Deliciously Simple by Jane Lovett (Headline Home, £26) is out now.
Northumberland Foodie Jane Lovett Shares her Culinary Journey from Food Stylist to Recipe Developer
Northumberland-based food stylist, cook and recipe developer Jane Lovett is releasing her latest cookbook, Deliciously Simple. Filled with easy, fast and fresh recipes for all occasions, we catch up with Jane to find out more
Jane later became a teacher at Leith’s School of Food and Wine before starting her own catering company in London. At the same time she was working as a food stylist, employed by publishers to cook the recipes from chef’s manuscripts and style them. ‘I also did a lot of recipe testing for publishers, because in those days they were given a manuscript from a chef and I would have to test every recipe in the book. If it didn’t work I would have to make it work,’ Jane explains.
Despite moving to Northumberland to start her family, Jane always stayed connected to food. ‘I kept my hand in with cooking because I can’t not with recipes – I’m a bit obsessed. It’s usually just a scribble, but if I have some ingredients I think “what am I going to make with this?”’ she explains.
A few of Jane’s friends started to ask if she’d ever thought about teaching again and soon Jane found herself travelling across the country to teach and demonstrate her cooking. ‘I love doing the demonstrations as it means I get to meet people, hear what they like cooking and what they don’t like cooking,’ she explains. What Jane was finding was that she kept being asked for quick, simple, yet delicious meals. ‘When I demonstrate quick recipes they always go down a storm,’ she adds.
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Listening to what her audience were craving most, Jane decided to write her fourth cookbook, Deliciously Simple. ‘I also felt that with the cost of living crisis and everything being so expensive, that this is the time for quick recipes as it’s much cheaper to cook from scratch with fresh ingredients. If you use seasonal ingredients, it’s cheaper still,’ Jane explains. ‘I also like to cook that way now as my cooking style has changed completely from when I first started. Naturally in my 20s and 30s, and possibly even 40s, I used to cook more elaborately. Now all I’m trying to think of is how to make it easy and how to make it quicker.’
Throughout Jane’s new cookbook she has listed a few cheats and shortcuts, however as Jane explains, it’s still all about cooking from scratch. ‘There is a fine line between unmitigated cheating and no actual coking whatsoever, but whilst speed is the thread running through the recipes, cooking also remains firmly at the heart of them,’ she says. ‘I think that if we’re also trying to encourage people who would normally reach for a ready meal, for whatever reason, to cook more, they’re much more likely to if it’s quick,’ she adds.
Bacon, Blue Cheese and Spinach Gnocchi
A lovely comforting bowl of creamy gnocchi, spiked with bacon and blue cheese. The gnocchi are fried, therefore everything's cooked in one pan - it really couldn't be much simpler.
Duck Breast with Cannellini Bean Ragout and Plum Sauce
This is a speedy and very tasty supper, which can easily be doubled. Just use a slightly larger frying pan. The ridiculously easy plum sauce is very good with duck legs, too, and lasts for weeks in the fridge.
Raspberry and White Chocolate Cake
Raspberries and white chocolate are right up there as far as flavours matched in heaven go! Although rustic, this is quite an indulgent, versatile cake, good as a pudding or for any time of the day. Light and fluffy the day it's cooked, the longer it keeps, the more damp it gets, in a nice syrupy way. So, if you're after a little more moisture, especially if serving as a pudding, make it a day or two in advance.
Not only are the recipes quick to make, they’re also simple and easy to follow. ‘All the recipes have been tested, I can’t tell you how many times,’ she laughs. ‘I hold the cook’s hand through every recipe, so they can’t go wrong. I think that often quick and speedy books tend to be suppers, but [Deliciously Simple] goes right across the board, from easy drinks to quick nibbles, because I know from my demonstrations that entertaining, on any scale, can be a stress.
‘The easy drinks are cocktails which can be made up in advance, but there are also canapés and puddings, platters and picnics, lunches, suppers, and things on toast,’ she adds. And with more than 100 recipes included, she struggles to pinpoint one recipe which she loves the most. ‘I don’t think I can have a favourite. I love the roast haggis stuffed chicken which I know isn’t everybody’s bag, but I love savoury things. I love the curried butterbean dip and another recipe I’m rather pleased with is the caramelised pineapple with yoghurt, pistachios, lime and mint – it’s unbelievably easy, it looks lovely and you can make it in advance,’ she says.
‘There’s a recipes for a Russian-style runner bean salad and I really hope people will give it a go. We grow runner beans [on our farm in Northumberland], but they’re a bit like courgettes – you have lots of them but no idea what to make. One year I had this idea of using them in a Russian salad which would normally have pea and potato and lots of things diced up into it. The salad I’ve created is unbelievably flavourful and delicious and it’s right up my street being so savoury.’
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Having a real passion for gardening has allowed Jane to keep in touch with the seasons. ‘I love gardening and grow quite a lot of veg. I don’t tend to grow onions and things like that because I can’t tell by taste if my onions are home-grown or bought from a shop frankly, so I try and limit it to veg I can’t get, or veg we love or eat a lot of,’ she says. ‘It’s how a lot of my recipes come about. I pick something from the veg garden which is in season and think “what am I going to do with this?” Like the runner beans, the ingredient becomes an inspiration.
‘Growing my own veg helps to keep me in touch with the seasons. Back in the day when there were lots of greengrocers they just sold seasonal veg, but now you buy strawberries at Christmas and things sell all year round. If you aren’t in touch with the outdoors it’s hard to know what is in season,’ Jane says.
A true testament to her passion and love for recipe creation is that Jane is already working on her fifth book. When we chat, she’s cooking away in her kitchen developing recipes for the book which is due to be published later next year. As well as her cookbooks, Jane is hoping to continue hosting cooking demonstrations and hopefully get back to putting them on in person next year.
An ingredient you couldn’t live without?
Eggs. I was going to say onions or garlic because they are the base of so many things but, I think eggs are so versatile – if you’ve got eggs you’re never far from a breakfast, brunch, lunch, supper or tea.
Food guilty pleasure?
I quite like (which goes against everything I normally say because especially for veg I like everything fresh) petit pois which are tinned. I developed a love for them when I worked in France and there is something about them for me.
Drink of choice?
I quite like a margarita. I’m not a big drinker but I can force down one margarita.
A North East hidden gem?
Happy Valley, behind Wooler. It’s the prettiest valley with a stream running through the bottom. I always feel it’s like entering another world; peaceful, quiet and very beautiful, and reminds me of the Scottish Highlands. You rarely encounter another soul.