Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Nigella Lawson - Kitchen Cookbook Review

I'm sure many people will have bought this book already, or are getting it for Christmas (I won't tell if you've had a sly look!) It's an absolutely massive book, clocking up an impressive 512 pages. I just have to have a think of where I can house it since my shelves are rather full already. Oh well, don't think it'll stop me from buying more though! Obviously a lot of these recipes have featured in her BBC show, I've not quite caught up with my backlog. It's always good to find every recipe in the book that you've seen on TV, not always the case (Great British Bake-Off book I'm looking at you!). Nigella isn't necessarily everyone's favourite cook on screen, I know someone who can't bare to watch more than 5 minutes before he wants to kick the screen! I'm not quite so extreme in my reactions and she does make nice food, I'm just not overly enamoured with her flowery descriptions and her made-up recipe names. I can cope much more when it's a book! And this one is a very family orientated book so no over-complicated recipes.

If you can manage to lift the book you'll find chapters such as 'The cook's cure for Sunday-night-itis and The solace of stirring. There is a short introduction about what her kitchen means to her, useful items to have and a funny 'kitchen gadget hall of shame' - something a lot of people can relate to! Mini doughnut maker anyone? And I surely can't be the only one who bought a candy floss maker and used it once!

The photography is good and I'm pretty sure there's at least one picture for each recipe, huzzah!! I do like my photos! I started my trials with the Carbonnade a la Flamande, using brisket instead of shin of beef. Having had a delicious carbonnade in Brussels I knew the sauce had to be thick and rich and the meat falling apart. This recipe really delivered. It was easy to follow and the instructions were surprisingly succinct after a whole page taken up with a description of the dish. I put puy lentils in the dish to drink up some of the sauce. The sauce did need to be boiled a little after cooking to get a thicker consistency but became just right in minutes. I used Newcastle Brown Ale, that part of the supermarket confuses me so the fact that it said 'brown' and 'ale' helped me out!! I've made beef in beef before and used Belgian cherry beer which was completely delicious so I might use that again in the future. But all in all, very happy.

The second was another brisket dish, I've become slightly brisket happy after eating a yummy example from a place called Southern Eleven in the Arndale Centre in Manchester. They do the most amazing BBQ dishes, cooked for hours. Mmmmm! And pulled pork, and corn bread. Now I have a craving! So I thought I'd try to recreate it with the Texas Brisket. Sadly it wasn't to be. I was missing the liquid smoke but Nigella said this didn't matter too much. It kinda did. I ended up with a sweet onion sauce rather than anything BBQ like. It did go very well with the beef though.
It was also much thicker than I expected but I think my onion to liquid ratio was a bit off! Shame, I still haven't found my ultimate BBQ sauce recipe, the hunt goes on. Again, more lentils, saute potatoes and the ubiquitous fried cabbage!! Never gets old! So slightly less successful but still tasty.

This cookbook being mahoosive (have I mentioned the size of the book before?!) I thought I'd have to try more recipes than just 2. Next up was the Slut's Spaghetti! How cheeky! And you get a photo of Nigella eating a dish of it in her red silky dressing gown too! I'd made a pizza the night before and had some passata left so I thought this dish would be just right. Quick and simple to make. I had no black olive to hand so these were left out and I was probably a little free with the capers but I love them so that's fine. Plus my anchovy love is no secret so I'm always happy for an excuse the eat them. Very yummy indeed and going on my mental list of dishes to make when I want food quickly. Success, hurray!
Last of all was her Marmite Spaghetti. This definitely won't be for everyone but I'm a lover not a hater so it sounded great to me. Ooooooo, it was lovely and even quicker to make than the dish above. Not the healthiest of dishes, loads of butter and parmesan, but great for a quick fix and the marmite wasn't as overpowering as I thought it would be. Really happy with this.

Alas I have no photo but I tried the Sweet and Salty Crunch Nut Bars at a friend's house. Gorgeous though make too much of it and I think you'd need a second mortgage! A hell of a lot of chocolate going on but well worth it.

I like that there are little notes at the end of each recipe about making things ahead of time and also if the recipe freezes well and how long for. A lot of thought has gone into each dish and you can tell it hasn't just been tried once and then bunged in the book. There's inspiration for different occasions, Scallops with Thai-scented Pea Puree could easily be served at a dinner party, so it isn't all family-style cooking. Nice ideas for party food too - could be good for a little event coming up this week!

