A review of the Naked Chef as cooked by Nic

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By , December 27, 2010 5:08 pm

So I managed to cook 95% of the recipes in the Naked Chef so  I think that qualifies me to write a review, so chapter by chapter, here is how the Nic and Jamie project panned out.

Chickpea and Leek Soup

Soups and Broths 6/6 This was an easy chapter to complete as I started the project in winter which is typically good soup season!  This led to my first really good discovery of the book, the leek and chickpea soup. This one will be rolled out every winter without fail! There was also a very nice tomato and red pepper soup.

The only slight negative from this chapter was the Asian Broth’s, they really did need some fish sauce, but I’m not sure the UK was ready for that in 1999.

This chapter also led to the realisation that I often only cook from recipes with pictures so it was a good challenge as I had no pre-conceived ideas of how it should look.

Salads & Dressings

Salads and Dressings 18/18 This Chapter was a bit of a slow starter as I like to make the most of the few cold months there are to cook heartier food, but as soon as spring sprung I embarked on the salads and found a couple of amazing salads that I hadn’t looked twice at before.  This chapter highlighted the fact that sometimes it’s a good idea to follow a recipe even for what seems to be the simplest of ideas, for example the tomato salad or the mustard salad dressing. The tomato salad was so good we had it three times in one week, although that was partly to do with the buffalo mozarella I served with it!

Pasta

Pasta 21/22 So here comes my first non-cooked recipe. I completed all but one of the pasta recipes due to a lack of stinging nettles and borage.  I don’t feel like I missed out though, as I have definitely mastered the art of ravioli and tortellini, which is the main skill in cooking fresh pasta, and once you’ve done that you just alter the fillings and sauces, so I need the challenge of another book to further my pasta making skills.

I also discovered it takes a lot of patience to make enough filled pasta for a main course, so pasta for lunch and entrees has been the order of the day. Fresh pasta also freezes very well.

Fish and Shellfish

Fish and Shellfish 13/14 Another incomplete chapter, but for a good reason, it is very difficult to get some of the fish used in the book in the southern hemisphere. I had to replace red mullet for other white fish as recommended by Jamie, however, I couldn’t find a suitable substitute for skate.

This chapter succeeded in encouraging my husband to enjoy fish a little more. The only downside to this chapter was the recipes became a little repetitive, and many of the recipes were not that exciting, which is why I have never cooked them before and will probably never cook them again.

Pork Chops with Pesto

Meat, Poultry and Game 18/18 Here was a chapter I was convinced I wasn’t going to finish because of the difficulty in tracking down some of the raw ingredients, but at a price I managed to find rabbit and guinea fowl, and with Christmas around the corner I found some pickled pork for the ham – slightly different to galmon, but it did the job very nicely, and I will definitely be cooking this one again if I can find the pickled pork at other times of the year.

The North African lamb was the surprise dish of this chapter, which I had never done before because there was no picture and the title doesn’t really do it justice, it’s actually a fabulous curry.

Roasted Red Onion

Vegetables 11/12 The first comment about this chapter is life is too short to stuff an onion. The effort of preparation did not match the taste of the finished dish – sorry Jamie.

I also couldn’t finish this chapter due to the short season for fresh globe artichokes. I did given them a go, and feel like I’ve mastered the art of preparation, but they were just too expensive and available for too short a period of time to complete them all.

Apart from the tempura (which was delicious) all of the other vegetable dishes were quite ordinary and didn’t really need a recipe to achieve.

Black eye beans

Pulses 9/9 This was an unexpected chapter and required the most purchasing of ingredients I wouldn’t ordinarily buy. I now have a cupboard full of dried pulses which will probably remain there for the unforeseen future.  The highlight of this chapter was the braised lentils, which I have done countless times since and will continue to do instead of the boiled puy lentils that I normally do from other Jamie books.

I have to confess I didn’t see any great benefit in using dried chickpeas and butter beans over the good quality tinned ones I can buy.  The black eyed beans with spinach and pease pudding were both excellent new discoveries and the only two recipes I would bother soaking pulses over night for. the majority of recipes in this chapter would be equally as good with canned pulses, and the combination of herbs, olive oil and vinegar gets a little repetitive after a while. I also thought some of the quantities of vinegar was a bit much in some of the recipes, and if I were to do some of them again I would follow my instinct rather than the recipe.  I think this is what Jamie encourages in later books but the first one is quite prescriptive.

Risotto and Couscous

Risotto and Couscous 9/9 An easy chapter to complete as risotto has been a regular staple in our house since receiving my first Jamie book as a wedding present back in 2000. The interesting part was actually following a recipe for risotto which I haven’t done in a long time, but it provided me with a good excuse to try some new flavour combinations, with the seafood being the favourite. I have always shied away from seafood risotto thinking the fish stock would be too overpowering, but it was subtle enough to change the flavour of the risotto without being too fishy!

