books · food · recipes

Cookbooks of 2017

Another year of cooking and sharing delicious food with lovely people. Joining this cookbook club has been one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I have tried new things, discovered great recipes, and learned so much.

So here we go, a year’s worth of cookbooks. Some great and some not so great but all of it a lot of fun exploring.

rickstein_longweekends_cover-130716-232x300Rick Stein’s Long Weekend

Rick Stein’s Long Weekend was a great start to our year. I haven’t seen the TV series but the book is full of appealing recipes that also had easily accessible ingredients. Every dish in our banquet tasted great. The standout for me was Shallots Stuffed with Lamb, Cinnamon and Pine Nuts. I didn’t expect it to have so much flavour! Baked Feta Cheese with Tomato, Red Pepper and Chillies was also a winner. I chose to make Green Kale Soup with Chorizo and Potato, because you can’t go wrong with chorizo in soup! A lot us left that day determined to buy the book.

Another recipe I tried at home that was amazing were Prawn Dumplings. They had such a beautiful creamy filling. I’m drooling just thinking of them.

Mangalore Ladies Club Cookbook

This is not so much a review of a book as a recounting of a really fun weekend. The host for this month had a book from when she was living in India 20 years ago, made by “a bunch of foodie Indian housewives who formed a ladies club”. The book itself is called Mangalore Ladies Club Cookbook.  There was no chance that we could obtain copies of the book so a week before the event the host sent each of us a recipe from the book. It was really great and I would recommend this activity to anyone who is a part of a food group similar to ours.

It was interesting to see the recipe picked for me, chicken kebabs, which I would never have chosen this myself. What’s more, the recipe instructions were rather sparse in instructions and required us to fill in the gaps. I am really slack at tasting and adjusting marinades and sauces but this recipe pushed me to really think about what I was tasting and how I could improve it.

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This event was also particularly fun for me as my recipe required cooking in a tandoor or BBQ. My boyfriend made me a charcoal bbq using some leftover garden paving and parts of an ancient dead wall heater that he had recently removed. It is so nice sitting on the path outside, cooking skewers on a homemade BBQ. I’d love to do it again.

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SecretsRedLanternSecrets of the Red Lantern

We next explored Vietnamese dishes from Secrets of the Red Lantern by Pauline Nguyen (and featuring recipes by Luke Nguyen and Mark Jensen). This isn’t the first time we have explored culinary delights from the Nguyen family: we tried Luke Nguyen’s France last year. I’m not really sold on either books. Luke Nguyen’s France had lots of difficult to obtain ingredients and looked like too much effort, whereas Secrets of the Red Lantern was more obtainable but few recipes popped out and called ‘make me’.

I tried a vegetable curry and it was bland. The flavour did develop overnight and tasted much better the next day but it did leave me with a disappointing first impression. However, the food tasted great on the day of the banquet. We had an absolutely delicious braised duck. I made Red Lantern Crisp Parcels with fish sauce and they were surprisingly good. I’ll definitely make those again and would recommend the recipe to others. I don’t think I’d recommend the cookbook. The book just didn’t grab me and make me want to try things.

veganeatsSmith and Daughters

Smith and Daughters was an incredibly difficult cookbook to obtain! I was in the queue at two different libraries and someone else tried four libraries with no success. I ended up going to a book store and taking pictures of a few recipes (and then purchased a different cookbook because I felt bad using the store but not giving them money). But apparently the recipes are available online so I didn’t have to go to all the trouble! Still, it’s a good sign that there is such a high demand for a cookbook. (I ended up waiting two months for the library book).

This is a vegan cookbook and I’ll admit that I thought I would not like it very much. I was so very wrong. All the food we had was delicious and filling. I loved the meat free meatballs. And the cashew cheese I made was amazing!

I really do recommend this book. It is a must have for vegans and vegetarians but I also believe that it is a valuable resource for us omnivores (particularly if you have vegan friends and would like to share food with them). I for one have been trying to reduce my meat intake over the years and the more good recipes I gather the easier it will be. But also a lot of the recipes can be modified so that they don’t have to be vegan if you don’t want.

citrusCitrus

Maybe I have developed high standards over the year but I wasn’t very thrilled by Citrus. Perhaps this group is making me a cookbook snob? 

A book dedicated to using citrus sounds like my kind of thing but very few recipes stood out to me as I flicked through. I had similar thoughts on the day. There was a very nice beef stew but nothing really was special. I’m sure it’s a reasonable book but I just have no interest in looking at it ever again.

Meh.

downloadPalestine on a Plate

Middle Eastern cuisine seems to be growing in popularity and I am more than happy to jump on this bandwagon. Palestine on a Plate by Joudie Kalla contains recipes mainly unchanged from her grandmother. This makes me a bit envious, I only have two recipes from one of my grandmothers and I kind of fail at making one of them. I wish more of my central European food heritage had been passed down.

