review

Review - 'A Girl Called Jack'

As you might have gathered from the amount of food related content on this blog already, as you might have picked up from my comments about step-kids with food allergies and as I'm sure you can imagine - cooking for the five people in my house is not a simple or straightforward task. Most nights, we have the hectic rush to get food ready in that tiny window between the arrival home from school and the departure of people at various times to various evening activities. It's a juggling act for sure.

I guess we're slightly unusual in our house that we sit together pretty much every evening to eat together and the kitchen is definitely the hub of the house. I'm typing this now at the kitchen table and my step-daughter is sitting opposite me. I love that we do the family food thing but I am always on the look out for quick, healthy, relatively simple, child-friendly meals to cook on weeknights when time is short.

So, imagine my delight with 'A Girl Called Jack' from budget-conscious food blogger Jack Monroe. For those of you that don't know Jack's story, the short version is that whilst she was unemployed, she had a budget of just £10 a week to feed her and her son. Despite hitting rock bottom on a few occasions (one blog post recounting this is reprinted at the start of her book and it absolutely chilled me), Jack's recipes, full of 'value' range ingredients and bearing all the hallmarks of that particular type of ingenuity that is only born from having no other option, were posted on her blog and the snowball of interest started. Anyway, do read her blog, it's absolute genius.

Anyway, let's get on to the book itself...

 All the little page markers make me smile - so many recipes to try!

All the little page markers make me smile - so many recipes to try!

Firstly, for a great cookbook, £6.49 (today's price on Amazon - 5th April 2014) is a bargain. I have recently become very fed up with my monthly foodie mag and frankly, there are many many more recipes in here that I am likely to try than have caught my eye in any of this magazine's last five issues. So price - tick.

Another major plus is the short ingredient lists and the really great use of store-cupboard ingredients. And when I say store-cupboard, I mean the kind of stuff that everyone has in their house, not the kind of thing that food editors like to think that people have just laying around when they're trying to justify those ingredient lists that look more like a novella. I have been left with more jars of spices and herbs, more odd flavourings and more crazy ingredients than I care to mention after trying a recipe only to see the kids grimacing manfully as they struggle to eat something that hasn't properly rewarded me for the time I've spent cooking it. So practicality - tick.

The recipes themselves are very simple, a couple of short paragraphs of instruction at most and Jack provides little notes at the foot of each one to suggest alternative options and replacement ingredients. With that in mind, despite the fact the book cover says '100 recipes', with all these extra details, you're actually getting way more than that.

And it absolutely does what it says on the tin - these recipes are really budget conscious. We've been experimenting by 'Going Jack' when we shop and the food bill has taken a dramatic plunge, even without using value ingredients which would slash it even more. 

It'll come as no surprise I'm sure when I say I love this book and here are a few more reasons why...

  • the portion sizes are really generous and we've had leftovers from every recipe I've tried without skimping on the size of dinners. 
  • the leftovers have all, without exception so far, re-heated brilliantly.
  • the photography is great - the food looks deliciously real, not styled to the point of abstraction.
  • there's no need for hundreds of bits of equipment.
  • the actual cooking itself is simple so it's really easy for kids to follow the recipes too.
  • Jack is pretty flexible on the quantities of herbs and spices so it's easy to adjust things to suit the palates of your diners!
  • there's a great mix-and-match feel to the book with Jack suggesting side dishes to accompany main meals.
  • it feels real. It is the perfect antidote to those books that assume everyone has hours to spend shopping in chichi delis/preparing/cooking/cleaning/wafting around a dream kitchen in a silk kimono. I love cooking and I love food but I also have a life that needs living.
  • it's a perfect 'travel' cookbook - we took this book to The Hut and as you don't need loads of equipment/time/huge store of ingredients, it was excellent and we feasted royally the whole weekend.
  • it is a great family cookbook and my gang has tried things from this that I never thought they would.

As a little heads up, some of our favourites so far have been: peach & chickpea curry, mumma Jack's best ever chilli, lentil bolognese, sag aloo, roman pasta with mandarins, vegetable masala curry, spanish style chicken, mixed bean goulash and smoky red lentil burgers. And we've still got loads we all want to try - result!

Well played Jack. You've got this spot on.

Review - The Hut, Dorset

There is something about choosing somewhere to stay that can turn my usually sensible and unflappable brain to mush. I blame a distinctly dodgy hotel near Cambridge - you know the thing, looks good online and yet, like everyone's idea of a dodgy internet date, in reality it is really rather horrid. Anyway, I'm now the nittiest of nitpickers when it comes to booking getaways.

