A new cook book, and a meal goes badly wrong

An absolute disaster, so much for the romantic dinner idea.....

Before I begin I would like to apologize for the length of this post, it seems that I had a lot to get off my chest about this meal!  It’s been a cathartic experience writing this!

I have a new cookbook; one which I hoped would allow me to combine my love of posh food with my less than extravagant means.  It’s Jason Atherton’s Gourmet Food for a Fiver and the idea of the book is that you can create a two course gourmet meal from the book for £5 per person (still not that cheap I feel!).

The book itself is great, the pictures of the food look sumptuous, the recipes appear to be clear and direct, there are even tips on how to best present the food for that restaurant look (an area where I can fall down).  There is a good selection of starters mains (they actually appear together as a savoury section split into veg, meat and fish) and lots of desserts so plenty of options to choose from. Jason also provides some seasonal menu suggestions and other themes.  Most recipes are for four people, but can be easily scaled up or down as needed.   My only issue would be that, since the starters and mains run into each other with no division, you end up trying to guess from the portion size which is which.

However, to my dismay, my first attempt at a two course meal from there was a disaster, although without trying some more recipes I don’t know if the problem was me or the book.  For my two courses I had decided to cook the white asparagus, pasta and poached egg for starter and the confit chicken leg with chorizo and bean stew for main.

The problems started with my actual choices as try as I might I could not find any white asparagus, probably due to it’s being out of season. Rather than use the more bitter green variety I decided to abandon that element of the starter which reduced it to just pasta and a poached egg (which just doesn’t sound so “gourmet”).  The rest of the starter went well.  I managed to make the pasta with creamy mushroom sauce (Jason’s alternative to Macaroni cheese according to the book :-p) and poach my eggs (nice soft gooey centre!) then, adding the shavings of parmesan, I served it up. It managed to looked not to dissimilar to the picture in the book (minus some ingredients of course!).

The ingredients for my starter

The result was tasty but not really something I would have put together. However we were starving by this time (all is revealed later) and so wolfed it down.  I’m not really sure if the missing asparagus would have made the meal feel more coherent, but it would certainly have added to the variety in texture as both the pasta and the egg were a bit soggy.  I also had plenty of pasta spare despite halving the recipe, but this is not a complaint!  I think that maybe a few salad leaves could have improved this starter and the recipe does suggest a couple of watercress sprigs for garnish but I forgot these. It just didn’t occur to me at the time, my mind was full of the trouble with the main course!

The starter in the book (left) versus what I served (right)

Preparation for my main had begun the day before with the dry brining of my chicken legs.  This involved covering the chicken in 2 tablespoons of salt, x leave of sage and 2 stalks of rosemary and leaving it in the fridge for at least 12 hours.  Then, 4 hours before we were due to eat (the recipe involved a lot of cooking and resting!) these legs were submerged in a large quantity of oil into which more salt, sage and rosemary were added.  The book said that to confit the legs would take 2 1/2 hours on 90C and that I should turn the legs half way through cooking. So I dutifully put my pot in the oven and got on with my evening.

After around an hour and a half I returned to the oven to turn my chicken and noticed that it didn’t really seem to be cooking very much! Undeterred, I checked the book again, verified I was doing as it said and put the pot back in the oven to continue as before.  I was starting to get a bit uneasy about it, but knowing that confiting is not a quick method (and having never done it before) I assumed that this was all normal and the final hour would transform my rather raw chicken into soft succulent perfection.

Well I was wrong!  When 3 hours had gone by (I gave it a little extra to be sure) I checked on the chicken again, it did look a bit more cooked, but sticking a knife into one of the legs resulted in rather a lot of blood spewing forth which told another story.  At this point my sense of unease turned into a full blown panic, as with three hours now gone and the meat still only partially cooked, I knew this was never going to be done in time.

In my panic I decided that the best way forward was to apply more heat so whacked the oven up to 180C and stuck the pot in again before warning my partner that the meal may be a little later than initially planned.

At 180C the chicken still took another hour to cook and so it was getting quite late by the time I drained the oil and covered the legs, allowing them to rest while I prepared and ate the starter and got one with accompaniments.