The book wasn’t available at my library but luckily the host had brought her copy along to the previous gathering and I was able to photograph a few recipes that appealed to me. In the end I decided to make Lemon and Rose Doughnuts, which were baked instead of fried. I had never made baked doughnuts before (my grandma made fried yeast-based doughnuts) and I don’t have a doughnut tray so they didn’t feel very doughnutty to me but they still tasted good.

Doughnuts

We had a poor turnout this month so there wasn’t as much food to sample compared to other months but everything that was on offer tasted great. A standout for me was Spiced Meat Parcels with Pomegranates. Very moreish! I can’t wait to get my own copy of the book and discover more dishes.

rivercottageRiver Cottage: Veg Every Day

I have previously been given a River Cottage cookbook (Love Your Leftovers) and it sat on my shelf for months before I decided to give it away. The book just didn’t excite me and I had no desire to try it’s recipes. It was this that coloured my expectations of Veg Every Day. I thought I would feel the same way about the book but was pleasantly surprised once I got it from the library. There were a lot of recipes that appealed to me and I want to try. The food is simple and hearty.

I have never had chestnuts before and the chestnut soup in the book was absolutely delicious! Aside from that, the food that we made was nice but nothing special.

This is a worthwhile book to own or at least look at, especially for beginner cooks or those with a small recipe repertoire who would like to expand their range. I think I would have happily purchased the book in my earlier cooking days and gained a lot out of it. I don’t believe that it is the right book for me now but I have copied out some of the recipes to try.

spicetempleSpice Temple

Spice Temple by Neil Perry would have to be my favourite books of the year. The food is just gorgeous. So good that I celebrated my birthday with yum cha at the Spice Temple restaurant. Yum!

Let’s start with the dumplings. I love dumplings and was thrilled to see a chapter dedicated to them. I have tried two dumpling recipes and tasted another during our banquet and they were absolutely amazing. I sampled more at the restaurant and loved them but sadly those recipes aren’t included in the book. I wish the dumpling was more extensive! If you love dumplings and have the patience to make them then you absolutely must get this book.

For the banquet I made handmade egg noodles Hunan-style with smoked bacon and chilli, mainly because I wanted to make my own noodles (which turned out amazing. My best batch to date). I wasn’t sure how good the actual meal would be… Until I tasted it. Wow! Such flavour! I was bouncing around the kitchen in happiness (I don’t dance, I bounce). The food on the day was great, including the desserts. Oh that three milk cake…yum…

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One issue with the book is that some of the ingredients are tricky to source. Golden mushrooms and drumstick mushrooms? I have enough trouble getting enoki mushrooms in my local supermarket, let alone varieties I’ve never heard of. It’s probably easy to substitute the mushrooms with other varieties but what about things like Tianjin preserved cabbage? I don’t even know where to start with that…

the-zen-kitchenThe Zen Kitchen

It was my turn to host and I chose to try The Zen Kitchen by Adam Liaw. He was a winner on MasterChef Australia back at the beginning when I loved the show and he comes across as such a lovely chilled person that I was curious to try his work. Unfortunately, after Spice Temple I didn’t get excited by the book. It seemed simple and plain. I ended up ignoring the book for three weeks before I could look at it again without bias and appreciate it.

This is a deceptive book. Many of the dishes we tried are simple but stand out with amazing sauces or dressings. Seriously, carrot salad that just consists of carrot and dressing – make it, eat it, eat more of it. Steamed pork sesame dressing – make the pork or don’t make the pork. The pork is not important. Make that sesame dressing. Pour it all over meat/salad of choice and enter sesame heaven.

It is clear that Adam Liaw is a very talented cook and I’m keen to borrow his other books to discover more delicious sauces.

realmexicanfoodReal Mexican Food

Our final book for the year was Real Mexican Food by Ben Fordham and Felipe Fuentes Cruz. Australia is a great place for quality asian restaurants but fairly disappointing when it comes to Mexican. It was this discussion at my event that lead to the selection of this book.

It was certainly a good end to the cooking year. The food was delicious and worked really well together and made for a great feast. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in Mexican cooking or catering to a large crowd. I made Caramelised Apple Burritos, which were yummy but the stand-out dish was definitely the slow-cooked beef (and margaritas of course).

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sewing

New Look 6035

NewLook6035

I didn’t actually plan on making a complete outfit, I just happened to pick out fabrics that kind of go together. (I should probably iron my clothes before taking photos of them. Except my iron is a piece a shit…)

There really isn’t much to say about the top and skirt. My past efforts using flimsy gauze have not worked well but I stumbled across the method of using gelatine to stabilise fabric from Lladybird. It worked really well! My cutting and sewing was much improved and I would really recommend the technique.

