Food in a hurry. Photo: Erin Jonasson
THE siren song of the recipe has been the undoing of many home cooks. Seduced by glorious pictures, we're then ensnared by the promise of simplicity: 10 minutes' preparation, 15 minutes' cooking time. Less than half an hour, all up! Half that if you're on board with Jamie Oliver's 15 Minute Meals. You've spent more time on hold to an insurance company or in the queue at the supermarket.
And sure, the dish looks wonderful, all juicy and caramelised and inviting, but prepared in 10 minutes? Sounds like croquembouche to me.
Of course, many have their herbs and spices arranged alphabetically, their Tupperware neatly stacked and their heads completely around what is required of them.
They're at the top of their game: high motivation, flawless strategy, optimal conditions.
Their ovens have neither hot nor cold spots, let alone a fiendish will of their own.
Phones never interrupt, the doorbell never rings. Children never need help with homework, a Barbie head reattached or raging argument settled.
I've spent 10 minutes simply trying to calculate the comparative area of square and round cake tins.
Actually, I've spent the 10 minutes looking for a ruler or tape measure before I've even begun the maths. Some days, the endless supply of self-raising flour actually runs out, and ''prep time'' doesn't allow for a lightning visit to the supermarket or to mix a quick batch from scratch.
And what about substitutions, strange ingredients, research? Can I substitute something else for sweet paprika? Let's check the reference book on ingredients. Hmmm, did you know that paprika was probably invented by the Turks and has been known in Europe since the time of Christopher Columbus? Sorry, where was I?
A friend of mine - let's call her Mary - was swept off her feet by the whispered promises of Jamie's 30-Minute Meals.
And why not? Oliver has sold 10 squillion copies; his new, even speedier version is doing equally racy trade, so she's not alone.
And as a warm, hospitable person, why wouldn't she dream of treating her loved ones to instant deliciousness with all the trimmings, darling? So she geared up with one of those smart frypans that travels effortlessly from stovetop to oven, set timer and invited us to share the glory.
We arrived hungry at the 30-minute mark, to find her slaving away, beads of perspiration on her brow but a respectable end in sight. Maybe 10 minutes over.
Not bad, and the kitchen aromas were promising. As it turned out, though, Jamie's recipe missed a few important time estimates, so I've duly amended it as follows:
Jamie's 30-minute spanakopita
■ 10 minutes for preparation
■ 30 minutes for cooking
■ 10-minute delay for first aid for burns acquired from smart new frypan; in her haste, Mary forgot to use a mitt to retrieve it from the oven
■ 20 minutes with hand in an ice bath
■ 10 minutes debating whether to go to hospital to treat the painful blisters
■ 10-minute trip to casualty
■ 90 minutes in triage and waiting room
■ 30 minutes' treatment
■ 5 hours waiting for follow-up treatment the next day
The dish looked and tasted great, by the way; crispy and golden on the top, firm with a lovely feta tang. We enjoyed it with a green salad. Mary would have loved it, if only she could have held the knife to cut herself a slice.
Once, I took recipe timings seriously, and hung my head when I finally ate at 9.30pm.
Now, I work as quickly as I can or need. I might take 10 minutes or Jamie's lazy 15; I might take an hour, learning a little more about the glorious history of paprika as I go. Sometimes, the journey itself is better than the destination. Especially if it's the hospital burns unit.