Cookbook review: ‘Make It Easy Cookbook’

I was recently asked to review ‘Make It Easy Cookbook: Foolproof, Stylish and Delicious Do-Ahead Recipes’ by Jane Lovett.

The first thing I did when the glossy, untouched book arrived in the post was to have a good look through it. I immediately liked the balance between more traditional English recipes and the array of more unusual and international ideas. The intro from the author Jane Lovett is warm, passionate and she assures us she has tried and tested the recipes many times and likes to cook great food for friends and family with minimum fuss.

The make ahead tips are an excellent bonus, as it is very clear if the tasks can be broken up and done in advance to save doing everything in one go. There is also useful advice about where to find certain ingredients or alternatives. My only tiny criticism is there were a few recipes without photos, and I like to be able to visualise every single one!

As for trying out the recipes: the spanakopita (Greek feta and spinach pie) was very simple to prepare and with only a few ingredients. It smelled amazing and tasted like salty, fragrant comfort food. We ate it hot for dinner and cold for packed lunch the next day. The parmesan-baked fennel was a subtle and classy side dish that was very easy to make and the touch about decorating it with the fennel fronds was lovely. The oriental salad was crunchy, zingy and only took 20 minutes to prepare. I loved how it encourages you to decide what quantity of each ingredient to choose, and think it is a really versatile dish. The salmon en croute with lime and coriander sauce is an interesting twist on a classic dish. So impressive and succulent and yet again it took only 20 mins to prepare!

I absolutely loved the plum frangipane tarts, which are a seriously great fancy dessert staple to have up your sleeve. They were much more straightforward than I expected and looked like something out of a French patisserie! I think I will add a little vanilla essence to the frangipane next time. The ginger creams with pistachio brittle were also totally manageable and very impressive. It was my first time making caramel and it worked! I will also use the brittle recipe to top shop-bought ice cream. I had to increase the flour content in the blue cheese and poppy seed biscuits but once cooked they were a big hit in our house. We ate half and froze half to enjoy later over Christmas.

Other recipes which I plan to try are: Tom Ka Gai (brothy soup); mushroom, thyme and taleggio galettes; Swedish salmon; quick creamy smoked haddock, saffron and chive risotto; baked vietnamese sea bass; tartiflette; crispy straw potato galettes; spiced roast root vegetables (similar to something I make lots at home); panzanella; pineapple and lime carpaccio; spiced orange panna cotta with blueberry compote; lavender and lemon shortbread and soda bread.  I don’t eat meat but there are plenty of meat recipes to choose from too.

Overall, ‘Make It Easy’ pushed me to try recipes I might have written off as too complex, which was a great thing. Those I tried were both simple and delicious!

‘Make It Easy Cookbook: Foolproof, Stylish and Delicious Do-Ahead Recipes’ by Jane Lovett is published by IMM Lifestyle Books.  It can be bought online at http://www.immlifestylebooks.com/page/detail/Make-it-Easy-Cookbook/?K=9781504800549 and from many other online book retailers or well known high street shops.

Spanish potatoes

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This 20 minute dish is basically a Spanish stew of potatoes, pepper, onion, tomatoes, olives and paprika.  It is a satisfying meal, with the lovely smokey flavour of the paprika, and you can top it with feta, fresh herbs and chilli if you fancy (even if feta is a Greek cheese)!  The recipe is a simplified version of the one in the Mumsnet Top Bananas! cookbook, which is a brilliant family cookbook.  They recommend having it on it’s own or with grilled fish or chicken.

Spanish potatoes (serves 4)

400g any potatoes, chopped small

Any oil

1 red onion, sliced

1 pepper (any colour), chopped small

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 heaped tsp paprika

400g tin chopped tomatoes

1 vegetable stock cube

75g pitted black or green olives

Optional – feta cheese for crumbling on top

Optional – fresh herbs for scattering on top e.g. parsley/coriander

Optional – fresh chilli or chilli flakes

Firstly, boil the potatoes in water until tender, for about 7-8 minutes.  Meanwhile heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onion and pepper.  After about 7-8 minutes add the (drained) potatoes.  Add the garlic and paprika and stir well for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes and crumble in the stock cube, then add the olives.  Mix well, simmer for a few minutes then serve, with feta, fresh herbs and chilli on top if you like.  Also goes great with fish or chicken.

 

Fantastic freezer tips!

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In 2015 I decided to research and try out the most simple and useful sounding tips for making the most of the freezer.  Here are my tried and tested favourites – they definitely save money and waste (and sometimes future time too!)

