books · food

An evening with Yotam Ottolenghi

Excuse me while I Fan Girl for a moment.

Please excuse the photo quality…

Some people get excited over musicians and actors. I get excited over authors and chefs. And I wasn’t the only one. Hundreds of people flooded the venue for a one hour talk with Yotam Ottolenghi (hosted by Maeve O’Meara from Food Safari). For those who aren’t in the know – Ottolenghi is a chef and author of seven cookbooks (as well as writes a column in The Guardian). Having been born in Jerusalem, the food has a strong (and delicious) middle eastern focus but what I particularly love is his celebration of vegetables. His vegetarian cookbooks have been a large influence on me over the past few years and helped me further break away from the narrow fussiness of my teens.

The conversation was very interesting and engaging. Ottolenghi is a wonderful conversationalist. Humble and funny, he weaves wonderful tales. And I just can’t get enough of his promotional shirt (a Simple lemon with his face on it). And I think O’Meara was a perfect host. She is such a passionate speaker and I loved the fluid motion of her gestures as she expressed her thoughts. The talk was over way too quickly.

After the talk was chaos. The exit for book signings snaked around the back to the other side of the building, blocking the exit in the process! We were packed like sardines and made to stand aside (where exactly? Into the wall?) to make room for the people who wanted to leave. Such poor planning. I’m glad it wasn’t a hot day because it did get stuffy. I had to wait 50 minutes to meet Ottolenghi and suddenly it was over. We talked about how crazy the queue was and that was about it.

There was a two-book limit on the signing. His latest book, Simple, was an obvious choice as I love it and keep turning to it when meal planning. The other choice was not so simple (see what I did there? Ha! I’m hilarious…). In the end I went with Plenty, as that is another book that I turn to often. Although for some reason the book has a weird smell…

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food

Cheesemaking Adventures

It started with paneer. I love saag paneer and wanted to try it at home. But the paneer I used was horrible! I don’t know if the manufacturer knew what paneer is because that wasn’t even close. That was the only brand available in my supermarket so I decided to try making my own cheese. I could have googled recipes but instead I decided to sign up for a 3hr workshop last April to make feta, halloumi, and ricotta. Cupcakes, dumplings, and cocktails were all fun workshops so why not try cheese? It was so satisfying making my own cheese and I was instantly hooked.

One of these is feta and one is halloumi. But which one?

The workshop teacher recommended the book Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home by Gianaclis Caldwell. The book is set out into structured lessons with increasingly complicated cheeses (and other dairy products) and I have been working my way through the lessons. It is a very good book! Most of it is easy to follow, aside from a bit of wording that I have trouble with (am I meant to spend 20 minutes bringing the milk to x temperature or is it meant to sit at x for 20 minutes?).

Paneer is so easy to make! But I haven’t done so well with a lot of the lessons. I failed to make butter. My attempt at yoghurt resulted in yoghurt-infused milk. Two out of three mascarpone attempts were too sour. My quick mozzarella was kinda stretchy but not melty enough. My recent feta didn’t form curds so I added extra rennet and it seems to be fine aside from being a little too melty and I’m still confused.

This is meant to be mozzarella
Marinated “feta” with an extra dose of rennet

I have a big issue with cream. Australia is special. We are so special that we’ve fucked up our cream. We put thickeners in our cream. They call clotted cream “double cream”. Or “pure cream” so you know it’s not equivalent to British double cream. But wait! “Pure cream” can also mean no thickeners and actually is equivalent to double cream (I think? It’s hard to keep track of this shit). The amount of time I’ve spent starting aimlessly at cream cartons trying to find the right fat content without thickeners is ridiculous. I am surprised that my cream cheese actually worked – I had to mix cream and milk to get a low enough percentage and I was just guesstimating.

Cream cheese. It worked! \o/

Clearly I still have a long way to go. But I am excited by the prospect (and a little bit intimidated). I’m sure I’ll improve a lot in 2019. I can’t wait to try my first hard, aged cheese. Just as soon as my boyfriend makes me a cheese press…

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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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.

food · travel

Japan Adventures – Food!

