Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cookbook Review - Jamie's 15 Minute Meals

It seems like Jamie Oliver is always after a challenge. Not content with bringing us the fantastic (but perhaps a little unrealistic) 30 Minute Meals book, he has now brought out Jamie's 15 Minute Meals. With the emphasis on eating well but not spending a long time in the kitchen, Jamie has set about trying to show us how we can cook a well balanced meal in less time that it would take to get a take away delivered.

Working with a team of nutritionists this book is full of recipes that are lighter and healthier with the nutritional information included for each recipe so if you are counting calories you don't have to worry. The chapters are divided up into Categories such as Chicken, Pork, Fish, Vegetarian and Pasta so it's easy to just go to your chapter of choice depending on what you want to cook.

Now I have to say my initial thoughts about this book was that making a delicious, nutritious meal in 15 minutes seemed far too good to be true but I was more than happy to try it out, especially after watching the episodes on TV. As usual I bookmarked over 20 recipes but in the end I tested 5.

The Tested Recipes:

Thai Chicken Laksa, Mildly Spiced Noodle Squash Broth
Mushroom Soup with Stilton, Apple & Walnut Croutes
Golden Chicken, Braised Greens & Potato Gratin
Modern Greek Salad, Spinach, Chickpea & Feta Parcels
Chicken Pasta with Herby 6-Veg Ragu

Ok so it was time to put the first recipe to the test so I started by making the Thai Chicken Laksa with Mildly Spiced Noodle Squash Broth. Having learnt my lesson from 30 Minute Meals I knew I had to be prepared so I boiled the kettle, got the griddle pan on full whack and got my ingredients out....well most of them. I have to say it was definitely quite a bit less stressful that 30 Minute Meals but unfortunately I didn't manage to make this one in just 15 minutes (was I surprised – no not really!). That being said I think the final time was about 25 minutes and you could definitely whittle that down with a few tries. The chicken was delicious and definitely benefited from being chicken thighs otherwise I would have dried them out while I was focused on the Noodle Squash Broth. Thankfully they were deliciously moist and full of flavour. The noodles were really good as well – lots of great flavours and I loved the addition of the grated squash but they soaked up all of the broth despite me adding extra water to them. Next time I think I would cut down the quantity of noodles as we had so much (more than 4 servings) and no broth. Other than though it was a typical Jamie Oliver meal full of great flavours and ways to tweak it to make it your own.

Up next and I couldn't resist the Mushroom Soup with Stilton, Apple & Walnut Croutes as a treat to myself for lunch. I'd recently watched this episode on TV so I knew it looked good and fairly straightforward but then I've come to realise that Jamie makes every recipe look completely straightforward and effortless and for me they don't quite turn out that way! The stopwatch for this one stopped at 23 minutes which isn't bad I guess but certainly not 15 minutes and to be honest the soup could have done with a bit longer as the rice wasn't quite cooked enough which made it a slightly chunkier texture than I wanted. Taste wise though it was good, it needed thinned down a little for my liking as it was super thick but the flavours were there, although I did find the flavour of the rice to be a little overpowering so I would use less next time. The Croutes however were a-m-a-z-i-n-g and I will definitely make those again with or without the soup! Only problem with them is how you are supposed to get them in your mouth as they aren't the easiest thing to eat but since I was eating alone I had no problems!

Next up and it was another chicken recipe. The idea of having Potato Gratin in roughly 15 minutes (lets be realistic – I knew it would never take me 15 minutes but still!) was too good not to try so I made the Golden Chicken, Braised Greens & Potato Gratin. To be honest I didn't even bother timing this one but what I can say is that it was fabulous. The Gratin was so easy to do, had a lot of flavour and a lot less calories than a normal Gratin but still all of the taste. The chicken and vegetables were also fantastic and the whole meal was straightforward to make and although it didn't take me 15 minutes it was still on the table fairly quickly.

For the 4th recipe I went for a vegetarian option and made the Modern Greek Salad with Spinach, Chickpea & Feta Parcels. I knew I was pushing my luck a little with the parcels as my husband doesn't really like chickpeas but I hoped the Greek Salad would make up for it. As it turned out the Salad was fantastic – very fresh and full of wonderful flavours that we all enjoyed. The parcels didn't go over quite so well but they were still enjoyed to an extent, especially when you had them with the yogurt and salad. On their own the texture was a little off for our liking so next time I would maybe not blend them quite as much and possibly add a little extra feta. It was still a nice meal to try and visually the whole meal looked fantastic, it just needs a little work for our tastes.

