22 December 2011

Christmas is Coming

With Christmas fast approaching we reached for the domestic goddess herself to guide us through the party season. We embraced the festivities at book club with no nonsense recipes for canapés, cocktails and fuss-free dishes to help us recover from our over-indulgence, taken from Nigella Christmas.

The sweet and floral pungency of the lychinis (lychee martinis) and the caffeine induced energy boost from the espresso martinis has left us in somewhat of a blur over the evening’s proceedings but we can report that once again we ate well.

We nibbled on spiced nuts, drunken devils on horseback, spicy crab canapés as well as goat’s cheese and figs wrapped in Parma ham. We were treated to a soothing bowl of ‘Dr Lawson’s Cuban Cure' chorizo and black bean soup then went off-piste with rice paper rolls and some tequila ice cream from Nigella Express. There were even mince pies and Christmas rocky road to take home.

1 December 2011

How to Make the Perfect Roast

We Brits love a good roast dinner – we’re famous for them the world over – but how often does your roast not quite live up to expectations?  

Whether you’re looking to get crackling to die for, a more succulent roast chicken, rare roast beef, potatoes which are crunchy on the outside and fluffy in the middle or simply some new ideas of what to do with fish, vegetables or even fruit, Molly Stevens has the answers. 

In All About Roasting you can jump straight in and cook the recipes (beware that measurements and temperatures are for a US audience but conversion tables are at the beginning of the book) or, if like us you’re serious about honing your skills, you can first read about the principles of roasting – from a definition and history to the science behind the perfect roasting techniques through to preparation, temperature, shelf positions, timing, checking if it’s cooked, resting and carving. You name it, she’s covered it!  

There are handy tips throughout (ever thought of lining your baking tray with greaseproof/parchment paper to stop your potatoes from sticking or salting your meat for 24 hours before cooking to ensure it’s juicy and tasty? Both work!) and some tempting photography. Though there aren’t as many photos as we’d like of finished dishes there were plenty demonstrating key skills step-by-step, such as trimming joints, butterflying and rolling or carving. 

You can tell from the writing that Molly is someone who has put a lot of time and dedication into this book – many a technique was thoroughly tested to ensure we were guaranteed success. We tried, with more than satisfying results, the basic roast chicken using the pre-salting method, both the simple roasted potatoes and the British roast potatoes, a more tricky pork tenderloin roulade, butter roasted plums with vanilla, ginger and rum as well as a surprising dish of roasted cherries with creamy polenta. Full bellies all round again! 

Not instantly struck by the publication, we grew to appreciate it as a great reference for showing us how to turn a good roast into an exceptional roast. We’re all now well on the way to being masters in the art!

31 October 2011

The Knives are Out!

Bought Borrowed Stolen is a big book full of big, bold and tasty recipes. It uses a very novel technique for guiding the reader through the different regions and recipes, that of the author's penchant for collecting kitchen knives on her travels. This was great fun and much like Allegra, we too find it essential to round off a holiday with a visit to a supermarket or homeware store to pick up a useful kitchen item. Much discussion ensued on this point, culminating in a show and tell style knife off! With Rose bringing an identical knife to one in the book (see photo) and Angie throwing (not literally) a fine Thai fruit carving knife into the mix.
Once all the knife discussion was over we dined on Pumpkin Stew which looked bright and colourful and just felt right for the end of October being both comforting and spicy. We followed this with a chicken, rice and peanut dish with an unpronounceable name. Equally tasty and with lots of textures. It's a really simple dish to put together for supper and can also be made successfully with leftover chicken. We rounded off our culinary tour in the USA with the West Coast Ricotta Cake, lovely and lemony and Oaty Pancakes served with maple syrup.
It's a nice book to pick up and read, although we didn't feel it needed the fact files on each country. The photography is a little uninspiring throughout and you'll need to get to grips with the lingo "chuck the corry in", but aside from this, there is much to inspire. Other recipes tried were Apple and Chicory Slaw, Pork Adobo and Green Juice. The book is very similar in concept to Orchards In the Oasis by Josceline Dimbleby, the travelogue cookbook is flavour of the month it seems.

16 October 2011

We Love Leon!

