Preparing meals in advance is something that really helps myself and my wife cook for our family. A pot of pasta, cooked, drained and cooled, salad washed, veggies prepped, and dressing, sauce or marinade made up can take the burden out of cooking dinner every evening. From simple little steps to preparing a full meal in advance, I have three recipes that are ideal for a little meal prep to freshen up your cooking game.
Taco night causes big excitement in our house, and I like it mostly because almost everything can be prepped in advance. If you are a slow-cooker fan, the recipe I have for pork carnitas works a treat.
Traditionally, these pork carnitas are braised in pork lard, but purists will have to excuse my slightly simplified version here, which uses just beer to slow-braise a pork shoulder until it’s tender. My version also makes use of the skin by crisping it in the oven and then roughly chopping it and mixing it with the pork shreds. Serve it straight to the table with heated tacos, (I love the ones from Picado), pico de gallo and plenty of lime wedges.
Ragu feels like the obvious meal-plan suggestion, but if you are looking for something lighter with a bit of a difference, I would suggest my rosemary and cauliflower ragu. It offers up all the ease of a regular ragu but, as a vegetarian alternative, it gets its depth of flavour from rosemary, mushrooms and tomato purée. I’ve suggested serving it here with chickpea pasta as a gluten-free alternative, but if you wanted, serving with some fresh egg pasta would be a real treat. Drain the pasta directly to the sauce in the pan and finish it with plenty of finely grated Parmesan.
My solution to the paradoxical demands of toddlers is to serve everything to the table and allow them choose how and what they want on their plates. A lot of my recent cooking has been broken quite simply into a pan and brought to the table, like saucy sticky chicken thighs or the miso-glazed salmon I’ve suggested here, served with rice and whatever greens I have to hand pan-fried, roasted or served raw. It might not sound like the most exciting way to cook, but it works for us, and provides peace and simplicity at dinner time.
Time: 2hrs 30 mins Serves: 4
1.5kg pork shoulder, boneless, skin removed and reserved, cut into 10cm pieces
3 chipotle chillies
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp dried oregano
Juice of 2 oranges
400ml lager beer
For the pico de gallo:
2 large tomatoes, cored, deseeded and finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
A good handful of coriander, roughly chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
Juice of ½ lime
Dash of Tabasco, optional
Toasted corn tortillas
White cabbage, finely shredded
A good handful coriander
1. Place the pork shoulder, chillies, garlic, bay leaf, oregano, orange juice, beer and a generous amount of sea salt in a large pot with a lid. If the pork is not covered, top up with water. Put on the lid and place over a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the pork is tender and almost falling apart.
2. Remove the lid and simmer until the liquid completely evaporates, stirring regularly. Keep cooking and stirring until the pork becomes browned and shredded. Take off the heat, cover with a lid and keep warm.
3. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
4. Slice the pork shoulder skin into pieces, place on a baking tray and season generously with sea salt. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until crisp and golden. Remove and allow to cool before breaking up into pieces with a knife.
5. For the pico de gallo, mix all the ingredients in a bowl and season to taste with sea salt. Add a dash of Tabasco sauce if it needs more heat.
6. Serve the pork with corn tortillas piled high with lime wedges, avocado slices or guacamole, crispy pork skin, shredded cabbage and coriander.
Time: 30 mins Serves: 6
650g cauliflower, broken into florets
250g chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Good pinch of chilli flakes
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp tomato purée
300g chickpea pasta
40g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1. In a food processor, blitz the cauliflower until it is riced and tip into a bowl. Add the mushrooms to the food processor and pulse these too until they are chopped small.
2. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and fry the onion for 5 minutes over a medium heat until soft. Then add the garlic, chilli flakes and rosemary and fry for 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower and mushrooms,
season well with salt and pepper and fry over a high heat for 6-7 minutes. Add the tomato purée and cook for a few more minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 250ml of the water. Add the pasta to the cauliflower pan and toss together with half the Parmesan for 2-3 minutes and loosen with the reserved pasta cooking water as needed. Serve with the rest of the Parmesan scattered over the top.
Time: 35-40 mins Serves: 2
2 skinless salmon fillets (about 120g each)
125g brown sticky rice
For the smacked cucumber salad:
25ml rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp caster sugar
¼ head Chinese cabbage, very thinly sliced
100g bean sprouts
2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the miso marinade:
1 tbsp red miso paste
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp caster sugar
1-2 spring onions, very thinly sliced
2 tsp sesame oil
1. To make the salad, place the cucumber on a chopping board and smash several times with a rolling pin. Cut in half, scoop out the seeds and cut into thin batons.
2. Place the rice wine vinegar and sugar in a serving bowl and whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cucumber batons, Chinese cabbage and bean sprouts and toss to coat. Cover with cling film and set aside for at least 10 minutes, or up to 8 hours in the fridge.
3. Place the salmon in a deep-sided baking dish. Whisk the ingredients for the miso marinade and pour over the salmon, turning until completely coated. Cover with cling film and set aside for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours in the fridge.
4. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 and bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the brown rice for 25-30 minutes or according to the instructions on the packet.
5. While the rice is cooking, pour away any excess marinade from the salmon and then arrange the salmon fillets in the baking dish. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until the salmon is cooked through and breaks easily with a fork.
6. Serve the salmon with rice and salad.