The last recipe I tested was the Chicken Pasta with Herby 6-Veg Ragu. Since my son loves pasta I thought this would be a great, quick mid-week meal for the family. Once again I decided not to bother timing it since I wasn't able to focus solely on cooking plus I had a little 'helper' and also because I knew it was never going to only take me 15 minutes (and it definitely didn't!). The end result was good but there was FAR too much sauce for the pasta. I should have used my head and removed some of the sauce from the pan as I knew looking at it there was going to be too much, but alas I didn't and we ended up with far too much sauce on the pasta. I think to be honest I pureed up the vegetables far too much and so it was more of a paste than chopped up vegetables which probably contributed to the excess sauce, but what I did love about this recipe was how you sprinkled the golden chicken and bacon mixture on top of the pasta rather than mixing it in. I'll definitely make this again as it was a hit, next time I'll just make sure I don't blitz the veges so much and if need be take away some of the sauce to keep for another day.

So there you have it. Five recipes tested, none of which took 15 minutes (the first time anyway but I know I could cut down the time once I've repeated them a couple of times) but all of which were tasty. Some appealed to our tastes more than others but I love how inventive and slightly different the recipes are.

When I first looked through this book there were so many recipes that I wanted to try (and if I listed them all this review would turn into a small book!) so on top of the 5 that we tried here are a few of the other ones that I bookmarked to try in the near future:

Mexican Chicken, Wicked Mole Sauce, Rice & Veg
Gorgeous Greek Chicken, Herby Vegetable Couscous & Tzatziki
Sizzling Beef Steak, Hoi Sin Prawn and Noodle Bowls
Beef Stroganoff, Fluffy Rice, Red Onion & Parsley Pickle
Cajun Steak, Smoky Baked Beans & Collard Greens
Glazed Pork Fillet, Cajun-Style Pepper Rice & BBQ Sauce
Lamb Lollipops, Curry Sauce, Rice & Peas
Crackin' Crab Briks, Couscous Salad & Salsa
Moroccan Mussels, Tapenade Toasties & Cucumber Salad
Crab Bolognese, Crunchy Fennel Salad
Sausage Gnocchi, Warm Kale & Bean Salad
Chicken Cacciatore Spaghetti & Smoky Tomato Sauce
Mexican Tomato Soup, Chilli Nachos, Veggie & Feta Sprinkles
The Best Fish Baps, Mushy Peas & Tartare Sauce
Tasty Daal Curry, Warm Tomato Salad & Naan

This book is packed full of recipes with influences from all over the world which I love because ultimately what it is giving you is a ton of exciting, different recipes to liven up your meal times. On top of that he has also gone for a healthier slant on the recipes to lighten things up a little and with each recipe the nutritional information is included. You definitely need a food processor for this book (it's too bad one doesn't come with the book!) otherwise there is no hope of being even remotely close to 15 minute meals and you need to get used to cooking everything on a high heat (something I don't normally do) to get things cooked in time, but it is definitely less chaotic than Jamie's 30 Minute Meals and it is a book that I will continue to use, not necessarily for the time aspect of the recipes but for the fact that they seem to have something a little different to them which I love. This book absolutely gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops stamp of approval!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nigella's Breakfast Bars

I discovered these delicious treats when I was recently reviewing Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson and I like them so much (and have made them a few times now) that I thought they deserved to be shared with you! They are so simple to make and although they are perhaps not the healthiest (due to the can of deliciously sticky sweet condensed milk!) they will disappear in a hurry. Perfect for a breakfast on the run or with a cup of tea or coffee for a mid morning snack, these bars are a crunchy, sweet little treat which Nigella herself says she is addicted to..... and to be honest I don't blame her!

Makes 16

1 x 397g can condensed milk*
250g rolled oats (not instant)
75g shredded coconut
100g dried cranberries**
125g mixed seeds (I use pumpkin, sunflower and flax)
125g natural unsalted peanuts

Preheat the oven to 250F/ 130C/ GM ½, and oil a 23 x 33 x 4cm baking tin.

