Cook from the Heart Not by the Book

You don't have to go by the book to create tasty, easy, sociable food. Easy-peasy meal preparation is all about stripping cooking down to its bare essentials (they don't call me the Naked Chef for nothing!), using little techniques and conveniences to make the most of your recipes. It's so simple: Skip the fuss and follow your heart.

Here are some tips to take the stress out of cooking, whether you're stirring up supper for your mate or hoping to impress the new in-laws: Dinners-in-a-Bag When Jools and I first moved to London we were completely broke, our kitchen was the size of a cupboard, and we were working opposite shifts. I didn't want Jools to feed herself on frozen dinners, so I found myself custom-making the fantastic "Jamie Oliver Dinners in a Bag," involving glorious aluminum foil. What I would do for Jools was make up a combo at 4 p.m.

as I was going off to work and write with a marker pen "25 minutes at 425 F", for example, on the foil. Even though Jools didn't like cooking, she never had a problem with cooking the bags. Now that we have our Amana range, however, it's easier than ever -- I just program the "Favorites Cycle," which lets me preset the cook time and temperature for the recipes I use most often. Here's just one version, but feel free to vary the recipe with things like grated parsnip, smoked bacon or red wine. Chicken Breasts Baked in a Bag (Serves two) 2 7-ounce skinless chicken breasts 1 handful of dried porcini 9 ounces of mixed mushrooms, torn up 1 large wineglass of white wine 3 large pats of butter 1 handful of fresh thyme 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced Using wide aluminum foil, make your bag by placing two pieces on top of each other (about as big as two shoeboxes in length), folding three sides in and leaving one side open.

Mix everything together in a bowl, including the chicken. Place in your bag, with all the wine, making sure you don't pierce the foil. Close up the final edge, making sure it's tightly sealed and secure on the sides, and slide it onto a roasting pan. Place the pan on a high heat for one minute to get the heat going, then bake in the middle of a 425-degree oven for 25 minutes. When it's time to take it out, the Amana EasyRack oven rack, with its practical U-shape design, lets you remove the pan without touching the hot rack. Then you just place the bag on a big plate, take it to the table, break open the foil, and start hearing the raves.

Bare-Bones Cooking Techniques Here are some other bare-bones techniques I've perfected using my Amana range: * If you invited friends to come round but they're running late, pop up to four plates of food in the separate warming oven. Your glorious food not only stays warm, but also keeps the kitchen smelling wonderful until they walk in the door. * If your side dish is ready but you still have other things to cook, just slide the pot onto the middle of the cooktop.

The "warming zone" there acts like a fifth burner, keeping it warm and freeing up the other burners so you can finish cooking. * If your recipe's left a mess in the oven, don't fret -- the hidden bake element and smooth oven bottom make it simple to mop up spills before they become baked-on disasters. The oven can clean itself while you're in the middle of a dinner party -- just flip on the self-clean mode, pour yourself another glass of wine, and go back to your guests.

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