate ones, in which case you probably shouldn’t, because those bullets can kill people too.
(By the way, my research into this matter uncovered the website chocolateweapons.com, which I really can’t keep to myself. Because hey – if you’re going to kill yourself with unhealthy food, you might as well do it in style.)
Anyway – for the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to solve the question of what I can eat at home that won’t take any more time than getting takeaway. Because if it’s labour intensive, and if I can’t chuck it together in less than about ten minutes, the reality is that I’m simply not going to do it. I can’t think of anything more depressing than spending an hour slaving over a stove with a little apron on, and serving a fancy meal with candles and white linen... for myself.
Wraps might just be the most practical foodstuff ever devised. They come in airtight plastic packets so you can make a six-pack last for days, they’re considerably less stodgy than bread, and best of all, you can, well, wrap things in them. I know, right?
Within the tasty envelope of a wrap, you can just chuck a bit of salad, and maybe some low-fat ham or salmon or really anything at all, and you have yourself a little parcel of deliciousness. I’ve found it’s particularly well-suited to cherry tomatoes because it doesn’t matter when the insides go everywhere. And you don’t need feel the need for butter or some kind of butter-substitute the way you do with bread.
Best of all, some prepackaged wraps come with paper holders so you can eat the wrap without the need for a plate, saving on washing up.
Tuna with tomato sauce
If you’re like me and trying to eat more seafood, tinned tuna is a simple and tasty solution. I’ve discovered that if you combine it with pre-made tomato salsa, whether you get the kind that comes in a jar or is freshly made in a plastic tub from the refrigerated section, the results are ridiculously tasty. Get the sort that has a hint of chili in it. You can use it as a pasta sauce, or chuck it in a wrap, or just serve it up with a side salad. Seriously – I know this is ridiculously simple, but it tastes amazing. Amazing.
I really like eating roast vegetables, but they take time. Admittedly you can just chop them up, chuck a bit of olive oil on them and leave them to cook, but it’s still a bit too tricky for my purposes. So I’ve started cutting up capsicum, zucchini, eggplant, onion and a few tomatoes and microwaving them. Purists would probably suggest a bit of garlic too, but I’m a bit too lazy. The results are not quite as delicious as roasting, but sufficiently delicious for me.
I know it’s really, really lazy to buy pre-made salads, and the results aren’t as tasty as if you buy the lettuce and the other ingredients and make it freshly. I also understand that they’re way too expensive relative to buying the elements separately. But that has to be weighed against this critical point: you don’t have to make a salad.
The other day, I bought a really nice instant Greek salad where you just had to combine a few sachets and hey presto – it was like being in Greece and eating at a mediocre taverna! I also added a bit of tinned tuna to make a complete meal a less incomplete meal.
The part where this actually counts as “cooking” and not just “opening a packet” is that you should make your own simple dressing, because the pre-supplied one won’t be as nice – the Greek salad’s one was way too sweet. Just use a bit of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic, perhaps a hint of dijon mustard and pepper, and you should be sorted. (I used to add sugar and salt too, but now I’m trying to watch out for those things).
The grill pan
As you will have gathered, most of my cooking consists of a concerted effort not to cook with anything more sophisticated than a microwave. But the time comes when you need to do something a little more elaborate. And this is where the grill pan comes into play.
If you don’t know what they are, imagine a mini barbecue with a handle and edges to stop stuff spilling out. I have a non-stick one that rinses clean, and all I need to do is put a bit of olive oil onto it, heat it up and then grill a bit of chicken breast or fish or lamb over my big gas burner. It’s quick, incredibly tasty and involves the element of naked flame that makes me feel like I’m standing at a barbecue – an essential element for men to enjoy cooking, for some unclear reason.
The particularly excellent thing about a grill pan is that it’s easy and quick to cook a portion small enough for one, and then you can grill the other half of the little meat packet at a later time, because nobody seems to sell meat in portions small enough to supply one person, because apparently very few people are big enough losers to need to cook for themselves. There, I said it.
I used to eat a lot of tinned soup. But you can now get pre-made vacuum-packed soup, which is slightly more gourmet and consequently slightly less depressing. The trick to making soup not feel like the ultimate culinary cop-out is making your own croutons by chopping up a slice of toast.
And yes, I am honestly describing microwaving pre-prepared soup and adding croutons as a form of culinary innovation, which I am recommending to you. And yes, I am well aware that this makes me possibly the most incompetent person writing about cooking in the Australian media.
But surely I get points for honesty, at least?
So there you have it – the sum total of all that I have discovered about cooking healthily in my first few weeks of trying. And by now you will have concluded that a) I really can’t cook, and b) I care more about convenience than the quality of the output. These two things are undeniably true. But when you’re cooking for yourself, the only person you have to impress is yourself, and I’m already pretty impressed with myself just because I’m not ordering takeaway.
I intend to keep experimenting with cooking, and perhaps one day soon I may even try a simple stir-fry. The important thing is to have fun! And by having fun I mean getting out of the kitchen as quickly as possible, because no matter how hard you try to convince yourself, cooking simply isn’t fun.