Chronicling an attempt by a middle-class ponce (who likes the idea of being able to cook but has never done it) to learn how, and eat nice things, by following Jamie Oliver’s advice in "15 Minute Meals".

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Cheese and tomato stuffed chicken breasts with cayenne potato wedges

They can’t all be winners.

I didn’t have a great deal of stuff in the house, so I thought I’d make something up with what I had. After last time’s stuffed chicken I figured, hey, that thing where you roll the chicken breast around the stuffing, that’s a pain: why not just slice a pocket into a chicken breast like it’s a pitta bread and stuff it full of whatever? The problem was that I didn’t have a lot of whatever. So I mixed up grated cheddar, garlic, tomato puree and a few other little things and stuffed the chicken with it. Into the oven for 30 minutes. At the same time, I made cayenne potato wedges (same as that recipe but with cayenne pepper rather than chilli powder). Carrot and swede mash with a bit of butter.

And… it all cooked OK, and was all OK. But… nothing even remotely special. Just a bit meh, really, which is a far cry from the previous recipe. This is what I get for making stuff up, I suppose. Still, it filled a hole. Tomorrow I’ll do something nicer.

Chicken with apricot, goats cheese and sage stuffing, with sunblush mash and carrots
This one got stolen from a website. A sidebar here — there are so, so many good websites for recipes. I am impressed, internet. Keep it up. It’s actually from The Food Network but you can also get the recipe from Tastebook because, in a move of genuinely galactic stupidity, the Food Network link doesn’t work on mobile. You get redirected to a page which doesn’t exist. You are the weakest link, Food Network, goodbye. Especially for recipes! I mean, what am I supposed to do: keep dashing out of the kitchen to check the next step on my laptop? Stick my laptop in the kitchen, next to all the hot oil and the like? I don’t think so, Moron Network. I use my phone. Make your recipes work there, or I shall mock you a second time.
Anyway, this was excellent. The published recipe is for chicken; we did two, one with chicken breast and one with salmon for Darling Pescetarian Daughter. She thoroughly enjoyed cooking this, by the way.
I’ll say this: pounding out a chicken breast in order to cover it in paprika (as long-time readers will have seen me do for a bunch of Jamie’s fifteen-minute meals) is a lot easier than walloping it into a quarter-inch chicken pancake which is capable of being rolled into a tube around the stuffing. On the other hand, even if presentation is a touch lacking (see picture), this was delicious. Three types of cheese, too: goats cheese in the chicken stuffing, cheddar in the mash, and parmesan on the carrots. The original plan was to construct the carrot noughts-and-crosses board pile thing, put the parmesan on, and then put it under the grill for a couple of minutes to melt the parmesan before serving, but we ran out of time for the grill step.
Also: made too much mash. Again. And it was a bit too sticky. Again. But that’s because we both keep saying “needs more cheese” just because cheese is magnificent.
This one is recommended. However, some tips: first, you must keep the chicken pancake the same thickness all the way through. If you get carried away and one bit’s too thin, then when you try and pick up the finished article it tries to snap at the thin part, at which point epic chicken-juggling fail. So don’t do that. Secondly, when it says “tie the ends with string, or use cocktail sticks” and you think “I’ll use cocktail sticks, because string is a great big faff”… don’t say that. Use the string. The cocktail sticks are lots easier, right up until you have to turn a thing with cocktail sticks poking out of it — either when coating in panko breadcrumbs, or in the pan — and then they get in the way like trying to walk through a narrow door with a javelin through your head. String, that’s the ticket.
Another recipe, incidentally, which calls for me to take my magnificent saute pan and put it in the oven, which will melt the rubber handle and so I don’t do it. Does everyone else just have pans with metal handles? Don’t they set your hands actually on fire when you try to use the pan? I’m sure that this sort of thing is fine if you spent a grand on Le Creuset pots, but I didn’t.
Still got a little of the stuffing left. I think I might just eat it with a spoon.

Chicken with apricot, goats cheese and sage stuffing, with sunblush mash and carrots

This one got stolen from a website. A sidebar here — there are so, so many good websites for recipes. I am impressed, internet. Keep it up. It’s actually from The Food Network but you can also get the recipe from Tastebook because, in a move of genuinely galactic stupidity, the Food Network link doesn’t work on mobile. You get redirected to a page which doesn’t exist. You are the weakest link, Food Network, goodbye. Especially for recipes! I mean, what am I supposed to do: keep dashing out of the kitchen to check the next step on my laptop? Stick my laptop in the kitchen, next to all the hot oil and the like? I don’t think so, Moron Network. I use my phone. Make your recipes work there, or I shall mock you a second time.

Anyway, this was excellent. The published recipe is for chicken; we did two, one with chicken breast and one with salmon for Darling Pescetarian Daughter. She thoroughly enjoyed cooking this, by the way.