Next I want to make Churros and her Dragon Chicken among many other. Oh, and in the photo for her Lone Linguine with White Truffle Oil she has the same plates as us!! Rock on Blue Denmark!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tea at Fortnum and Mason Cookbook Review + The Snow Day Bake-Off

As I'm now part of the UK Food Bloggers Association I thought it might be fun to join in with some bake-offs. As the weather has been horrible over the past week I wanted to take part in the Snow Day Bake-Off as organised by A Slice of Cherry Pie. It was also a perfect chance for me to use my new Fortnum and Mason cookbook. http://www.asliceofcherrypie.com/the-food-blogging-community/the-snow-day-bake-of/ Brrr, all wintry in our garden - always better to be looking at it from inside!
This is such a sweet little book. I didn't actually know what it would contain but at £3.99 from The Book People http://www.thebookpeople.co.uk/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/qs_product_tbp?storeId=10001&catalogId=10051&langId=100&productId=199678 I thought it was worth the risk. I've bought so many cookery books from here. They're always bargains and I often find things on there I was after anyway. I've got my fingers crossed that Bill's Basics turns up on there soon under £10! The risk definitely paid off with this book though as there are some lovely recipes.

The first 40 pages are all about the history of tea and how that ties in with the history of Fortnum and Mason. There is also a section about different teas; their characteristics, infusion notes and drinking notes. It would make a great gift for anyone who likes afternoon teas or would like a nice posh brand of cookery book in their collection!

There are photos for about half of the recipes. The book itself is only small and just over 100 pages long.
I wanted to bake some biscuits for an extended-break we were having at work for a colleague's last day before maternity leave and I couldn't resist having a go at making the Macadamia and Stem Ginger Cookies from the book. They were exactly as described, crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle and the ingredient quantities were bang on. I'm not often very good at baking but I was very pleased with these biscuits and they went down very well at work, I think there was only one left at the end of the day and that soon went! Hurrah!

The macadamias were a nice contrast to the soft, chewy centre and it was nice to find little pieces of stem ginger throughout. Such a good recipe.

So much so that when I went to a friend's housewarming party this weekend I thought it would be nice to make a little gift of some ginger biscuits without the nuts, having been told that ginger biscuits were her favourite. I used the box from a previous cupcake treat and luckily the biscuits were just the right size to fit in. Pretty!

I hope they were enjoyed. The recipe says they keep well for 5 days in an air-tight container, that's if they last that long! I made yet another batch yesterday for La Mama to take to one of her end-of-term parties with her adult education classes. I varied the recipe to make them vaguely festive! I put little bits of marzipan, some ground ginger and cinnamon and some candied peel and left out the stem ginger. It worked out very well and the marzipan just added a hint of background almond flavour. I like the soft citrus flavour you get when you bite into a piece of peel.

I also gave a small amount of the dough to my brother for him to make mint chocolate biscuits. He seemed to like them. They look quite pretty all marbled but it's probably just because they weren't mixed properly - shall we lie and say it was on purpose?!

So I think it's fair to say that the ginger biscuit recipe was fairly successful!! It covered a few snowy days and hopefully many clearer days in the future.

As the book is based on afternoon teas there is a selection of savoury goodies too. Classic sandwiches such as Smoked Salmon and Herb Creme Fraiche and Chicken with Tarragon Butter. Probably not the most difficult things to prepare but an afternoon tea book with be lost without a few sandwich recipes. I decided to make myself a Welsh Rarebit for lunch today as I've never actually had one and you can't go far wrong with cheese and bread.

The sauce was very quick and easy to make, unfortunately I had no Fortnum and Mason hot mustard to hand (common Northerner that I am!) so I used a nice dollop of Dijon mustard instead. Very nice indeed, though it always helps if the bread is especially delicious.

Other lovely looking recipes in the book include cranberry and lemon scones, rose biscuits (I'd like to make these next), sugar-crusted cherry cake and blueberry and vanilla financiers. A lovely looking book and I will be returning again and again to the biscuits recipe.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Giraffe Family Cookbook Review

This week's cookery book is The Giraffe Family Cookbook by Hugo Arnold - he of Wagamama cookbook fame (I have both the Wagamama books and will review at least one one of these days! Lovely noodles).

There are 40 Giraffe restaurants in the UK now so quite a few people should be familiar with the kind of food they can expect from the book. I've been to the one in Manchester a few times and have always eaten quite varied things and I've never been disappointed. The emphasis is on healthy food from around the globe, often serving brown rice instead of white, salads packed with veg and seeds and lots of vegetarian friendly dishes - but without appearing too worthy! Not to mention their cocktails which are rather delicious!

