books · food

Cookbooks of 2018

Joining a cookbook club was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Our group has been running for three years now and I absolutely love to share awesome cook with awesome people and discover new cookbooks.

2018 has been a challenging year for our group. It seems like our lives are getting busier and busier and there has been a reduction in attendance. One month only had three members attend, which was still very much enjoyable but I also find it disheartening and I worry that the group will dwindle to nothing.

But never mind that, check out the books we explored:

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Feasts

I was very excited to start the year with Feasts. I absolutely love Sabrina Ghayour’s first book, Persiana (which the group tried in our first year) and had actually borrowed this book the month before our host announced that this was our book.

I made delicious pea pastizzis the day before, using home made curry powder instead of store-bought. Then I woke up on the day to a stomach bug. Devastating! I saw the photos on Facebook, all the food looked delicious and I missed out ;_;
(At least I had the pea pastizzis all to myself when I was well again. Small consolation.)

I did end up making Apple and Sultana Loaf for the group’s anniversary event (in which we can choose a recipe from any book we have done in the past year) and it was lovely (wasn’t so keen on the nigella seed butter that went with it). Over the year I have made quite a few recipes from the book and I’m quite a fan of it. A book worth owning.

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WKA_WEEKEND-COVER

What Katie Ate: At The Weekend

Next in the line-up was What Katie Ate: At The Weekend by Katie Quinn Davies. Katie seems to be a very talented person – professional recipe writing and food styling and photography. The photos within this book are certainly beautiful.

There are a lot of recipes that appealed to me but they tended to be the slow cooked ones that were an all-day venture. I do like those kinds of recipes but not during summer. I can see those recipes putting people off the cookbook but there are quite a few keepers in there that aren’t as long and involved. I really should borrow this book again in winter and see how good the slow cooked recipes are.

I made Katie’s Pasta Salad for the day and it was very well received. Perfect for a gathering or as a work lunch. I’ll definitely be making this one again. Our host also provided Basil and Jalapeno Margaritas and I loved the kick that the chilies bring to the cocktail. Yum!

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Sweet

Not everyone in the group has a sweet tooth but I do and was very excited when our April host chose Sweet. I am a big fan of Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbooks and was eager to try his latest book on sweet treats.

…Yeah, that day was a mistake. I overdosed on sugar and hadn’t even sampled everything. I left with a desire to never eat added sugar again (haha, I could never give up sugar…). It was all too much in one afternoon and I learned a valuable lesson that day.

There were some great dishes. I loved the Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble Cake that I made, as well as the Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing and Millionaire’s Shortbread (my boyfriend wasn’t a fan of that one). But a lot of the other recipes were nice but not special. Those recipes didn’t stand out from other sweet cookbooks. It is definitely not a bad book but I found myself somewhat disappointed and left feeling that I do not need it. This might be a case of setting my expectations too high due to the Ottolenghi name.

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One Knife One Pot One Dish

From sweet to meat! And really that was my first impression of One Knife One Pot One Dish by Stéphane Reynaud – meat. Lots and lots of meat. There was a small selection of vegetarian dishes but I found them very uninspiring.

I chose to make rabbit, as I have never cooked with rabbit before. I have often walked past it in my super market, thinking it would be nice to try. Of course they didn’t have any rabbit on the one day I needed it! We were rushing around the suburb trying to find a rabbit and eventually found a frozen one. At home I had it sitting in a water-bath to defrost, cursing myself for not buying one the night before and cursing the group for choosing Saturday instead of our usual Sunday.

Moments before I had to leave I transferred the stew into a lighter dish (I use public transport and have to carry my meals) and noticed that some of the rabbit wasn’t properly cooked 😦 Of course I could finish the cooking at the hostesses home but it was certainly a stressful morning!

Then I arrived at the house and remembered that one of the members has pet rabbits… shit… Thankfully she has this great attitude and no meat is off limits to her. The rabbit was nice but the dish itself wasn’t special. And that pretty much sums up how I feel about the book.

I love the layout of the recipes – well organised and simple which makes this a good book for newcomers and those who hate cooking. But ultimately this book leaves me with a shoulder shrug “meh” feeling.

Boodle Fight!

We did not have a book for this month. Instead we had a Filipino Boodle Fight. It’s basically eating with your hands from a table full of delightful treats. It was super fun and I highly recommend anyone to host their own boodle-inspired feast, even if it isn’t Filipino cuisine (although it is very tasty).

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Cooking with Kindness
I am always on the lookout for veg books to add to my collection and was very hopeful about this one. I am certainly not one for ingredients such as activated charcoal or liquid smoke but that’s a minor detail that can be easily ignored.

