Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Are Your Favourite Cookbooks?

Last year when I started writing my blog again after my baby was born I added a page to which I was going to write what books I was reading and add a review of those particular books. However as I look rather embarrassingly at the list, I am sad at the fact there are only 4 books listed on it! How pathetic when I have hundreds and hundreds of books!! Especially because on average I probably go through about 5 a month (whether it’s just flicking through them or sitting down and properly reading them). So I have made a firm resolution to myself that I will try harder to add more books to my list!! I can’t promise full reviews but sometimes it’s nice just to see the variety of cookbooks people have. As I use them I’ll try and write something just to give a little more insight with some trusty feedback!

If I’m being honest cookbooks really are an obsession of mine (which is what makes it even more frustrating that I haven’t got more books on my “What I’m Reading” page!). I would happily spend hours in a bookshop scouring over the cookbooks (which I have been known to do on many occasions, especially one of my favourite shops – Books for Cooks in Notting Hill). Whenever someone is stuck for ideas for Birthday or Christmas presents I always eagerly suggest vouchers so that I can buy myself some new books. Yes, despite owning hundreds it is always cookbooks that I want to buy and I am always just as excited to receive them as I was with the first few. (My 'wish list' currently has about 15 books in it!)

This Christmas I received three new books as presents – Ricardo: Meals for Every Occasion by Ricardo Larrivee; Vij’s at Home by Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij (both books by Canadian authors/chefs) and How I Cook by Skye Gyngell (UK author and chef). On top of that since my New Year’s resolution is to buy at least one book a month I treated myself and got off to a good start by ordering a few more books that came out last year that I still had to get – Entertaining at Home by Rachel Allen, Jamie Does.... by Jamie Oliver, Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson and Tender Volume II, A Cook's Guide To The Fruit Garden by Nigel Slater.

Suddenly just like that I have added an extra 7 books to my already extensive cookbook collection (or library as it should really be called!). As I was waiting (pretty much by the front door) for my books to arrive I started to think about what I would consider some of my favourite cookbooks. Nearing an impossibility since I love so many of them I was thinking about what makes me love a cookbook.... is it the delicious sounding recipes that have me leaping into the kitchen, or the glossy perfect photographs that accompany them....or is it little stories and anecdotes that make the book? Probably for me it’s primarily the recipes followed very closely by the photographs. I know a lot of people just like text books but I can’t help but love reading a recipe word for word and gazing appreciatively with mouth drooling and tummy rumbling at the beautiful pictures. Also from a different standpoint I think having photographs really helps you understand the recipe as you can see what’s it’s meant to look like, even if your version doesn’t quite work out like that! A definitely helpful tool in the kitchen, especially for beginners.

So what I would like to know is, what are your favourite cookbooks? I would love to hear and if you have time let me know why you love that book (or books) so much? Is it one particular recipe that you like or several that you use? Is it a new book or a book that has been handed down to you and has been in the family for years? And while we’re here, are there any cookbooks that you have bought or been given and just hated? Maybe the recipes just didn’t appeal or you tried some and they were a disaster? Please let me know, I would love to hear!

(For a list of what's on my bookshelf this month, check out my 'What I'm Reading' page)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cute As A Button

Every week my friend Tereza and I try to get together for a play date since our sons are only 6 weeks apart. This week it was my time to host and I couldn't resist making these perfect, delicate button cupcakes. I have a tendency to make cupcakes as it seems like the perfect time to try out new flavours, they're easy and of course they keep the mummies happy while the boys attempt to play! I was given the buttons as part of my Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law. Originally I was a little reluctant to use them, not just because they look so pretty in their box but more importantly because they are from Paris so not as easy to replace as I would like, however, I just couldn't resist! Sparkly, sugar pastel buttons, they were ideal for topping my lemon cupcakes and of course just knowing they were from Paris gave them that chic 'oh la la' appeal!

Of course as pretty and delicious as the cupcakes were, I restrained myself from eating only cupcakes and instead they were our 'something sweet' which we enjoyed with several cups of tea, so for something savoury I made roasted red pepper, chicken & goats cheese quesadillas. Served with some peppery rocket and a roasted pepper mayo on the side these crisp quesadillas made a perfect lunch for us........Thank goodness for play dates!

