Friday 19 November 2010

Jamie’s 30 minute ‘ Sea bass & crispy pancetta, sweet potato mash, Asian greens, 1-minute berry ice cream, sparkling lemon ginger drink’ meal!

This was a task for which I was thoroughly prepared: I’d bought all the ingredients (taking a list as long as my arm!); I’d watched the TV programme for the recipe I was going to do so I could visualise everything I should be dong and when; I had the book open at the right page; I placed ALL my equipment, and I mean all, out ready to use; the pan of hot water and warm frying pan were on and ready to go.


What more could I do? Well, little things did come up but I’ll tell you about those as we go!

So, the timer was at the ready to begin! And so was I!

I worked quickly and methodically through the instructions but soon confused myself. Actually, it wasn’t me that caused the confusion, it was Jamie! His TV show told me to do the pudding of frozen berry yoghurty ice-cream first, whereas that certainly wasn’t the first step in the book, but the last. I decided I’d like to get that done and get it in the freezer to chill, so I slotted that in earlier in the instructions. It also meant I didn’t have to do it when everything else was hot and ready to be served.

The second thing I soon realised was that having to read the instructions as I went along really slowed me down: moving the cookbook from surface to surface as I chopped, added to a bowl, popped into a pan, etc.!

As I chopped, sliced, stabbed, opened, threw, yelled and grated, I was desperately trying to think of things I could do to save even more time so I’d definitely make the 30 minutes deadline: peeling the little stickers off the lemons and limes, for example! One thing I hadn’t considered was the mess, and when I say mess, think every surface covered with a mixture of unopened and unused ingredients, bits of chopped off sweet potato, chilli seeds, the ends of the asparagus, empty packets of fish and pancetta, opened jars and bottles with their lids strewn around (probably on another surface or, indeed, the floor), splashes of berry and yoghurt mixture across the floor…you get the idea! It’s a good job I’ve got a kitchen with quite a lot of surface area as it really did cover the place. One reason is you can’t use the same table spoon twice, for example. It’s been dipped in honey and is then used for fennel seeds. Now normally, we’d wash it in between, but there simply isn’t the time – and I admit it, I didn’t count the amount of spoons I would need before beginning so found myself woefully short, using up valuable time to retrieve some from the dishwasher and hope they were clean.



The timer was still ticking as I turned the fish over to ensure the flesh was just cooked and as I began to plate them on top of the mash, it sounded its final bell.


Fortunately I’d also set the stopwatch, which was still going strong, so I continued. We sat down to eat 33 minutes after beginning the cooking process. The flavours themselves, as usual with any Jamie recipe, worked beautifully. With the addition of sesame oil, soy, ginger, lime and chilli, the meal was definitely Asian themed and although quite strong, complemented the fish rather than overpowered it, but one less wouldn’t have been missed. The OH actually went so far as to say that it was one of the best meals I’ve ever cooked and I must admit, it was very tasty.





As I’d worked quite quickly, it was hard to actually relax into the meal, and when I looked across at the kitchen, even less so. Although the dinner was very tasty and didn’t take that long, I didn’t enjoy the experience of eating it. A real shame. It is, however, easy and if you didn’t push yourself, (say, went for 45 minutes) cleared up as you went along , knew the recipe and flavour combination so you didn’t have to read as you went and peeled the sticky fruit labels before beginning (!) it would be a far more pleasurable meal!


If you’d like a go, why not see if you can beat my time? I’d be interested in knowing what you’d do differently to try to save valuable minutes. Watch the recipe at before you begin and see what you think! Read about the experience of others at the Guardian’s TV & Radio blog – I only found this as I was writing this post!

(Apologies for the quality of some of the pictures – the camera had a little tantrum!)

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Findus Fresher Taste

I recently picked up some vouchers for this new Findus range and thought, ‘Why not?’. I am, after all, human and don’t have time, or the inclination, to cook from scratch every night, even though it’s my downtime. So, last night, my relaxing was done in a hot bath and I opened one of the new products to see if it really was as good as a fresh meal.