Ah food. Good food makes me so happy. And there was plenty of it in Japan! My mouth is watering just thinking of it all.

Let’s start with breakfast. We chose to have a breakfast buffet at our first business hotel to help make life a little easier. The food was a mix of western and Japanese and the western was very odd. Gem potatoes, too-sweet pasta, “pizza” toast…is this how the Japanese perceive us? It wasn’t very nice. The Japanese options were much better. I’m sure the business hotels are pretty much the same among them so I would say that it isn’t a good idea to eat at them for an entire trip.

For the most part we had breakfast at three different fast-food chains: Sukiya, Nakau, and Yoshinoya. I preferred Sukiya but both offered decent cheap breakfast sets, about $5AU. You couldn’t get much for that price back home. I discovered that I like raw egg in rice but don’t like natto (fermented soybeans).

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We also had breakfast at our Ryokan (traditional inn) in Takayama. Yum! Each day offered a slightly different meal but we always had bacon and eggs and hoba miso, which is a region speciality. I wish I could have stayed entirely in Ryokans and had their breakfasts.

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Hoba miso is what happiness tastes like. It involves cooking a sweet miso mixture on a dried magnolia leaf (hoba) and is so delicious that one day I stole the hoba miso from the table next to me after the people had left (I can’t believe they didn’t eat it!). I’m going to have to experiment in the kitchen to see if I can make a suitable substitute.

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Our goal was to try a wide range of foods and I think we were reasonably successful. We stumbled through making our own okonomiyaki and later in the week watched an expert make it in front of us (I also watched in horror as a European asked for our kewpie mayo bottle and added some to his brothless ramen…). Our mind was blown when we dipped tempura into a matcha salt (why oh why don’t they do that here?!). We waited an hour for over-hyped pancakes. We discovered that cold soba with doing sauce is actually delicious. We sampled a German Bakery that wasnt even remotely German (but had a yummy pudding bun). We even tried a 7-Eleven meal and it actually wasn’t bad.

One thing I highly recommend is Kaiseki restaurants. Kaiseki is haute cuisine so is certainly not cheap but some are cheaper than others and lunch is cheaper still. I do so wish I could have give to the high-end ones. Such care was put into the two lunches we did have, I can only imagine what the others have to offer.

Our first Kaiseki restaurant was Inshotei in Ueno, Tokyo. I can’t quite remember but I think I chose the most expensive set meal on offer (3600yen). I don’t know what we ate but whatever it was, we were not disappointed at all. It was all so beautiful and delicious. And so well balanced. Such a contrast to the banquets we have at home.

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Top was made using New Look 6286

We also went to Kodaiji Manjiro in Gion, Kyoto. Unfortunately we arrived late in the service hours and was restricted to choosing the smaller sets. It wasn’t quite as good as Inshotei but it was still pretty amazing. I did not except salmon roe in rice would taste so good but it really did. I want to eat it again (and asparagus jelly…).

One of the highlights was lunch at Sakurajaya in Takayama. The chef studied in Germany, which has influenced his restaurant to create a lovely blend (and caters to vegetarians too). He opened it 13 years ago but didn’t get tourist visitors until about 3 years ago and now he is so busy in the evenings (with only his mother to help him) that reservations are required. Lunch is the ideal time for walk-ins, as only one other couple was there with us. We all sat at the bar and could watch the chef prepare our food, which I absolutely love.

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The other couple asked the chef a lot of questions, which lead him to showing us how to make one of his soy sauce blends. Then after straining the blend, he used the leftover bonito flakes to make us delicious onigiri free of charge! This is the kind of theatre and hospitality that doesn’t happen at home.

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After sampling so much good food, we spent our last day doing a little cooking class. It was such a lovely way to finish our holiday.

CookingJapan

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.

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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).

food

Ombre Cake

It’s been almost two years since I’ve attempted a fancy cake (which was less fancy and more silly). I have been putting effort into making pretty cupcakes but there hasn’t been much reason to put in the effort for a fancy cake. But it’s my boyfriend’s birthday I have wanted to go crazy with colour and make an ombre cake for years so naturally I used the birthday as an excuse to make an ombre cake.

