Cook, tutor, caterer, food stylist, writer… local lass and long-time foodie, Jane Lovett, has done it all. The naturally greedy cook (her words, not mine) has had a life-long love affair with food; planning her days around feeding others, savouring mealtimes and always thinking ahead to her next plate of grub.
“Mealtimes form the structure of my day – it’s not the afternoon until I have lunch,” she says. “I’ve always been baffled by people who say they ‘forgot to have lunch’. How could they? And how do they know when it’s the afternoon?”
It’s a passion that’s earned her big success in the foodie world – both locally and nationally. Armed with a diploma from Le Cordon Bleu, London, she went on to teach at the prestigious Leith’s School of Food and Wine, dishing out expert tips and tricks to the capital’s hungry students and home cooks, before setting up her own catering company in the city.
Later, she worked as a food stylist, testing and developing recipes and preparing dishes with love and care for cookery books, magazines and TV shows.
Today, you’ll find her relishing country life with husband, John, at their home in Northumberland; tending to her garden, cooking up seasonal delights straight from her fruit and veg patch, running a series of fun and relaxed cooking demos from the comfort of the couple’s kitchen and lending her talents to writing.
A member of The Guild of Food Writers, she first put her 30 years’ experience in the culinary game to good use when she released her first book, Make it Easy, back in 2012 (a second edition followed in 2015), packed with uncomplicated, must-make recipes for hapless at-home chefs and entertainers.
Her third, The Get-Ahead Cook, publishes this spring, bringing together 100 failsafe recipes, tried and tested, for the ‘everyday cook’, with a sprinkling of handy shortcuts and forward-thinking tips and tricks from Jane to help you master meal-prep like a pro. A must-buy for hot-under-the-collar foodies looking for a smarter, simpler and more serene way to cook.
“Getting ahead is fundamental for me,” says Jane. “With my organised cap on, I can cope calmly with most things. Without it, I become flappable and stressed, and as far as entertaining is concerned, I don’t enjoy a minute of it. Cooking should be a joy, so my advice is to prepare ahead as much as time allows and keep it simple.”
“The recipes in this book all have get-ahead elements and, be it only a snatched five or ten minutes here or there, even the smallest of groundwork eases the task, recaps the benefits and makes a difference – especially when taking on several recipes at once.”
Jittery chefs can breathe a sigh a relief knowing that The Get-Ahead Cook has their back, whatever the occasion, season, or even time of day.
Jane’s all-bases-covered approach makes it a joy to read; strenuous, long-winded instructions and shopping lists are replaced with streamlined, effortlessly-mouthwatering recipes you can jot down in mere moments.
What’s more, it’s divided into six, fuss-free chapters to help navigate your appetite, from starters, small plates and brunchy inspiration, to ridiculously easy suppers and sweet ideas when it comes to tackling dessert.
There are menu planning pointers in there too, perfect for those about to tackle a dinner party or a Friday night feast with friends, as well as nifty notes on oven and measuring conversions, ingredients (note: the majority of the recipes require only the basic, kitchen cupboard staples), and even tips on tackling the often dreaded Christmas dinner.
Dish-wise, it serves up a real mix of flavour to keep your tastebuds on their toes. Inspired by the latest culinary trends, new and up-and-coming ingredients and today’s eating habits (all of which Jane keeps a keen eye on), some, as you’ll discover, are on the healthier side – spicy kale chips and courgette and mint fritters for instance – whereas others are pure indulgence.
Think hearty, can’t-live-without comfort food like pork and cider hot pot with gratin dauphinois, baked American honeycomb cheesecake and Jane’s very own ‘full English pie’, filled with bacon and egg, mushrooms and black pudding.
It’s also peppered with recipe ideas motivated by the tastes of other countries and cultures from around the world – great if you’re up for stepping up your kitchen game and keen to try something new.
Learn how to make Turkish meatballs from scratch, bake Mediterranean fish to flaky perfection, stuff peppers the Greek way, prepare Lebanese-style salads and whip up moreish mezze dips, simmer your way to vibrant Sri Lankan curry, pull off Spanish chorizo hash and create Chinese-style sesame prawn toast and hand-held Vietnamese rolls.
All this, plus the tools to help you deliver some cracking UK flavour to your kitchen table. Think every Brit’s favourite bar snack, pork scratchings with apple sauce, and a few Sunday showstoppers, such as stuffed shoulder of lamb and slow-braised beef short ribs with dollops of horseradish cream.
Safe to say, you’ll be spoilt for choice should you be smart enough to buy it (or lucky enough to be given it). Bravo to Jane, Northumberland’s clever cook, on another tasty must-read – a book that’ll have you prepping and preparing like a calm and confident pro in no time.
JANE’S HINTS & TIPS >>
>> Don’t use a food processor to chop onions – they’ll bruise and take on a very unpleasant taste and texture. When softening them, adding a pinch of salt will speed up the process considerably.
>> Bring root veg to the boil in cold salted water. If cooking green vegetables, add them to boiling salted water, before draining and refreshing them under cold running water – this will set the colour and stop them from cooking further.
>> Prolong the life of fresh herbs significantly by wrapping them in damp kitchen paper and storing them in a plastic bag, or clingfilm, in the fridge.
>> Store surplus nuts in the freezer to prevent them from going rancid. They don’t need to be thawed before use in cooking, but this only takes minutes anyway.
>> When making caramel, use granulated sugar. Being less refined, it dissolves far quicker and more successfully than caster sugar.
FOOD MATTERS >>
>> Savoury dishes are my favourite to make. The same goes for big feasts for friends; lots of different recipes piled on to large plates.
>> One of my earliest food memories is my mother buying us avocados to try, back when they were the ‘new’ exotic ingredient. I found the taste and texture weird, yet strangely moreish, and so there was no going back. Nowadays I live off them!
>> I enjoy cooking for my family the most. We’re a greedy bunch and get as much pleasure from planning what we’re going to eat, as we do eating it.
>> The best cooking advice I’ve ever been given is to clear and wash up as you go along. It eases the task and stress levels and focuses the mind.
>> My idea of food heaven is beef carpaccio, dribbled with Thai dressing and chillies. That, or crab (or chicken) with mayo, new potatoes and a green salad.
>> I admire writers such as Diana Henry, Nigel Slater and Marcella Hazan – all of whom are cooks, rather than chefs.
>> My favourite meal of the day is supper, because it signals the end of the day and time to relax and unwind with a glass of wine.
>> My must-grab, ‘of-the-moment’ ingredients are Middle Eastern spices and pastes, such as verbena harissa and zhoug.
>> Most of my recipes are easier to prepare than they look. A tarte tatin always looks impressive, but very difficult, but is in fact a doddle – use ready-made pastry.
>> I couldn’t live without my tomato knife, which I use for just about everything. Slicing ripe tomatoes with a straight bladed knife is almost impossible and the acid in the tomatoes blunts the blade.
>> Travelling, both in the UK and abroad, and learning traditional methods and dishes keeps me inspired in the kitchen. Street food is innovative and a constant source of inspiration; I love visiting markets, bursting with seasonal ingredients.
>> An easy dessert recipe I can always rely on is full fat Greek yoghurt spooned into pretty individual dishes, topped with blueberries and a dribble of honey.