Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The past few weeks are a Jamie Oliver blur.

Turns out it's very easy to get people to rave about Jamie Oliver. The collected impressions add up to quite a love letter. The orange quotes throughout the post are from others. The rest of the gushing (black text) is from me.

"He's young."
"He's innovative."
"He's a humanitarian."
"He's totally hot and like the bad boy of culinary exquisiteness."

When someone comes over to our house, Dash runs up and says, "You wanna see Jamie Oliver? You wanna SEE him?" As if we're hiding him in the bathroom. Then he pulls out Jamie Oliver cookbooks, points to different photos of the chef and asks, "Is that Jamie? Look that. Fig tart. We make that recipede."

Yes we did. 

Tart shell. Bella and her friend Jacob cream the butter and sugar by hand. They slice open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. After dumping the dough on the table they gather it together and mush it into squares. Very satisfying, they say.

"Jamie Oliver taught me how to cook."
"Jamie taught me how to be an intuitive cook."
"I became the owner of each recipe."
"Less about recipe. More about cooking."
Frangipane filling. Almonds, flour, butter, sugar, eggs, more vanilla bean. Splash of grappa, if you have some. We put in Grand Marnier instead.
Assembly. Even a sleepy 2-year old can do it. Spread frangipane in bottom of half-baked shell. Press in figs. Sprinkle with almonds, orange zest, lemon zest, sugar, and thyme. Bake.
It actually looks a lot like the photograph in the cookbook. This doesn't happen very often. Serve it with mascarpone. And dessert wine. But be warned, it's very sweet.

"He's effortless."
"I like a flirty recipe."
"He writes visually. Knob of butter. Glug of olive oil."
"Jamie Oliver taught me how to stock my pantry. Olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and lemons."

Cooking shows can be so awkward. There's no flow. Everything is already prepped and half-cooked. There is often this look of confusion in the host's eyes as he or she searches for a spatula or salt in his or her "kitchen." Not so with Jamie Oliver.

It's a beautiful thing to watch Jamie Oliver whack the shit out of herbs, garlic, lemon, salt and olive oil with his mortar and pestle. Even his first cooking show (The Naked Chef)—with the odd format of a woman interviewing him off-camera—shows him in his element. We are with him in his actual kitchen.  Over the years as the kitchens (eventually sets?) get lovelier and lovelier, Jamie still manages to dance around the space, reaching behind him without looking to grab a sheetpan, twirling around to whip the vegetables out of the oven just a little too late.

"He changed how I make salad. Layers, not tossed."
"So many vegetables." 

We flip through Jamie's cookbooks for inspiration.  I pile up all our fall vegetables on the counter and just start peeling and chopping. Dash scoops the seeds and pulp out of the delicata squash. He does a face plant into the scraps and inhales deeply. "Yum," he says. He tastes the raw squash and spits it out.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, delicata squash (did you know you can actually leave the skin on this particular squash?), a dozen cloves of garlic still in their skins, lots of salt, pepper and thyme.

" He cooks with and for his kids." 
"Feels like you're part of his family. I want to be part of his family."

Jamie started cooking as a teenager at his dad's pub in Essex and worked his way on up to be the executive chef at London's River Cafe. He has over 10 cookbooks and just as many cooking shows. He started a restaurant in London called Fifteen that trains and hires young adults—many of whom were formerly homeless, unemployed or addicted to drugs. Three more restaurants following this model have opened in Amsterdam, Melbourne and Cornwall. So far he has 6 Italian restaurants. He also has THREE KIDS. And he's only 34.

"He mixes meat with fruit."
"He zests lemon into everything."
"Smell, touch, taste, adjust."
"Sometimes he steps back and just marvels at the beauty of a cooking step or an ingredient."

Make a marinade by pounding rosemary, thyme, lemons, and garlic with a mortar and pestle. Throw potatoes, pears, and turnips into a roasting pan with pork chops and marinade. Don't bake it for 45 minutes like we did.

We make a delicious but very dry pork. Look at the caramelized lemons resting on the finished pork. We smear it on bread with the roasted garlic.

"He's an important person."
"He progressed from a good chef to an incredible human being." 
"A humanitarian through food."

