About this time of year, the pace of life always seems to crank up a gear. As the days get longer it feels like you can pack in more and more. And it's so fabulous to go for a walk after work in the daylight, or potter a bit in the garden. That feeling of stretching a little more playtime out of the day creates a sense of a little holiday in the humdrum of daily life.
But then you come in and it's late, and if you haven't yet thought about dinner it's going to be even later by the time you get to eat. In our house we get what my husband calls "the dinner drift" - two glasses of chardonnay and dinner at 10.30pm. It doesn't get dark down here in the south till after 8pm and as long as the light holds, my vege garden calls. My late-night dinners, perhaps unsurprisingly, aren't very popular, as our house tends to run on farmers' hours, with dawn starts.
My mother always used to prepare dinner in the morning before she went off and did everything else she needed to get done in the day. That's rarely my caper but when I know I've got a busy few days coming up I throw a big chunk of a cheap cut of meat in the slow-cooker with lots of aromatics and leave it to cook itself to succulence and tenderness over the next nine or 10 hours. I then have the start point for not just one but often two or three different meals.
The idea of these meals is that they don't taste like leftovers. Make a double batch of rich beef bourguignon and one night, and set aside half to transform into little pies a night or two later (I like to pop a slice of blue cheese on top of the meat before I add the pastry lid). Or shred the meat and heat it with the sauce to toss through pasta, garnishing with finely chopped parsley, rosemary and lemon zest for a gremolata kick of freshness.
Slow-cooked lamb shoulder flavoured with Moroccan aromatics can be served up on day one with roast veges and greens. Then the leftovers can be heated up with chickpeas, lots of coriander and maybe a can of tomatoes for some extra sauce, and served over couscous for another night, and the last bits shredded and popped into a wrap with hummus, chili sauce and some crunchy lettuce and parsley.
This week I'm sharing a Tex-Mex style slow-cooked pulled pork that's great served with kumara mash and stir-fried gingery cabbage or brussels sprouts. Add a can of beans to the leftovers to make enchiladas the next night, and if you've still got some left, it's wonderful in a soft bun with coleslaw. Three nights' dinner, sorted.
Having a good homemade tomato sauce like my Terracotta Sauce at your fingertips is another really useful trick to help you pull dinners out of a hat. Make a big batch and freeze in cup measures as the starting point for near-instant dinners. Pour it over chicken and vegetables and aromatics of your choice and throw into the oven for an easy tray-bake meal. Or simmer it in a pot with chicken, seafood or minced meats and serve over pasta, couscous or rice.
Just knowing you have sorted the starting point for dinner takes out the stress of thinking about what to cook and delivers the kitchen smarts to get time back on your side.
Slow-Cooked Tex-Mex Pulled Pork
Ready in 6-10 hours
1.8kg bone-in pork leg or shoulder
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp ground cumin
100g can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, Pureed or chopped (or less to taste)
Season pork all over with salt and pepper. Combine tomatoes, cumin and chipotles in the slow-cooker. Add pork and spoon some of the sauce from around the dish over the top. Cover and cook on high power for 6 hours or low power for 9-10 hours until tender enough to pull apart in chunks or shred with 2 forks. Serve with its juices. The cooked pork and juices will keep in the fridge for a week in a covered container and also freeze well.
Annabel says: It's hard to believe this amazing pork, with its complex, rich flavours, has just four ingredients. If you have a jar of Terracotta Tomato Sauce in the fridge or freezer it's even easier - use 3 cups of that instead of the chopped tomatoes, cumin and chipotle peppers.
Terracotta Tomato Sauce
Ready in 1¼ hours
Makes 8 cups
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
6 Tbsp tomato paste
6 x 400g cans tomatoes in juice
100g can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, pureed or chopped in their sauce
¼ cup soft brown sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley leaves
Heat oil in a large pot, add onions, garlic and tomato paste and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft (about 8 minutes). Add all other ingredients and simmer gently in a semi-covered pot for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Remove the lid and continue cooking until the sauce is quite thick (a further 10-15 minutes).
It will keep in the fridge for up to five days or can be divided into cup-sized measures and frozen.
Annabel says: This fabulous tomato sauce, with its rich smoky flavours, offers a fabulous starting point for a multitude of quick and easy meals. It uses canned tomatoes so it's cheap to make. Add mince and canned beans for an easy Mexican chilli, serve with steak and lightly cooked greens, or drizzle over a baked kumara or potato (fast-track in the microwave for 2-3 minutes each) with crumbled feta, chunks of avocado, coriander or spring onions and toasted pumpkin seeds for a fabulous vegetarian meal.
Pork and Black Bean Enchiladas
Ready in 30 mins
2-3 cups shredded pork and 1 cup juices from Slow-Cooked Tex-Mex Pulled Pork (see left)
390g can black beans in chilli sauce
a pinch of chilli flakes
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
8 flour tortillas or mountain breads
1 cup sour cream
1 cup tomato salsa, taco sauce or Terracotta Tomato Sauce (see left)
¼ cup water
1 cup grated cheese
Preheat oven to 180C fanbake. Mix pork with cooking juices, beans in chilli sauce, chilli flakes and coriander. Place tortillas or mountain breads on a clean board.
Divide the pork mixture between them, arranging it in a band down the middle of each. Roll up and place, joined edge facing down, in a shallow baking dish (about 30cm x 20cm).
Spread the sour cream over the top. Mix the tomato salsa or sauce with the water and pour over the top, ensuring all the rolls are coated. Sprinkle with cheese and bake until golden (20 minutes).
Annabel says: This is a great second meal from your slow-cooked pork, using half the meat and a cup of the cooking juices. Put these to one side before you serve the first meal to ensure you have enough of both meat and juice. If you don't have black beans use kidney beans instead. If you prefer spicier enchiladas, adjust the quantity of chilli flakes to suit your taste.