If you must go somewhere when hungry, make it the library not the grocery store. Browsing the grocery store while hungry results in impulse buys. Browsing the library while hungry results in stacks of cookbooks, both currency and calorie free.
On the last library run I picked up Jamie’s Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver. It seemed a safe bet since we’ve enjoyed his Perfect Roast Chicken half a dozen times. Also, who else do you know in this century with quasi-muttonchop whiskers? The book is geared toward new cooks introducing simple (mostly) quick meals. It’s not a complete cooking course, but it seems like a great place to start an uncertain cook, primarily because these recipes are made from fresh, well-balanced, delicious ingredients. Many “Quick Meals” features in magazines or cookbooks rely on unhealthy and unappetizing base ingredients to speed up the process – cans of mushroom soup or frozen meatballs, for example. Alternatively, many recipes that advertize themselves as “simple” are also “simply bland.” After an introductory Twenty-Minute Meals chapter, Oliver moves on to basic, ground up recipes for pastas, stir fries, salads, roasts, and others, all from fresh ingredients or pantry basics (think rice vs. Hamburger Helper). While not comprehensive, the book does a nice job introducing a very basic recipe (e.g., a very simple tomato pasta) and then showing the reader how to vary the recipe, add other touches, or build a more complex dish. It would be a great gift for a student setting up in their first apartment, a friend with small kids who wants to learn to cook, or someone who enjoys good food but works long hours.
Though good for beginners, the recipes are perfectly delicious and well-suited for more experienced cooks, especially on busy evenings. With some modifications based on what we’ve had in the house I made (and loved!) his Chicken and Leek Stroganoff, Asian Chicken Noodle Broth (fantastic! we used leftover chicken/turkey from roasts and passed Hoisin Sauce for seasoning at the table), Aloo Gobhi, and Ground Beef Wellington. The Chicken and Leek Stroganoff is a nice example of his approach for simple but well-combined flavors. It only requires a handful of ingredients (mostly freezer/pantry basics) but uses a few key flavorful items (leeks, mushrooms, white wine, cream, lemon) that counterbalance one another for nuanced flavor. Each recipe was thoughtfully laid out, tasty, relatively quick, and worth making again.
My only beef (har, har) is that vegetables generally play second fiddle in this book, as most of the meals contain some veggies but revolve around meat. It centers around a basic British diet, but does have many well-done international recipes.