Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cookery School Cookbook Review

This week I wanted to try out the Cookery School book that I borrowed from the library. I enjoyed the TV series, though Richard Corrigan scared me sometimes! His stare is rather intense at times, I don't think I would have liked to have been a contestant! It was good though to be talked through a recipe and shown exactly what the method was. Apparently it was the biggest commission Channel 4 had made since Big Brother - not sure how well it did or if it'll be back for a second series.

Of course there had to be an accompanying book, and this one represents the show very well. It contains all of the recipes that featured on the show which is a decent amount. There are 4 main chapters: starters, fish, meat and puddings. Very straight forward. Then the recipes are split into basic, intermediate and advanced. Then amongst these recipes are 'skills' lessions on how to make various elements such as making crepes or bechamel sauce or how to clean or prepare squid. These skills pages are well illustrated and explained, great for a beginner and for anyone who wants to extend their knowledge. I know how to peel a prawn and make mayonnaise but I'd be grateful for a detailed description on how to make tortellini or how to make a smoker (as seen below).

There are also some notes about ingredients by Gizzi Erskine. Can't say I've actually read these, I'd rather dip straight into the recipes, but she gives info on things like herbs and different cuts of meat. Nothing too new but a nice addition in a teaching cookbook.

At the back of the book there are some super-advanced recipes which featured at the end of the series to really test the school's pupils, by different guest-chefs. There are some of the recipes that I think I could tackle. I'm happy making roasted pork belly but I think I'd have to gear myself up to make Eric Lanlard's apple souffle with salted butter caramel sauce. Sounds and looks delicious though.

The first recipe I made was the Tea-Smoked Mackerel. I've wanted to try and smoke some fish or meat for a while and this seemed like an easy recipe to start with as I had all of the ingredients rather than having to buy some woodchips. All it consisted of was some jasmine leaf tea, demerara sugar and long-grain rice. I had to make a few adjustments as Waitrose didn't have any fresh mackerel in that day so I bought some extremely cheap trout instead. Then I didn't have demerara so I mixed caster sugar with a little soft brown sugar. The rice was also changed to brown rice. I don't think it made too much of a difference!

The smoking mix was extremely easy to put together. It seemed a bit of a waste of jasmine tea leaves, don't use your best purchase! I ripped up some jasmine tea bags rather than use up 50g of our lovely tea from London. I don't think you can re-use the mix as the sugar caramelises. It didn't smell particularly wonderful, even with the rice in there to stop everything burning it still smelt of over-cooked sugar! It was only when you took off the lid of the pan that you got the jasmine scent.

It was certainly an acquired taste but after a few mouthfuls I got to like it! The flavour perhaps overpowered the trout, the mackerel probably took the flavour better. I'm willing to try again. It did keep the trout incredibly moist and it was a fun recipe to try. The recipe served the fish with beetroot stew and fresh curd but I just wanted to try the smoker so served the trout with spinach and samphire which was a gorgeous accompaniment. This was one of the advanced recipes - yay me!

To try tea-smoking yourself find the instructions here:

I then tried the Mackerel with Gingered-Rhubarb Hollandaise and Pickled Rhubarb. I used smoked mackerel, again as I couldn't get fresh. I think it worked well as it balanced out the pickled rhubarb. It was another advanced recipe and I can see why as it contained a few elements. The pickled rhubarb was simple to make and was surprisingly nice! It isn't left in vinegar for too long so it isn't too strong. Then I made a rhubarb and ginger puree which is then added to a hollandaise sauce. It's the first time I've ever made a hollandaise sauce and I've heard it can be tricky to make but it wasn't a problem. Again I feared that it would make a pretty sour and unappetising sauce but far from it, it was delicious with the mackerel and I'd certainly make it again. I think this would impress a lot of people at a dinner party.

Then lastly I wanted to try one of the desserts. I made the Fine Apple Tarts with Pecan and Maple, ignoring the accompanying custard as I was happy without. Again this was an advanced recipe. There are no basic dessert recipes, examples of intermediate recipes are Lemon Posset with Butter Shortbread or Dutch Apple Pancakes with Cinnamon and Clove Sugar (I'm hoping to eat some pancakes next week in Amsterdam!). I was pleased with how my tarts turned out, this was the prettiest one though! They took ages to cook, longer than was specified but it's probably because our big oven is rubbish and draughty! I tried to follow the skills page on how to beautifully slice and fan apple segments but I failed slightly. But hey, they're homemade and they looked it!! I used a mix of nuts as we didn't have many pecans left.

