Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cookbook Review ~ Casual Entertaining - Ross Dobson

I found this book sitting in a bookstore reduced to the point where they were practically giving it away so of course it seemed only right to buy it! I never ever feel any guilt about a book that costs me less than $ fact I feel it my duty to buy it and lovingly add it to my collection! Of course I don't buy all books that are under $ still has to have a certain appeal and this one did just that! I already had Kitchen Seasons and Fired Up so I was familiar with Ross Dobson but this book, Casual Entertaining, seemed extra special - full of recipes that looked and sounded absolutely delicious.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ross Dobson he is a popular Australian food writer that writes for both Australian and UK magazines and newspapers as well as of course, writing and publishing his own cookbooks! Like many Australian chefs he has a very simple, no nonsense and relaxed approach to food, and his recipes are full of vibrant, bold flavours that appeal from the moment you read the title of the recipe. The mantra of the book is to keep entertaining at home as stress free, simple and casual as possible while still providing delicious, relaxed meals and of course, enjoying yourself.

There are 6 chapters featuring recipes which are divided into fun titles including 'Keeping it Casual'; 'Grazing'; 'Food in a Flash' and 'Chic Eats' - perfect for every occasion while entertaining! I have to admit though that although this book is called 'Casual Entertaining' there was a distinct lack of entertaining on my behalf while reviewing this book but I just couldn't resist cooking from it any longer! Therefore the recipes I made were rather selfishly enjoyed only by myself and hubby (oh and Wee One had one of the meals!), however I will definitely use this book in future when we are entertaining. The majority of the recipes are accompanied by stunning photographs that have you licking your licks and writing shopping lists before you are even half way through the book. So far I have tried 4 recipes in total from the book but it is my intention to try quite a few more as there are so many that really appeal.

The Tested Recipes:

Baked Chipolatas in Tomato and Basil Sauce on Soft Polenta
Chicken Pot Pies
Affogato Parfait
Lamb Kefta Tagine with Crunchy Salad

The first recipe tested was Baked Chipolatas in Tomato and Basil Sauce on Soft Polenta which came from the chapter 'Food in a Flash'. The accompanying photo looked amazing – just my thing, although I have a confession to make....I have never had polenta! I'm not quite sure how that's possible as I have always thought it sounded delicious – I mean it's Italian and since I love everything else Italian it seemed like an obvious choice – yet I had never had it, ever – not at home or at a restaurant! So I was extra excited to make this one and made the effort for myself when hubby was out of town. I waited 'til Wee One went to bed then set to it, following the recipe exactly...the end result – not good! I was so disappointed!! The polenta was far too thick and looked nothing like the smooth, creamy, soft polenta in the photograph. The taste wasn't bad, it just reminded me completely of the semolina my mum used to make us which made me want to top it with strawberry jam rather than the chipolatas! The chipolatas with tomato and basil sauce were ok...but nothing to write home about and definitely not something I would serve when entertaining! To be honest it was all ingredients that I like and make myself to have with pasta, it just didn't turn out that well ,but I know with some tweaking here and there it would be just fine and best of all, by baking the whole thing in the oven it really is low effort! So recipe number 1 looked amazing in the photograph, sounded delicious, tasted blah but has potential (especially once I master the polenta!).

Determined not to be deflated I moved on to recipe number 2 which was Chicken Pot Pies from the chapter 'Cheap and Cheerful'! My husband absolutely loves chicken pot pie and I definitely don't make it enough for him so since he had been away hard at work all week I decided to be an extra nice wife (!) and make this for him. I'm so glad that I did – they were delicious! The recipe calls for a Rotisserie chicken so it was super easy to make and the perfect Friday night meal, enjoyed with a nice bottle of wine! We both devoured them and even Wee One thoroughly enjoyed his.....Result! Memories of the first meal had disappeared as this more than made up for it!

For recipe number 3 I turned to the desserts chapter and made the Affogatto Parfait for a treat for Valentines Day. As with the Chicken Pot Pies this was incredibly easy to make. He suggests making it the day before you want to serve it to allow it to freeze properly, however I ended up doing it on the morning of and it was frozen perfectly. We both enjoyed it and it was a nice ending to an Italian themed Valentines Day – however it wasn't quite as velvety smooth as we would have liked and perhaps not sweet enough. I think that maybe I just didn't reduce the coffee and sugar syrup enough so I will definitely try it again as again it had definite potential and the idea of it makes a fantastic, easy and prepare ahead dessert for entertaining.

The fourth and final recipe that I made was the Lamb Kefta Tagine with Crunchy Salad and it was fantastic! Both hubby and I loved it and it was so easy to make that I will definitely make this again. I found it interesting that the recipe itself didn't call for any seasoning in the Lamb meatballs or the Moroccan spiced sauce but only in the salad so I did deviate slightly and add some salt and pepper as there is nothing worse that an under seasoned meat ball! Additionally the recipe says it serves 4 however my meatballs shrunk quite a bit and although I was happy with my portion, hubby did have to go back for more and so in our house it definitely wouldn't have fed 4 people! Perhaps if you served it with some couscous or rice then it would work but with just the salad it was a little on the stingy side! All in all though it was really good and thoroughly enjoyed by both of us. Of the four recipes tested we decided this was our favourite which is really saying something when putting it against the Chicken Pot Pies!

This book definitely has a lot of appeal. Although it is a book for entertaining, I found a lot of the recipes were meals that I would cook for just us so don't be put off and label it purely as an 'entertaining cookbook' – especially if you don't entertain. The first recipe I tried wasn't great but the rest were all good and ones I would make again . They were all super simple to make and if I was entertaining I certainly wouldn't be in a flap cooking these recipes, which is the whole intention of the book. This book has so many recipes that I want to make so although I have only tried 4 so far, I have the following recipes bookmarked for future:

Beef Daube
Gnocchetti Pasta with Smoky Chorizo & Seared Prawns
Keralan Prawn Curry
Spanish Bouillabaisse
Blueberry Madeleines with Lemon Cream
Panna Cotta with Red Wine Syrup

With the help of this book the days of dinner parties that turn the host into an exhausted, flustered mess, where they spend all their time in the kitchen and none with their guests are gone. Instead you will be relaxed and excited about the occasion and of course still serving fabulous food. This book definitely gets my recommendation!


  1. Sounds like this might be worth the investment - great review, thank you.

    1. Thanks Kiri! I definitely think it's worth having : )

  2. Excellent review! What a lot of work you did to bring us this post! I've never heard of this writer ... we, North Americans lead such sheltered lives! ;-)

    1. Thank you so much Susan! It's hard with reviews as you never get as much feedback so it's difficult to know how much people enjoy reading them or how helpful they are but I always try and do the book justice!

      That's so funny! Although I was just thinking the other day how I really need to add some more American cookbooks to my collection!!
      : )


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