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.

Portuguese Custard Tarts

The greatest thing that I learned last year was that you can freeze eggwhites. Now I can make custard treats without feeling bad that I’m wasting my eggs. And when I’ve accumulated enough eggwhites, I can make friands.

This is the second time that I’ve tried Portuguese custard tarts. I love custard and my work colleagues seemed to like them. 

Still can’t take good food photos

4 thawed puff pastry sheets (I used a 375g block of puff pastry, because that is what I had. But it’s hell to roll out so the sheets are probably better)
5 egg yolks and 1 whole egg (I was one egg short and the tarts turned out well)
125g caster sugar
50g cornflour
350ml cream
250ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk the eggs, sugar, and cornflour in a saucepan. Gradually stir in the cream, milk, and vanilla and then cook over a low heat. Keep stirring until the custard has thickened (this actually took me a while). Transfer to a bowl, cover the surface with cling wrap, and refrigerate. Wait about 30 minutes until the custard has cooled down.

Meanwhile, cut out pastry rounds and line a greased muffin pan. My round cutter wasn’t big enough so after I cut the rounds, I worked them in my hands to make them larger. It does mean they aren’t as neat but I personally don’t mind. I was able to make about 20. Refrigerate.

When ready, preheat the oven to 200C. Spoon the custard into the pastry cases and bake for about 30 minutes (depending on your oven. I’m still getting used to mine and should have baked them for longer). The custard does expand in the oven but will collapse when you let it cool. Let the tarts cool in the tray for several minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Basic Rice Soup

I’m normally too lazy to go to much effort with lunch. I just want to chuck something in a pot/oven and wander off to do something arty. This normally leads to mash potato and cheese…

I really like this recipe because I can walk away from it, all the ingredients are staples so there’s no shopping involved, and it tastes really nice. It also makes two serves so I only have to bother cooking on one day 😛

 A bit of oil
1 generous teaspoon crushed garlic
1 generous teaspoon crushed ginger
As much chilli powder as you like
100g long grain rice (I use jasmine)
4 lts liquid chicken stock (no powered/cubed stuff)
As much soy sauce as you like

Heat the oil in a pot and cook the spices for a while. Add the rice and coat it in the oil. Add the stock and soy sauce and cook covered over a low heat for thirty minutes. Large bubbles will form and the garlic and ginger will go everywhere but that’s fine. The main thing is the low heat – have the heat too high and it will dry out and you wont have a soup. If that does happen then you can add water and the flavour should still be there. But it’s better to keep an eye on it when you first make it so you can figure out what the right “low heat” is for you.

I’m sure you could add other things like spring onions, silken tofu, etc. but I really can’t be bothered…

Beef in Oyster Sauce

This was one of the first dishes that I mastered when I started cooking. I even made it the one time that I entertained quests at my home and it went down really well. This recipe (from the same cookbook as this yummy dish) is super easy and tastes wonderful. It also taught me the value of marinating with baking soda.

500g beef, sliced into long, thin strips
Oil
500g broccoli, cut into small pieces
1-2 carrots, cut into small pieces
2 tsp rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Spring onions, cut into small pieces
1 tsp crushed ginger
2-3 tbs oyster sauce
1 tbs water
1/2 tsp cornflour
Splash of sesame oil
Rice, to serve

Marinade
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs cornflour
1 tbs soy sauce
3 tbs water
2 tbs oil

Combine the beef and marinade into a bowl and marinate for at least 30 minutes in the fridge. I like to get this ready before I leave for work.

Briefly boil the carrot and steam the broccoli, only a few minutes. Then heat some oil in a frypan and stirfry the carrot and broccoli. Add the sherry/rice wine, salt, and sugar. Remove from the frypan. Heat some more oil and fry the beef, then remove. Add the remaining ingredients and veggies and stir until thickened and heated through. Sometimes I like to add baby corn as well. Serve with rice.

Chicken Noodle Soup

I grew up on home-made chicken noodle soup but I don’t actually make it for myself. I’m not good at making noodles – not like my mum and grandma. I need a pasta machine or something.

I am determined to regularly make chicken noodle soup. It’s my comfort food. And life does really suck right now so this is the perfect time for comfort food.

