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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Repenting for the weekend…

Unfortunately not much cooking has been going on in the Cookbook Neglectors kitchen this week. Having eaten a lot of rich food over the weekend it felt right to spend a few days eating healthily, and lets face it, no one wants to read (or write) a blog about grilled chicken and veg. I only cook and eat these delicious yet unhealthy meals for your reading entertainment you know, not because I’m greedy OK?  Glad we got that all straightened out! The only problem with me resisting the temptation of eating food is that I then struggle to resist the temptation of buying books about food. Which is what part of this challenge was about, getting the best out of the cookbooks I already had and curbing my addiction to buying the damn things. But in my defence, out of all the addictions I could have, this is probably the least damaging. I also spent one evening this week making a wish list on Amazon, and the whole thing was just a list of cookbooks, how ridiculous is that?  Anyway, when you see a cookbook by your favourite author (Marian Keyes), about your favourite thing (baking) and its bright pink, you become powerless to resist. I mean look at it, could you turn this down?  Exactly, and if you could turn this down, you’re a stronger person then I will ever be. Anyway, I’m a big fan of Marian Keyes writing. While her fiction books may be ‘chick-lit’, they are nothing like the fluffy, predictable boy meets girl nonsense that’s given chick lit a bad name. Marian covers topics ranging from addiction, depression, marital breakdown and death, yet the writing is imbued with this fantastic sense of humour that has had me laughing like a mad woman in public (note: the writing is also at times heartbreaking so you may find yourself laughing and then crying in short succession. It’s not a good look on the bus). I was really surprised when I saw she’d written a cookbook, and even more surprised to find out that baking is what has helped her recover from what sounds like a horrendous depressive episode. In her own words, “To be perfectly blunt about it, my choice sometimes is: I can kill myself or I can make a dozen cupcakes. Right so, I’ll do the cupcakes and I can kill myself tomorrow”. It’s deep stuff, but I applaud her bravery in telling the world about what she is going through, especially as people suffering with mental health problems are so easily stigmatised. Its not a depressing cookbook though, far from it. The recipes are stuffed with her trademark humour and it almost feels like a friend has written the recipes down for you (example, on brownies: “FYI, and this can be our little secret, the square in the middle will be the most delicious of them all. I’m only saying, for when you’re dishing them out, if you wanted to single someone out for a treat – and who’s to say it can’t be you? – then the middle one is the very, very best”). When you read these quotes – or indeed her books – you must, absolutely must, read them with an Irish accent in your head otherwise the charm won’t fully be there. You have been warned! Food snobs may turn their nose up at cheesecakes and tarts being covered in edible glitter, but Marians recipes look beautiful covered in the stuff and I know I won’t be able to resist pimping my cakes when I cook from this book. It may not be sophisticated but you’re not  trying to get a Michelin star so just relax and have fun with it, it’s only baking.

 

There are a lot of amazing looking recipes in this book, and they are all easily achievable and look stunning. If you want to get into baking and /or want some more unusual treats (Snickers cheesecake/tiramisu macaroons anyone?) then this is a great place to start. And if I’ve not convinced you of her genius writing yet, pick up a copy of ‘Anyone Out There’ or ‘Brightest Star In The Sky’ and then tell me she’s not amazing. I’ll be cooking from  ‘Saved By Cake’ at the weekend so I will update you on it then.

 

While I’m here, I would also like to make an apology to the Mexican Vanilla Cheesecake from the last blog entry. After leaving it in the fridge overnight and then taking it to work, something magical happened to the cheesecake and it became much more to my taste and more dense, like an actual cheesecake! It seems I lack patience which clearly is an attribute needed when dealing with such things. Lesson learned, I must try and restrain myself next time I make a cheesecake and leave it for 24 hours before eating. I can tell you now that it won’t be easy, but for the sake of taste and decency I will have to try!

 

 

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking

 

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Mexican Food Made Simple – All things cheese!

Todays cooking challenge comes from the book Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers. This lady won Masterchef a few years ago and with both this cookbook and the restaurants she runs, she’s opened many peoples eyes to the fact that Mexican food isn’t all melted cheese and tacos. I’m not doing much to dispel this myth by cooking 2 recipes with a lot of cheese in them, but take my word for it, authentic Mexican food is a world away from the Tex-Mex you see everywhere! I brought this book after eating at Thomasinas restaurant Wahaca in Covent Garden, and the food was so good I knew the cookbook had to be mine. Having won Masterchef she could easily have gone down the route of pretentious, overpriced quenelles and confits, but instead she chose to champion Mexican tapas at reasonable prices, and for that I am very thankful. The salsa is light, zingy and fresh, as is the ceviche salad, and everything tastes wonderful, ranging from spicy, smoky, sour and sweet. And the margaritas mean serious business! Go there and experience a taste sensation, and some lightheadedness from the cocktails.

