Over the summer we lived in Chicago for a few short months. While living there my husband would work very late nights so I would be up from 7pm till 11pm all by my self. We didn't have a T.V. and I did get some sewing done here and there but we didn't bring all our stuff with us so I only had limited supplies.
So what did I do? I turned to Netflix on our laptop. I watched a few old British BBC flicks like Wives and Daughters but mostly, I got HOOKED on Jamie Oliver's Oliver's Twist cooking show.
A few years ago, when I would frequent Barnes and Noble, I would see this "Naked Chef" cookbook but it sounded scandalous, so I never picked it up. Well much to my chagrin, a couple years down the road I happened to be perusing through a Better Homes and Gardens Magazine and I came upon an article featuring Mr. Oliver and his amazing efforts to healthify Britan's school lunches. The article also included some garden tips and delicious looking recipes. This planted the seed. I had never really heard of this Jamie Oliver and I wanted to see what all the hub-bub was about. Plus, he was British, isn't that like one of the worst food capitals in the world (or at least worst for you).
Being a big fan of the TED talks I saw that Jamie Oliver had won the 2010 TED talks award. I watched it and was blown away. The fact that we have made food the enemy when in reality we should be eating healthier, home cooked foods and save the treats for just that - a treat (not an every day occurrence). Well, come to find out I had some mis-information concerning Britan's food scene especially because of Jamie Oliver. So back to those late summer nights while I waited around for my husband to get home... I started watching Jamie Oliver's cooking show, this is not the one currently on the air, this is a loose, funny, more real life show that aired from 2002-2004 in England. Now, I enjoy a little British humor every once in a while and so this show was just the thing I needed to spark my cooking juices and give me a laugh at the same time.
I would find myself in the kitchen thinking, "Where did I put that 'tin' of tomat-o-es." (with a slight British accent.) It not only gave me an alter cooking ego but it opened this new avenue of cooking for me - not measuring things precisely but going off smell, look, and taste. I had previously dabbled in trying to create my own recipes using a few of these tactics (mostly smell, because that is how Remi from Ratataouille does it, right?!) By watching and absorbing some of Jamie Oliver's techniques it allowed me to begin experimentation on my own. My husband, Peter, was loving this new method of my cooking and he would get really excited when he would come home and ask what we were having. If I would respond with a slightly hesitant, "Well, I sort of just made things up," then he would get this gleam of excitement in his eye.
Jamie Oliver has not only transformed my way of cooking but he has set out to create better school lunches for both the children in his country and in ours. It was very impressive to see the changes he would make in the two cities he has worked in. Now I know he is putting on a reality T.V. show (and I am not a big fan of reality T.V.) but the information shared on his Food Revolution show was extremely informative. He would bring a live cow into his kitchen and draw on the cow where each cut of meat comes from and then go on to explain what happens to the rest of the cow (the inedible parts) and how it can get put into our ground beef. (GROSS!) He also showed an amazing demonstration of how much junk food a family eats in one week. He filled their house with all the pizza, soda pop, and crap food this family was eating on a weekly basis - it was disgusting! All of this was an effort to expose to people what is happening to our food (processing) and how much of that junk we end up eating.
Now that I have throughly grossed you out, his recipes are AMAZING! I love using his recipes. They are adventurous, flavorful, and usually end up looking killer! You can access some recipes on his website but he has authored 16 cookbooks of which I have only gotten my hands on two so far. The nice thing about his recipes is that they are easy to do at home. He has authored a few cookbooks that are 20-minute meals, which are life savers! I do have the Jamie Oliver App which has quite a few recipes and he continually updates it. The look of the app is so nice and I like a lot of the little features he has in it to make cooking easier too.
A few of the little tool he has introduced me to is the pestle and mortar. I love using spices instead of salt and fats to flavor a dish and so to have a pestle and mortar which I can use to grind my own spices, make salad dressings, hummus, and pesto! I also have been able to improve my knife care and skills from watching his shows and little you tube clips. I feel like he has done so much to reach out to the at home chef and make life easier for them, not try and make you cook like a posh restaurant chef.
There is so much more I could cover about this awesome chef but for your sake I will just give you some recipes and let you go check out his website, videos, and cookbooks on your own - and you really should.
Roasted Chicken Breast with Pancetta, Leeks and Thyme by Jamie Oliver
Make this recipe in a snug-fitting baking dish or to save on washing-up, a little tinfoil tray.
