ON THE MENU: EGGS THREE WAYSMarch 16, 2016
In the spirit of embracing a healthier lifestyle and ditching fad diets, we spoke with food photographer and stylist, Anna Jones. Her cookbook, A Modern Way To Cook is an absolute treat, packed with quick and easy dinner dishes, lunchtime snacks and breakfast delights. Anna shares with us her experiences in the Jamie Oliver kitchen, changing attitudes to food and her tips for making food look mouth-watering, through the lens and on the dinner table. Oh, and of course her favourite brunch recipes with an Easter twist. Over to you, Anna…
UO: Can you tell us a little about your story so far?
One grey, late-for-work day, I decided to quit my office job after reading an article about following your passion by which bit of the newspaper you read first. I had always turned to the restaurant section – and within days I had a place on the training programme at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in London.
I earned my stripes there and then went to chef at Le Caprice in London. I cooked in Spain and the Chianti fields of Tuscany, and then returned to the Jamie Oliver family to work as his food stylist, writer and food creative on books, TV shows and food campaigns. During that time, I cooked in all sorts of places, from East End school kitchens and Sydney beaches to American Indian reservations. I helped shape up the fattest town in America, and led cooking classes at the TED talks. After seven incredible years at Jamie Oliver though, I made the very difficult decision to leave working in my dream job with Jamie and branch out to tell my own story in food.
Since then I’ve done a lot of freelance food styling and writing work, and most recently have written two books under my own name – A Modern Way to Eat and A Modern Way to Cook.
UO: How do you think the attitude to food and cooking has changed in the past ten years?
Today, almost everyone you meet, of any age, is becoming super-conscious of what they eat and the effect on their health. They also understand the importance of a home-cooked meal more than a couple of nights a week to stay healthy and on budget. Alongside that, our awareness of provenance, quality and sustainability has come so far that if we look back at what supermarkets sold ten years ago and what we can buy now, the change is astounding. Interesting varieties of vegetable are the norm, and more unusual herbs, interesting and different grains, spices and ingredients from afar now line the aisles.
All my friends, whether or not they are vegetarian, want to eat more simple, seasonal, vegetable-led food. As the number of vegetarians in the UK slowly creeps up, the number of people reducing the amount of meat in their diet is sky-rocketing. I think we are all beginning to realize that eating lots of meat is perhaps not the best for our bodies or the planet.
UO: What do you enjoy most about having a vegetarian diet?
When I became vegetarian, I had to look at food in a new way – the building blocks of what I’d learnt as a chef no longer worked. I had to get more creative. Though at first this was a challenge, it’s now something I love the most. It made me look to more unusual, exciting and flavoursome ingredients to add depth and interest to my cooking.
The spelt flour in my ginger and molasses cake adds structure and a deep toasted malty flavour and is naturally easier for us to digest. The almond milk in my morning coffee, which tastes incredible, boosts my protein intake for the day and provides the healthy fats my body needs. Or the coconut butter which I use to temper spices for curries, which can be taken to a higher heat than olive oil, making it perfect for releasing the flavour of the spices, with the added bonus of the subtle coconut flavour working beautifully in a south Indian dhal or a dosa potato cake.
UO: What’s your favourite easy week night dinner to whip up?
It absolutely changes whichever day you ask me! At the moment, I’m loving my smoky pepper and white bean quesadillas – they take just ten minutes to put together.
UO: What is your hero ingredient?
Always hard to choose just one, but coconut has definitely got to be up there, because it is so versatile. I cook a lot with the oil as it has a really high smoking point, enjoy the light, drinking milk in my tea, rehydrate with the water, and used the thick tinned coconut milk in my baking.
UO: What food item couldn’t you live without?
Lemons. They show up in almost all of my recipes and I actually use them as kind of a third seasoning. You can use the zest, which has that bit more lemon oil in it, which gives that really almost sherbet sweet flavour, and then you can use the juice, which gives that sharpness and adds another dimension to cooking. I don’t think I could really cook without lemons.
UO: What is your creation process in the kitchen when putting together new recipes?
It really depends – sometimes I’m inspired by a flavour combination, a new fruit season, or something I’ve eaten at a restaurant. Often I’ll start with my main ingredient, decide how to cook it, add an accent and some texture and then finish with a slick or crunch of something delicious. Texture is so often forgotten in cooking.
UO: What are your top tips for making food look wonderful, through the lens and on the dinner table?
Colour is important whether the plate is for eating or photographing. Choose your props – the dishes, cutlery and background – to complement the colours of the food. Add pops of colour too – a flash of red chilli, the bright green of some torn basil or some pomegranate jewels.
Freshness is key so make sure you get that across. I almost always add a finishing crunch or drizzle of something, and it’s important to do this at the very last minute. If you’re taking a picture, do it quickly – keep herbs or leaves in ice-cold water until the last possible moment.