The first recipe I cooked were cheese and ham empanadas, which was to be found in the chapter ‘Cheesy Things’. Now I don’t know about you, but I truly believe the world would be a much happier place if every cookbook had a chapter called ‘Cheesy Things’. Surely if everyone was too busy cooking and eating cheesy things there would be peace and harmony across the land, you can’t be angry or sad when eating cheese especially if it’s melted. Or am I just overstating the importance of cheese? Empanadas by the way, are little puff pastry parcels filled with a spicy cheese and ham filling. I can confirm that they taste even better than they sound. They were just absolutely delicious, and as a hangover cure they are pretty unbeatable. Some of them did explode in the oven, leaving a gooey cheesy mess all over the baking tray, but the ones that remained intact looked so cute and dinky it was almost a shame to eat them. Almost. I urge you to make the empanadas, they are scrummy and the best thing I’ve cooked so far in this challenge. You need the recipe in your life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second thing I cooked was vanilla cheesecake from the same cookbook. If you’ve read my earlier blog entry about chicken fettucine, you’ll know that I am big fan of cheesecakes, particularly banana cream cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. This cheesecake was a little different and I must say I was a bit disappointed. I have a very fixed idea of what a cheesecake should be like, and while this one looked like a traditional cheesecake it really didn’t taste like one. The recipe called for 6 eggs, separated, and upon eating it became clear that this many eggs made it less cheesecake, more custard tart. Now I have absolutely nothing against custard tart, but when you’ve been expecting dense, cheesy cheesecake, a light and fluffy eggy tasting cake is a massive letdown. Thomasina does say that Mexican cheesecake is very different to normal cheesecake, but it really should have been called custard cake instead. It’s a real shame as there was a lot of cream cheese in there, and its a big bulky thing so needs to be eaten. I think this will be taken into work tomorrow to get other peoples opinions, but I will be upfront and say ‘expect custard’, I don’t want to lead them on! Ironically, while we were being disappointed by the custard cake, our friends in America posted a photo on Facebook of the best cheesecake in the world at The Factory which they were tucking in to. Thereby dooming this custard cake forever in our minds. The audacity!

 

The cookbook itself is great, the cheesecake is the only dud I’ve cooked from it, and if you want to see what real Mexican food is like then I highly recommend this book. While you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the cover on this sums up the vibrancy and playfulness of the food on its pages and it also looks gorgeous. Or if you can’t be assed to cook Mexican food, get yourself down to Wahaca in London and give your tastebuds a workout!

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking

 

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Friday Night Feast

Dinner on Friday night has to be a bit more special than dinner on any other night. It deserves some respect, the working week has finished, you can lie in, stay in your pjs all weekend, eat junk, get drunk (maybe all the above in one weekend, hey, I’m not here to judge!) – the world is your oyster at the weekend. Last night was not about the oysters though, it was all about the mussels. Moules mariniere to be precise. This wasn’t from my cookbook challenge – the main course was – but I was flicking through a new cooking magazine (it’s a sickness, I can’t stop myself) and saw a mussel recipe and knew instantly that I had to have some. I’m only a recent convert  to mussels, I was put off eating them for a good few years after smelling some at a Chinese buffet. The scent of these poor neglected mussels was the smell of food poisoning and I knew to keep my distance. It wasn’t until I did a French cooking class last year where I didn’t want to look like an inexperienced cook that I just knuckled down and ate them and realised how delicious they are. Sometimes thats the key to trying intimidating new things – don’t hesitate, pretend you’ve eaten them loads and then see what happens. Just don’t do this at a buffet, that is not the time for experimenting! Anyway, if you’ve never had mussels, then moules mariniere is the best place to start. The mussels are cooked in a rich creamy sauce which is absolute heaven and the best thing you could ever dunk a baguette in. Seriously, try it and see. I think its the law in France that you must have some crusty bread to dunk into the sauce once you’ve polished off the mussels. When I first cooked this for the boyfriend I was convinced that he’d hate it, but he also loves it so I know I’m onto a winner with this recipe. Preparing the mussels for cooking can be a little bit fiddly as you have to debeard them (which is just pulling off the ropey material they use to cling on to rocks) and then check if any open mussels are dead. I have to admit this freaks me out a little bit as if they are open you tap them and if they are good to eat they close their shell, which means you’re cooking something which essentially is still alive when you put it in the pan. Its worth it though as they taste amazing, so please don’t let this put you off. I was told by the chef that taught me that many restaurants don’t bother checking if the mussels are good to eat or not as its very time consuming in a professional kitchen, hence why so many people get ill after eating shellfish in restaurants. So be careful.

