Kitchen insider | Meet Kelly
The Kitchen Insider Interview
This week we meet Kelly - the voice behind Dinner Desperado.
Tell me about you?
I'm a Sydney-sider who works in marketing. I'm somewhat of a foodie and love entertaining. I enjoy cooking and am a pretty competent cook, but struggle to stay motivated. Very much an all or nothing person, I'm either menu planning, shopping weekly and conjuring up fabulous meals with lots of fresh vegetables - or having wine and icecream for dinner!
How often do you cook for one, and why?
I live by myself, so unless I'm out with friends or late at work, I'm at home, cooking dinner for one.
What do you enjoy about cooking for one?
I think the great advantage is that I can eat what I want when I want. If I'm sitting at work fantasizing about a creamy chicken pie for dinner I don't need to negotiate with someone whose been thinking about salmon curry all day!
What do you find challenging about cooking for one?
For me big challenge is the first step - going to the supermarket! It's my least favourite chore. I also find staying motivated to cook something healthy every night is hard, especially when there is no one to say 'you cook, I'll clean up, or you cooked last night, I'll handle it tonight.' The other challenge trying to get variety in my diet and to eat well within a budget. It's way more economical to buy a whole cauliflower or whole red cabbage - but a challenge to get through any of those things before they perish, without eating the same thing all week.
What do you always have in your fridge, freezer and pantry?
The picture of my fridge above shows week when I was pretty organised and had done some meal prep on the weekend.
Regarding what I (try) to always have on hand - frozen peas can transform most dishes - adding a bit of green magic when you are trying to conjure up a meal out of nothing, so I always try to have some in the freezer. Other things I try to always have are eggs, canned tomatoes, canned tuna, butter beans, onions, spinach and broccoli. I cook mainly with fresh produce so my fridge generally looks a bit tragic - there's never much in it.
What type of food do you like to eat?
There is a big gap between what I like to eat and what I do eat! My taste buds are a bit retro and never really left the 80s! I love creamy mornays and rich sauces. If I'm going to a restaurant, my first choice is always Italian.
However, in a bid not to send my cholesterol through the roof and fit into my clothes, 95% of my meals are based on whole foods - lots of vegetables with meat, chicken or fish. I really believe that food is an important factor in your overall health and try very hard to make sure I eat 5 serves of vegetables a day and get leafy greens such as broccoli or spinach into most meals.
What are your favourite recipes and meals for one?
Where do I start! I LOVE food, and do cook for one a lot, so have quite a few favourites.
My all time 'go-to' meal when I can't be bothered thinking or cooking, but want something quick and healthy is steamed salmon with steamed vegetables, all cooked in one pot.
My 'desperado' meal, when I don't have much in the way of fresh produce on hand and there's nothing in the freezer is my one pan, butter bean and tomato 'casserole'. A combo of tinned tomatoes, tinned butter beans, dried oregano and ideally onion or garlic. Cooked in one pan, it can be served by itself or over rice. Adding spinach, frozen peas is a bonus.
My current favourite, 'recipe' meals are a warm salad of roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta on a 'smash' of roasted pumpkin and chickpeas, inspired by a recipe from the Arthur Street Kitchen and 'Salmon on Cauliflower Cous Cous' adapted for one person from a Curtis Stone recipe of the same name.
What have you learnt about how to cook for one?
To be inventive. That even if you don't have all the ingredients on hand to cook a recipe, improvise by using ingredients that are 'approximately' the same. It's almost always possible to put together something healthy based on what you have to hand. The meals are not always glam or picture-worthy - but they are nutritious and quick - which is why I call those meals desperado dinners.
How would you describe your cooking style?
'Green-on-green' and 'vege-aholic' would probably be a good description!
I'm pretty obsessed about trying to meet the recommended 'quota' of 5 serves of vegetables a day - so for week night cooking when it's just me, I'm all about eating something healthy as possible, so I try and find as many opportunities as possible to add dark green leafy vegetables and vegetables in general to a dish.
You can see this taken to extremes in the middle picture where I am pouring Broccoli Soup over a plate of baby spinach and chickpeas. In the picture second from the right, for extra greens I'm adding peas to a pan that has chicken curry in it. The picture on the far right is what most of my cooking looks like. I use one pan to make the base dish and then at the last minute wilt a big bunch of spinach or kale on the top.
For weeknight and every day meals, I am also a lazy cook - I do everything possible to minimise the amount of washing up associated with what I'm cooking.
What are your tips for others?
I feel I have been cooking for one for so long now, not to mention chatting to others about it and working on this blog that I have lots of tips. However, they are not prescriptive. I have been fascinated to find is how much people vary in their attitude to cooking, e.g.:
- freezers vs non-freezers
- love leftovers vs hate them
- want to eat something different every night vs happy to eat the same thing several nights in a row
- love menu planning vs want to open the fridge each evening and 'create'
The tips that work for me are:
- Don't be confined by the specifics of a recipe - look for opportunities to add extra greens or vegetables to your meals.
The recipe for the chicken and corn soup below did not have broccoli in it - but the flavour or deliciousness of the soup wasn't altered by adding it. Peas, spinach and asparagus could also all have been added.
