Road-testing Jamie’s 30 minute meals by Jamie Oliver

Published on Foodepedia on 28th November 2010:

As the book that accompanies Jamie Oliver’s Channel Four series of the same title, Jamie’s 30 minute meals has received a lot of publicity. Lots of people have tried cooking along with the show and failed. I too have watched in awe as Oliver apparently peeled and chopped an entire tray of fruit in about two minutes, gawping at the impossibility of the task at hand. And yet here I am testing out the paper version.

When I first got the book, I was overwhelmed and underwhelmed all at the same time. The recipes were uncomplicated but also unglamorous. Don’t get me wrong, they looked fantastically tasty but in that rustic Jamie Oliver kind of way. Plus, they were just every day recipes, nothing extraordinarily fancy.

There were a lot of recipes though – 50 meals worth in fact. Each meal is made up of a main, a side and generally a dessert for upwards of four people. That’s basically a casual dinner party in 30 minutes – an impressive feat. It was also a varied selection of recipes from different cuisines, albeit not authentic. As one of my tasters pointed out, Cypriots don’t stuff their chicken.

Browsing through the recipes, I was convinced I could do it. These were simple dishes, what could go wrong?

Choosing the meal to cook was hard. I was looking for something different from what I had been eating during the rest of the week, something a little bit challenging and I definitely wanted a dessert. The meal I chose was chicken skewers with amazing satay sauce, fiery noodle salad and fruit and mint sugar to finish.

Finding the ingredients was easy enough but having all of the equipment was a little harder. Specifically, I only had a hand blender and not a food processor and an oven not a grill. Small things, you might think, but actually contributed a lot to the time taken.

With ingredients and equipment at the ready, the timer was set and off I went chopping and bashing through the kitchen spilling nuts everywhere, stabbing myself with the skewers and burning my arm on the oven tray. It wasn’t so much that the recipe demanded it, but rather the little voice in the back of my head telling me to move faster. That and my tasters standing at the side counting down the minutes like a live episode of Ready Steady Cook. Except I was no chef and checking the recipe every two minutes was using up all of my time.

Jamie Oliver's 30 minute mealMid-way through the whole process I was not impressed by the book at all. Why hasn’t Jamie created a time plan so I actually know what I’m meant to be doing rather than scanning through paragraphs of stuff to find the next? Already, I had declared that if this meal tastes terrible then it’s all Jamie’s fault and if it goes okay, obviously the credit is due to my hard work.

As the timer approached 30 minutes, my chicken skewers were still in the oven nowhere near done. There were also a couple of handfuls of herbs to chop, nuts to sprinkle and sauce to drizzle. But surprisingly, chicken aside, I basically had a meal ready. While waiting for the chicken, I had time to clean up the kitchen and do a little washing up, which by now had piled up considerably high. Realistically from start to finish, the whole thing was a 45 minute bumpy ride. That said, if I was familiar with the recipe and had a grill then I’m sure that extra 15 minutes can be shaved off.

When the food eventually made it to table, it was gone pretty quickly. It could just be my hungry diners finally getting to indulge on that late lunch but the feedback was “you have permission to make that again”.

The real debate was perhaps whether it was Jamie’s achievement or mine. But love him or hate him, this 14th book from Jamie Oliver is a sure sign that he’s here to stay.

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Willie’s Chocolate Bible by Willie Harcourt Cooze

Published on Foodepedia on 27th November 2010:

When Willie Harcourt-Cooze first burst on to our TV screens in 2008, immersed in a bath of chocolate, it was the stuff of children’s books. He was in a documentary about making the best chocolates in the world from bean to bar.

This was a man so passionate about chocolate that at the start of his journey, he sold his home in London and moved to Venezuela where he bought a cacao farm – Hacienda El Tesoro. For over a decade, he produced the cacao beans himself and turned it into bars to sell locally before bringing his 100% chocolate to the UK market. These days, the hacienda still produces cacao for Willie’s chocolate factory in Devon, but he also sources selected cacao beans from elsewhere to produce his selection of quality chocolates.

Harcourt-Cooze’s first book, Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook, came out not too long ago in April 2010. Now we have a second cookbook from the chocolate fanatic, Willie’s Chocolate Bible.

When it landed on my carpet, it took my breath away.

