The 30-Minute Cook (The Best of the World's Quick Cooking) by Nigel Slater

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The 30-Minute Cook (The Best of the World's Quick Cooking) by Nigel Slater

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The last book in the three-book "Quick Cooking" series looks at food from other countries. There's a wealth of recipes to feed the family quickly but well. It's written in Nigel's friendly and unstuffy manner and even the newest cook should be able to produce a good, honest meal in under thirty minutes using this book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: November 2006
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0141029528

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When I read this book, back in 1995, I thought that I would spend the next ten years much as I had the previous quarter of a century - dashing home each evening after a long day at work to make a meal as quickly as possible. "The 30-Minute Cook" sounded like a wonderful idea. Fate had other ideas in mind though, and within a matter of weeks of buying the book I became a lady of enforced leisure with all day to prepare the evening meal, if that was what I wanted.

Not surprisingly, I didn't really take to the book. It seemed to symbolise all that I'd lost and I relegated it to the top shelf of cookery books - the home of the books that I don't use all that often. It was a couple of years later when I was having a clear-out that I first looked at it with an open mind.

There's a quote from Delia Smith on the front cover "One of my very favourite cookery writers". He's one of my favourites too, along with Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. Delia Smith taught me cookery techniques and supplied some fool-proof recipes, but it was Elizabeth, Jane and Nigel who taught me to cook and to appreciate good food. He's currently food editor for The Observer and the main reason why I continue to buy the paper each week. I feel absurdly cheated when he's on holiday.

"The 30-Minute Cook" is the last in a series of three books with the common aim of producing good food in less than thirty minutes. "Real Fast Food" and "Real Fast Puddings" had a distinctly European flavour, but "The 30-Minute Cook" looks predominantly to the rest of the world for inspiration. Strangely enough he avoids North America, pointing out that he had to draw the line somewhere, but doesn't explain why!

We begin with a look at the range of basic ingredients. Nigel's love of food shines through as he talks of "tender, sweet, peppery Italian basil" and the "dark, shiny green leaves of the knobbly Kaffir lime". Most of the ingredients were available in the larger supermarkets when the book was written some ten or more years ago, but you should have no problem now even in the smaller branches.

We start the recipes proper with a look at vegetables, working through them alphabetically. Forget dull vegetables though and think of baked asparagus with pancetta, or hot aubergine and cheese sandwiches, where the aubergine takes the place of bread. I can personally recommend the roast new potatoes with mushrooms and breadcrumbs - it's delicious served with sausages for a main meal or on its own for a light lunch. Best of all though is the mixed vegetable korma. Nigel describes it as "fragrant, mild and creamy". It's delicious too.

I love the salads. I'm not normally a fan of goat's cheese, but I can recommend the goat's cheese and fruit salad. I've done it using strawberries, figs and melon as the fruit and it was little short of sublime. If you want something for a cooler day, you could try the warm salad of potatoes, prosciutto and parsley. It makes a good weekend lunch for us.

I've only used one of the recipes from the chapter on pasta. I've made pasta meals so often that I don't actually need a recipe book, but I have made the pasta with roast garlic, mushrooms and cream. The taste was excellent, but with four cloves of garlic per person the effects did linger!

From the chapter on fish the herbed salmon with garlic cream sauce is a favourite. The garlic isn't so pronounced here as there's only one clove between two people. Nigel suggests serving this with some new potatoes and green beans and I don't think this combination can be beaten, although I have resorted to frozen peas in an emergency! Everything can be done in the length of time that it takes to cook the potatoes.

I've avoided the chapter on shellfish for medical reasons, but "Chicken, Game and Other Good Things" has been well used. Chow Mein is good for using up left-overs of cold meat or chicken (although Nigel asks us to "remember that chow mein is not Chinese for dustbin") and crisp, spiced grilled chicken can be eaten as finger food. Favourite though is the chicken with garlic, cider and cream. There's a lot of garlic in this too, but somehow it doesn't quite have the same after-effect as the pasta dish.

In the chapter on meats there's a recipe for a 30-Minute roast lamb. It's actually a rack of lamb which will feed two people. I know it's a more expensive cut, but it is impressive as a celebration meal, particularly with some new potatoes and a green salad. If you fancy something more hearty then try the lamb chops with onions, mustard and chick-pea puree. Would you like to know about the best thing that Nigel has ever eaten? Well, it's the Monday supper of left-over meat "cut into shreds or cubes or generally hacked about a bit" fried in the left-over dripping with some cabbage, red wine and gravy. I've done it. It's good.

Nigel admits that he finds the "warmth, frugality and comforting qualities" of grains, beans and lentils more interesting than meat. They've had a health-food-and-sandals image which has put a lot of people off them. Forget that and try the peach and almond couscous with the spiced grilled chicken or the pancetta and parmesan risotto. They're both splendid, satisfying meals, but my favourite from this chapter has to be the dal - cheap as chips and infinitely more satisfying.

The final chapter is on snacks, cheese and puddings. How about a baked Camembert served with a salad? It's done in the puff pastry that you buy from the supermarket and looks far more impressive than the effort it takes. In the autumn one of our favourite puddings is the grilled plums and blackberries with hot mascarpone and sugar. You might even find some blackberries growing wild nearby.

When I came back to this book I loved it. It's about the food that real people eat rather than the food you see served up in restaurants. You don't need much knowledge of cookery techniques either. I would think that even the newest of cooks could produce an honest and satisfying meal from these recipes.

Recently I've found that a lot of cookery books contain recipes for what, for me, are absurd numbers of people. Few people cook on a regular basis for six, eight or ten people, but then the writers of these books are usually celebrity chefs, such as Gary Rhodes. Nigel Slater is not a celebrity chef (despite the fact that he trained in some excellent restaurants) and he knows that the majority of people cook for no more than four people. Most recipes in the book are for two people and they can easily be doubled to feed four as none contain baking powder or gelatine, which cause problems when quantities are increased.

Do I have any reservations about the book? Well, I found him a tad defensive about authenticity. "If you are willing to take a broader, more relaxed view of it all, then we will probably stay friends." Yes, he does take the occasional liberty with ingredients or techniques, but I bought the book because it gives Nigel's version of fast foods from various countries, not in spite of the fact. Had I been looking for authenticity in Eastern cookery I would have started with Madhur Jaffrey or Ken Hom and moved on from there. I couldn't understand his lack of confidence on this, but it is a very minor point.

Photographs for the book were done by Kevin Summers. They're close-ups and they're so good that you can almost smell the food. It's food too as served by real people, rather than the artfully-arranged, soulless pictures that you so often find in cookery books. There's a picture of a sausage and bean hotpot that had me drooling.

Strangely, now that I've been a lady of leisure for some years, I need this book more than ever. I really wouldn't have the time to do a full-time job!

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themurfitts said:

This sounds like a book I would love as being retired I seem to have so little time, every night is like "Ready steady Cook!" The seafood would be my favourite and as you don't tell me about it, I'll need to see if the library have it in stock!

Magda said:

How did I miss this one?

I like his writing so much than despite the fact that I so rarely actually cooked a single recipe of his (as most of the ones that appealed to me would have been eaten by me only in the house, I don't know what it is about his cooking that my normally not terribly fussy family finds so unacceptable, possibly cooked cheese with so many things?) I might have ago at this one.