“Chicken leg roast’n’braise with peppers, onion and lemon butter” from “The Magic Fridge”

Kirstin: I have to admit I wasn’t quite sure how the kiddos were going to deal with this. They prefer chicken breast to all other forms of meat, but the recipe looked so good, I wanted to try it anyway. And I’m glad I did. The recipe used a really interesting way of cooking the meat on top of the vegetables, with just a layer of foil in between. After cooking it like this for some time, the foil and accumulated juices were added to the vegetables, along with the chicken. Very clever. I had to cook it a little longer than indicated, but I blame my grill for that rather than the recipe.

Miles absolutely adored this recipe. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times he told me he was enjoying it as he ate dinner. And Ella devoured the lot and the potatoes. I had seconds and thirds of the potatoes as they were tasty from all the yummy chicken stock.

I’m not sure that the lemon butter was entirely necessary though which is no bad thing as it means I can rustle it up any time, adding a little lemon zest, juice and butter in its place. A total winner of a recipe and perfect for autumnal and winter evenings. Big love.

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“Chicken leg roast’n’braise with peppers, onion and lemon butter” from “The Magic Fridge”

“Salsa Verde” from “The Magic Fridge”

This idea behind “The Magic Fridge” is simple, but ingenuous: you make a large quantity of some type of “magic” ingredient– in this case, salsa verde– and then the cookbook provides you with a variety of recipes in which you can use the ingredient.

This blog is no stranger to the joys of salsa verde. It’s been used several times in a variety of cookbooks, all with success. It seems it’s best paired with fish, but I also could see it being used as a nice dip for vegetables (and indeed, that’s one of the recommendations in the “The Magic Fridge.”)

This recipe did not seem wildly different from other salsa verde recipes I’ve used and it was good. However, it should be noted that the quantities it produces is MASSIVE. While I know this makes sense from the book’s perspective– since the whole point is to make a lot of something and then have it to hand to use in other things– the yield for this recipe is so large (600 grams worth) it would take this family a very, very long time to get through it, especially since you can’t freeze it.

However, I am good at math– or at least I can half the output of a recipe when I need to do it– so that’s what I did here. I still had plenty left over for several different recipes [watch this space] but not so much that it didn’t go bad. I’m looking forward to trying it with other foods too until I’ve used all of it.

“Salsa Verde” from “The Magic Fridge”

“Crisp-skinned Salmon with Pepper Chutney and Olives” from “The Magic Fridge”

Kirstin: I really enjoyed that smug feeling on my Monday morning, knowing that I had made this pepper chutney ready for use over the next few days. And of course, red pepper is so pretty and smells so good when it’s cooking which I think just added to my smugometer reading. The salmon itself was very straightforward. I haven’t fried salmon for a while now and I had not realised how much I missed the slight crunch you get on the flesh when it’s cooked like this. Everyone enjoyed it. And bonus for me as I’ve taken the extra peppers into work and am enjoying them with salad and a variety of grains for lunch.

“Crisp-skinned Salmon with Pepper Chutney and Olives” from “The Magic Fridge”

Cookbook of the month, October 2017: The Magic Fridge by Alex Mackay

Kirstin: Thanks to Bloomsbury Books for giving us these review copies of “The Magic Fridge.” But we wouldn’t spent a month cooking from them if we didn’t like the looks of it.

Maureen: That’s absolutely true. But thanks Bloomsbury Books!

Kirstin: I’ve got to say that the cover looks like something from when my daughter was 5 years old and had a lot of fairy books.

Maureen: If only it came with some stickers, just like the fairy books.

Kirstin: Exactly. I was expecting it to have some stickers inside.

Maureen: But the food looks good. The idea is that there are basic foundation recipes, like for chocolate mousse, lemon curd, ratatouille, and then you use that recipe in another dish. Thus, the magic fridge. If you have these foundation recipes to hand in your frig, there’s loads you can make.  It certainly is a more creative approach to cooking.

Kirstin: And he’s got more than five ingredients in each of the recipes, so we’re off to a winning start already.

Cookbook of the month, October 2017: The Magic Fridge by Alex Mackay

Our Verdict: 5 Ingredients

Maureen: It’s much better than his most recent books, but that’s not saying much.

Kirstin: Well, maybe it was. The Family Superfood book was really bad*. [Editor’s Note: this is actually not the word that Kirstin used, but we try to be a family-friendly blog.]

Maureen: You can’t quite say it’s a return to form, but it’s pretty good.