Put the condensed milk in a small pan then gently heat.

In a large bowl mix together all of the other ingredients then add the warmed condensed milk and stir well until everything is evenly mixed together and coated in the condensed milk. Put the mixture into the oiled tin and press down using either a large spatula or the back of a spoon (or as Nigella suggests, you could use your hands wearing disposable vinyl gloves to prevent you ending up with a sticky mess all over them!) to make sure the surface is even. Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting into 16 chunky pieces. Let cool completely and see how long they last!

*The version of Nigella Express that I have is the British version but the tins of Condensed milk that I buy in Canada are 300ml and although they might be a little bigger than the UK sized can they work just fine.

**The last time I made these I didn't have enough cranberries so I used half cranberries and have raisins and they were delicious! So good in fact that from now on I will be using half and half! Use what you like but don't worry if you are short and need to substitute.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Buttermilk Pancakes

If you want the lightest, fluffiest pancakes ever then this is your recipe! A variation from my Classic Pancakes recipe, this one uses buttermilk which helps to make them extra fluffy and light and melt-in-your-mouth. Served with a little butter and plenty of maple syrup this makes the perfect weekend breakfast to sit down and enjoy with family and friends.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chocolate Valentines Cookies

Chocolate and hearts – the perfect treat to make for Valentines Day! Sugar cookies are not only fun to make (and great if you have little children to keep busy) and delicious to eat, but they are make a great personal gift to give to someone. Make up a batch, keep some for yourself and treat everyone you love this Valentines Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ Nigella Express

This is a very overdue review since I started testing this book out last October, however I will spare you any excuses as to why this is so late and just get on with it because one thing is for sure - this is a book worth reviewing.

I'm a big fan of Nigella Lawson, particularly her recipes, and having already reviewed Nigella Kitchen (which is still to date one of my favourite cookbooks to cook from) I knew it wouldn't be long before Nigella Express was put to the test. In this day and age although at times we like to relax and take our time to potter around the kitchen at weekends, the reality is that for the majority of the week we need quick, delicious meals that can go from kitchen to table in as short a time as possible but without compromising on taste. Nigella Express is a book that is all about fast food where the recipes claim to be minimum stress for maximum enjoyment.

The chapters are divided up into categories depending on your needs such as 'Everyday Easy', 'Workday Winners', 'Get Up and Go', 'Instant Calmer' (Soul Food), 'On the Run' and my favourite, 'Razzle Dazzle' for when you need to put together a party pronto! As is becoming increasingly familiar with all of my cookbook reviews I once again bookmarked a ridiculous amount of recipes but in the end I tested 9 which is good for a review but a mere dent on the enormity of recipes in this book!

The Tested Recipes:

Prawns with Maryam Zaira Sauce
Mozzarella with Crazy Gremolata
Minestrone in Minutes
Scallops and Chorizo
Sweetcorn Chowder with Toasted Tortillas
Chicken, Mushroom & Bacon Pot Pies
Chocolate Mint Cookies
Flourless Chocolate Brownies

First up was the super simple Prawns with Maryam Zaira Sauce which got a big thumbs up not just because it's delicious, but because it's super quick and easy to make. This is a Moroccan inspired version of the classic UK style Prawn Cocktail and would make a perfect starter or light lazy lunch enjoyed outside in the sun with a chilled glass of wine. As someone who loves Prawn Cocktail (or for that matter prawns with most dipping sauces!) I will definitely make this again for a ridiculously easy meal that is a little bit different from the usual.

Next up and there was no resisting the Mozzarella with Crazy Gremolata. I will eat Mozzarella any way I can so I was delighted to find something a little different. Even more so when I saw this 'Crazy Gremolata' included olives and chillies – 2 of my favourite ingredients and things that I always have in my fridge. Before I even made this I knew I couldn't go wrong and I was right – completely delicious, super fast and easy!