- Roasting a tray of vegetables takes little effort, but provides several days worth of opportunities for fantastic meals - particularly warm salads.
Delicious caramelised goodness!
- The freezer is my best friend
Pre-cooked protein & carbs from the freezer + something green + some grated parmesan takes less than 10 minutes and can be fuss-free, nutritious, delicious and economical meal.
The 3 points above were at play in the meal below. Totally uninspired about what to cook, I resorted to defrosting bits of rice and salsa in the freezer and a packet of lamb mince I had frozen in 120 gram lots. Halfway through cooking the mince I remembered the kale I had in the fridge and added that. Transformational! From beginning to end was less than 15 minutes - and the result was absolutely delicious. I had the salsa on hand, but this would have worked equally as well with half a can of tomatoes and dried herbs of your choice.
If you don't like freezing meals, at least freeze basics, like cooked pasta, rice and quinoa - this will save a lot of time and washing up on weeknights.
Cooked lentils, Barley and shredded chicken ready to be split into bundles and frozen into portion size packets.
- Freeze smartly
Free in portion sizes - and in thin packets that will defrost quickly
Sometimes I am lazy and will stick an entire tray of 2 chicken breasts in the freezer. I always regret this, as I have to defrost the whole thing, which means a.) it takes ages to defrost and b.) I'm going to have to be chicken for the next few meals.
I thought I was the first person to think of the freezing and flattening sandwich bags - but it seems to be the big tip offered by many bloggers! Nonetheless I think it's the basis of using your freezer well. (Scary how passionate one can be about particular, mundane, everyday tasks!) But it such an efficient space saver and huge time saver - things defrost so much more quickly.
- Batch cook
This goes with using your freezer, but I think there is nothing better than opening the freezer to see a batch of home made, frozen meals in the freezer. On nights you can't be bothered, or don't have anything to cook with, it can be the difference between skipping a meal or having takeaway or eating something nutritious and economical.
It does involve effort up front and spending a couple of hours cooking a bunch of meals- but it is soooo worth it! Saying that, there is a big gulf between how much of a good idea I think this is, and how often I do it! Mainly because it involves a lot of shopping! But I once cooked 5 recipes x 9 meals for my sister (she did the shopping!) and she didn't have to cook for entire month of November.
- Concentrate on having colours you like in your fridge - it makes the whole preparation process more appealing
I recently discovered (and fell in love with, as in 'how did I live life without you love' - red cabbage.)
Digging beyond the romantic infatuation ... - I realised the reason for this head-over-heels feeling for a member of the Brassica family - its colour! Red cabbage is purple and I love purple. And purple looks very pretty with green. (My second favourite colour!)
What that led me to realise is that I am attracted to food that looks 'pretty' and goes together. e.g. my big thing this year has been adding dried cranberries to meals. I have never used them before, but am using them weekly now. I originally bought them as part of a recipe for Christmas pudding and then started using them simply to get rid of the packet that had been sitting at the back of my cupboard for the past 12 months.
Now I have realised how pretty they are, they are on my monthly shopping list!
Obviously purple and green and 'pretty' doesn't appeal to everyone. But use the principal - use your love of e.g. Autumn colours, or rustic, or browns and oranges to help motivate you to cook.
What does a typical week of meals look like?
As a person who has little routine in their life - I get up at different times each day, drive to work via different routes a few times a month etc., I don't really have a typical week. It's really driven by what I feel like eating, what vegetables looked good in the produce section, how busy I am etc. However most week's will include my favourite, quick, easy, healthy meal - steamed salmon with steamed vegetables. I'll usually create a few warm salads based on whatever is in the fridge and I'll usually have steak with vegetables once every couple of weeks. At some stage over the course of a month I'll usually give in to my inner-80s-food goddess / need for comfort food and cook some sort of dish with a cream or white sauce, eg. meat, mushrooms, bacon and cream. I LOVE Marsala (Spanish wine) in cooking and invariably will make something with that in the month. Even in summer I will cook some sort of roasted root vegetable salad and over the course of the month I will usually cook at least one roast for myself - most often lamb. The other thing I do is cook one or two meals a week with canned tuna or canned salmon - creating a one-pan warm salad if I'm being good, or an 80s style mornay if I'm not being so good!
Whats your general budget
Like the question above, this varies weekly. - but I would often spend between $100 - $200 a week on food - which seems an insane amount for one person, though that does cover breakfast, lunch and dinner. My big splurge is blueberries when they are in season and raspberries if they are ever under $5 a punnet.
Finally, can you show us what your kitchen looks like?
As you can see my kitchen itself is pretty appalling - despite being spacious, it has almost no bench space. At the moment it even has sheets of paint literally falling off the kitchen walls. However, over the years, and more recently, when as part of doing this blog, I have been thinking about how to make my kitchen more streamlined I have pared back what is in the kitchen. I have stripped it back to make sure that what I use on a daily basis is easily accessible. It's definitely not glam and I'm still dreaming of a galley kitchen with tons of bench space, and a free-standing 6 burner oven - but I've worked on making this space and where things are stored as functional as possible. Since really paying attention to making the items I use regularly easily accessible and moving away the items I use less regularly it is much more functional and makes cooking much quicker.