Top tips

* Freeze almost anything and for up to three months.
* Freeze food from the fridge right up to the ‘Use By’ date (ignore supermarket packaging which says ‘freeze on day of purchase’).  Knowing this has made a big difference to my food waste!
* Defrost food overnight in the fridge then use within 24 hours, or defrost in the microwave at 50% power (as long as in microwave safe container).  Dishes like lasagne and cottage pie freeze well.  Certain things can be cooked straight from frozen.
* Freeze food in freezer bags, foil, clingfilm or freezable containers.

Fruit

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Ice lollies

* Chop up and freeze leftover fruit in a freezer bag.
* To make a smoothie or ice lolly, combine banana, apple juice and any leftover chopped fruit and whizz in a food processor. Either drink or pour the mixture in to ice lolly moulds and freeze.
* Over-ripe or excess bananas? Peel, chop and freeze in a freezer bag, then whizz in a food processor for between 2-5 minutes. Keep scraping the banana off the sides and add a little water to loosen up if necessary, and the banana transforms in to creamy ice cream – it’s amazing! Great with honey and chopped nuts on top.
* For other ice cream flavours, whizz some chopped frozen fruit with yoghurt and honey.
* Freeze old grapes and sliced lemons to use as pretty ice cubes!

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Frozen banana ice cream

Veg

* Fry chopped ageing veg then add tinned tomatoes, a stock cube, garlic and dried herbs. Freeze in portions in freezer bags to use as pasta sauce.
* Grate leftover potato and/or parsnips, dry by squeezing in a tea towel then add mixed herbs. Heat oil in a pan and add the veg, packed tightly, to make a giant potato or parsnip rosti. Fry the bottom and grill the top. Freeze in bags then heat in pan again from frozen. Eat with an egg on top!

Herbs

* Chop leftover herbs and put in to ice cube trays with a little oil then freeze. Scoop them out and use them straight away in cooking.
* Chop herbs and put in a freezer bag to use later as a fish rub or in stews/salad.  No defrosting necessary.
* Combine chopped herbs with butter, lemon zest and garlic and roll in cling film to make a big sausage shape that you can slice. Great for garlic bread and on top of fish!

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Sage, mint and parsley frozen in ice-cube tray with oil

Other do’s

* Freeze bread (pre-chopping if necessary) to make it last longer. It only takes 40 minutes for a slice of bread to defrost (or 30 seconds on full power in the microwave).  Frozen bread can be toasted straight away.  Homemade breadcrumbs should be packed flat, put in freezer bags and can be used later on gratins/bakes and to pad out burgers and fishcakes (no defrosting necessary).  Leftover tortilla wraps can be folded and frozen in freezer bags then defrosted for about an hour before eating.
* Leftover, going stale scones can be frozen then warmed in the oven for 10 minutes before eating.  Banana bread can be sliced in to portions then frozen in bags.  Take it out in the morning and it will have defrosted by lunch!
* Pour leftover wine (a rarity in my house) in to ice cube trays to use in cooking.

That’s it!  I hope you find these tips as useful as I have.  Thank you to the Jamie Oliver, Kitchn and Love Food Hate Waste websites for many of them.

Salmon en croute with a Thai twist

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This is a unique and impressive recipe. French classic Salmon en croute is given a Thai twist by topping the salmon with a creamy lime and coriander sauce. It is succulent and fragrant and we ate it for dinner with beans and samphire (how posh!) If you use shop-bought puff-pastry then it is simple to make. You can use a knife to cut out little shapes from any leftover pastry and stick them on top. I think I need to work on my egg glaze technique next time though as it could look better!

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The recipe is based on one from a great new cookbook called ‘Make It Easy: Foolproof, Stylish and Delicious Do-Ahead Recipes’ by Jane Lovett.  It does exactly what it says in the title!  Allow 20 minutes preparation time plus 30 minutes cooking.  If you like you can prepare the salmon en croute a day in advance then brush it with the egg when ready for baking.

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Salmon en croute with a Thai twist (serves 2-4 people)

70g soft cheese

4 spring onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

Zest of 2 limes

Small handful fresh coriander, chopped

Salt and pepper

320g ready rolled puff-pastry

2 large ish and long salmon fillets, skinned

1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.  Mix the soft cheese, spring onions, garlic, lime zest and coriander together and season with salt and pepper.

Place some greaseproof paper on top of a large baking tray.  Cut the puff pastry in half (in to two roughly square shapes – see photo), leaving a little pastry aside for decorations.  Place a salmon fillet on each of the pastry squares, ensuring the pastry has plenty of room to envelope it.

Spread the soft cheese mixture evenly on top of both salmon fillets and fold the pastry over each, ensuring it is sealed (by pinching together) on the top and at both ends.  Make little leaves using a knife to cover the seal on top if you like.  Brush or carefully spoon the beaten egg evenly over the top.  Bake for 20-3o minutes until puffed up and golden brown.  If your oven is a bit rubbish like mine then you may need to turn the pastry over halfway through for even cooking.  Eat with greens!