I fail at making thin noodles. And taking nice photos. And job interviews…

4 chicken breasts
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, halved
salt and pepper

Add everything to the pot and fill with ~2 lts water. Bring to boil and then simmer for at least 30 mins. The longer you let it sit, the more flavoursome the broth will become. Next time I’m going to try leaving it overnight, because the one I made this time tasted better on the second day.
— EDIT: Leave it on low all day in a slow cooker and it tastes delicious —

Take out the chicken and carrot and dispose of the onion. Chop up the carrot and shred one of the chicken breasts then return them to the pot. (The remaining chicken breasts can be used for other meals, like stirfry, wraps, sandwiches, etc.) Add the noodles you’ve made and heat up the soup. 

This served three as a main meal.

Noodles
1/2 cup flour
salt
1 egg
1/4 tsp oil

Stir all the ingredients with a knife. Add water if needed. Knead the dough and then roll it out super thin on a floured surface (urg, this takes forever). Cut the dough into strips to the length you want your pasta to be. Then cut the strips into thin noodles. Make sure everything is floured up so the dough is dry when cutting or the noodles will stick together.
— EDIT: I now have a pasta maker. So awesome 🙂 —

Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken parmigiana (parma for short) is a very popular dish in Australia and is a classic pub dish. It’s basically chicken schnitzel layered with tomato sauce and cheese. Often there is ham involved. Some people are of the opinion that it isn’t a parma if there is no ham but it really is just personal choice.
This is my mum’s recipe. She showed me how to make it once several months ago and this is the first time that I’ve tried it. There is no ham. You can add it if you want. You could also use bottled pasta sauce and store-bought schnitzels if you wanted (but what would be the point?). I have nothing against bottled sauce and am happy to use it (I do have something against store-bought schnitzels. They’re awful). But I think some meals, like parma, are best made from scratch. It is worth it.

The yum is strong with this one

This recipe makes about 6 serves, but it does depend on how much meat you want to eat and how much sides you have. I think it took me 1 1/2 hours to make so you might prefer to save it for the weekend when you have time and (hopefully) not worn out.

Schnitzel
3 chicken breasts
Flour (and seasonings if you like)
2 eggs (if not quite enough to top up with milk)
Breadcrumbs
Lots of butter

Tomato Sauce
1 onion
1 red capsicum
1 clove garlic
1 tbs oil
200g can crushed tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste
1 tbs dried parsley
1 ts dried basil
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1tsp chicken stock powder
And lots and lots of cheese for the layering. Mozzarella is the classic cheese but I like chaddar/tasty.

Start with making the sauce. Peel and chop the onion and deseed and chop the capsicum. Heat the oil in a pot and add the onion, capsicum, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes and paste, herbs, sugar, water, and stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. I tried 30 minutes (which I had written in my notes) but it was thicker than I wanted (and made less quantity). So next time I’m going to try 20 minutes and decide from there.

Make the schnitzels while the sauce is cooking. Cut the chicken into thin bits and pound it to make it thinner (but even). this is important. It makes the meat nice and tender. If you try to cook big bits (like my ex-housemate) then you end up with horrid burnt crumbs and a raw middle. Once that’s done, coat the meat with flour (and seasonings mixed in), then the egg (make sure the meat is coated but the excess egg has been removed or you will run out), then the breadcrumbs.

Preheat the oven to 180C (~355F). Melt a lot of butter in a fry pan. It is important to use a lot of butter. Yes, I know this is unhealthy. I was horrified when I first saw the amount of butter mum used. But it is really important for the flavour. Cook the chicken in batches until golden on both sides. Put the cooked meat to the side with layers of paper towels to soak up excess butter. Keep topping up the butter as you cook. You might need to use a paper towel to remove burnt breadcrumbs from the fry pan. Each batch will cook faster than the previous batch.

Grab a big oven-friendly dish. Layer chicken, cheese, sauce etc. Cook in the oven for 20-30 minutes. Then use this time to prepare your sides and/or clean up your mess. If you’re like me then it is a very big mess 😉

Best cookies ever

I would try to take a better photo…but I ate the last cookie…

These cookies often make an appearance at the bead expo. They help make the weekend tolerable. They are so chewy and yummy. They don’t take too long to make and makes about 15 cookies.

185g butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
1/2 plain flour, sifted
150g macadamias, coarsley chopped and toasted
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g dark chocolate, coarsley chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C and line trays with baking paper. Melt the butter and leave it to cool. Mix the sugars, flours and macadamias. Mix in the butter and then mix in the eggs and vanilla to make a soft dough. Mix in the chocolate. Roll up some balls (about 1 tbs I guess, I made mum do that this time) and place on the trays, spaced out. Bake for about 12 minutes and then cool on trays. Easy.