I was mostly pleased with my results from this cookbook. The meat dishes look interesting too, the Pork and Fruit Wellingtons look really appetising. There are a few recipes for guinea fowl, kidneys and veal which make the book a little more interesting and there are some good skills page on how to prepare different cuts. I think it would make a great book for a budding chef. I don't think this is something you would necessarily give as a gift to a student or someone moving away for the first time unless they were a real foodie. The food is quite sophisticated and not always the cheapest ingredients. I would recommend it for all levels though and there are enough recipes I'd like to make for me to consider adding it to my book collection.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Whoopie Pie Book Review

I've been meaning to try out whoopie pies for a while. Though they aren't quite as pretty as cupcakes they are cute and I'm never one to turn down cake! I don't think they'll ever overtake cupcakes as was predicted but they are a nice addition.

I tried to resist buying an entire book on whoopie pies but yet again the lure of a Book People bargain was far too much for little 'ole me. The front cover is so cute! It's a really well put together book and oh, there are photos for every recipe! Amazing! I can't say I'd ever heard of the Violet bakery before but a quick google threw up a rather beautiful sounding shop in London. Her cupcake flavours sound amazing: Candied Violet, Salted Caramel, French Apricot and Fragolina Grape amongst others.

The range of recipes are just as large as they would be for cupcakes, everything sounds completely edible. There are 6 chapters including Simple and Sweet Whoopie Pies, Topped and Drizzled, Frozen and Chilled and A Few Other Sweet Treats. There are different fillings for each pie, it's really great to have such varied recipes for buttercreams and other creams.

So I decided not to do things by halves and tackled this book with the necessary equipment: a whoopie pie cake tin from Lakeland. Not completely needed but I loved the idea of getting even circles rather than relying on how the cake mixture spread in the oven. The downside to the tin as some people have commented on is that the recipes make 9 pies but the tin only allows you to make 6. Not an issue for me as I usually halve quantites anyway. I decided to make the Salty Caramel Whoopies - combining 2 trends in 1 - salted caramel and whoopie pies!!

As you can see, half of the mixture still made 6 rather than 4 and a bit but it all fitted beautifully into my tin without any wastage. The mixture was really easy to make and it was then put in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. The mixture took on an unexpected texture after 30 minutes, it was almost like a mousse with loads of air bubbles in it. I was hoping that it was right! But it made it easy to divide up and only took 12 minutes or so in the oven.

They were possibly the most successful sponges I've made, something usually happens to make them fail but these were light and a great texture. I'd say they were more solid than a cupcake but I expected this as they need to hold the filling in the middle.

The suggested filling to go with these pies was the Caramel Swiss Buttercream. I fear buttercream but I followed the recipe and huzzah - it was a success!! This made me love this book! It was quite involved though, I had to make some caramel, then whip up some butter. Next I had to whisk some egg white and sugar over some water on the stove for around 10-15 minutes which was the point where I wasn't quite sure if I was doing it right. It was supposed to be 'fluffy' but it didn't seem like it to me. But, as if by magic, adding the butter and then the caramel I had myself some buttercream! Very happy! It was worth the faff!

I thought they looked pretty good and looked like they did in the photo (maybe a little more even due to the wonder tin). They were a good size, any bigger and they'd be pretty sickly. They held together very well and I'm looking forward to trying out a lot more of the recipes.

I thought I'd try something other than the pies too and made the Prize Peach Cobbler. I always thought a cobbler was more like a crumble but formed into scone shapes but looking at various recipes it seems it can be like that or with a batter as mine was. It was really simple to make and took about an hour to cook.

To make the recipe cheaper I used tinned peaches instead of fresh but I think it worked well. I'd call it more of a clafoutis but it was delicious and didn't last for very long! I will definitely be trying this again and experimenting with different fruits.

I was very pleased with this book and am looking forward to making more from it. The Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies look yummy and I haven't even touched on the frozen pies such as Chocolate Mint Whoopies and Key Lime Whoopies. Amazing. It's really inspiring and I think these would be really brilliant for a party or as a more relaxed dessert. Kids would love sandwiching them together themselves and with the vast array of flavours there's something to appeal to everyone. Who could resist a Chocolate Whoopie with Homemade Fluffy Marshmallow filling or a Carrot Cake Whoopie with Orange Mascarpone Cream? I know I can't!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Ballymaloe Cookery Course Cookbook Review

I bought Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course cookbook on a whim. I was buying some cookery books I really wanted from The Book People (which I seem to be somewhat obsessed with!) and I came across this book and thought I'd give it a go. Turns out it was a very good choice.

It says on the front that it's 'the cook's bible' and I'd have to agree. There are 28 index pages altogether, that's an awful lot of recipes! Darina Allen is the mother-in-law of Rachel Allen and the founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork. This cookery book is an updated version that was originally released in 2001 and aims to teach the kinds of recipes that Daria teachers in her school. There are a whopping 24 chapters as well as a comprehensive introduction which includes kitchen safety, store cupboard basics and using the freezer. There is also a conversion chart and a great glossary.