For our main I cooked Chilli chicken with basil and coconut cream from Cooking Class Thai by Australian Womans Weekly. Havn’t cooked from this cookbook much at all, but this recipe was really successful so I’ll definitely be using it again once this challenge is over. It was very simple and quick to cook using only a few ingredients, and best of all it tasted like something you would order in a Thai restaurant. It was very coconutty but the herbs and chilli kept it from veering into a bland dish. The recipe called for a lot of fish sauce, which I was a little worried about as it is such a pungent ingredient with a really strong taste (its made from fermented anchovies), but I stuck with it and it really worked. Both myself and boyfriend enjoyed the dish, although it was very rich and he couldn’t finish it all. I’m clearly made of tougher stuff. Next time I would probably cook it as part of a Thai feast with several other dishes to balance out the richness, and wouldn’t serve it just after a rich French starter.

All in all, a great Friday night in with some delicious food. Bring on the weekend!

Moules Mariniere (serves 2-4, depending on appetite)

750gm – 1kg  live mussels

25gm butter

2 banana/echallion shallots (finely diced)

2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

150ml white wine

150ml double cream

Handful chopped parsley

  • Debeard the mussels and check that your mussels are alive. Any that don’t close when tapped or with broken shells, bin.
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan, then add the shallots and garlic. Once softened, add the wine, bring to a boil then turn the heat down.
  • Gently tip the mussels into the pan, then put the lid on the saucepan and cook for 4 or 5 minutes.
  • Once all the mussels are open and cooked, add the cream and gently shake the pan to coat in the sauce. Any that are still closed, throw away. Sprinkle over the parsley.
  • Serve in bowls with crusty bread on the side. Heaven.
 
 

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Shrimp Creole – Putting on the Grits

Time to take  a trip to the Deep South. The cookbook this recipe came from I found in a secondhand book shop in Orlando, and with a title like ‘Putting On The Grits’, how could I not snap it up? The thing I love about this book is it was put together by The Junior League of Columbia, South Carolina and was printed wayyy back in 1985 so you know this won’t be a book you’ll see everyday. If you like southern food, then I’d wager you’d love this book. It’s stuffed with authentic recipes and the nerdy cookbook fanatic in me adores the fact that housewives (I’m not just presuming that women made this book, the back pages have a list of contributors and it’s safe to say 99% of them were women) in the year I was born put together this recipe and now all these years later I’m cooking from it in a town thousands of miles away from Columbia. You read it and you know only Americans could have made this book – there’s a few menu suggestions, ranging from occasions such as ‘Carolina Cup Steeplechase Picnic’, ‘Football Tailgate’, ‘Debutante Brunch’ and ‘Get-to-know-your-neighbours party’. I kid you not. This is just not something that the English really do, and thats part of the reason I love America so much. Generally, in the UK you don’t talk to your neighbours and you don’t say ‘have a nice day’ to everyone you see. If Desperate Housewives has taught me anything, it’s that when someone new moves onto your street you bake them some cookies or a peach cobbler, even if the neighbour turns out to be a serial killer or psychopath.  (But I probably shouldn’t judge all Americans by the actions of Bree Van de Kamp). And that’s what this cookbook embodies, Southern hospitality and some delicious cooking.

