Photo Credit: Meals in Minutes
One of the perks (and curses) of being a food editor is the constant stream of cookbooks that land on my desk. There are so many great-looking books out there that few really stand out.
I'm a big fan of Jamie Oliver and his work, so I was excited to get a copy of his latest cookbook, Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast. At first glance, it's a lot like his other cookbooks -- pages of beautifully photographed, unfussy recipes. But the format of Meals in Minutes is what's really genius.
Instead of individual recipes, Oliver and his team organized the book into three- and four-course menus that are written as one long recipe. Each one includes all of the ingredients in a single list and the steps are organized in a way that allows you to cook multiple dishes at once, and as quickly as possible. Oliver designed the book with speed in mind so you can get a complete meal on the table -- even dessert! -- in under an hour. And after testing several of the menus in the book, I can say that this is indeed possible.
The menus (which are heavy on pasta and meat dishes with fresh salads and side dishes) include Chicken Skewers with Amazing Satay Sauce, Fiery Noodle Salad and Fruit and Mint Sugar; Steak Indian-Style, Spinach and Paneer Salad, Naan Bread and Mango Dessert and Cauliflower Macaroni, Belgian Endive Salad with Insane Dressing and for dessert, Lovely Stewed Fruit.
Oliver spoke with us about this new approach to cooking, as well as his favorite quick dinner ideas, ways to encourage picky eaters and how he and his wife manage to feed their family with a crazy-busy schedule.
You created this book with complete meals in mind. What are your best tips for multitasking in the kitchen and juggling several dishes at once?
You have to treat your kitchen like a kitchen. I know a lot of us are guilty of leaving clothes, keys, bills, toys, you name it in the kitchen, but that makes the business of being efficient ten times harder.
Another really important tip is to organize your kitchen so the kit you use most days – pots, pans, garlic crushers, spoons, spatulas – is within arm’s reach of where you cook. That will make you so much faster.
In terms of juggling dishes and multi-tasking, one of my top tips is to take a minute before you start to either read through the recipe or at least think through what you’re about to do so you’ve got your head in the right place. After that, practice makes perfect. Like everything in life, everything is easier the second or third time.
You write about eating high-quality meat less often, rather than eating cheap, mass-produced meat every day. What are some vegetarian dinner ideas to win over people who insist that a meal isn’t complete without meat?
Good question. I think a lot of people get stuck on this. For a simple, quick dinner I love broccoli with garlic, chili and pasta and a salad on the side. Veggie curries always make me happy. There’s a spinach and feta pie in [Meals in Minutes] that rocks if you want something impressive and indulgent. And then things like roasted stuffed squash or peppers are delicious too…I’m getting hungry!
All of the recipes in this book are served family-style. What are some little tricks to make large portions of food look as beautiful as they do in your books?
Big platters and serving bowls are always beautiful, and they don’t have to be expensive or match everything else. I pick up a lot of mine in secondhand stores. Good-looking pans you can cook and serve in are also great, and I can’t get by without big wooden boards you can chop stuff on, then take straight to the table. They develop beautiful character over time and if you treat them right, you’ll have them for the rest of your life. Cute little jugs for dressings, gravies and sauces are good, and then anything goes, really.
Unless it’s a formal dinner, I tend not to even lay the cutlery anymore—I just pop it in a big glass next to a pile of plates and let everyone go for it. I like a bit of bustle around the table. I think it gets everyone involved and chatting right from the start.
What are your tips for feeding picky kids and getting them to try new foods?
I can only speak from my own experience, but I’d say it’s important to feed them a bit of everything from a young age and not to force things or stress about the things they don’t like because more often than not, that just turns into a battle of wills and makes it a bigger issue than it needs to be. If they don’t like salad, put a bowl of it in the middle of the table on a regular basis. After they’ve watched Mum and Dad take some night after night, their curiosity will probably get the better of them and they’ll start picking.
Getting them to help out with the shopping and preparation always helps too. Treat food like something fun, to be experienced and eventually they’ll find their way. Also, get the kids involved with cooking as soon as you can – simple stuff at first, of course. Once they’ve got a bit of ownership, they’re more likely to try foods.
Between your busy career – which requires a good deal of travel – and four kids, how do you and your wife manage to get dinner on the table every night? You can’t do it ALL the time, right?
Jools does all the weekday cooking and is totally efficient and organized. It helps that the two older girls are able to help out a bit more, it makes things easier. On the weekends, I’ll handle all the cooking to give her a break and give myself a chance to relax.
What’s your go-to, super-fast meal when you and your family needed to eat, like, thirty minutes ago?
It really depends on my mood, but pasta is so quick and high on my list of go-tos. I’ll get it boiling then have a look through the fridge and see what needs using up. Couscous with grilled meats or chicken is always dead-quick and delicious. Sometimes scrambled eggs on toast with a sprinkle of chili does the trick. Simple things, really.