Take a school course, meet your boss and stir in household chores. Sprinkle in the stress of imminent bath and bed times and – voila – a recipe for chaos that culminates in plopping a matte ready-made meal for your hungry brood at 7 p.m.
With family life so hectic, it is no wonder that we refrain from fresh food for frozen meals to see us through the week. But the resulting dinners are often as unsatisfactory as they are out of balance in terms of nutritional value – and can also be expensive.
Now, however, a new book promises to banish the madness of the midweek meal and dispel the assumption that busy families cannot eat well from Monday to Friday.
Antonia Hoyle (photo) put the theory in Caroline Pessin & Cook the Week in Two Hours on a realistic test
In Cook The Week In Two Hours, busy working mother Caroline Pessin makes a daring statement: you can eat a week of meals during the weekend & # 39; during the week & # 39; cook, with less than 15 minutes of preparation to get food to the table every weeknight. Some Pessin meal plans even include appetizers.
The book takes advantage of the growing obsession with meal preparation, with some enthusiasts eating every bite they will eat all week on a Sunday afternoon. Fans post photos & # 39; s on social media of all meals of the week prepared in the refrigerator.
Not only can preparing meals relieve the daily workload and free up time to spend with loved ones, Pessin says, it can also prevent food wastage and panicked excesses at expensive takeaways if nothing is in the fridge.
And, she says, & by taking a different approach to organizing meals and cooking, it is possible to relieve the stress of making dinner for every evening. & # 39;
In Cook The Week In Two Hours, Caroline Pessin claims that you can cook a meal of one week & # 39; during the week & # 39; in just two hours (pictured, a week of ingredients)
As a working mother who is all too familiar with the crazy 6pm freezer gun for emergency fish sticks and chips to feed my husband, Chris and children, Rosie, eight and Felix, six, this sounds like a genius idea.
But is it too good to be true? I have recruited my family to help me find out. . .
Cooking The week in two hours consists of 16 carefully planned weekly menus. Each room has seven dinner recipes – five main courses plus two starters for the evenings when the main courses are lighter.
The total bill for the five diners was £ 58.26 – about two thirds of what Antonia would normally spend
Each recipe is designed to feed a family of four and Pessin assures us that the required ingredients are easy to find in supermarkets, saving time when shopping.
To streamline the preparation process, she recommends including the basic material that appears repeatedly in recipes, such as rice, pasta, flour and olive oil.
It is also important that you have the right equipment: a storage pot, a frying pan and three pans, along with other basic tools such as baking trays and mixing bins.
Equally essential are storage bins in which the batch-baked food is kept fresh (usually in the refrigerator, although some recipes intended for the end of the week must be stored in the freezer).
Pessin recommends a maximum of 15 glass containers with airtight lids. Ikea and Amazon sell sets of these for less than £ 20 – although, as I had never done before, I spent £ 93.97 on mine, which seemed like a fairly large investment.
The author also suggests freeing up a refrigerator and some & # 39; empty-freezer & # 39; to eat before you start, to free up space.
THE WEEKLY STORE
I chose my menu largely because it did not contain fish, which my children are not enthusiastic about (unless it is a finger variety).
We are also trying to reduce our meat consumption, so I was pleasantly surprised that the only meat needed for all seven recipes was four chicken legs, 400 g of beef, and eight slices of Parma ham.
Carbohydrates for the week come in the form of rice, quinoa and pasta, and the grocery list contains an impressive nine types of fruit and vegetables.
In her book, Caroline recommends including basic material that appears repeatedly in recipes, such as rice, pasta, flour and olive oil.
There is also feta, mozzarella and goat cheese on the list and a sheet of rolled puff pastry.
It took me about 40 minutes to fill my trolley and the only item I couldn't find in my local supermarket was uncooked pizza dough that I bought online.
The total bill for the five dinners was £ 58.26 – about two thirds of what I would normally spend on equivalent meals.
Before you begin, Pessin suggests setting up all your ingredients and equipment to save time.
This takes me about 20 minutes, and with ten glass containers, six courgettes and a huge storage jar that pushes up space on my work surface, I start to feel a bit scared, especially since Pessin says that everything has now been laid out, I have to do everything only cook for 90 minutes.
I rarely make a meal all over again, let alone five together.
The menu – split into 20 steps – appears surprisingly easy to follow.
Cooking The week in two hours contains 16 carefully planned weekly menus
I start by cooking chicken legs, then prepare ratatouille, continue with stuffing tomatoes and preparing salads, and finish making puff pastry.
There's a lot of carving – onions, potatoes, eggplant, cucumber, zucchini, peppers, garlic and tomatoes all need to be cut and they make my kitchen look like a culinary crime scene. Undoubtedly, the most difficult part is peeling four onions, which – because I have to stop constantly to wipe away painful tears – leaves me ten minutes behind schedule.
