Category Archives: Book Review

From my bookshelf – Family Food: A new approach to cooking

By the time you read this, I will be on my way to the international airport, bound for a Cuban holiday. I am hoping to discover some new dishes and ingredients as part of my trip, and come back inspired to create some new recipes to share with you all. I have set up posts to publish while I am away, so as long as technology doesn’t fail me, you should still receive your weekly Passionfruit Project fix.

This week’s post is dedicated to a review of the book ” Family Food: A new approach to cooking”, by Heston Blumenthal. This is the first recipe book Heston published, before he shot to prominence with his celebrity-chef television career and around the time The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray started to win awards.

I was lucky enough to have lunch at The Fat Duck many years ago now, and it still ranks as one of my best foodie experiences, along with dinner at Tetsuya’s. Heston is known for his unique approach to cooking, quite often combining scientific principles in his cooking methods. This book is removed from the high tech principles Heston has become famous for, and instead focuses on classic, simple cooking suitable for the whole family, young and old alike. It talks a lot about how to get children involved in cooking and interested in food, but it is also a handy reference for anyone wanting to brush up on their cooking techniques, fill in any gaps, find some new inspiration or rediscover a classic dish. In this book Heston’s passion for food shines through, and he covers a full spectrum of dishes, from how to fry the perfect egg to strawberry soup.

A quote to give you a flavour of the book, “One of the main ambitions of this book is to bring children into the kitchen, and one of the best ways to do this is to make cooking as approachable as possible” from the Children’s tip in the section “Risotto”. The below recipe is quite labour and time intensive, and combines some unusual ingredients, but there are also plenty of more traditional recipes if you aren’t feeling like experimenting. I will confess, I haven’t actually attempted the below recipe, or tried the strawberry and black pepper combo that many chefs seem to be a fan of. I included the details to give you a sense of the book.

What I was cooking this time last year: Mini smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels (please note, Glick’s has moved)

Family Food book Heston Blumenthal

Strawberry Soup

* This recipe is from the chapter “Desserts” by Heston Blumenthal  in “Family Food: A new approach to cooking”.

“This recipe is part of a dish that is on the menu at the Fat Duck in season. Do give it a try, but please do it in the strawberry season. As well as quality, there is something quite magical about eating this during the English summer. Make sure that you buy the fruit no more than a day in advance, as they deteriorate really quickly.

* Children’s tip
Show the children how to spot a good strawberry – bright red in colour with a vivid green stem. Check that there are no blemishes or bruises on the strawberries. Contrary to popular belief, large, uniform strawberries are not a sign of quality. More often than not they are a result of laboratory-controlled agriculture.

If orange-flower water is not available, use rose water, which most chemists sell. Both of these ingredients are optional. You might want to omit the flower water the first time that you make this, as it could be too perfumed for your kids. Although, having said that, orange-flower water is still used to make a soothing sugared child’s drink in many parts of Europe. In Spain, it is also put on children’s pillows to give a comforting night-time aroma.

This recipe may seem rather lengthy, but the results will not disappoint. The concentration of flavour is amazing.

The strawberry juice can be omitted, although it is great as a base for making drinks or for pouring over ice-cream. It can even be added to the rice pudding recipe on page 305. It does keep very well.

* Tip
Even if you are a bit short of time and cannot do this recipe, you will be surprised at how much the flavour of the strawberries can be heightened just by sprinkling some unrefined caster sugar over them half an hour before serving. If you have not read it already, have a quick read of the findings of a recent experiment regarding strawberries on page 71.

Remember, when preparing strawberries, to hull them just before you macerate or use them. Do not wash them before hulling, or they will absorb water, destroying their taste and texture.

Try this recipe replacing the strawberries with rhubarb – it works brilliantly.

If doing the whole recipe, including the juice begin the day before. Some muslin will also be needed.