I’ll say this: pounding out a chicken breast in order to cover it in paprika (as long-time readers will have seen me do for a bunch of Jamie’s fifteen-minute meals) is a lot easier than walloping it into a quarter-inch chicken pancake which is capable of being rolled into a tube around the stuffing. On the other hand, even if presentation is a touch lacking (see picture), this was delicious. Three types of cheese, too: goats cheese in the chicken stuffing, cheddar in the mash, and parmesan on the carrots. The original plan was to construct the carrot noughts-and-crosses board pile thing, put the parmesan on, and then put it under the grill for a couple of minutes to melt the parmesan before serving, but we ran out of time for the grill step.

Also: made too much mash. Again. And it was a bit too sticky. Again. But that’s because we both keep saying “needs more cheese” just because cheese is magnificent.

This one is recommended. However, some tips: first, you must keep the chicken pancake the same thickness all the way through. If you get carried away and one bit’s too thin, then when you try and pick up the finished article it tries to snap at the thin part, at which point epic chicken-juggling fail. So don’t do that. Secondly, when it says “tie the ends with string, or use cocktail sticks” and you think “I’ll use cocktail sticks, because string is a great big faff”… don’t say that. Use the string. The cocktail sticks are lots easier, right up until you have to turn a thing with cocktail sticks poking out of it — either when coating in panko breadcrumbs, or in the pan — and then they get in the way like trying to walk through a narrow door with a javelin through your head. String, that’s the ticket.

Another recipe, incidentally, which calls for me to take my magnificent saute pan and put it in the oven, which will melt the rubber handle and so I don’t do it. Does everyone else just have pans with metal handles? Don’t they set your hands actually on fire when you try to use the pan? I’m sure that this sort of thing is fine if you spent a grand on Le Creuset pots, but I didn’t.

Still got a little of the stuffing left. I think I might just eat it with a spoon.

Blackened mango and tomato chicken
One thing cooking from Jamie’s books has taught me is that you can just mix stuff up if you want and you’re OK. The Cooking Police don’t come round and get you if you change stuff. One of the better 15 Minute Meals is Blackened Chicken, so I sorta took inspiration from that but used stuff that I just had. So: couscous (I like couscous) and peas (tinned, because tinned peas are shockingly easy: also, vegetables, which are a good idea); mix them together, lay down a bed on the plate. Then, mango (again, tinned, because fresh mango is such a faff), sun-dried tomatoes, and the blackened chicken exactly as Jamie’s recipe describes it. If you cook the chicken with a little too much olive oil then you can toss the chicken, mango, and sun-dried tomatoes all together with the tiny bit of remaining oil, which is lovely. Delicious dinner.
This approach is just generally a good idea, I think. It’s reasonably healthy (OK, the chicken’s fried, but I’m not perfect), crammed with vegetables and fruit, and thoroughly tasty… and you can put whatever you’ve got in it. Avocado would go well. Drizzle with natural yoghurt if you have any. That sort of thing. I’m not sure this really counts as experimental — it’s just a logical extension of lots of things I’ve already cooked — but it’s certainly nice, and again it’s quick. An ideal filling lunch, I think.

Blackened mango and tomato chicken

One thing cooking from Jamie’s books has taught me is that you can just mix stuff up if you want and you’re OK. The Cooking Police don’t come round and get you if you change stuff. One of the better 15 Minute Meals is Blackened Chicken, so I sorta took inspiration from that but used stuff that I just had. So: couscous (I like couscous) and peas (tinned, because tinned peas are shockingly easy: also, vegetables, which are a good idea); mix them together, lay down a bed on the plate. Then, mango (again, tinned, because fresh mango is such a faff), sun-dried tomatoes, and the blackened chicken exactly as Jamie’s recipe describes it. If you cook the chicken with a little too much olive oil then you can toss the chicken, mango, and sun-dried tomatoes all together with the tiny bit of remaining oil, which is lovely. Delicious dinner.

This approach is just generally a good idea, I think. It’s reasonably healthy (OK, the chicken’s fried, but I’m not perfect), crammed with vegetables and fruit, and thoroughly tasty… and you can put whatever you’ve got in it. Avocado would go well. Drizzle with natural yoghurt if you have any. That sort of thing. I’m not sure this really counts as experimental — it’s just a logical extension of lots of things I’ve already cooked — but it’s certainly nice, and again it’s quick. An ideal filling lunch, I think.

Ricotta fritters with a tomato sauce, and Italian tomato and bread salad

Combining two Jamie recipes this time. His ricotta fritters come with a courgette salad, but both darling daughter and I think that courgettes are the tool of the Prince of Darkness, so we made Italian tomato and bread salad instead. Except for using beetroot instead of peppers in the salad, because I like peppers about as much as I like courgettes.

