Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Reward to Effort Ratio

If you read Mark's Veg Plot, the gardening and food blog my husband writes, you'll have seen him occasionally mention the Reward to Effort ratio. This is a yardstick we both use for judging whether something is worth doing - the more effort something is, the better the results need to be in order to justify that effort.

Naturally we all look out for simple but delicious food for everyday meals - we lead busy lives but we all need to eat regularly. But occasionally anyone who loves cooking wants to take time making a dish for the sheer pleasure of making it. Yet however much we've enjoyed the act of creating it, if the end result doesn't meet expectations we feel let down. One of the best examples  of a dish worth the effort was when I made a dessert that took me two whole days in  the kitchen, a sort of giant replica of a Jaffa Cake with an orange sponge, fresh orange jelly, ganache and rich chocolate icing. Was it worth it? It was worth every single minute.

A  couple of weeks ago I made a version of lamb pulao from a recipe I hadn't used before. I started work on it at 1pm and served dinner at 8pm.  Some spiced were roasted and ground, some were ground raw, some were roasted and used whole, some were used whole and raw. Ingredients were soaked, marinated, blanched, fried, roasted,  parboiled, simmered, sauteed, reduced and stewed. (Sorry about the photo, I only had my phone to hand)

Eventually everything was layered together in a pot and baked.  The  end result looked good, and tasted fine, but wasn't spectacular.

In fact as we were eating this, we both said "This is OK, but not as good as lamb and mixed fruit pilaff".
Now lamb and mixed fruit pilaff is a dish from one of the first recipe books I bought, in my student days, Supercookery. I made it a few days later to compare the effort and result.  The onions are browned, lamb added  and also browned, then stock, spices, apricots and sultanas  (in theory - I use raisins because I prefer them) are added and everything is stewed together for an hour. Meanwhile the rice is parboiled and then everything is layered as with the more authentic pulao and baked.

Total effort - about 20 minutes in the kitchen and an hour relaxing with a glass of wine. Yet the result is  very similar to the pulao. On the reward to effort ratio scale, lamb and mixed fruit pilaff wins hands  down every time!
Simple isn't always better - but a complex dish has to be well worth the effort to find itself being made a second time in this house!

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