Cooking with Jamie Oliver

Last January I bought Jamie Oliver’s book, Cook with Jamie. I decided to make ever single recipe in the book. I usually picked a main course, a desert and a vegetable. I have made many of his salad dressings. First time for me, I usually just bought the stuff in the store. Absolute rubbish now I know how to make it myself. The homemade mayonnaise was interesting, but I haven’t made it again. It wasn’t as creamy as I expected.

The sauces where made to accompany the really, really good salads. I purchased my first salad spinner and learned how to use it. Totally worth it, this is some of the best food I’ve had.

I made a tomato salad and learned that there exists more then “normal” tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Tomatoes aren’t even always red, never knew that. They come in so many different sizes and colours . I always thought they weren’t ripe and bought the nice red ones.

The egg salad was really good. I never liked boiled eggs, I always scrambled my eggs so that I wouldn’t have to eat the yolk seperately. The few times people around me ate boiled eggs the smell was disguisting. Blue-ish yellow cores and pieces of egg shell cracking, I never thought anybody would get me to like boiled eggs and then I made the egg salad. Jamie Oliver has achieved the near impossible, I ate my egg yolk seperately and actually enjoyed it!

The pasta section was entirely skipped at first, but I will definitely return to it later this year. It just didn’t go with my current dietary requirements. But oh my goodness it looks delicious. I had never even heard of gnocchi, but by the end of the year I’ll have a good grasp of what it is and exactly how to make it.

I spent two months making all the Risottos. I only cooked once a week and then made enough for the entire week. So 8 risottos = 2 months… I made them with grated cauliflower instead of rice, but still it was amazing. I loved the cheesy ones, like tomato, basil and ricotta oh and the spinach and goat’s cheese one was the first time I ate goat’s cheese. I couldn’t find the amaretti cookies anywhere, so I’ll remake the recipe someday, but it was good even without it.

When I cook meat it’s usually steak or mince, but I never knew what to do with big pieces of meat or how to cook a roast. I looked at the butcher’s counter, but I never knew what to buy. I loved Jamie’s direction. I learned so much from his tips and the “how to buy” sections. I knew what was good and what wasn’t because Jamie described it really well.

In the mutton section I giggled very much at the picture of the sheep. It looks like those stained glass sheep in some of the catherals with the eyes looking upwards. In this section  I really loved the lamb shank pie. I have not made the mad moroccan lamb yet, but my Moroccan friend did make me some lamb dish which looked exactly like Jamie’s picture. Now I’ll make Jamie’s recipe and compare it with the “real thing”.

I worked through the pork section. Pork is available in Waitrose in a special little section saying “Non-muslims only”, here you find pork, pork flavoured stuff, gelatin and products containing gelatin, like Pop Tarts. The old-school pork chops recipe required me to buy Stilton cheese for the first time and so I realized I actually like it. The blackened barbecued prok fillets were delicious. I actually had to figure out how to use the grill, so that was a good lesson. I liked this so much I made it repeatedly. The slow roasted pork requires planning, so I’ll make it during  a holiday.
The chicken recipes worked really great for individual lunches. Enjoyed those immensely. I also made those teeny tiny chickens, poussins, just like the fancy people in movies eat. It was excellent.

I skipped the turkey recipe, but I think I might return to it just out of nostalgia seeing as I’m almost done with the book. I also purchased rabbit, but it’s still in the freezer until I can find all the ingredients for the sauce and get my head around the idea of eating rabbit!

Duck isn’t a South African dish. I’m not even sure it’s available there, so this was a first for me. I made crispy duck with plum chutney. It was food heaven. I bought the plums and spices from the little Indian store, I was the only western person in there. The food was perfect, I didn’t even care that it took me 80 minutes. Oh, I also time every recipe, that way I can plan ahead in the future.

At first I skipped the fish. Whole fish seemed “gross”. I had no idea what to do with a whole fish or how to eat it. I finally decided that I really wanted to make every recipe in the book. I went to a Filipino neighbourhood one day and felt almost sick waiting for them to turn my one fish into fillets, while 2 men next to me where choosing salmon heads which were on a special. I’m glad to say that I’m much better now. I go to the fish market regularly and I am trying to get through all the fish recipes before the summer heat sets in. I know I can buy it at the store, but it’s so much more fun to go to the market. (“Pour me a heavy dose of atmosphere…”

The first time I braced myself and decided to cook whole fish I was half-way through the recipe when Mum asked if she could help and I said she should look up how we were going to eat whatever I was making.