The couscous recipes were quite unremarkable, and I think Jamie’s method of boiling rather than steaming is not necessary. There is no way I could’ve simmered the couscous for 15 minutes with the quantity of water he was suggesting and why would you when you can steam with twice the quantity of water to couscous, and get perfectly cooked couscous every time. I’m guessing couscous was a little exotic in 1999!

Bread

Bread 6/9 A difficult one to complete, especially when there are usually only two of you in the house, as it’s pretty difficult to make a small batch of bread, and the nature of fresh bread, with no additives means it doesn’t last very long.  So I did the best I could with this chapter, but now I’m all breaded out! Home made bread is one of those things whereby the idea of it is sometimes nicer than the reality. The rolls were probably the highlight and the pizza recipes have been a for favourite for many years. I gave it a go, and succeeded but I won’t be cancelling the weekly bread order in favour of making my own just yet, definitely a special occasion, for a crowd type of recipe.

Desserts

Deserts 12/12 The biggest turn around for this project is I can now make deserts, and an even bigger turn around is I actually quite like them now.  I’ve always had a savoury tooth, and would always choose an entree over dessert, but having cooked some of these desserts I am starting to change my mind.  I think all of the desserts in this chapter were fairly simple, and I’m looking forward to trying a few different options as I plough on through the return of the Naked Chef. If I was Jamie’s editor I would’ve suggested that 5 tart recipes in one book is just a bit too much and maybe you should vary it a little.

Bits and Bobs

Bits and Bobs 16/17 A bit of a random chapter, I did the recipes because when I start something I like to finish it, and most of them were related in some way shape or form to another recipe in the book. However, when it got to the point of having to make a third salsa in a week, I called it quits, the coconut, tomato and cucumber relish was fairly similar to the other salsa recipes and the chance of finding half a coconut was slim to none. I also thought, that having pickled chillies the week before I deserved to be let off this one. I haven’t tried the chillies yet as they take two weeks to marinate but again, it was another of those “life’s too short…” moments.

So I declare I’m done! I’ve cooked 95% of the recipes in the Naked Chef! When I embarked on this project, I thought it would be good fun, but never really thought I’d actually finish it, but having done one I’m hungry for more, and I’m hooked on the idea of cooking recipes I wouldn’t normally give a second glance!

In summary, nearly 12 years on this book is showing it’s age (I was a little surprised by the imperial measurements!) and Jamie’s talent’s in writing having definitely improved over the years (I have every book he’s written on my shelf). I have found a few errors, including photos of recipes clearly showing ingredients that aren’t in the recipe; Titles with ingredients that aren’t included in the recipe; vague cooking instructions that would be difficult for novice cooks to follow. But having said that, I enjoyed the challenge so much I am going to move onto The Return of the Naked Chef and see how far I get!

Christmas day

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By , December 26, 2010 2:29 pm

We’re very, VERY, busy eating and drinking and watching cricket ‘n stuff but we’ve managed to get a small gallery up of our antics on Christmas day! We will get some more stuff up soon.

Hope you all had a great Christmas too!! Click below for a small gallery.

Christmas Day - Oz Style

Overgrown Summer Squash

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By , December 26, 2010 10:52 am

Summer Squash

I got a bit enthusiastic in the garden centre and ended up buying a few things without really knowing what I was buying. One of those was a type of summer squash, which I thought was the funny little yellow things I see in the supermarket. So once they started growing I keenly waited for them to turn yellow so I could harvest them. However, mine didn’t turn yellow, they just kept on getting bigger. Then I checked the label and realised they were never meant to turn yellow, as I have a different variety and perhaps they should’ve been picked when they were a little smaller. So what should I do with an oversized squash?! Well there was only one thing for it, it had to be baked squash, especially for Graham, who declared it a childhood memory and summer on a plate (well stuffed marrow was and this was pretty close). So I thought I’d share the recipe here as it’s so old fashioned it’s not really something you see in cook books, but it made a very tasty dinner to use up a glut of squash.

Stuffed Summer Squash Serves 2

2 over sized summer squash
200g lamb mince
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove
tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
generous splash white wine
bay leaf
salt and pepper
olive oil

Chop the top off

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade.

Start by preparing the squash. Cut the top off and reserve as a ‘lid’. Scoop out most of the flesh so that you have a hollow squash, with about a centimetre of flesh to hold the stuffing. Discard the very watery seeds but save any flesh that looks like it’s worth eating and chop to add to the stuffing.

Fry the lamb

Fry the onion and garlic in a splash of olive oil until soft but not coloured.

Add the lamb and rosemary and fry until the lamb is brown.

Add the white wine, chopped squash flesh and bay leaf and cook until the lamb is cooked and the most of the liquid has evaporated (5-7mins) then season to taste.