I always try to tell the story of the dish in a photo. It’s your chance to convey the flavour and deliciousness of the dish, so pull out all the different elements and ingredients to really paint a picture. Think about the angle of the camera carefully, too – the way you plate something to be shot overhead and the way you plate something be shot straight on will be completely different.
UO: What’s the one piece of kitchen equipment you couldn’t live without?
My speed peeler has to be the most used gadget in my kitchen and the cheapest. I use it for peeling and for making vegetable ribbons for salads and noodles.
Almond milk, ricotta and lemon French toast
The quickest and most indulgent breakfast I know. It’s usually saved for weekends as it’s more substantial than my weekday breakfast, but is easily quick enough for a weekday. I love the simple favours here: vanilla, lemon and creamy ricotta. I like to use good sheep’s ricotta if I can get my hands on it. The rest of the tub is great stirred through pasta or spread on toast and topped with berries.
I have found that decent gluten-free bread works really well too, as the almond milk mixture helps prevent the bread from being too dry. For vegans you can make the French toast with extra almond milk and skip the eggs and use some coconut yoghurt in place of the ricotta.
2 free-range or organic eggs
125ml unsweetened almond milk
the seeds from 1 vanilla pod, or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
4 thick slices of good bread or brioche
a knob of coconut oil or butter
2 tablespoons good ricotta cheese
runny honey, to serve (optional)
1. Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk in the almond milk and vanilla.
2. Pour into a deep baking tray and lay all four slices of bread in the mixture. Leave to soak for a minute.
3. Put a pan on a medium heat and add a good knob of coconut oil or butter. Turn the bread over and leave for another minute to soak up the mixture, then carefully lower into the pan and cook for 2–3 minutes on each side until golden and crisp, taking care when you fip it, as the bread will be quite delicate.
4. Pile two slices on each plate, dot with ricotta and grate over the zest of the lemon. Top with honey, if you like things sweet.
Soft green herb omelette
This is what I make when reserves are low in every sense of the word, and it’s a great way to use up the last bits of a few bunches of herbs. Omelettes are my ultimate quick dinner and one of my favourite meals – you can put a perfect one on the table in under 15 minutes. You can use whatever soft herbs you have to hand – my favourite combination is basil, mint, dill and tarragon. The quality of eggs you use here is absolutely key, there is no hiding, and you want the best you can get your hands on, organic or farm eggs with paint-pot yellow yolks.
4 free-range or organic eggs
2 small bunches of soft herbs: a mix of any of the following: mint, parsley, dill, chives, tarragon, chervil, basil
a little butter or coconut oil
For the filling
a small handful of goat’s, feta or ricotta cheese
a good grating of lemon zest (unwaxed lemon)
a handful of shredded spinach or greens
1. Crack your eggs into a bowl, add a healthy pinch of salt and a good bit of freshly ground black pepper and whisk with a fork. Finely chop all the herbs and add them to the eggs.
2.Heat a non-stick frying pan on a medium heat and once it’s hot add the butter or oil, allow it to bubble, then lift and tilt the pan so the butter covers the surface. Put it back on the hob, then, with the fork still nearby, pour the eggs into the pan and allow them to sit untouched for 20 seconds or so, until they begin to set.
3. Now use the fork to pull the omelette away from the edge of the pan into the middle, angling the pan so the egg runs back into the bit you have just exposed. Do this another fve or six times in different places so you have undulating waves of sunshine-yellow egg. Now leave your omelette to cook until it is almost set, which should take a minute or two.
4. If you are going to fll your omelette, now is the time. Scatter the fillings on one half of the omlette, then fip the other side over to form a half-moon shape and cook for another 30 seconds.
5. Your omelette should be just set in the middle, still soft and curdy, just turning golden in patches on the outside. Once it’s perfect, slide the omelette out of the pan on to a warm plate and serve immediately with a shock of dressed salad.
Turkish Fried Eggs
This is a really good weekend breakfast. It’s filling, fresh and perky from the chilli and will start your day off properly. I use pul biber – Turkish chilli pepper flakes – here. They are easy to find in Turkish corner shops – if you can’t get them, use a chopped red fresh chilli or a tiny pinch of dried, crushed chilli flakes instead.
4 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
a good pinch of sea salt
a good knob of butter
4 organic or free-range eggs
2 wholemeal pittas
1 teaspoon Turkish chilli flakes
a good pinch of sumac
a few sprigs of fresh mint, parsley and dill, leaves picked and chopped
1. Mix the yoghurt and salt in a bowl and leave to one side.
2. Heat the butter in a large non-stick frying pan on a medium heat. Allow it to begin to brown, then crack in the eggs and turn the heat down, spooning the butter over the eggs until they are cooked exactly how you like them.
3. If you are having problems getting your eggs perfect, a lid over the pan can help keep in the heat so that the top and the bottom cook evenly.
4. Once your eggs are ready, quickly toast your pittas then top with a good spoonful of yoghurt and the fried eggs. Sprinkle over the chilli, sumac and herbs and season with a little salt if needed.