The chicken at differnt stages; top is dry brining, left is after 3 hours at 90C and right is after an additional hour at 180C

The chicken would have two accompaniments: a chorizo and bean stew and some roasted garlic.  The garlic was to be created by wrapping in foil several cloves of garlic n their skin, thyme, sage and lots of olive oil.  This parcel was to bake in the oven for 35/40 mins at 180C.  The bean stew took less time and was prepared by frying chorizo to release the oil before removing the meat and adding stock and cream.  The liquor is then reduced before the meat is returned to the pan along with time butter beans and thyme. Pretty straight forward really but just to add to my many woes I managed to burn my first lot of chorizo and so had to make this twice!

The garlic ready to go in the oven

The ingredients for the bean and chorizo stew

Finally it was time to serve up this main.  You’re supposed to fry off the chicken legs before serving to crisp the skin, however my over enthusiastic application of heat meant that my legs were now quite fragile so this was not possible and I served them straight up (apologies for the photo, my heart just wasn’t in it by this time!) and then it was time to eat.

The main in the book (left) versus what I served (right)

It would be fair to say that this was not a success.  The chicken, though wonderfully tender and falling off the bone tasted only of oil and salt and was inedible (to give him credit my partner tried very hard to eat this having seen how much effort I put it).  The garlic was in the main part just black and solid.  There was the odd soft sweet part but these took much searching to discover.  The bean stew was okay, but that was all.

I have to be honest and say that this was probably the worst meal I have ever cooked. Given how long I had spent trying to cook it I was devastated and gave up eating all together.

I don’t want to blame the book, but I really did stick to the recipe closely, maybe my technique was out. Needless to say I won’t be attempting this again anytime soon.  I will however give the book another try, it may be that one recipe was off, but there are many more to try and who knows, maybe I’ll have more luck with a pud!


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11 Responses to “A new cook book, and a meal goes badly wrong”

  1. The All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook: Over 1,250 of Our Best Recipes (Southern Living (Hardcover Oxmoor)) | Best Cooking Books Says:

    […] A new cook book, and a meal goes badly wrong « Rhi's Foodie World […]

  2. Lucy Says:

    Oh no! Well done for bravely soldiering on, especially taking photos. I think I would have burst into tears and opened a bottle of wine while cursing Jason Atherton to all hell at that point. I wonder if there was a typo and the chicken was supposed to be cooked at 190C? What are you going to attempt next?

    • rhiannong Says:

      I do wonder if I should write to them and point out that it really doesn’t work! There are three dishes in the book which involve confiting, and all say the same so I won’t be trying the other two! I’m thinking I might try a pudding or something vegitarian next, they might be a bit safer!

  3. Greedy Rosie Says:

    I had a nightmare with the usually very reliable Moro cookbook last night. I don’t understand this sort of thing either. They just can’t test their recipes properly?

    • rhiannong Says:

      It does annoy me, it’s so frustrating when you put a lot of work into a dish. I don’t understand how they can publish these things without checking they work!

  4. Lamb Pilav with Cabbage and Caraway (or You Only Sing when You’re Winning) » Greedy Rosie's Dinner Blog Says:

    […] but when I do, like today, I wonder whether I should post it – or not. But it was reading this post, on Rhi’s Foodie World blog, that made me think about it a bit […]

  5. Arlene Says:

    Hi there- I stumbled across your blog this morning and I can’t stop reading! You made me cringe with this post- I was remembering some similar cookbook experiences gone awry. What recipe will you use next from this book?

  6. Wendy @The Omnivorous Bear Says:

    Oh dear… I had a similar disaster with a Nigella recipe but that was less heart rending than yours as I only wasted an hour of my life before turning out an almost inedible meal. I do think that some of these chefs just bang out recipes without checking…laziness, that’s all it is.

  7. Joe Mathers Says:

    Hi Rhiannon really like the picture of Kieran, with his face of the table. I remember your cooking being fantastic! I look forward to the next instalment!

  8. maria Says:

    Discovered your blog today, and I have been clicking on the older posts link – it is beautifully written. I have stopped on this entry because I completely associate with it!! when you write is it you or the cookery book I had to shout at the computer its the book!!!! Reading the comments I feel I might be right.

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