Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Kitchen Hero Cookbook Review

I had some Amazon vouchers so I thought I'd treat myself to a few books; a couple of amazing cross stitch books (with skull designs no less!) and then Donal Skehan's Kitchen Hero. I didn't know that much about his cooking, I'd read his Good Mood Food blog a couple of times, but it was really his appearance on This Morning one day that made me sit up and take notice. Ok, I thought he was incredibly handsome, no lie! But his food seemed easy to make and his enthusiasm was infectious. Oh, and have I mentioned he was really cute?! Then I saw an excerpt from his book in Yum magazine which swayed me further. I'm so, so pleased I got this book. The photography is bright and colourful, taken by Donal himself, and there are some nice black and white illustrations every so often by Zoe Barker.

There is a quick introduction and then some kitchen essentials, most of the ingredients I already had which was good, ditto for the kitchen equipment. Then it's straight into the 1st chapter - Meals in Minutes. I like that there are no sprawling essays, just quick intros and then on with the recipes. Chapters include Party Food and Drinks, Comfort Food and Stretch Your Meals. I honestly don't think there's one recipe, lamb aside, that I wouldn't want to eat.

The first recipe I tried was the Dig in Fajitas but I can't find the photo. I'm sure everyone knows what a fajita looks like! The seasoning for the meat was absolutely perfect, not too spicy and plenty of flavour. Really lovely and I'd definitely make it again, with chicken this time instead of beef probably.

The 2nd recipe was the Squash and Crispy Pancetta Risotto. Mine was darker than in Donal's photo but that's because I used red onion instead of white. I also used smoked bacon instead of pancetta. I love risotto and this one tasted great. Even without the butternut squash it would be lovely. Risotto is always a good stand-by dish.

The last recipe I made was the Pulled Pork. The recipe was for burgers but I wanted to serve the pork with some cornbread instead. Again, completely perfect. I've made BBQ sauce before, from Nigella's book, but this one doesn't compare - it was way better! It was cooked on the hob rather than roasted but it worked well as it shredded easily. I was afraid the sauce wouldn't reduce enough but with enough boiling it did. I didn't leave the marinade for that long but it still imparted a lot of flavour into the meat. La Mama licked the bowl clean after every serving of this dish! The cornbread is for a later blog, from Supper Club by Kerstin Rodgers.

This book is worth buying just for this recipe if you love pulled pork. Delicious and one to make again and again. I'm super impressed with the book and so glad I bought it. I haven't even ventured towards the dessert section, the Cupcakes and Whoopie Pies sound particularly impressive. I also want to try his Swedish Meatballs recipe having just tried Ikea's version. I bought some Lingonberry Jam in preparation! There are a few Swedish recipes as his girlfriend (dammit!!) hails from there. Great to have such variety in cuisines.

This week I also made some Rocky Road Ice Cream, cheating with some lovely custard from Waitrose! I added so much to the mixture, there are mini marshmallows, glace cherries, brazil nuts, raisins and Dairy Milk chunks! It's pretty sickly but it's also tasty! Not the greatest photo but you get the idea!

We also had our first Farmer's Market in the village, starting off our Festival week. It was a really lovely thing to have locally, with an amazing variety of fruit and veg, fish, meat, olives, gifts and these stunning mini cupcakes and whoopie pies by Tinakiiana. Had to put the 50p there to show you just how miniature these cakes were! There was no compromising on flavour either. I had Raspberry and Coconut, Almond, Summer Fruits, Lemon, Chocolate and Orange and a Butterscotch whoopie pie. Just so cute! They'd be so cool at a party or a wedding. I really hope we get another market soon, would be a great addition to our local shops.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Rosemary Shrager's Absolutely Foolproof Classic Home Cooking Review

After my ice cream adventures last week I thought I'd try out a new library book - Rosemary Shrager's Absolutely Foolproof Classic Home Cooking. It seemed like a challenge, could I make a hash of these recipes - was I a total fool?!
The book contains a lot of recipes and it's really well laid out. There are several chapters including Salads and Dressings, Emulsion Sauces, Custards and Souffles. Each chapter starts with a classic recipe such as a Fish Pie or Pasta with a Fresh Tomato Sauce. There are photos of each stage of the recipe and the instructions are very clear. There are then some tips and ideas and also some variations so the dish can be practiced a few times without making everyone eat the same dish again and again!