Jamie believes that feeding processed foods to children is a form of child abuse. Over the past few years he has been trying to teach everyone how to eat better—from English schoolchildren to Middle Americans. After Jamie exposed the horrors of school lunches to the public, the British government invested over ONE BILLION DOLLARS to try to make some changes. Holy shit. Imagine what an organization like Edible Schoolyard could do with that kind of money.

"Isn't he the one that kicked off the whole campaign about better school lunches for children? A chef that creates a global consciousness for school kids understanding the benefits of health food. Now that is hot!"

We start cooking lamb pretty late one afternoon. Bella reluctantly agrees to help, but when I bust out two knives for her she is totally psyched. She scores the meat with a little too much energy. Then she tucks rosemary and garlic underneath the shoulder. Salt. Pepper. More rosemary and garlic on top. Cover it with a lid or tin foil. We throw it in the oven and forget about it (on purpose) for 4 hours. We serve it with roasted vegetables and couscous. Bella gets out of bed at 10pm to taste the caramelized ooey gooey lamb and pronounces it A-MA-ZING. She sits down with us and has a second dinner.
I don't want to put words in Jamie Oliver's mouth but I have a strong sense of what he stands for.  Know where your food comes from. Taste as you go along. Grow some herbs on your window sill. Support local farms. Cook with your kids. Use organic ingredients. Improvise. Cooking doesn't have to be a chore. Cooking can be fun. Cooking is messy. And anyone can do it.

And my big revelation this week? Our fridge is so full of lamb and pork and vegetables and tarts and sauces.  The freezer is packed with pesto and cookie dough and bread and meat scraps and tomato sauce and chicken stock and cakes. ALL OF THIS TIME SPENT COOKING IS ACTUALLY MAKING OUR LIVES EASIER IN THE LONG RUN. We have so many options for school lunches and leftovers for dinner.

P.S.: Here's what Bella said about Jamie Oliver: "I love his food AND I love Nigella Lawson's cakes." So do I. Nigella's chocolate cakes coming soon...


Fig Tart (adapted from Crostata di Fichi in "Jamie's Italy")
printable recipe

As beautiful and as delicious as it was, I still found it too sweet. I would try this tart again with apricots or plums. Or you could replace the sweet tart dough with an unsweetened dough. A cornmeal dough would be great as well. The tart dough recipe that I've listed tastes very good and it browns nicely.  You'll need a deep 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Or a shallower 11-inch pan.

tart dough:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
seeds from one vanilla bean OR 2 teaspoons vanilla
zest  of 1/2 a lemon
zest of 1/2 orange
2-3 tablespoons ice water

frangipane filling:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup blanched ground almonds or almond meal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
seeds from 1 vanilla bean OR 2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon grappa or Grand Marnier

12 figs, apricots, or plums
teaspoon of thyme leaves
zest of 1/2 orange
zest of 1/2 lemon
handful of blanched chopped almonds
1 tablespoon of sugar (preferably chunky like turbinado)

For the tart shell. Cream butter, sugar and salt by hand or in a food processor. Add yolks, vanilla and zests. Mix just to combine. Add flour. Mix briefly until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Pulse or mix in 2 tablespoons ice water. Add more water if dough seems too dry.  Dump onto the counter and press into a flat disc. Wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll out and press into tart pan. The dough is hard to work with. It's fine to patch holes and tears with extra pieces. Once it's cooked no one will know the difference. Chill for at least a half an hour.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

For the frangipane. Combine almonds, flour and sugar. In a separate bowl cream the butter. Mix in the almond mixture. Add the eggs, vanilla and liquor. Mix until just combined. Chill in fridge until you're ready to use it.

Bake off the tart shell for about 15 minutes at 325°F until slightly golden. Cool for 10 minutes. Fill the half-baked shell with the frangipane. Spread it out evenly. Jamie has this great fig trick. Cut off stems. Cut an x in the top of fig. Press the bottom of the fig up an through the x. Press the figs down into the frangipane with the x facing up. (If you're using using apricots or plums, cut them in half, remove pits and place halves face up.) Sprinkle with almonds, lemon and orange zests, and sugar. Throw it in the oven. Check after 45 minutes. Cover with tin foil if it's browning too much. It's done when the frangipane is puffed and golden. It's okay for it to be a little bit gooey in the center.  Sprinkle on powered sugar, cinnamon or both right before serving. Serve with unsweetened mascarpone, creme fraiche, or whipped cream.

