We don't always have the time needed to put together a gourmet, Michelin-starred worthy dinner, but that doesn't have to mean sacrificing quality or flavour. Quick and easy suppers can be on the table for you and your family in a flash if you follow these top tips from MSN Food.
1. Buy smart
Next time you do a big shop, stock up on things like tinned beans and lentils, dried pasta and frozen seafood and vegetables. They're great for knocking up quick meals like a chickpea and spinach curry, chicken and lentil hot pot or penne with crispy breadcrumbs when you're short of time.
2. Be an organised cook
You'll notice that TV cooks always have their ingredients measured out, and within easy reach, before they start cooking. Trust us - thinking ahead really does save time in the long run, and puts a stop to those awkward 'I'm sure there was butter yesterday!' moments. Just don't expect to open the oven to find one you made earlier.
3. Mix and match ingredients
Don't be afraid to put your own stamp on ready-prepared foods - the French aren't shy about popping into the traiteur to pick up something on the way home, and most Italians wouldn't dream of making their own ravioli on a week night! Try making a sage butter while your spinach & ricotta tortelloni are cooking, or melting some chocolate to drizzle over strawberries and ice cream, and then sprinkling with toasted almonds.
4. Keep it simple
Omelettes are one of the first things many of us learn to cook - but they're also a staple of classical French cuisine. They cook in under a minute and, served with a simple green salad and some crusty bread, make a chic light supper. Ring the changes by stirring some chopped green herbs and grated Parmesan to your mixture, or adding some Feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes as the mixture starts to set. The ultimate convenience food!
5. Eat seasonally
Mother Nature helpfully provides her quickest, tastiest crops at a time of year when we're least keen to linger in a hot kitchen. The fresh crops of peas, beans and new potatoes are at their best in a simple salad, while summer berries need little more than a slick of double cream to become one of the most luxurious puddings imaginable.
6. Plan ahead
If you've ever been surprised that a frugal dinner of leftovers seems more delicious the second-time around, then you'll know that many recipes are actually better the day after they're made, when the flavours have had time to mingle and develop. Make a curry, stew or a lasagne the day before, and put it in the fridge - all you'll have to do on the night itself is turn on the oven!
7. The joy of sharing
Sharing platters are all the rage in gastropubs, and they work just as well at home. Take a large wooden board, and arrange a selection of cold meats, cheeses or cooked veg on it, then serve with some good bread. Try and theme them - Parma ham and Italian cheese, for example, or smoked mackerel and salmon with prawns, capers and cream cheese.
8. Multitask when you cook
Many dishes are much quicker if you work out how to multitask, cooking noodles while stir-frying the vegetables, or making a salad while your steaks are resting. Go through the recipe before you start, and make sure you use every minute wisely - and if there's any time to spare, start clearing up as you go along. You'll thank yourself in the long run.
9. Use a griddle or grill
Griddle and grill cooking is made for this time of year: simple and delicious, it's a barbecue without the hassle. Throw on some tiger prawns, or steak and serve with a fresh green salad for a quick, healthy dinner in less time than it would take to microwave a ready meal.
10. Quick desserts
A quick supper doesn't have to mean just one course - Eton Mess, that quintessential summer pudding, is simplicity itself with some ready-made meringues; just mix with strawberries and whipped cream and serve. Melt white chocolate with double cream, and drizzle over frozen berries, or squeeze some lime and a little cayenne pepper over ripe mango chunks for a Mexican-style palate cleanser.
More on MSN Food:
- Five great recipes from five great culinary cities
- Thomasina Mier's Mexican breakfast recipe
- 10 delicious smoothie recipes to try at home
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