Stuff

Put half the lamb mixture in each squash, put the squash ‘lid’ on and wrap in foil. Bake in a preheated oven  for about half an hour until the squash is cooked but still holding it’s shape.

Serve

Serve with boiled potatoes, runner beans and onion sauce.

The final recipe!

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By , December 26, 2010 7:36 am

I think I’m done! Well as done as I’m going to be! 6 months of cooking, and 133 out of 140 recipes, that’s not a bad effort and I think I have legitimate reasons for not cooking the recipes I haven’t cooked. 95% – you can’t be disappointed with that!

Marion and Buster!

So the final recipe was a bit of an event. When I first read the book this was the recipe that I skipped over – Perfectly cooked lobster. LOBSTER?!?! I can’t justify the $90 a kilo to cook lobster. But then when I asked my parents the fateful question, “What do you want for Christmas dinner?” The answer was lobster. I wish I hadn’t asked, but then I realised it would serve two purposes:

1: Keep the parents happy.
2: Complete another recipe from the book!

So off to the fish market we went.  Because it was meant to be cooked alive, we decided it would the Christmas Eve dinner as I didn’t want the responsibility of keeping an expensive bit of seafood alive for 48 hours but 24 was just about do-able. Now, we did a recce a couple of weeks ago and found some small lobsters that didn’t require a second mortgage to purchase, and naively thought they would be available in the crazy run up to Christmas. But of course 2 days before Christmas, with prices inflated, there was no sign of said lobster. Having just bought a crab and a suckling pig it was decided we should compromise on the lobster and buy a marron instead.

A marron is an Australian native freshwater crayfish that looks a lot like a lobster but is smaller and a little more active! Cooked in the same way as a lobster, with reportedly similar taste, this was the answer at half the price per kilo.

We followed Jamie’s advice, and having kept Marion the Marron alive for the required time we put her to sleep in the freezer, and plunged her head first into the pan of boiling water. Served with some home made garlic mayo, she tasted pretty good. It was a shame there wasn’t a bit more to go around but with some crab and the final salad recipe it was enough to keep us going.

So in summary, cooking live seafood was an experience which I’m glad I’ve tried once, but I don’t think I will be repeating the experience in the near future!

Desserts – Done!

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By , December 26, 2010 6:38 am

Of all the sections this was the one that I thought I wouldn’t finish, but alas, cooking my way through the Naked Chef has helped me to develop a bit of a sweet tooth! Which I’m not sure is a good thing!

Spotted Dick

So to complete the set I made the spotted dick – something I would never normally dream of cooking or eating, but mum got very excited at the prospect, so I took all the ingredients and my pudding bowl off to the Barrington Tops with us, and actually surprised myself  with the results! I think Graham was more excited by the custard to accompany it, but on the whole it was well received.

Almond Tart

And the final recipe was the almond tart. I’ve definitely nailed the pastry aspect of tarts and have found a great sweet pastry recipe (sorry Jamie, it’s not yours, but I did try it the first time) that even I quite like the taste of, and I’m as so enthused by baking I make up a big batch and keep it in the freezer so I can make some more!

So how was the almond tart? Well, it wasn’t my best piece of baking to date, I decided to try a mini version, and thought I’d adjusted the timings accordingly, but before the timer went off I got a whiff of burning, and unfortunately it was my tart. I chopped the really burnt bits off the edge of tart and gave it a try. It wasn’t to bad, and I could see the potential in it, but I think it was more like a biscuit than an almond tart. But following my other dessert successes it hasn’t put me off completely, so watch this space for some more dessert experiments courtesy of Nic!

Meat – Done!

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By , December 24, 2010 10:05 am

I was thinking I was going to have to admit defeat with the meat recipes as the final one to cook was boiled ham. But with Christmas around the corner I was able to find the Australian equivalent of gammon (pickled pork) at the butcher, and with a day off work I set the ham boiling first thing in the morning before the kitchen got too hot!

And boy was I glad I gave it a go. We had delicious boiled ham with peas pudding, parsley sauce and a small portion of home grown potatoes! Even though in my head ham is a Christmas (winter) dish it was actually summer on a plate and we were able to take the leftovers away with us for an equally enjoyable dinner in the Barrington Tops.

Risotto and Couscous – Done

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By , December 15, 2010 7:57 am

I’m ticking off the chapters at a cracking pace now! Risotto and Couscous was finished off with the couscous salad and the seafood risotto. I wouldn’t bother with the couscous again, none of the recipes were anything special and I have a tried and tested couscous recipe that never fails me so why fix something that isn’t broken?! The seafood risotto was a nice surprise though. I’ve been putting off cooking ths one as anything seafood based I usually find a bit over powering, but the fih stock in this was delicious and not too seafoody at all! So there is another recipe to add to my regular risotto flavour rotation!!!

