For month two of Penny's Cookery Calendar Challenge I finally used a recipe book that has long been on my shelf untouched. I got Jamie Oliver's 15 Minute Meals (and its predecessor, 30 minute meals) when they had first been released, but haven't yet cooked from either of them. I watched the linked television programme when it first came out, but also remember reading reviews at the time saying that the recipes took much longer than the title suggested, and required lots of equipment.
Joining in with the challenge gave me the push to test it out for myself, and having not left myself much time in February I picked two recipes and ordered the ingredients for both at the same time. As a result, I realised that the cost of the ingredients for the two dishes was as much as our usual weekly shop. Admittedly some of this was due to bulk buying ingredients such as chicken breasts, when only two were required, or having to buy a whole jar of a herb which I would only use a teaspoon of, but it still seemed quite expensive, particularly considering one of the dishes was a meat-free one.
Which brings me on to recipe number one, Falafel Wraps with Griddled Vegetables and Salsa. It was a brave initial choice, as I have never made falafel before, and was made even braver when The Husband declared he didn't particularly like it, and also made it apparent that the absence of meat had not been well-received! I enjoy trying vegetarian dishes, and am regularly trying to make meals that have more vegetable content than meat, so I was optimistic.
Unfortunately, this dish was no great revelation, and The Husband and I both agreed that the falafel was pretty tasteless. Before we got to that point though there was the mere matter of rustling up the dish in 15 minutes. The reviews were right, it was a complete under-estimation. I had duly lifted out my food processor, heated pans, and done all of the required preparatory work which isn't included in the 15 minutes, and it still ended up taking me half an hour. I worked at a frantic pace, and the kitchen was a scene of utter devastation when I had finished, the whole thing felt so contrary to how I normally enjoy cooking. What was more frustrating was that the recipe was clearly written by someone with a team of kitchen-hands, for example you use the food processor to make the falafel, and then a few steps later use the food processor to make the salsa. Unless you have the luxury of two food processors, or a person following you round washing up, you needed to stop everything to dismantle and wash the food processor, which probably used up 10 of the 15 minutes I had available!
The dish wasn't a complete disaster, and actually the side dishes were really flavoursome, the salsa in particular was very quick and tasted lovely. The griddled vegetables were really simple but tasty, and the cottage cheese and chilli sauce (I realise it sounds a bit dubious) worked well. However, we were really grateful for all of those flavours, because the falafel, which I hadn't managed to maintain in any kind of recognisable shape, was fairly dense and despite the mixture of spices, didn't really taste of much at all. It felt much like a stodgy filler, adding bulk but not a lot else. I took the leftovers for my lunch the next day, and again, all mixed together it was a really tasty plate of food, and I was glad to use ingredients, like harissa, that I haven't tried before.
After that, I was glad that I felt my second choice would be a guaranteed hit, having opted for Pasta Pesto with Garlic and Rosemary Chicken. The Husband adores pesto, and I was really looking forward to making my own for the first time. I also liked the idea of chopping up fresh lasagne sheets to use in the dish, and so was feeling more positive about this one.
From the start I decided not to rush madly through the recipe this time, and just work at a slightly more relaxed pace, allowing me to keep the kitchen in some semblance of order. It still took me around 30 minutes, but I enjoyed the process a lot more for not feeling like I was against the clock. The dish itself was quite nice, The Husband really enjoyed it, but I felt the lemon juice overpowered the pesto. This was partly because the recipe just said add lemon juice, and there was one lemon listed on the ingredients, so I added all of the juice, which was probably too much. This quite vague approach to the recipe was quite common, and I think the recipes are written in a similar style to the programme, and at times it is a bit of overkill. I realise it is probably intended to add a sense of pace to the recipes, making them more dynamic and less detailed, but being told to tear up peppers and squash garlic through a crusher was a bit wearing.
This dish was good, and had quite a kick from the chilli. What also surprised me was how filling it was considering there were only 2 chicken breasts. It was meant to serve four, and it easily could have. For us The Husband added more veg and lasagne sheets to the leftovers to make supper the next night, and also some lunch for me today too. What I did like was bringing a big dish or platter of food to the table. We do that fairly often, and it was nice, particularly with the falafel to put out all the components, and the side dishes, and both tuck in. It hasn't put me off using the book again, and I may well try the 30 minute meals book later in this challenge, though I shall be sure to allow an hour!
I have already chosen my book for next month, hopefully you will pop back to see how I fare. There are a few of us doing this challenge with Penny, so do check out her blog if you'd like to see what the others are doing.