British scones

gluten-free English scones

cooking with Jamie

This is pretty much my favorite spot in our house.

Oh, I love the feeling of our bed when Danny and I can finally fall into it together, dead tired from working and running after Lu all day. I love the sound of Lu’s giggles bouncing off the walls of the bathtub. I love the smell of hot coffee curling around the corner from the kitchen to our bedroom. And these last few warm, sunny days, my favorite spot is not in the house, but outside in the garden, with Lu, blowing dandelions.

(I taught her how to pull weeds today. She bent down her head and pulled as well as she could for 15 minutes. This could really come in handy!)

Still, my favorite spot in the house is this one — standing in front of the bay window, in the kitchen.

Cooking is about to happen here.

This past week, the cooking all came from Jamie’s Food Revolution. What a week of cooking and eating it was!

cauliflower cheese casserole

You must have heard about Jamie Oliver by now. I’ve been talking about him here for years. And in the last few weeks, so has much of America.

His television show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, has been a must-see in our home. Luckily, Danny has Friday nights off from work, so we can cuddle on the couch to watch the show trying to change the way people eat in this country. We spend much of the hour with our mouths open, sort of horrified, mostly determined to do what we can to help.

It’s interesting. There has been a lot of talk about this show. Many of us love what Jamie is trying to do. Some just can’t stand it. That’s part of the process, of course. You can’t please everyone. But the reaction that befuddles me is this: “It’s such a reality show.” Well yes, it is. There’s music in all the pre-appointed places and dramatic moments that are hyped up for tension and extreme close-ups. Jamie himself seems entirely genuine. The production values make the show look like an episode of Extreme Makeover. Some people seem disdainful that this important information is being presented in this fashion.

Here’s the deal. Reality shows? They’re hugely popular in this country. I’m not a big fan, but I know many people who are. We’ve been having important, polite conversations about the need to improve school lunches on PBS shows and New York Times articles for decades. Alice Waters has been leading a quiet revolution in Berkeley, as have Ann Cooper and Kristen Richmond. People who are passionate about food have known for awhile that something needs to be done about school lunches.

In the past month, with this brazen splashy show on ABC, I have heard more conversations about food in schools than I have in decades. People are talking. That’s really the only point. The conversation now includes the people who like to watch a lot of reality shows. Frankly, these are the people who need to be part of this conversation.

Look at this from The New York Times:

“Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and they consume more packaged food per person than their counterparts in nearly all other countries. A sizable part of the American diet is ready-to-eat meals, like frozen pizzas and microwave dinners, and sweet or salty snack foods.”

I keep thinking about this commercial that played a few months ago, emphasizing family togetherness in the kitchen. A mom and her daughter laugh over the kitchen counter, talking about their days…as they open a big lasagna tv dinner and pop it in the microwave.

It just seems to me that all Jamie Oliver is trying to do is persuade people to start cooking in their kitchens.

sweet potato chorizo soup

I used to open tv dinners and deli containers and hot food from the grocery store across the street. The year after the terrible car accident I had, my body hurt too much to stand at the stove and cook. I never felt that confident in the kitchen anyway, so it didn’t occur to me that cooking could make me feel better. I ate what was convenient, what was available, what was easy. I ate to just get food in my body or for the pure sensory pleasure of the taste. The skin on that deli chicken slid off fast, salty and greasy, and kept my mouth occupied for awhile. I spent months without seasoning my own food.

I was miserable. And it wasn’t just the pain. I felt disconnected from my food, something that had always given me joy. Chopping onions and listening to the sizzle of them in hot oil in the pan seemed so far away. It all just seemed too hard.

People don’t have to be in pain to be afraid of cooking. It seems like foreign language, tongues tumbling with unusual sounds. Cooking can be scary: fire could burst out of the skillet as you throw it in the oven, mushroom stock could spill all over the floor, the dinner you spent 45 minutes making could turn out mediocre bland.

But what I love about Jamie Oliver, in his show but particularly in this cookbook, is that he’s filled with enthusiasm for food and an unquenchable optimism that keeps him going into people’s homes and new countries to change people’s minds. He wants people to stand at the stove and feel good.

It’s not much, really. And it’s huge.

Moroccan lamb with gf couscous

Jamie has done this before, you know. He tackled school lunches in Great Britain, opened cooking stores, taught people how to make Moroccan lamb with yogurt sauce, then asked them to pass it on to someone they knew. He received some of the same flak there that he’s getting here. He just kept going.

This particular cookbook is made up of quick-to-prepare, affordable meals. Sweet potato and chorizo soup. Cauliflower cheese casserole. Ground beef wellington. Tomato soup. This is hearty comfort food and simple salads, basic stews and fast stir frys. This is not just an assemblage of favorite recipes. Instead, these are dishes that are meant to teach: how to sauté, how to blend flavors, how to build a salad out of good ingredients.

