Mediocre Chef challenge: the 15-minute meal

Now,  I’m not the world’s most terrible cook, not by a long shot. In fact, I’m probably about as far away from being the world’s worst cook as I am from being its best cook.

Yep that’s me, tossing my spaghetti with the very best of the mediocre – those of us who can read and therefore follow a recipe, but are reluctant to do so if it’s longer than a few paragraphs. Personally, also, I refuse to tussle with anything that needs to be de-boned, de-veined, shucked, deglazed, or simmered until it thickens.

When a baked eggplant explodes, it really explodes!

Man, when a baked eggplant explodes, it really explodes!

The main problem with cooking, for me, is that a lot of the time it feels like something I have to do, when there are other things I’d rather do – for example, write a post about cooking.

Most of the time I only spend time cooking because I have to eat, and, usually by dinner time, I’ve already eaten cereal and sandwiches that day. If someone else was to step in and do the cooking for me, I feel certain that I’d achieve an amazing amount of creative productivity in that 45 minutes. I’d probably write a blog post, paint a picture, and open a store on Etsy, with one freshly painted picture  for sale.

Yes, the more I think about it, the more I realise that cooking is the reason that I don’t paint or write, or have an Etsy store. Cooking is really curbing my creative growth.

Now I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world whose main desire (well, in the cooking arena, if not in the whole gamut of life) is to make the quickest and easiest meal possible, using only one saucepan. My favoured quick, 1-saucepan option when I arrive home at 6.30pm is instant pasta with a ready-made sauce and a tin of tuna. It’s an ancient recipe that harks back to the earliest cooking, because it involves a saucepan of boiling water and a hotplate, and as we know, those particular items changed the course history when they were first discovered back in the Paleolithic period. (I hear that a hunter creeping through the bushes after a prehistoric chicken suddenly came upon an electric hotplate, upon which perched a steadily boiling saucepan of water. Needless to say, that’s when man first discovered the joy of a soft-boiled egg.)

Unfortunately, my biggest fault (in the cooking arena, if not in the whole gamut of life) is that I’m ploddingly slow. I realised a long time ago that if a recipe says preparation time: 15 minutes, I should allow at least 45 minutes. So the meal I start when I arrive home from work at 6.30pm really needs to take very little preparation time because I’ll be light-headed by about 7.15pm if I haven’t eaten by then.

The trouble is that most recipes these days seem to assume that your vegetables come from the fridge already washed and thinly sliced, your meat is already diced and browned, your dried goods already weighed and measured, and your team of assistants in the kitchen are standing to attention, ready to whisk, beat, sautee or par-boil when required.

Good old British chef Jamie Oliver attempted to come to the aid of people like myself a while back with 30 Minute Meals, and then, when our modern lives got even busier as we were all compelled to join Instagram as well as Facebook and Twitter, he thoughtfully came up with 15 minute meals, allowing us to allocate an extra 15 minutes each day for compulsively trawling our social media newsfeeds that little bit longer.

Much as I like Jamie Oliver, I just cannot believe that anyone – even acknowledging that others may be faster than myself – can make anything other than maybe a boiled egg, in 15 minutes from start to finish. So today, in an inaugral and probably never-to-be repeated segment, I’m going to test out a Jamie Oliver 15 minute meal. In an unusual twist for a cooking post on a blog though, it’s important to note the following disclaimer: I will not actually be cooking anything.

Yes, I’m afraid if you were searching for one of those lovely cooking blogs that begin with a heartwarming story and then morph into a delicious recipe complete with photos of the one they baked earlier, you’ve been duped. There was no heartwarming story, and now there is no cooking! You should ask for your money back! (Although, if you were paying attention, you were forewarned. See paragraph 3.)

To start,  I googled Jamie Oliver 15 minute meals, and picked out the first one I saw.

Blackened Chicken with San Fran Quinoa salad

For the quinoa salad:
300 g quinoa
1 fresh red chilli , or yellow chilli
100 g baby spinach
4 spring onions
1 bunch of fresh coriander
1 bunch of fresh mint
1 large ripe mango
2 limes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ripe avocado
50 g feta cheese
1 punnet cress
For the chicken:
2 x 200 g skinless free-range chicken breasts
1 heaped teaspoon ground allspice
1 heaped teaspoon smoked paprika
olive oil

2 mixed color peppers*

….

STOP!!! We’re done. Yep, I estimate that it would probably me 15 minutes just to open and shut the fridge and cupboards, and assemble, wash and weigh or measure (where required) all those ingredients. Am I exaggerating for the sake of effect???????????? Well, let’s see.

Here I go, imaginatively preparing the above meal:

300g quinoa

  • First, the quinoa needs to be located in the cupboard, as do the kitchen scales, although they are kept in a different cupboard. If I need to open a new bag of quinoa –  given the quantity required that is likely – I’ll need to locate scissors to cut the bag open. Hopefully, quinoa, kitchen scales and scissors are all where they are supposed to be! Quinoa needs to be weighed out and poured into a receptacle. Estimated time for these steps, assuming everything is in the right spot: 2 minutes.
  • Sweeping up the quinoa that I inevitably spill on the floor, another 30 secs.

1 fresh chilli

  • I’ll assume that the chilli is already washed and sitting in my fruit bowl so time taken to locate that = neglible.

100g baby spinach

  • over to the fridge. Open fridge, open crisper, pull out spinach, take to scales, weigh out 100g, wash tip into some other receptacle. Stop to skip a track on the iPod, which is playing through tracks by The National on shuffle and has just played Bloodbuz Ohio twice in a row. I bet Jamie Oliver doesn’t have that problem. Estimated time: 1 minute, 30 secs.

