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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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).

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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.

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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…

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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.

food

Sweet Overload

Yesterday I sent to a Cake Bake & Sweets Show. I was blown away by the beautiful cakes and amazed at the many decorating products that are available. I was very restrained in my spending but had plenty of delicious samples. (I’m also a little confused – why was there a stall selling lingerie?).

A few stalls promoted their products by allowing visitors to decorate their own treats. I had a lot of trouble getting the icing to stick on my cupcake and it doesn’t look as nice as the one I did earlier in the year.

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My boyfriend did a much better job, focusing on chocolate shapes instead of icing. And went crazy decorating his doughnut and making me jealous (my doughnut was a unicorn pooping rainbows…). I love making cupcakes with him (and not just because he fills the piping bags for me).

The competition cakes were stunning. There are some truly talented people out there. I wish I could make something a quarter as appealing as these cakes.

food

Too many cupcakes

Oops, forgot I was a blogger…

One thing I’ve been doing a lot of is making cupcakes. Last month I did a cupcake baking and decorating class at my favourite cupcake shop, Cupcake Central, along with my mum and sister. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot from it, particularly how to use a piping bag.

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vanillaI got the recipe book from the business (which is self-published so is expensive and has errors such as choc-orange cupcakes that lack orange) and have been making my way through the recipes. My first attempt was vanilla cupcakes, which overflowed, and buttercream icing, which wasn’t the ideal consistency for piping. My second attempt, black velvet, cracked but looked very pretty once smothered in cream cheese icing and topped with fondant butterflies (alas, I did not take a photo).

My third attempt, red velvet, are amazing! So soft and fluffy! It probably helped that my boyfriend got me a cheap oven thermometer so that my temperature was more precise. I know my oven was slow but I had no idea just how bad it was!

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My work colleagues are certainly enjoying my cupcake adventures. 🙂

food · Uncategorized

So many cakes

Yesterday my mum and I went to a cake expo. I’d never been to one before. Wow, there were so many amazing cakes. It makes me want to quit my job and spend all day baking, ignoring the issue that I would run out of money pretty quickly.
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There was a stall that allowed people to decorate a cupcake for free, using their products. It was really fun. I’ve always focused more on baking and ignoring decorating but this combined with watching a piping demonstration has sparked my desire to pipe icing onto everything I bake XD

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My mum didn’t like her piping so she artfully hid it XD Now that I think about it, cupcake decorating parties are a great idea.

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The cakes in the competition looked amazing. I’d love to see the process that the competitors went through to make them, from concept to execution.

food · work

Ridiculous cake is ridiculous

My supervisor is abandoning me for another job ;_;

I made the mistake of letting her pick her farewell cake. I was thinking along the lines of flavour, perhaps a lemon drizzle or a chocolate mud cake. Alas, she wanted a Deathstar cake. With glitter.

I’ve never made a spherical cake before, I have no idea what I’m doing. I used the cake batter from the zebra cake and used lots of colouring. If I’m going to make a ridiculous cake then I’m going to go all out and make it look as ridiculous as possible. Swirling the colours all over the pudding pan was very therapeutic. This has been such an awful month, I really needed an opportunity to make a colourful mess.

I baked the cake at 160C for 1 hr 40 mins, with water added to the oven. I was so worried that it would be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside but it turned out just right. I think an oil based cake was a good move.

Then I turned the cake out and some of it stayed in the pan. Why? ;_;

deathstar3The icing for the zebra cake was a little too sweet for my tastes so this time I went with a lemon cream cheese icing. It tastes delicious but made way too much. Now I have heaps of ugly grey icing in my freezer.

As for the details, I still have a big expensive tub of blue fondant icing that needs using up. Accuracy is overrated, blue deathstars are trendy. Shut up!

Did I mention that I have no idea what I’m doing?