Short-cuts or cheating?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Posted by Abby

In the UK there has been a lot of discussion about the latest Delia Smith cookery book How To Cheat at Cooking.

Delia has always been a cookery writer who has caused polarised views. Her first book was published in 1971 and she has appeared on British TV on a regular basis since 1973 making her an old friend to some and the source of many tried and trusted recipes. For others, her cooking style is heavy-handed, uninspired and the step-by-every-step recipes patronising.

However, the controversy that she has unleashed with this book, and the associated publicity machine that has been cranked into action, has been much more than the normal polarisation. Delia has recently made some unwise comments about the pointlessness of considering where your food is produced (what foodmiles?) and how (why bother with organic?). But more fundamental has been the discussion about the cheating her new book advocates.

A recipe for shepherd’s pie advocates the use of tinned mince, frozen diced onions, ready-prepared diced vegetables and a topping of frozen mashed potato, trimmed leeks and ready-grated cheese.

For some this isn’t cooking, it’s food assembly. For others it’s recognition of the realities of modern life and the amount of interest and time that people have to spend on food preparation.

Personally, “recipes” such as this make me feel a little ill (tinned mince? bleugh!), and a lot angry. Angry because expensive short cuts are being presented with a big shiny label of “this is proper cooking” stuck over them. Grated cheese is twice the price of a block of cheese. Pre-prepared vegetables are similarly expensive. Products such as tinned mince will contain additives and preservatives, which none of us need to consume. I don’t even want to think what kind of meat they contain

And it’s not as though Delia doesn’t know how to do “proper” cheat recipes that don’t rely on over-priced, additive-packed ingredients. The same book contains a Greek lamb recipe containing ingredients in their natural state, a baked tortellini dish takes advantage of the fabulous fresh pasta that many supermarkets now stock and her Caribbean chicken contains cheats that I barely notice.

This is the kind of cheating which we need to be encouraging people to embrace in an effort to reduce the chore that cooking can become. And hopefully the many folks who buy this kind of how to cheat cookery book will choose these recipes and feel liberated as a result.

What are your favourite cheat meals?

The picture above features a new vegetable cheat – slice and fry courgettes in a little butter, add some crumbled feta and cook until the cheese melts, sprinkle with basil and serve. The veggie shepherd’s pie in the picture is slightly less speedy…

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by abby from eat the right stuff.


I really like the points you raise here. I haven't read the book or followed the controversy closely myself, but I find myself agreeing with you :)
The only "cheater" products I use nowadays are readymade frozen phyllo and puff pastry, because making them requires skill and time I don't have. They are simple enough recipes I don't need to wonder what goes into them. I shudder when I think of all the taste "enhancers" going into premade stuff these days.
Another point is that pre-chopped salad and grated cheese doesn't really keep well - the bacteria count on those salad packets is rather scary when you read up on it. Definitely nothing I want to bother with for a time win of maybe a minute!


March 21, 2008 at 11:42:00 AM GMT+1  

The UK has Delia Smith, and the US has Sandra Lee, with her "Semi-Homemade" brand. I think the controversy is similar

March 23, 2008 at 4:06:00 PM GMT+1  

Okay I'm probably going to get hanged for this . . .

But since you brought up her apparent lack of regard for organics . . .

I've heard enough pesky rumors here and there and even a few full-blown articles and studies that suggest that organic isn't what it's cracked up to be, that it's just the latest scam. First, that organic produce actually isn't any healthier for you than non-organic (my sister, an agricultural college major and botanical expert said her studies agreed with this) and that all it does is create this romantic vision of farmers in overalls milking cows and pulling weeds by hand which is inaccurate. I'm hearing that organic doesn't guarantee healthy, it doesn't guarantee support of small business and about all it does guarantee is expensive food in short supply.

I'm not an expert and I don't know what the truth of the matter is, it's just something that is such a huge fad right now that I have to admire someone like Delia who is gutsy enough to take on the convention wisdom of the masses.

Scribbit said...
March 25, 2008 at 11:03:00 PM GMT+1  

hi scribbit - no hanging here! the question about organic is a complex one and certainly not the only consideration. for example, i'd try and choose local inorganic food made by a small independent producer over internationally-transported unseasonal non-fairtrade organic goods... so many different considerations to take into account! i too have heard about the lack of scientific studies showing "organic is better" but think there may have been something recently - i'll try and look it up!

family nutritionist - i hadn't seen the sandra lee controversy - it's uncanny how similar they are.

jokergirl - i too am a big fan of readymade filo and puff pastry!

Anonymous said...
March 27, 2008 at 9:35:00 AM GMT+1  

I totally agree. Nigella Lawson's latest show 'Nigella Express' also used to annoy me. Both these cookery divas have dropped their standards - nobody needs help with that.

boobooskins said...
March 27, 2008 at 5:36:00 PM GMT+1  

I would choose local over organic but do resort to short cuts and cheating sometimes. I've caught up with the Delia programmes on BBCiplayer and did squirm at the tinned meat... but there have been some things so far that I've thought were good tips. I was a bit surprised to see Nigel Slater giving his stamp of approval too.

I think it's despressing how many people I know who don't cook havig not been taught at school or home, and quite shocking how many ready meals they eat, the salt consumption alone over time must be huge. A lot of it is confidence but it's also become a habit just to throw a load of ready meals in the trolley as they go round the supermarket. Maybe the Delia and Nigella programmes could give them the push they need to start cooking properly...

Let's hope that the next generation will be different, having been taught how to cook in schools.

March 30, 2008 at 3:20:00 PM GMT+2  


Is the next generation really being taught to cook in school? Astounding!

April 3, 2008 at 10:38:00 PM GMT+2  

I am confused as to why bagged lettuce or pre-shredded cheese is so terrible. As far as the lettuce goes, I cannot buy arugula, frisee, raddichio, baby beet green, baby spinach, etc... any other way than in a bag. As for the cheese, it's the same cheese as in the block, I have just paid a premium for someone to shred it for me. The extra money is worth it (to me) for a few extra minutes of time in a very busy day.

Anonymous said...
April 20, 2008 at 5:38:00 PM GMT+2  

Post a Comment