As this is such a huge cookbook there isn't room for a photo per recipe, sometimes there are 5 or 6 recipes per 2 pages as well as variations; but there some lovely photos of how to perform certain tasks just as rolling spring rolls or how to line tartlet cases.

Each chapter starts with some background to the ingredients and how to source the best items you can. The Fish and Seafood chapter for example explains how to buy fresh fish and shellfish, even how to pick up lobsters and crabs so they don't pinch you. She then gives you guidance on how to prepare a whole salmon, how to fillet flat fish or skin Dover Sole. Throughout the book there are master recipes which would give anyone a great range of basic recipes to build on, then there are hundreds of variations and other recipe ideas.

Granted I know how to make Tabouleh but I thought I'd follow the recipe from this book and it didn't disappoint. I've been craving tabouleh recently, it must be as it's warmer weather - or maybe I just need to compensate for all the cakes I tried in France! I added some feta cubes to make it a little more substantial.

I picked up some pigs cheeks from the supermarket the other week and then froze them, not quite sure what to do with them! We cook a lot of pork shoulder in our house, usually in cider, so I guessed a slow-cooked piece of pork would no doubt be delicious, no matter the cut. There was a recipe for Pork Cheeks with Savoy Cabbage cooked with cider but I wanted to try something different so I took the cooking method and applied it to the Carbonnade of Pork with Mushrooms. Pork fillet was the specified cut but it worked extremely well with the pork cheeks. The sauce was absolutely delicious, a mix of onion, white wine, chicken stock and sour cream with a dash of lemon juice. I cooked it for 2 hours so the pork cheeks melted. The were a richer flavour than the other pork cuts I've tried but they make a really make an excellent and great value meal.

Chicken thighs are always useful things to have in the freezer. Here I made the Chicken Thighs with Honey and Mustard from the barbeque section - but I cooked it in the oven instead as this particular day it was raining hard. Shame! It was sticky and sweet which is always a win, I think I'll put more mustard in it next time though as I couldn't really taste it and I love Dijon mustard. This is a great standby dish when you're not quite what to have, goes great with saute potatoes and salad.

Overall this is a fabulous book, especially if you can get it cheaper like I did. I don't think you could ever get bored with so many recipes to choose from. It would be a great gift for someone starting out in cooking, as well as for someone who has been cooking for a while as it has some great tips as well as some delicious sounding recipes. Nothing is too fussy but you could find recipes to suit dinner parties as well as everyday meals. Don't expect just Irish or traditional foods either, there are recipe examples from across the world. If I believed in minimalism I'm not sure I'd need many other recipe books. That's so not me though!

Check out some of Ballymaloe's recipes here:

Monday, 2 May 2011

France Easter Holiday In Food

I went to France over Easter to visit my mum's family. My grandparents live in Saint Etienne so we stayed there for a few days - some really great boutiques popping up and a stunning new patisserie. I bought a few new plates for the blog! I could have come home with loads more if luggage allowed! I also got a few cookery books and magazines. Foams, savoury cappuccinos and all manners of whipped items seem to be the fashion at the moment. If you don't have a siphon then you're just not on the cutting edge of French cuisine!

We then went to the South of France for a week over Easter weekend to a place called Le-Grau-Du-Roi. We've been going for a few years now to a self-catering apartment which is great as we can make the most of local ingredients and indulge.

Here is my attempt at art on the beach when I wasn't eating!

But first back to Saint Etienne, and I had to include a photo of the well-known Cournand shop. They are famous for their pasta, especially their ravioli. They sell the best of the best and their windows are always beautifully decorated.

But what I got ridiculously excited about was a new Patisserie in town called Patisserie Montcoudiol. It is run by Bruno Montcoudiol who is a world champion in patisserie and it certainly shows. I would have been quite happy to cuddle the window for hours to admire the pretty cakes and macarons. Really good value too compared to cupcakes here. As you can see they didn't travel terribly well, there was more shopping to do, jewellery to buy and clothes to try. Ah well, they still look pretty.

We shared each small cake between four of us! Wasn't easy to cut but you can see how much work goes into each cake. It was really, really hard to pick just 4 cakes and I was hoping to go back to try some more but we never made it back. Boo. So we went for a Violina which was a white chocolate bavaroise with a blackcurrant and violet cream and a lemon and almond genoise sponge. Then at the top is the Framboisine which was vanilla bavaroise with raspberry coulis, lemon genoise and a cute mini macaron on top. Then a Pur Velay which was a vervaine diplomate (the liqueur is very local), blackberry cream, almond sponge and a sable made from Puy lentil flour (again, extremely local). All amazing. I love all the colours.

The mini macarons were beautiful and perfectly formed, resting on small squares of chocolate.

Lastly an Amandriotte which was almond, pistachio cream, cherry coulis and the most crumbly, buttery pastry I've ever tasted. This was my favourite, not the most impressive to look at but so delicious. Check out the shop's website here: There is a fantastic video which shows off some of the cakes, his macarons, chocolates and a quick look at how he makes some of the items.