The third recipe I tested was the Minestrone in Minutes. From the moment I saw this recipe I knew I had to try it since it promised me a delicious minestrone in minutes using only 4 could I not try it?! It really did take no time at all to make – the hardest part was waiting 10 minutes to let it sit and the pasta swell before eating! I don't ever buy bought pasta/tomato sauces so I would probably change the one I bought but if you have a favourite jarred tomato sauce then you will love this soup. I couldn't resist by finishing mine off with a sprinkling of some chilli, parsley and for completely unnecessary indulgence and greed, a little grating of cheese. It was delicious but if you want to be more restrained very unnecessary as the soup was still good without the additional ingredients!! I will definitely make this again when I need something filling and hearty in a hurry using 4 ingredients that you can keep on hand in your pantry.

Being a lover of tapas and food that I can generally pick at and graze over for a long time, I couldn't resist trying her recipe for Scallops and Chorizo to accompany some other tapas that I made for a relaxed Friday night meal with my husband. All I can say is from now on whenever I make Tapas I will always be making this! To be honest being a huge fan of Chorizo and Scallops we couldn't really go wrong because it is as simple as simple gets but regardless it is a great recipe and I'm glad we tried it.

So after so many successes it was bound to be time for a bit of a fail and that came in the form of recipe number 5 which was Sweetcorn Chowder with Toasted Tortillas. Don't get me wrong it wasn't bad but I would only really describe it as okay and wouldn't be in a rush to make it again. It just seemed to be missing something and I found the taste of the spring onions to be a little overpowering which took away from the sweetcorn. The soup is finished with toasted tortillas topped with melted cheese (think basic nachos) and if you like, some fiery red chilli, and it was these toppings that really finished the soup off nicely and without them it would have been a real miss for me. Not terrible but not great, this is a recipe that I would have to adapt to make it one that I would repeat.

With plenty of lighter easy meals having been tested (and devoured!), it was time to try a dish that was more substantial and could be enjoyed as a main course, so next to be put to the test was the Chicken, Mushroom and Bacon Pie. Now I say more substantial because it was a main course but that doesn't mean it was any more complicated or labour intensive – it wasn't. Minimal ingredients, maximum taste is definitely the backbone to this book. Now since Chicken Pot Pie is one of my husband's all time favourite meals this recipe was really going to put the book to the test. Thankfully it passed – with flying colours!! It was fantastic but then can you really go wrong with a Chicken Pie when it has plenty of bacon in it?! I had to deviate from the recipe slightly since I wanted to double it and didn't have 4 individual dishes of the right size so instead I made 1 big pie and I did add a little seasoning which the recipe didn't call for but I didn't want to be disappointed by lack of salt and pepper! Anyway it was fabulous and as hubby said, he would recommend buying the book purely for that recipe alone!

Having been successful with plenty of savoury dishes I decided it was turn to the sweeter side of things so I made the Chocolate Mint Cookies which Nigella suggests as a great alternative to after-dinner mints or dessert. Although a cookie they had a slight resemblance and density to Brownies and were completely addictive. The mint drizzle provided a fantastic finish to cut through the deeply intense chocolate and made them very moreish! I loved them and so did everyone else in the family so they didn't last long!

Up next and we had family round for dinner so I made the Flourless Chocolate Brownies since my niece has an intolerance to wheat. As with most brownie recipes they were very simple to make and didn't take long to bake. The end result was a very dense, rich brownie which everyone loved although I found a little rich, but if you are a chocolate lover you would love these. You serve the brownies with a chocolate sauce which to be honest I wasn't a big fan of. There was far too much as it was so rich you only need a drizzle and the espresso in it really overpowered it so next time I would probably miss out the chocolate sauce altogether or certainly reduce the espresso in it.

Finally the last recipe that I tested out was the Breakfast Bars (click on link for recipe). I knew from looking at the list of ingredients that these certainly weren't going to be the healthiest option for a homemade breakfast bar (hello condensed milk!) but they looked so good on the photograph and seemed so straightforward I just couldn't resist, especially since I had all of the ingredients in my pantry with the exception of the unsalted peanuts which I promptly went out and bought then forgot to put in the bars! But even with the peanuts M.I.A these bars were still great. They weren't as sweet as I was expecting and were perfect with my cup of coffee although I suspect I would keep them for a snack as opposed to having for breakfast. That being said if you are on the run and need to grab and go these would be ideal.