The book is a good representative of the Giraffe brand and features recipes you will have seen on their menus. There is a brief introduction from the founder of Giraffe, Russel Joffe, talking about the variety of food on offer and how they try to keep most of the food healthy and suitable for a family. Then it's straight in with the recipes, bar an introduction to each chapter.

Some of the chapters include Breakfast, Brunch and Sandwiches, Sharing For All The Family and Easy Stir-Fries, Curries and Noodle Bowls. There are photos for most recipes which are lovely and bright and the layout is really clear, with little Giraffe Tall Tales at the bottom of some of the pages, either with ingredient substitutions, information about ingredients or suggestions for other recipes using the same ingredients. Nice little additions as you leaf through the book.

The range of recipes is great and I can definitely see this appealing to a family as the food is bright and interesting and healthy enough to eat lots of it. Of course there are some less healthy items such as the Chocolate and Strawberry Pancakes and the Sunday Night Mac and Cheese
but who wants healthy food all the time right?!

The first dish I chose to make was the Prawn Cocktail with Chipotle Spiced Saucee. I have a confession to make however - I had no chipotle chillies so it probably tasted very different to how it should have done but no matter!! I love, love, love prawn cocktail and this isn't terribly different but the tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and paprika in the mayonnaise made for a nicely spicy sauce and worked well against the fresh salad. A nice twist on a classic though I don't suppose it will win any prizes for originality.

Other salads of note include Raw Asian Salad with Thai Dressing, Powerfood Salad Bowl (which reminded me of the Superfood salad in the Leon cookbook), Grilled Salmon Tostada Salad and Sushi Brown Rice Salad with Smoked Salmon.

The second dish I made was the Cheesy Spinach and Artichoke Fondue Dip with Tortilla Chips. Absolute heaven. Not the cheapest dish to make as there were 3 kinds of cheeses involved, sour cream and obviously spinach and tinned artichoke - definitely not the healthiest option either! I didn't care, it was completely scrum and it was our whole meal rather than a snack or in addition to something else. It reminded me of a hot dip we had in New York last year and I've never been able to find a similar recipe till now.
There was enough artichoke and spinach to have some in every mouthful which was perfect. The sauce was perhaps a little liquid, I didn't measure the quantities so less soured cream or more cheddar would have fixed it. The recipe called for Monterey Jack cheese but I couldn't find this on the shelves so went with a cheddar instead. I am now in love with this recipe and had better stock up on tinned artichoke!

I really liked the book and as ever it has joined the many others on my wishlist. I think variation of flavours is great, with a lot of dishes inspired from either Latin America or Asia. You could never call any of the dishes boring. One downside is the huge list of ingredients for some recipes which could well put me off, for example you need around 22 ingredients for the BBQ Duck Fajita Burrito as well as a couple of sauces from other sections of the book. Phew! Though on the plus side a lot of the items are herbs and spices.

The dessert section is probably the weakest chapter of the book but to be fair there isn't a huge choice of desserts in their restaurants either and I'm never one to stray too far from a Belgain Waffle or piece of French Toast!

Next I want to make the Miso-Lime Salmon with Wasabi Rice and Green Onions and the Tequila and Lime Chicken Breast on Paella Fried Rice.

I also made a Game Casserole with Caramelised Apples and Cider this week as Waitrose had a special offer on the mixed game packs, consisting of pheasant, mallard, pigeon and partidge. Very seasonal indeed. I also added some red cabbage. Hmmm, I think the apples were my favourite part! I'm glad I've tried the different meats but I found them too strong a flavour and almost liver tasting which isn't great. Ah well, it's good to try something new. If I haven't put you off then find the recipe here: http://www.waitrose.com/recipe/Game_Casserole_with_Caramelised_Apples_and_Cider.aspx
Picked up a delicious After Eight cupcake from a lovely place nearby, And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon http://www.dishandspoonfood.co.uk/ Looking forward to trying the other flavours soon. I needed cheering up after missing out on 2 Bill Granger books during the silly Amazon Black Friday deals. Did anyone manage to get anything? Wii Consoles for £50 :-( But mostly 2 Bill Granger books for £15 - woe is me!! Did get a good deal on some boots though I suppose.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Rachel Allen - Entertaining at Home Cookbook Review

This week I have been mostly trying out Rachel Allen's new book Entertaining at Home. As previously posted I absolutely love her Bake book and I also have her Food For Living book. I wasn't sure what I would make of a dinner party cookbook as I rarely cook for people other than La Mama and my brother. The book is pretty big with a lot of different menu ideas. Chapters include Brunches and Lunches, Eating Outdoors, Casual Meals and Small Celebrations. These are split into courses and there are also menu suggestions at the end of each chapter.

