Archive for the ‘My books’ Category

Lulu is the only person I know who can contemplate setting up a woman about to give birth to twins (due at any minute, she is near full term) at a dinner party date at someone else’s house. My house. “Does he know she is pregnant?” I asked Lulu. “He likes kids,” was the response. He’d better.

To be fair she and John cooked the main course themselves. Whole snapper baked in the oven Asian style. John took a photo of the fish prior to being baked in the oven which I will post here as soon as I extract it. It was tender and lightly pungent with lemongrass, coriander, and chilli as some of the core flavours.

I had been leaning towards producing a beef rib roast with Yorkshire pudding followed by rhubarb crumble. Thwarted by the fishy main I still did the rhubarb crumble even though something like a lime tart would follow the fish a little better.

Rhubarb crumble is a wonderful, rich, hearty sort of rustic winter dessert. It is the kind of dessert you serve after a family Sunday roast as opposed to formal dinner parties. In my experience though, people love this kind of back-to-childhood food and it is always a hit. Nigella’s recipe is pretty straightforward. I tend to be a bit random with both the quantities of rhubarb (bit more if the dish is larger) and I usually double the crumble recipe as I don’t have any dishes that are 21cm in diameter and 4cm deep. My dishes are either larger or too shallow so I increase the crumble quantity and chuck it on.

Rhubarb crumble

1kg pink rhubarb to give at least 750g when chopped up into 1cm pieces
50g caster sugar
1T butter
1T good quality vanilla extract
1T cornflour
For the crumble topping
150g plain flour
1t baking powder
110g unsalted butter, cold and diced
3T vanilla sugar or ordinary sugar
3T demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 190C, and put in a baking sheet to sit the crumble pie dish on.

Toss the sliced rhubarb in a pan on the heat with the sugar, butter, vanilla and cornflour for about 5 minutes until the butter has melted and everything oozed together.

Tip into a pie dish approximately 21cm diameter and 4cm deep. Increase the quantity of rhubarb if you are using a larger pan. You can do this in advance; and also make the crumble crumbs in advance as well and then assemble at the last minute when you are ready to put into the oven.

Put the flour and baking powder into a food processor (or use self raising flour and leave out the baking powder). Drop in the cold, diced butter and blast a few times till crumbs form like rough oatmeal. Chuck in the sugar and blast once to mix through. You can freeze the mixture or leave it in the fridge in a bag until you are ready to use it.

Assemble the crumble. Pour the crumble mix over the rhubarb. Place in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes on the baking sheet.

Serve with cream, vanilla icecream, yoghurt or whatever you prefer.


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I cooked one of my stalwart recipes for Edward (my brother) last night.

This is great fairly short order cooking that is good enough to impress at dinner parties. I discovered the recipe in one of the Epicurean Workshop recipe books. I need to check which one (Entertaining or Everyday Epicurean). The recipe was dug out for my friend Jane who stayed with me for a while before moving to Melbourne. We agreed that if she stayed with me she would expand her repertoire. She wanted to focus on simple dishes that she could knock out for dinner parties.

We picked this recipe as it is very straightforward with easily obtained ingredients but has just a wee bit of flair. I now whip this up fairly often although I don’t serve it with the jus or sauce recommended by the writer as it is pretty strong and nasty.

Roast salmon with potato and courguette wasabi cakes

Four decent sized fresh salmon fillets
Sea salt, and cracked pepper
3-4 courguettes – grated
2-3 medium sized potatoes – peeled and grated
1-2 teaspoons of wasabi paste
25g butter, or a random chunk
lemon wedges and (optional) soy sauce to serve

Turn the oven onto very very hot – 225 Celcius.  Mix together the grated courguettes, potatoes and wasabi paste. Melt the butter in a large non-stick pan (or wok). Add the potato/courguette mix and toss until moderately softened. Depending on the potatoes used they could be a little starchy so it could get a little gluey. This is OK. Do not cook down to mashed potato consistency.

