In my early days of solo motherhood, my ability to get a meal on the table each evening was somewhat limited. Hell, I admit it, it was often a total disaster. I’d some how be missing ingredients that I was sure I had or I’d get home from the supermarket and realise I’d forgotten an essential item despite taking a list along with me on my weekly shopping expedition. There was no husband to dash back out to the shops and the idea of lugging my tired baby out after dark was akin to a kamikaze mission to the seven burning suns of flesh-eating eel land.
And so I’d find myself standing at the pantry, trying to come up with an alternative recipe, knowing that my son was going to let me know that he was ready for his dinner at any moment, and of course, the more pressure I felt, the less I was able to think, and finally, in an exhausted mess, I’d resort to microwaving a can of baked beans for us to share. Not that there’s anything wrong with baked beans, but I started to dread meal times, and seeing as they come around fairly often, that was an awful lot of ‘dread’ time to work with.
So I decided to create a mealtime back-up system – I call it my emergency pantry. It’s a separate shelf in my food cupboard that’s only allowed to be used on ‘one of those days’ and contains a stash of staples based on versatile recipes that can handle substituting ingredients as needed. These days I’m a lot more organised but I still keep my emergency shelf filled so if I find I’m out of things like stock or canned tomatoes, if I’m late home from work and haven’t managed to get to the shops or if my son is sick, I have a go-to system that means we get a yummy meal with zero stress.
There are a few key items that live in my emergency pantry shelf. I’ll introduce new ones in this regular column over time, but to start with I’m focusing on tinned soup. Firstly, if I really can’t be bothered cooking it’s a handy meal in itself, but if I’ve still got some energy and brain power left, I can whip it up into one of a handful of meal options that have been tried, tested and given the tick by my toughest 19 month-old critic.
So, here we go, recipe 1 from my Solo Mum’s Emergency Pantry – The ‘spicy but not too spicy for kiddies’ curry made from a can of tomato soup.
Serves 1 solo mum and 1 toddler for 2 nights (I usually freeze the second portion)
500 grams diced chuck steak (or substitute chicken or lamb)
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp each of garlic, ground cumin, turmeric, chilli powder and ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
400ml can tomato soup + 1/2 can water
2 potatoes (or substitute carrots or pumpkin)
1. Brown meat in a large pot (I use my tagine, it’s almost as good as a slow cooker but creates a super moist curry in around an hour)
2. Add diced onion and soften on a medium heat
3. Add all spices and stir though for 1 minute or until fragrant
4. Add tomato soup, water and potato and bring to the boil
5. Reduce heat and simmer on low for as long as the kids can wait for their dinner (I’ve found an hour is good, but the longer the better)
6. Serve with rice… or my much quicker and easier-to-prepare friend, couscous (Pour half a cup of boiling water onto 1/2 cup couscous, cover and leave for 5 minutes, fluff with fork, done!)
Optional additions: If you’ve got them handy, serve with a spoon full of natural Greek yoghurt and a papadum microwaved for 30 seconds.
About the author
Naomi is the editor of Lift e-Magazine and single mum to 19 month old Jim. For the last 12 months she’s documented her journey of single motherhood in her award winning daily blog ‘365 Days, a Diary of a Newly Single Mum’. When she’s not experimenting with new cookie recipes or planning her next trekking, climbing or snowboarding adventure, you can find her at her desk in the picturesque city of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, weaving together solo mum stories… whether it be handy tips, triumphs, tragedies, exotic tales of travel or other tidbits to publish here. And before you ask, no, she doesn’t mind the freezing cold Tasmanian winters and yes, she had her second head removed years ago in an unfortunate accident involving a curtain rod and a drunk moose (and no, she’s not interested in hearing from anyone who doesn’t believe that drunk mooses exist in Tasmania… or those who may suppose that ‘mooses’ is not really a word).