Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cookbook Review ~ Diva Cooking: Unashamedly Glamourous Party Food

I was so excited when I came up with the idea of my first Reader Challenge and even more delighted that so many of you took the time to look through my rather extensive cookbook collection (!) and choose a book that you wanted me to review! All the choices were fantastic and before the book was chosen I knew I would be happy to review any of the selected books. In the end however I used the random number generator (to keep things fair) and it selected book number 13 which was Diva Cooking: Unashamedly Glamourous Party Food by Victoria Blashford-Snell & Jennifer Joyce.

Diva Cooking was first published in 2001 (although I didn't buy it until roughly 2004 when I was living in Edinburgh). The authors both worked at Notting Hill's infamous Books for Cooks so have had more than their fair share of experience not only when it comes to cooking, but also on reading and testing other cookbooks.

At first glance:

There are 12 chapters in total ranging from Diva Canapes, Diva Tarts and Diva Birds, to Diva Cooking, which provides information on herbs and spices and Diva Parties which offers helpful advice on planning a party including plenty of menu suggestions, ideal for when you are stuck for ideas of what to serve. The recipe chapters all contain a real selection so I can guarantee you will find something that suits. As promised on the insert, for every recipe there are plenty of tips on cooking and serving your dish as well as advice on cooking techniques and diva do's and don'ts.

The recipes:

As per the rules of the Challenge I was to pick (a minimum of) 3 recipes which were to include something that I really liked the look of; something that was a little more advanced and not generally something I would ordinarily make, and thirdly something that I have never tried before (subject to being able to get the ingredients). I had no problems with the first one...there were plenty of recipes that I fancied. The second and the third requirements though were a little harder to meet since none of the recipes were overly complicated or used ingredients that I hadn't used before so on that note I hope you approve of the recipes I chose!

This book is filled with so many delicious recipes it was hard to choose just I didn't! In the end I chose 5 recipes to try out and I'm glad that I did! First things first though, since this is a book intended to be used as recipes for parties – either large parties or dinner parties - all recipes serve 8 or more. Since I had no parties planned I had to adapt some of the recipes for just the 2 of us but they still worked well. I did however manage to get together some of my friends for a play date so they were the guinea pigs for my first two recipes.

The Chosen Recipes

Spiced Corn Cakes with Avocado-Lime Salsa
Heavenly Chunky-Chewy Chocolate Cookies
Olive Oil & Sea Salt Bread
Grilled Indonesian Coconut Chicken
Spicy Crab Cakes with Tomato Coriander Salsa

Up first was the Spicy Corn Cakes with Avocado Lime Salsa. Everyone agreed it was a hit, however we all felt that the cakes needed a lot more corn in them as they were more like pancakes with a little bit of corn through them. They could also have done with being crispier for a tastier finish. The Avocado Lime Salsa was good although I used less onion than suggested and it was more than enough. I also added the cilantro to the salsa rather than using it purely as a garnish and it rounded the salsa off perfectly. To be honest though as much as my friends enjoyed them I have to say I don't think I'll be in a hurry to make them again.

What I will be making again though is recipe number 2 that I tried – Heavenly Chocolate Chip Cookies. As soon as I started making them I knew they couldn't be bad as they contain more than a pound of chocolate in some form or other – you read right, more than 1 pound (1lb)!!! Of course they didn't disappoint and as was advised in the book, they disappeared fast! They were a huge hit with everyone and I was happy to send everyone home with some extra cookies (apparently for their husbands but I have a feeling they may not have even lasted the journeys home)!

Recipe number 3 was a last minute decision at the weekend as I fancied some homemade bread, so I tried out the Olive Oil & Sea Salt Bread. I'm not much of a bread maker so I liked the idea of this recipe as it sounded quite similar to my Pizza Dough recipe that I love. The bread was easy to make (made easier by letting my Kitchen Aid do all the kneading!) and had no issues rising! Where I did find some issues was that at the end of the instructions it simply said “Follow individual recipes from here”. Now while that might sound easy enough there was only 1 other recipe calling for the basic Olive Oil & Sea Salt Bread, despite the introduction saying to use this “master recipe for most of the breads in this chapter”. I'm not sure if they cut down and maybe didn't print as many bread recipes as originally intended but there are only 3 in total and the third doesn't use the master recipe! So, here I was just wanting to make a simple loaf of bread with no cooking time or oven temperature! Definitely a down fall in this chapter. In the end I set the temperature to that suggested for the Miniature Foccaccia topped with Caramelized Onions, and gave it 25-30 minutes. The first loaf could have done with another 5 minutes or so as the inside had a touch of doughy consistency but the second loaf which I put into a loaf pan was fine. Despite not having cooking times and temperatures I will make this recipe again, perhaps just tweaking it here and there for my own tastes.

For the Grilled Indonesian Coconut Chicken I halved the recipe so that it served 4 and made it for my husband and I one Sunday evening with leftovers for the next day. First thing to note, the recipe missed out the quantity of ginger needed, but no big deal – I just put in about a 1 inch piece. With the recipe halved I found I had more than enough marinade...perhaps my chicken thighs were just smaller but there was certainly plenty. That being said, it smelt and looked delicious so I wasn't complaining! We cooked it on the barbecue as suggested and it turned out amazing – honestly, so good! I served it with rice (as suggested) and added some coriander, spring onions and a little lime zest and juice. It complimented the chicken perfectly which was served on a plate with a scattering of coriander and I added a fresh chilli that I sliced and sprinkled over the top for a bit more heat. It was so good we devoured it in record time. In retrospect I wish I had reserved some of the extra marinade and rather than pouring it over the chicken I would have held it back and warmed it up to have a little sauce. I'm definitely someone that likes condiments and sauces so to me it could have done with that just to finish it off perfectly, so next time I'll definitely do that – and trust me there will be a next time – probably very soon! I can't stress enough how good this was!

