Friday, April 3, 2009

Ode to Jamie

When I started this blog, I knew that one of the early things I wanted to do was pay tribute to my first cooking love and hero Jamie Oliver. I haven't done it yet because I have a (not so) secret hope of sending him a link to this and that he might actually be interested in reading it - but until I had more content, who would be interested in reading it. Well I have 30 entries now, all of them way too long, so I'll proceed...

First love? You're probably thinking, hmm, that's a bit celebrity-stalker-ish. I mean love strictly in the food sense. I'll start at the beginning.

Let's go back to the year 2000. My husband and I enjoyed a leisurely lifestyle of lazy lie-ins, all day bike rides, sunny afternoons on the West End rooftop patio drinking beer in the shadow of the flatirons (back before the view was blocked by hideous condos), eating out for pretty much every meal, and definitely not cooking. Sounds pretty good right? Actually it wasn't bad. Then he came along.

One night we were watching TV, eating sandwiches from Snarf's (really good sandwiches, actually), and this show came on called The Naked Chef. My husband says, "I've been meaning to tell you about this show. It's hilarious."

I'm sure by now, everyone has seen the reruns, but at the time, it was an all new concept. Like The Real World meets Emeril and goes to Britain with a cool DJ in the background. I was sucked in. For the food? Yea right. For the coolness/dorkiness. On the one hand, the funky kitchen, cool friends just "stopping by" and Jamie's crazy accent seemed so contrived. On the other hand, I wanted to have a funky kitchen, cool friends and a crazy accent.

As I sat back to enjoy my sandwich and laugh at the ridiculousness of such a trendy show, something caught my eye.

"Hey, do you see what he's making? That fish looks really good. And it actually looks kind of easy to make."

I was mesmerized. For the first time in my life, I was actually considering buying and cooking fish.

The blur of infatuation that followed is a little hazy for me to remember now... did I buy the first cookbook the next day, or did I watch a few episodes first? It all happened so fast.

The first cookbook, also called The Naked Chef, kept the promise that the show had made... and this is really what got me hooked. The beautiful, glossy pictures draw you in, but the freshness and ease of the recipes is what keeps you coming back for more.

Jamie doesn't advertise himself as a health food chef, but in my opinion, it doesn't get any healthier. From the beginning, he has been a strong advocate for eating wholesome, organic, natural food - lots of vegetables and herbs in place of pre-made sauces and canned ingredients. That is the origin of the nickname Naked Chef.

Yea, he is a bit of a commercial empire. He has a million cookbooks, I think Jamie Makes a Sandwich is the latest one, but he's done a lot more than get rich. He is one of the strongest voices in the western world to advocate for eating organic, local food, including leading an ongoing campaign to improve school lunches in Britain.

That influence has changed my life forever. From the first time I cooked Fish in a Bag, a whole new world opened for me. Since then I've moved on to other amazing chefs and cookbooks. I don't need the glossy pictures and cool TV shows anymore to get me interested in turning on the stove, but I will always have a special place in my heart for Jamie. There is only one celebrity I'd ever be interested in meeting. And if I did meet him, I would just say Thanks.

I probably shouldn't do this, but here is my favorite Jamie Oliver recipe. Simple and bursting with amazing flavors. From The Naked Chef - which I highly recommend...

Fish Baked in a Bag with Marinated Cherry Tomatoes, Black Olives and Basil

  • 4 fish fillets, about 6-8 oz each (I usually use wild salmon)
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 3/4 c dry white wine
  • 1 handful black olives, pitted
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 small dried red chili, crumbled
  • 1 handful fresh basil or marjoram, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
Put the olives, garlic, chili, herbs, extra virgin olive oil and tomatoes into a bowl and toss. Leave for half an hour, then add the lemon juice and seasoning to taste.

Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. For each fillet, take a large piece of aluminum foil. Place 1/4 of the tomato mixture in the center of one half. Lay the fish on top of the tomatoes. Fold the foil over and seal two sides by folding over tightly. Add 1 Tbs olive oil and a quarter of the white wine, then seal the remaining side. Bake at 4750 for approximately 10 minutes. I'm not sure why, but this recipe tastes much better when cooked on the grill. Let the fish rest in the bag for 3-4 minutes before opening.

Serve each unopened bag on a plate, to enjoy the fish, tomatoes, juices and all.

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