Pulses – Done!

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By , December 7, 2010 8:37 pm

Someone always has to be last, and the last recipe from the pulses chapter was the black eye beans with spinach and balsamic vinegar.  I guess it was last because it was the recipe that least inspired me from this chapter especially as it was one without a picture.  But as the cliché says “save the best ’til last” in this case I really did.  Not that there isn’t always room for improvement of course, but the beans went really mushy (20 minutes before the end of the prescribed cooking time) but following that I folded in the spinach, seasoning and balsamic vinegar and it was the perfect, comforting accompaniment to home made sausages and zucchini picked from the garden.

Soup – Done!

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By , December 4, 2010 6:53 pm

Tomato Soup

I have finally finished a whole chapter of the book with the final soup recipe completed for lunch today.  The final recipe was Fresh Tomato and Sweet Chilli Pepper Soup with Smashed Basil and Olive Oil (p22).  I think this was one of the first recipes I cooked from this book, back in the summer of 2000 when the family came to visit in my new home in Manchester.  I also seem to remember that I vowed I would never do it again as it was to much effort, but that was back in the day when I couldn’t really cook, but this bloke called Jamie Oliver had inspired me to give it a go (it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I fancied the pants off him!!!!).

Freshly baked bread

So 10 years later I try it again and now I quite enjoy spending the whole morning putting a recipe together, as it’s a way to relax at the end of a busy week at work. But not only did I whip up some soup for lunch, but I also managed to bake a batch of bread. So that ticks two more recipes off the list.  I had actually been putting off cooking recipes from the bread section as I was really disappointed with the focaccia but as I am 100% committed to doing this challenge properly I had to suck it up and bake some more bread.

Now here comes the confessions of a home cook. I was all ready to start my bread making when I realised I only had half the quantity of yeast required, and when I looked at the best before date (just wondering how long I’d had it) it revealed it should’ve been chucked out in November 2007 – whoops, no wonder the focaccia was a bit of a flop. So with a fresh tub of yeast I made rosemary and olive rolls and pesto twister bread. And WOW! They actually tasted really good. So now I am inspired to make some more fresh rolls for the BBQ we are having next week.  Whole loaves are difficult to cook through sufficiently, but rolls seem to work really well and I can make them in small enough quantities that we can eat them, as without preservatives I’m sure they don’t last very long.

Squash Sex!

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By , December 3, 2010 8:12 pm

Zucchini

We grew Zucchini/courgette* last summer with minimal success. They would get to 5 or 6 centimetres long and then they would shrivel up and die, very few made it to full size which was a bit of a disappointment after we had loads from one plant, planted in a grow-bag in Manchester.  So when the same happened to the butternut squash we grew in Autumn we had to undertake more research. And that’s when we discovered squash sex!!!! Apparently, in order for a squash to grow successfully, the fruit has to be fertilised by the male flower, which in Manchester was obviously not a problem as we clearly had a good swarm of bees. But this part of the job seems to be failing here, the bees are sacked, it has to be done manually. So each morning (and it has to be done first thing before the flower dies) Graham or myself go into the garden, find all the open squash flowers and transfer a little pollen from the male flower to the female flower on the fruit. No technical equipment is required, just a little pinch of pollen dusted on the centre of the flower, and “Bob’s your uncle” squash grows big enough to eat!

So with this new found ritual, we have a highly successful crop of zucchini/courgette* which means I have to come up with a variety of recipes to deal with them!  Last years favourite was dug out from the depths of my delicious magazine, so crab and zucchini pasta will become a regular again, but we have so many I have to think if alternative options.

Option two is chicken breast baked in a bag with zucchini. It was one of those recipes that is loosely based on another (numerous Jamie Oliver recipes) so I’m going to do my best to re-write it here:

Chicken breast with Zucchini (serves 2)

2 Chicken Breasts
2 Small Zucchini, halved lengthways then sliced into half moons
1 clove garlic, chopped
handful thyme, leaves removed and chopped
Small glass of white wine
Olive oil
butter
salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees.

Mix the Zucchini, garlic and thyme leaves in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and coat with a splash of olive oil.

Season the chicken breasts.

Prepare 2 squares of foil large enough to enclose the chicken. Place a quarter of the zucchini mixture in the centre of each piece of foil. Place the chicken breast on top of the zucchini then divide the remaining zucchini and place on top of the chicken breasts.

Top with a knob of butter, then start to enclose the chicken before adding the splash of wine to each parcel. Ensure the chicken is enclosed in the foil and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breast.

Serve with sautéed potatoes and veg/salad and drizzle with some of the juices from the chicken parcel.

Go on give it a go, then you can tell me if my recipe writing is up to scratch!!!!

*delete as appropriate

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