And teach they did. Interspersed through the recipes are shots of British folks proudly holding plates of salmon or bowls of vegetable curry they made themselves, from scratch. Every one of them looks so damned happy.

Here’s a quote from a bloke called Simon Atkinson:

“At the age of thirty-six I had never cooked a thing, not even mashed potatoes. And the only fish I’d eaten was in batter. When I was passed on the recipe for fish pie, I cooked it and tasted it and there were all these flavors going on and I thought, ‘Wow, I like this.’ I now feel like my taste buds have been missing out big time.”

I swear, the idea of this makes me a little teary. What a gift it is to teach someone to cook. If you know how to cook, you start buying better ingredients. If you buy better ingredients, you might start growing them or going to the farmers’ market to buy them. If you do that, you might start making yogurt at home or canning up jam. How much a life can be transformed by standing at the stove and feeling confident.

This book could teach anyone to cook. I’m convinced of it.

ground beef wellington with gf puff pastry

If you cook every day, you might think, therefore, that the book would be a little elementary for you. You might buy it to hand over to someone else.

Keep this book.

Danny and I loved every single dish we made from here. The salmon stir fry took us 15 minutes to make. The flavors of garlic, chile, ginger, fresh cilantro, tandoori paste, snow peas, and coconut milk were a revelation. Neither one of us had ever thought of that combination with salmon. We’re making it for dinner again this week.

That’s the thing. Jamie Oliver may be a celebrity now, but he is first and foremost an incredible chef. When I first grew besotted with Jamie Oliver’s cooking shows, I thought he was just a tv chef. A charismatic and darling one, but still a television chef. When I first introduced him to Danny, I thought he would scoff. Instead, he leaned forward and watched, fascinated, then went to the kitchen to try some new tricks.

That’s the joy for me, reading this book — knowing that anyone who stands in front of the stove for the first time will be eating really, really well. And then, hopefully, passing it along to the next person.

I hope, one day, that we become a culture of cooking again. There’s nothing like standing in that space, the light coming through the window, and knowing the magic is just about to begin.

Jamie Oliver doesn’t want anyone to miss this.

We’re giving away a copy of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution to one of you reading. Tell us a story of how you learned to cook. Or, tell us a story of teaching someone else to cook. Maybe you could even start this week.

And if you haven’t done it yet, you might want to go over and sign this petition. It could make a difference.

gluten-free scones

Fruit Scones, adapted from Jamie’s Food Revolution

Scones. Need I say more?

1 cup dried cherries (or a mix of any dried fruits you like, which make these new each time)
8 ounces/227 grams superfine brown rice flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces/170 grams potato starch (a little less than a cup)
4 ounces/113 grams tapioca flour (a little less than a cup)
2 ounces/57 grams teff flour (about 1/2 a cup)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon guar gum
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch fine sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, just out of the refrigerator, cut into small cubes
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk (some for recipe, some for brushing the tops)

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 400°. Pull out a sheet tray and put a Silpat (or piece of parchment paper) on top of it. Soak the dried cherries with just enough water to cover them.

(Jamie’s original recipe called for orange juice, which I’m sure would be delicious. However, Lu doesn’t seem to do well with citrus, so I just used water.)

Combining the dry ingredients. Put the brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, and teff flour into a food processor. Run the processor for a few moments, to combine them together well and aerate the flours. (If you don’t have a food processor, use a whisk or sifter.) Add the xanthan gum, guar gum, baking powder, and salt. Pulse them all together.

Working in the butter. Drop the butter cubes into the food processor. Pulse until the butter starts to work into the dough, about 7 0r 8 times. The final mixture should look like cornmeal with little clumps of butter.

Finishing the dough. Pour the buttery flour mixture into a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Beat the eggs and milk together in another bowl. Drain the cherries, then add them to the eggy mixture. Pour this liquid mixture into the well of flours. Stir everything together with a fork or rubber spatula. (Toward the end, you’ll probably use your hands.) When the dough is soft and fully combined, stop. However, you might need a bit more milk, depending on your dough.

Making the scones. Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1 inch. These don’t rise that much, so roll them out as thick as you want to eat them. Cut 10 circles from the dough with a biscuit cutter or a water glass. You might have to cut circles, then re-roll out the dough and cut more.

Baking the scones. Transfer the scone dough circles to the baking sheet. Brush the top of each with a bit of milk (or butter, if you want). Bake in the oven until the scones are browned and have a thump at the bottom, about 12 to 15 minutes. Take them out of the oven and allow them to cool.

Of course, the proper British way to eat these is with jam and clotted cream. We had butter and honey. Later, I even made a cheese sandwich with one. But I’m weird. You’ll know your own best way.

Makes 10 scones.