Cooking with Mimi O'Callaghan

I love that creativity can be expressed in so many ways. Mimi, a close friend of mine and someone I lived with for a few years, always inspired me with her passion for cooking. Mimi was the one who had all the meals planned and ready to go each Sunday and managed to wrangle me and 5 other boys into cooking once a week, who all have varying degrees of ability. I thought I’d ask her a few questions about why she enjoys cooking, tips and also her favourite go-to recipe. She's also recently started sharing her creations on tik-tok and I would highly recommend having a look to get some meal inspiration! Click the link here to check her out 

So Mimi, What is it about cooking you enjoy?

I get so much joy out of it. I kind of zone out and just think about what’s in front of me – it’s so relaxing. I have been a foodie my entire life – mum always talks about how as a baby I always stuffed my face. I’m always thinking about my next meal.

But for me, cooking is more than food. It’s an act of service to people I love. So, when we were in a big flat (as you mentioned above), I just loved the whole process of choosing delicious nutritious meals for my friends, then cooking and eating them together – it was such a special part of the day.

These days, I only cook for my boyfriend Mitch and myself (a lot easier than cooking for seven) but it’s the same thing. Choosing meals for the week that are healthy – but delicious, then cooking it up and enjoying the food together. It’s my favourite part of the day.

 Food is so special – it’s one of the pleasures in life.

Is it just about cooking for you or is it what cooking can bring?

It’s a lot more than just cooking. I think of it as my creative outlet for the day. Because it is! You get to be inventive, use different flavours, spices, condiments to make a dish delicious.

I also just love feeding people – I think I get that from my dad. Dad is the cook in my family, and he’s so passionate about everything he cooks. He puts so much love into it. And he’ll ask you 1000 times if you’re enjoying it (which I def do too).

If anyone is hungry when they’re around at mine, I often jump at the chance to make them a feed. I just find it so fun. And then sitting down and eating together with no distractions tops it off. 

Do you ever feel like time limits you from being able to enjoy your cooking or is it something you prioritise? 

Because I get so much enjoyment out of it I prioritise it. I’ve gone through periods where I haven’t been able to cook and I found I got really flat. Cooking each day gives me an endorphin boost – and without it to look forward to, I noticed it affects my mood.

I’ve always admired your meal planning, any tips for how to get prepared for the week ahead with dinners?

I know you’ll agree with me on this one (as this is what we always did in our flat), but it makes life so much easier if you go onto a cooking website (like Jamie Oliver, our old fave) and find 4-5 recipes that use similar ingredients, and then copy and paste those ingredients in your ‘list’ onto a Countdown/NewWorld/PaknSave online account.

 And if you’re short on time, or want something even easier, here are the top things I recommend to have on hand to make a delish yum easy meal.

- Instant rice packets – these are brilliant, only 2 mins in the microwave!

- Some cans of legumes – i.e. some chickpeas or black beans that just need to be drained and rinsed

- Deli shredded chicken or cans of tuna

- Ready-made slaw bags – such timesavers!

- A few raw veggies that can be cut up quickly and popped in a meal, like an avo, cucumber, tomatoes, red onion

- If you have time, pre-cooking veggies and storing them in the fridge is great i.e. cooking pumpkin or kumara on a Sunday and having the cooked cubed slices in a container ready to go

- Having some condiments to make an easy sauce – I.e. Greek yoghurt, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, paprika – there you have it, an easy yum sauce to elevate a meal (or just have a store-bought one)

All of the above can make a meal, and all you have to do is spend 10 minutes preparing – no actual cooking involved.

Do you tend to follow a recipe?

What I do is I look at a range of recipes in cookbooks or on my FAVOURITE app (NY Times Cooking App), and that gives me ideas.

I won't exactly follow the recipe as such – I’ll swap out ingredients and do my own method, but a lot of the time the meal will be based on the flavours in that recipe. 

I love that you are now sharing some of your meals on tik-tok, what about this do you enjoy? Is it like another creative outlet for you?

It’s just fun lol! I love social media, and it's fun filming them and documenting the process.

Lastly, would you mind sharing your favourite go-to-recipe with our readers today?

Dirty Rice (well, this is largely based on it). It’s a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, and it always impresses and is a crowd-pleaser. It’s also easy to make vegan etc. We usually have this with fish or some sort of meat and then a fresher salad.

INGREDIENTS:

200g basmati rice

 85ml olive oil

 Salt

10 garlic cloves, peeled, 4 finely sliced and 6 crushed

50g unsalted butter (or an extra 50ml olive oil, to keep it vegan)

3 large onions, peeled and finely chopped (350g)

180g roasted almonds

25g black garlic (about 15 cloves), finely chopped

1½ tbsp Cajun spice blend (I use Bart’s)

150ml vegetable stock or water

1 cup currants

10g parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp lemon juice

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

 

METHOD

Add the rice, two teaspoons of oil, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and 400ml boiling water to a medium saucepan, for which you have a lid, on a medium-high heat. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and leave to cook for 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered, for 10 minutes before fluffing up with a fork.

While the rice is cooking, heat three tablespoons of oil in a very small pan on a medium heat. Once hot, fry the sliced garlic, stirring to separate the slices, until pale golden – about two minutes. Watch that you don’t cook it further, or it may burn and turn bitter. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to a paper-lined plate, reserving the oil. Sprinkle the fried garlic with a little salt and set aside.

Add the butter, remaining two tablespoons of oil, onions and crushed garlic to a large, nonstick saute pan on a high heat. Fry for about 14 minutes, resisting the urge to stir too often, until the onions are a deep golden-brown. The onions should catch on the bottom of the pan every now and then, but shouldn’t burn, so turn the heat down if necessary.

Reduce the heat to medium-high, add the almomds, black garlic, Cajun spices, currants and a half-teaspoon of salt, and continue to fry for seven minutes, stirring every now and then, until everything is a deep, dark-brown colour, but not burned.

Stir the rice into the mixture until fully combined, and increase the heat to high. Once the rice at the bottom of the pan begins to crisp up a little – two to three minutes – add the stock and cook, undisturbed, until it has evaporated – another two minutes or so. Remove from the heat, stir through the parsley, garlic slices, lemon juice and reserved garlic oil, and serve.

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