Ever since I watched a Jamie Oliver re-run (yes I prefer those to Lucille Ball) where he confessed that after a long day at work in the kitchen as an apprentice he used to come home late at night and have a huge one pan fry-up with bacon, eggs, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes and a bit of everything else I have become a religious disciple of one-pot dinners. And breakfasts at midnight.
There is nothing more depressing than realizing that after sweltering over a hot stove making something delicious and using every available utensil in the cupboard, you have to deal with not only the dinner dishes themselves but a towering pile of pots and pans that brings back unmitigated desires of having Merlin’s magical wand in the kitchen where everything would find its own way back to where it belonged. Yes, well life isn’t a fairytale.
Penny Oliver’s One-dish Dinners however, is a happy solution and welcome addition to the many other cookbooks that have spawned on my shelves in recent years when I’ve been denied the luxury of stewing in the kitchen for many hours to make a beautifully crafted meal. Well laid out, the recipes are organized according to the vessel in which you will prepare your meal: so whether it’s a pan/wok or bowl or casserole dish Oliver has you covered. There are vegetarian recipes (spiced beans with spinach, baked mushrooms, asparagus and tomatoes) as well as plenty of carne options on the menu as well. My favourites were the sausages with tomatoes and cannellini beans, sweet apricot lamb ad butternut (though I used kumara and it was fine) and the crisp pork belly with vegetables and lentils.
None of them are particularly fussy dishes and although it isn’t made quite explicit quality ingredients will make a difference and using homemade (pastry, stocks) and where possible home grown (veggies and herbs) will make a huge difference to some of these dishes. It was also good to see that more dishes that are Chinese, Indian, Mexican and Middle Eastern in origin are slowly becoming part of the staple kiwi cuisine along with the various ingredients that are essential to grasping their unique flavours.
And thank goodness no curry powder is used as a quick antidote for flavour.
As far as desserts go, and mine usually simply consist of fresh fruit, the ‘quick smart ice cream recipe’ is a gem to behold. Originally found in a ‘tattered Country Women’s institute fund-raising cookbook’ this is definitely a blue-ribbon winner that can be tweaked with your own variations for taste. It is in good company with the peach and blueberry shortcake which sounds more intimidating than it actually is and while I haven’t had a chance to make it as yet the chocolate nut tart looks sinfully delicious.
But as a warning while they might be intensely flavoursome it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to cook the stuffed mushrooms and corn fritters alongside the creamy macaroni and pizza all on the same night, especially not if you’re planning on having chocolate pudding for dessert – but then again it might be the ideal menu for a kid’s party.
I am slightly skeptical about some of the cooking times, either the average cook’s multi-tasking skills are far ahead of mine but I would think that for the majority of dishes the preparation time is slightly longer than what it indicates. The recipes are easy to follow and most use easily available ingredients from the local supermarket or veggie/fruit shop. It’s also flexible enough that if you did want to add a few twists of your own most recipes wouldn’t require to follow it to the letter and allows you to exercise creative magic of your own.
And at the end of the meal while the dishes will still inevitably have to be done (probably without magic) at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing there are a good deal less than what might have been.