The jacket pattern doesn’t include lining, which just seems silly to me. A jacket should be lined. I decided to take what I had learned in a Craftsy class and try to add my own. I had some leftover teal lining from one of my earlier dresses (which is horribly sewn and does not get worn) but that meant that I didn’t have spare in case I stuffed up. In the end it was a great choice as I love the teal against the grey.

NewLook6035_lining

The size I chose was a little too small so I decided to omit the button (also, I can’t be bothered). The sleeves were way too small and required a smaller seam allowance. I think even if I use this pattern again a size larger then I would still have to decrease the seam allowance of the sleeves.

I got very very confused with the collar. It took a lot of rereading and staring at the illustration to figure it out the under collar and I was really amazed with how well it turned out. But I could not figure out the upper collar and my attempts at attaching the upper and under was terrible. In the end I got around the problem by not sewing the corners and instead top stitching the collar. Meh, it worked…

NewLook6035_topstitch

So while I do love this jacket, I would say that this is not a suitable pattern for a beginner.

art

Can I Pixel That?

I grew up with pixellated computer games, Super Nintendo, and Game Boy and have always been drawn to the pixel style. I remember one game I would constantly talk to a non playable character just so I could watch the tiny pixel person flick her pixel hair. I love the precision of pixel art – how changing the position of a single pixel can dramatically impact an image and how careful colour selection can create a stunning piece.

I don’t believe that I will ever fully develop my skills to the level of the pixel artists I admire but still I strive to create and to improve. The past few years I have been moving away from pixel art but sometimes over the past few years I’ll look at one of my photos and think to myself: “that’s pretty. I wonder if I can turn it into pixel art?”

PhotoFlower

2015May

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2016Nov

One problem I have had with these images is that I focus all my energy on the focal image and then look at the background and think “nope, not attempting that”. So for my latest piece I focused on scenery. It was almost a year ago that I had a mini holiday at the Great Ocean Road and I was struck by the colours. The blues and oranges together were stunning. Of course I had to try and capture it in pixel form! I may have changed a few things but I’m very pleased with my efforts. And it has reminded me of how much I love pixels. I want to keep creating.

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2017Sep

dogs

Cutting the days away

I feel like I moan about this every year but it really does feel like I am less creatively productive this year. There are so many things I want to make but it just doesn’t end up happening and suddenly it’s August.

Now I am house/dog sitting for six weeks (well, my boyfriend is, I’m just enjoying his cooking and an extra 10 min sleep in on work days). This is caring for the dog that bit Daisy earlier in the year. Although she is fine around people I can’t help the thought that she’s going to latch onto my foot whenever we are rugged up together on the couch. Our relationship is definitely broken.

awkwarddog
Look at that awkward dog

It’s difficult being away from home for so long because right now I am very motivated to sew but my machine and supplies are back home. There are so many things I want to make. My compromise is to cut out pattern pieces. It is a poor substitute to sewing but paper patterns are easy to transport and cutting them out is so time consuming that I might as well get it out of the way now so that I don’t have to endure it when I get home. There was a recent sale on Butterick patterns so I managed to pick up five patterns for only $20. I’ve never used Butterick patterns before and can’t wait to try them.

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My boyfriend finds it amusing to throw the excess tissue paper at the dog. He wraps up food treats in some of them so now she happily rips apart all of them. I’m scared that she’ll rip into my actual pattern pieces so I’m being extra careful.

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Where pattern paper goes to die
I can’t wait until I’m back home and sew up a storm.

travel

A taste of sun

Maybe it’s because I’ve switched to a predominantly desk role (in a chilly office) but this winter has felt particularly cold and oppressive. So I escaped the Melbourne chill and spent five nights in warmer Brisbane. Ah sun, how I’ve missed you!

The flora in Brisbane is beautiful. I love the city’s green spaces and the walkway along the river. I walked, kayaked, snorkled, and cycled. All the while soaking in the beautiful sun.

 

dogs

Daisy Adventures Pt. 2

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I’m finding this hard to write. How do I find the words to truly express what happened? My attempts felt flat to me. So I’m going to stop trying to tell a story and lay it out in dot points.