Butter several large ramekins and squish in the pototo mix til fairly flush with the top. Insert into a bain marie of hot water (AKA a large roasting pan filled partway with boiling water). Put pan in oven and cook for 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven and leave in pan till salmon is done.

Meanwhile lightly butter a baking sheet and place salmon fillets on skin side down. Lightly season the salmon with the cracked pepper and sea salt.  As soon as potato cakes are removed from the oven, insert the salmon on the baking sheets. Cook fo 7 minutes at 225C. Note that this can be really temperamental depending on your oven. In general you want the salmon to be good and pink in the centre. Some ovens may need a couple more minutes. You can only take them out after 7 minutes and check one yourself. I have also cooked this in an overly hot oven where 7 minutes was too much. In general I would say that you should know your own oven.

Remove salmon from oven. Tip potato cakes onto warmed plates and plate a salmon filet diagonally on each potato cake. Serve with lemon wedges, optional soy sauce and a crisp green salad or steamed bok choy.

I haven’t got a photo because we ate it.

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Tonight I am cooking one of my favourite staple dishes. Great for family or informal dinners with friends. Freezes beautifully into portions. And actually good enough to serve at a grown-up dinner party too.

The recipe is from Stephanie Alexander‘s mammoth tome The Cooks Companion. This is the kind of recipe book that totally daunts people who consider themselves non-cooks thanks to its sheer size. It shouldn’t. This is the recipe book everyone should have in their kitchen. I gave The CC to friends Tash and Ian for their wedding on the basis that they could spend the next 50 years cooking their way through it. Tash thanked me through faintly gritted teeth but I feel quietly confident that now they have two mini-Tash’s this is a very useful book to have.

The Cooks Companion

Kilos of book: The Cooks Companion

It is the cookbook that does the following:

  • is structured alphabetically by standard ingredients e.g. for rhubarb focussed recipes visit R for Rhubarb. This is a lot handier than it sounds. Think about the moment when you have a load of rhubarb that you are looking at blankly with a feeling that you should do something about it. The CC gives you an overview of the basics of rhubarb (poaching etc); load of rhubarby recipes; and a  bunch of other ideas including cross references to other recipes in the book that include rhubarb.
  • is beautifully indexed and cross referenced. So if you are cooking chicken with chickpeas you can find it under C for Chicken or C for Chickpeas/
  • has all the basic recipes up front such as: pastries (short / sweet / flaky /puff / choux); scones; stock; batters etc
  • is great for the moments when you buy a walloping lamb leg to feed 1o. And then have no idea how long to roast it for to attain pink deliciousness. Just go to Lamb and at the beginning it has Roasts and Legs (boned or unboned).  Even the most competent cooks have baffled moments contemplating large pieces of meat. As a competent cook I probably angst more about getting it right as there is  no excuse for a beautiful cut of organic meat to be ruined.

Anyway, back to the recipe for tonight. Moroccan inspired chicken on page 295.


8 chicken thighs
salt & freshly ground pepper
2T olive oil
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 X 2cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
pinch of saffron threads [don’t scimp on the saffron – ever]
1/2 t of chilli flakes
1 cinnamon stick
2 T cumin seeds
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice [I use whole baby carrots]
2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1cm dice [I use whole or half teeny baby turnips – they are surprisingly good in this and soak up the flavour]
1 litre chicken stock [anyone who uses cubes will be blocked from this site][
500g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
2 cups cooked chickpeas [I chuck in 2 400g cans usually]
rind of 1/4 preserved lemon [substitute with zest of a whole lemon]
stalks and leaves from a 1/2 bunch of coriander, chopped [I ADORE coriander so tend to chuck in a whole bunch]
Cous cous to serve [I am not telling you how to cook cous cous, read the packet]

Heat oil in large heavy based stock pot or saucepan. [If you have a big Le Creuset casserole dish use this.] Saute onion, garlic, ginger, saffron, chilli flakes, cinammon stick and cumin seeds until onion has softened. Add chicken which has been lightly salt and peppered and brown on all sides. Add carrot, turnip and stock, bring to a simmer and cook on low for 30 minutes. [I use a simmer pad on my gas stove]. Add pumpkin, chickpeas and lemon and simmer for another 20-30 minutes until pumpkin is tender. Stir in coriander and taste for seasoning. [i.e. add more salt now if you want to]. Serve with cous cous.

