Cooking the Books: A Review of John Whaites’ ‘Perfect Plates’

I relished the chance to get cracking with my immersion into John Whaites’ Perfect Plates.  I did a Rustic French cooking course in May at his new cookery school and he was a bubbly delight of a man and obviously an excellent and passionate cook. I expected his book to be as full of personality and great ideas as John himself and I wasn’t disappointed.

So the premise of the book is that all the recipes contain just five ingredients – another reason to like the book – that sounded nice and simple. The rules are that basic ingredients like oil and seasoning don’t count as an ingredient.

I really enjoyed cooking from this book.  It was a little bit of a shock after Anna Jones’ guilt free very healthy cooking to embrace heavier, carbier dishes, but – who cares they tasted good.

The Favourites

It’s difficult to pick out favourites as everything we cooked was impressive but here we go:

  1. Braised Fennel with Halloumi and Grapefruit – I’d just got back from holiday so needed something to brighten my day and blast away my blues.  A simple assembly job here creating a joyful colourful dish singing with flavours.  The sour of the grapefruit and the salty halloumi hit the spot.
  2. Lamb, Cherry and Yellow Split Pea Tagine – Jamie kindly cooked this slow cooked dish while I was out on a ramblers hike in Yorkshire.  I returned shattered and hungry and very happy to devour this tender tasty stew.
  3. Mushroom and Sage Gnocchi – This felt like utter decadence. Fried gnocchi with mushrooms with crispy fried sage. Buttery naughtiness!
  4. Ham and Fennel Pasta – After pre-holiday dieting  being able to eat ham with pasta and cream felt like a heavenly treat.  And those ingredients are lovely together – the subtle fragrance of the fennel with the strong meaty ham and cream in the background work so well.
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1: Braised Fennel with Halloumi and Grapefruit 2: Lamb, Cherry and Yellow Split Pea Tagine 3: Mushroom and Sage Gnocchi 4: Ham and Fennel Pasta

The Very Very Goods

  1. Four-hour Tomato Pasta Sauce – I wanted to use up the glut of homegrown tomatoes we had post holiday.  Luckily we had a lot as you need 1.5kg of them! Apart from having to blanch and skin all the tomatoes this was such an easy dish – just a long wait until serving.  It was sweet and delicious.
  2. Roasted Radicchio and Figs with Stilton and Balsamic Onions – Despite the fact we couldn’t find any radicchio and had to use chinese leaf instead, didn’t stop it from being excellent.  It was a bung everything in the oven and roast type of dish and the flavours were beautiful –  roasted fig and melted stilton is wonderful.
  3. Tahini and Honey Chicken and Paprika Potatoes –  Put all five ingredients in the oven and roast and hey presto you have beautiful nutty sweet chicken and potato dinner.
  4. Roasted Courgettes and Tomatoes with Mozzarella and Basil – Another throw it in the oven dish – lovely and lazy and satisfyingly melty and tasty.
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1: Four-hour Tomato Pasta Sauce 2: Roasted Radicchio and Figs with Stilton and Balsamic Onions 3: Tahini and Honey Chicken and Paprika Potatoes 4: Roasted Courgettes and Tomatoes with Mozzarella and Basil

I think this book is great for time poor people who like to eat restaurant quality food. It’s easy to follow the instructions, the recipes are generally simple and quick apart from a few slow cook recipes which are still straight-foward they just have a long time in the oven. And when you only have to buy five ingredients per dish it makes shopping a breeze. I thought it was a good range of dishes too and they were all dinner party worthy – so a great way to impress friends with minimum effort!   It’s fun, colourful, easy-going and light-hearted just like John.

 

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Madrid relived in rainy Marple Bridge

This saturday amidst some weird rain/hail blizzard, Jamie and I headed up to pretty Marple Bridge for a bit of sunshine food.  Yes, yet again I’m talking about tapas!  I think I might be obsessed.  This time we were testing out Libby’s.  By day a bakery and cafe, by night a tapas bar.

Due to it’s popularity we could only book at table at 5.30pm.  We tipped up bang on time and the place was empty.  I was disappointed.  I don’t mind eating early but not in a deserted place!  However, my worries were washed away (not by the crazy rain) but by the swarm of people that literally filled out the place within the next ten minutes.  This is clearly the place to be in Marple Bridge.

The menu instantly got us excited!  A nice combo of traditional tapas with some interesting twists thrown in.  We ordered and waited.  As I’ve waxed lyrical before on this blog – there is something very pleasing in ordering food, forgetting about it and the dishes appearing at different stages of the evening.  I like the suspense and surprise.

First up manchego frito with apple and pear chutney.  Deep fried cheese basically, but a bit classier! This was wolfed down by us. Crunchy coating, gooey cheese, tangy chutney. Winner!

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Manchego frito with apple and pear chutney

Then came the succession of other courses: wild mushroom and tarragon gnocchi – this came in a rich creamy sauce – the mushroom had a lovely intense flavour and the tarragon lifted the whole dish.  Next up – chilli and garlic king prawns – everything you’d expect a fine spanish version of this dish taste of – sweet, warming, tomatoey and delicious (shame about the prawn shells).  And then the true favourite –  slow braised beef cheeks – super sweet, flavourful and melt in the mouth. I’ll gloss over  the duck lasagne which didn’t live up to the rest of the fab dishes – just a bit non descript.  And finally parsnip and sweet potato pancakes – which were quite like bhajis!  They tasted of curry – that is not a criticism though – these were crispy, spicy and sensational.

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Wild mushroom and tarragon gnocchi

 

prawns
Chilli and garlic king prawns
beef cheeks
Slow braised beef cheeks
potato pancakes
Parsnip and sweet potato pancakes

And to top the night off, once we paid the bill our waitress offered us some free bread on the way out.  There was a big shelf of loaves in the corridor that hadn’t been sold during the day.  We greedily helped ourselves to an enormous loaf of sourdough (I’ve been eating it today – so good!).

If you get the chance, do check Libby’s out.  It’s a delightful buzzy little venue, the staff are superb and the food (duck lasagne aside) is exceptional.