The introduction isn't too long which I always appreciate but it gives some nice advice about dressing the table, how to set the cutlery if you're having something a little more formal (a great drawing that makes everything very clear) and how to budget and stay calm!

The layout for the book is much the same as her previous books, everything is very clearly laid out and the instructions are simple to follow. There aren't as many photos as I would like and sometimes the full-colour photos are a bit of a waste, for example opposite the venison sausages with celeriac puree there is a photo of some dishes and out of focus copper pans - I'd much rather have a photo of the dish instead! Oh well! The food photography that is included is beautiful with a nice selection of table cloths!

Obviously I was not making this dish for a dinner party! The glass dish is very unattractive but I couldn't find anything else in a suitable size! Also the eggs look like boobs but the less said about this the better!! This is the Baked Eggs with Creamy Kale, the first recipe in the book. I was only making this for 2 so had to reduce the quanities by two thirds, but I didn't actually follow the quanties. I don't think it mattered too much as long as there was enough cream in the kale and enough cheese on top.

It was very easy to make and tasted delicious. The egg was a nice contrast to the texture of the kale and the cream made it a richer flavour. This would definitely be a great starting point to a dinner party but equally it's a nice dish to have at any time. La Mama said she'd prefer it with spinach so I'll try that next time.

My second dish was the Slow-Roast Ginger and Citrus Shoulder of Pork from the Casual Meals section. I used shoulder steaks instead of a whole shoulder so I cooked it for half of the 12 hours recommended (!). The overnight marinade was simple to put together, I just left out the coriander as a certain brother won't eat things with green speks on it, but mostly because I didn't actually have any coriander! The smell coming out of the oven all afternoon while this was cooking was divine. It smelt like chinese ribs. Yum. The pork was really soft and sweet and there was enough marinade left for a little sauce. Again, as this recipe was for a large pork shoulder I pretty much made up the marinade quantities but it didn't matter at all as this was so, so delicious. I served it with courgette and wilted spring greens with chili flakes.

The brother had it with crispy spring greens as he loves Chinese seaweed. Really easy to make, just takes ages hovering over a frying pan. I was asked when I'd be making the pork again so I think it was a great success!

So great praise for this book. The only annoying thing is the quantities but I understand this as you're meant to be making food for larger amounts of people - it's a given - so I can't grumble too much. Most things sound gorgeous and look very pretty. I want the gin and tonic lemon sorbet in my life and I need the salted caramel chocolate tart in my life! Yet another book to add to my wishlist, this copy is from the library but I just don't want to give it back.

And here is the kind cat who 'helps' me on the computer. Maybe he writes his own blog when I'm not looking!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Good Granny Cookbook Cookbook Review

This week I have been making hearty food from Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall's The Good Granny Cookbook. It's cold outside so it's time to make casseroles and thick soups and this book certainly gives you plenty of ideas.The title of the book is an obvious give-away of the contents, though as stated in the introduction some recipes are traditional dishes tweaked to suit modern palates. It is a mostly British-based collection though there are plenty of European dishes too such as Jansson's Temptation, Salade Nicoise and Risotto; not forgetting the rest of the world with South African Bobotie and Angel Cake USA. Afterall, our grandparents may well be from different corners of the globe. I have French grandparents on one side of the family and this is definitely where my culinary influences have come from.

There are 11 chapters altogether, including Breakfast, Sunday Lunch, Monday Left-overs, Fish On Friday and Treats and Sweets. The Monday left-overs are a particularly relevant section now as well as in our Grandparent's time and make good use of remaining chicken, potatoes p>
The layout of the book is very simple with no photographs of any dishes. There are a few colour illustrations which give a homely feel - almost as if this is a book that has been passed down to you. I would normally be crying out for photos but as most of the dishes are familiar to us it doesn't seem to matter quite so much and I don't think that they would suit the style of the book as there are no glossy pages.

