The art of home cooking lies in spontaneity and ease. You bring out things from the fridge and cook it in easy steps while managing other household chores, keeping the television or your music system on after returning from office, irrespective of whether the food you are preparing is for your family's consumption or to entertain friends on a weekday. You may think it is not as easy after a nerve-wracking day at work and fighting the terrible traffic back to your home. But only if you shift the cooking from your blazing gas-stove to the mighty oven, you can save yourself from the heat of your 'chula' (stove) and the boredom of the preparing the same dish every night.
Baking is blissful for us working class folks. You just prepare the food, put it inside the oven, set the timer and go for your 'me time' - a prolonged shower, catching up on social media or reading the article that caught your attention in the morning.
Here are two simple recipes for any day of the week or for a weekend lunch; just add a salad and enjoy a sleek and healthy menu. The beauty of these recipes is that you can prepare them and keep them in the fridge before you are out to take on the world and then bake them when you come home.
Lemon-garlic whole chicken
Inspired from the queen of home-cooking, Nigella Lawson
1 whole chicken - large/medium size, unskinned
1 bulb of garlic - separated into unpeeled cloves
2 un-peeled lemons - cut into chunky eighths
1 handful fresh parsley
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp black pepper corns
1 tbsp sea salt
Clean the cavity of the chicken carefully so that no veins or blood remain. Wash it thoroughly and place onto a strainer to drain as much water as possible. Pound black pepper corns and sea salt into not-so-fine grains.
Take a portion of salt and pepper and rub inside the cavity of chicken. Put lemon wedges and garlic cloves into the cavity and tie the legs.
Lay all the parsley (except one) on your baking tray/dish; rub olive oil and salt and pepper all over the chicken. Place it on parsley bed. Cover with the last parsley you saved and bake for 90-100 minutes (large sized chicken) or 60-75 minutes (medium sized chicken) at 200 ºF (electric oven).
Remove from oven when the bird begins to caramelise at the edges of the legs and set aside for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Time saver guide:
The recipe itself is easy and preparing is not time consuming at all. However, cleaning and preparing the chicken can be done on the weekends or on the day you brought it home. The lemon zest can be prepared and kept in an air-tied container or a zip-lock box as well.
Focaccia with caramelised onion
For the dough-
500g white flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp salt
7g instant yeast
3 tbsp olive oil
For the onion topping -
5-6 tbsp soften butter
3 large red onions, sliced
Handful rosemary sprigs
1 tsp sea salt flakes
Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, then add the oil and water, and mix thoroughly. If the dough seems a little stiff, add 1-2 tbsp water, mix well then tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead. Once the dough is satin-smooth, place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Leave to rise for 1 hour until doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, cook onions in 1 tbsp olive oil for 5 minutes until soft, transparent and slightly golden-brown at the edges. Set aside.
When the dough has risen, knock it back and stretch it to fit an oiled baking tray. Leave the dough to rest for about 20 minutes.
Heat oven to 200 C/fan 180 C/gas.
Press your fingers into the dough or use a fork to make dimples.
Spread the onions over the dough and scatter with the rosemary. Drizzle the remaining oil over and then bake for 30 minutes until golden.
Leave to cool, then serve cut or torn into squares.
Time saver guide:
A dough's first rising can be done in the fridge overnight. This slows down the time it takes to rise to double its size, giving it a deeper flavour. Also, you can cook the onion the night before and refrigerate. Preparing these in the morning is an option too if you would prefer presenting yourself and your family a freshly cooked lunch.
Photo: Sharmin Rahman