First thing first: this tasted great! The ricotta was nice enough, the tomato sauce was nice enough, and the tomato salad was delicious. We put four different kinds of tomatoes in — meli melo in orange and red and yellow, big beefsteak English tomatoes — and that combined with the bread is a really excellent dish. I wouldn’t have thought of putting bread in a salad, but it’s a fantastic idea now that we’ve tried it. We made mountains of it and ate the lot. Good work, Jamie.

Now, the fritters. The problem was… we didn’t have any actual flour. So we used cornflour instead. And… this did not work as well as you might have hoped. The fritters didn’t bind together at all in the frying pan. So it was less ricotta fritters and more a sort of ricotta splat. Tasted good enough, although it was a bit overwhelmed by the passata-based sauce, but you either need to pay attention to the flour thing or you need to be a lot more deft with a frying pan than I am.

Also, I have discovered, my fish slice is so weak that it just bends when you do anything with it. Which did not help one little bit.

I’m not sure about passata-based sauces. They’re delicious, but they tend to completely overwhelm anything they’re put with or anything that’s put in them. Something a bit more subtle, perhaps.

Still, one to have again, especially the salad. Try it with beetroot in. Superb.

Jamie’s favourite hot & sour rhubarb & crispy pork with noodles

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/pork-recipes/my-favourite-hot-and-sour-rhubarb-and-crispy-pork-with-noodles

I have to say, the recipe on this one is a bit misleading. It says it serves six, but then you’re supposed to divide up the finished article into four bowls. Anyway, we did our usual trick of guesstimating the amounts; as normal with a Jamie recipe, either all his friends eat like tiny birds, or everyone says “mm that was lovely” and then eats a Mars bar on the way home. We bought 300g of noodles in six nests, and cooked four of them for the two of us; 500g of pork (and it was casserole diced pork, too, not belly pork, because my daughter refuses to eat belly pork); and ordinary cress. Because life is too short to buy special kinds of cress, all of which are just grass anyway. Plus there weren’t any special kinds in the supermarket.

Two big flaws with our downscaling became apparent. The first is that, because we were only cooking half as much pork, and because it was in smaller bits (diced for casseroles, rather than 4cm cubes), we only cooked it in the oven for 45 minutes (conveniently, the length of a Doctor Who episode, which was the odd one with the Russian submarine and the Ice Warrior). But… we still put a whole wine glass of water in it. What this meant was that after 45 minutes the pork was nearly done, hooray, but the sauce was still basically water. The recipe suggests that you might want to “simmer” it for a bit in this case; what we did was boil it to within an inch of its life for a further half an hour, which got it down to a reasonable sort of consistency.

The second big flaw was… we didn’t reduce the amount of chilli. Which meant that it was pretty darn warm. I’m a bit more accustomed to this sort of thing than Darling Daughter is, so I put up with it and felt the burn, and she got about a third of the way in and then we put some natural yoghurt in with hers because apparently she couldn’t feel her lips any more. Oof.

That aside, though, this was pretty nice! We had to use tinned rhubarb because they had run out of fresh in the supermarket, but that didn’t seem to make much of a difference. As you’ll see from the pictures, Jamie’s effort has a light attractive scattering of greenery on it, while our attempt has three-quarters of Epping Forest piled on top, but for all that it was actually delicious. Problem with not having any of those wide flat bowls, I think. Also, the pork wasn’t very crispy. Still pretty good, though, and that may be because we weren’t using big cubes of belly pork. A fun dinner to make, too, this one, although a bit chaotic at the end when you’re trying to boil down the sauce, drain noodles, fry the pork which is totally determined to stick like the clappers on the bottom of your saute pan, and prepare all the garnish. I’m glad there were two of us.

A recommended dinner, this one. You might wanna tone down the chilliness of it, though, unless you’re made of sterner stuff than us.

Chicken, sausage & prawn jambalaya

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/chicken-recipes/chicken-sausage-prawn-jambalaya

This one was a Me-And-Daughter™ production. And it took an hour and a half to cook, which is about six times longer than anything’s ever taken to cook before.

Pretty nice, though. Although getting the amounts right is a problem. The recipe is for four. So we roughly halved everything, and it still made four big bowlsfull and we ate two only. This is really, really filling. Be told.

It’s fun to make, too. The whole idea of jambalaya is that you lived out in the wilds of Louisiana and you got whatever you’d managed to catch that day — catfish, prawns, rabbit, stray cat, whatever — and you cooked it with rice and ate it. So we had chicken, chorizo, prawns (four times as many prawns as you’re supposed to have for two people, but we like prawns), sausagemeat… and it was lovely. Just enough spice from the chilli and cayenne pepper to give it a bit of a kick. And you have to go and keep stirring it, and you throw things into it with wild abandon, and that’s a jolly good laugh. Make this one with your kids, I would.