But in general, the process is cleverly designed to prepare multiple meals simultaneously and to avoid wasting time or food.
After scooping out tomatoes, for example, I put the remaining meat in my bubbling ratatouille soup pan, some of which I later combine with goat cheese to make cakes.
And the same herbs – Herbes de Provence (a mixture of rosemary, thyme and oregano) is used everywhere.
I concentrate so that by the time I finish my final step – destroying two chicken legs for storage – I am completely exhausted.
The cooking itself took me an hour and 56 minutes, after which I kept most of my containers with prepared ingredients in the fridge, only the shredded chicken, the wraps and the chopped tomatoes.
Taking into account the preparation in advance, my total efforts take two hours and 15 minutes. But I still have to tackle the huge pile of dishes, which adds another 15 minutes.
Antonia said that Caroline & # 39; s preparation process is cleverly designed to allow you to prepare multiple meals at the same time and to avoid wasting time or food & # 39; (pictured, Antonia with Rosie, eight, and Felix, six)
I assemble the starter by mixing my precooked, cold quinoa with diced tomatoes, cucumber and peppers and a measly lemon sauce, all from the fridge. I heat the chicken legs in the oven and the ratatouille – which was stored in the storage jar in the fridge – on the hob.
Warming up takes 15 minutes and, after I've never served my family a starter on a Monday night, let alone presenting quinoa or tabouleh, I feel smug when I hand it out.
The quinoa gets a mixed reaction – & # 39; it tastes like soft grains of sand & # 39; is Felix's verdict, while Rosie says she won't necessarily choose & # 39; – but the chicken legs, sprinkled with Herbes de Provence, are eagerly devoured and the ratatouille is at least bravely tried by my vegetable-averse children.
With only two legs between us, however, Chris complains that there is not enough meat.
On the first day of the test, Antonia served quinoa tabouleh, followed by chicken legs and ratatouille
After rolling out two 400g balls of pizza dough and covering with passata, I sprinkle some of my pre-cut almonds and peppers, a few black olives and some pre-grated mozzarella.
The process takes six minutes, as Pessin predicts, although the kitchen ultimately looks like a construction site.
After the pizza has been in the oven for ten minutes, I add four slices of Parma ham and a few basil leaves (already washed and stored) to each pizza.
The children are first suspect – & # 39; Courgettes on pizza? Really, Mom? & # 39; a shocked Felix asks – but in the end the rest cheats on.
The family also enjoyed Parma ham and vegetable pizzas made with passata on Tuesday
While the pasta is cooking, I fry garlic with chopped courgettes for ten minutes. When the pasta is cooked, I add it to the pan with the grated chicken (removed from the freezer the night before), olives and creme fraiche.
Unfortunately, the creme fraiche does not solidify nicely, but what Felix really does not like is that he is presented with courgettes for the third evening. Normally, like a pasta fanatic, he refuses to eat a single bite and I end his hunger with a portion of ordinary penne.
Rosie, who & # 39; iffy & # 39; says, is a little more diplomatic and asks: & # 39; Is this cookbook the Zucchini Daily, mama? & # 39; Disappointing.
On Wednesday Antonia treated her four-family to a pasta of zucchini, olives and chickens
After I removed the turnovers and tomatoes from the freezer the night before, I heat them both in the oven for 15 minutes while I cook the white rice.
Tonight I am pleasantly surprised, because the children – who normally do not eat cheese but cheddar – enjoy two out of nine sales.
Made by placing a spoonful of goat cheese and tense ratatouille in a circle of puff pastry, they are both simple and pleasantly refined.
We all love tomatoes stuffed with minced meat and onion, but with just 100 g of beef in every bite, there is not enough meat around for Chris, who feels curt.
She then used cold pasta to make a family-size pasta salad with feta cheese and red pepper
I mix my cold pasta – pre-cooked and stored in the refrigerator – with 170 g of chopped feta and a pre-cut cucumber and red pepper, stir the last black olives from my pot, plus some basil and coriander, and sprinkle with olive oil and white wine vinegar. It takes five minutes and after I convince the kids that they think zucchini is just cucumber, they collapse – albeit while they have the & # 39; spicy & # 39; choose feta.
Chris, who would have preferred a takeaway meal to end the week, at least agreed that this option was infinitely better for our waistlines and wallet.
Admittedly, my batch cooking took two hours and 30 minutes, including preparation and washing up, but I am confident that I can simplify that.
Of course this strategy does not completely cancel weekday cooking, but the few minutes that are needed each day feel effortless compared to starting all over again.
I eat leftovers for lunch and love, so that I don't have to give a thought to weekday diners for five days. I am impressed, and I will certainly use the book again – although I will leave the courgettes next time.
Cook The Week In Two Hours by Caroline Pessin is published by Hamlyn, £ 20.
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