What is a ‘family fail-safe’ I hear you ask? Well, let me explain. The family fail-safe is the meal one prepares when it’s late in the evening, you’re just in the door, there’s no plan in place, and the fridge is looking a bit bare. Alas, you turn to the family fail-safe, which never fails to satisfy. We’ve all been there, and I think to some degree, we all have one — even if subconsciously.
When you think of the family fail-safe, certain factors come into consideration. The first being time. The dish must be able to be made from start to finish, in a short amount of time. C’mon, you’re starving! You want food now. You don’t want to have to spend an hour preparing your dinner and you certainly don’t want to spend a significant amount of time waiting for it to cook. Instead, your fail-safe dish should take you around 30 minutes to prep and make, give or take.
The next factor is ease. The dish must be so easy to make, you can whip it up in your sleep. We don’t want any fancy shmancy cooking techniques or kitchen curveballs thrown at us when all we want is a quick bite.
Next up are our basic ingredients. The family fail-safe must consist of basic ingredients which you’re likely to have in your kitchen at all times. The kinds of food that are permanently ingrained on your weekly shopping list.
Coinciding with this, the fourth factor to take into account is adaptability. You should be comfortable and confident enough with your fail-safe dish that you can adapt any element of the recipe to fit in easily with whatever ingredients are in your fridge. For example, if your dish requires peas, think more along the lines of green vegetables; in place of chorizo, add bacon, ham or pancetta. This is not only for convenience, but also variety, to ensure it doesn’t feel like you’re eating the same meal every night.
Lastly, the family fail-safe must be effortlessly tasty. It should taste so good that it makes you want to go to the small effort of cooking it takes, as opposed to sticking in a microwaveable meal or ordering a takeaway. It should also maintain a relatively healthy nutritional value — meaning you won’t be overdoing your daily calorie count in one sitting by consuming this delicious dish.
In my home growing up, the family fail-safe was a combination of three ingredients; meat, potatoes and veg. This sounds extraordinarily broad, I know. However, that’s partially the point. It’s supposed to be broad enough that you don’t even realise you’re having the same meal over and over again. My mother could easily and quickly put together a delicious meal for the family, consisting of these three ingredients every night of the week and we wouldn’t notice. It could be steamed salmon, carrots and garlic mash on Monday, broccoli, chicken Kiev and roasties on Wednesday, pork chops, boiled spuds and carrot and parsnip mash on Friday. Each one was simply satisfying and kept us full night after night.
If any of your Irish mammies are anything like mine, then they love a good bargain. My mother would notoriously scour the reduced aisles of Tesco looking for deals to stock our gigantic chest freezer. Then, whenever she needed to fill the meat section of our infamous family fail-safe, she would turn to her stock of bargain buys and have an abundance of options to choose from.
As for the potato portion of the meal, my mother believes a dinner is not a dinner unless there’s a potato of some sort involved — end of story. We’ve always bought ours in 20kg bags from the local potato farm up the road, so there was never a shortage in our house.
Root vegetables are a weekly food shop staple for us, and so naturally became a part of the family fail-safe, easily fulfilling the delicious and nutritious requirements of the dish.
And so these three ingredients became a familiar friend, keeping our bellies full and our hearts warm. We would sit down at the table every evening, and we’d catch each other up on our days, discuss whatever current TV show we were all watching and talk about plans for the future or stories from the past — all over a plate of good ol’ meat, potatoes and veg.