I love riding my bike. It makes me feel like I did when I was a 10-year-old, when other kids would knock on my door to ask if I could come out with my bike to play in the cul-de-sac at the end of our street. We would ride the same loop for hours, with handlebar streamers and ponytails flying behind us.
Cycling in London is distinctly more threatening. City busses ride your tail to let you know you’re going too slow, even when your heart is pounding out of your chest from exhaustion. Cars cut you off as if you do not exist and couldn’t possibly die if you weren’t able to stop yourself from hurtling into their bumpers. Pedestrians never look for you before stepping off of the sidewalk and directly into your path. But despite all of this, it still feels like the sweetest moment of my day to walk out of the office into fresh air and throw a leg over the ol’ saddle to go home.
I often spend the ride daydreaming about what I’m going to make for dinner, so that as soon as I walk in the door, I can get started. Some people find it stressful to worry about meals and cooking after a long day at work, but for me it’s all part of the pleasure of unwinding and reverting to my true self after a day of playing the part of ‘Stephanie The Grownup.’ My favourite way of cooking during the week, when I can really lose myself in the kitchen, is to improvise from what I have on hand, rather than trying to create a specific result. One of the best dishes I know for this is a Spanish-esque stew: the beauty of this meal is that it consists of a loose list of ingredients which can be altered or adapted depending on what you have in the house. I’ll describe the basic idea but it isn’t really a recipe that needs careful attention to detail, so I won’t put amounts. Just use as much as you like or as much as you have.
Fresh parsley or coriander/ cilantro
Chicken, shrimp, or beans
Chicken or veggie stock
Fresh chilis or hot sauce
Rice, cous cous, or potatoes
Green or black olives
I start with chopped chorizo, which is one of my standard kitchen staples that I just cannot live without, and fry it for a few minutes in olive oil until it’s crispy and has released its bright orange oil. I remove it with a slotted spoon and set it aside, and then in the same oil fry some chopped onions (red or white) or shallots if that’s all I have.
Next, if I’m using chicken I turn the heat up and throw in a handful of sliced boneless chicken thighs to brown on the outside. I tend to keep thighs in the house, as they cheaper and more moist and flavoursome than breasts, but you could certainly use whole pieces on the bone, or breasts, or even leftover meat from a previous roast chicken dinner. Then I throw in some fresh garlic and a can of chopped tomatoes. Top up the liquid with a little chicken stock and white wine if you have it to make sure everything is covered and add the chorizo back in. Add a can of beans at this stage if that’s your protein of choice. Mix in paprika, chilli or hot sauce, and salt and pepper, and then let the stew bubble away on low heat for 20 minutes or so to reduce down.
If you want a true one-pot dish, you can also put potatoes in to cook in the sauce (if I was using small new potatoes I’d just add them in whole, or if I had bigger ones I’d peel and quarter them first.) Otherwise, cook your couscous or rice separately to serve alongside the stew.
If you’re using shrimp, add them only in the last 3 minutes or so of cooking. Once the meat and potatoes are cooked, and everything has reduced down to a thick stew, I turn off the heat and mix in the juice of one lemon, plus a handful of chopped fresh herbs. If you have olives you can add those too. Dish it up and chow down.