Fun with Five

Fun with Five – the 30 Minute Meal challenge

Feeding seven people is never easy.  It can be a lot of fun (and also very little fun at all).  I’ve said before that there should be a Masterchef challenge where the contestants have £10, 20 minutes and all the distractions of homework, TV, fighting, fussy eating, etc. to get a meal on the table.  Cooking really doesn’t get any tougher than this in a first world country.

So it was with some interest that my wife and I approached Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals tome when she received it as a Secret Santa present at Christmas in 2010.  Now, just over a year later, we have cooked every single dish from this book, all 50 of them.  All 50 of them.  Cooked them, rated them out of 5, ticked them off.  Everything from Broccoli Orechiette through to Spring Lamb.  We noted down what we thought, any substitutions made.  And at the end of it, we’ve added quite a few dishes to our family repertoire.

Ticked off and dated

Out of the 50, only 1 came over as average – the Steak, Indian Style.  The rest were good at worst, excellent at best.  The promise of pudding was usually enough to get the kids to eat the main courses – ice creams, tarts, creamy ganache, the brownies!!!  The salads are, without exception, superb.  His cheat’s pizza has been repeated again and again.  As has the rice and beans he serves with his Jerk Chicken.

If you were ever in doubt about whether this book lived up to the hype, it does.  We had our doubts about a lot of recipes.  I’m not a mushroom fan, yet the mushroom risotto was very tasty indeed.  After cooking 4 of these meals, we gave up being worried about whether they would be any good.  The man knows his food.  Individual elements taste good but together?  Oh, my, together…

Can you do them all in 30 minutes?  Yes.  If you have  a sous-chef, a bowl of washing up water ready and waiting and a team of assistants cleaning up after you.  You don’t see a lot of tidying on the TV show, after all.  In the real world, 30 minutes is good, 45 is more likely the first time you do them.

Some of them are definitely easier than others.  the Pregnant Jools’s Pasta is a real easy crowd-pleaser.  The Steak Sarnie to die for.  The Tapas Feast is a bit of a juggling act but well worth it.

The only thing we’ve struggled with is his serving sizes.  No matter what the recipe says it serves, it’s fed our tribe well, usually with leftovers, though we have had to double up on pudding servings when it’s made individual puddings.  And it’s hard to get the kids involved when you’re working to such tight timescales though they have made excellent pot-washers and Ooglie-disposers.

30 Minute Meals

When we got it, the book was pristine.  Now, the pages are food-spattered, the edges crinkled and the spine battered.  It’s a well-used and much-loved book.  Looking forward to cooking the sticky pan-fried scallops this week, if only to get my hands on those brownies again!

This post was not sponsored by, paid for, asked for or in any way anything to do with Jamie Oliver.  Though if he wants to send me a copy of his next book I’d be more than happy to cook the lot.

Reasons to be Cheerful

Book Review, Reasons to be Cheerful, the works – Cooking with Beer

If ever there was a reason to be cheerful, it’s a good beer.  A pint of something lovingly crafted, served at the right temperature.  Something Belgian, perhaps…  I got into brewing at University when it was  far cheaper to brew my own than to  buy it from the supermarket or the student bar.  After a brief hiatus in Kent (where the water’s not good for brewing unless you’re Shepherd Neame) we started brewing again here in Shetland.  Bitters, ciders, wheat beers, barkshack gingermeads, experimental pale ales, the list goes on.  Right now we’ve a couple of kits bottled, they’ll be ready to drink round about the end of March.  Life is good.

But something that I’d not done very much of was cooking with beer.  I’d cooked the odd rabbit in ale, a delightful dish that’s a real winter warmer, but that was about it.  And then one day my wife brought home a present from town.  This:

It’s an Australian book, by an Australian chef, but I knew I’d get on with him from the sub-title: “If there’s liquid in a recipe, it might as well be beer.” Noble sentiments indeed.  In fact the book’s full of advice like that – “If there’s any left over, drink it” being one that crops up time and again.  Granted, the last time I did that it was a little like Baldrick’s short holiday in Blackadder.  1 fluid ounce of beer was left.  So I drank it and enjoyed it but it did leave me wanting to open another bottle.

Paul starts off with an overview of beer and a wonderful rant about how the mass-produced stuff isn’t really beer at all.  As someone who was a member of CAMRA and likes Real Ale in general, I salute this 100%.  He then eases you gently into the swing of things with a chapter on recipes that work well with beer but don’t actually contain it.  All well and good.  Moving through the book he takes us from nibbles, through the stove, into the oven, onto the grill and finally to dessert and baking.  There doesn’t look to be a bad recipe in the book, although some of the ingredients might be hard to get hold of here in the wilds of Shetland – once you’ve worked out what the English for flathead tails is (some kind of fish, apparently).

The range of recipes is amazing, running the gauntlet from American ribs (as pictured on the cover), through assorted curries – both Indian and Thai, on into risottos, pastas, paellas and chilli.  He cooks fish, goat, octopus, quail, rabbit, lamb (in Guinness, no less, along with a superb Moroccan tagine) and more.  He gives us ice creams, soups, birramisu, beer breads, and more.

Each recipe includes notes as to which beers work best.  You can tell he’s done his homework, long hours spent testing each one with the ranges of beers at his disposal.  For the UK, there’s plenty of Belgian and German beers in play and even I can get hold of those on this rock.  And if I don’t have the right one, I’ll substitute something from my own cellar.

Right now, I’m halfway through cooking this:

Spanish lentils with chorizo in Belgian ale

  • A pinch of saffron threads
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper, roughly chopped
  • 300g chorizo sausages (cured, rather than fresh), cut in half lengthways then sliced on the diagonal 1cm thick
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • two 330ml bottles of high-alcohol Belgian ale
    • Beer Notes:  Try Westmalle Tripel (9.5%), Hoegaarden Grand Cru (8.5%) , Chimay Blue (9%) or Rochefort 8 (9.2%).  We’re using the Tripel today
  • 500ml good quality chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 375g green lentils
  • 125g small button mushrooms, quartered
  • 200g courgettes, finely diced

Steep the saffron threads in 60ml boiling water for 15 minutes

Meanwhile, heath the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  When the oil is smoking, add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, pepper and chorizo and cook for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the paprika, then add the saffron and its soaking liquid and stir it through.  Add the bay leaves, thyme, tomato and sea salt to taste.  Stir to combine then cook for several minutes.

Pour in the beer and stock and bring to the boil.  Season with freshly ground black pepper, add the sherry vinegar and stir to allow the flavours to combine.  Add the lentils and mix them through while the liquid comes back to the boil.  Turn the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 1 hour.

Stir in the mushrooms and courgette, put the lid back on and simmer for another 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the lentils are tender but still have a little bite.  If you have too much liquid, take the lid off and simmer over a higher heat to reduce it.

Enjoy with a glass of the ale you cooked the lentils with.

Serves 4.  Allegedly, but I reckon we’ll feed all 7 of us happily tonight with this.  But then 5 of them aren’t adults yet.

I did the lamb tagine from this book last week and it was superb.