This book is fun, think Sergeant Pepper meets Barnum. You'll be quite happily meandering through the dairy section when you find a secret pocket with a colourful European cheese map or browsing through the beans and you suddenly end up in Brassica Galatica! There's so much useful information (including the Scoville rating scale for chilli's and a bright tear out seasonality chart) and it's presented in a such an exciting way that even if you are well informed about food, you'll want to read it anyway. This is also a no nonsense book, if you want to find out why figs are good for you, it tells you - "good poos".
The Leon mission is to bring healthy fast food to the masses and each of the recipes in part two of the book has a helpful food symbol or three to let you know what' going on in the dish. At the meeting we enjoyed the Leon classic chilli con carne, a rich and robust dish that really benefits from using chunks of steak rather than mince. The Leon superfood salad, again another classic that is still on the menu in the cafes. It's packed with good things and has great texture and flavour due to the interesting combination of just blanched vegetables, herbs and seeds. This was followed by the Leon Better Brownie which had all the necessary brownie qualities, moist, gooey, chocolatey with a slight crunch to finish. We also sampled the Leon Lemon, Ginger and Mint Quencher made, in the absence of fructose, with agave nectar and it worked just as well.
While we are in the drinks section and as it's nearly November I'll be making the Lemon and Ginger Coldbuster soon, just in case!
Other dishes we have made and loved are - Mother Buckle's Raspberry Cheesecake, Leon Gobi, Happy Carrot Salad and Magic Mackerel.

12 September 2011

Our latest reading list.

Following recommendations from our members and some suggestions from publishers we are pleased to announce the next books for consumption!

September 27th
Perfect by Felicity Cloake
October 25th
Bought Borrowed Stolen by Allegra McEvedy
November 29th
All About Roasting by Molly Stevens
December 27th
Nigella Christmas (Cocktail and Nibbles night)
January 31st
The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann (with goodies brought back from Norway)

3 August 2011

Second helpings of Yottam Ottolenghi- Plenty

We are all big enthusiasts of Ottolenghi and our only criticism of this book was the lack of a pudding section! We liked everything from the padded cover that felt all nice and squishy to the photography, layout and design. Where Hopkinson leads yet another chef follows and the sections are based around ingredients or families of ingredients. This is obviously how the mind of a great chef works!! The recipes in the book seem a lot better than the recipes printed in his newspaper column.
I will confess now that if you had said I would choose to make a dish that contained tofu a few months ago I would have laughed you out of my house, yet here I was thinking about what to cook for the book club meeting and I was drawn to the black pepper tofu (a dish I have now made many times since and the sauce is also good with beef and chicken). Other dishes we sampled that evening were Soba Noodles with Mango and Aubergine (really refreshing and herby), Garlic Tart and Gorgonzola Tart (fantastic pastry and deliciously rich fillings), Butter beans and Sorrel (a great foil for more robust flavours) and Stuffed Onions. All were consumed with relish.

There aren't many recipes that we haven't tried from this book and interestingly when Sarah was moving house the Ottolenghi books were the ones that had to be kept to hand!

Here is the long list of recipes that are tried, tested and loved-
Pasta and Fried Courgette Salad
Two Potato Vindaloo
Green Pancakes with Lime Butter
Lentils With Grilled Aubergine
Shakshuka (perfect for an indulgent lazy brunch)
Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce
Sweet Winter Slaw (loved by everyone I serve it to)
Sweet Potato Cakes
Cucumber Salad With Smashed Garlic and Ginger
Mixed Vegetable Paella (so colourful I felt the need to tweet a picture of it)

It is a well known fact that most people will only make a few of the recipes in any given cook book but I think you will agree that there is something special about Ottolenghi that keeps you dipping in again for more. He should have a TV series .......promise you I'm not his agent!

PS Just off to buy some more tofu!

Roast Chicken and a Whole Lot More!

My copy of Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson proudly bears a big yellow sticker proclaiming it to be the most useful cookbook of all time (as voted by Waitrose Food Illustrated) so with such a provenance it was only right that it should feature at the cookery book supper club. The style of taking one ingredient and offering various recipe suggestions was novel in 1994 when it was first published and there have been many imitators; the most recent being Bryn’s Kitchen.

