Last Updated on February 5, 2021 by Fiona Maclean
Homemade, healthy and vibrant dishes from Chef Jen
Much as I love to cook – it is my creative, therapeutic space – I do harbour a fantasy of having a private chef I can call on when I am just not in the mood. One can have too much of a good thing and, certainly, repeated lockdowns have dulled the enthusiasm of even the most devoted home chefs who often find themselves serving up three meals a day to the family, month after month without respite. For many, homeschooling and trying to keep a day job alive is on the agenda too. It’s a tall order.
Offered the opportunity to try out By Chef Jen I grabbed my chance with zeal. By Chef Jen is exactly what I have dreamed of – someone who prepares the kind of family food I can happily serve, safe in the knowledge that this is healthy home cooking. There is a mix of Mediterranean as well as South and East Asian dishes which is perfect for my family, being the sort of food we eat regularly. It is as if a guardian angel has found me at the stove, looked over my tired shoulders and said, ‘why don’t you go and relax for an hour and I’ll take over’.
I enjoyed the entire By Chef Jen experience from the super friendly emails to the ease of ordering and, finally, the delivery just in time for dinner. The packaging is recyclable and detailed preparation instructions are provided. Exact timing is useful to have as the food is already cooked and simply requires reheating. Jen gives alternatives for microwaving or cooking in a preheated oven and temperatures and minutes are precise. I also really appreciated knowing what the ingredients were for every dish and those who are concerned about their calorie intake will be pleased to find this information provided too.
Chef Jen has been cooking nutritious home-cooked meals over the past 8 years but her cooking career began earlier in Cornwall when she approached the top-ranked Tripadvisor restaurant for a job. There she learned her craft as the second pair of hands in the kitchen. She also developed a passion for Muay Thai boxing and clearly is motivated to pursue a healthy, holistic lifestyle. After cutting her culinary teeth at the restaurant she set off solo to develop a food delivery business in Cornwall. Her next job involved moving to Manchester where she tailor-made healthy meals for gym members, honing her knowledge and skills in nutrition. Her hard work culminated in a three-month European trip, travelling with Michelin starred chef, Jason Atherton, for BBC 2’S Chef’s Brigade. When she moved to London in 2019 she began running a soup kitchen and she continues to provide and deliver 100 nutritious meals each week to the North Paddington Youth Club. The first lockdown came just as Jen was developing her career as a personal chef and, since she could no longer cook in her client’s homes, she immediately set about providing healthy meals, cooked from scratch for busy households that might otherwise have had to rely on takeaways.
By Chef Jen menus change twice a week and deliveries take place on Mondays and Wednesdays, so this is a service one can use frequently. Pricing is fair and portions are generous. For £15 one can eat a bowl of soup and a main course. Find such a deal in a restaurant and one would be happy. Have it delivered to your door and you will be even happier.
I tried five of the six dishes on the menu of the week. Each dish is portioned for one person and there are options for all diets – from vegan to carnivore. Opening the cartons to warm the dishes I was struck by how colourful everything looked and the care that had gone into the garnishes. Herbs, seeds, sauces and limes were provided so there was nothing to do but get stuck in. All I added was a few slices of sourdough to accompany the soup and a bowl of mango chutney with the korma. The spicing of food is a very personal matter and the dishes I tried were on the mild side. This will certainly suit families where some like it hot and others do not. I appreciated that I could spice up certain of the dishes to suit the tastes of some at my table while not putting off those with less adventurous taste for heat. Each dish was well balanced nutritionally and all mains were served with a portion of delicious vegetables.
We eat a lot of soup in my household, the family favourite being spicy butternut which has a good helping of chilli. I was therefore keen to try By Chef Jen’s vegan-friendly, spiced butternut and lentil soup which was perfect comfort food for cold weather. The portion size was large enough for two people I thought, the soup was tantalisingly thick and a lovely colour. It came with a portion of toasted seeds which made the soup even healthier. The soup was not spicy by my taste but had a pleasing back note of heat and a lovely coconutty flavour. Thickened with lentils and topped with nuts it made for a protein-rich soup bursting with vitamins. I found a recipe for the soup on Jen’s website (see below).
Continuing with the vegetarian theme, baked mozzarella aubergine was just up my street. This was served on a bed of tabbouleh (eaten cold or warmed through) and topped with a supergreen dressing, redolent with basil. The tabbouleh was packed with veggies – red, yellow and green peppers, red onion and courgette. I could have eaten just this for my dinner, it was really tasty. It is a typically Italian dish and the red, white and green colours not only transport one to warmer climes but exude healthy eating.
The second vegan-friendly dish was loaded vegetable cashew korma which was accompanied by white basmati. While I would usually serve brown basmati, I don’t mind eating the white variety every now and again. The korma sauce was creamy and delicately spiced, and I spotted sweet potato, aubergine and peppers. The dish was strewn with cashew nuts adding extra protein and richness to a delicious dish.
Moving onto the chicken dishes we tried teriyaki chicken with rice and vegetables. A bed of white rice was topped with finely grated carrot and accompanied by sliced chicken, onions and a trio of peppers. It was topped with a scattering of black sesame seeds. I thought that the chicken could have had a stronger teriyaki flavour but the meat was tender and a lovely citrus flavour was added from the lime that was supplied.
The second chicken dish was Lebanese chicken with tabbouleh and hummus. This tabbouleh was different to the one served with the aubergine. This time the grains were flecked with herbs and provided delicate support to the chicken which was served sliced and accompanied by a roasted ratatouille. The Lebanese spicing had the warming taste of the traditional Lebanese 7 spice mix – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, fenugreek, black pepper and cloves. Those who prefer a more robust flavour profile can add a shake of their own. I love this spice mixture and always keep a bottle in my spice rack. Once again, a very well-balanced dish with the herby grains, tender chicken and sweetness of the well-roasted vegetables along with a dollop of hummus.
By Chef Jen delivers across Central London and provides nutritious home-cooked meals that cater for all tastes and dietary needs. The delivery charge is £5 (or £7.50 if getting two deliveries a week). Minimum order is £25. The dishes are well-cooked, tasty, bursting with healthy vegetables, quick to reheat, fairly priced and available now. On the menu I noticed that there are also dishes for breakfast! This could become a three times a day habit. Next time you reach for the takeaway menus in your kitchen drawer, give Chef Jen a try. You won’t look back. For more information and to order check her website
A creamy and comforting vegan soup
- 500 g butternut squash diced
- 100 g red lentils
- 1 tbsp Vita Coco Coconut oil
- 1 celery stick chopped
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 leeks sliced
- 1.5 inches root ginger minced
- 2 carrots diced
- 500 ml vegetable stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 400 g coconut milk
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 10 g fresh coriander
- pinch salt
Heat the coconut oil in a pan and add the bay leaf.
Add the leeks, carrots, celery and ginger and sautee.
Add the garlic and stir together until all the vegetables begin to soften. Take care not to have the pan too hot or the vegetables could burn.
Stir well for 5 - 10 minutes and then add the lentils.
Pour over the vegetable stock. Cover with a lid and allow to simmer for 20 -25 minutes.
Remove the lid, stir well and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and fresh coriander and blend with a stick blender to your desired consistency. If you prefer a thinner soup add a little more coconut milk.
Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Serve and store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to three days. You can also freeze the soup for up to one month.
For more delivery services, check our Date Night meal-kit roundup