We lead such busy lives these days that it’s all too easy to become reliant on convenience foods. Finding time to cook a meal yourself can seem daunting – so much easier to pop something in the microwave or buy a takeaway. But making a dish from scratch doesn’t have to be time-consuming, and nothing beats good home cooking in terms of flavour or nutritional value.
For my new book, I’ve assembled a range of delicious, easy dishes that can be put together as quickly as possible using a mixture of fresh ingredients and store-cupboard staples. I include week-night dishes that are ready to serve up in under 30 minutes; recipes that can be made ahead of time and then cooked or assembled when you’re ready; quick roasts and satisfying stews that can be on the table much faster than traditional options but without any loss of flavour; and easy-to-prepare meals that cook while you do something else.
Read on for my personal selection of recipes, specially chosen for this collection, and read on to get started.
Downsize for speed
Bear in mind that the size of the ingredients makes a difference to how long a dish will take. A smaller cut of meat will cook in a fraction of the time of a large joint, for example, but is just as tasty. The Marinated Mango Pork Medallions are brimming with tangy flavour and take only 5-10 minutes to cook. The meat is marinated quickly first, which is such an effective way to add instant flavour to a dish, be it meat or a fish dish such as the Ginger Teriyaki Salmon – again, just 5 minutes cooking. People are often wary about cooking fish, yet it’s one of the quickest foods to prepare. Why not give the salmon a go?
Rock that wok
How you cook is as important as what you cook when it comes to speed. For the TV series that accompanies Quick Cooking, I visited London’s Chinatown and watched chefs at work as they furiously chopped and stir-fried vegetables at lightning speed over fiery flames. I don’t advise such hectic methods at home (even if you are in a hurry!) but I’m inspired by Chinese and Thai traditions – hence the succulent Asian Beef and Red Pepper Stir-fry.
I also visited Rome for the TV programme. When it comes to quick cooking, Italy is hard to beat and of course pasta is such a great store-cupboard stand-by. Try the Romano Pepper and Herb Penne.
Quick, quick slow
While stews generally rely on slow cooking, I’ve included one speedier version in this special collection – the Lamb Tagine. For the TV series I travelled to Marrakech, where I watched a family prepare a tagine in the time-honoured way, each ingredient added to the dish in exactly the same order as it had been done for generations. My version still takes some time to cook but it’s very quick to prepare and tastes utterly delicious. The oven does the work.
Certain items are ideal for adding flavour quickly, such as roasted red peppers in oil, which provide a tasty alternative to roasting red peppers from scratch, or richly savoury oriental condiments – perfect for instant Asian-style marinades. Another favourite is shop-bought puff pastry – a convenient and very useful option for tarts and pies. Try the Italian Galette.
Don’t sweat the sweet stuff
Good-quality shop-bought lemon or orange curd can be a real time-saver for desserts (check the label and avoid those with additives). Try the moist and creamy Apple and Lemon Sandwich Cake. Splitting things up into smaller quantities also helps if you’re in a hurry – the no-churn Rum and Raisin Ice Cream is even quicker to prepare if you freeze it in ramekins rather than a large container. For a teatime treat, try the Scone Fruit Crown, which looks impressive and, being composed of mini scones, needs just 10-12 minutes in the oven. Perfect to serve a crowd.
Read my tips
Throughout the recipes I give tips on how to save time or make the preparation more straightforward, as well as advice on preparing ahead and freezing where possible. For the TV series I visited a wide range of restaurants and eating places, but what struck me about all of them was how well organised they were. Thinking ahead is something of a mantra of mine as I strongly believe that it can really help, especially when you’re busy. A little bit of forward planning makes all the difference.
Researching and putting together these dishes has been a great pleasure. I hope you enjoy making them and you discover in the process that you’re never too busy to knock up a nourishing and delicious meal. Once you get into the swing of it, you won’t look back – I guarantee it. You’ll soon be rustling up your own speedy lunches, suppers, puds and bakes – much tastier and more satisfying than any convenience foods or takeaways.
Recipes from Mary Berry’s Quick Cooking
Tomato is usually paired with basil, but tarragon goes beautifully with it, too. Sourdough bread is ideal for making the croûtes as it really adds to the flavour.
A quick and easy way to make a savoury tart. Using shop-bought puff pastry is a joy – be sure to buy the all-butter variety as this is the real deal with the best flavour. Serve the galette with a large salad or slaw.
This is my version of one of the nation’s favourite curries. It’s a little fiddly to remove the pods of the cardamom seeds, but you then get all the flavour and none of the green husk left in the curry sauce when serving. Give the pods a quick bash with a rolling pin or use a pestle and mortar, and they will split easily so you can pick out the seeds.
Slices of pork fillet with a quick, tasty sauce. These would work well on a barbecue, too. Serve with sweet potato wedges and a crunchy coleslaw.
Quick, simple and impressive-looking. Use thin, sustainably caught salmon fillets cut from the centre or swap with trout fillets if you like.
Crispy parma ham, red peppers and fresh herbs are such a lovely flavour combination. Parma ham usually comes in packets of six to seven slices – use the whole packet. Swap for thin rashers of streaky bacon, if you prefer.
This flavoursome dish can be on the table in about 30 minutes and was inspired by a wonderful meal at a friend’s house. A perfect weekday family dinner, served hot with minted new potatoes and a rocket and tomato salad.
A dish with a Chinese influence. Bashing the steak first tenderises it and pan-frying it as a piece rather than in strips gives a more succulent flavour.
For the TV series accompanying my new book, I travelled to Morocco where tagines like this are a staple dish. They may be slow to cook but they are quick to make. This is my quick version as some tagines take three hours to cook. The spices used here are a classic combination for tagine recipes and give a wonderful depth of flavour. All these spices are good to keep in your store cupboard, so you always have them to hand.