So from anchovies to veal we are taken through a culinary alphabet of Hopkinson’s favourite ingredients and given a little insight about either the food or the recipe. We liked the fact that Simon gives you plenty of alternative ideas for a recipe and that the book is well indexed. There is a wide variety of dishes and the connections between chefs and the provenance of the recipe is explored to such an extent that it’s like reading a little recipe family tree. Some of the stories are amusing too. We thought it was a good manageable size and liked the flaps (great as bookmarks). There are some classics in this book that most culinary enthusiasts would agree should be in everyone’s repertoire namely the famous Roast Chicken and the St-Emilion Au Chocolate.

On the downside some comments are a bit outdated now (see Veal) and some recipes a little vague, 2 or 3 tomatoes? The surprise pudding was not a great success for Sarah and made her wonder if the recipes had been fully tested? Perhaps our sensitivity to recipes laden with cream and butter has been heightened since the book was published so some recipes can seem a bit too rich. Simon sounds a bit like a grumpy old man at times!!

Here are recipes we have tried and enjoyed-

Curried smoked haddock soup

Salmon in pastry with currant and ginger (a favourite dish for about 25yrs!)

Salade Frisee Aux Lardons (Rose had this in France)

Breast of Lamb Ste Menehould (confirmed not to be greasy at all)

Green Paste (highly recommended with the lamb)

Onion Tart (best to do the onions the day before or at least one hour ahead)

For our meeting we had a great selection of dishes these were-

Onion Tart

Poached Salmon

Oriental salad

Baked New Garlic with creamed Goats Cheese


We are all enjoying Simon’s new TV series a no nonsense simple approach to good cooking and great graphics to boot.

7 April 2011

Chipotles and chatter

There’s no doubt that Tomasina Miers has expanded our appreciation of Mexican cuisine and offered us a much more exciting range of recipes than was previously available in Mexican cookery books.

We have found in the past at the book club that sometimes a title doesn’t always live up to the promise and the “made simple” tag is a case in point. We are all enthusiasts but a recipe with 20+ ingredients, some of which could be challenging to find, doesn’t really resonate with simplicity. That said, we had a colourful and tasty feast at our meeting and a lot of lively food discussion.

We started with cucumber agua fresca, a refreshing bright green cooler that cleansed the palette and set us up for the courses to follow. Sarah who kindly hosted our evening noted though that this recipe was inaccurate, as it yielded two and a half litres not two glasses so be warned!

There’s never a wrong time for breakfast in my mind and the first dish we sampled was The great Mexican breakfast from the soul food section. A build your own affair with corn tortillas a rich and gently spiced tomato sauce, fried egg and crumbled Lancashire cheese. To accompany this Sarah also made Frijoles refritos (declared by Abigail, a new club member as the best she’d ever had) and My addictive sweet chipotle paste the Mexican equivalent of a sweet chilli sauce.

I have mixed memories of my backpacking trip through Mexico two years ago as three days into the adventure, just as I was starting to unwind, the swine flu pandemic started and I was foraging in the fabulous food markets for face masks instead of frijoles! However one Saturday evening in a town square in Merida I first tried real tacos made there on the street and so very different from the “tex-mex” variety that are generally found here. So with this fond memory spurring me on I decided to bring the Autumn tacos with onion squash and chorizo to our meeting.

The filling is straightforward to make, though a little oily, but finding authentic tacos unless you plan to make them yourself is a bit trickier. I didn’t have any luck at the Sweetmart based in Easton (though you can buy masa harina there) but they can be found at www.mexgrocer.co.uk . Alongside the tacos we tried green rice and the roasted almond and avocado salad a vegetarian version of the chicken and avocado salad on page 86 we all thought the textures and flavour of the salad worked well together so another hit.

The evening ended on a high as we put aside our rice pudding angst (hot or cold, thick or thin, skin or no skin) and embraced the light and delicately spiced Chilled Mexican rice pudding. This unusually calls for long grain not pudding rice and is cooked on the hob, so no sticky skin. Flavoured with cinnamon and orange zest it was a big hit. I could imagine having it for breakfast too with some fresh fruit and crème fraiche.