If you cannot get pumpkin or other base vegetable ingredients (e.g. had a big struggle finding pumpkin in the UK) substitute with other root vegetables e.g. parsnip, sweet potato etc.

Love this dish. Et voila (below).

Stephanie Alexander Moroccan Inspired Chicken

Moroccan inspired chicken in Le Creuset pan!

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This post will be extended later when I have actually cooked something from the book. Lulu and John gave me this beautiful book by David Thompson for Christmas.  I have started branching out into Thai and other SE Asian cooking thanks to all the travel (and eating) in the region. It is a classic book of its genre with a fabulous outline of everything from culinary history of Thailand through to an extensive overview of different ingredients up front.

I do have a confession though. This book is a teeny bit daunting. Every recipe has several sub recipes each with lists of 542 ingredients most of which you have:

a) not heard of,

b) need to get from a speciality Asian food market, and

c) wouldn’t recognise if you tripped over it.

I absolutely adore Thai food and have started more gently with Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. It still has the complex pastes etc that you make from scratch but is marginally less complex than David Thompson’s manual. Having said all that, I have every intention of cooking from Thai Food. But this is a new style of cooking for me and I will start with a couple of Rick Stein’s versions of the recipes before stepping up to the stove with the Thompson version.

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Nigella Lawson’s Feast is a total stalwart in my book collection. At her best her approach seems to involve slapping a walloping piece of meat in the oven, suggesting substantial and interesting sides, and stuffing people to the gills. Dinner party guests roll home after consuming recipes from this book. This is by far my favourite of her books.

In some of Nigella’s others the cooking effort and skill seems to be reduced so far down the evolutionary chain I am unclear whether she is targeting preschoolers or chimps. Any recipe that involves tipping a load of Mars bars into a pan and melting them does not deserve to be printed.

I also have How to Eat which frustrates the heck out of me. I cannot stand recipes that seem to involve a chatty  stream of consciousness  with all the ingredients randomly mentioned throughout. I like a nice list of ingredients at the top for shopping purposes. Then instructions. If the writer feels the need to chit chat about their life and experience do it as a paragraph at the beginning of the recipe or the end. Just give us the list of ingredients or I will forget some. Nigel Slater needs a hand slap for this as well for The Kitchen Diaries. In his case though the recipes are sufficiently good, and the verbage is so charming that it is worth sifting through the diary entries to find them and locate the ingredients amongst the burble.

Back to Feast. It is a great book. Broken down into themes (Christmas, Easter, chocolate cake hall of fame). Tasty food that is pretty straightforward to throw together. Great if you have a celebratory dinner or Christmas to plan for.

Her chocolate gingerbread also deserves special mention. Really outstanding and good for freezing in chunks.

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You can tell this is one of my favourites by the appalling state of the book. It looks well used. Really delicious Spanish food with a Moroccan flair. Or the other way around. Try the baba ganoush recipe which is just superb. You want to seriously char your eggplant on the barbeque. The more burnt it is the more delicious and smoky the baba ganoush. Also some great lamb recipes with several very good marinades. Try the one with yoghurt and saffron. Just fab with the saffron rice.

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Stalwart part of the Ruth Pretty collection. As a caterer, her recipes tend to give maximum glam for minimum effort.  I have cooked a load of things out of here for dinner parties from her celebration dinners category including the fillet of beef bourguignon style.

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