A little over six months ago J sent me a link with an interesting addendum: You will like this food blogger. He was right. Many things are being said and written about Jack Monroe, good and bad, and many were to be expected. I don’t need to defend her – one, she doesn’t need it, and two, she knows how to do that herself. After all she’s a brilliant writer in her own right, intelligent, smart, creative and political. Before going on, let me just say that this is one of the hardest short book reviews I have ever written. I can’t begin to imagine what it means to be unemployed, selling everything you own and trying to feed yourself and your child for just £10 a week. And yet there are thousands of people in this predicament.
Liking or disliking a book is generally a subjective thing. In other words, a robust piece of writing is great as any good editor will tell you. I’m not an editor of course, but I do have rules. To me, the more straightforward it is, the better. Don’t give me complicated phrases just to show off – we’ve got plenty of BS in this world as it is. Also don’t mince your words. Jack certainly doesn’t. She stands firm by her principles and applies what she preaches to her own life, and even now, when things are finally looking up for her, she continues to speak up for others.
What I like to do with any cookbook, before I just blurt out the first thing that comes to my head, is cook from it. I mean, isn’t this the most obvious thing to do? I get so angry when I read a negative review written by someone who didn’t bother to cook from the blasted book. I have nothing bad to say about Jack’s. I knew that before I bought it, but isn’t trying out the recipes and enjoying the process the whole point? Rant over. Promise. I will be cooking more of Jack’s recipes in the coming days, yet the ones shown here didn’t disappoint.
First, out of the necessity to eat in record time before heading out the door I made Jack’s Roman Pasta with Mandarins and a Creamy Basil Sauce. I never ever used tinned fruit like this before, not out of any kind of food snobbery. I just never did but really I could get used to this. Next came a Peach and Chickpea Curry, which reminded me a bit of Nigella’s Chorizo and Chickpea Stew without any cured meat and with less ingredents. I’m not comparing by any means, but I can see why Jack mentions Nigella and Gordon Ramsay as two of her influences. And yes, I had this with noodles that day instead of rice. I couldn’t help it. *Bracing myself.*
After a quick rummage around in the food cupboard plus a run to my local store, I decided on the Moroccan Not-A-Tagine. I found the name a bit quirky too. Anyways, to cut a long story short, I wrote a little status on this on my Facebook wall and Jack pressed like. I was amused and that little gesture made my day. (You can find the recipe here.) But my favourite, until now at least, has to be the Mexican Chocolate, Chilli and Black Bean Soup, which scaled up beautifully for six hungry people. If you ask me, the best thing about it is this: you can actually taste that dark chocolate.
Prep excluded, most of the recipes take around 30 minutes to make and serve 2. I scaled mine up – I always do that anyway out of habit. What surprised me is the variety of ingredients. When most of us would probably be stuck with a bowl of cornflakes or porridge, or powdered soup, not knowing what else to do, this book gives us real choices. It’s seriously healthy stuff on a budget; I wonder if Jack’s got a strong student fan base. I can’t see why not. Apart from the book itself, the blog contains a wealth of information and even more recipes to choose from. Now I’m all set.
A Girl Called Jack is published by Penguin Books/Michael Joseph, RRP £12.99