Saturday, March 27, 2010

Back to the Naked days.

Jamie Oliver features in most cookbook collections. This may be due to the sheer volume of books he has published (he has averaged about 1 book a year for the last 10 years). Another reason may be that he is so well marketed, when you think of cookbooks you automatically think of Jamie. Or it may be that you just quite like him!!

I have five of his books, but my stand out favourite is his second book, Return of the Naked Chef.

This book is particularly special as a dear friend of mine gave it to me as an anniversary present a number of years ago. She wrote a note in the front page that in part reads ‘never lose your passion for cooking’… I can proudly say I didn’t let her down!!

In all honesty, looking back I can say that this book (and its associated TV series) is the reason I fell in love with cooking. I remember being over the moon when I received it and thinking that nearly every page featured something I wanted to try making. The instructions were easy to follow and the ingredients and flavour combinations where cutting edge at the time of publication but still remain current.

The thing I love the most about this book is that it reminds me of the Jamie Oliver who inspired my generation to cook, when Jamie Oliver was just a normal guy’s name rather than an international brand worth millions of pounds. It was before the political days when he was just a passionate cook and had a girlfriend we all knew as Jools (and PS we were all jealous that HE did the cooking!!), and because he was so normal we started to believe that all of us normal people would be able to cook like him too! In a weird way this book reminds me of being in my early 20’s, when I didn’t know how serious life would get, when naivety kept me full of hope and promise and Wednesday nights were set aside to try out naked chef recipes!

Amazing how you can get all that from one cookbook!

There are too many good recipes in this book to mention, so I’m going to stick with the one that was an instant favourite – Fantastic Fish Pie …… when I made it last night my chief recipe taster got all happy with a silly, almost euphoric, grin … He made that same look about 10 years ago when I made it for the first time!!


• 5 large potatoes, peeled and diced

• 2 large handfuls of fresh spinach

• 1 onion, finely chopped

• 1 carrot, halved and finely chopped

• 1 little extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 1/4 cups of heavy cream

• 2 good handfuls of grated Cheddar cheese

• juice of 1 lemon

• 1 heaped tsp English mustard or French will do

• About 500gs of smoked haddock and 500g of cod or other white fish, skinned, boned and sliced into chunks or strips

• salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to about 200 degrees Celsius.

Boil potatoes in salted water until soft and crumbly. When potatoes are nearly done, steam the spinach in a colander over the pan that has the potatoes. This will only take about a minute.

When the spinach is done, remove from the colander and squeeze out excess water.

Drain the potatoes and set aside.

In a separate pan, slow-fry the onions and carrots in a little olive oil for about 8-10 minutes. Add the cream and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the Cheddar cheese, lemon juice, and mustard.

Place the fish in a decent sized casserole dish and top with the spinach, followed by the cream/vegetable mixture over – aim to evenly cover the fish and spinach.

Mash the cooked potatoes, adding a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes on top of the fish.

Place in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes, until potato starts to brown.

I served this fish pie with baked beans …… believe me, it’s a strange but highly rewarding combination!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A crash course in style and photography ......

Since I re-started this blog I’ve become more and more frustrated with the photographs I take. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the things I love in a good cook book is food photos that make you instantly hungry and inspire you to want to cook… or eat!

Alas my photos don’t have that affect. So I decided to take corrective measures. Number 1 – I purchased my first DSLR Camera (the Canon D450 … it was going cheap and I thought it a good place to start for a total novice).  Number 2 – I enrolled in a Food Styling for Photography class at Ash Photography, and the pictures below are my record of the great day I had learning all about the tricks of the trade!!

Burger gets made up! (Lesson 1 - Food that has been sytled for the Camera usually cannot be eaten!)

Paella styling ... (Lesson 2 - The Paella dish looks nice and full because its been filled up with with perspex chips and covered with the Paella!)  

Studio energy …… This was my first experience in a proper photography studio, working with people really in the know. Jon, the photographer, was an authority on lighting, camera equipment, and MAC’s, while Sharon had an eye for props, settings and backgrounds. What amazed me was how she seems to see everything through the lens. While we collected props she seems to be constantly thinking of how it would look all ‘dressed up’ in front of the camera.

The aspect I found really interesting was the lighting – and how manipulating the light in different ways produces dramatic results. The camera equipment itself was also impressive - both the old and the new!

I loved the energy of being in the studio – everything was a bit hap hazard, frantic at times, with props all over the place and lighting equipment here there and every where. Even Ziggy the dog popped in a few times to lend a hand…. Yet the end result seemed effortlessly captured and perfectly put together.


Food as Fine Art and Food as Science were the two areas that produced the most energy and excitement, as the girls got creative and decided to represent their subject in a more artistic, creative and abstract manner...

Then there was mine …… I made a few Pear and Almond tarts to photograph (my dessert of choice… second only to chocolate mousse). We decided to create a minimal set, with neutral tones and glass wear in shot. The following show how we got to our winning end product!