Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Barefoot Contessa Back To Basics Cookbook Review

I love watching Barefoot Contessa on UKTV Food and the Food Network. Her relationship with her husband Jeffrey makes me smile, they are still so gushing about each other after all the years they have been together. I laughed so much at this week's 30 Rock episode when Liz Lemon said she wanted Ina Garten's life - "I'm like that woman on the Food Network whose husband only comes home on the weekends, and spends the rest of the time eating and drinking with her gay friends."! The Barefoot Contessa summed up in one sentence!

I've wanted a few of her books for quite a while but they're fairly expensive, though they seem to be coming down in price on Amazon now. I have managed to find a couple at the library however so they'll have to do for now. Plus she has a new book coming out later this year. Exciting! I hope there's a TV series to accompany it.
I chose to try out Ina's Back to Basics book. This was her most recent cookbook, released in 2009. The book's tagline is 'fabulous flavour from simple ingredients'. I'd agree with that though the ingredients aren't necessarily that simple in parts of the UK.

The book is split into 7 chapters including cocktail hour, soup, dinner and dessert. Nice and simple categories. There are some lovely photos of her kitchen extension (!) and address and phone numbers of everyone who helped build/decorate it. I wonder if she got some freebies??

She talks about using seasonal produce and how certain ingredients like salt and parmesans can be the key to a great dish. There are also dos and don'ts throughout the book to help people cooking for guests, such as 10 no-cook things to serve with drinks and how to set a table like a pro. Rather than seeming too Stepford Wives they are quite nice tips like sitting down at your made-up table to check if you will be able to easily see your guests on the opposite side.

The photography is gorgeous and there is at least one picture for each recipe. Completely mouthwatering.

My first dish was the Tuscan Lemon chicken. I used chicken thighs rather than a whole flattened chicken. The list of ingredients was only short so that was definitely a win and it was easy to prepare.

There are some nice tips included with the recipes, such as how to butterfly a whole chicken or information about some included ingredients. This dish was cooked on a grill in her book but in cold England it was cooked in our oven and it was lovely. The chicken was really moist and the skin was crispy. Lemon and chicken are always heavenly. Very nice indeed and indeed a good basic recipe.

My second dish was her Mustard-Roasted Fish. It looks very white and bland but it was really delicious and a great dish to make when you're in a hurry as the sauce takes no time to prepare and the fish bakes for around 12 minutes. Red snapper was suggested, I used tilapia. The mustard didn't overpower the sweet fish and the capers added a great zing. Will try to make sure I always have the ingredients in for this dish when I want something quick and yummy to eat. I used half-fat creme fraiche too so it's not too fattening. Another good basic.

I think it's quite an aspirational cookbook, though everything is feasable. Everything looks lovely but there's no way that I could afford to cook everything from it. No doubt some of the ingredients would be more readily available in the US and therefore cheaper but unfortunately soft-shell crab aren't so easy to come by to make sandwiches (though I will be using the accompanying remoulade recipe for other things). And the quantites in the book are quite astounding! I always joke about how much food she makes in her programmes, it's like she's feeding 10 people when she's only cooking for 2! She must have 3 extra fridges for all the leftovers she must have! But wow, her recipe for Bay Scallop Gratins calls for a pound of fresh scallops to feed 3 people!! Eeks! And 3 pounds of pork tenderloin for 6 people!

So ignoring the huge quantites and the accompanying huge food bill I do really like the book. Not as down to earth as Bill Granger's basic cookbook but definitely lovely to look through and there are enough recipes I'd want to make to justify buying it. I was meant to make East Sticky Buns this weekend but my car's M.O.T took over my life for a couple of days so they're back on my cooking wishlist. As is the Italian Wedding Soup and White Pizzas. But they'll have to wait as I'm off to London for plays, shopping and cake!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook Review

I am carrying on testing my cookbook collection, this time trying out my Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook which I've had for quite a while. I love to look through it and swoon over the cakes at regular intervals but I've always been afraid of making anything from it! I really like cupcakes, as previous posts have shown, but I'm not the best at baking - especially not at making buttercream/frosting. I'm a big fan of the Hummingbird Bakery's cakes when I'm on holiday in London. It's probably a good thing I don't live anywhere near one of their shops! The red velvet is the ultimate cupcake, alas I have not tried making them from this book yet - would they really compare to the ones you can buy in store? The book itself is nicely presented and would catch the eye of anyone with a love of those pretty little cakes. It's not just cupcakes though, there are also recipes for brownies, pies, muffins, biscuits, cheesecakes and full-size cakes. There are full-page photos of each of the recipes which is always useful, especially when making cupcakes. I want to see what the frosting should look like and what they use as toppings to make them look extra pretty. The amount of recipes you get is great, 15 for cupcakes alone. Everything looks delicious, can you put on weight just by reading a book? I hope not! And the cakes are truly the ones that they sell in their shops, not just quickly invented to sell a cookbook. Does that mean the recipes are foolproof though?