The dish we started with was the Mum's Fish Pie as we had quite a bit of frozen fish that needed to be used up. The recipe was very easy to follow and the white sauce was simple to make. We added French beans as we had some spare. I'm not a great fan of mash so it probably wasn't the best dish for me. It just felt a bit boring but it was certainly filling and did its job. Next time I'd probably add some garlic or a little spice to the sauce to lift it a little.

The second dish was a much better success. Braised Red Cabbage with Spicy Sausages from the Mid-week Meals chapter. I love the colour of this dish, it's so vibrant and inviting. I used some Toulouse sausages as the recipe called for a really flavourful sausage. Everything went brilliantly together, it's like eating mulled wine! It's super easy to make, the chopping of the cabbage and apple takes longer than the actual time spent frying the ingredients and bunging it into the oven! It takes a couple of hours for the cabbage to get really soft and absorb all the sweet liquid but it's well worth it. I've got quite a bit of cabbage left as I was only making this for 2 so I can see myself making this again in the next few days.

The final conclusion about this book is that it's a great one to keep handy. It might not be the most glamourous book to have on your shelf but I think you'd probably use more recipes from it day-today than from a glossy wonder. Most things look very simple to make and don't contain huge lists of ingredients. Somerset Chicken, Mustard Potatoes and Norwegian Cream all sound delicious and I'm glad to have a great sounding recipe for Rum Baba that uses yeast instead of a usual cake mixture. Perfect!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Gregg's Favourite Puddings Cookbook Review

The review will be short and sweet this week. I'm not quite sure where the time has gone but again I've been lax in my cookbook reviews. That hasn't stopped me taking out about 15 at the library, and making an order from The Book People for even more!

This weekend I was in Edinburgh to visit a lovely friend which was great. I can highly recommend a restaurant in Leith called The Compass - had a lovely smoked salmon and caper salad.

Last week I finally tried a recipe I've lusted after for a while in Gregg's Favourite Puddings - the cherry and white chocolate tart. The book itself is really rather nice, though the recipes are nothing you couldn't find in a lot of other cookbooks. There are attractive photos for a lot of the recipes but not for all. As most of the recipes are recognisable it doesn't matter quite as much, people already have an idea of what the desserts look like.

The chapters are split into fruity, tarts, flans and cheesecakes, chocolate, classic puddings, ices and mousses and basics and bites. My favourite recipes were probably in the first and second chapters as I'm always partial to poached pears, tarte au citron and cheesecake. The cinnamon cheesecake sounds delicious and one I'm sure I'll get round to making one day, as well as the macadamia and vanilla tart. I like that there are some recipes that take some skill to make but also there are things you can whip up quite quickly like the baked bananas with fudge sauce.

I just made one recipe from this book which isn't the greatest test but at least I know how great the recipe for sweet pastry is which makes me think all the other tarts in the book will be delicious.

There was a photograph of this tart and I have to say my attempt didn't look too different which is reassuring! The addition of cinnamon in the pastry added a lovely background flavour though not overpowering. My rolling skills are not very good when it comes to sweet pastry so my base was much thicker than it should have been - how do you do it without breaking the pastry - so it wasn't as fine as it should have been but it cooked well. I didn't actually get to eat much of this tart as La Mama seemed to love it! The section without cherries was for my picky brother.

I had quite a bit of filling left as my case was smaller than required, but this was actually great news as I cooked the filling in some ramekins in a bain marie. Oh wow, I think I preferred this to the tart! It was like a crema catalana which I adore. I'll definitely be making this again, and then at least I can avoid rolling out the pastry! It was also a nice surprise that the filling mixture wasn't over-sweet which could have been a problem with so much white chocolate. It just gave it a rich vanilla flavour - very delicious indeed.

Whether it's a book that you need to rush out and buy I'm not sure but I would recommend borrowing it from your library and having a go at a few things. The triple chocolate brulees look very impressive and I really want to try making the chocolate pancakes with rum butter - I can imagine how nice that would be with some Sailor Jerry's rum. What I would like to know is - just how many of these desserts has Gregg Wallace made himself?! Still, the quote on the front of the book made me laugh : "Gregg is the best possible judge of a good pudding" - Michel Roux Jr!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

How to Eat In Cookbook Review

This week I have been trying out Adam Byatt's How to Eat In. I'd seen a sample recipe in Stylist magazine and thought it looked lovely so borrowed it from the library - always good to try before you buy!The point of the book is being able to make tasty food at home, rather important these days when maybe people can't afford to go to restaurants as often as they'd like.

