bowl food

Unknown.jpegI have had this book for one million years. I am a very big  fan of bowl food in general, so I remember that when I first saw it I was really quite excited. I haven’t cooked much from it more recently, because I got distracted by other shinies, but I would never give it up.

The book is divided into convenient categories: soups; salads; pasta; rice; wok; curries; one pots. Every recipe has a photo accompanying it; they’re not crazy-styled, just straightforward and attractive. The recipes themselves are also straightforward: easy to read, and easy to follow The recipes don’t have numbered instructions, but most of them aren’t especially convoluted so it’s not too tedious.

One of the aspects I really like about this book is how varied it is for me, as a white Australian. It’s got pea and rocket soup; fattoush; Thai beef salad; chicken and pork paella; and yellow curry with vegetables. Some of the recipes call for a rather long list of spices, but it has always been worth it… and reassure me of some love of authenticity, for whatever that means.

Some of the recipes I’ve tried:  Continue reading “bowl food”

Not-So-Humble Vegetables

Unknown.jpegI have had this book for a long time. I think it was my mother who gave it to me, within the first couple of years of my moving out of home. I haven’t cooked everything from it – nowhere near it. Everything I have cooked has been good, and – as is appropriate for a Women’s Weekly publication – is straightforward to create. It’s not a particularly adventurous book, but that’s ok – that’s not what it’s aiming to be

The book is arranged by key ingredient – asparagus, beans, lettuces, silverbeet – so pick what you’ve got in the house and go from there. Each section has information about how to boil, steam or microwave each vegetable. There’s only a few recipes for each vegetable, but it’s a good variety and means that it’s not overwhelming.

Some of the recipes I’ve tried:

Bean, hazelnut and roasted capsicum salad: I am a sucker for any salad that instructs you to put nuts in it.

“Roman style” green beans: means prosciutto and mushrooms and pine nuts.

Moroccan carrot salad: dates, almonds, coriander, cumin…

Malabar mushroom curry: ginger, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, coconut cream…

Bombay potato masala: onion, garam masala, tinned tomato, lots of other spices…

… I’m not very adventurous when it comes to choosing actual vegetables. So I have never used the recipes for jicama, or chokoes, or even witlof. But I like that they’re in here.

Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits

Unknown.jpegThis book has been a part of my life for my entire life. My mum had it, and sometimes baked from it. When I left home, my mum got me a copy… but it was the new version: Unknown-1.jpeg

And… I did cook from it, but it never felt like the proper book. Then when my Nana moved into a smaller place and wasn’t cooking any more, I was lucky enough to inherit her copy; I gave mine to someone else who didn’t mind the cover as much.

At one stage I thought I would try to cook my way through the whole thing, but that kinda petered out. Nonetheless, I have cooked a lot of the recipes. And they are fine. So very fine. The recipes are easy to follow, they use straightforward ingredients, and they are invariably delicious. The book is straightforward and – look, it’s a Women’s Weekly book. It’s trustworthy. It’s arranged by ingredient – almond, chocolate, peanut, walnut) – which is brilliant for this sort of book. Pick your star ingredient, then pick your recipe, and go. Also, calling this a biscuit book is selling it short. There’s lots of slices, there’s meringue, rum balls, chocolate crackle… look, if I was forced to have only one book for cooking sweet things, this would probably be it.

A sample of the recipes, alphabetically: Continue reading “Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits”

London: The Cookbook

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $39.99.

This is a book of two parts. Partly, it’s a celebration of food joints in London – the traditional, the fancy, the new, the hip, and so on. Secondly, and less substantially, this is a cookbook. For me, therefore, this isn’t quite the book I had hoped for.

