It may come as no surprise to you but I am a huge fan of Jamie Oliver! This is nothing new – I have loved him and his style of cooking from the get-go and now more than ever I admire his determination and drive to change the way we eat and view food. His simple, easy, no-nonsense style radiates throughout all of his books and he makes me want to cook and try out his recipes. One of the most recent books I added to my Jamie collection was his 30 Minute Meals cookbook. This book has received a lot of attention (more than most of his books!) due to the fact that he claims you can make fantastic, delicious meals in 30 minutes or less......that's quite a claim.
At first glance this is definitely a book with a lot of appealing recipes – made even more attractive by the fact they should be on the table in 30 minutes – who wouldn't love that?! With 50 meals in this book there are more than enough choices, guaranteed to keep everyone happy but the big question undoubtedly that everyone has with this book.... is it possible?!
Before I had even tried any of the recipes I had already heard a lot of negative criticism of the book – mainly that they were not 30 minute meals, so I decided to be fair to the book I would do the ultimate test. At the start of the book Jamie explains that in order to get these meals on the table in 30 minutes or less you have to get into the '30-minute meals frame of mind'. Ultimately you have to be organised. He also notes that the 30 minutes you spend cooking will be a busy and fast-paced half hour that requires a lot of multitasking. Fair enough – I have no problems with that either, so I got organised, got into my 30-minute meals frame of mind and started the timer!
The tested recipes:
Pregnant Jool's Pasta
Curry Rogan Josh
Fish Tray Bake
Sticky Pan-Fried Scallops
Additional recipes tried:
Killer Jerk Chicken
Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca
As noted there are 50 meals in this book so I was more than spoilt for choice. Unintentionally over the course of time using this book I picked quite a lot of Chicken recipes....for some reason they just appealed the most, so towards the end I tried to do some other meals that didn't include chicken. In total I tested 4 meals and made an additional 5 outwith the review.
Before I started the challenge/review 'properly' I had already tried 3 meals – the Tray-Baked Chicken; Chicken Skewers and the Killer Jerk Chicken. I timed the first 2 but had given up on the 3rd and made it more for the fact it sounded delicious. None of the meals disappointed in taste and flavour – they were all delicious and I would (and will!) quite happily make them all again. Unfortunately though as much as I wanted them to be, they were not ready in 30 minutes (are you surprised?). I stopped the timer on the first meal at 39 minutes (not bad) but I didn't make the Strawberry Slushie so that would have added a few more minutes. The second meal took me round about 45 minutes and again I didn't make the dessert. As for the third meal, like I said I didn't even bother timing myself! However with the challenge reignited I followed the next few meals that I tested to a tee making all of the courses with the timer ticking away.
As it happened I decided to test some of the meals while my sister and brother-in-law were staying with us since most of the recipes serve 4-6. That meant I had additional critics to help fairly review the book and the recipes.
First up was Pregnant Jool's Pasta which is served with Crunchy Chicory & Watercress Salad and for dessert, Little Frangipane Tarts. The first thing to note is that I have the UK version of this book so immediately I had to work around some of the ingredients that I know are easy to get back at home in the UK, but not here. Simple solution for you though – buy a copy of the book that's printed in the country you live in! (I was just too impatient to wait until it was published here in Canada!). Anyway back to Pregnant Jool's Pasta which is apparently his wives favourite pasta dish when she's pregnant (which we all know has been a few times, with 4 mini Oliver's in the household!). By coincidence this episode had recently been shown on television here so I knew from watching Jamie make the meal how it was supposed to go and it looked simple enough! What I wasn't expecting was for things to vary so much between how he did it on TV and the instructions and ingredients given in my copy of the book. I'm not quite sure how that happens (having never written my own book, sold millions of copies then had an accompanying TV series!) but you would think they would be the same....not so here Mr. Oliver! It threw me for a loop but since I was reviewing the actual book I followed everything written there and forgot about the TV version. (I should note though that I later had a flick through the American version of the book and it matched the TV episode so I will let him off after all!) So after a quick glance over the instructions I got my 30 Minute Meals “thinking hat” on, poured myself a glass of wine (thought it was a necessary step in the process!) and started the timer... 30 Minutes Later – we weren't sitting at the table ready to eat, more like 40/45....which isn't too bad I guess, but considering the name of the book is 30 Minute Meals this meal failed. That said once again it was delicious and I will definitely make it again. The pasta was definitely easy and by itself could be done under 30 minutes no problem, in fact I know I could do the pasta and salad easily in under 30 minutes...what took the extra time was the Frangipane Tarts. The first mistake with the tarts was my butter wasn't soft enough, but to be fair there is nothing in the recipe to say you need softened butter so I will blame that mistake on Jamie(!). Secondly, with the whole above-mentioned UK/Canada difference I don't think I used the right pastry tarts but it was all I could get. They worked but I think they were obviously quite a bit smaller than the ones he suggests as I had far too much of the Frangipane mixture. It was thrown away which I now realise to be a sin as they were so good! Next time I'll stick to the recipe and just make more of them as they were delicious! When I took them out of the oven they looked awful – nothing like the beautiful picture in the book, however as they cooled (while we ate our pasta) they settled and didn't end up looking too bad. By the time I had put them on a nice white platter, chopped up some orange wedges and had some crème fraiche on the side they looked fine – in fact rather good....And they were!