Photo of Roasted Chicken Breast pack Photo of Wild Pacific Pink Salmon pack
Photo of Tender Chicken Breast pack Photo of Flaky Cod Fillet pack

The promotional text on the website assured me I’d want to ‘savour every mouthful’ of the Tender Chicken Breast with Vintage Cheddar and Bacon sauce – so did I? The chicken was moist, not dry after the recommended cooking time, and the sauce was tasty, but looked nothing like the think, oozing sauce on the picture: It was much, much runnier. The ‘buttery seasonal vegetables, which count as two of your five a day’ sort of made up for it as I rarely get my 5 a day, even on a good day!

The OH’s piece of ‘Flaky Cod Fillet’ was a remarkably small piece, and all I can say is that they must use side plates in the pictures on the website! His 1 of the 5 a day packet contained ‘a medley of crisp vegetables (which) completes this beautifully balanced dish’. There was a small piece of butter in with the vegetables to keep them moist and it did it’s trick, but unfortunately, this also meant the potato pieces were soft rather than crispy: you could always remove them from the pack for the last five minutes to crispen up in the oven, but that does of take the convenience aspect out of the equation.

Does it do ‘what it says on the tin’? Is it actually a fresher taste? My first question was exactly what I was supposed to be comparing the fresher taste with. If we’re talking about whether it tasted as if it was fresh produce rather than frozen, then yes, it most definitely did. The meat / fish was always cooked to perfection, never overcooked or dry, and the vegetables just past biting point. The only thing that gave it way was the slightly watery sauce. For taste alone, the flavours were strong and you could easily swap the vegetable packets over to put the greens with the fish and the potato and root vegetables with the meats, which I feel would work better. The addition of peppers to a white fish with a cream mornay sauce also seemed a bit of a strange combination, but maybe that’s just me?

As mentioned, I used vouchers to purchase my packets, but out of interest, wonder what you’d pay for this as a ‘ready-meal’ alternative? You get a small piece of meat or fish, a sauce, and a packet of vegetables that counts as one or two of your 5 a day. Very easy to prepare, either in the microwave or in the oven, you simply put two short cuts into the top of each ‘bag’, and they’re ready from anywhere between 7 (ish) and 25 minutes.

So have a think…my OH decided he’d pay up to £2.50, but then never does the shopping so doesn’t know the price of things! I’ll put the answer after the tags on this post to give you time…

£3.99 a pack. From a personal viewpoint I’d never pay this when you could make it from fresh ingredients for less, but it did take the phaff out of cooking one night from five, and tasted nearly as good!

(I have amended this blog after double-checking my facts and realising that the packs are on sale at £3.99, not £4.99 as I currently stated. I apologise for that: my memory obviously cannot be relied upon!)

Sunday 7 November 2010

Autumnal Treats–Pumpkin Pie

As you may know, over the last few weeks the OH has been improving his Sunday Lunch skills for friends. This week, Jamie’s roast chicken was accompanied by all the usual, and some of the unusual! Our friend, Neil, offered to bring a Pumpkin Pie for dessert. Now, if you’re like me, you may be forgiven for thinking that pumpkin pie should be savoury, but apparently not! As with many things American, this is a sweet, sticky, and most definitely desserty pudding.


It’s a combination of all things yummy and, topped with a splash of double cream, really can’t be good for you, but then, one slice of what you like never does you any harm. (If I keep telling myself that, I may eventually believe it!)

The recipe was taken from the Guardian Word of Mouth blog and looks relatively simple, though I can’t comment on that as I wasn’t the one who actually did the baking! Neil decided life was too short to make pastry, and I usually agree, so used ready-made and the edges were beautifully crispy.

For the filling, you mash and strain a small pumpkin, ensuring the excess liquid has fully drained off. Stir in 145g maple syrup, 3tbsp of golden rum and the spices (1tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp ground ginger,
½ tsp ground cloves). Taste for sweetness, then mix in 2 large beaten eggs. Stir 150ml evaporated milk in gradually until you have a thick, creamy consistency – you may not need it all. Pour it into the pastry case and bake at 200oC for 40 minutes (checking occasionally after half an hour) until the filling is set but still slightly wobbly in the middle.