Kirstin: Do you think we set the bar higher for Jamie because we have so lovely memories of his book?

Maureen: [Ponders.] Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think the problem with Jamie, and we’ve said this for the past few years, is that he feels compelled to release a new cookbook every year. I just wish he– and his team– would take a breather and maybe take some time with the next book. I’m pretty sure the annual publishing calendar is hurting the books more than the fact that we love his first books so much. Though that’s also true.

Kirstin: Well, he’s a whole industry now, so he has to keep it going.

Maureen: While it’s not a brilliant book, I do think it would be a good cookbook for students or people learning to cook. It’s like a gateway drug to better recipes and food. It gets you started and maybe you could figure out ways to make them better.

Kirstin: Exactly. I made a lot of the recipes. They are easy and I liked this format more than 15 Minutes and 30 Minutes cookbooks. They were done quickly, but you didn’t have a deadline to get them done.

Maureen: You didn’t feel the pressure to get it done in a certain amount of time, which was good. Saying that, we did find that a lot of the recipes over promised and under delivered.

Kirstin: But if you did make them, you could– shock horror– add more than five ingredients to make them better.

Maureen: Yes. And maybe leave out red wine vinegar from time to time.

Kirstin: Maybe that’s another way you could use the book, to teach yourself how to make stuff better.

Maureen:It felt like he was a bit hamstrung at times with the five ingredient limit.

Kirstin: Absolutely.

Maureen: Apparently, this book is selling much better than his last few, but then again, both the superfood books were shockingly bad.

Kirstin: This book is more for food explorers and newbies than food lovers and good cooks.

Maureen: At least it was an improvement. It still wasn’t brilliant, but it was better.

“5 Ingredients”
Overall Grade (A- F): B- (Kirstin) C+ (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Baked fish and I enjoyed my first tarte tatin. Maureen: There’s nothing that jumps out at me.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  B- (It was a bit boring.)
Any disasters? Kirstin: Yes! The sea bass was awful. Maureen: The pork was gross and the timings were all wrong.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin & Maureen: We’re both saving it to give to our children when they leave for university in a year, but otherwise, will probably not use the book again.                                                                                                                                 Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: No. There are loads of better books out there.

Our Verdict: 5 Ingredients

“Rose Pesto Prawn Pasta” from “5 Ingredients”

We had high hopes for this. After all, we’re huge fans of prawns in this house and this looked like a new way to serve them up with pasta.

But in what is fast becoming a theme to this book, this was a bit bland. It was bland even with me including far more red pesto than Jamie had recommended. Hard to believe that’s how it played out, but it’s true. I’m not sure what more it needed, or maybe the whole recipe was just a bit boring. I don’t know.

Maybe the problem was that it pales in comparison to our very favourite pasta with prawns, shrimp scampi. This is what the Americans call this dish, by the way. British scampi is much different– that’s deep-fried prawns. That’s also delicious, but it’s also very different.  American shrimp scampi is made by sauteeing garlic in butter and olive oil, adding white wine to make the sauce, tossing in some red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, adding the shrimps (or prawns, depending on whether you speak British or American), then finishing it off with parsley and lemon juice before putting over the pasta. See? Easy. Not to mention fast.

It’s not that this Jamie Oliver version was bad, mind you. It just wasn’t that good. But if you can stretch to 7 ingredients instead of five, I highly recommend making this shrimp scampi (from the always wonderful Melissa Clark) instead.

Jamie hasn’t posted this recipe online yet, so I can’t provide a link. You’re not missing much. 

“Rose Pesto Prawn Pasta” from “5 Ingredients”

“Plum Tarte Tatin” from “5 Ingredients”

Kirstin: I have never been brave enough to make a tarte tatin. In fact, thinking about it I’ve never eaten one before either so I made this recipe in the dark. First things first; there was no red wine vinegar in this recipe, which is a huge step forward. Also the plums and greengages are just gorgeous at the moment and were proper ripe. I wonder if they might actually have been too ripe as they produced a lot of liquid which made turning over the tarte a little more interesting than I had expected (for the record, I was very smug as I used my frittata flipper to help with that part of the tarte). No matter though because imagine the plum sauce combined with the salted caramel ice cream that I served this with and you can see what a winner it was. I have no idea whether I cooked the pastry for long enough or whether it tasted anything like the real thing but I am intrigued enough by the whole concept to do some research and try a tarte tatin again.

“Plum Tarte Tatin” from “5 Ingredients”