Happily for me, the Sawdays website never lets me down and it was on here that I found The Hut. Straight away, I knew this would be the place - yes, it would involve a slightly lengthy drive to and from Weymouth twice a day to fetch & carry My Mr to the Jurassic Coast Challenge but I didn't care. An hour or so in the car to be rewarded by wrapping myself up here for three days...

 The Hut - it really is perfect. The location, the design, the decor. The moment I walked in, I was happy. What more can you ask?

The Hut - it really is perfect. The location, the design, the decor. The moment I walked in, I was happy. What more can you ask?

 This is the view from the deck that you can see in the photo above - straight out over the countryside. I have spent much of my weekend walking around the lanes and paths that surround The Hut or ensconced in a big armchair by the window reading. Either way, this view has been the backdrop to my days.

This is the view from the deck that you can see in the photo above - straight out over the countryside. I have spent much of my weekend walking around the lanes and paths that surround The Hut or ensconced in a big armchair by the window reading. Either way, this view has been the backdrop to my days.

 The living area - that woodburner has been wonderful in the evenings as we cosy up and there is really nothing missing at all. The amazing flooring is reclaimed scaffolding boards, the side tables are old tea chests and there are blankets on the back of the sofas. It's like a secret hideaway for adults.

The living area - that woodburner has been wonderful in the evenings as we cosy up and there is really nothing missing at all. The amazing flooring is reclaimed scaffolding boards, the side tables are old tea chests and there are blankets on the back of the sofas. It's like a secret hideaway for adults.

 Just a few of the details in The Hut that have made me smile over the weekend. The fact that the place is full of books has made my heart sing - they lurk everywhere like attentive servants waiting to be helpful. The beer bottles are taunting My Mr however as, due to his marathoning, he's been off the booze.

Just a few of the details in The Hut that have made me smile over the weekend. The fact that the place is full of books has made my heart sing - they lurk everywhere like attentive servants waiting to be helpful. The beer bottles are taunting My Mr however as, due to his marathoning, he's been off the booze.

 More Hut happiness and the great details that I keep finding. On a practical note - the bathroom is excellent and My Mr has been much comforted by long hot baths post-race each day. There's also a large and toasty shower which I have struggled to leave each morning.

More Hut happiness and the great details that I keep finding. On a practical note - the bathroom is excellent and My Mr has been much comforted by long hot baths post-race each day. There's also a large and toasty shower which I have struggled to leave each morning.

 The kitchen. Sigh. It's totally country, totally vintage and totally great to cook in. I have got to grips with the Aga but there's also a 'normal' oven and hob too plus fridge-freezer, dishwasher and washing machine. 

The kitchen. Sigh. It's totally country, totally vintage and totally great to cook in. I have got to grips with the Aga but there's also a 'normal' oven and hob too plus fridge-freezer, dishwasher and washing machine. 

 Kitchen details - it's been a lovely place to be and all the meals I've cooked this weekend have been from Jack Monroe's 'A Girl Called Jack' and I'll be reviewing that on the blog soon too.

Kitchen details - it's been a lovely place to be and all the meals I've cooked this weekend have been from Jack Monroe's 'A Girl Called Jack' and I'll be reviewing that on the blog soon too.

 The sign to much weekend happiness! So, the nitty gritty - the hut sleeps two in a gorgeous sleeping area upstairs. There's also a dressing/office area up in the eaves too. Downstairs is the kitchen, the bathroom, the living area and a small dining area. Outside, the deck runs around two sides of the building so you've always got a sunny spot to sit in. The garden is enclosed so dog friendly (although I didn't bring my girl) and there's also plenty of parking space. There's wifi, logs for the burner, coal for  the aga and towels provided too. Really, I absolutely can't fault  The Hut  at all - it's so perfect and a really special place to escape to.      *please note, I've not been paid/rewarded/bribed or coerced into writing this piece. It's just my humble opinion.

The sign to much weekend happiness! So, the nitty gritty - the hut sleeps two in a gorgeous sleeping area upstairs. There's also a dressing/office area up in the eaves too. Downstairs is the kitchen, the bathroom, the living area and a small dining area. Outside, the deck runs around two sides of the building so you've always got a sunny spot to sit in. The garden is enclosed so dog friendly (although I didn't bring my girl) and there's also plenty of parking space. There's wifi, logs for the burner, coal for  the aga and towels provided too. Really, I absolutely can't fault The Hut at all - it's so perfect and a really special place to escape to. 

 

*please note, I've not been paid/rewarded/bribed or coerced into writing this piece. It's just my humble opinion.