For the strawberry juice

  • 500g strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water

Wash, hull and quarter the strawberries, put them into a metal bowl and sprinkle them with the icing sugar. Set this bowl over a saucepan of very gently simmering water, cover with cling-film, and leave for 1 1/2 hours. Pour the contents of the bowl on to a large piece of muslin set over a bowl. Tie up the corners of the muslin and hang up over the bowl to catch all of the juice.

For the soup

  • 500g strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined caster sugar
  • strawberry juice (see above)
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 125ml fruity red wine
  • orange-flower water to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

Hull and quarter the strawberries and put them into a bowl. Add the sugar and pour over the strawberry juice, leave this mix to macerate for 2 hours.

Zest the orange and lemon, taking care to discard all of the white pith which would make the liquid bitter. Juice the fruits and reserve.

Meanwhile, bring the red wine to the boil and immediately flame it with a match, or better still, a blowtorch. When the flames have cased, add the zest and juice of the orange and lemon and boil to reduce the mixture by half. Strain this liquid and set aside to cool.

In the liquidizer, combine the macerated strawberries with the red wine reduction and blend.

Finishing the dish is the fun part, as it involves the taste-buds. Add the orange-flower water, about 1 tablespoon to begin with. A little more sugar may be needed along with some orange juice, depending on the ripeness and quality of the strawberries. The important thing here is to keep on tasting to get the right balance. Give the soup a really good blend and finish off by adding the black pepper to taste.

Now there are the following options:

  1. Hang the soup in muslin again overnight. This will produce a wonderfully concentrated essence of strawberry.
  2. Pass the soup through a fine-mesh sieve.
  3. Serve it as it is, adding extra strawberries for texture if required.

To serve, dribble over a little best-quality virgin olive oil. Finally, if feeling adventurous, finish the dish by sprinkling over some freshly picked rose petals!”

Strawberry Soup recipe Family Food Heston Blumenthal

What is your favourite go-to cook book? Has this post inspired any new ideas?

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Filed under Berries, Book Review, Pudding, Recipes, Rhubarb, Soup, Strawberry, Sweet

A whale of a time

With St Patrick’s Day just around the corner, I was looking for an Irish inspired recipe to share. I finally settled on making and sharing Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Guinness Cake. I haven’t altered Nigella’s recipe at all in the details below.

I was lucky enough to visit the home of Guinness a few years ago, located at St James’s Gate in Dublin. The Guinness Storehouse is like an amusement park for big kids, where you can learn all about the history and production of arguably Ireland’s most famous drink, with a pint of the black stuff included. Guinness is made from roasted unmalted barley, and it is this roasting that I think gives the stout a coffee aroma and flavour.

Guinness

The only alterations I made to Nigella’s recipe as I was cooking was that I used salted butter instead of unsalted, raw sugar instead of caster, added a little vanilla to the icing and my cake actually took about an hour and twenty minutes to cook through. It may sound like an alarming amount of sugar, but given that the Guinness and cocoa are both bitter, the flavours do balance out. The recipe is from Nigella’s book “Feast”, which is a cookbook I refer to regularly. Feast explores the food we use to celebrate different events, including Christian Christmas and Easter, Jewish Passover and Islamic Eid celebrations amoungst the chapters.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

* This recipe is from the chapter “Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame” from “Feast” by Nigella Lawson.

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 250ml Guinness
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 75g cocoa
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 142ml sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
  • 275g plain flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

For the Icing

  • 300g cream cheese
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 125ml double or whipping cream

Method

  • Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180°C, add butter and line a 23cm springform tin.
  • Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter – in spoons or slices – and heat until the butter’s melted at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery beery pan and finally whisk in the four and bicarb.

Guinness Chocolate Cake mixture

  • Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.
  • When the cake’s cold, sit it on a flat platter or cake stand and get on with the icing. Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sieve over the icing sugar and then beat them together. Or do this in a processor, putting the unsieved icing sugar in first and blitz to remove lumps before adding the cheese.
  • Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

What is your favourite Irish recipe? Has this post inspired any new ideas?

