I have been a Jamie Oliver fan for a while now. He's not as snooty as some of the other celebrity chefs out there, and I feel like not only would he be supportive of my tendency to adapt his recipes, he'd probably encourage it. It's not that I have the cheek to try and improve on a recipe by one of the world's most famous chefs, but those of you who have read my gripes about the availability of fresh produce here would know that adaptation is often a necessity.
While I was working I found it really tough to come home every night and think of something to cook for dinner. I tried desperately to be inventive and make meals that we could all eat, but most nights we turned to the old standards - spaghetti bolognese, curry from a jar, or some form of scrambled eggs. My husband, frustrated by my sensitive pregnant digestive system, refused to be responsible for important culinary decisions, after I shrieked for the dozenth time "Euurgh, I can't eat that!" And that was the status quo until one night when we happened to catch an episode of Jamie's "30 Minute Meals." I was captivated by the promise of a decent home-cooked meal on the table in half an hour, and motivated by Jamie's faith in me that I could do it too. The other books of Jamie's that I own have never let me down yet; his recipes seem do-able, and he taught me the basics of awesome pizza and simple, but oh-so-good risotto. So I bought the book and after a few trial and error attempts at one or two of the recipes, I decided to jump in feet first and planned our whole week's worth of dinners using meals from the book. I have to admit that I have yet to cook any of the meals in the promised 30 minutes, but I do not have a food processor, or a proper kitchen for that matter, and there is usually a small person hovering around my knees wanting saucepan lids to bang on while I'm cooking, so things will inevitably take a bit longer. It also helps if you have all of the main ingredients ready at the time of cooking, so you're not rushing over to the neighbour's to borrow mustard for the Mustard Chicken recipe.
My fellow Hong Konger's will know that the most ambitious part of this project of mine isn't the cooking part, it's the grocery gathering. Last night I sat down and made a list of everything I needed for the 5 or so meals I plan to cook this week, and the cupboard is pretty bare, so it was a long list! I only had time to visit one supermarket today and I knew deep down that it wouldn't be enough, but I valiantly hoped that I could at least get everything for one of the meals, for tonight's dinner. I was disappointed when I flicked through the book and found a gentle warning from Jamie that it was probably best not to mess around too much with the recipes when you first started making them. He said that they had all been tried and tested by his team and worked exactly the way they were printed in the book. Well, I'm sorry Jamie, but there was no way I was going to get my hands on Creme Fraiche today, and chicory? Forget it! I was disheartened, knowing it would be impossible to find some of the ingredients here, but I was determined to give it a shot and make it work with what I had.
I walked out of ThreeSixty with maybe two-thirds of the items on my list, and even though I knew there would be at least 2 more shops to visit this week to get everything, I was pretty pleased with that phase of the delicious dinner production process. D is away and I hate cooking for one so tonight I made Cauliflower Macaroni (sorry, couldn't find the recipe online to share it), hoping J would eat it with me. I didn't make the salad (no chicory), or the dessert (block o' chocolate will suffice), and I had to substitute bacon for pancetta, and cream for creme fraiche, but it was delicious! My 2 year-old chose chicken nuggets instead but the whole time we were eating I kept telling him he was seriously missing out, and I went back for more (and there is still a lot left over). I didn't time myself while I was cooking (I didn't need the pressure) but I have to say dinner was ready pretty quickly. Even though the whole point was to cook something tasty, quickly, cooking feels like less of a chore when the end result is that good. I figure if I can cook a decent meal on a two burner bench-top oven, in a tiny Chinese style kitchen, with equal parts enthusiasm and improvisation, in around 30 minutes, then anyone can. The most time-consuming part is the shopping, and the washing up as my husband will attest, but it's definitely worth a shot if you're super busy and looking for something a lot more interesting than spag bol for dinner during the week. And if Jamie can forgive me for messing with his recipes, and I can tolerate 3 trips to 3 different supermarkets to buy most of the required ingredients, we may just have a food revolution in our house (and more time for lazing on the sofa after dinner!).
PS: Thrilled to get a plug this week on http://digitalparents.com.au/ as 'Blogger of the Week,' Yay!