Cute As A Button Cupcakes

The recipe for these cupcakes is taken from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, I've just changed it ever so slightly by using lemon zest instead of vanilla extract. Additionally, instead of using a buttercream icing I made a lighter icing using fondant icing mixed with water and lemon juice. If you don't have fondant icing you can use royal icing or just plain icing sugar. The buttons I used to decorate them with are from Belle de Sucre (
Makes 12 cupcakes

120g plain or all-purpose flour
140g caster or berry sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 large lemon
120ml milk
1 egg
225g powdered fondant icing (see above)
Juice of ½ lemon
Water (roughly 3 tbsp)
Belle de Sucre sugar buttons to decorate

Preheat your oven to 170C/ 325F/ GM 3 and line a cupcake tin with medium sized paper cases.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter and lemon zest into the bowl of a KitchenAid (or other freestanding mixer) and using the paddle attachment mix slowly until everything is combined and you have a sandy consistency (if you don't have a KitchenAid use a hand-held electric beater). While the mixer is running, slowly pour in the milk and mix until it's just incorporated, then add the egg and continue beating until it's mixed in. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is properly mixed but be careful not to over beat the mixture.

Evenly spoon the cake mixture into the cupcake cases (book says until two-thirds full) and bake for 20-25 minutes until the sponge bounces back when touched (with my oven 22 minutes works perfectly every time) and a skewer comes out clean with put into the centre of the cake. Leave to cool for a few minutes then transfer the cupcakes onto a wire rack.

While the cupcakes are cooling make the icing. Sift the icing sugar into a medium sized bowl then add the lemon juice and enough water to make a smooth icing – you don't want it too runny so I add the water a tablespoon at a time, until I get the right consistency. When the cupcakes have completely cooled spoon over the icing so that you have an even, glossy and smooth cover. Once you have iced all 12 cupcakes top with a sugar button or any other decoration you have – and if you don't have any you could simply add some long strands of lemon zest! Light, zesty and perfect!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sweet Potato & Lentil Soup with Sizzling Chorizo

I know – another soup recipe, but 'tis the season! That plus the thick layer of glistening ice outside this morning, the -6 temperature and the fact that I still have my cold made it seem like an obvious choice for lunch! So apologies aside, here it is my delicious Sweet Potato & Lentil Soup with Sizzling Chorizo.

Sweet Potato & Lentil Soup with Sizzling Chorizo

A beautifully vibrant orange soup with a hint of paprika, this is such a warming soup, ideal for a cold Winter's day. The addition of the chorizo at the end finishes it off perfectly for a hearty meal. Serve with plenty of crusty bread and butter then sit back and relax and enjoy.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed
½ tsp smoked paprika
600g approx. sweet potato, peeled & cut into cubes
115g red lentils, well rinsed & drained
1 litre/ 1000ml chicken or vegetable stock
Salt & pepper
125g chorizo, sliced

In a large pan melt the butter with 1 tbsp of the oil until sizzling. Add the onion and leek and cook for roughly 7 minutes until softened but not coloured then add the garlic and paprika. Cook for another minute then add the sweet potato, lentils and stock. Season with some salt and pepper then cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Leave to cool slightly then puree the soup until it is completely smooth. Return to the pan and gently reheat. While the soup is reheating drizzle the remaining olive oil into a frying pan then once hot add the chorizo and cook until sizzling and golden brown on the edges. When ready to serve ladle the soup into soup bowls and top with some slices of chorizo and a drizzle of some of the paprika infused oil.

*For a vegetarian option use vegetable stock instead and miss out the chorizo.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'm back!

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to dedicate more time to my blog, working on my recipes and reading more cookbooks....that being said it’s now mid-way through January and this is my first post of 2011! Shameful but thankfully I do have an excuse in that for the last 5 weeks I wasn’t at home but rather at my other home with my family in Scotland. Try as I might it was just too hard with all the festivities to find time to type out any recipes I was making and get them posted on my blog, however I am now home, over my jet lag and trying to get back to a routine despite being completely full of the cold which I of course picked up from being stuck on a plane for 10 hours!

Anyway I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year. Ours was really lovely – as mentioned we were back home in Scotland, so surrounded by family and friends – perfect! However on top of it being Christmas which is always in itself a crazy time, we had my little one’s Christening on Boxing Day and then his 1st Birthday on the 27th(!!!) I know – three times as busy. There was no relaxing for us until the 28th when we all collapsed in a heap next to the fire due partially to exhaustion but more so to complete over- indulgence in the food and wine category!! We ate like Royalty – in fact it seemed like all we actually did was eat, however I think that’s a common complaint over Christmas time so it was partially to be expected.

We started everything off on Christmas Eve with a light and easy Christmas Eve meal – Mixed Salad Greens with Mozzarella, Pomegranate & Almonds to start; Spaghetti with Prawns and Rocket for our main course and Rose Wine Fruit Jelly with White Chocolate Panna cotta for dessert – a great way to start things off!

Christmas Day was the traditional Roast Turkey with all the trimmings – another wonderful feast prepared by my mum, dad and aunty (I was on the couch at this point with the start of an awful cold!). We tend to eat Christmas dinner later in the evening so lunch was our traditional Steamed Steak sandwiches (a family tradition that has gone on for as long as I know) and a slightly newer tradition that I introduced a few years ago of my Broccoli and Nutmeg Soup. Of course there were mince meat pies, boxes of chocolates and my million calorie Ultimate Rocky Road tempting us throughout the afternoon just in case we felt we hadn't quite eaten enough already!

