book review · books · food

Cookbooks of 2019

Another year is drawing to a close so it’s time to yet again share the books that my cookbook club has explored for the year. There has been a lot of good food.

Last year I was worried that our group was slowly dying but this year has made it clear that we’re still going strong. I’m so glad to be a part of a group like this.

Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook

We started the year with Sweet Home Cafe Cookbook: A Celebration of African American Cooking by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This isn’t food that I’m familiar with, nor has the group explored it, so I was very excited to try it. I wasn’t able to get a copy of the book but I did really enjoy what was made on the day. I’ve never had watermelon in a salad before and I am sold! So delicious! Sweet Potato Biscuits and Bourban Pecan Pie were also a stand-out.

I made Brunswick Stew, which was meant to include rabbit but the local supplier was on a holiday so I couldn’t get it. Instead I doubled the amount of chicken. It was a lovely stew, I’d make it again.

I wish I could get the book. It not only contains great recipes but also commentary on the dishes and African-American culture. I’d love to read it (and visit the museum). If you do spot the book then definitely get your hands on it.

Huey’s All Time Favourites

Our next book was Huey’s All Time Favourites by Iain Hewitson. Huey has been on TV for over 20 years and remember my mum watching him though I’ve never payed much attention to him. I’ll admit that my expectations for the book were not high.

I wasn’t able to get the book until a few nights before our lunch so I didn’t have much time to look through it and choose. I went with Buttered Quinoa with Spicy Black Beans and Roasted Pumpkin, which I think is a keeper. Pretty much everything else that was made for the banquet was delicious and worked well together. Except for the White Chocolate Parfait – it was odd in an unpleasant way. Nobody wanted to take it home.

This is trivial, but the recipe categories felt odd to me. Not just because they were arranged alphabetically. Why are bananas and pineapples grouped together but pork has two categories (in addition to mince, sausages, and two offal categories)? It must make sense to someone but it doesn’t to me.

Categories aside, when I first looked at the book I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of good sounding recipes on offer. After our feast I planned on going through the book and picking out a collection of recipes to try. But then real life got in the way. My dog died. I tried looking through the book but I was filled with emptiness and nothing looked good. I can’t bring myself to revisit this book. But if you do happen to see it in a library then it is definitely worth a browse (I don’t think it’s available to purchase anymore).

On The Side

On The Side by Ed Smith was the book that I didn’t know I needed. I have plenty of dishes that need sides but aren’t provided in the recipe. More often than not I’ll buy some veggies to steam or boil but then can’t be bothered and I’ll end up eating a lasagna, pie, or whatever on its own. This book provides plenty of simple yet delicious options so now I have little excuse.

A lot of care has been put into this book. Each recipe comes with recommended meats to match it with, as well as lists of sides within the book that will complement. At the back of the book the recipes are listed based upon the main meals, cooking methods, and cooking times. I love those directories.

The food was simple to make and ample in flavour. Also pretty and full of colour. I made Red Rice With Beetroot, Feta and Wild Oregano and it was so vibrant and gorgeous. I also made Sherry Cherry Tomatoes, which were colourful and delicious. All the food was excellent and I purchased my own copy on the way home. I’ve now made quite a few things from the book and I love it. On The Side is a book worth owning

Greek

George is a judge on MasterChef Australia and I wasn’t a fan of him when I watched the show. For one thing, he tended to take classic recipes and turn them into something needlessly excessive. I have been to two of his restaurants – one was good delicious food and the other was the sort of place that had three dots of puree, added a reduction, then called it a salad. (There has also been a lot of media attention into his restaurant stuff being underpaid, which is a shitty thing to do).

Thankfully, Greek is not arrogant but instead contains recipes that the TV judges might describe as honest food from the heart. To be clear, this book is not about pure Greek food but is rather the modern Australian fusion style. I also found the book to be a bit hit and miss. Miso Melitzanosalata is a hit but Jimmy’s Dimmies fall rather flat, especially considering that Melbourne is big on dumplings. Others in the group found the book to be needlessly complicated, which I didn’t find.

I made Gnocchi Avgolemono, which tasted quite nice, but slightly modified so the vegetarian in the group could enjoy it. It was actually the most success I’ve had making gnocchi.

Peru

I’m just going to get out in the open that I did not like Peru: The Cookbook by Gastón Acurio. It just didn’t appeal from the very first moment I looked through it. Some of it was due to the density (it didn’t help that some recipes were repetitious and could have been avoided by providing variations under a base recipe) and lack of pictures to entice me. Some of it was because I am unfamiliar with South American cuisine and the book focuses less on accessibility (such as offering ingredient substitutes) and more on authenticity. I can appreciate that. I’m just not the right person for the authentic style.

I suspect that a lot of my issues with the book stem from the direction that the publisher wanted to take it. There are a lot of books in this series. I have tried Japan: The Cookbook and I had the same issues. Dense, repetitious, inaccessible ingredients…I love Japanese cuisine but I could not use the book. I don’t think I’ll be trying any other books from the series.

I found it really hard to choose a dish for our banquet. In the end I chose Vegetarian Causa Potatoes, which honestly sounded strange to me and I was intrigued. It wasn’t to my taste, too much mayonnaise, but others in the group seemed to like it. I wasn’t impressed with anything that anyone made. The food was ok but to my mind it was all lacking something. I wasn’t alone on my opinion so I don’t think it’s just me being snooty at the unfamiliar cuisine.