The other recipes vary from the easy to the more advanced so the book is suitable for all levels. One negative aspect of the book's design is the font for the recipe titles and ingredients lists are in red and can get a little lost in bright light which is a little annoying. The instructions are in black which are much easier to read.

My first recipe was for the Tiny Meringue Mouthfuls to go with my ice cream last week. They were really easy to whip up - I even did the 'holding the bowl over my head' trick and there were no accidents! They took a little longer to bake than stated but this was because of our rubbish oven. The texture was absolutely perfect, squidgy and marshmallow-like in the middle and crisp on the outside. For me they were a little too sweet so I'd probably reduce the amount of icing sugar next time, or maybe follow the recipe for her Classic Meringues instead. They kept really well in a tin, not that they lasted that long!

The second recipe I tried was from the Pancakes and other Batters chapter. The main recipe here was for Pancakes stuffed with Ratatouille but also has Pancakes stuffed with Ricotta, Mozzarella and Ham and Toad in the Hole. I made Cherry Clafoutis as it's a favourite but only my Grandmere can make a really great one. A test indeed! The batter was easy to put together and the quantities were just right. I added a little kirsch to the cut cherries before putting them in the dish, as I saw on Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets a while back.

The cherries tasted lovely after adding the alcohol! However the clafoutis was really solid! I'm a fan of really heavy yorkshire puddings so I didn't mind too much but it didn't compare to Grandmere's - but her's is a lot more like cake so the ingredients must be different and I'm well aware I made a recipe from a batter section. I'd probably give another recipe a go next time but if you're in the market for a bit of stodge then this is definitely one to try.

My last recipe was Fougasse. I've made this a couple of times before, following a recipe from the Hairy Bikers and been happy with the results. This time I decided to make the dough completely by hand rather than use a bread maker or my food mixer to knead the dough. I think I'll probably go back to the machines! The bread looked lovely coming out of the oven but it wasn't as light as I'd have liked it. I made it with black olives and thought that the suggested extras should have been taken into account when adding salt to the dough as I thought, even as a huge salty food lover, it was a little strong. Shame. It worked better a little toasted though that's not really the point of fougasse. A miss for me here, but maybe my kneading skills were to blame.

I think I'd recommend the book to people who want to try and extend their repertoire while having someone there to help them out and offer advice. I think I probably have most of these recipes in other books so I'm not sure if I'll buy it or not. Definitely worth a look from your local library though.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Iced: 180 Very Cool Concoctions Cookbook Review

It's hard to tell if it's summer or not. Yesterday the weather was glorious and I was outside, today I'm back in a cardigan and cold at work. So annoying! But I thought I'd attempt to bring summer to our house by making some icy delights. I think I picked up my copy of Iced: 180 Very Cool Concoctions from TK Maxx a while back. It's a pretty hefty size, but then the title kind of gave it away - there are a lot of recipes featured! The recipes are by various people but the book has been photographed and styled by the same people so it feels like a coherent cookery book. It's published by Murdoch Books who make a lot of compilation recipe books - I've collected almost all of their 'Chunky Cookbooks' and find them great to dip in and out of. They also publish the book of Stephane Reynaud, Tessa Kiros and Bill Granger amongst others.

The recipes go from the traditional and expected flavours such as vanilla, chocolate and strawberry; to the highly unusual like goat's cheese ice cream, licorice all-sort ice cream and rosemary, carrot and orange granita. There is so much to choose from I don't think you could ever be bored with ice cream! The recipes are one or two pages long so there's no struggling with turning the page when you're elbow deep in cream and sugar (slight exaggeration!). The photos are really bold and usually full page - I'm impressed by the different ways they present the ice cream, quite jealous of some of the bowls!