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Filed under Baking, Book Review, Cake, Cheese, Chocolate, Recipes, Sweet

From my bookshelf: Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

This week’s post is dedicated to a review of the book “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant – Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone”, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Alder. I stumbled across this book when I was travelling, alone, and was immediately intrigued.

It is made up of a collection of chapters by various contributors, and is part memoir, part creative writing about food, part recipe collection. It certainly raises some interesting questions about how and what we eat. Call me strange, but I love reading about food, so I was really in my element devouring this book (and referring back to it over the years) and would thoroughly recommend it to anybody else who loves reading about food.

A quote to give you a flavour of some of the themes explored “Dinner alone is one of life’s little pleasures. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam” from the chapter “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant” by Laurie Colwin.

Reflecting on this quote, and regardless whether you find yourself single, with a partner and / or children, there are occasions when we all find ourselves cooking for one and dining alone. In such circumstances, we are free to respond to whatever specific craving we may have, especially those cravings that may not constitute a meal, without explanation, whether that be a bowl of stir fried zucchini drizzled with a little lemon juice or nutella straight from the jar (two of my favourite indulgences). This book lets you take a peak into the secret eating habits of the contributors, and reflect on some of your own secret consumptions and food rituals.

I don’t mind cooking for one, and find this gives me a chance to experiment freely in the kitchen. Cooking, has for many foodies, been a way of providing care and nurturing for those we love. We should of course look after our own tummies and health as much as we look after those around us. Quite often when faced with the prospect of cooking for one, we don’t dedicate the same time and attention.

I do feel a bit uncomfortable dining out alone, especially in the evening. The book does explore this phenomenon. If I am travelling, I don’t let the discomfort stop me experiencing a new city, but I don’t think I have ever dined alone for dinner in my home town Sydney (perhaps something I should change). The book points out “alone and lonely are not synonymous; you will have yourself – and the food you love – for company”.

Single Girl Salmon

* This recipe is from the chapter “Single Cuisine” by Amanda Hesser in “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant”, and was originally adapted from Ginia Bellafante.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup tiny green French lentils
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black petter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • Pinch sugar
  • 1 7 ounce fillet salmon, cut from the center (ask to have a square piece, rather than a skinny slice)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped flat-left parsley
  • Lemon wedge

Method

  • Rinse the lentils, then pour them into a small saucepan with the garlic clove and bay leaf. Cover with water (about 1/2 inch above the lentils). Set a lid on top, slightly askew. Bring to the boil, then adjust the heat so it is at a simmer. Cook until the lentils are just cooked through but still have a little bite, 15 to 20 minutes. Ginia does hers so they are like firm peas or al dente pasta.
  • Drain the lentils and put them in a bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. Pour in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the vinegar and the lemon juice. Fold and stir the lentils for a minute, so the seasonings blend well, then taste them. They should be quite tangy, because salmon is fatty and you will need something to sharpen it up. Ginia continued tasting the lentils every few minutes and adding more lemon as she prepared the shallots and salmon.
  • Place a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add the shallots. Drop in a pinch of sugar, then stir as the shallots cook, turning them over and over, until they’re soft and have a glazed and golden look. Transfer to a plate and pace the pan back on the stove over medium-high heat. Season the salmon with salt and lay it skin-side down in the pan. Let it cook for 1 minute. It will begin to render its fat and the skill will crisp and stick to the pan. When it is crisp, use a spatula to scrape up the skin. Ginia scrapes it up, quickly turns the fish and removes the skin from the pan. This may take one or two tries the first time around. Continue sauteing until the salmon is cooked on the edges and has just a thin line of pink running through the center.
  • To serve, spoon the lentils onto a plate. Lay the salmon fillet o top, and dap on the shallots. Shower with parsley and squeeze over a wedge of lemon.

What is your favourite secret indulgence when dining alone? Has this post inspired any new ideas?

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Filed under Book Review, Lemon, Lentils, Recipes, Salmon, Savoury, Seafood