So billie bites may be about to become a whole lot more useful for some readers. I've often been told the recipes look good, but there's just not time...
Eating well is all about time management, organisation, planning, budgeting, and shopping. If the cupboards are well-stocked you're more than half-way there.
Now I have a huge disclaimer to announce: A BIG thank you and congratulations has to go to Miles for taking the reins of part-time house-husband. So actually, Miles did most of the cooking. And very well. Especially considering he had to work any minute Billie slept.
However, essential to this successful changeover was a big, well-planned shop on Sunday. As much as we wanted to get out in the sunshine and take a much-needed walk to the beach, to the shops we all went.
EATING WELL IN A BUSY HOUSEHOLD
PLAN JUST A FEW MEALS:
I used to head to the shops with a strict list after planning the weeks' meals. But this leaves you stuck with overpriced spinach and skipping past the bargains. So write a list, perhaps after flipping through a few cookbooks or blogs, with several meal options. That way when you discover fresh peas are expensive this week and the store doesn't stock frozen ones, you can throw that idea to the wind.
KEEP AN EYE ON SEASONS:
Asparagus is in now because it's spring in the southern hemisphere, so take advantage. Avoid it for the rest of the year. It's tricky keeping up with appropriate prices for fruit and vegetables and I'm definitely still learning, but the more you browse the green grocers the better you'll get at eating well on a budget.
COOK IN BULK:
I screwed this up on Sunday night when I cooked one of Billie's favourites - her Italian great grandfather's manasta. I only made enough of this simple nourishing spinach and white bean dish for one dinner and a too-small office lunch for me and a little for Billie. However, when Miles took over on Monday he cooked an entire bag of black beans in the pressure cooker, froze half of them and turned the rest into delicious chili beans. These stretched over two Mexican burrito dinners, a hearty lunch for me and also for Billie.
STORE CUPBOARD STUFF:
Sorry to trundle out that old dogma, but it's true. If you always have most of these in store you'll never have to reach for the takeaway menu (unless you want to treat yourself). Off the top of my head I suggest: Rice, flour, oats, polenta, cous cous, quinoa, dried beans - black, kidney, chickpea, great northern etc- and some tinned beans for emergencies, lentils, tin tomatoes, nuts - almond, brazil, walnut etc, nut butters, dates, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, olive oil, vinegar, tamari/soy sauce, and the list can go on...I know they're not technically store cupboard, but I reckon keeping eggs, milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt around can make your life that much easier too.
Manasta is one of those dishes that makes you feel good just preparing it. On the eve of my return to paid work I was quite anxious, but once I started cooking this tasty, healthy and very easy dish I felt relaxed and calm.
This Italian stable comes from Billie's Great Grandpa Lou whose family hails from Naples. His wife Eve taught me to make it when we visited their Baraboo, Wisconsin home during the fourth of July holiday weekend. Eve is one of the most amazing home cooks I have ever met - we dined on blueberry pie, blueberry pancakes, pumpkin pudding, Mexican egg salad, spinach and ricotta lasagne, chili beans, and this Manasta. Technically a soup, and I recommend serving it with good bread, but it's more the consistency of a stew/casserole. I recommend doubling this recipe.
GREAT GRANDPA LOU'S MANASTA
1 cup dried great northern beans (white beans)
1 large bag English spinach
1/2 cup olive oil (yes, you need this much - it is Italian after all)
6 large cloves garlic
1 t fennel seed
Soak beans in four cups of water for several hours of overnight. Drain and place in pot with another four cups of water and bring to the boil before simmering for a couple of hours. If you have a pressure cooker use that instead - much quicker and you don't need to soak for as long. Or you could use canned beans but then you don't get the soupy stuff.
Wash spinach and leave a little of the water on the leaves. Place in large pot with lid and cook on medium for about five mins. Shake and stir every minute until just wilted. Remove from pot to cool before chopping.
Heat oil in large pot and cook garlic gently for few minutes. Add fennel seed and cook for just one minute. Add beans, cooking water and spinach. Salt to taste (just a little if serving to baby/toddler and then re-salt adults' later. Simmer for few minutes to blend flavours.
Serve in bowls with good, thickly-sliced bread. Works well as a side dish too, which is what Eve did.
Squeeze a very small amount of lemon juice over just before serving - the vitamin C is needed to absorb the iron from the spinach. Or serve with a tomato salad, fruit etc.