I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving back on the school run when I’ve suddenly thought, ‘what on earth am I going to cook tonight?’
How ridiculous is that? After all, there are always the same number of meals a day. How is it that I always tend to forget supper?
Of course Freud would say I hadn’t forgotten at all. I am simply in denial about having to do the cooking, yet again. Which may well be true, but it doesn’t exactly provide me with a tasty and nutricious recipe I can knock up in minutes, to the delight of the whole family.
Sometimes, feeding everyone – so central to a mother’s role, from nourishing a newborn baby onwards – seems like the hardest job you can do. What I need, what all mothers need, is more ammunition to fight the good fight.
We all have a few standby recipes, dishes that most people in the family will eat most of the time. If we’re lucky, we have a couple of crowd-pleasers up our sleeves too, sure-fire successes we can bring out when there’s something to celebrate or someone needs cheering up. But the sheer slog of providing ordinary, nutritious meals that don’t get hurled on the floor or left on the plate is really and truly hard work.
That’s why I was so pleased when Tesco Real Food asked me if I’d be involved in their Real Food Challenge. The idea is wonderfully simple – we all send them our best, tried and tested, never-fail always-eaten top recipes, and one is chosen as a winner. The prizes are great, too.
There are various categories, and I’m on the judging panel (yes, really, me! I’m very excited) for the family friendly section. Each section comes under the wing of a celebrity and mine is the lovely Lorraine Kelly, so we had a chat this morning.
Lorraine is one of the busiest people around, doing four breakfast TV programmes a week with her super-successful series Lorraine on ITV, two newspaper columns on the Sun and the Sunday Post, and bringing up her daughter, Rosie, now 17, with her husband Steve in Dundee. I first interviewed her years ago when I worked on the Daily Express and I’m glad to say she is completely unchanged, despite her huge success. She is bright, bubbly and down to earth as ever, and admits right up front that she is never going to win Masterchef.
‘I’m the first to say I’m not the best cook in the world, but I do make all the basics, spaghetti bolognaise, other pastas, good family food. My mother used to cook everything from scratch every night for dinner. It’s not really practical now, and everybody has the odd ready meal sometimes, but they are so high in salt and they’re so expensive. I’m a strong believer in buying fresh and buying local and cooking it yourself if you can.’
Part of the Tesco Real Food Challenge involves the celebrity chosing a favourite recipe which a
hapless twit lucky volunteer, ie me, gets to cook. Lorraine’s choice is her beef and ale pie. ‘It’s a traditional sort of dish, to me it’s real comfort food. We live near the river in Dundee and it’s something you’d eat after spending the whole day out there. It makes me think of home and warmth and all those good things. You can add your own bits and pieces too, jazz it up with some wine, put your own stamp on it. When I make it I tend to make three lots and freeze two, and I used to do that all the time when Rosie was little, too.’
‘I’m really hoping my category, family favourites, will win as we do basic good food really well in this country. The whole of Britain is full of great ingredients, like British lamb, beef and pork. If the ingredients are good, you don’t need to do that much to them.’
‘If I’m in London working, I’ll grab a salad or a sandwich, I don’t tend to cook for myself. And Steve makes something really wonderful if we’ve got people coming for dinner. Rosie is beginning to be a great cook, though. When I first went to live in my own flat I had to ring my mum and say, ‘now what do I do with a potato?’ but Rosie’s making lovely chicken and honey wraps and she’s really creative with cakes. She finished her last exam this week but she isn’t sure yet what she’d like to do, she’s interested in so many things.’
Lorraine, who didn’t go to university as she’d just landed a job on her local paper, won’t be forcing Rosie off to uni if she’s not keen, but she admits she’s contemplating going back to education herself, when (or if) she retires from telly. ‘I quite fancy doing an open university degree in Russian and English. I do remember my Russian but how much depends on how much vodka I’ve drunk. Apparently after one or two cocktails it all comes back.’
Well, there’s ale in Lorraine’s pie but she assures me it is family-friendly and not likely to get anyone speaking Russian. Meanwhile she’s looking forward to seeing all the recipe entries coming in for the Challenge. ‘I need some more good meals myself to add to my repertoire. Send them all in. I don’t mind what sort of thing it is as long as it’s a good family meal. I’ll eat anything except sprouts,’ says Lorraine, who’s in terrific shape these days after a gruelling trek for Comic Relief left her with over 30 mouth ulcers. ‘I could only eat smoothies and the weight dropped off. I try to keep it that way with a bit of pilates, walking and cycling, but I’ve never felt under huge pressure. Breakfast TV isn’t that sort of place. It’s all about being approachable, you have to be the sort of person people can bump into in the supermarket, and I’m there a lot,’ says Lorraine, dashing off to do her shopping in between shows.
Well, while Lorraine’s off to get her groceries, I’m contemplating making her pie. Wish me luck! I’ll report back on how it goes.