I have only had tuna from cans before. I looked at the recipe doubtfully and I really wasn’t sure I wanted to make it, a whole 200g tuna steak that would presumably taste like the cans at Zoom? But decided that Jamie had never let me down. Everything I had made so far had been perfect. So I bought some tuna and fell in love with it. It tasted nothing like the canned goods. It was just lovely and I can’t wait to make it again. It’s delicious.

Monkfish tail is for sale at Carrefour. I saw this, but then went to the fish market and still bought it whole. Removing the heads (about half of the fish) took almost an hour. These fish have really, really thick skins and I’m not skilled yet. Next time I’ll have this done by the fishmonger.

My only terrible recipe was Jamie’s take on a Japanese dish, black cod. I drove all over town getting the ingredients, I marinated the fish for 24 hours, I did everything and it was disgusting. Maybe I’m not into Japanese cuisine or something. But if you only have one fail in a whole book I think that’s a pretty good record.

Oh, the Thai-style sea bass was my favourite. I loved the Thai paste. So tasty. The roast salmon feeds more then 10 people. I made it for me and Mum and we lived off the left overs for a week. There’s still some left in the freezer.

I haven’t been able to find John Dory in Dubai. I’m sure it’s here somewhere, but not in any of the usual places. I went to the fish market and the fishermen decided to tease me telling me “this is John Dory” holding up many different fish. I was very happy to realize that I could identify all the fish they showed me.

Unable to find John Dory I bought squid. Jamie had written “tentacles removed” but the fisherman had limited English and just asked “you want hand?” I unfortunately said “no” and only later realized that this was edible. I hope the fishermen enjoyed it though.

Cooking the squid lead to me burning my finger for the first time in over a year’s cooking. I only burned the tip and it kept hurting for almost four hours. The food was so good I still made it again the next day and remembered oven mits.

When I bought the book the lobster pictures looked so gross I just said I wasn’t going to touch one. Now after facing many new and different types of food I am prepared to say I’ll try it. I even bought a lobster cracker and a crab pick for future use. Althougth with my lack of shell-fish equipment the store could have sold me anything that day.

I enjoyed the vegetable section. My favourite was the creamy butternut squash. I made that quite a few times. It was delicious, I used coconut cream instead and the flavour seemed to really compliment the dish. I made the courgette recipes with tiny cucumber the first time, but have since found real courgettes and am remaking all the recipes. They are delicious.

In the desert section I started with the meringues. I probably made the recipe 10 different times in a 3 day period. The people at Zoom told me I was eating “too much eggs”. Then finally the last meringue turned out perfect and I used it for the Eton mess which is really good. I loved the fruit meringue with hazelnuts and can’t wait to make it again.

The custard has become a staple in the kitchen. I regularly make chocolate mousse and reserve the yolks for the custard. I use coconut milk and coconut cream in this. The coconutty taste is really enjoyable for me. I tried making rhubarb and custard more than once. Having read about it in novels I really wanted to like it, but it just didn’t turn out nice. Maybe someday I’ll manage it.

The cheesecake was almost addictive. It’s so quick and easy that I felt like making it for breakfast every day. I started making it without the egg and not baking it till all I really had was sweetened cream cheese and that wasn’t the same thing. So I went back to following Jamie’s instruction completely.

I’m really excited about the Black Forest Swiss roll and the victorian sponge cake “with all the trimmings”. It’s taking me more than a year to make every recipe, but I love it. I found something I’m passionate about. Going to new, interesting places to find the needed ingredients is so much fun.

I bought 3 different pestle and mortar sets. First a really cheap one to see if I would use it, then a teeny tiny one when I was travelling Viena. Almost useless, way to small, almost the size of an esspresso cup’s inside… and then yesterday I bought a granite one, heavy, solid, perfect. Can’t wait to use it. I literally went the mall for only this, it’s rather heavy.

It feels like I’ve enrolled in a wonderful cooking school. I’ve learned much more than I expected, not just about food, but about approaching new stuff. I never would have gone to the fish market, but this book took me to the most interesting places. I hope I can always cook. The book is filled with highlighter in and little notes, I never had to make adjustments to the recipes, Jamie’s instructions and ingredient amounts are perfect. Most of my notes are just my rating for the recipe.

Back in South Africa I would flip through some Jamie books and see that he had recipes for home made pasta. I use to think these were entirely unnecesary, why would you bother making it if you can just buy it in the store? Since then I have become very aware of real food and how rubbish some store bought stuff truly is and I’m so happy to have really good recipes for home made stuff. Much better.

I enjoy every week. It’s like reading a good book, you’ll never again just read, because you know what good writing feels like. I know good food and so boring food will never work again.