So out of 9 recipes tested 7 were complete successes, 1 needed a little bit of work (just need to change the chocolate sauce for the Brownies) and 1 was to my tastes a miss but that's not bad odds if you ask me! On top of the tried and tested recipes I also bookmarked the following recipes which I still plan to try over time.......

Potato & Mushroom Gratin
Blackberry Crisp
Cheese Fondue
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Green Eggs & Ham
Maple Chicken 'N' Ribs
Crispy Duck
Forgotten Pudding
Chicken Schnitzel with Bacon & White Wine
Mirin-Glazed Salmon
Instant Chocolate Mousse
Doughnut French Toast
Glitzy Chocolate Puddings
Sesame Peanut Noodles
Amaretto Syllabub
Golden Goat's Cheese with Lentil & Walnut Salad
Mellow Meatballs

I have to say that with this book it really doesn't feel like you are cooking. Things are so easy and quick to prepare it's a little bit of this and that, a chop here, a stir there and you're done! It's like magic! That being said I am happy to say that despite the ease and speed there is no compromising on flavour. Nigella has once again delivered and this book is a must have for your kitchen library if you want speedy, easy and super tasty meals that will be on your table in no time! This book absolutely gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops stamp of approval!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Game Day Menu Ideas

Whether you are getting excited about the upcoming Superbowl final, or just want to have some friends round to watch your favourite game on the big screen, the reality is that while the game is fun and perhaps a little nerve racking to watch, the most important part of the day is not actually the game but the food! So when the half-time whistle goes make sure you are set to go with plenty of food to munch on, and lots of cold beers in the fridge - both of which are guaranteed to keep your crowd happy for the ultimate game day.

Here are a few of my favourite things to eat while watching the big game.

DIY Ice Cream Sundaes

{Simply serve a selection of your favourite Ice Creams and then have lots of bowls of toppings such as nuts, sprinkles and chocolate chips then finish with some good quality chocolate and caramel sauces}

Friday, February 1, 2013

Baked Potato Soup with Crispy Potato Skins

This soup is really a meal in itself. It is filling and delicious and if you like Baked Potatoes you will love this! It takes a little bit of time to make since you have to bake the potatoes first but it is well worth it.

4 medium sized baking potatoes, washed & dried
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for the potatoes
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
750ml vegetable or chicken stock
250ml milk
60ml cream
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the toppings:
Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt
Grated cheddar cheese
Spring onions or chives, finely chopped
Bacon, cooked til crispy then crumbled into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F. Rub a little olive oil over each potato then put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 190C/375F and continue to bake them for a further 45-60 minutes until you have crisp skins and fluffy, cooked centers (check by piercing a small sharp knife into the center of the potatoes to make sure they are tender and soft). Set aside and leave until cool slightly then cut them in half and let them cool some more.

Increase the heat of the oven to 200C/400F.

Once cool enough to handle carefully scoop out the potato flesh leaving the skins intact with enough potato still on them to make potato skins. Set the scooped potato aside. Cut each potato skin in half then put them on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper then put back in the oven and bake for roughly 20 minutes until golden and crisp.

In a large pan heat the butter with the tablespoon of oil then add the onion and leek and cook for roughly 7 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the cooked potato, stock and seasoning. Leave to cook for 5 minutes then remove from the heat. Leave to cool slightly then liquidize in a blender until smooth. Return the soup to a pan then add the milk and cream. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Once the potato skins are almost ready remove from the oven then put a little grated cheese on each one. Return them back to the oven just until the cheese has melted. To serve add a small spoonful of sour cream or Greek yogurt to each one then sprinkle over some thinly sliced spring/green onions.

To serve the soup ladle it into 4 bowls then as with the potato skins top with some grated cheese, a little Greek yogurt or Sour Cream, some spring onions and some bacon pieces. Serve at once with the potato skins on the side.

*If you prefer and want to cut out some of the calories serve the potato skins plain - they are still absolutely delicious and perfect for dunking!

Cooking the Books ~ February

For this month's Cooking the Books I will be testing and reviewing Jamie Oliver's most recent book - Jamie's 15 Minute Meals (available from Amazon and all good book shops). If you have this book why not try it out with me? I'll post what recipe I'm trying the day before I make it on my Facebook page  and Twitter so you can join in. So what are you waiting for? Let's Cook the Books!
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