Like many grain-based dishes, couscous salad can be a little bland without lots of added flavourings, provided here by the peppers, spring onions and parsley, while the pistachios give a lovely texture. The baby red peppers come in a jar; they give a hit of sweet, piquant flavour and are also great stuffed with a little cream cheese as hors d’oeuvres alongside olives. Wholemeal couscous is less refined and contains a bit more fibre, but standard couscous would also work well. Whichever you use, it’s the ultimate grain for speedy cooking – made from steam-dried semolina, it just needs to be rehydrated in stock, as here, or boiling water. This goes well with the Lamb Tagine.
Savoury muffins are so much quicker to make than bread. The texture is different, of course, but they are superb with soup, salads or for eating on the go. The cheese is lovely and oozy if you serve them warm. Eaten cold, they are still fragrant, with a nice saltiness from the cheese and olives. As with all muffins, this is a slightly moist and heavier bake, rather than a light and airy sponge.
The ultimate cream sponge cake – the apple makes the cake really moist and the lemon-flavoured cream keeps it fresh-tasting. Delicious!
Many moons ago I created a brioche tart with apricots. It is a recipe many people still say is one of their favourites, so I have made a new version using pears and almonds. Take time to arrange the pears beautifully on the top of the brioche. It helps to make the tart look really stunning – guaranteed to impress!
Sweet, naughty and delicious, this rum and raisin ice cream has a gorgeously smooth and silky texture. With no churning required, it is so straightforward to make, too. Condensed milk is the magic ingredient here â€“ the thick, rich combination of sugar and milk helps to prevent any ice crystals from forming and makes the ice cream easy to scoop straight from the freezer. Soaking the raisins overnight is worth doing as this plumps them up so they are juicy. Without soaking they would be hard to eat.
An indulgent, rich chocolate tart is quick to make and even quicker to devour! Like a cup of cappuccino, it has a creamy topping and scattering of chocolate shavings.
Making mini scones and gathering them together in a crown shape is a quick and impressive way to serve large numbers for a picnic or other gathering.
Hearty and warming, upside-down pudding is so simple to prepare, especially as the sponge uses an all-in-one method. You must use young, pink rhubarb at the start of the season as the older, green variety would be too tart. Forced rhubarb from Yorkshire is available in the early part of the year – January to March.
This is a chocolate sponge with a surprise chocolate sauce. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of water used in the recipe – the rich sauce will magically appear bubbling under the baked surface of the sponge once it is cooked.
Quick, light and simple – with no gelatine! Use oat biscuits as a variation if you like a textured cheesecake base.
Fresh and flavoursome, this is wonderful on its own or as a side dish with meat or fish. It is also perfect for vegetarians – the mushrooms make it very substantial and are a great substitute for meat.
Light and fresh, this is an ideal dish for a summer’s evening and always goes down well.
Easy and quick but hearty, this chicken dish will become a firm family favourite. Sun-blushed or sun-soaked tomatoes – only partially dried and usually preserved in oil – have a delicious, concentrated flavour. You can find them in the supermarket in a jar or in a pack in the chiller cabinets.
These are like the traditional American muffins so don’t expect them to be very sweet. They are always best served warm.
A traybake is such a simple, easy type of cake to make, and very quick to mix using the all-in-one method.
When you have a little more time
Making your own stock
Good-quality stock can make all the difference to a recipe, especially when you are cooking something like soup. There are good fresh stocks available in the supermarket but if you have the time it’s worth making your own. If you do, be sure to make enough to freeze some and you’ll have homemade stock ready for when time is short. It is useful to freeze the stock in portions – try 150ml (¼ pint), 300ml (½ pint) or 600ml (1 pint) containers.
To make 2.5 litres (4 pints) of chicken stock, place 1.5kg (3lb) raw chicken/game/turkey bones in a stockpot with 2 peeled onions and brown over a medium heat. Pour in 4 litres (7 pints) of water and bring to the boil. Add 3 carrots, 3 celery sticks, a bouquet garni (bay leaves and sprigs of thyme and parsley) and some peppercorns and leave to simmer, half covered, for 2½-3 hours. Strain the contents of the pan into a large bowl, then decant into a container for freezing or use straight away – try the Korma-style Chicken Curry.
Roasting your own peppers
The roasted peppers you can buy in a jar are a delicious and easy addition to a recipe, especially the peppers in oil, but if you have time and raw peppers in the fridge then you can roast your own very simply. Preheat the grill and line the grill pan with foil. Cut the peppers in half, remove the seeds and arrange the peppers cut side down in the grill pan. Grill, turning regularly, until blackened all over.
Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover with a plate and leave to cool – the steam will loosen the skin. Strip off and discard all the black skin, then cut each pepper into strips. You can use these roasted pepper strips in any number of recipes – try the Romano Pepper and Herb Penne – or store them in sterilised jars for another day.
Making your own lemon curd
Lemon curd is actually very easy to make and, while shop-bought varieties are good for when you are in a hurry (be sure to buy luxury curd made with pure ingredients), it’s lovely to make your own. Break 4 eggs into a saucepan and whisk to combine. Stir in 300g (10½oz) sugar, 225g (8oz) butter, cut into pieces, and the finely grated zest and juice of 4 lemons. Once everything is combined, place the pan over a medium heat and whisk continuously until the mixture coats the back of a spoon and is slightly thickened – this could take 7-10 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil or it may split. If you are an inexperienced cook, whisk the curd in a bowl over simmering water. It will take longer but is foolproof. Remove from the heat and leave to cool before serving.