So, the first bit. It’s split into six sections: London Classics (e.g. The Ritz), New Classics (e.g. Ottolenghi), The School of St John (those influenced by “maverick restaurateurs Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver), Down the Markets (like Borough, the oldest fruit and veg market in London), In the Neighbourhood (“exotic” ingredients) and Meet the Producers (like England Preserves). Each food place gets a few nice, artsy photos, and a write-up about the food, the influence of the restaurant itself or its chef, and some other relevant comments. If you’re a foodie in London, or visiting London frequently, or have a real thing about dreaming of where you’re going to ear when you visit a city, then this book will really work for you. It’s not really my thing, not least because me getting to London is an exceptionally rare experience.

The recipe side of the book comes from many of the restaurants featured offering up one of their classics. This means there’s not a whole lot of consistency across the recipes, which isn’t necessarily a problem but does mean the book feels a bit disjointed for someone like me who’s mainly there for the food. Interestingly, very few of the London Classics offer recipes. Anyway, I’ve tried a few of the recipes…

Paneer and potato curry (c/ Southall): tasty, but not exactly a remarkable or unusual recipe.

Mushroom fajitas (c/Brick Lane): also tasty, and also not a particularly unusual or remarkable recipe.

Braised shoulder of lamb, shallots and flageolet beans (c/ Rochelle Canteen): I like beans with my roast lamb; this is similar to a Jamie Oliver recipe. I liked the inclusion of fennel a lot. Sadly, I didn’t cook this for as long as necessary; I followed the recipe but it needed a lot longer. I had a lot of lamb and ‘stock’ left over (it includes quite a lot of stock and wine), which I later turned into a stew/soup sort of thing with added beans or lentils.

There’s only a few other recipes that vaguely grab my attention.

It’s a nicely presented book: I really like the cover, and the photos are lovely, and the recipes are easy to follow. If you’re super into London, or into the food culture of cities, this may well suit you better than it did me. It does deserve to be appreciated.

I’m Just Here for Dessert: the food

9781743368824Yesterday, the book. Today, the food.

(This book was provided at no cost by the publisher. It’s RRP $39.99; out now.)

While I quite liked the recipes I’ve tried from this book so far, I have to say that I am not the target audience for this book. I am not one for making particularly pretty objects. I have neither the patience nor the vision to experiment with different piping techniques. I am more interested in flavour than appearance, so I found this book a little frustrating. For example: I made the basic cupcakes, and they are a fine cupcake. I liked them a lot. But the only flavour variations suggested are to add zest; or cocoa and a bit of chocolate; or put a berry into the middle. And those are fine suggestions… but I’d rather be playing with nuts and rose water and so on. This isn’t a problem with the book itself – it’s a mismatch between what I want and what Khoo’s intentions are. If I had the patience and skill, I love some of her styling suggestions: topping a cupcake with a meringue rosette, a macaron, and a mini Oreo, all on top of dark blue buttercream? Spectacular! I just can’t see me doing it.

Anyway, what I have cooked: the cupcakes, as mentioned. Very nice. Also made her buttercream, and used it to top 16 cupcakes rather than the six she suggests!

IMG_1446.JPGDonuts. Oh yes. Courtesy of Alisa, I have a six-hole pan, and I made them and they are great. The first time I actually had no milk so I used double the yoghurt, and I think they might have been a bit better than the next lot with half yoghurt, half milk. At any rate, they are delicious and easy, too. The second time I made them I even followed the suggestions for icing: I made the basic ombre icing and used one drip of colouring, and iced a few… then added another drip of icing and iced a few more… and so on. And yes, having that progression of colour was indeed delightful to look at. So that sort of easy styling, even I can manage.

Ice cream: I have an ice cream machine and have followed the recipe that came with it. Khoo’s recipe is very similar, and didn’t have a different texture that I could perceive. I did follow her suggestion of making lemon ice cream, and I also followed her suggestion of mixing and matching two flavours. So as well as lemon, I made lime ice cream, using a couple of leave from my makrut lime. I think I should have used a bit more because it wasn’t quite as lime-y as I had hoped, in the end. I even amused myself by adding a drop of yellow to the lemon and a drop of green to the lime while churning. Together, they were indeed excellent.