There are six chapters, including Ice Cream Parlour, Gelateria and Soda Fountain. I especially like sound of the Soda Fountain section as it's full of sickening, fatty recipes you'd expect to find in a 1950s diner like bourbon and brown sugar ice cream and pink peppermint candy cane ice cream! Wow!

I plumped for a simple strawberry ice cream to start with. I've never made ice cream before but La Mama used to make it when I was younger. We've always had a few strawberry plants in our garden and I have memories of going to pick-your-own farms for raspberries.

I started with the custard base first after pureeing and sieving my strawberries. This was another first - making my own custard and ruddy hell was it delicious! Much easier than I thought it would be and I had to restrain myself from just eating it like that straight from the pan! I had to keep stirring it as it cooled to make sure a skin didn't form on top, but mostly it was because I wanted to lick the spoon each time! Double-dipping times about 30 but it was only feeding immediate family so no worries!

I didn't make the full quantity stated in the recipe as I didn't want a litre - too many recipes I want to try out, who wants to be tied down to just strawberry ice cream?! The recipe gives instructions for an ice cream maker and for just freezing and whisking regularly. It was the first time in a long while that our ice cream maker has seen daylight so I just guessed as much as possible about how to use it! The pot didn't really have time to completely freeze so the consistency of the ice cream wasn't quite as creamy as it should have been but even with the ice crystals in place it was completely amazing. If I can improve the texture then I'm never buying ice cream again! I made little meringues (review coming next week) to accompany it. Great.

Very, very happy with this first ice cream recipe and impressed with how it easy it was to make.

The other recipe I tried out was for a pear sorbet. The recipe was for pear and apple sorbet but I fancied pear just on its own so adjusted the recipe accordingly. I also left out the cinnamon as I wanted just the pure pear flavour, plus some pear liqueur for an added little kick. The hardest bit about this recipe was peeling the pears! I find prep work so boring and time consuming. But once that was done the pears just needed poaching and pureeing, I also sieved it as I didn't want all the fibres in the sorbet. Bit of sugar and water and the mixture was ready to freeze. Brilliantly simple and it had such a nice flavour. Again, far too many ice crystals but nothing a few attempts can't iron out, and in the mean time I'll call it a granita!!

Really happy with the book and I feel I'll have to be exercising everyday if I'm going to work my way through all the recipes! There are also sauce recipes, sundaes and even a recipe for ice cream cones. The only thing I would question is the quantity of egg yolk required in each ice cream base, but I'm sure the amount could be reduced without affecting the recipe too much. I'm looking forward to my next attempt, I think rocky road might well be on the cards!

Also this week we found a chocolate and raspberry mousse recipe by Mat Follas, winner of Masterchef 2 years ago. The recipe was tucked in our Happy Egg box! It made a lovely, light mousse but it was quite sharp despite the raspberries being nice and ripe, but you got used to the flavour and it looks so pretty in the little espresso cups. Find the recipe here:

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Amsterdam and Cheese and Wine Event

I was lucky enough to spend a week in Amsterdam last week. We were even luckier to have great weather, it was absolutely boiling most of the time. I wouldn't have thought I'd come back with an Amsterdam tan! Obviously I felt the need to blog about the lovely food I came across!

Didn't get a chance to eat here in De Taart Van Mijn Tante, never passed by at the right time, but it looked fabulous! Imagine kitsch to the extreme and triple it! They even have a bed and breakfast upstairs called Cake Under My Pillow - and you can get married in the cafe according to their website!! Imagine the amazing cake you could have!

Excuse the glare but how cute is this cake?!

And my ultimate cake - a big sugar skull! Wow! I'd never be able to eat it! These were right at the top of the shop, so many wonderful examples of their cake making.

After a wander round the Jordaan we wanted to stop for lunch and what better place to end up but a Dutch pancake house? Pancakes! (observe the exclamation mark) isn't huge but the pancakes sure were. La Mama had a spinach, goats cheese and pine nut pancakes which was delicious but pretty impossible to finish!

