There definitely is a good side to having to stay at home in lockdown: it’s a great time for getting creative, especially in the kitchen! Were you always too busy to cook anything other than basic recipes or ready oven meals? Then now is the time to try out new things – and you’ll soon find that the possibilities are boundless!
I’ve always liked any sort of ingredient that instantly turns a simple meal into something exotic and exciting, a contrast in taste to the usual savoury dish. I love adding a bit of sweetness, and my favourites are tinned or frozen fruit (of which you can get all sorts nowadays, from pears and peaches to lychees and pineapples!), raisins and honey. We can learn a lot from the Asian and Caribbean cuisine in this field!
First, let’s look at all the different things we can do with tinned or frozen fruit; ingredients are always for two. And don’t forget, dear friends, that you’re always free to play around with the ingredients and add your own ideas!
2 slices bread, 2 slices ham, 2 slices cheese (the sort that melts, like edam, gouda, cheddar…), 2 slices pineapple (tinned), butter or margarine, ketchup
Would you believe that this famous toast was invented by a German TV cook back in the 1950s? I certainly grew up with it, and I recently rediscovered it when I found a tin of sliced pineapples in the cupboard… It’s literally child’s play – I first made one myself when I was about 12!
First, preheat your oven to 200° C. Put two slices of bread on a baking tray laid out with baking foil, spread some butter or margarine on them, then top with the ham, the pineapple slices and the cheese and put a dash of ketchup on top. Grill for 5 minutes in the oven – ready!
Pizza Hawaii / Florida
1 frozen ham and/or bacon pizza (or margarita if you want a vegetarian version), 200g pineapple chunks (tinned or frozen) or 200g peach or apricot chunks (tinned or frozen)
There once was a time when you could get a ready frozen Pizza Hawaii at every supermarket, but the good old dish seems to have been forgotten a bit. You can make one yourself any time, though, based on an ordinary frozen pizza. It’s VERY simple: just open up a tin of pineapple chunks and drain them (you can also use frozen chunks), then place them on the pizza and bake it according to the instructions on the packet!
Instead of pineapples, you can also use peach or apricot chunks – the result instead of a pizza Hawaii will be a pizza Florida…
Steak Hawaii / Florida
2 pork steaks, 2-4 pineapple slices or 2-4 peach halves (tinned), salt, pepper, flour, oil
Very similarly, you can pep up the taste of an ordinary pork steak: flavour the steaks to your liking (I usually use salt and pepper and roll them in flour, but you can also add paprika or even a dash of Cayenne pepper) and fry them in oil together with the pineapple slices; when they’re done, simply put the fruit on top of the steak and you’ve turned an ordinary European meal into something different! It goes with all sorts of side dishes, but best with chips or French fries.
And, just like with the pizza, you can turn your steak Hawaii into a steak Florida, simply by using peach halves from the tin instead of pineapples…
Noodles with chicken bites, peppers and mango
150-200g noodles, 200g chicken bites, 100g frozen chopped bell peppers (red, green and yellow), 100g frozen or tinned mango (or peaches or apricots), 100g frozen or tinned pineapples, 2tsp gravy powder, oil
I recently invented this recipe myself – as I said, all you need is creativity and a few things in your freezer or your cupboard. Since my darling husband and me had to defrost our old fridge, we had to use up our frozen fruit and veg – and the outcome was a really tasty dinner!
Cook the noodles (thick egg noodles are the most suitable ones) for 10 minutes. Fry the chicken bites (you can also use ready meatballs or any other quick fry meat) in oil, then take them out of the pan. Add 100ml water and the gravy powder and stir well with a fork. Then add the peppers and the fruit and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Add the noodles and put the meat back in and heat it all up together – ready!
Sweet potatoes and pineapples
2 big sweet potatoes, 250g pineapple chunks (tinned), 150g grated cheese (cheddar, gouda or edam), salt, ginger powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, 2tsp dark rum
This is a great and really exotic recipe from the Caribbean – it’ll make you feel as if you were lying on a beach in Jamaica! Many greengrocers and supermarkets in the UK and the USA sell sweet potatoes nowadays; don’t worry if you’ve never done them before, they’re pretty much the same as ordinary potatoes – just sweeter.