Waffles. Yeh, I made waffles. I now own a waffle iron. I’ve tried a few recipes, which I’ll blog at a later date. In terms of the recipe here: firstly, we discovered that the waffle iron Khoo is using must be a lot smaller than ours, because while her recipe says it will make six, we made four that weren’t full size. In terms of taste, I really liked them; the texture was smooth and they rose nicely. I haven’t made any of the suggested waffle toppings because we’ve mostly had them as a savoury thing so far!

I don’t tend to make cocktails, but I happened to have strawberries in the house when I noticed this suggestion: put halved strawberries into some gin; allow to steep; drink. So I did. And it was delightful.

The most significant chapters of the book are the ones on styling cakes. I admit I skipped past those, because the idea of building three layer cakes and then decorating them with cascading meringue makes me freeze in fear.

At some point I will make macarons. For sure. Definitely. No doubt about it.

If you’re into styling, or want to be into styling, then this is a book you want. If styling isn’t your thing, you may want to skip it.

I’m Just Here for Dessert

9781743368824I received this from Murdoch Books at no cost. RRP $39.99; out now. Today, I’ll discuss the book itself; tomorrow, the recipes.

I love dessert. I called my 30th birthday party “my just desserts” and served only dessert.

This is probably the most beautiful cookbook I have ever held in my hands. I mean, look at that cover. The edges of the pages are all gold. Inside, there are exquisite pictures of food and baking utensils and some of the inspiration for Khoo’s own creations – buildings, flowers, and so on. This is a delightful book to browse through.

Khoo opens the book with a discussion of why she started Nectar and Stone, some of the places she finds inspiration for her designs – florists and bookstores! – and a recommendation that you play with colour. I think this section is meant to be more inspiration than anything else, and that later chapters give a little more detail. She also discusses key ingredients – including, intriguingly, that she prefers to use Nuttelex rather than butter because of dairy intolerance. She also includes suggestions for how to dress a table, and some ideas about how to photograph your creations if you want to take instagram by storm.

The cooking chapters are the eleven ‘layers’ to the book – yes, like an epic cake that you’d be terrified of trying to cut. It covers meringues, cupcakes, (baked) donuts, macarons, ice cream, tarts, small and large cakes, waffles, cocktails, and popsicles. Each chapter has a basic recipe, a few suggestions for flavour variations, and then ideas about how to style them. Also a whole pile of pictures to either inspire you, or make you feel like you’ll never achieve their perfection!

One thing I like about the way she presents the recipes is that there’s a list of ingredients… and then a list of equipment. This, I appreciate a lot. The recipes themselves are presented clearly and the method is explained in a straightforward manner. She includes tips on things like what to do with buttercream if you’re making it in advance, while the entire section on macarons (which is only layer four!) has a whole pile of advice and reassurance. I haven’t tried them yet…

Although this is a hefty cookbook, there’s not that much recipe-substance to it; a lot of it is the pictures, both of food and Khoo’s inspiration – pots of paint, buildings, trees, and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth knowing that this is not intended as an ‘everything you need to know about making dessert’ book. If you really want suggestions for how to experiment with flavours in ice cream, cupcakes, or cake, this is not the book for you. But if you want a gorgeous book to browse through, as a springboard for your own work – well, that’s what Khoo has written this book to be: she says she wants to “provide… the skills and tools you’ll need to shape your personal style of dessert design” (14). So it’s light on specific direction and heavy on general advice to ‘let your creative juices flow’.

Acts of Kitchen: Hilary McNevin

AoK_logo_v2In which I talk to Hilary McNevin about writing about food and making food and promoting food, and I also talk about two books I got to review.

Hilary’s website

(and 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die)

Cookbooks: Luke Mangan’s Sharing Plates and Caroline Khoo’s I’m Just Here For DessertUnknown9781743368824.jpg