 

Veggie mince cups

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I was recently given a brilliant ‘mince cup’ recipe by a lady called Claire.  She said that she makes a dry veggie mince, lines muffin tray holes with circles cut out of tortilla wraps, fills them with the mince, tops with cheese, and cooks them briefly in the oven. Out come crispy mince cups!  I tried these with my family and WE ALL LOVED THEM.  The kids were even talking about them the next day.

We ate the mince cups hot with some peas for dinner, then cold as an after school snack. My youngest son helped fill the tortilla circles with the mince and sprinkled over the cheese. We used half of the mixture to make the mince cups, then the next evening added tinned chopped tomatoes to the remaining mixture to eat with pasta. That’s two different meals!

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Claire says the mince cups are lovely with olives on top. I think adding some fresh chopped chilli and then spooning some sour cream on when cooked would be tasty too. I think you could play around with the ingredients a lot as long as any filling is not too wet! Allow about 25 mins preparation and 12 minutes baking.

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Veggie mince cups (makes 16 small cups using half the mixture, then just add chopped tinned tomatoes to the remaining half to make spaghetti bolognaise the next day!)

2 large tortilla wraps

200g quorn mince

1 small carrot, chopped small

4 mushrooms, chopped small

1/2 onion, chopped small

1/2 red pepper, chopped small

Shake dried mixed herbs

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 vegetable stock cube

Large handful grated cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.

First find a cup/glass that is a bit bigger than the holes in your muffin tray, then use the cup and a knife to cut out circles and put them in to the muffin holes. Then heat some oil in a pan and add the quorn mince, stirring regularly for about 5 minutes. Add the vegetables, dried herbs, garlic and crumble in the stock cube. Gently cook for another 10 mins or so, stirring regularly, and adding a little more oil if necessary. Don’t let the mixture get too wet.

Spoon half the mixture (or more if needed!) in to the muffin tray lined with tortillas, until full, then top with the grated cheese. Cook in the oven for around 12 mins, until the cups are slightly crispy and the cheese has melted. Eat with hands!

Sugar-free banana bread

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I have probably made this sugar-free banana bread recipe more than anything else.  My kids love it and think the raisins and vanilla essence make it sweet enough. It takes just 12 minutes to prepare (plus baking time), lasts a few days in a tin and can be frozen in portions.  We eat it on it’s own or with butter.  It’s brill!

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Sugar-free banana bread

5 ripe bananas, mashed

50g chopped walnuts or pecans

100ml sunflower/vegetable/olive oil

100g raisins

75g porridge oats

150g plain flour

1 tsp vanilla essence

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas mark 5. Mix all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. The consistency should be moist. Spoon in to a greased 1lb or 2lb loaf tin and bake in the oven for 45-55 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool for 10 mins. Delicious on it’s own or with butter!

Veggie tagine with almond and chickpea couscous

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Tagine is traditionally a Moroccan dish that is cooked very slowly in a clay pot.  My version is a bit different, and might anger Moroccan grandmothers (!), but it is still full of the interesting flavours and textures of North Africa.  Vegetables are fried until tender and then raisins, fresh mint and coriander, ground cinnamon and honey are added. The couscous is made separately (and very quickly) with canned chickpeas and flaked almonds.

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The dish is packed with flavour and really satisfying.  It is also quite sweet and gentle so a good way to introduce children to spices, herbs and unusual flavour combinations (although mine were not convinced on this occasion!)

Allow 30 minutes to make everything.

Veggie tagine with almond and chickpea couscous

For the tagine

1 small carrot, chopped small

1 onion, chopped small

1 courgette, chopped small

1 red pepper, chopped small

Large handful of raisins

Vegetable stock cube

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Small handful of fresh mint

Small handful of coriander

Small squirt of honey

For the couscous

150g couscous

1/2 tin chickpeas, drained

Handful flaked, toasted almonds

Optional – heaped tsp harissa – spicy!

Salt and pepper if not using harissa

Gently heat the carrot and pepper in oil in a pan for around 5 minutes, then add the onion and courgette and cook for a further 10 mins, until all cooked through and tender.  Add more oil if you need to.  Add the raisins.  Crumble in the stock cube then add the cinnamon, mint, coriander and honey.  Stir well and heat for 5 more minutes.

Meanwhile, make the couscous as per the pack instructions, adding the chickpeas at the same time as the water.  Once ready add the flaked almonds and stir well.  Add the harissa (if using) or if not season with salt and pepper.

Eat the tagine on top of the couscous!