This is a good book with simple easy to make food. And yet the food I’ve made from this book have been nothing special or blown me away like other veggie books. Cooking with Kindness seems to lack refinement. Some quantities to recipe components are out of whack and create an imbalance to a decent dish. With a little more attention to detail the flavours in this book could be elevated from “hmm, that’s ok” to “wow, this is amazing”. This isn’t an issue based on being vegan recipes. There are so many delicious vegetarian/vegan foods out there. I was dancing around the house because I made the most amazing vegetarian ramen I had ever eaten. I fell in love with a vegan carrot hotdog from a cafe that is sadly too far from home. The recipes in this book can be much better.

In the end only two members were able to make it to the event so it was cancelled for that month 😦

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The Great Australian Cookbook

I chose The Great Australia Cookbook for my turn hosting. The cookbook contains recipes from 100 different Australian cooks, chefs and bakers. Each contributor provides 1-3 recipes, which probably ensures that they have taken care to select the very best from their repertoire. There is a wide range on offer, from simple to technical. I have made many recipes from this book and very few disappointed.

On the day I made Sweet and Sour Pork, purely because I was fascinated by making a sauce that contained strawberries. We have a vegetarian member so I kept the pork separately (and actually tasted great on their own) and added more veggies to the sauce, which tasted lovely. The standout of the day was Slashed Roast Leg of Lamb with Crash Hot Potatoes. There are actually quite a lot of the recipes available online and you can check out some more here and here if you’re interested. It’s definitely worth a look.

SimpleSimple

Our second Ottolenghi book for the year. The group was quite excited by Simple, with many of us buying it as soon as it was released. Of course we had to choose it!

Simple does not disappoint at all. The book tries to cover different concepts of “simple”, whether it’s fast meals or less ingredients or perhaps being able to prepare components the day before. The book has a lovely key that easily shows which recipes are fast, which ones use <=10 ingredients etc. And within the recipes Ottolenghi explains which components can be made how long in advance, which I really appreciate. The book doesn’t meet everyone’s expectations of what simple is but it certainly meets mine.

Despite loving Plenty and Plenty More, some of the ingredients are difficult to find, if at all. Or are ridiculous like yeah sure I’ll pay $22.50AU for 150g sea spaghetti, no worries… The ingredients in Simple are much more accessible (although sea spaghetti still makes an appearance). And Ottolenghi’s hard work at restricting ingredients without compromising on the quality of the dishes has really paid off as the food is just as delicious as his more complicated ones.

Thankfully the event was held a few days after I returned from my holiday in Japan so I didn’t miss out. The food we had was all delicious and worked so well together. I made Coucous, Cherry Tomato and Herb Salad, which of course was yummy. The absolute standout was Sumac-Roasted Strawberries with Yoghurt Cream. So good! I am in love with this book!

broadsheetThe Broadsheet Italian Cookbook

Our final book of the year was The Broadsheet Italian Cookbook. This recently released book celebrates Italian influences in Australia by showcasing modern Italian cooking from popular cafes and restaurants. Like The Great Australian Cookbook, I imagine this one highlights the best that the chefs have to offer.

The downside to choosing a new release is that it isn’t available in libraries. We do get around accessibility by sharing the book’s index on Facebook and requesting photos of recipes but it isn’t the same as being able to flick through a physical copy of the book. Is it a good book? I don’t know. Maybe?

Again, the turnout on the day wasn’t that great but the food that was on offer impressed me. The dishes worked well together. The food we had was very dairy heavy so maybe not the best for people with dairy issues. I think maybe it would be suitable for vegetarians but I can’t say for sure without looking through the actual book.

I made Rich Lemon Custard with Fresh Berries and Herbs, which I think is misleading. It sounds like a really lemony dish but all it has is zest from one lemon. And herbs to me implies a variety of herbs but was actually just mint. So let’s rename the dish Lemon-infused Custard with Fresh Berries and Mint. Regardless of name, it was delicious (especially pimped up with a lemon sauce). But also excessive to make. So you know how many eggs it takes to get 300g of yolk? A lot! I had only just used up my frozen supply of egg whites and now I’ve added 18 to the freezer…

The highlight for me was definitely Eggplant Lasagne. Eggplant and cheese: what’s not to like! The Ricotta and Sour Cherry Tart was also delicious and I think it is the perfect offering for an Australian Christmas meal. I cannot wait until my library stocks it!

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And that’s it! Another year draws to a close. There was some good and some not so good but on the whole 2018 was a good year for me. I’m eager to see what 2019 brings.

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