So all in all, for Pregnant Jool's Pasta Meal the meal itself was great – we all thoroughly enjoyed it, it just didn't take 30 minutes. The meal is meant to serve 4-6 and even with us all having seconds we had lots left over however that wasn't a problem! There were no tarts left over though – all 6 of them disappeared which to me is a good indication of how tasty they were. I will without doubt make this again, just with a few changes along the way.
Up next was the Curry Rogan Josh which is a vegetable curry served with Fluffy Rice; Carrot Salad and Lemon Pickle. Another major win for taste but fail for time....the stop watch was stopped at 42 minutes for this one. Again I totally think after making this a couple of times I would be faster but for the first time it was nowhere near 30 minutes. It was a huge hit with everyone though and even my husband who had turned his face at the fact that there was no meat in it thoroughly enjoyed it! The only thing I would do a little differently is with the Lemon Pickle. I was dubious as I read the instructions about simply chopping up the whole lemon and to be honest it was good, but I only had a little and then I had had enough of it. The flavours were nice but next time I think I would remove the lemon peel or maybe just cook it slightly longer than he suggests. That aside though, everything else was delicious! I substituted Naan for the Chapattis as I can't them here but that pretty much was the only difference. Being such a huge fan of curries I will make this again and on a regular basis – as it really was delicious and didn't take hours to prepare. The paste definitely makes all of the difference and makes this a fantastic, fast curry.
Day number 3 and the next meal to be tested was the Fish Tray Bake which is served with New Potatoes; Salsa Verde; Spinach Salad and for dessert Banoffee Pie. Served with a nice bottle of chilled white wine I thought that this sounded like the perfect Friday night meal and it was. Everyone decided of the 3 meals we had tried this was the firm favourite, however I was not a fan of the Banoffee Pie and once again it wasn't a 30 Minute Meal....(in fact I lost track of how long it actually took!) That aside (and to be honest I wasn't too surprised about the time element) the meal once again was wonderful. The Fish Tray-Bake was simple to prepare with delicious results and we all loved the Salsa Verde that it is served with and probably ate way more than expected (although there was still some left over, perfect for another night). The Banoffee Pie in my opinion was a fail however everyone else disagreed with me and judging by how little was left I will have to go with that! To be honest part of it was definitely my fault as I didn't put it in the freezer as he advised so it was far too sloppy but perhaps if I had done as I was told it would have been firmer and I would have enjoyed it more. It certainly wasn't difficult to make. As for the main course though we will certainly be having a lot more of it. Definite success with that but another fail for time.
So on to meal number 4 which is the most recent meal that I made and I went for the Sticky Pan-Fried Scallops served with Sweet Chilli Rice and Dressed Greens. Since it was back to just the 2 of us I opted not to make the Quick Brownies. I know that means I didn't test the meal properly but I think at this point we are all aware that it was unlikely it would take me under 30 minutes! Still you never know so in future I will try it again with the Brownies! Since scallops are a favourite of my husbands I hoped this dish would go down well and it didn't disappoint. They perhaps weren't quite as 'sticky' as I had imagined but nevertheless they tasted great. The rice was also lovely and a nice change....kind of a egg fried rice without the frying! I had to adapt the greens a little as I couldn't get what was suggested but they turned out well – maybe just a little overcooked but that was my fault. Another great meal but if I am being completely honest it was my least favourite of all the ones I tried. As with the others though, I will try it again – especially since hubby really enjoyed it – I will just change a couple of things. Once again though we were nowhere near 30 minutes and that was without the brownies! Seriously Jamie, how do you do it?!
As well as those 4 meals (and the first 3) I have also made the Chicken Pie (minus the dessert) and when I was home in Scotland I made the Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca for everyone (my mum has a copy of the book – I wasn't quite dedicated enough to carry it back with me!). Both were again huge hits in terms of flavour but honestly I have long since put the stop watch away. Not a big deal for me as I found the actual meals to more than make up for that flavour wise, but if you are genuinely looking for a full meal that will take you 30 minutes or less I wouldn't count on these, UNLESS that is, you have made them a few times before – then I think it's definitely possible.
I really love the concept of this book (who wouldn't) but unfortunately it just doesn't live up to its name. That being said I am quite confident that over time I could definitely get the meals done closer to 30 minutes. For the first time though, definitely not! However, what is apparent with this book is that it contains 50 delicious meals! Honestly they were all really good meals and from the ones I tested I will definitely make them all again.....and again!
The downsides to the book, apart from the obvious fact that the meals don't take 30 minutes, are that with everything being so chaotic during the intentional 30 minutes you end up with a huge mess. I just found there seemed to be so many dishes and pots and pans and appliances stacked by the sink at the end, which is so off-putting and for me that's really saying something! It has been a long-standing joke in my family when I make a nice meal I literally use every pot, pan, dish and utensil my kitchen has! Now while that's not quite true, I do use a lot – but my defense is, I make a lot! So with that in mind the fact that I'm complaining is really saying something! My solution from now on is to forget about making the meal in 30 minutes, slow down a little, stay focused and wash as I go (when possible!)......that's the theory anyway – whether it works or not I have no idea but I think it might, especially if you are super organised before you start and have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go.
So there you have it 4 meals properly tested (more-or-less) and another 5 meals made without a timer. None of them are 30 minutes but all are fabulous, so on that basis I would absolutely recommend this book as a must-have in your kitchen, just be prepared for a little mess and chaos!