Success! Although now I have to freeze the remainder, because I’m not eating jambalaya three days on the bounce since right at the moment I feel like the Hindenberg.

Proper blokes’ sausage fusilli

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/pasta-recipes/proper-blokes-sausage-fusilli

As ever, not fusilli. This was pretty nice, and pretty easy to do: sausagemeat, fried up with stuff and put on pasta. Nothing much to say about it, really: I don’t think it’s anything to write home about, but it was perfectly nice for all that.

Note: grate cheddar on pasta, rather than putting parmesan on it. Way nicer, in my opinion.

Also: fried, again. My quest to not eat fried dinners is not going very successfully.

Mustard chicken, quick dauphinoise, greens

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/chicken-recipes/mustard-chicken-quick-dauphinoise-greens-black-forest-affogato

Diversions from recipe, again, although this time rather less successfully.

Basically, this recipe looked nice but seemed like a hysterical faff to do. Cook the dauphinoise in a pan and then later put the pan in the oven? Cover the chicken pan with tin foil?

On the other hand, this could have been nicer, and that I didn’t follow the recipe is probably why.

First big problem: didn’t have any cream. Since dauphinoise is basically potatoes + cream + cheese, this could be a problem. A quick Google discovered a bunch of healthy people saying that you can use milk instead. Secondly, I used tinned new potatoes. A sin, truly, but it’s what I had, and since they’re basically already parboiled, that makes it easier (everyone else’s dauphinoise recipe has you parboil the potatoes: Jamie cooks them from scratch in all the sauce in a pan and then puts the pan in the oven).

Anyway, this is what I did:

Slice the tinned potatoes. In a jug, mix milk, garlic, nutmeg. Put the sliced potatoes in a baking dish; tear over anchovies, pour over milk mixture, grate over cheddar cheese. Put it in the oven.

Take a chicken breast and treat with English mustard powder and rosemary. The way I do this is by putting the chicken breast in a freezer bag, putting the herbs etc in there too, shaking it up, and then flattening with a rolling pin while it’s still in the bag. It’s really easy, you don’t get herbs all over your worktop, and your rolling pin doesn’t even need washing afterwards. Fry the chicken, both sides, until basically cooked. Then add a generous sloosh of white wine to the pan, and a spoon or two of wholegrain mustard (not English mustard, unless you want to blow the back of your head off), and continue to cook until it all seems OK. Slice the chicken, and pour over the wine/mustard sauce. Wilt a bunch of chard or spinach or whatever in the pan for vegetables; serve the chicken, dauphinoise (which is cooked when the cheese goes golden on top) and vegetables together.

This… well, it wasn’t bad, certainly. Perfectly edible, and I’ve had worse in restaurants. But the dauphinoise was pretty uninspiring. I suspect that this is because I made it with milk, and because I didn’t cook the potatoes in the milk/etc before going into the oven, so it wasn’t particularly rich or well integrated. Also, the milk seemed to almost have separated in the baking dish once cooked; this didn’t seem to affect the taste (although maybe it did? who can tell? good chefs, presumably) but it didn’t look great.

Glad I had this, but I either won’t rush to do it again, or I’ll do it properly next time, and “properly” looks to me like it’s a long way over the “can’t be bothered with that much poncing around” line. Dauphinoise: one for someone else to cook, I think.

Oven-baked rigatoni with wild boar salami

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/pasta-recipes/oven-baked-rigatoni-with-wild-boar-salami

Now, as is usual, I diverged from this recipe slightly. In particular, I didn’t have any wild boar salami and indeed neither did my local shop, but Jamie does say you can use Napoli, which is exactly what I did. (Also, conchiglie rather than rigatoni, but I like shells.) Anyway, this came out pretty well. I used double cream rather than creme fraiche (strictly, I suppose, I used Elmlea, but no-one can tell the difference), and this recipe made the perfect amount for two people.

Things I need and do not have: ceramic baking dish.

This is actually jolly nice, I must admit it. Pasta bake is a pretty simple meal to do, and it’s both tasty and filling. It is, given my new plan to not just eat fried things, not the healthiest of meals (it’s got a whole thing of mozzarella in it, fergawdsake) but it’s good stuff. Sticks to your ribs, my grandma would say. It’s easy to cook, too: even someone as ham-fisted as I can manage this. Recommended, especially if you’ve got one hungry guest. No need for dessert after this.

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I think I’ve now tried most of the Fifteen Minute Meals that I actually like the sound of. So I’m branching out slightly. Jamie’s got tons of recipes on http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes so I’m going to try a bunch of those, too. This is not only occasioned by having tried most of the 15 minute meals, but also because I have realised that the only way to cook something in fifteen minutes is to fry it, which means that every 15-m-m is fried, which means every meal I eat is fried, which means I’ll end up the size of a house. So, let’s try and be a little healthier while still seeing if an idiot can follow Jamie’s advice and recipes.