It always amazes me that whenever we meet we have such a varied selection of dishes that seem to work together really well, and so it was again this time. Breakfast at supper, Autumn tacos in Spring and cold rice pudding, a topsy turvy night that really captured the spirit of Mexico and not a chilli con carne in sight (although we all wanted to give Tommi’s version a try)!

Other recipes tried and tested

Chipotles en adobo p36 A must make preserve for the Mexican food enthusiast, the puree which keeps in a kilner jar for months will add real depth of flavour to your dishes and can be stirred into sauces, mayo and dressings to give a savoury and smokey hit.

(a very unusual mixture that wasn’t recommended)
Vanilla Cheesecake (light fluffy and delicious)
Chopped chilli relish ( some chilli skins can be a bit tough, possibly sieve???)
Roast chilli salsa
Queso funditos
Chorizo potato and thyme quesadillas

The introduction and explanations of typical ingredients are really helpful and clear. I especially like the chilli page.
Also discussed - chilli festivals, hugely popular events for lovers of all things hot!

26 January 2011

Moor, Moor, Moor

The Moro Cookbook is the first of three cookery books by the chef-owners of the well-known and award-winning Moro restaurant in London, Samantha and Samuel Clark.

The book focuses on the husband and wife team’s passion for Spanish, North African and Eastern Mediterranean food. Simple dishes with robust flavours and a Spanish influence are combined with those which are more exotic, fragrant, delicately spiced and Arabic in nature.

The combination of Spanish and North African cuisine is not a surprising one given Spain’s history. The invasion of Spain by the Moors influenced much of the Iberian Peninsula – the religion, architecture and undoubtedly the food.

That the recipes extend from such a wide-reaching geography makes for an exciting collection to match many a mood, budget and appetite; classic tapas and mezze dishes, hearty, peasant-style meals, rich meat and offal platters, delicate fish suppers and indulgent puddings.

Of course, there are recipes for favourites such as tortilla, chorizo al jerez (chorizo with sherry), baba ghanoush, tabbouleh and pollo al ajillo (chicken cooked with bay, garlic and white wine) but there are also some more surprising and interesting recipes like quail baked in flatbread with pistachio sauce, cod baked with tahini or bitter chocolate, coffee and cardamom truffle cake.

Some of the ingredients are mystifying and, for anyone outside of London, could be difficult to source. The lack of photographs amongst the recipes and almost 70’s look to those which are there mean that it’s quite difficult to imagine how some of the more unusual or unfamiliar dishes should look. Don’t be put off, once past these first hurdles, the recipes are quite simple to follow and the food, for want of a better word, delicious. Had we known just how soft textured and flavourful the torta de naranja (orange and almond tort) was or could have seen how beautiful it looked, we all would have baked it a lot sooner. It’s a regular from now on!

There’s a theme to many of the recipes; stages of long, slow cooking which are well worth pursuing as the result is an intensely flavoured and satisfying meal, even from the simplest of ingredients. The patatas a lo pobre (poor man’s potatoes) is just one such example, sweet, soft and extremely tasty and yet made from just a few ingredients – onions, garlic, bay, green pepper, potatoes, olive oil and seasoning.

One of the more surprising dishes was the sopa de setas (mushroom and almond soup with fino sherry). What started out as, albeit tasty, mushroom flavoured water was brought alive and thickened by the addition of crushed almonds.

The Moro Cookbook helps us reach a true understanding of Moorish food, an often over-looked and under-appreciated cuisine.

Our chef’s specials:

• Carrot and cumin salad with coriander
• Tabbouleh
• Sopa de setas
• Lentil soup with cumin
• Charcoal-grilled quail with pomegranate molasses
• Hummus with ground lamb and pinenuts
• Pollo al ajillo
• Patatas a lo pobre
• Moros y Cristianos
• Torta de naranja
• Bitter chocolate, coffee and cardamom truffle cake

A word of warning! The bitter chocolate, coffee and cardamom truffle cake recipe calls for 30g crushed cardamom pods. This is a tremendous amount of cardamom and the end result is intense. The combination works very well but if you’re not a huge fan of cardamom, we would recommend cutting back on the quantity.