I liked the look of the book, the design reminded me of James Martin's My Kitchen cookbook, I'm actually surprised that they are made by different publishing houses. There are photos for most of the recipes, I can deal with that but what I do find annoying is that recipes span over 2 pages and you have to turn over to complete the dish. Just a small thing but I do find it quite frustrating!

The range of recipes is quite nice. The bread section is small but good. I will have to try foolproof white bread to see if it really is foolproof enough for this bread fool! Mine is usually undercooked in the middle. The starters chapter is probably my favourite and this is where I chose my first dish - the smoked haddock and sweetcorn chowder.

I'd had this chowder with clams in New York and loved it. I was supposed to put clams in this soup but I thought the haddock was enough. I also only had the dyed varity of haddock but again I don't think it mattered too much, it didn't affect the colour of the soup as I had feared it might. The soup was completely delicious and a great success. The only annoying thing was that a skin formed on the top quickly if it was stirred regularly or eaten fast - the eating fast wasn't too much of a problem! You wouldn't want to eat too much as it could get quite sickly with all the milk and cream but it made a great lunch dish. Brilliant.

Some of the dishes do seem quite expensive, such as putting fresh morels in a quiche, and some are slightly out of reach such as roasting teal - not sure where I'd find it, but mostly the recipes look feasable and tasty.

I copped out a little when it came to my seconds dish, I was in fact going to make the morels, broad bean and goat's cheese quiche as we have dried morels from France but I couldn't whip up the enthusiasm to make pastry - plus I was missing the fat to make the dough so it was a non-starter! So instead I chose a nice and easy dish from the outdoor eating chapter - mushroom and goat's cheese burgers.

Being very cold I didn't cook this on a barbeque but it was fine in a pan, portobello mushrooms as a bap and goat's cheese as the burger. Simple yet effective! Ok, it didn't test my cooking skills but it tasted lovely and I'd happily eat it again.

Desserts look good, the dougnuts and the 10 minute banana and maple ice cream look particularly nice. I like that there are a range of recipes, some more geared towards family meals and others are more show-offy and take more time and skill to prepare.

Not sure it's one I would rush out to buy but actually I liked the book more each time I looked at it. I'd say borrow it from the library if you can.

Also this week I finally had a go at making some cornbread. I found a recipe leaflet in Tesco for some chedder cornbread muffins and I had all the ingredients so decided to give it a go, halving the quantities as I wouldn't know what to do with 12 of the muffins!

Oh dear, how disappointing. The recipe stated I could use fine polenta or fine cornmeal so I used polenta as that's all I had in. They were much too tasteless and nothing like cornbread I've had in America. Such a shame, they were very light and the right colour but the polenta made for a grainy texture which I didn't like. The bits with cheddar tasted nice but that's because it actually added some flavour! Oh well, better luck next time. I've probably put you off now but if you want to try the recipe you can find it here: http://www.tescorealfood.com/Recipes/Cornbread-Cheese-Muffins-with-Salad.html

I see that they've removed the polenta option and now I know why! I'm going to buy some fine cornmeal and have another go as I know how delicious cornbread can be.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Bill's Basics Cook Book Review

I would have written this entry earlier but I was having laptop woes. Luckily it seems to be fixed now without losing my precious photos, mp3s and saved recipes folder. Phew! So now I can write about the joys of the new Bill Granger cookbook Bill's Basics.

I'm always very happy to see a new Bill book, it's especially exciting this time around as he's living in England and looking for a cafe site in London! Woo! Looking forward to visiting when it's open.

As for the book, it's full of classic recipes, most 'with a twist'. There are no pretensions when it comes to his dishes and nothing looks too daunting. The chapters have changed from Bill's usual breakfast, lunch and dinners, now sorted into baking, soups, salads, desserts etc. The photography is great and there is an image for each recipe which I always appreciate.

The first recipe I tried out was the Lemon Chicken. It was simple to make and really healthy without feeling worthy! There was no cornflour in the sauce but it still compared nicely to a take-away lemon chicken but so much better to know exactly what went in. The addition of ginger really made the sauce zing and the five-spice cooked into the chicken skin really came through too. Delicious.

Next up was the My Spaghetti Carbonara.

Oh my, I never make carbonara which is stupid as it's my favourite pasta dish. Horribly unhealthy but too delicious to pass up. We've made it twice in 2 weeks! Pretty successful then! Spring onion and dried chili flakes are the Bill additions which add a bit of spice and a soft onion flavour without being imposing. I also added some exotic mushrooms though I can't for the life of me work out which variety they were from the description on the packet! I'm going with 'shiro shimeji' but not sure! I just know I'll make this again and again. It's also easy to rustle up when you're in a hurry or just ruddy hungry!