To celebrate my Grandparent's wedding anniversary (as we found out later!) we went to a restaurant in the Pilat called La Fondue Chez L'Pere Charles. Alas no-one was eating fondue and they had to be shared between two. I would have eaten one myself, I love a fondue! There were 4 different menus to choose from, I went for one of the cheaper menus as I fancied it the most. Above is my mum's starter - duck ham, fried foie gras and salad. Lovely.

I had one of my favourite things - a plate of great charcuterie. Rillettes, saucisson, dry cured ham, dried fruit bread and some onion jam. Simple but a winner everytime.

My main was red mullet with 3 kinds of tagliatelle with a creamy sauce. Absolutely delicious and something I want to make myself. The 2 other kinds of tagliatelle were strips of courgette and carrot which was a lovely idea.

There were so many different types of cheese to choose from, here is a selection of solely goats cheese!

My mum's dessert was so pretty, carpaccio of pineapple with rum and raisin ice cream. A good end to a filling meal.

I had 3 kinds of ice cream, a little boring but I loved the way it was presented. I want to take inspiration from this when I try to make ice cream this summer.

One of my favourite places to eat is in a supermarket! But this is no ordinary supermarket cafe - this is a French one! Casino started in Saint Etienne and this is a massive one which sells everything you could hope for. I got some great silicone baking moulds for 4 euros each and a couple of recipe books (plus some amazing skull and crossbones towels!! I love skulls so much!). But, most importantly, they have a brilliant cafeteria. A few stations with starters, salad bar, desserts, cheeses and a fruit salad bar; then different areas for your main meals. There are various pasta dishes, pizza, tagine, then meats and fish dishes. You help yourself to whatever veg you want.

There was a new verrine I wanted to try with yogurt, cucumber, tomato and raw cubed salmon. There was loads of lemon juice in it and it was yummy and really simple to make yourself.

Then it was a given, steak hache and half rice/half chips! I do look at other things but I always come back to this! When I was little we always had to wait ages for the steak to be cooked as I ate it well cooked, a notion which is slightly fluid in France! I often stuck it in the provided microwaves to cook it a little more once we'd paid! Now as an adult I don't mind a little blood and this is just delicious. Half chips as it's law to have chips with your beef and half rice as it's really buttery and lovely. A lovely tomato sauce to go with it.

Finally on the menu - one of my all-time favourite desserts: Oeufs A La Neige (or Floating Island). Edible even when you've had tons to eat as the meringue is so light and fluffy and the custard is beautiful and fragrant. I've tried to make this at home and it's quite tricky to get the meringue right but I'm quite willing to try again.

Once in the south of France I headed straight for the cakes! Here we have two kinds of rum baba, one with cream and one with custard (mine!), a pine nut tart and a choux bun.

Here are gorgeous bunches of white asparagus on Grau Du Roi market. They were very tasty indeed. I just wish you could find more white aspargus in this country.

Amazing purple potatoes. No difference in taste but oooo, pretty!

A Camargue speciality, guardiane with bull meat. This is a favourite with my family. Unfortunately we bought this from a different shop so the meat didn't melt as it should. I've made some nice versions of this dish. You just need onions, carrots, diced beef, herbs, red wine and black olives. Cooked for a few hours it's scrummy.

Another super impressive patisserie, which I don't actually know the name of! This was a rich chocolate mousse surrounded by chocolate meringue.

This dessert was a chestnut bacarois with a spong base and a vanilla cream in the middle, topped with a candied chesnut, walnut and a vanilla pod.

Next a blackcurrant and pear charlotte. It looked so beautiful with all the colours painted on the side.

There were pieces of pear at the bottom with a pear cream and a blackcurrant mousse in the middle.

My choice was a large lemon, date and ginger macaron. I thought it sounded quite unusual and needed to try it!

It was a little odd at first and the ginger was very strong but I really liked it, the tart lemon cut through the ginger and sticky date well. We went back to get more cakes a couple of days later but we were too late and most of the cakes had already gone. Oh no!

These cakes were from a sweet tea room, La Toison d'Or. Some nice photos of the shop are here: There was a religieuse filled with chocolate custard and a raspberry bombe which was filled with raspberry coulis.

Here are what my mum calls Bugnes but in the South of France, near Montpellier, are called Oreillettes. They traditionally have orange flower water but the patisserie also made them with lemon which was a nice twist. Incredibly unhealthy as it's just deep fried batter but when did that ever stop me?! They were slightly chalky which was a shame, they should have been crispier. My mum used to eat these freshly made with her grandmother as a child, scoffing them as quickly as they came out of the oil!

And lastly, HUGE prawns. Very fresh and delicious with plenty of mayonnaise.

Back next week with a new cookbook review.