Click here to view Helen's Pinterest board and sign up for yourself.
For two nights a week I’ll have something on toast for dinner. Usually eggs or beans, but anything that can sit on toast will do. I call it ‘breakfast for dinner’. My friends call it ‘depressing’. And ‘not very appetising’. Which is why I don’t often invite them round to eat of an evening.
Which has started to make me sad. Because it’s not like I don’t love to cook for people. I do. I am pretty much my happiest when indulging in an epic kitchen session – my friends still talk about the Easter I made nine different side dishes to accompany our roast lamb. But that’s just not realistic in everyday life. I, like everyone, am always stretched for time during the week. Having to fit work, socialising and spin classes around watching catch up episodes of The Night Of means cooking takes a back seat.
And one of the main reasons I don’t cook is that life’s way too short to boil an orange. I realised that fundamental truth one night when a friend came over for a ‘quick dinner’ on a Thursday evening. The boiled orange salad dressing I’d made was delicious, but eating at 10.30pm was not ideal.
And while pasta with pesto has a place in everyone’s life (pesto – how I love thee, let me count the ways…) I don’t want to serve my friends something they could make at home with two ingredients.
So I’m on a mission to change things – to find good food that won’t take hours to make – and I’m looking to Pinterest to help me out.Pinterest was my guiding light when I recently bought a flat and wanted inspiration for everything interiors so I’m hoping it can provide the same inspiration for improving my cooking repertoire too – and it can! Not least because it’s beyond simple to search for recipes. I tap in ‘simple, chic dinner party recipes’ and behold! Hundreds of simple and chic dinner party recipes appear as if from nowhere.
My first Pinterest food-based revelation is that pasta doesn’t just have to be a guilty quick fix meal after I’ve finished playing netball. While yes, boring pesto-from-a-jar is considered unacceptable dinner party fare, that doesn’t mean spaghetti has to be too. Our old friend Jamie Oliver turns up a treat with his impressive looking spaghetti vongole – which is actually just a matter of some nice clams, plenty of garlic and lots of sourdough for sweeping up the juices – while gnocchi with a homemade watercress mint pesto leads to a friend, who shall remain nameless, actually licking out the serving bowl. I also learn I shouldn’t avoid curries.
I’ve always believed that cooking a curry would involve dedicating an entire afternoon to pounding spices and simmering – but that doesn’t have to be the case. A simple Goan fish curry recipe I find is a flavour sensation, and you can use any white fish from your local supermarket. I’m also, thanks to the likes of Diana Henry, bringing back tray bakes. My living room and kitchen are open plan, so anything I can prepare quickly in advance – like roast vegetables – rather than running around like a wild thing while my guests try and relax is key to everyone’s enjoyment.
And Pinterest is responsible for my becoming a ‘bowl food’ convert! I’ve seen bowl food snaps on social media – bowls packed with lots of good healthy ingredients – but never known how to replicate them. Turns out it’s just a question of bringing out my giant pho bowls and layering fresh veggies, tangy sauce, some sort of carb, and topping everything with avocado (a rule for life: when in doubt, add avocado). It’s soothing, satisfying and undemanding eating healthy food out of a large bowl. Puddings are a particular revelation. Rather than resorting to Vienetta I discover all sorts of sweet treats that can be made in the time it takes for Mel and Sue to explain a technical challenge. Maltesers tiffin – need I say more? I also get adept at adaptation.
When I discover a super simple rhubarb sponge recipe, but my local supermarket is all out of rhubarb, instead of giving up, I get up 15 minutes earlier and go full Bear Grylls, foraging for blackberries on the marshes opposite my flat. I add in a couple of apples that have been staring at me accusingly from the back of my fridge for a week and we’re in business. And then there’s the incredible Mary Berry chocolate tart. Although don’t tell Mazza B that I bought the pastry case!