Easy hands-off food for lonely days


Easy hands-off food for lonely days

ANNELIESE BURGESS shares four go-to recipes for when she is feeling tired, low and lonely. They're comfort dishes you can pull off in a soulless self-catering rental with wonky pots and pans.

WE all know the feeling of midweek exhaustion. You crave something nourishing — soul food — but you can't face a whole chopping and prepping kitchen extravaganza.

Or you are in a soulless Airbnb, surrounded by beigeness, the air thick with air freshener and the hum of a highway. You feel discombobulated and lonely. You haven't eaten all day. And the only thing that could make things worse is an indifferent (inevitably expensive) meal in a poorly lit restaurant on your own. The own part is not the problem. The vibe is. You want something homely, simple and filling that you can eat in bed with Netflix.

These are the times to have a few one-pan winners up your sleeve with a short(ish) list of ingredients you can fast-forage from any supermarket. 

Here are my go-to hands-off one-pot-one-dish-only-need-an-oven dishes.


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Chicken with burnt lemons and halloumi

This dish, from Donna Hay's One Pan Perfect (her 26th book!), is a firm favourite in my home. It is simple enough to prepare even in a badly appointed kitchen. The recipe employs one of my favourite kitchen hacks: lining a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. You want to use a tray with sides rather than a flat sheet, as this will help retain moisture while roasting.

Now you layer lemons cut in wedges with sprigs of marjoram or oregano (you can also use dried or even leave them out if you don't have them to hand, although the herbs add a special layer of flavour). Drizzle with olive oil and roast until the lemons blacken around the edges. Then add the chicken breast fillets and coat with the tray juices. Layer sliced halloumi over the breasts and drizzle with a bit of honey. Roast until the chicken is done. Hay suggests serving this on a bed of baby spinach leaves with the juice of the charred lemons dribbled over. 

Recipe here

Warm garlic and cannellini bean salad

I have become a total bean evangelist, and this recipe, also from Donna Hay, is a shining star in my expanding repertoire.

Apart from the confit garlic, which elevates this to something totally sublime, most of the ingredients are pantry basics. Hay's recipe calls for 2 tins of cannellini beans, 2 tbsp of capers, 6 cloves of confit garlic, 2 lemons cut into cheeks, 16 asparagus spears (those really thin ones that are more stalk than spear are brilliant in this), 3¼ cups of rocket leaves and 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts. Pine nuts are fantastic but also prohibitively expensive. All you really need is something crunchy. Cashew nuts — even unsalted peanuts — also work perfectly.

Drain the beans. Cook them in a pan over medium-high heat in some of your confit garlic oil with the capers until heated through. Add the confit garlic cloves and combine. Set aside. Now wipe your pan clean, turn the heat to high and cook the lemon cheeks until they caramelise. Serve the warm beans with the blanched asparagus, rocket, a showering of nuts (quickly dry-toast them in a pan) and the caramelised lemon cheeks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and another drizzle of olive oil.

(And a few chunky crumbs of soft gorgonzola would not go amiss either. I had a delicious wedge from Cremelat to hand when I last made this.)

Apart from the garlic confit, this is basically an assembly job. And the garlic is a super simple hands-off one-pan operation in itself. Just do it!

Recipe for confit garlic


Glazed sticky pepper chicken

From Kwoklyn Wan's new cookbook, One Wok, One Pot, this lovely little dish yields melt-in-the-mouth chicken in a rich, peppery sauce. 

The concept is super simple: brown and seal the bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs (the recipe calls for 600g, but you can scale this up or down) in a heavy-bottomed pot like a Dutch oven. Once browned, discard the oil and return the chicken to the pot with 2 tbsp of freshly cracked black pepper, half a cup of dark soy sauce and half a cup of water. Stir to coat the chicken well.

Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to let the chicken simmer for 40 minutes, turning it once during the cooking time. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and serve with a crunchy salad, noodles or rice. 

Recipe here

Rice Cooker Cantonese Chicken

I love my slow cooker only slightly more than I love my rice cooker. In this simple masterpiece from the same cookbook, the chicken and the rice are cooked together. It is a perfect, hands-off dish for one or two people. I love the comforting, clean flavours. Wan soaks 1 cup of jasmine rice for 30 minutes before pouring off the excess water and transferring the rice to the rice cooker. Followed by 1 cup chicken stock and 1 tbsp vegetable oil. Then she layers on a thumb-sized piece of ginger that has been peeled and roughly sliced, 2 roughly chopped garlic cloves and 3 chopped spring onions. Then, two boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken thighs are cut into 2-3 pieces.

Lid on. Cook. For around 20 minutes. And then let it still stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. Deep comfort food.

Kitchen tip

I love lining my roasting tins with non-stick baking paper. It makes clean-up easy and you avoid the burnt-on gunk that is sometimes so difficult to get rid of. I use unbleached, greaseproof parchment baking paper from If You Care at Yuppiechef. R149 for a pack of 24. These pre-cut sheets are ideal for baking, roasting, reheating and wrapping (cheese!). The paper is compostable and microwave-safe.

Pantry talk

I have written before about this Asian Chilli Szechuan Pepper Oil from Woolworths because I love it so.

Szechuan pepper, also known as Sichuan pepper, is named after Sichuan province in northern China. The spice creates a tingling, numbing sensation in the mouth. When combined with chillies, the flavour, known as “mala" or “numb-spiciness" is created.  The Woolies product is infused with shallots, garlic, ginger and spring onion to create an ideal finishing oil.

♦ VWB ♦

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