{Sorry no pics - we couldn't wait to eat it!!}

The following night I made the Spicy Crab Cakes with Tomato Coriander Salsa. I cheated slightly with the Crab Cakes and used bought Mayonnaise rather than making my own – it was after all a mid-week meal and since I halved the recipe I only needed 125ml. The first thing I noticed when making these crab cakes was that there was a lot of filler and not so much crab. The mixture was also incredibly wet – a slight concern, however I continued and followed the recipe to a tee. What resulted was a nice crab cake but super moist and unsurprisingly not hugely flavoured with crab. The Tomato Coriander Salsa also needed tweaking... initially I followed the recipe (although cutting up my tomatoes smaller than suggested) but I ended up with a salsa that was far too twangy! It had so much bite from the lime I had to adjust it. I added a little olive oil which mellowed it slightly but it was still a little sharp for my liking. Together they went well but there was definitely no need for any extra lime wedges! I liked the flavour of these crab cakes and salsa but next time I will definitely adjust the recipe with far more crab and less breadcrumbs. I very rarely make crab cakes (as in have made them two or three times!) but this recipe has inspired me to make them more often.

 I desperately wanted to make the Prawn Dumplings in Fragrant Thai Broth (see below!) but unfortunately I ran out of time. That plus my husband being away a lot made this book even more challenging – recipes to serve 8 for 1?! Best not! However, I am going to make that dish this weekend when he's home so I'll update the post once I've done it!

Overall rating/ review:

This book is definitely a welcome addition on my bookshelves and I will certainly use it again. Although admittedly it is a book primarily aimed at a female demographic (due of course to the name and bright pink cover) I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to everyone as the recipes are so good, and would strongly suggest if you are a guy that likes hosting parties to buy it.

There are a few downsides to this book however, but they are minor. Some of the ingredients used are hard to find so I was unable to make a couple of recipes. You could adapt those recipes to use ingredients that you can easily source or in future be better prepared and order hard to find ingredients online! Also if you're looking for a book with photographs for each recipe, you won't find it here. There are only photos for some of the recipes so depending on how much you rely on pictures don't expect every recipe to have an accompanying picture. That being said the pictures that are there are all beautiful shots of mouth-watering meals! As mentioned there were a couple of mistakes regarding quantities, cooking times and temperatures but it didn't ruin any recipes – they just seemed to be small editing errors.

Out of the five recipes I tried my favourite would probably have to be the Grilled Indonesian Coconut Chicken but as far as I was concerned there were they were all pretty good. My least favourite was definitely the Spiced Corn Cakes with Avocado-Lime Salsa but with some changes I will try to make them again. On top of the recipes I made I also have quite a few more recipes bookmarked that I would like to try in future including Crispy Crab & Cream Cheese Wontons; Spicy Prawns with Moroccan Tomato Jam; Brochettes of Lemon Chicken, Sage & Croutons with Red Pepper Aioli and Wild Mushroom & Smoked Mozzarella Tart. Mrs Dobson used to tell me that if you could find one recipe from a cookbook that you like and would make then it was worth buying the book! If that's the case then this book is definitely worth buying as there are a lot of recipes that I loved and will cook again!


Overall this book definitely has my stamp of approval and I would recommend it to all of you!

*Update! {September 17th}

Last night I made the Prawn Dumplings in Fragrant Thai Broth and so I had to include it here, as it was as my husband put it “awesome”! Seriously fantastic! We are both lovers of Thai soups and this one has become our new favourite by far. The broth was so aromatic and had the perfect balance of sour, sweet, spicy and salty. I made a mistake with the Prawn Dumplings and forgot to season them but they were fine without the seasoning – really delicious. They were also really easy to make (another bonus) as all the work is done by your food processor, then you simply just drop small spoonfuls into the simmering soup at the end and leave them for a few minutes to cook. I can guarantee that I will be making this over and over again....with or without the dumplings as it would also be delicious with prawns, chicken, tofu or just some other vegetables. My husband also suggested adding some bamboo shoots next time which would also taste great and add some more crunch. I added some fresh chillies (what's new!) which gave it a lovely heat but if you prefer yours mild just follow the recipe and skip the chillies. So there you go - recipe number 6 and another hit! This book really is a must have book!


  1. I have this cookbook and have never made anything out of it! Well maybe some drinks... Thanks for reminding me about it- I read your post and was like oooh those things sound so good! LOL

  2. My pleasure! I definitely recommend trying it out... It's not been returned to my bookshelves yet as I know there are so many other recipes I want to make first!

  3. I will really have to look for this book. It looks so amazing :)

  4. Haha the cookies made it home but I admit they didn't make it into J's tummy eeek! LOL They were soooo good I couldn't help myself!!!!


  5. I love cookbook reviews from people who have actually taken time to cook from the book--thanks!

  6. Wow Lynds, you like to go the extra mile - 5 instead of 3 dishes! Like you, I think the Grilled Indonesian Coconut Chicken would be my favourite.
    I had never heard of the book so thanks for the review ;-)

  7. Thanks to you all for your comments!

    Tes - I REALLY recommend this book - it's great!

    Chels - Too funny but I had a feeling!

    Cucina49 - Thanks! I honestly feel it's the only way to properly review a book....especially cookbooks. I'm glad you appreciate it : )

    Jacqueline - Thanks! I know....but there are just so many delicious recipes in this book - it was just too hard to only pick 3!! I've now tried 6....see my update at the bottom of the post! Another fantastic recipe making this book a definite must-have! : )


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