I do find the quantites a little too much. I don't want to make 12 cupcakes if I'm only baking for 2 people, but with the recipe only needing 1 egg you're trying to split an it equally. Tricky!

My first trial was for Banana Loaf. I'm sure this is something a lot of people make regularly but I've never had a go before. The recipe was easy to follow and didn't take too long to whip up. The oven was a little too hot so the top coloured before the rest of the loaf cooked all the way through, however it didn't taste at all burnt!! Phew!!

The mashed banana did sink a little as you can see in the photo, the outside slices were certainly nicer than towards the middle but the flavour was really lovely, especially with the addition of cinnamon and ginger. It's a comforting snack which was great to take to work for morning break. I'd probably make a smaller quanitity next time so it cooks properly all the way through, plus I end up getting a bit bored with something if I have too much of it. Mostly happy with this first recipe.
Then, my nemesis. The cupcake. Argh - frosting! It's such a simple recipe but it goes wrong for me everytime! I've fancied making (eating) the Marshmallow Cupcakes since I bought the book so thought that's the recipe I'd choose to make. The cake was easy to make, I did halve the recipe so made 6 instead of 12. My cases were of an average size, I think I bought the Tinkerbell design from a New York baking suppliers. The mixture made a good 5 and then the 6th cake was a fair bit smaller. Not too bad. They didn't rise a huge amount but they were very flavourful, they weren't so great the next day though as the sponge had gone a little soggy.

But the frosting, oh dear. I still haven't cracked it! Icing sugar, butter, a little milk and some vanilla extract. What could go wrong? It was looking way too dry, then for a few seconds it looked brilliant, then I think I put a smidge too much milk and it was lost!! It was also a lot more yellow than in the book as I went a little vanilla mad! Not a complete fail but no-where near as beautiful as it should have been. It did harden overnight but it was a choice - soggy cake but better frosting or yummy cake but liquid frosting?! Liquid frosting methinks. Such a shame. It did taste nice and the marshmallows were lovely but yet again I can't make frosting. What is wrong with me?! Maybe I didn't mix the frosting for long enough or I just added too much milk. Do I blame the recipe? Boo, will try again when I'm feeling braver! But for now I'll keep cupcakes as an item to buy rather than to make!

So all in all it's hard to know whether to recommend this book or not. It'd be great to hear some opinions on whether the recipes have worked for you or not. Could be I'm just meant to stick to savoury. But for £4.99 from The Book People I think it's worth buying just to salivate over!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Leon Book 2 Cookbook Review

This week I wanted to use up some beef mince from the freezer and really fancied a chilli. Having gone through my latest intake of cookery books I found a nice looking recipe in the new Leon Book 2 book by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent. I had borrowed their first by Allegra McEvedy, but didn't really think enough of it to purchase myself. The style of the book was really original and interesting to look through but what really disappointed me was the lack of recipes compared to the size of the book. Information about ingredients and colourful pictures is lovely but the recipes didn't start till well after page 100. This is specified on the cover 'Ingredients and Recipes' but still not enough for this recipe-mad lady!

This book gets going much earlier, page 26 in fact. Huzzah! There is a nice section about food to have in your larder and freezer and a few pages on what you can grown at home, be it on a windowsill or in a larger garden. The recipes themselves are split into fast and slow fast food. The fast food can be prepared in 20 minutes or less and the slow fast food takes longer to cook but reheats well and is ready when you are. There is also a cocktail section at the back (lovely!), a few extra recipes and some Leon stickers. Who doesn't like a sticker?! We had some salad to finish off so from the fast food section I used their recipe for a caper and anchovy miracle sauce. A simple dressing but they had me at caper and anchovy! Just olive oil, lemon juice and parsley are added and it made a delicious, tangy dressing for my tuna and avocado salad.

Next time I'll chop my capers a little finer and add a little more olive oil so it's a little more liquid but I was very happy with the taste.

Then came the Leon Chilli Con Carne from the Slow Fast food section. It took a couple of hours to cook and made enough for 3 meals between 2 people. To be honest I was a little underwhelmed by it. It had some nice herbs and spices in it but it didn't really wow. I would have probably added some fresh chilli and maybe some Worcestershire sauce for more of a tang, just something to wake it up a little. It was very passable and went well with rice and mash but just a bit blah. And 6 portions worth of blah!! Ah well.

I was going to make Potatoes Leon-aise but there was too much chilli to eat! I might have a go this weekend and add it to next week's blog. Again a simple dish but simple can be more impressive if it works.

I really like the design of the book though, it's a little quirky which is personalized with photos and stories. The food is nicely presented and photos are large and bright. It feels like a really friendly book. I like the fact that they're making healthy food fun with dishes that are family friendly. Once Summer comes I know I'll come to this book for some interesting salad recipes and the cocktails will need testing! I'm also impressed that I own a book that tells you how to make your own salami - ox runners anyone?

So a small boo for the chilli but a yay for the salad dressing and hopefully more dishes in the future.