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.
hjgkjhgj
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.
FotorCreated
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.

 

Advertisements

It all got a bit Willy Wonka at the Vegetarian Supper Club

Eddie Shepherd is a purely vegetarian chef – and he’s VERY experimental! Think Heston Blumenthal meets Simon Rogan meets a magician.  An evening with Eddie is a colourful culinary adventure.  I went to one of Eddie’s supper clubs in November and raved about it so much that I booked an eight seated supper club especially for myself and some friends.

It was advertised as a ten course taster menu, but as we discovered on arrival there appeared to be fourteen courses.  I was unfazed – I had after all easily demolished seventeen courses last week at L’Enclume.

Surprisingly we started with a ‘butterfly’ iced tea, but not any old iced tea – this was purple iced tea with a metal tea bag of dry ice – all made with entirely natural products – not a load of food colouring. And we each had cute mini teapots to pour our own tea. It was sweet and tasty, the dry ice beautifully blending the fragrant flavours.

iced tea
Butterfly tea

Next up was my favourite course! Maybe not for flavour, but for true interactive experience. Eddie told us to look behind us and behold, there were eight pretty, decorative baubles hanging from the ceiling in his lounge. We had assumed that it was just decor, but no that was our next course. So far, so Willy Wonka. It was tofu, dandelion and pickled apple served in a perspex bauble with a hole to access the food. The experience was made more enjoyable because all the guests were hanging round the ‘work of art’ gasping and trying to work out what the hell it was.  A great ice-breaker.  The dish itself was a perfect sweet and savoury combo.  And to be a true food wanker – umami is the Japanese word to describe that sweet spot of flavour that rests between sweet and savoury.

Hanging food
Tofu, dandelion, pickled apple

For course three things got even more Willy Wonka with what looked like a glow stick.  The menu told us it was Chamomile and Raspberry. Basically a raspberry puree with fresh mint that we had to suck it through the stick! Not my most elegant moment, but very delicious.

glow stick
Chamomile and raspberry

The remaining eleven courses were equally glorious! Although not quite as Crystal Maze – everything else we just had to shovel down our gobs in a more straight forward manner.  I think once the ice was broken amongst the guests with the first three ‘wonder’ courses, we were free to kick back and enjoy the food a bit more.  A wise move on Eddie’s part, as we were pretty inebriated by the end of the night and Eddie might have a had a few smashed baubles and glow sticks had they occurred at course thirteen and fourteen.

What I loved about the evening was just how tactile and thought-provoking the whole affair was.  Eddie was a delightful host – enthusiastically introducing each course and explaining what it was.  There was not a quiet moment in the entire four and half hours we were there – each dish was a great talking point.

The feta with pineapple sauce was another good ‘umami’ course.  I suppose cheese and pineapple is a classic, but this was a delightful take on it, the saltiness of the feta in rich contrast to the super sweet pineapple. And the onions marinated in blueberry vinegar (obviously) draped on the feta were an attractive and tasty bonus.

pineapple and feta
Feta, pineapple

The cured egg, truffle and smoked yoghurt was whacky and awesome.  It tasted smoky and otherworldy and was scoffed in one happy mouthful.

egg
Cured egg, truffle, smoked yoghurt

A couple of favourites from our November supper club were back on the menu – warm walnut bread with homemade creamy butter was a big hit.  And the deep fried halloumi with potato fondant and a creamy dill sauce – whilst a bit on the conventional side for Eddie – was comfort food at it’s best – and a pleasantly hefty portion after all those little mouthful sized-courses.

halloum
Halloumi, potato, dill

And then there were the puddings!  My boyfriend’s favourite was the fennel pollen, blueberry and lemon candyfloss – which I have to admit was pretty cool.

candyfloss.jpg
Fennel pollen, blueberry and lemon candyfloss

For me, the most intriguing pud was the cherry, coconut and chocolate which was a combination of a mousse and ice-cream.  Eddie theatrically prepared it in front of us on what was called an ‘anti-griddle’ – a contraption that looked like a 1980s photocopier. This piece of equipment can go as cold as minus fifty degrees and exclusively freezes the bottom piece of the food you put on the ‘griddle’.  Which left us with a creamy dessert that was half ice-cream at the bottom and unfrozen mousse at the top.  Eddie Wonka at his best!

ice cream
Cherry, coconut, chocolate

And as a massive chocoholic the final pudding was entirely pleasing to me – a bergamont and juniper truffle wrapped up like a present in shiny rainbow cellophane.  A simple fun touch that appealed to the child in all of us.

Truffle
Bergamont and juniper truffle

I apologise that I’ve been unable to describe the flavours of the various dishes I ate in detail.  The problem with eating fourteen experimental courses with so many flavours that were new to me, is that it’s difficult to have a clear memory of it all (and the booze may not have helped!). But, every course tasted sensational and was a visual feast!

I had a whale of a time as did all my friends, and for £40 (and it’s BYO) it’s brilliant value for money.  To find out more go to Eddie’s website:

http://www.veggiechef.co.uk/