There were so many recipes I wanted to try and I had all the ingredients to make the Fish Cakes so I made a third dish! Shock horror! A blog first! The dish is served with a raita but I served mine with some watercress instead, I don't think it needed a sauce as the fish cakes themselves were so flavourful and moist.

I made 2 attempts as there was so much mixture. First time like an idiot I left out the egg so they weren't the easiest to flip over in the pan but they were nice and chunky and the lemon and ginger really lifted the flavour.

The second time I remember the egg, which was probably a little large for the amount of mixture left but it completely changed the texture. This time they were really light and almost like a souffle. Granted they don't look very different and the garnish didn't change but there honestly was a big change! The taste was still there though and I added a little bit more lemon which was nice. The spring onion seemed to cook out a little more as well so there was less crunch. The mixture kept very well overnight and the recipe was a great way to use up the tin of salmon we've had for an age - I much prefer tuna in a salad though it's hard to get a whole tin to ourselves when we have 4 greedy cats who seem to consider tuna their drug of choice!

If you want to try this recipe you can watch the man himself make the dish: http://thismorning.itv.com/thismorning/food/fish-cakes-tasty-raita

So it's a mahoosive thumbs up for this book, not just because I love Bill so much but because his recipes are so good and things always turn out so well. I want to make every dessert in the book (bar the tiramisu - bleurgh - coffee and soggy biscuits!) and every soup too as well as a whole other recipes.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Baking with Passion Cookbook Review

September means birthday season in our house, both La Mama's , and more importantly - mine!! Too old to be very excited now but it's a good excuse to eat lovely food no matter the cost.

Found this little beauty reduced in Waitrose - oh how I like their reduced section!! Nice selection of seafood - king prawns, mussels, shelled prawns and juicy crab claws along with a lemon mayonnaise. Mmmmm! I think seafood is always a go to for a special meal, simple but delicious. Plus I thought the bucket was cute! La Mama wanted scallops for her birthday so I knew that I'd do the combination of black pudding, scallops and apple from James Martin's My Kitchen, served in a chunkier manner! Managed to cook the scallops just right and I love black pudding, just have to think hard of other things while eating it, don't want to think about the ingredients too much!

For dessert La Mama loves frangipane and we'd seen a tart being made on Saturday Kitchen the week before so decided to use the recipe for the topping and just have a base of mixed berries, leaving out the pastry. I'm not very keen on almonds but actually it was really light and most enjoyable. Here is the recipe if you fancy trying it out yourself: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/fig_and_frangipane_tart_24400

And now for the main event - my cookbook review. This week I tried a couple of recipes from Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington's Baking with Passion. I like Dan's baking recipes from The Guardian so I thought I'd give his new book a go.

It's a very comprehensive guide to bread making which I liked, though some recipes I think I'd be too scared to try out - anything with a starter immediately frightens me but the breads do look incredibly light and very professional.

There is a large section at the beginning of the book all about essential ingredients, step-by-step guides with photos of how to handle and shape different doughs. They actually make it look possible!

The first section is how to create your own wild yeasts which is a really interesting side of bread making and something I would like to try. There is a chapter for fast-action yeast which is comforting, I've seen a few bread books that just use fresh yeast and it just isn't realistic.

The ingredients seem quite accessible - though bottled spring water is always used instead of tap water which seems a little bit poncy, though it is explained that it's more stable for use with yeast. I'm still going to use tap water though!

The photos look very inviting and the recipes are very clear, important for such an exact science. But it's not just breads on offer, there are also chapters on cakes, meringues, biscuits and pastries as well as a few other items.
Going through the book I quickly realised which dessert I wanted for my birthday - caramel tart. Oh yes! It should have also had chocolate on top but by the time the tarts were made I couldn't be bothered doing anything else! Yup, I made my own birthday dessert :-( I did have help to roll out the pastry and to watch the caramel that didn't turn golden for an age. Ah well, I also cooked my own rib-eye steak and Ottolenghi chilli broccoli as I know someone who overcooks steak at every opportunity!!

But all the effort was oh so worth it. It tasted just like my favourite caramel tarts from the Marks and Spencer cafes, it's just a little scary to see how much butter goes into these babies!! In the recipe for the sweet pastry it called for rum or brandy so I put some Sailor Jerry's rum which added an amazing vanilla flavour to the pastry, you could really taste it after it had baked. Very much a success. Oh, and do you like my musical note nails?! I'm not just an amateur cook!

