Cooking every night of the week is a demanding old business, not least in the midst of a pandemic. What to have for dinner is one of the few things still in our control, and even that has become a chore in its relentless everydayness.
Trained chef, recipe writer and food stylist Rosie Reynolds is hoping to zhuzh things up for us though, with new cookbook, The Shortcut Cook.
It’s “all about using shortcuts and creative solutions to get the best food – whipped up quickly, in the best way possible – for your family”, she writes. Corners will be cut, but in ways designed to maximise flavour and minimise stress, which couldn’t be more timely.
We picked three recipes from the book and gave them a go…
Hannah Stephenson tested: shrimp burgers
Who doesn’t love a burger? I usually go for mouth-watering beef quarter pounders oozing with cheese, but when Rosie Reynolds suggested an easy shrimp burger as a twist on our favourite fast food, with claims it would only take 16 minutes to make and cook, what’s not to like?
It’s not a budget meal – four burgers need a lot of shrimps (or rather, raw prawns), a total of 600g which is one very large bag, but there’s very little else involved apart from chilli, coriander and lime.
Blitzing half the prawns in a mixer took seconds, at which point I ended up with a gloopy paste, like a sticky grey mash – the binding to hold the burgers together. Although Reynolds advises you to pulse the other half of the prawns a couple of times so they are roughly chopped, I used scissors to ensure they were still recognisable, rather than risking them turning to mush in the blender.
Then I threw the whole lot together in a large bowl, adding all the other ingredients – it literally took 10 minutes. They’re virtually impossible to shape as they are so gloopy, so I just spooned big dollops of the mixture into hot oil and flattened them down with a fish slice to make them into patty shapes. They took longer to cook than expected, maybe because they were quite thick and I wanted to make sure the centres were done, so I cooked them for about five minutes on each side.
Making the Sriracha mayo, peeling and slicing the avocado and toasting the buns also takes a few minutes – so start to finish around 25 minutes for the whole meal – and although they were delicious, I felt you could easily have the burgers, which were quite dense, without the buns.
Ella Walker tested: Asian chicken noodle soup
I’m all for swift one-pot meals, but was a little sceptical at the prospect of this one. Just the words ‘chicken soup’ conjure up a sense of deep nourishment, hours spent at the stove, all love and marrow infused in a bowl. A low-effort 40 minutes couldn’t achieve that, surely? I was proved totally wrong though.
A few minutes meditatively spent sharpening a chunk of ginger into thin matchsticks and slicing garlic into slivers, was followed by the crackling frazzle of chicken thigh skin crisping up in a pan. Reynolds says to use a frying pan, but none of mine are deep enough to hold any liquid, so I opted for a higher-sided saucepan. In retrospect, I should have seared the chicken for longer in the sesame oil; they weren’t quite golden enough (although did smell spectacular) and steamed more than they should have done.
In went a jug of water, and then potion-like swirls of Chinese rice vinegar and light soy sauce – which, combined with the chicken poaching liquor, make the broth. And what a broth – considering how little is in it, and for how short a time it bubbles away, there’s an impressive amount of depth to it. The chicken thighs turned out a little tough (maybe I over-simmered them?), but the noodles were suitably slurp-able. My main issue was the pak choi – it looks great but is a nightmare to eat whole from the bowl.
Warming, simple, wholesome, there will be a next time. I just have to buy some proper ramen bowls to do it real justice.
Noreen Barr tested: sweet potato ravioli
‘That’s genius!’ I thought when I discovered Rosie Reynolds made homemade ravioli speedily by softening pre-made lasagne sheets, then simply folding them over to enclose the filling. Using a pasta machine is the kind of slow, meditative cooking I enjoyed pre-kids – but the alternative, ready-made ravioli, is pretty dispiriting. This sounded like a clever compromise.
The first stage, making the sweet potato filling in the microwave, was a breeze, and a quick check confirmed it tasted gorgeous. Meanwhile, the shallow pasta water rapidly came to the boil in my frying pan and the lasagne sheets, added with a splash of olive oil, soon softened. But disaster struck when I came to “drain and separate the sheets”. Clumped together in a colander, there was no separating the sheets without ripping them. Softening more pasta, I improvised and lifted each sheet individually from the water with a fish slice.
With my sheets cut in half and arrayed across two chopping boards, I was ready to dollop in the filling and fold over the pasta. Frustratingly, the corners nearest the fold always had a tiny gap and wouldn’t seal properly however I rearranged the filling. But no matter – the final stage was frying the ravioli in sage-flavoured butter, which kept all the filling neatly inside as the outsides turned golden.
With all my extra first-time faffing, it took me nearly an hour to make the dish, instead of 35 minutes. But the end result looked pretty professional and tasted lovely. That said, my family were adamant “fried pasta isn’t ravioli”. They scoffed it – it just needs a new name.
The Shortcut Cook by Rosie Reynolds, photography by Louise Hagger, is published by Hardie Grant, priced £15. Available now.