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:

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.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

James Martin - My Kitchen Cookbook Review + afternoon tea take two

My grandparents were over from France during the summer so I decided that an afternoon tea would be a nice British thing to do and oh so fashionable! As with my previous attempt at a full afternoon tea I tried to make as many things as possible in advance so I didn't cry on the day! I think all were impressed with how it turned out. Ooooo .... pretty!

The scones were not made by me, made by my fair Mama from her Good Housekeeping 'Cooking is Fun' cookbook which can safely be called vintage! It may be older than me but it does make very nice scones, back when food was 'proper'.
For the other offerings I used a combination of Rachel Allen's Bake cookbook and James Martin's My Kitchen. I'll be focussing on James Martin's book today - the brownies and the ham terrine.

Look at how much effort I go to - flower shaped toast with smoked salmon!!

On the strength of the success of the ham terrine from my last afternoon tea I decided to buy the book - it deserved a place in my collection (plus it was a bargainous £6.99 - huzzah!). There are honestly only a handful of recipes I wouldn't try, and that's only because I don't eat things such as rabbit or lamb. Recipes are sorted by seasons and all look very unfussy and simple to make which makes me believe that Mr Martin really does make this food at home.

There is a nice short introduction to each chapter with a few examples of what is in season at that time of year. It makes it look easy to shop locally and seasonally when food looks this tasty.

Recipes include Sliced duck breast with winter stir-fry and Scallops with black pudding and apple puree, both of which I made from the taster booklet from Good Food magazine. The winter stir-fry made a very nice accompaniment to the juicy duck and manages to make sprouts tasty! The scallops and black pudding made a gorgeous dish with apple and has quickly become part of my repertoire. It is in fact making an appearance for La Mama's birthday meal next week if nice scallops can be found.
The pressed ham terrine was ultra successful once again, in fact I think it was even better this time. Still no ham hock found so used a gammon joint and boiled it till it fell apart beautifully. I tore the ham into smaller pieces this time so it looked a little bit prettier, but only vaguely! But who cares when it tastes this good?! I was glad that there was plenty left to eat more later on toast.

The other recipe I used was the Black cherry brownie recipe from the summer chapter. He admits that there is nothing particularly special about this recipe but it's the best one he's found in 20 years. Would I agree? Well, again they just didn't set very well. I'm not very lucky with brownies. They did taste absolutely yummy though and the fresh cherries cut through the chocolate nicely. It was quite a job trying to get nice petite squares onto my cake stand though! The rest of the pan of brownies were eaten with a spoon with cream on top. Double indulgence. Oh, and obligatory glitter.

So pretty darn successful, bar a soggy brownie- definitely one that everyone should add to their cookbook collection. Next I want to try Slow-roasted tomatoes with Worcestershire sauce, Potted salt beef with gherkins and Grilled halibut with champ and lemon caper butter. Tempted yet?

Next time, afternoon tea part two with Rachel Allen.