I'd bought buttermilk to make cornbread, what with my obsession with all things Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (my brother surprised me with the cookbook to accompany the show for my birthday! That's so money!). But I completely missed the right time to make it - when we made slow-cooked brisket. And I mean slow cooked - in beef stock and a few spices for about 9 hours! Amazing, eaten as it was as a roast and then the next day in a bap with barbeque sauce. Scrum!!

But it was not to be, so I made white soda bread instead. Wow, why did I never realise how easy this was to make? No waiting for the dough to rise, no messing about with yeast - brilliant! My breads usually end up well cooked on the outside and still raw in the middle, not good. This was perfect all the way to the middle. Crusty on the outside, perhaps a little too crusty on the top but the recipe called for a really hot oven to start with. Didn't taste burnt though so it's all good! I just wish buttermilk was more readily available, I couldn't see any in a couple of supermarkets, think I got this tub in Sainsburys.

Whenever I am somewhere that sells buttermilk from now on however, I will be buying it and making some more soda bread. I'm going to buy some wholemeal plain flour too so I can make some brown soda bread, or maybe I'll make some cornbread .... one day!

So yet again, I've found a cookbook I'm probably going to have to buy! Next I want to make lemon butter cookies, orange cheesecake brownies and if I'm feeling brave - baguette!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Rachel Allen - Bake Cookbook Review

Back to my afternoon tea making - for the choux buns with creme patissiere and crunchy sugar on top I followed the choux pastry recipe from Rachel Allen's Bake book. The instructions were very easy to follow and I liked the accompanying photos so you had a clear idea of what the different stages should look like. I'm always surprised at how quick choux pastry is to make, and impressed in equal measure! I'm afraid I cheated at the filling, found one in the finest section of Tesco - oops! The caramel on top was quite entertaining. I cut the tops off the choux buns and then La Mama poured the caramel on top - then we had to scrape the tops off the plate when the caramel set!! It wasn't the easiest thing but we managed eventually! The main thing was that they tasted very nice. I would have dried the pastry out a little more but time was running out.

My second trial from the book was her pizza dough. The quantities were spot on, often I struggle with bread dough. It was very easy to work with, rolled out nicely and kept beautifully in the fridge and freezer. I don't think I'll ever be without a batch in the freezer now. Each quantity of dough made 3 full-size pizzas which is great for a family or a few friends.

There have been many variations in our household now I've discovered this dough recipe, always having to make different sections as my brother is a very picky eater and will only have plain or pepperoni pizza! The more exciting side of this pizza has goats cheese, blue cheese, mozzarella and emmental. Mmmm, cheese-fest! The dough was a little thick on my first attempt and a bit soft underneath, even using a pizza dish.

Attempt 2 was a little posher! Black olives, artichokes and prosciutto. This time I pre-baked the base a little so it wasn't so soft in the centre. I also rolled out the dough much thinner. Much better this time and the toppings were great.

Attempt 3 was pepperoni for my brother and I, blue cheese for La Mama - trying to keep everyone happy is hard! I think this base was even thinner than attempt 2 and again I pre-baked it, something I'll always do now. It doesn't take long but it really does improve the texture of the dough. And now I want to eat more pizza! I made another one at the weekend with a trusty ball of dough from the freezer. Lovely.

With a 1/3 of a dough batch I thought I'd attempt these pizza crescents from a fantastic blog:
I've fancied making them for ages. They were pretty easy to do, just very messy when rolling all the ingredients up in the dough! But like a complete dunderhead I totally forgot to add the cheese, the best bit of a pizza! So I added a little bit on top instead. They were great as a little snack but so much better eaten warm. I'd probably make them again as they were fun, this time I'll add the cheese!
And back to Rachel Allen's book, this is a really great and pretty comprehensive baking book. I've just borrowed The Great British Book of Baking, as seen on the BBC on a tuesday, and I think that Rachel's book wins out. Not that I've tried anything from the BBC book yet!

The book covers the whole range of baking, both sweet and savoury. Great looking recipes for biscuits, cakes, tarts, pies and breads. I want to make pretzels next, but will make them with cinnamon sugar rather than salt. The rustic bacon and cheddar bread also looks completely gorgeous. This is a book you can keep coming back to and finding something new to cook, or returning to a favourite recipe. Thumbs up.