Seven Culinary Wonders of the World

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost. It’s out on 1 November; RRP $35.

I was intrigued by the idea of looking at culinary traditions and histories through seven key ingredients, and those chosen here seem quite appropriate. Not comprehensive, since you could argue for others (like corn, or potato, were my first thoughts) but nonetheless widely used in a variety of cultures over the world and with interesting histories attached. Linford’s chosen seven ‘wonders’ are: rice; salt; honey; pork; tomato; chilli; and cacao.

In each chapter, Linford talks a little about the chemistry or something scientific of each ingredient, but that’s not the focus. There’s more about the history, although it’s still very much an introduction – how something like the tomato moved from the Americas to the rest of the world (I love that tomatoes are, relatively speaking, new to Italy), as well as the development and cultivation over time of different types (the ambition to create inedibly hot chilli is completely foreign to me). There’s a fairly wide-ranging look at how different cultures use different ingredients; because this is a relatively short book (about 230 ish pages), this is by no means exhaustive, which may annoy some people if she hasn’t chosen a particular culture. Still, she does talk about the use of chilli, for instance, in Mexican and Indian and Thai and Malaysian and Korean and Chinese and Portuguese and Italian and American (esp Texan) and Hungarian and Spanish cookery. And finally, there are recipes. Again, these are not comprehensive, but there’s no way it could have been. For pork, she has everything from Chinese pork potstickers (dumplings) and char siu to sautéed chorizo with red wine  to glazed ham; for honey, it’s baclava to honey-glazed shallots and grilled goat’s cheese with honey. The recipes are set out nicely on the page, and each one only takes up a page (possibly a requirement in choosing?)

My one reservation with this book is that sometimes the language got repetitive. It’s as though Linford, or her editor, assumed that people would mostly not be reading this straight through (I did), and so they thought that repeating certain key phrases would be both a good and not noticed. I noticed. And while it wasn’t enormous clumps of text that were repeated, it was obvious enough that I got a bit impatient.

Overall this is a nicely-presented book: I love a good hardcover, although I love a cookbook with a ribbon even more! Each chapter has its own colour for the page numbers and the recipe text and the illustrations (there are some nice illustrations throughout – not photos), which is a nice touch. This is a nice book for someone like me who likes the background to ingredients as well as a variety of recipes.

Simple: the food

UnknownYesterday I talked about the book itself; today, the food. This book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost.

I’ve tried a good enough variety from the book now to say that they are mostly simple recipes, in the sense of being straightforward. They’re not all fast (which isn’t something she claims for them, either, but what some might assume), but there are few complicated steps. I like variety that Henry is including in the recipes – taking advantage, as she says in the intro, of the new ingredients available relatively easily in Western shops or online.

Some of the things I’ve tried:

Huevos rotos: basically braised eggs with fried potato and seasoning. I am so in love with this idea.

Cumin-coriander roast carrots with pomegranates and avocado: like it says on the tin, also walnuts. Very very good.

Cool greens with hot Asian dressing: the Asian there should be “Asian” (lime, fish sauce, ginger, chilli, garlic – generic Asian), but this was very tasty: any green veg you like (avo, peas of various description, cucumber, leaves…) with the dressing. Very good with the roast lamb (see below).

Salad of chorizo, avocado, and peppers with sherry dressing: turns out I had no sherry but red wine vinegar was ok. Also, fried bread (basically croutons)! Excellent in a salad!

Lamb and bulgur pilaf with figs and preserved lemon: leftover roast lamb has rarely been this good. Chickpeas, walnuts, spice… also bulgur makes a great pilaf, will make again.

Orzo with lemon and parsley: I couldn’t find orzo but it was still fine. Very, very simple.

Turkish pasta with feta, yoghurt and dill: the only dish I haven’t loved. Caramelised onion, buttermilk and Greek yoghurt, topped with dill and feta. I think I just didn’t love the yoghurt with the onion. It was very easy though.

Bacon and egg risotto: yes, that’s right. So good.

Slow-cooked lamb with pomegranates and honey: this is the lamb I paired with the Asian salad. It was very tasty and, of course, easy, since you just whack it in the oven when it’s marinated a bit. I like the pomegranate molasses with the garlic. Served with Greek yoghurt it’s superb.

IMG_1851St Clements and rosemary posset with blackberries: yes, apparently posset is what you call it when babies return some milk. Pretty sure this came first though. It’s boiled and then steeped cream (with peel and rosemary) and then mixed with citrus juice and left to set. I served it with blueberries. It was very nice and straightforward, although I do wonder if there are more interesting things to do with cream.

There are still a LOT of recipes I want to make and haven’t had a chance to. I’m very much looking forward to using this book to death.

Simple

UnknownI received this book from the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s available now; RRP $39.99.

This book is a delight. It’s a bit like Julie Goodwin’s book in that it’s intended as a generalist cookbook… although I have to say I prefer Diana Henry’s cover. As well, there’s not a whole lot of cross over between the two books, which is great; this has some different chapters. I don’t know whether that’s Australia vs Britain, or just a difference in their styles, or what the publisher wanted.

Anyway. This post is about the book itself, while tomorrow’s post is about the food (spoiler: it’s been good).

So firstly: I LOVE a cookbook with a ribbon! It’s enough to make me want to retro-fit ribbons into aaaallll of my ribbonless cookbooks. Which means yes, I got a hardcover, and it’s just such a lovely object. It has wonderful heft.

Henry writes an introduction that covers an interesting array of topics. She gives the context for the book (12 years after Cook Simple); unusual ingredients becoming more available and making life more interesting; and some suggestions about how to think about cooking equipment. And, most intriguingly, a short section addressing the question of how many people each recipe serves. Finally someone confronts this issue! I like her rationale – especially the suggestion to just think about the people you’re serving and act accordingly.

The book is divided into chapters that are largely traditional – pulses, salads, chicken, vegetables and so on – with a couple of exceptions. You don’t always get a whole section on eggs; I like it. You also don’t usually get a section on chops&sausages, which… is not especially to my taste (I find chops an enormous waste of time, in terms of effort:outcome) but I can appreciate their ease, and they fit in the theme of the book. The very British aspect comes through in the fruit puddings chapter, followed by the ‘other sweet things’ chapter (cakes). And then there’s the chapter on TOAST. Yes, toast. Variations on eggs on, and smashed avo, in large part. Her reasoning is how happy toast can make you feel, and that with increasing interest in bread, that means we can make toast more interesting too. I love it.

In terms of layout, there’s a recipe per page. More than half of the recipes have pictures, most of which are pretty minimalist – ie it’s the food in a nice bowl shot in an arty way, rather than an impossible-to-replicate table setting. The recipes are easy to follow, and have that now-standard intro where it tells you maybe how to jazz it up, or exchange ingredients, or when to eat it.

Overall, this is a really nice book, and again a good one to give someone who’s just getting into cooking.

Thai Food Made Easy: the food

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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.

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.