4 Spring onions

  • open fridge, and pull out the 4 spring onions that we’ll imagine were already conveniently separated out from the rest. Wash. Estimated time: 30  seconds.

1 bunch of fresh coriander
1 bunch of fresh mint

  • Grab these together from the fridge, take off the elastic band or whatever is keeping them in a bunch, and wash them together. Estimated time: 30 seconds.

1 large ripe mango
2 limes

& 1 ripe avocado

  • time = negligible.

2 tablespoons olive oil

  • open cupboard, get out the olive oil bottle, get measuring spoon from the drawer, measure out two tablespoons of oil and tip into some receptacle. Estimated time: 45 secs.

50g feta cheese

  • take feta cheese from the fridge, chop off a piece and weigh out 50g. Stop & eat a piece of feta cheese. Mmmm. It would be lovely on a cracker but you are trying to do a time challenge, so please, press on. Estimated time: 1 min

1 punnet cress

  • take punnet of cress from fridge, wash cress, tip into the compost. (I don’t know what cress is but it sounds a lot like grass, which I don’t eat.) Estimated time: 30 secs

Time check: 7 mins 15 secs

Ok –  I have 7 minutes and 45 seconds left to get the meal together and I haven’t even got the chicken out of the fridge yet. At this point in this imaginary cooking challenge, just as if it was Masterchef, I’m starting to sweat and I have to make a quick decision, while those in the gallery look at one another with raised eyebrows. Controversially, I decide to skip the chicken altogether – since I suspect there is a risk of not getting the chicken properly cooked in 7 minutes or less -and go with the salad ingredients I’ve got out so far.

Method:

Put the quinoa into the pan and generously cover with boiling water and the lid • Put the chilli, spinach, trimmed spring onions and coriander (reserving a few leaves) into the processor, tear in the top leafy half of the mint, then blitz until finely chopped •  (*Here we skip the steps relating to the chicken I didn’t have time to get out of the fridge)

Deseed the peppers, cut each one into 8 strips and add to the frying pan, tossing regularly • Peel and cut the mango into chunks • Drain the quinoa and rinse under the cold tap, then drain well again and tip on to a serving board or platter • Toss with the blitzed spinach mixture, squeeze over the lime juice, add the extra virgin olive oil, mix well and season to taste Sprinkle the mango chunks and cooked peppers over the quinoa • Halve and destone the avocado, then use a teaspoon to scoop curls of it over the salad • Crumble over the feta, scatter over the remaining coriander leaves and snip over the cress • Serve with dollops of yoghurt

Remembering that I’m a slow cook, (& without kitchen assistants) I think we could safely say that halving, destoning and scooping curls of avocado would probably take me the full 7 minutes that I had left. The rest would probably take me another 15, effectively doubling the time the recipe was meant to take. And that’s all without the chicken, which, at least in Jamie’s Oliver’s endearingly optimistic mind, was supposed to be the main ingredient.

So at the end of our imaginary 15-minute-meal challenge, I’ve spent 30 mins so far, and have an imaginary modified mango and pepper* salad with quinoa. It’s not the meal it was supposed to be, but then again, it’s probably not too bad, for a mediocre cook.

*

 

*What Jamie refers to as peppers are called capsicums in Australia. However, as I finish up and write this footnote, I realise that I forgot to get them out of the fridge, which I guess means I ended up with a mango salad! I would definitely be voted off if this had been a Masterchef challenge!

* I don’t mean to take the piss out of Jamie Oliver, since I like the work he’s done with his Ministry of Food trying to educate people about healthy cooking. Only Jamie can deliver a cooking instruction as though he’s a highly enthusiastic major, instructing his troops in the next planned military operation: Next, we go in with a splash of pesto! 

Pic credits: Flaming oven: Jamesandeverett.com 

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6 Comments

  1. My general rule of thumb is, if it takes longer to prepare and cook than it does to eat then I’ll have a sandwich instead.

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    • Haha, well I’m a slow eater too, so I probably take longer to eat stir-through pasta than I do to make it! I’m often left sitting at the table, or in the lounge at the TV, on my own, chewing away at my meal while the other participants in that meal are long departed.

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      Reply
  2. Cooking is a hobby but one I do not indulge it. Neither does Tigger. Our ‘kitchen’ consists of a microwave, a two-plate electric hob and a toaster. If you can’t eat it raw or boil it or ping it or toast it, we don’t buy it.

    We enjoy an expertly cooked meal as much as the next person but that’s what cafes and restaurants are for. At weekends we go out to breakfast and perhaps ‘lunch’. I write ‘lunch’ in inverted commas as it is a variable feast that takes place any time between midday and about 6 or 7 pm, depending on what we are doing. (‘Breakfast’ also often shades into ‘brunch’.)

    Of course, if you have a family, that’s makes things more difficult. Families create responsibilities and expectations, especially if there are children.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • That’s what cafes and restaurants are for, indeed! If I could afford to eat all my meals at cafes I would happily do so. Your kitchen sounds very practical. Yes, kids are a pain that way – they really cramp your style by making you feel guilty about needing to feed them “proper” meals at “regular” times.

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  3. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. This is me, in my kitchen, trying to boil water in the time it takes master chefs to produce a fully formed and beautiful souffle. I’m so glad I married a man who cooks or I might be a woman who starves.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Oh dear, yes mine can cook too which is good because I’d probably just spitefully starve rather than be the only person who did the cooking. I made a meal last night that said preparation time 15 mins, but by the time I’d grated the carrots, grated the haloumi cheese, & finely chopped the spring onions, 45 mins had gone by! Then I checked again & it was 15 mins* – with the asterix meaning, 15 mins if you’ve already done the required grating. Of course my kitchen staff had taken that very day off so there was no one around earlier to pre-grate. 😡

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