Cooking From Memory

Cooking From Memory explores the food and history of Jewish immigrants to Australia. The migrants came from countries all over the world and it is interesting to see the similarities and differences between the people. Alas, I was unable to a copy of the book so I could not appreciate it 😦

Obviously it’s not possible for me to judge this book. From what I can tell it seems like the recipes do not hold your hand and give you all the details for making the dish. With the recipe I picked I had the feeling that what I really needed was a grandmother showing me how to make it.

What I did choose to make were strudel biscuits. I had the recipe on my phone and I was zoomed into the instructions and completely failed to look at the pictures. The recipe didn’t explain how to lay the biscuits on the baking trays and because I missed the pictures I took a guess. I was wrong. The filling oozed it of the biscuits as they baked! Oops. So then I thought I would try a log with the remainder of the mix. Three filling was saved but the biscuit in the middle was raw! :O

Despite the banking fail, the biscuits tasted amazing. I love that filling. Though maybe if I make it again I’ll try it as a tart…

The rest of the food we had at the banquet was delicious. So I’m guessing that this is a good book and worth a look at. If you can find it…

Jerusalem

Is it any surprise that someone chose an Ottolenghi book? We are big fans and even had dinner at a restaurant just because he recommended it! (For anyone in Melbourne who’s interested: it was Tulum and it was delicious).

Jerusalem is a collaboration between Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi both of which grew up on the different sides of Jerusalem. As such the book captures the diversity of Jerusalem.

I have owned the book for a year and must confess that I haven’t made a lot from it. For me many of the recipes require a commitment that I don’t always have (more so now that I have a puppy who wants me to spend less time in the kitchen (and behind the sewing machine) and more time with him. But the food that I have made from the book has been absolutely delicious. I am in love with Maqluba.

Unfortunately, my notes of our Jerusalem feast were lost in a saving incident and I guess the food wasn’t that outstanding because I can’t remember it? I’m just going to assume that it tasted good…At any rate, I made Spicy Carrot Salad and Roasted Cauliflower, Hazelnut and Pomegranate Seed Salad.

Rick Stein’s India

I do not like watching Rick Stein’s TV shows and I ignore his commentary on his books because I’m sure they’ll be as silly as what he says on the show. Nope, I’m here for the recipes, not Rick’s take on the locals.

I do really value Rick Stein’s India because I love Indian yet it is one of my cooking weaknesses. I don’t know how authentic this book is but it has helped me transition from spicy-yet-bland watery curries to something worth eating. And so this was the book I chose when it became my turn to host.

We had a wonderful vegetarian feast. The standout dish was definitely Yellow Dal with Tomato, Turmeric and Fried Kashmiri Chilli but it was all so tasty and worked well together. I made My Breakfast Bhaji and Paneer Jalfrezi. Because of dietary requirements I made paneer using goat’s milk. I mustn’t have pressed it enough because the cheese did break apart during cooking but it was still good. I like the sender of freshness and acidity that the Jalfrezi offered to the banquet.

I also made naan, which tasted great but I did have a bit of trouble with the dough. It was too sticky to work with but my bread-making boyfriend suggested I let it rest for 30min and then do more kneading, which made a big difference.

This was also the month that we got a puppy. Yoshi was very well received by the group. 🙂

Barcelona Cult Recipes

From India to Spain. Barcelona Cult Recipes by Stephan Mitsch covers Catalan cuisine. The book certainly makes a great first impression but as I delved more deeply into the book I found it to be mediocre.

The food we ate on the day was nice but I wouldn’t say it was a standout banquet. As a group we did have some issues with not enough detail in the instructions. In my case, what I needed was a photo. I chose Baked Apples in Puff Pastry, which was described as “very easy to prepare” (so long as you have an apple corer – I had to buy one). It wasn’t that I thought the dish was difficult, it was just that I had never before come across such a dish and wasn’t sure what I was doing with the pastry. A photo of the final product might have been useful, as opposed to the photo of a tray of apples. At any rate, the baked apples turned out lovely.

At home I made two types of croquettes. The balance between bechamel and filling was completely off and I only managed to eat three before I decided that they weren’t for me and I could not eat anymore (this left me with many uncooked croquettes, which I used to make a lasagna so they didn’t go to waste). This soured my indifferent feelings for the cookbook and I quickly returned it to the library. So yeah, there might be some nice recipes within but it isn’t a book I would recommend.

Bazaar

And here we are with the final book for the year – Bazaar: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes by Sabrina Ghayour I was blown away by Sabrina’s first book, Persiana, which was actually the second book our group tried out. There are some stunning vegetable dishes within Persiana and I was so excited when I heard that Sabrina was going to release a vegetarian book. Since it’s release I’ve been making my way through the recipes in Bazaar. The book didn’t end up blowing me away as I had hoped yet it is still a good book with plenty of yummy easy to make food.

For our feast I chose to make Chickpeas and Vegetable Koftas with Tahini Sauce (which the group called “ball sauce”). It was delicious, as were the other chosen dishes (though I’m not sold on a risotto-y that uses basmati rice). I appreciate what the book is trying to do – make good simple vegetarian dishes whilst also exploring less common combinations (ras el hanout tastes amazing in cake!). And yet…I guess I was hoping for more… something…I don’t know…

And that’s it for another year! I cannot wait to see what 2020 brings. 🙂

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