I was given Jennifer Joyce’s super-girly cookery book Meals in Heels by my friend Ris as a birthday present. It’s a very glamorous looking publication full of illustrations of impossibly groomed women decked out in vertiginous heels and cocktail dresses as they nonchalantly stir something bubbling on their designer hob.
Do these women really exist? They probably don’t have children climbing up their gym-toned legs!
I think this image had put me off actually looking at any of the recipes in detail because I perhaps assumed that the preparations might be as intimidating as these women look! I am also a little alienated by books that don’t include photographs of the food. It’s how a meal looks in a book, along with its name that often tempts me into trying it out. I’m always suspicious when there’s a lack of pictures.
However I was lucky enough to meet the author Jennifer Joyce at my Food Writing course at Leiths School of Food and Wine last week. She gave the class an extraordinarily candid insight into the world of cookery book publishing that had us all enthralled.
So I raced home and immediately delved into Jennifer’s book and quickly realised I should not have judged the book by its cover.
The whole point of the book is presenting a series of delicious recipes that you can prepare ahead of a dinner party, freeing you up to make yourself look fabulous for the occasion. Hence pictures of over-accessorised lovelies!
The recipe titles are incredibly inviting, from the classy sounding starter Sashimi with sizzling oil and garlic chips to comforting mains like the Beef, Guinness and mushroom pot pies. There are some great sounding sides too like Tomato, gorgonzola and basil stacks and Caramelised onion, tomato and bread gratin.
At the foot of each recipe are instructions of which elements of the recipe can be done in advance. This is a life saver when you’re grabbing a few hours here and there before guests arrive for the weekend.
Jennifer is also a food stylist so each recipe includes tips on how to give the meal a particular look – so even the food is glam for your guests. She also pairs each recipe with a suitable dessert and side-dishes – brilliant!
I chose Chicken Marsala stew with mashed potato with chives for the main course. I’ve always wanted to use Marsala and never quite got around to it. It gave the dish a wonderful luxurious aroma that elevates it from humble chicken stew to something really quite stunning.
I spent an extra half an hour reducing down the sauce so it was thicker and more intensely flavoured. I’m very particular about sauces.
I cooked the stew the day before and kept it in the fridge until I needed it the next night. All I had to do for the meal on the night was make the mash and steam the veg.
For dessert I opted for the Tiramisu Teacups which looked so elegant. I made these on the morning of the dinner party and chilled them until I was ready to serve. I didn’t add the garnish of grated chocolate and fresh raspberries until the last minute.
The menu went down an absolute treat with everyone, and I felt incredibly relaxed about the whole thing. I could sit and chat to my guests rather than racing around the kitchen worrying about the food.
I try to apply the same kind of principles to my day-to-day cooking as much as I can. I find cooking tea for the kids far more enjoyable if I’ve prepared most of it in advance.
They’re always so impatient for their meal that come 5pm Arlo can generally be found hugging my legs, switching the oven on and off while bellowing at top volume. It’s an endurance test that a pre-cooked casserole or pasta dish can TOTALLY conquer.
So I say embrace the heels and the cocktail dresses and give Jennifer’s recipes a go…
Jennifer has a great blog Meals in Heels where you can find her recipes – this time with photos!