When I saw that this book included the recipe Shrimp Creole, I knew I’d have to cook it. Recently, the boyfriend and I went to Florida, and while there we took a trip with some friends to St Augustine, a beautiful coastal town which is also the oldest in the States. This town is crammed with great restaurants, but the one we fell in love with was Harrys Seafood restaurant. I cannot recommend this place enough, the food was amazing, cocktails boozy and atmosphere was one of a kind. We sat in the garden, fairy lights twinkling around the palm trees and a musician playing in the background. For starters the four of us shared fried green tomatoes (way better than I expected) and voodoo shrimp. This shrimp recipe I have been trying to replicate ever since getting back, but it has been impossible, which is a shame as they were the best thing I ate all holiday. The rest of the meal was still stunning (stuffed shrimp, scallops and crab encrusted fish with grit cakes), but nothing topped those shrimp. I was really hoping that this recipe would come close, but sadly no luck. It was a really nice meal though, which I would definitely make again. For a start, any recipe that says to cook the diced veg in bacon drippings is going to be good, surely? The sauce was sweet but spicy, with the occasional salty smoky crunch from the crumbled bacon. I could only get hold of little prawns this week, I think next time I make it I’ll use king prawns so it adds more substance to the meal as the little prawns disappeared amongst the sauce.

 

Food from the Deep South of America has only recently become a favourite of mine, but if you get a chance to taste real authentic southern food then do it. It’s ridiculously tasty, homely and unpretentioius and definitely up there with some of the great food cultures of the world.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Books, Cooking

 

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Double Whammy – Samosas and Cupcakes

So today I finally got round to baking after getting the oven fixed last week. The parents came round for some lunch, which I saw as a perfect opportunity to tick off a couple of recipes on the list. The recipes I chose were lamb samosas from Rachel Allens Favourite Food At Home, and pineapple cupcakes with a lemon cream cheese frosting from Irresistible Cupcakes by, err, Next! Making the samosas was fiddly work, I used ready made filo pastry and pretty much as soon as I’d got the pastry out of the bag I’d torn it. Luckily it was salvageable, but it made for interesting looking samosas. I lack finesse at the best of times when it comes to cooking (who am I kidding, when it comes to anything!), so working with torn pastry  took away any finesse I may have had. If I was on Masterchef – which  I never would be because I’m not a masochist – John Torode would have a heart attack at my lack of presentation skills and my disgracefully messy cooking style. It aint pretty! Luckily I am not on Masterchef, and my dad and step mum do not expect Michelin standards of me. They’d be very disappointed if they did. Anyway, enough about me and back to the samosas. Despite the fact that they were stuck to the pan, leading to an escaping  lamb/pea situation, they were pretty tasty although they could have been a bit spicier. Everyone seemed to like them, and there are plenty left to snack on through out the day. With the samosas I also served ham (cooked in cherry coke) baguettes, mini duck spring rolls and spicy prawns (these were from Tesco, I have a limit to how many nibbles I can make myself in one morning). Not a bad spread. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onto the cupcakes. These were from a book that todays guests bought me as a Christmas present, and my opinion on them was that they were a little bit dull. I adore pineapple, and even though it had chunks and juice from the fruit in it, it just didn’t taste enough of pineapple for me to love it. The cream cheese frosting was delicious and lemony, and without this the cakes would have been instantly forgettable. I don’t know if I feel this way because they genuinely are tasteless, or because I know someone who makes the most amazing cupcakes I’ve ever had, and therefore all cupcakes pale in comparison to her creations. I’m not kidding, they are delicious, and look amazing and are covered in the most decadent icing ever. She has wisely gone into business with these bad boys. My personal favourite is the mint chic chip flavour that she does, immense and a very popular choice amongst the lucky people to have eaten them. So perhaps my cupcakes were always doomed. But as I’ve got 2 more recipes from this cupcake book to cook, I will assess the cupcake situation at the conclusion of this challenge. Its still too soon to call!  

 

I’m hoping that eventually I will cook something in this challenge that I actually love, as other than the chicken fettucine a few weeks ago, I’ve not had much success. Fingers crossed next week will improve, I’ve got some lovely sounding recipes planned so I have high expectations!

 

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Indian, Lunch

 