Clean the potatoes (a brush is the best tool for that) and cook them for about 1 hour in salted water, then cut them in thick slices and put them on a baking tray laid out with baking foil. Preheat the oven to 180° C. In a bowl, mix the pineapples with the rum and flavour with salt, ginger powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Spread the mixture over the potato slices, top with the cheese, and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
You can enjoy this lovely creation as a vegetable dish, or fry some lamb or pork chops to go with them – and how about a Cuba Libre to go with it, since you’ve opened that bottle of rum?
Another very useful ingredient for spicing up meals is honey – easily obtainable, easy to use, and it makes such a difference!
Spareribs with honey
2 frozen spareribs ready marinated, 200g frozen chips or French fries, 3-4 tsp honey
Believe it or not, dear friends, but this rather exotic sounding recipe for spareribs is actually very popular in Bavarian beer gardens! And it’s extremely easy to do, too, all you need are frozen spareribs which you heat up in a pan with a lid (even if it says on the packet to do them in the oven; they remain juicier in the pan) while you heat up the chips in the oven according to the instructions on the packet. When the chips are ready (usually after about 15 minutes), the spareribs should be done as well. All you have to do now is put the honey on the spareribs – delicious!
No need to say that, just like in said beer gardens, this hearty dish goes very nicely with a pint of beer or cider…
Sweet and sour rice
100-150g rice, 100g frozen chopped bell peppers (red, green and yellow), 100g frozen or tinned pineapples (or peaches or apricots), ½ vegetable stock cube, 1 dash soy sauce, 1-2 tsp ketchup, 3tsp honey, salt, sugar, oil
Cook the rice for 15-20 minutes; meanwhile, fry the bell peppers and pineapples in oil, then add the stock cube and 150ml water, add the soy sauce, the ketchup, the honey and some salt, sugar and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes.
You can serve the rice and sauce on its own as a vegetable dish, or with whichever fried meat you like; this Chinese classic goes especially nicely with chicken nuggets!
And then there are raisins, which, while in Europe they’re mainly used for baking, are very popular in savoury dishes in the Near East and India…
300g cubed lamb, 100-150g rice, 1 onion, 100g raisins, 50g almonds, ½ beef stock cube, 2-3 cloves garlic (or garlic powder), 100ml passata, salt, paprika, oil
Chop the onions and the garlic and fry them with the almonds in oil in a big pan; when the onions are golden brown, add the lamb and season with salt and paprika. Add the passata, the stock cube and 250ml water, cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 1 hour (you might have to add some more water once or twice in order to keep it from sticking to the pan). Cook the rice for 15-20 minutes.
Add the rice and the raisins to the meat and simmer for another 30 minutes; a genuine Arabic classic that’ll give you a feeling of 1001 Nights! Tip: The perfect accompaniment for this dish is a sweet wine, like Malaga or Samos or Mavrodafni…
100-150g rice, 1 green bell pepper (or 100g frozen bell peppers), 1 onion, 1 carrot, 100g raisins, 30g flour, ½ vegetable stock cube, salt, curry powder, oil
An Indian variant of exoticness that’s really easy to do: Cook the rice for 15-20 minutes, meanwhile chop the bell pepper and the onion and slice the carrot and fry them in oil with the raisins. Add the flour and stir well, then add 200ml water, the stock cube and a generous amount of curry powder (preferably sweet) and let it simmer until the rice is ready.
As with the sweet and sour rice, you can eat the curry rice as a vegetable dish, or with chicken breast, legs, wings or – the easiest choice – nuggets.
And finally, here’s an idea for a dessert which kids (and not only) will absolutely love!
Nutella and Smarties sandwich
2 slices bread, Nutella, Smarties or m&ms
If you’ve been desperately trying to find something for your kids to do while they’ve been moaning about not being able to go out, this is the perfect way: get them to create their own sweet sandwiches! There’s lots of possible ingredients for turning a simple slice of bread into a face or a cute animal or whatever you like: jam, peanut butter, food colours, wine gums… For my own example, I just used what we already had in the larder: Nutella and m&ms!
Enjoy your creations, dear friends, and do tell me about your own ideas in the comments…