And then we were onto Boxing Day. While most people treat boxing day as a day to relax in front of the fire and go for casual walks in the snow, we were still on full steam with Wee One’s Christening. Since we couldn’t get much done on Christmas Day the menu was kept fairly simple so most of it was done on the morning before church. On the menu – Beef and Red Wine Stew; Cold Roast Ham; Dauphinoise Potatoes; Winter Coleslaw; Crisp green salad and a Tomato Salad. Dessert was a very festive Christmas Pavlova that I topped with mandarins segments, pomegranate seeds, some dark chocolate shavings and finally adorned with a good sprinkling of edible gold glitter for that extra special celebratory sparkle! And of course our homemade Christening cake that Mr. Vanilla and I made on the 23rd at about midnight!

Three days done and we were onto Wee One’s 1st Birthday. I have a horrible sense of guilt by having a baby on the 27th so close to Christmas however it wasn’t planned that way! To make up for it we have said from day one we will always make sure that his birthday is never overlooked and make that extra special effort that we would do the rest of the year, so we marked his 1st Birthday Party with a proper kid’s party complete with sandwiches, sausage rolls, top hats, jelly and ice cream and more cake, this time his Birthday cake (also made at midnight or there about on the 23rd !). It was another lovely celebratory day filled with lots of fun, family and of course food (and perhaps a few too many balloons but I couldn't resist!).

So by December 28th it was Christmas, Christening and 1st Birthday Party – done! After all of that food and of course a glass or two of sparkly and wine to go with it, I felt in much need of a few 'lighter' meals. I used to always get frustrated when food magazines would come out in January with nothing but salads and 'light' meal ideas, however now I fully understand why!! Don't get me wrong, in January when it's still cold and possibly snowy out, I still like some proper comfort food but after 4 days of non-stop eating I needed a balance which is why I made a large batch of my cleansing and soothing Thai noodle soup! Still completely fulfilling so you aren't left hungry but fragrant and light, this soup is that perfect balance I was looking for. It is also ideal for getting rid of any colds or coughs that have a tendency to appear over Christmas as it is full of ginger and chilli – my remedy for getting rid of those nasty germs! It did the trick and after a few days to chill out it was straight back at it for Hogmany and New Year.....but I'll save that for another time! Happy belated New Year to you all – I hope 2011 is a great for all of you.

(I'll try and get as many of the recipes up from the 4 day extravaganza – it might just take me some time!)

Soothing Thai Broth

This soup takes no time at all to make since I don't make a paste, I simply just add all of the ingredients to the stock which infuse it beautifully with all the fragrance of the Thai ingredients. One word of advice I would give is that I cook the noodles only as needed. This soup makes 4 generous bowls but unless you are eating it all only cook what you need – 50g of noodles per person. The reason I do this is that if you don’t eat it all, the noodles will just absorb the broth and overcook.

For this recipe I have used chicken however you can easily use prawns, tofu or even some leftover turkey (when you have it!).

1250ml good quality chicken or vegetable stock (Organic if you can)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled
1-2 chillies, sliced (de-seeded if you prefer a milder soup)
3-4 Lime leaves, ripped in half
2 stalks of lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed
½ - 1 juicy lime
1 tbsp fish sauce
½ – 1 tsp sugar (optional)
200g noodles of your choice (I like to use rice noodles)
1 cooked chicken breast, sliced or shredded into small pieces
75g mange tout, cut in half diagonally
100g green beans, cut in half
Small handful of fresh coriander

Pour the stock into a large pan and put over a medium heat. Thinly slice the garlic and ginger into shards then add to the stock along with the chillies and lime leaves. Using the back of your knife bruise the lemongrass then cut into roughly 3 inch pieces. Add to the stock then squeeze in the juice of half the lime, fish sauce and sugar (if using). Bring to a gentle boil then reduce the heat and allow to gently simmer for 10-15 minutes.

While the broth is simmering and gently infusing, cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. As soon as they are ready drain them then rinse under cold water to stop them from cooking anymore and divide into 4 serving bowls.

Add the shredded chicken, mange tout and green beans and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the chicken is warmed through and the vegetables are tender but still with a crisp bite. Taste to check the seasoning then if needed squeeze in a little more lime juice. If you like at this point you can remove the lemongrass and the lime leaves, however I tend to just leave them in and eat around them! Sprinkle in most of the coriander then ladle over the noodles. Finish with a final scattering of coriander then slurp, enjoy and feel instantly revitalised.

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