The latest season of the Great Australian Bake Off had an ombre cake challenge so I chose this recipe (spoiler: it doesn’t doesn’t taste lemony). The recipes themselves haven’t been tested and I was a little worried by some of the instructions. I never feel easy when recipes say “add the flours” when there is only one flour used – is there another flour that they forgot to add to the list of ingredients? Or heat eggwhites to 115C over water when that feels wrong to me (and my limited experience) and my boyfriend is adamant that a water bath can’t reach that temperature anyway (I panicked and took it off ~75C).

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I used this page for advice on how to ice the cake (plus my boyfriend showed me a handy brick layering strategy!). I might not have a turntable or icing smoother but it’s still an improvement from two years ago. It is a little disturbing slavering on large quantities of icing that I know exactly how much butter and sugar has gone into it. And it was a lot of icing. I might have a sweet tooth but that outer layer is way too much. I think I need to stick with cream cheese based icings.

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I still have a large amount of blue fondant from my very first fancy cake so I used some to make a quick flower. I used this page as a guide but I didn’t have the tools and I wasn’t trying all that hard. There’s only so many hours I can spend on a cake before I suffer from cake fatigue. Besides, my boyfriend’s family will still be wowed by my inferior flower. And wowed they were.

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I really enjoyed the process of making the cake. I felt a warm and fuzzy feeling finishing the cake, thinking ‘wow, I made that’. And everyone was vocally impressed. And there are so many more beautiful cakes on Pinterest that I’d love to try. But damn, it’s a lot of work. And a lot of cake that has to be eaten.

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books · food · recipes

Cookbooks of 2016

At the start of the year I was fortunate enough to join a newly formed cookbook group. The small group meets up once a month at a different member’s home and we all share a dish made from a single cookbook chosen by the host. It has been an absolutely wonderful experience and I feel that I have already grown from it, not only developing my cooking skills but also becoming more adventurous. I can’t wait until 2017!

I’d like to share my take on the books that we have explored this year.

complete-food-safariComplete Food Safari

We started our cookbook adventure with a book containing recipes from the TV show Food Safari. In the series, Maeve O’Meara travels around Australia and explores food from chefs and home cooks of different cultures.

I chose to make Jambalaya, for the simple reason that I love chorizo 😉 There were some lovely dishes on the day, including a stunning Sindhi Biryani (goat curry). I had eaten goat once before but never did I think that I would want to cook goat! But this dish was the main thing that spurred me to buy the book. Over the weekend I finally made my own Sindhi Biryani and it still tasted great (though perhaps not as good as the one made for our group).

foodsafarigoat3

I find the design of this book stunning but it’s large size is also off-putting. It isn’t normally a book that I grab when I’m browsing for something to make. Which is a pity as the things that I have made from the book were very nice.

persianaPersiana

Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour was an instant hit. All of our dishes on the day were amazing and worked so well together. I made the Baklava, which was full of citrus and much better than the more sweet Greek version.

baklava

Soon after our event I ordered my own copy of the book and have been working my way through the book. So many amazing recipes! The only downside is that there are a lot of ingredients that I can’t get from the supermarket and have to hunt for them (thankfully I’ve discovered a specialty store near work that has a lot of the ingredients).

I love this book so much, it has become my favourite. All cooks should try this book!

how-to-eatHow to Eat

How to Eat by Nigella Lawson would have to be my lowpoint in my cookbook adventures. I’ve never tried Nigella’s recipes before so I don’t know if I’m not a fan of her or just this book (which is fairly old. Maybe it hasn’t aged well?). The majority of the dishes on the day were bland and uninspiring. I can’t even remember what I made (just looked it up: I made Mushroom Risotto). The only dish that I was a fan of was shortbread dipped in lemon cream and quite frankly, I have better variations of shortbread and lemon cream/curd in other cookbooks.

I should point out that I didn’t read Nigella’s writing, only the recipes. Apparently the writing is really good and feels like a conversation or something like that. Can’t say that I’m interested in that.

moosewoodMoosewood Cookbook

I might have been left with the impression that How to Eat is dated but Moosewood Cookbook is even older and I certainly don’t feel that the recipes are dated! Moosewood was originally written in 1974 by Mollie Katzen and is based on vegetarian dishes served at a restaurant co-op in Ithaca, NY. I made Mushroom and Barley Soup.