  • Boyfriend was dog-sitting for the long weekend. – Boyfriend brought Dog over to my house to introduce to Daisy. We plotted how to do this safely, with the understanding that we might have to abort the mission if the dogs did not get along
  • The dogs seemed comfortable enough with each other and happily went on a walk together, slept apart in the bedroom, and hunt for kibble together (my family scatter kibble over the lawn for breakfast so that they have to search for it
  • We were having lunch on the couch when Boyfriend got up and went into the kitchen. Daisy moved into the vacated seat to look for crumbs. Dog rushed in and latched onto Daisy’s ear, not letting go
  • I knew that sticking your hand in during an attack is the thing you did not do. But I didn’t know what the right thing to do was and Daisy was crying out in such pain that I didn’t care about myself and shoved my hand in to try and break them apart. I failed. All I achieved was an accidental bite on my finger
  • I don’t know how it happened but Boyfriend dislodged Dog and forced her outside – I freaked out. Boyfriend comforted me. Daisy ate my lunch, which was on the floor
  • I cleaned up my finger. Called the local vets to try to find one that was open (it was a public holiday). Found an emergency clinic 30 mins away
  • Had to wait for a while at the vets. Googled how to stop a dog attack so that I know what to do in the future (but hopefully I wont ever need to apply that knowledge). Gave Daisy lots of pats
  • Daisy was fine. One puncture wound that didn’t need stitches and one superficial wound. Got painkillers. Got antibiotics. Paid large public holiday bill
  • Took Daisy home. She went straight to the back door to say hello to Dog (haha…no Daisy. You’re never saying hello to Dog again). Boyfriend took Dog back to her home. I felt like a horrible person who had Let Everyone Down and put Daisy in harm’s way

Daisy is fine. She was in pain but otherwise was her usual self. She really enjoyed eating her peanut butter smothered antibiotics. She isn’t traumatized and afraid of dogs during our walks. I’m so thankful for that.

I really don’t know what to feel about Dog. We have regularly dog-sat for her and will again next month for six weeks. I have walked her, fed her, played with her, petted her on the couch, let her under the covers at night. The attack chills me. But we were the ones that put her in that situation. And my family have had a situation where our beloved pet dog bit someone once and was able to live a long safe life afterwards. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’ve decided that I will continue to support my Boyfriend’s dog-sitting and continue to stay at the house when she does. Dog has a second chance with me. But she is no longer welcome in my home. And I don’t think I’ll be able to feel as much affection for her as I have before the attack.

The rest of Daisy’s two weeks as my houseguest has been rather uneventful. She’s eaten a lot. She’s pooped a lot. She’s farted a lot. She’s gotten so damn excited about me going to the toilet (she quickly learned that once home from work, walkies would occur after a bathroom break). She’s made people smile in the streets. She’s crawled into my lab on the couch. She’s snored. She’s brought me Teddy with her wiggly butt when I ask “where’s Teddy?” She’s just been a wonderful dog. (And I have a pretty wonderful boyfriend too).

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sewing

Revisiting Patterns

I went a little mad with the new year sales and added lots of fabric to my stash. My to-sew list just keeps growing! A lot of fabrics I purchased with no clue what to do with but for two I had a clear idea of patterns in my collection that I wanted to use. (Another one I had a clear idea but alas, the fabric was not large enough).

First up is New Look 6286. I constantly wear the bird print top I made with this pattern I made two years ago.

blueredtop1

I absolutely adore this fabric. It is from Cloud9, which tends to have prints that really appeal to me (I even used Cloud9 for my first attempt at this pattern).

I made a few changes to the pattern. I omitted the ties, which I had done previously. I also lowered the front seam between the bodice and skirt (which also meant raising the hem to compensate). And I put a zip in at the back. I wasn’t happy with the back when I first used the pattern and there is also a large amount of gaping at the back that required dealing with. The zip also has the advantage of making it less noticeable that I didn’t match the patterns between the left and right sides very well (I’ve only attempted to match stripes before this top). I would have liked to use a red zip but couldn’t find a shade that matched the flowers.

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For many years I have had two pairs of fox print pjs. I love them to bits and have worn them to bits. I think part of that was due to my 2015 depressive episode, when I would constantly wear pj bottoms at home and would avoid leaving the home because that would require changing and having standards in appearance. Anyway…I have sewn up the worn patches as much as I can and am devastated to let my foxes go. I haven’t found any foxy pjs to replace them but I have found this cute fox fabric.

foxtop

This is the forth time I have used New Look 6705, though I only wear one of the the tops. The yoke did not work out so well this time. I probably shouldn’t have sewn it whilst grieving for my dog. I spent forever ironing the shit out of it (I wish I had a ham) but despite my efforts, the front of the shoulders don’t sit nicely. At least I can cover them with a cardigan. A few of my colleagues have been admiring the foxes so I’ll keep wearing it despite its flaws.


The fabric I had in mind for New Look 6899 wasn’t wide enough. Thankfully I had something in stash that I thought would also work. I’m happy with the fabric choice – I love the stripes with this cut and having them run in a different direction for the waistband. However, I’m not a fan of the pockets. They might be practical bit they don’t sit very well. I think it might be my fault, not the pattern.

stripeskirt1

I had hoped to finish this before I started dog sitting but alas, I ran out of time. Daisy was not impressed by my sewing instead of patting her. I want to start more projects but she’s here for another week and I don’t think I can stand her disappointment in me.

stripeskirt2