When I think back to the food I ate during my childhood - and I think I ate particularly well - it seems to me that the meals we ate then were a lot simpler than the meals eaten now. This was during the seventies and eighties, and although we had some instant meals, butterscotch angel delight, miniature frozen pizzas and mousses being among the greatest treats, pretty much everything we ate was made from scratch. My parents were, at times, at least semi-vegetarian, so we did not seem to eat much meat at home, and our meals seemed to be quite economical. We virtually never ate out, had few take-aways, or even bought cakes, and our ready meals were limited to the occasional pizza and chips. Like my mother, both my grandmothers are good cooks, and we ate many post-war type meals cooked by them.
Meals I remember with particular fondness were: bacon, egg, macaroni and peas with plenty of tomato ketchup; a bean and vegetable stew, baked potatoes topped with paprika and grated cheese, apple crumble, homemade chocolate sauce, millionaire's shortbread (though we did not know it by that name and called it "Granny's chocolate stuff), and macaroni cheese.
One of my all-time favourite meals, an incredibly easy, comforting and economical one, still one of my favourites, begins with tomato sauce and pasta. There are million recipes for tomato sauce so you hardly need mine, but here it is anyway.
Tomato sauce and pasta
For two people, cook one small or half a large onion on a low heat in sunflower oil, possibly combined with a small knob of butter, for around ten minutes, after sprinkling lightly with salt. You do not want the onion to brown, but become translucent, and when you taste it, it should have sweetened and lost its raw onion flavour.
Then add one tin of tomatoes, chopped if you have them, but if you are using whole tomatoes, it is best to mash them up with a spoon to break them up. Add a chopped or minced clove of garlic at the same time. If you feel like adding any other vegetables, and have some lying around, you could add some sliced peppers or mushrooms at this point, as well as a dash of oregano or basil if you have it. Bring the sauce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes before putting pasta on to accompany it. Spaghetti is good, but you can use whatever pasta you like, or have to hand. (Or a mixture of the ends of bags, as long as you start with the longest-cooking pasta, and watch the timings carefully.) As the sauce is not a very filling one, I suggest you err on the generous side in your per person pasta allowance. (I normally allow 75g per person, but you might want closer to 100g.)
Serve with grated cheese: cheddar or parmesan are both good, or I like a combination of the two, but again, whatever you have is fine. Alternatively, you could chop up a piece of mozzarella and stir that into the sauce just before you serve it. If you have any pesto you could serve a dollop on the side. Equally, if you have any salad leaves those would be a good accompaniment. You will definitely want some freshly ground black pepper.
Ice-cream and chocolate sauce
The pudding I associate with this main course is ice-cream and chocolate sauce. To begin, take your ice cream out of the freezer. I suggest using vanilla, whatever kind you like. Whilst I now prefer to avoid the margarine-style of vanilla I associate with my early childhood, you definitely do not need to use anything fancy. If you would like any accompaniments with your sauce - crunchy cereal, sliced almonds, sliced bananas, tinned pears - get those lined up now.
To make the sauce, for two people, put a desert spoon of margarine into a small saucepan on a low heat, then add a desert spoon of golden syrup, melt the two ingredients together, then stir in a desert spoon of cocoa, and simmer very gently for about 30 seconds. You want the sauce to bubble very gently, but not to boil. Then pour over the ice- cream, and leave for a few seconds to set, before adding any accompaniments, and eating.
I have not actually calculated the exact cost of this meal, but it is very little indeed, and its comfort and nostalgia value is considerable.
Podcast 13O: Seven Myths of Happiness.
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