I had one with bacon to which I added lashings of syrup! There was an Australian couple who had a pancake pie each (cheese, spinach, ham, salad and tomato) and when the waiter asked if they would like the bill they asked for a dessert pancake - "but just to share!" Phew! There was also a young American couple who chose the American pancakes with bacon and maple syrup and had obviously had exactly the same thing the previous day as the lovely waiter remembered them. With the bill came a cute wooden clog keyring as a present. Aw!

As with many places in Amsterdam, they were extremely proud of their ingredients and where they were sourced. Their flour came from one particular windmill and a lot of items on the menu were organic. Our hotel also served a lot of organic food for breakfast - even the food court in the airport were proud to sell local apples.

We ate in a beautiful cafe in the Handbag museum. A gorgeous, privately-owned museum and an equally gorgeous cafe for a light lunch. They also do an afternoon tea, which I can definitely imagine. We had a salmon sandwich and a raw beef sandwich. The bread was one of the nicest sourdoughs breads I've had. La Mama wasn't so sure of her raw beef. We were expecting really thin slices like carpaccio as in all the supermarkets, but what arrived was really thick slices which tasted a lot like pastrami but which was really soft in texture. I thought it was tasty so I just ate more for lunch! It was also very important that I realised my pear and strawberry juice was 'biological', I was told both on ordering and when it was served! It was delicious.

One of the places I wanted to visit before we arrived in Amsterdam was Burgermeester. Our hotel suggested it too so I was very hopeful. It wasn't just an ordinary burger joint, oh no! Again, the ingredients were all the best possible. There were even photos on the walls of the cows that were used to make the first burgers. Best not to look into their eyes too much as you chow down on your beefburger! The beef only came from the Blonde D'Aquitaine breed, a French breed "but Dutch citizens"! The different burger varities are seasonal and I think we were there at the start of a new menu. The great thing is you can choose 3 mini burgers for 11 euros so you can try different flavours rather than struggle to decide which one you want.

I had a Meester burger with beef, grilled vegetables and tarragon mayonnaise; an Italian chicken burger with pesto and wild spinach and a Broad bean falafel burger. All very lovely and I really need to make broad bean falafels at home as they were very impressive.

La Mama had a Lamb burger with red onion marmalade and a Royale Burger with beef, pancetta and get this - truffled egg! And the truffle was very visible, no stingy flavoured oil or anything. The 3rd burger was their special of the month which was a burger with white asparagus. This month's is a Sombrero burger with guacamole and jalapenos! So cool! They took an age to cook and there weren't many seats but this is definitely somewhere to try.

We also ate in the restaurant in the department store in De Bijenkorf which has become a lot smarter since we last went to Amsterdam. Lots of different food stations including salads, sandwiches, pizza (with a proper pizza oven), grilled meats and an amazing selection of freshly squeezed juices. We also ate at La Place which was similar to De Bijenkorf but was set out a lot more like a market and was very busy. Everything is cooked there and then. If you want fish they filet your chosen fish in front of you and cook it to your liking. The pizzas looked delicious but they also looked like they took hours to prepare as the chef was very, very careful in placing all the ingredients and seemed to add cheese after every layer!

I was so impressed with the food and I loved that they obviously cared so much about their ingredients. I can't wait to go back. The good weather and beautiful surroundings also helped!

At least after my holiday I had something to look forward to in Manchester. I had kindly been invited by Vive Le Cheese to a French cheese and wine evening at the Soup Kitchen last night. The proceedings were led by Phoebe Weller who talked us through 10 different cheeses, starting from a sweet Emmental to a Bleu d'Auvergne, with plenty in between. I think the Epoisses and the Comte were my favourites and it was nice to try a couple of cheeses I haven't had before.

A good time was had by all, a huge amount of cheese was consumed and a very reasonable amount of wine was drunk! I loved the little details like putting out bread, grapes and gherkins to cleanse our palates. Pheobe was really knowledgeable and it was so interesting to hear about the different cheese varieties and how they are produced.

We were very excited to get a goodie bag at the end of the night! There were loads of recipe ideas contained within, all involving a good deal of cheese of course! They look absolutely delicious and I'm looking forward to trying some out. We should definitely have more things like in Manchester, maybe a gourmet cake tasting?!