Leave to cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before serving. A splatter of cream really mellowed the sweetness, and although I only had half a slice to begin, I soon dug into the other half! Delicious and one I’ll definitely be giving a try this bonfire night. Thanks Neil.

Friday 5 November 2010

Merlotti vs Domino’s

As promised, I, (just so you didn’t have to, you understand) made my own version of a home delivery pizza, and now is the time to order the real thing and compare the two!


Now, the OH is always asking to order a pizza, and I always say no, having either begun dinner or thinking that the takeaway option is a bit of a cop-out. But, having completed one side of my ‘challenge’, it was only fair that I also completed the second half. Usually, we would choose a deep pan base (I always think that if you’re having a take away you may as well go the full hog!) but the Basil Burst Double Decadence is simply a layer of pesto sandwiched between two thin crust bases.

For comparison purposes, we opted for the same toppings as I had made: tomato passata, pepperoni, peppers, onions and mozzarella. You can choose all this and order via the website, but when I tried to ‘customise’ the Create Your Own pizza, the page wouldn’t load. If you’d rather telephone to order, then you’ll find your local Domino’s number displayed helpfully on the order page, but I stuck it out and, eventually, managed to complete my order, adding a tub of coleslaw, just because it’s yummy!

I followed our order with interest as, half an hour from delivery (eta 20.45), it was claimed that the preparation hadn’t yet begun! 20 minutes later, however, at 20.35, 4 out of 5 steps were complete and the order was at the delivery stage! The question is, would it be on time?

2 minutes to go and still no sign…

It’s now 20.47 and I’m writing this…

15 minutes so far between Stage 4, ‘Quality Control’ and delivery – will the cheese be chewy?

20.50 – Pizza’s here! Not bad…now, just a moment while I eat…




















Erm…not sure what to write. We encountered a problem. Delivered wasn’t the Double Decadence with basil burst pesto sandwiched between two thin bases, but was a deep pan with no sign whatsoever of any basil pesto. When I phoned (half way through digging in as we were starving) they explained they had tried to phone but it wasn’t answered (I left the house for ten minutes to pick up husband from the station) to say that they had run out of the pesto sauce. To be fair, the pizza we ate was very good, but not ideal for comparison purposes! And I’d been charged for the DD Pesto base, not a cheaper deep pan. What to do?


So, more than a week later, the promised voucher for a free pizza was, finally, dropped onto the doormat. Being one not to let things slide, I ordered immediately, by phone this time to check the sauce was in stock, and arranged for an 8 o’clock delivery.

Which arrived at two minutes to! I handed over the voucher, rushed to check it was the correct pizza, took a quick photo and settled down with the OH to get tasting.


It looked fantastic with much pesto sandwiched between the two thin bases as stated. It also had (according to the OH) that Domino’s smell! What that is I’m not sure, but it did, apparently, have it. The first bite was very pesto-y and the flavour and taste really came through. As I munched my way through another slice, however, the taste became less, just my senses getting used to it, and, after two slices, the base became harder to chew your way through. Maybe a single thin base coated in pesto before adding the tomato sauce would work better, but then you wouldn’t have the excitement of a ‘double decadence’ and all that jazz! I think this was because the two bases had little texture: They were cooked ‘flat’ like tortillas for quesadillas, so had no bubbly crusts. The toppings of pepperoni, peppers and onions were distributed nicely around so every bite and slice had something different and the pesto added to those flavours, so much so that I didn’t even have any of my usual ‘coleslaw’ additional topping!


So, what was my verdict?

Domino’s – wins for flavour of pesto

Merlotti – wins for texture of base (and, therefore, the ability to eat more of it!)

I know you were all hoping for an outright winner, but there really wasn’t one. I much preferred the base of mine as it had air bubbles, crispy bits and was only one layer thick, but the flavour of the basil pesto from Domino’s was much richer and more moist.

(If I had to choose an winner between mine, the DD Pesto and the Deep Pan Pepperoni, the Deep Pan would win every time!)

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