Thai Food Made Easy: the food

51zOv8lLFgL

This book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost.

In the last post I discussed the appearance of the book (overall, very easy to use). This post is about the food. I’ve only cooked a few dishes so far, but each one has worked as advertised. The short version is that everything has had an interesting balance of flavours, and most of them I would happily cook again.

Sesame chicken salad: blanched celery, poached chicken, a dressing of chilli and garlic and ginger and spring onion and fish sauce and vinegar. So easy, so fresh, so lovely.

Pork and pickled cucumber salad: well, the cucumber doesn’t pickle that much, but look: I’m trying pork! This was delicious, with peanuts and coriander and mint and chilli and lime.

Prawn noodle salad (it hasn’t even been that warm here but I’m on salads anyway): more ginger! and coriander and peanuts. Again, so tasty. Would make a good starter at a fancy-pants dinner party.

Barbecued pork and herb salad: more pork! This marinade was ace: coriander seed, fennel seed, garlic, ginger, turmeric, five-spice, chilli, pepper… nom.

Massaman curry: look, I cheated and bought massaman paste. Whatever. This was fantastic. Slow cook the beef and THEN turn it into a curry with coconut cream and potato… definitely making this again.

Braised chicken with rice, turmeric and spices: like the label says. Easy and tasty.

… these are just a small example of what the book has to offer. I am dead keen to try the variation of chicken satay with lemongrass, turmeric and ginger, and the Thai fish cakes; pork belly may be in my future, and I may yet make a curry paste from scratch (again, I did do it a million years ago).

The one sad thing is that, as with Indian Made Easy, there have been a couple of instances where instructions did not entirely make sense: not making it clear how long to cook something (fortunately, that was common sense) or instructions to add a dressing at step 3… and then again at step 6. None of these are make or break, but they do surprise me in a book that should be more closely edited.

Thai Food Made Easy

51zOv8lLFgLThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost. It’s available now: RRP $39.99.

As with my other book reviews, this will be in two parts. This post is about the book itself; the other will be about the cooking.

This book is in the same series as Indian Made Easy. The cover isn’t quite as pretty but as you can see it’s still very attractive. This is a fairly hefty book, at roughly A4 and about 250 pages. It’s presented with a recipe per page spread, with a colourful picture opposite. Most of these pictures aren’t too intimidating. Sometimes they are suggestions for how to present the food; other times they’re just of ingredients, or steps along the way of preparation. The recipes themselves are easy to follow, although as with Indian it still throws me to have the ingredients put into fresh/pantry/spices categories. It makes it easier when planning a shopping list, but not when I’m trying to find the quantity of something while cooking.

The book opens with an introduction claiming Thai food is “electrifying and invigorating” which can be true of course but I get eye-roll-y when these sorts of claims are made for a cuisine, as if to the exclusion of others. What I do like is the emphasis on the “rot chart” – proper/unified/balanced taste: hot and sweet, sour and salt. Thinking back on the recipes I’ve cooked from the book so far, that sounds right.

Next up is a “Top 12 star Experiences in Thailand”. I am not a huge fan, to be honest; it’s all a bit too tourist-y squirmy. No, I don’t know what the alternatives are for UK and Australian readers either.

What I do like is the section outlining what the different ingredients are that are essential to Thai cuisine, from lemongrass to tamarind pulp. This is a very useful little section to get your head around the different flavours. I also like the “15 must-have herbs and spices”, mostly because it lists some of the prime recipes that use each one, so if you buy a good knob of ginger you know there’s at least five recipes you could use it in (there’s way more).

The recipe sections themselves are divided into snacks and finger food (several spring rolls); salads; slow roast, smoking grill and hot wok; fish and seafood; curries and soups; rice, noodles and sides; desserts and drinks. I like the way that this suggests the range of recipes and types of food that Thai offers, and makes it easier to pick what sort of food you’re wanting to make. And then I really, really like the ‘menu planner’ section at the end. It has seven suggestions for what sort of meal components to put together, and although I m dubious of their ‘midweek dinners’ with five courses (some courses not a lot of effort, but still!) I deeply appreciate examples of how to balance different flavours and components across a whole meal and will probably get terribly ambitious some time and actually follow one of the suggestions.

Overall this book is pleasant to look at and easy to use. I anticipate using it a lot in the future.

Acts of Kitchen: Lisa and Vikings

AoK_logo_v2

In which I talk to the wonderful Lisa Hannett about Vikings: their sagas (farmers come to blows), their food, their rubbish heaps, and modern attempts at recreating such experiences…

Lisa’s site

Cranky Ladies of History, edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely (including a story by Lisa about a woman of the Viking Age)

Podcast on seaweed from the BBC Food Programme

Oseberg ship at the Museum of Cultural History

Skyr

An Early Meal: a Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey 

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.