What I really liked about the book was the flexibility of the recipes. It would clearly state if you would use low fat milk instead of full fat, or perhaps you could use cream instead…etc. That kind of information would have been very useful when I was first learning how to cook.

I enjoy the book but I haven’t felt any drive to revisit it since.

lukenguyenLuke Nguyen’s France

Luke Nguyen’s France is a delightful French-Vietnamese fusion. I am really ignorant of history and had no idea that the French had occupied Vietnam and influenced its cuisine. I don’t actually watch much cooking shows but I have enjoyed the bits and pieces I have seen of Luke Nguyen. He has this lovely enthusiasm and cheerful welcomeness about him. But I’ve never been interested to try his actual recipes as a lot of ingredients I’ve seen him use seem to be endemic to the region he’s cooking in and not easily accessible. In fact, a few of our members did have trouble finding the right ingredients for our cooking gathering.

I made Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass Creme Brulee, which I thought was delicious but gave me a lot of grief! I tried Luke’s steaming method and scrambled it. Twice. That’s when I switched to a bain marie in the oven and it worked a charm. But the highlight of the day was snails. I was very hesitant when I discovered that someone had decided to make a snail dish. But I tried it and wow, snails smothered in garlic and butter are surprisingly nice. I have a tin of snails in the pantry, waiting for me to get around to cooking them.

cremebrulee

I really didn’t have a chance to look at the cookbook in detail. I just flicked through someone’s copy and snapped a photo of the creme brulee recipe. I want to borrow the book and try a few more things to decide if I want to buy it or not but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I keep getting distracted by the cookbooks I already own.

plentymorePlenty More

Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi is a well-celebrated vegetarian cookbook that I actually haven’t used before now. Which is silly, since I want to reduce my meat consumption. I was very excited to try this books, it was hard to choose what to make. The book is certainly on my wishlist now.

I made the Aubergine Cheesecake, which I have resolved to bring to family christmas. The downside to our dinner was that most of us chose cheesey dishes. They were all delicious but I lost my appetite for a few days and couldn’t eat cheese for a week after that! Lesson learned…

cheesecake

01kitchengardencompanionKitchen Garden Companion

Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion was my book choice when I hosted. It was initially a birthday present from my sister. The book groups recipes by ingredient in alphabetical order (and also explains how to grow the food) and I have spent years working my way from A-Z (I’m up to T). There are a lot of recipes that are average but there are also a lot of dishes that taste great. I made Eve’s Pudding, which is a nice little simple pud to share.

I was very confused when one member of the group brought a (delicious) banana ice cream. I have no banana section in my book! It looks like there is a difference in the recipes listed between the copies of the book published in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. My sister gave me the Northern copy as it is much cheaper than the Southern one. My local library has a copy of the book so I fully plan to borrow it and compare the copies (including saving that banana ice cream recipe. Yum!). Just as soon as I reach Z in my book…

hestonHeston Blumenthal at Home

Our final book for the year was Heston Blumenthal at Home. I’ve seen his shows, I was very worried when the host announced her book. The book is actually more accessible than I thought it would be and the food was amazing. Heston is an impressive person. He really knows what he’s doing and shares that knowledge in his book. I love the science in this book, with it’s explanations about the correct temperatures for determining when a meat is cooked or a caramel is ready.

The food that came out was pretty amazing. Green tea smoked salmon was my favourite but I also couldn’t stop eating basil and mascapone pesto. I made Eton Mess. I wasn’t sold on the banana puree but OMG, those were the best meringues I have ever eaten. I think I’ll stick with Heston’s meringue recipe from now on. I’m definitely going to add this book to my collection.

A lot of the recipes aren’t what I would call easily accessible. Such as sodium citrate as an ingredient, which before now I only knew as an coagulant in blood collection tubes. And some of the ice creams require dry ice. I suppose I could pinch some left-over dry ice from work but how will other people acquire it? But even if you aren’t interested in the recipes, the book is still worth a read as there is a lot to learn from it.