30 Minute Meals – have you tried it? Obviously, it’s been around for a while (not just in the library – it was published in 2010) and I have been a little slow on the uptake.
I like Jamie Oliver. The Naked Chef came out the year we were married – 1999. After our wedding in February, and 3 days in Barcelona on honeymoon, the Husband went out to Bosnia for 6 months. I stayed in London, then on his return, we moved into married quarters down near Salisbury and I began commuting. 2 hours each way if the trains ran on time, I’d get home, knackered, the Husband would have cooked, and I would fall asleep on the sofa.
You can see why the lifestyle Jamie, Jools and their mates were offering appealed - the gorgeous trendy flat that some location monkey had tracked down, the scooter, the mates, the effortless socialising with cool food served up to a chirpy Britpop soundtrack...
We remained loyal through the Return of the Naked Chef, and Happy Days. A version of one of his pasta dishes involving savoy cabbage and bacon will forever be 'Jamie pasta' in our house. I have Jamie’s Dinners, and Jamie’s Italy – all of which I use, but as the Husband and I grew up, our aspirations changed. We followed the school dinners campaign, and Fifteen, but having moved out of London, our tele-visual destination of choice shifted to the Dorset/Devon border in the company of Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, and if I needed a fix of something urban, well I preferred the company of a certain glamorous brunette with a penchant for eating noodles on a London bus (when she wasn’t raiding the fridge in a silk dressing gown...)
So I hadn’t really been aware of 30 Minute Meals, or its fundamental premise, which is to put a whole meal on the table in less than 30 minutes. “Not just one dish, a whole spread of beautiful things”. Sounds good? It did to me, but as I read through the recipes, I became more and more nervous of actually trying it out. The use of words like ‘efficiency’ and ‘choreographed’ and orders to ‘Sort out your equipment...Arrange it sensibly...Clear as you go’ are pretty much anathema to me.
Didn't think so...
When I first got it out of the library, and read the recipes, I felt exhausted. I planned a 30 minute meal a couple of times into our weekly meal plan during the initial loan, but couldn’t quite bring myself to take the 30 minute challenge (as I’d mentally come to think of it). In the end, I made the Portuguese Custard Tarts and left it at that.
To be fair, I am probably not 30 Minute Meals’ target audience. I do cook from scratch most nights anyway, and working from home gives me slightly more time in my day to prepare things in advance. I am not the person dumping the shopping bags on the table after staggering home on the tube to start cooking, but on the other hand, I am finding more and more that time is at a premium.
Fast forward to last week and I saw it again on the shelf in the library. It called to me, so I decided to give it another go. The Husband and I have been trying to take at least one evening a week to cook and eat together, so I decided to schedule the 30 Minute Meal in for last night – Friday night – after a week when we have been in and out and hardly seen each other. In the interests of forcing the issue, I decided to go for something that would be difficult to deviate from, so chose the Bloody Mary Mussels followed by Rhubarb Mille Feuille. I ordered the mussels from the local butchers, so no turning back. Unfortunately, I rather over achieved on the wine front on Thursday night for a friend’s birthday and mussels were really not what I was wanting to eat. As I crawled my way through the day, I really did wonder about chucking in the towel, but we are out this evening, and the mussels – well, they needed to be eaten.
Well, I am really glad that we gave it a go because the meal was absolutely delicious. The mussels are cooked in a fiery bloody mary mix (but of course), served with a lovely herby salad – the tarragon and dill really set off the flavours of the mussel dish. The pudding was equally lovely – we had a slight malfunction in that the puff pastry didn’t puff, but once it was dolloped with custard crème fraiche and rhubarb, well, that was never going to be a problem.
Puff pastry, rhubarb stewed with ginger,
custard and creme fraiche - what's not to like??
The meal does rely on a few ‘shortcut’ ingredients – passata, jarred horseradish (as a result of shopping list fail, I didn’t have any but found a jar if hot horseradish sauce at the back of the fridge) bagged salad, readymade custard and puff pastry (although I am unlikely to have made my own puff pastry for this – or anything in fact). This is the one thing that makes me shy away from the book - not so much the passata and jars of horseradish, but the recipes do rely a lot on the quick fixes meat wise - chicken breasts particularly, which thanks to Hugh F-W I have come to regard as one of the scourges of the meat aisle - they are so expensive, and I rarely buy them these days.
In terms of the instructions, well there is a lot of jumping around between pudding, mussels and salad, but actually, it’s just a sensible approach. If I’d sat down with the 3 recipes separately, I’d have probably worked out that the elements had to be prepped/cooked in that order, but not until I’d already realised that the pastry should have been in the oven 10 minutes ago... You definitely need to read through a couple of times to do it ‘right’, and it would have helped if I’d done that!
And 30 minutes? Really? Well, probably not quite. The actually cooking time was just less than 30 minutes, from the moment we cracked open the pastry to sitting down with the steaming bowls of mussels, and a bottle of exceedingly alcoholic Belgian beer (as specified), but I had spent some time during my afternoon potter in the kitchen digging things out of cupboards. I’d given the mussels and extra soak in some fresh water just to make sure, and I would have been nervous of cooking them without. Finally, because I could, I had made my own bread (a plaited white loaf which I was rather proud of).
I’d also spent some time trying to create the clear, efficient workspace that Jamie demands.
Reader – I failed, but I did try.
Bloody Mary Mussels – serves 2 with lots of soupy sauce
1kg of mussels, cleaned and debearded
1 heaped tablespoon of hot horseradish sauce (you can tone this down to taste)
1 small dried chilli
3 stalks of celery , finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
A good glug of port
An even bigger glug of vodka
1 lemon, juiced
Bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Soak your mussels in a large sink’s worth of water for an hour or so, then drain.
Put a large pan (with a lid) on the hob on a medium heat (yes, really, I was worried the house would burn down too, but it didn’t).
Mix together the passata with the Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, crushed up chilli and garlic and the chopped celery. Stir in the port, vodka and the juice of the lemon along with freshly ground salt & pepper.
Make sure the mussels are closed – if any are open, give them a tap. If they do not close, they are dead so chuck away. If you’ve bought them fresh and from a reputable source, you should only lose one or two. Put all the good mussels into the large pan, tip in the bloody mary mixture, put the lid on and give the pan a good shake. Increase the heat and leave the mussels to steam. Give the pan a shake every now and then. They probably only need 3-4 minutes – enough time to make a salad and get your mille feuille pastry out of the oven according to Jamie.
When the mussels have opened, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and leave the tomato sauce to bubble away a bit on a high heat to thicken and reduce. While this is going on, check for any mussels that didn’t open during the cooking process and throw them away – again you shouldn’t lose many this way. Pour the sauce over the mussels and scatter with the chopped parsley.
Serve in big soup bowls with crusty bread and a salad, and some extremely alcoholic Belgian beer.