Cookbook road test: Eat. Live. Go: Fresh Food Fast
Irish-born food writer, photographer, TV star and cookbook author Donal Skehan used to be a popstar. He wisely swapped the mic and hair products for the kitchen – and his star has risen pretty much nonstop since.
He presented Irish broadcaster RTÉ’s first Kitchen Hero series when he was just 23, was a judge on CBBC’s Junior MasterChef and now lives in LA with his wife Sofie – but still manages to be one of the regular presenters on Saturday Kitchen. If the affable (and talented) Donal doesn’t go on to take the American food-TV world by storm, I’ll be astonished.
Recipes from Donal’s previous books (this is his sixth) have appeared in delicious. before, so I knew what to expect. Donal is big on healthy eating, likes strong flavours and is something of a magpie, picking up recipes and flavours during his frequent travels. He also likes a trend. “I hold my hands up to being part of the Green Juice Brigade, the Quinoa Massive and the Spirulina Squad, but I do so with strong ties to the food I grew up with,” Donal writes, and that’s a pretty fair summing-up of the book.
Quality of the recipes:
The three sections (Eat, Live and Go) are divided into chapters that between them cover quick and more leisurely cooking, sweet snacks, breakfasts, healthy meals, simple suppers, foreign feasts and street eats. Some recipes ride the crest of the trendy wave: quinoa chocolate cake with avocado frosting; turmeric, ginger and cayenne power juice; and courgetti and beetballs. There’s also a lot of chicken – but you can never have enough chicken.
With that in mind, I tested a chook recipe – Hungarian chicken paprikash with dumplings. It’s a dish I ate a lot growing up as it’s one of my mum’s favourites, cooked by her Hungary-born grandmother. I cheered about Donal’s ‘secret tip’ – not to cook paprika over a high heat, which would ruin the spice’s aroma and make it taste bitter, which is what Mum taught me.
Oddly, though, in Donal’s instructions, the chicken isn’t first browned as it usually is for a casserole – although the chicken in the photograph does seem to be browned. To hedge my bets, I made half the recipe using browned chicken and the other half unbrowned chicken, as instructed. In a blind taste test, the dish with the browned chicken was deemed to have a deeper flavour. Despite that, the recipe was straightforward and worked well enough, although the walnut-size dumplings, made without fat or leavening, were a bit leaden.
Next up was the sort of one-pot dish I like to make after work – sticky Asian pork fillet with sesame greens, flavoured with five-spice powder, garlic, ginger and plenty of chilli. I initially doubted whether the dish could be cooked in the promised 35 minutes. It did take a little longer for the sauce to cook down, but it was flavourful and quick enough to cook midweek. It could have done with a serving suggestion for steamed rice, though.
As I said, Donal’s a talented one. He took the appetising, cleanly shot food photos here, working with stylist and former delicious. food editor Lizzie Kamenetzky. Ingredients lists and cooking instructions don’t always tally with what’s in the photos, though.
Who’s the book suitable for:
If you’re looking for good old-fashioned Irish food, this isn’t your book. But for cooks on the lookout for worldly dishes with plenty of spice and a good dose of flavour, there’s plenty to choose from – especially if you like chicken.
Eat. Live. Go: Fresh Food Fast by Donal Skehan (£25; Hodder & Stoughton)