Why I Changed My Mind: Jamie Oliver

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In the overwhelming tidal wave of television chefs who show up everywhere, there are very few who interest me. I like to look back to the old days of TV cookery to the seemingly awkward Julia Child or the stark raving drunk Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr, filled the screen. Cooking on TV has always been a thing, often relegated to the domain of public television alongside quite tame “educational programming” (which was, fair enough, not always tame – most foreign films shown on American TV in the old days appeared on PBS – and those films are very rarely what anyone would call “tame”. After all, it was on PBS that I first saw the original version – not the inane Guy Ritchie/Madonna remake – of Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away).

But things change, and everything is fair game as entertainment – even cooking. Enter the era of the celebrity chef, which arguably has made people a lot more interested in cooking stuff for themselves but has unfortunately launched some, let’s say, unqualified characters into stardom. Undeserved? Who knows? If someone wants to watch Rachael Ray, for example, who is a businessperson and entertainer – not a chef – and supremely annoying to boot – that’s up to them. These celebrity “food handlers” (since they are not chefs in many cases) entertain, bring in viewers and that’s the bottom line now that there are entire TV channels devoted to all manner of food, cooking, taking shortcuts in cooking and so on.

Most of these people – I can take them or leave them. Jamie Oliver is one that I could – or thought I could – easily leave. His accent alone bugs me (just for Esteban: “the shit just got reaw” – not even sure how to linguistically render in writing the dropped-off “L” at the end of words so characteristic of Oliver’s speaking), but then the messiness of his approach to food – always getting his hands deeply dug into all kinds of greasy, slimy foods – even to the point that he advocates wearing gloves to do it sometimes – makes me a bit queasy. I can’t pinpoint what exactly it is that annoys me. Even going to the grocery store and seeing his line of pastas and spices and whatnot – that is just too much. The overcommercialization does very little for me. Why would I buy a Jamie Oliver skillet when I can get a much cheaper and superior cast iron skillet and be happier with it? Personally when I buy kitchen goods, I don’t want any pseudo-celeb’s face on it. I will stick with the basics (even if there are times when tools that go beyond the basics and are extremely useful, even if singular in their use – like garlic presses or a “cupcake holer”. I am usually a firm believer in the “for every task, there is a proper tool” school of thought).

For those frequent cupcake-filling emergencies

For those frequent cupcake-filling emergencies

But I will be damned if I don’t get pulled in every time I accidentally end up on a Jamie Oliver program on TV. I don’t even own a TV at home, so these accidents rarely occur. But because I spend most weekday evenings in hotels, I’ve got a wide range of channels – and twice in the last year, I’ve landed on Jamie Oliver shows and found myself glued to the TV. After he finished each recipe, I prompted myself, “Change the channel, damn you!”

But I was paralyzed. And why? Truth is – he was making stuff that sounded really amazing. Believe me, I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly because I believe it is one of the most overused and misused words in the English language. When someone tells me it would be “amazing” if I could make a tight deadline or deliver a box of cookies for their party, I think “amazing” is definitely overstating the case. But when you can create something that really wows the taste buds without overexerting yourself or spending all day doing it – that IS amazing. I am positively gobsmacked every time I can manage to cook actual food that really amazes someone.

The first Jamie Oliver program I saw (Jamie’s Great Britain, which was a fascinating look at food in Great Britain, in case anyone imagined that food there completely sucks!) featured roasted chicken and potatoes – I have now made both several times to great success, albeit with my own little alterations.

Yesterday, I turned on the telly and it was a program (Jamie at Home) dedicated to pumpkin and squash – be still my heart. He really highlighted the versatility of these kinds of vegetables – making an absolutely fantastic butternut squash soup, a duck and pumpkin salad and some butternut squash spice walnut cupcakes. Naturally I am going to try this stuff out next time I have a guest to feed. I don’t get around to cooking for myself but for others, I will go all out.

Considered, reconsidered – the important thing here is maybe that I can find Jamie Oliver annoying until the end of time, but what he does turns on my culinary curiosities and experimental bent – so he is definitely doing something right. The fact that the recipes are easy to follow and he makes them look easy if you follow a few steps does not hurt – and the results have always exceeded expectations.

Pseudo Thanksgiving – Menu 2013

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The whole shebang

The whole shebang

In the end I made some semi-Indian-spiced stuff. It’s post-Thanksgiving 2013, pseudo-Thanksgiving. Pics are a bit dark but we were going for atmosphere. A nice spread and some white wine, loads of candles, great company. And rodentia!

The weird mix served for my non-traditional little Thanksgiving:

Tandoori-ish chicken & roasted Bombay potatoes.

Tandoori-ish chicken & roasted Bombay potatoes.

And yes, that is a lemon shoved up the chicken’s backside (see recipe at the end of post).

Sweet potato casserole and a nice bowl of pumpkin soup

Sweet potato casserole and a nice bowl of pumpkin soup

You too can make sweet potato casserole.

A bowl of amazingness

A bowl of amazingness

Pumpkin curry soup recipe. Try it; you will like it.

Star of the show: puking squirrel, ready for his close-up

Star of the show: puking squirrel, ready for his close-up

Recipe – roasted chicken and potatoes

Roasted chicken – inspired by and adapted from Jamie Oliver

Get a two- to three-pound chicken. Prepare it for marinating.

Mix up the marinade:

1 tablespoon crushed fresh garlic
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon of canned tomato puree or 1-2 small tomatoes, finely chopped (which I had to do because I ran out of canned tomato – how in the hell is that possible? It’s one of those staples I always have on hand!)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt

When you have mixed all the ingredients together well, rub them all over and inside the prepared chicken and put it all into a plastic bag to marinade in the fridge overnight.

On cooking day, take the chicken out and put it on a baking rack over the top of a deep roasting pan. Heat the oven to 200C (400F). Put the chicken on the rack and in the pan underneath put the gravy ingredients:

Gravy:
2 small onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stick cinnamon
5 whole cloves
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons flour
500 ml vegetable stock

Chop the onions and place in the roasting tray. Throw in the cinnamon stick, cloves, white wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce. Let heat, add the flour and whisk. Pour in the stock. Put this under the chicken. It should cook the entire time the chicken is cooking (1.5 hours total)

To start, roast chicken for about 30 minutes before taking out and inserting the boiled lemon from the potato boiling pot (see below).

Roasted potatoes
About 10 small potatoes
salt
1 whole lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (which, being clumsy Erika, I kept spilling everywhere)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 bulb garlic
2 chopped small tomatoes

While the chicken is cooking in the first 30 minutes, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Halve any larger potatoes, then parboil them in a large pan of salted boiling water with a whole lemon for about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and steam dry. Stab the lemon a few times and insert it into the back end of the chicken. Put the chicken back into the oven for another 10 minutes while preparing the potatoes.

Use another roasting tray or a saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil, seeds and spices quickly. Throw in the halved garlic bulb with chopped tomatoes. Add the potatoes and mix well. Put into a roasting pan, if not already in one, and place in the oven.

Roast the potatoes for 40 minutes (continue cooking the chicken for these same 40 minutes).

Once the chicken is cooked, move it out to rest and peel off any dark, charred bits (mine does not get that dark) and carve as desired. Get your potatoes out of the oven and put them into a serving bowl.