I hadn’t anticipated its size – with over 300 pages, it’s really quite hefty. Neither had I expected it to look so incredible. The beautiful cover resembles a navy blue door so when you turn the page, it feels like opening the door to a world of chocolate. And in many respects it is – to the world of Willie’s cacao.

A quick flip through the book revealed an astounding number of recipes that I wanted to try. So which one first? I tweeted at the man himself @WilliesCacao who replied “start with the Cacao and olive bread then toast it for a nutty flavour!” And that is precisely what I did – I made bread.

I love freshly made bread but it’s generally a whole lot better when someone else has done all the hard work. But in the name of recipe testing, I got down with the yeast and made a bit of a mess of the kitchen. It’s not a recipe without a downside I’m afraid. Getting all the ingredients was a rather costly exercise and Harcourt-Cooze doesn’t really suggest any alternatives. But then I guess for him and for chocolate connoisseurs out there, chocolate is a bit of a luxury. And so it should be.

When you sit down to read the accompanying narrative, you discover the tremendous process that chocolate has to go through to get from bean to bar. There was the harrowing tale of Harcourt-Cooze’s journey from buying the hacienda to opening his chocolate factory and creating the recipes. Then there was the story and the history behind chocolate itself. It has served to both entertain and educate in the few hours between the first and second proof of the dough and the actual baking of the bread.

In fact, making the bread took me the best part of a day but that’s nothing compared to the amount of time taken for the chocolate I used to make its way into my kitchen. At the end of it though, while my bandaged hands (small accident when chopping the chocolate) smelt like beer, my house smelt of wonderful freshly baked bread. As soon as I popped a soft, warm piece into my mouth, I was hooked.

The recipes are mostly sweet but there is also a healthy helping of savoury ones like roast wild duck with a chocolate and orange sauce. With beautiful food photography, delicious recipes and incredible tales, this book is for keeps.

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Adam Byatt – How to eat in

Published on Foodepedia on 9th November 2010:

The first thing you should know about Adam Byatt’s ‘How to eat in’ is that the recipes are not as hard as they look.

The basis of this rather hefty book are recipes to elevate simple home cooked meals to family favourites and recipes to serve as dinner party pièce de résistance. By simply flicking through the book and looking at the photographs though, it’s difficult not to imagine the amount of work it would take to recreate some of the dishes. The introduction for beetroot-cured salmon gravadlax even states that it’s a four-day process – not a job to be taken on unless you are a seriously keen cook.

As this is his first cookbook, chef and patron of Trinity in Clapham Adam Byatt has done very well. The dishes are not only beautifully presented but some are also highly unusual like the maple-glazed belly of pork with saffron and cockles. This makes a refreshing change to the cookbooks full of staples.He has divided up his book like a menu. There are the breads, the starters, the mains, the desserts and the sauces to complement. And given the selection of recipes and a special section on outdoor food, this book is something which can be used all year round.

Having previously dined at Trinity, I instinctively looked for the food served there. The recipes revealed all the hard work that went into those delicious meals and gave me a real appreciation of the flavours. They were also a little daunting because having already spotted the salmon gravadlax recipe, I thought that all the recipes were going to be quite complex and time consuming.

Take the pig’s trotters on toasted sourdough with crackling for example, it’s a staple on the Trinity menu. The recipe itself spreads over two pages. One page is solely dedicated to the list of ingredients and instructions for preparation, some of which must be done the day before. The second page is the actual method. If there wasn’t a deliciously tempting photograph intercepting the two pages, I would surely be going crossed-eyed at the amount of work. But then after actually reading through the recipe, there wasn’t anything particularly hard. Cooking the dish still takes a lot of time and effort but at least the result is rewarding.

There is a fair selection of easy but equally delicious recipes too like pot roast loin of old spot pork with kumquats or the 10-minute banana and maple ice cream.

Perhaps what has been most daunting all along has been Byatt’s chef-approach to his recipes. That is, every recipe comes with a comprehensive preparation guide so when you come to the method section, it’s literally a matter of cooking. For the trained chef, this comes as second nature. For the average Joe, though, it seems like a lot of work.

Overall, ‘how to eat in’ has been very inspiring. It serves as more of a guide to cooking restaurant quality food at home than a day-to-day cook book. But if you love to cook and you love good food, this book would be perfect.

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