Pork Chops (adapted from Tray-Baked Chops with Herby Potatoes, Parsnips, Pears and Minted Bread Sauce in "The Return of the Naked Chef")

This dish is great over polenta and smeared with any kind of pesto.

8 Pork chops
8 cloves garlic, skins on
2 sprigs of thyme and/or rosemary
3 quartered lemons, seeds removed
3 pears
6 turnips and/or parsnips
10-12 yukon gold potatoes

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Pound garlic, herbs, and lemon with mortar and pestle.  Or just beat the heck out of it in a bowl with a mallet or wooden spoon. Spread marinade over pork chops. Marinate for a few hours or overnight if you want (but not necessary). If pear skin isn't too tough leave it on. Cut pears in half. Core. Cut into eighths. Cut potatoes and turnips/parsnips into smaller pieces since they need to cook longer than the pears. Mix vegetables and pears with marinated pork. Generously season with salt and pepper. Spread out on sheetpan and throw in the oven. Check them after 25 minutes. Cut a chop open to check it out. You still want the chops to be faintly pink in the center when you take them out.

Roasted Lamb Shoulder With Caper Balsamic Mint sauce (adapted from Incredible Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Smashed Veg and Greens in "Jamie at Home"):

This is so good with roasted root vegetables (see below).  It's also great served over couscous or polenta.

1 boned shoulder of lamb
1 head of garlic
lots of rosemary and thyme
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon capers with brine
1/2 cup chopped mint
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Crank your oven up as high as it goes. Score fatty side of shoulder. Slather whole shoulder with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place shoulder with fatty side up. Place a bunch of rosemary, thyme, and whole garlic cloves still in their skin underneath the shoulder. Place more garlic and herbs on top of the shoulder. Cover with tin foil or a tight-fitting lid.

Turn oven temperature down to 325°F. Throw lamb in the oven for 4 hours. Check every hour or so. If anything is sticking or burning add a little water or wine. It's done when it's just falling apart when you pull it with a fork.

Remove lamb. Put it on a plate and cover it to rest. Dump out most of the fat and herb stalks. Place back on heat and add the flour. Stir constantly for 2 minutes as you cook out the flour flavor and scrape up the goodies in the pan. Add the stock and cook down for a minute. Add capers and cook for another minute. Add vinegar and mint. Season with salt and paper to taste. Poor over lamb and serve.

Roasted Root Vegetables:

Cut up (to about the same size) a combination of potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, turnips and  parsnips. Carrots work well too. Add the garlic cloves still in their skins, several tablespoons of olive oil, pepper and lots of salt. Add several sprigs of rosemary and thyme. High heat (400°F) for 45 minutes or so. Check and stir often. Let the vegetables caramelize and burn a little bit.


  1. sachi and cyrus' momNovember 12, 2009 at 1:52 PM

    thanks, phyllis- this is so fun! i will keep reading to get ideas, inspiration and support for cooking with my kids.

  2. Phyllis, I'm really enjoying your new career as a blogger. I only wish you could get a commission on the Jamie Oliver cookbook that I'm about to buy! thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Ok, so I never heard of Jaime Oliver, but now I am going to buy all his books and then have sex with him. Or maybe the other way around.

  4. I love Jamie Oliver. He introduced me to haloumi cheese! I especially love watching him in his show "Jamie's Kitchen" when he cooks outside in his wood burning oven. I am so jealous!!
    Dash is just a hoot.

  5. This made me smile.
    Dash had figs in his lunch that day and I knew somthin' good was gonna go down back home.
    Such rad photos and tender details. I felt I smelled those squash and root scraps too.
    You guys + Jamie O.= charming my face off

  6. Your photos are sublime... the lighting transported the fruits and vegetables heavenward. Thanks for the great post!

  7. Really interesting to see your blog on Jamie Oliver. I live in Essex, England where Jamie is from and we've loved him since his first TV show back in 2000. Check out the link to my blog where there is a post with pics of the beach that Jamie once visited on his TV show and used to visit as a kid.


  8. This comment has been removed by the author.