With the general rise in living costs and the increasingly bad publicity for ready meals over the last few years (not to mention the backdrop of Jamie Oliver’s ceaseless campaign for proper food in schools), a new wave of cookery books has swept onto the shelves to show people that you can work all day and still eat well at home in the evening.
Emma Long’s More Quick and Easy Homemade Meals is an excellent example of this trend, giving the reader exactly what it says on the tin: a selection of recipes to help you create “simple, tasty dishes for the busy person”.
As opposed to many classic cookbooks, which can expect you to add a ‘small pinch of saffron’ or a ‘slight sprinkling of juniper berries’ for that perfect flavour, Long’s collection of recipes make good use of store-cupboard staples, combining them in straightforward yet interesting ways to create tasty dishes (such as the pork escalope in a sesame seed, mint and basil coating).
The book itself is divided into straightforward chapters, separated as one might expect on the basis of the main ‘feature’ of the dish – beef / chicken / fish / vegetarian dishes – as well as having chapters dedicated to simple sauces, side dishes, and the intriguingly titled ‘alternative dishes’, which in our house would generally be used as snacks or small lunches.
Whilst good chapters are a useful way of searching a cookery book to decide on what to make for dinner, the index can be the most important tool in this respect. Happily, Emma Long has evidently put a good amount of thought into this, and her index is superbly simple to use. Each dish has been entered under multiple headings making it easy to find a recipe to fit your ingredients; for example, the pancetta and mushroom carbonara can be found under any of the 3 title nouns (unlike in one book I have where shepherd’s pie is listed under ‘leek’). As with all the recipes contained therein, Long’s approach to the book itself can be characterised by simplicity and efficacy.
Most cook books these days are expected to have pictures showing the cook what they are aiming to create; a quirky and distinctive addition in More Quick and easy Homemade Meals is Emma Long’s use of ‘before and after’ photographs, showing you both the raw ingredients as well as the finished dish. This may at first seem a trifle unusual; however, it is surprisingly useful both in helping you identify quantities (e.g. how big is a handful?) and in recognising cuts of meat you may not have used before.
But how do the recipes themselves work out? From what I could tell, very well indeed. All dishes tested were straightforward and quick to prepare, taking a maximum of 20 minutes plus cooking time, and tasted very good. They also used a minimum number of utensils, cutting down on the clearing up required afterwards.
Several recipes may benefit from recommending sides to go along with them (especially as the book features a chapter dedicated to side dishes) – one or two picture the completed dish with sides but only tell you to make the main meat feature part. Then again, a quick perusal of the recipe before starting and a slight application of common sense should help to avoid any problems this may cause.
Emma Long has taken a slightly unusual approach to quantities, making all her recipes suitable for one person. This makes them easily multipliable, as you just need to double / triple / quadruple the ingredients to fit your number of diners, thereby eliminating the quandary of trying to add 2/3rds of an egg.
However, until you have tried out several of the recipes to gauge her portion size, this can be slightly misleading. The portion size used in the recipes appears to be roughly tailored to suit an average adult woman; apportioning 100g of pasta with sauce to a grown man would not fill most men of my acquaintance. Nevertheless, if you take this into account (say by allowing 1 ½ times the given portion size for a man) the quantities are easy enough to multiply.
All things considered, More Quick and Easy Homemade Meals is an excellent addition to a busy person’s cook book collection. Offering a wide selection of quick recipes presented in an easy to follow way, it means you won’t be stuck for what to cook when you get in at 6.30 in the evening.