Sunday, 16 December 2012

Meals in Minutes; Ainsley Harriott

You might recall that I'm on a bit of a mission to rediscover my cook books at the moment... last week it was Stew!, this week it was Meals in Minutes by Ainsley Harriott.

A book from the star of 'Ready, Steady, Cook' might not seem like the obvious choice of cook books for me, especially as I'm blogging it too, but this was one of the first cook books Gav and I bought together and, well, it served us quite well back in the day (that day, rather scarily, being around ten years ago).

The recipes are all simple and speedy; perfect for cooking newbies. There's a section on time-saving ideas where Ainsley suggests readers make double a recipe and freeze half, and to keep kitchens tidy. Sections on basic larder contents and kitchen equipment are full with equally obvious tips; but for someone getting to grips with owning his/her own kitchen for the first time, there a pretty sensible starting point.

Recipes (most of which serve 2, think young couples) are split into light bites of soups, snacks and salads, then vegetarian, fish, poultry and meat mains, all rounded off with desserts. As I say, we've had this book a while and I couldn't resist revisiting the meatballs (or marvellous chilli-cheese meatballs according to Ainsley, or Gav's chilli-cheese meatballs according to us, as he would always cook them). Not only are they Gav's 'speciality' (so it didn't take me long to persuade him to cook), they're quick, easy and pretty cheap to make.

Essentially the meatballs are made up of pork mince, garlic, a few herbs, Parmesan and chilli and are served up with a simple tomato sauce. Cleverly Ainsley uses spring onions in his recipe, rather than raw onions (they're just not good) or time consuming pre-cooked onions. I do think that this is a good recipe to encourage people to play with flavours; start putting pork, chilli and Parmesan together and people might move onto beef and Stilton or lamb and apricot.

Anyway, this time we didn't play around and the dish was pretty good; the meatballs are flavoursome without  packing too much chilli heat and the sauce is pretty rich considering it's cooked so quickly. Served with pasta and extra cheese this is a pretty good tea time meal.

For our next meal, I wanted to try a new dish and on having a few really bad Thai meals recently I decided to give wan kai Thai-style red curry a go. Ainsley says in his introduction to the recipe that 'Thai-style curries are very 'in at the moment' and my God, weren't they just?! I remember feeling rather brave making a hot and spicy Thai curry back then; something that I wouldn't even batter an eyelid at doing now.

This particular curry had white fish in it (amusingly a quick Google search suggests that wan kai is more green curry with chicken that red curry with fish, but hey, what's in a name eh?!) and I decided to keep it light by just serving it with some steamed pak choi. As I like a saucy Thai curry I doubled the sauce for the amount of fish which was a bit of an error as the dish ended up like soup rather than a curry. Having said that, it was good and I would actually do it as a soup again, but I would either make sure I had a decent curry paste, or make my own. Of course Ainsley doesn't make his own and I guess that this is for speed and also to keep the recipes approachable. In fact some of the ingredients are a bit strange in this one; lemon instead of lime, soy instead of fish sauce, but I'm guessing that's just a sign of a time when limes were considered to be posh and fish sauce was only available in big city Chinese supermarkets.

Last, but not least, was smoked haddock and poached egg (or fab haddie and gooey egg in typical Ainsley style). Again, the dish was simple with the poached egg being the trickiest bit of the dish (a truly 'gooey' poached egg is a thing to treasure). I did find that I needed to cook the fish for longer than Ainsley suggested and this did cause issues with the timing for the poached egg, but, served with some spinach it worked out quite nicely as a light, but rich, mid week meal.

So would I recommend Meals in Minutes? I'm not sure. The dishes are quick and easy, and pretty tasty, but it's quite outdated and won't do for anyone who's up on he food trends, but then this isn't the market that the book is aimed at, is it? So yes, I do recommend it to anyone who wants to gets into cooking or just wants some pretty healthy, quick and easy recipes for mid week meals.

Next week I'll be taking a week off. We're out a couple of nights and Gav's working one night and I don't really have time to shop... so I'll be cooking an enormous batch of sausage casserole to see us through the week. Sausage casserole with mash, sausage casserole with pasta, sausage casserole with polenta... the possibilities are endless....!

What are you cooking this week?