4 chicken breasts, skin removed
2 large leeks
Handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
White wine (or chicken broth)
12 slices of pancetta
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the chicken breast in a bowl. Trim and wash the leek, remove the outer leaves, then slice into 1/4 inch pieces. Add these to the bowl with the leaves of a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a good glug of olive oil, a knob of butter, a good pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and a good swig of the wine (or broth) and toss together.
Place your leeks and flavorings from the bowl into the tray, then wrap each chicken breast in 4 or 5 slices of pancetta. This will not only flavor the chicken but also protect it while it cooks. Try and bend the sides of the tin foil tray in towards the chicken so the leeks don't burn during cooking. Drizzle with olive oil, place a couple of whole thyme sprigs on top and cook in the middle of the oven for 25 to 35 minutes.
*This recipe is so good and even though it may scare you off because there aren't exact measurements just give it a try. I bet you can gauge what is a reasonable amount of a "good glug of olive oil".*
Awesome Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni by Jamie Oliver
2 knobs of butter
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a large handful of fresh marjoram or oregano, roughly chopped
1/4 of a nutmeg, grated
9 large handfuls of spinach, throughly washed
a handful of fresh basil, stalks chopped, leaves ripped
two 14 oz cans of chopped tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of sugar
14 oz ricotta cheese
2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
16 cannelloni tubes (or 10 boiled lasagna noodles)
7 oz mozzarella, broken up
For the white sauce:
1 pint of creme fraiche
3 anchovies, finely chopped
2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
This is such wonderfully light and super-tasty cannelloni, and again I've avoided making the frustrating, painstaking béchamel sauce and given you a much tastier and simpler version. All you need to make sure of is that you fill the cannelloni well with the ricotta and spinach mix, so it's not all full of air. And the lovely thing about it is that it goes crispy and golden on top, but remains soft and moist at the bottom. You'll love it!
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Then find a metal baking pan or ovenproof dish that will fit the cannelloni in one layer so it's nice and snug. This way you'll get the right cover of sauce and the right amount of crispiness on top. When I cook this at home I just use one pan to cut down on lots of washing up! Take your metal pan or a saucepan, put it on a high heat and add your butter, a drizzle of olive oil, one of the sliced garlic cloves, a handful of marjoram or oregano and the grated nutmeg. By the time the pan is hot the garlic should be soft. Put as much spinach as will fit into the pan. Keep turning it over; it will wilt quickly so you will be able to keep adding more spinach until it's all in. Moisture will cook out of the spinach, which is fine. By cooking it this way you don't lose any of the nutrients that you would if boiling it in water.
After 5 minutes, put the spinach into a large bowl and leave to cool. Place the pan back on the heat, add a little olive oil, the other clove of sliced garlic, your basil stalks and the tomatoes, then fill one of the empty tomato cans with cold water and add this too. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down, add a pinch of salt and pepper and the sugar, and simmer for about 10 minutes, until you get a loose tomato sauce consistency. Then take the pan off the heat and add the basil leaves.
By now the spinach will have cooled down, so squeeze any excess liquid out of it and pour this back into the bowl. Finely chop the spinach and put it back into the bowl. Mix it with the liquid, add the ricotta and a handful of the Parmesan, and then use a piping bag to squeeze the mixture into the cannelloni. You can make your own piping bag by getting a plastic sandwich bag and putting the spinach mix into the corner of it. Then twist the bag up and cut the corner off. Carefully squeeze the filling into the cannelloni tubes so each one is filled right up – really easy. (Or if using the lasagna noodles, taking one noodle at a time, spread the spinach and ricotta mixture over 3/4 of the noodle then roll up like a jelly roll. Place in sauce and continue as directed.)
Lay the cannelloni over the tomato sauce in the pan. Or you can pour the tomato sauce into your ovenproof dish and lay the cannelloni on top. To make the white sauce, mix together the crème fraîche, anchovies and the 2 handfuls of Parmesan with a little salt and pepper, then loosen with a little water until you can spoon it over the cannelloni. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and the mozzarella pieces, and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until golden and bubbling.
*Don't let the anchovies scare you. I was nervous and this was my first recipe using them. The cream sauce is AMAZING! There is no trace of the anchovies in the dish other than this amazingly rich flavor.*