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Best Nigella Recipes

  • Hot Schnocolate – Nigella Christmas. This pepperminty hot chocolate is just simply delicious. Nigella would probably disagree with me, but I use Dairy Milk in this instead of dark chocolate and reduce the amount of sugar added. It is temple achingly sweet, but on a cold winters night, snuggled under the duvet in pyjamas, there is nothing better.
  • Chicken Schnitzel  – Nigella Express.  I’m honestly not putting these in because they start with ‘schn’, although that would be a good enough reason in my book.  Bacony, winey, tasty, these are a quick and yummy way to fill up.
  • Chocolate loaf cake – How To Be A Domestic Goddess. So simple, but the moistest chocolate cake you will ever eat. Heavenly. I’ve not had it with the hot schnocolate, but I can see if you wanted a chocolate and sugar high previously thought unattainable, this combination would get you there.
  • Garlic and parsley hearthbreads – Domestic Goddess. While these may be sticky and time consuming to make, the effort is well worth the outcome. If you’ve not made bread before, try these first as the soft, carby, garlicky hit you get with these will make a bread making enthusiast out of you.
  • Ham in cherry coke – Nigella Feast. You may laugh at ham and cherry coke, but try it and you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face. The outside of the ham takes on an intense smoky sweet flavour and the meat throughout is infused with a subtly sweet but barbecue-y  tang that makes you want to eat only ham sandwiches for the rest of your life.
  • Totally chocolate chocolate chip cookies – Nigella Express. All I need to say is there’s a reason the word chocolate appears twice in the title. These are also on her website, so get baking – http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/totally-chocolate-chocolate-chip-cookies-29

I strongly urge you to try these recipes, although there are many other great recipes in her books that it would be criminal to miss out on. Basically, you need her books in your life!

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Nigella Lawson

 

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Hot Chilli Beef Noodle Soup – How To Eat

First things first, the oven is finally fixed! Yes I had a little dance around the kitchen once it was done, I’m not ashamed to admit it! To celebrate this fine occasion (and also that little known occasion Valentines Day), the boyfriend cooked me what can only be described as the best roast dinner I’ve ever had. Big talk, but in the words of Beyonce, “he talk like this coz he can back it up”. I may moan about his lack of grown up taste buds, but he can sure knock up a great roast dinner. We went for pork, crackling was perfect, meat juicy, roast potatoes were heavenly, sausage meat stuffing divine, veg nice and crunchy and gravy delicious. It’s going to be pretty tough to top that one. To make this divine dinner even more appealing, he cooked cheesy mushrooms to start (from Jamie Olivers 30 Minute Meals) and bought some Haagen Dazs ice cream (strawberry cheesecake). Screw dainty sized, overly priced meals out in an atmosphere less restaurant, this is my idea of romance, cooking a meal that satisfies and makes you feel happy.

 

Anyway, onto todays cookbook challenge recipe. How To Eat is Nigella Lawsons first cookbook, and while I worship The Lawson, this book I hardly ever use. It may be down to my love of food photos, as this book has none. Shallow of me, I know, but I like knowing what the end result will look like, and also enjoy perving over the beautiful plates, kitchenware and linens that Nigella is fond of putting in photos. One day I will have a kitchen like Nigellas, filled with pretty pretty kitchenware and chilli fairy lights! So much of How To Eat is full of entertaining style food, which I don’t really do a lot of so for the challenge I had to pick out 3 standard dinners for weekday use so that I could make the most of this book. After yesterdays blow out, today needed a healthier alternative, and this beef soup was tucked away in the low fat chapter. I marinated a steak in some asian ingredients, infused some beef stock with ginger, dried chilli and garlic, cooked the steak then chucked some cooked noodles in the stock with some sugar snap peas, sliced up the steak and served everything together. It was ok, nothing too special but for a mid week low fat meal it did the job. The beef was really tasty and very tender, but the stock just didn’t really have any flavour. Still, it’s good to know its low fat and the amount of sugar snap peas means I feel a lot more virtuous than I did last night!

 

I’ll forgive Nigella for this transgression, I have had very few duds with her recipes so will put this one down to a lacklustre stock. Out of all my cookbooks, hers are my favourites and usually the most used. The food is uncomplicated, tasty and doesn’t apologise for putting flavour and satisfaction before virtuosity. I understand the importance of healthy meals, and eat them regularly, but if you’re going to treat yourself, Nigella’s books are the ones to turn to. In my eyes she eats like a real woman, without the guilt so often accompanied with women when eating say, a chocolate cake. Life is for living, and food is for eating. She also writes beautifully and often comes up with sentences about food that can be applied to so many other areas of life. One day I’ll have to dig out some of her quotes to put on here, as I often find them pretty inspiring. I also highly recommend her website, ( http://www.nigella.com )   which has tons of recipes (both hers and Nigella fans) and regular updates from the lady herself. Always remember, any woman who is happy to be filmed sneaking to the fridge late at night to eat cake is someone you can rely on when it comes to cooking!

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Books, Cooking

 

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