Can Editor Lisa Baker be tempted away from take-outs and fast meals?

An extensive survey of the nation’s cooking habits by M&S reveals that nearly as many people in Wales eat their evening meal in front of the TV (41%), as the kitchen or dining room table (49%), despite 41% of Welsh respondents saying the most important part of having a weekday meal at home is the opportunity to spend quality time with family.

It turns out that our Editor Lisa and her IT Engineer husband are pretty typical, in that despite filling the fridge with healthy ingredients, they often wind up throwing them away because Lisa can’t be bothered to cook, and will either have quick meals or take out all week.  The M&S research reveals that:

  • 41% of people in Wales believe the most important part of having a weekday meal at home is the opportunity to spend quality time with family
  • On average, most people in Wales spend under 20 minutes prepping a weekday meal
  • The most regularly cooked mid-week evening meal in Wales is pasta, followed by roast dinners
  • People in Cardiff eat more beans on toast than anywhere else

The new research marks the introduction of M&S’s new Cook with M&S range, which includes over 175 innovative foodie hacks and ingredient shortcuts – with the new range promising fuss-free shortcuts from less than £1, editor (and self-acknowledged fast-food junkie) Lisa Baker visited the company’s Culverhouse Cross store to pick up a weekend’s worth to see if she could manage a weekend without takeouts.

Former restaurant owner Lisa says:

“I live up to the name ‘Baker’, I will happily spend hours in the kitchen baking fresh bread and cakes, but when it comes to cooking meals, I take a look in the kitchen, look at the healthy food we bought for the week, and decide I really can’t be bothered to wait an hour for food to cook, then deal with the mess afterwards… at that point we’re normally ordering a take-away, or I’m busy preparing my favourite quick meal, wraps filled with grated cheese and tomato puree cooked in under 5 minutes on the George Foreman grill while Mark cooks his favourite curry from scratch. 

“It’s not that I don’t want to eat healthily, it’s the effort in making good food from scratch.  My husband is brilliant, but when it’s my turn, we normally eat out.”

Having collected a selection of the new food for the weekend, the challenge was on – would the couple manage a weekend of healthy, properly cooked food?

First on the menu was Pork and Chorizo Meatballs.  With smokey chorizo, herby Spanish-style tomato sauce and oozy mozzarella, M&S promised the ultimate fuss-free dinner, which we served with wilted spinach, sweet potato fries and M&S crusty bread topped with locally made butter from a nearby dairy.  The verdict?  Lisa says:

“Having run a tapas bar in a former life, I’m pretty partial to meatballs done well – and the smokey chorizo in these gives a very authentic spanish flavour, while the mozzarella on top is a lovely twist.  I have to say, both the meatballs and the sauce were really good, loads of flavour and really quick and easy (pop in the oven!)  I will probably buy some of these to keep in the fridge.”

Unusually, Mark was full after the meal, and both enjoyed it – however Lisa reports this is unusual.  The couple have very different tastes in food and hugely different appetites – it works well when eating out, because Mark ( who stands 6ft 2″ tall and has a high appetite) will often finish Lisa’s meal as well as his own.

If buying convenience food, the couple often buy two ready meals to ensure he is full – and he still finishes Lisa’s portion!  If proof were needed, next day, a hungry Mark had the two M&S salmon fillets (Yes, two!) with lemon and black pepper butter and fresh herbs for lunch.  Mark is a huge fan of salmon and regularly buys fillets to cook at home, so we asked him for his verdict:

“The salmon was lovely, but then I buy good salmon anyway.  I really enjoyed the lemon butter – I will probably still buy the fresh fillets separately as I like to buy the biggest ones I can find, and love to steam them, but I will be taking inspiration from the butter and making something similar myself in future!”

Meanwhile, Lisa enjoyed one of the cajun chicken breasts with potato wedges and a side salad, saying:

“Again, really full of flavour.  The spice levels were about right for the dish, although because I prefer milder food, I added some sour cream to mine – yum!”

The duo came together to enjoy a delicious Beef en Croute in the evening.  The verdict?

“Probably one of the nicest beef dishes I have ever had,” said Lisa.  “The beef was really tender, the pastry outer was light and crispy, while the cheesy topping was literally to die for!  So nice, however, that my hungry husband wanted more and unusually for me, I wasn’t sharing – so he had to fill up on bread!”

The last ingredient the couple picked up was a tempting sachet priced at just £1, labelled ‘magic sprinkle’…. with a name like that, it had to be tried!

The sachet promises:

“This really is a magic ingredient, adding an instant flavour boost to almost anything from gravy and dressings to chips, eggs and roasted veg – even popcorn!”

It certainly added a nice ‘zing’ to the sweet potato chips, but it also promises to make the perfect topping for beans on toast!

So, what is in the magic?  The sachet contains a blend of dried herbs, garlic, onions, sugar, salt and pepper. So far the couple say they have only used it on potato based dishes, and they report it’s worked with all of them so far – and the sachet has gone a long way, being used on a few different meals.  Lisa says:

“We were intrigued when we saw it and wondered what we could use it with.  I was surprised how much of a difference it makes to potatoes, just adding a little zing of flavour and I will probably keep a packet handy for when we have guests – if nothing else, the pink powder is a great talking point.  Dare I admit, I used it on chips from the chippy too?”

The verdict? Overall, both Mark and Lisa loved the food – although Mark says their challenge and new-found love of magic sprinkle caused one small problem:

“My wife is always tempted by clothes when we go to M&S – and she wants to go there more often now!”