Being a home cook I couldn't resist a book entitled 'A Taste of Home' especially when it was by renowned chef (and protege of Gordon Ramsay) Angela Hartnett. I love knowing what other people cook at home for their families and friends, so cookbooks that are all about home cooking are favourites of mine.
Perhaps known more for her Italian cooking this second book by Angela Hartnett features a mix of Mediterranean and British influences to create delicious looking recipes with minimal fuss. There are 10 chapters featuring recipes within the book, some of which include Snacks; Soups; Pasta and Risotto; Pies and Gratins and Cakes and Puddings. This book has 200 quick and easy recipes – just what you want for home cooking!
In the introduction she states that for her, home cooking is all about sharing good meals with friends without showing off “cheffy skills” in the process. And just like the other book I was reviewing this month – Casual Entertaining by Ross Dobson – her approach is all about relaxed and enjoyable entertaining and reassuringly though she does admit to having mistakes in the kitchen like the rest of us! The recipes are meant to be simple, uncomplicated and perfect for making at the end of the working day so hopefully that is the case – along with being deliciously tasty!
The Tested Recipes:
Red Wine and Chorizo Risotto
Thai Fish Cakes
Salmon with Dill Sauce
The first recipe I tried was a first for me – Ribollita, which is a traditional Tuscan peasant soup (which of course means it will be delicious as so-called 'peasant' food always seems to be the best food there is!). It is full of fantastic Italian flavours and apart from some light chopping of vegetables at the start it was really easy to make. I had to substitute the cavolo nero as it couldn't get it anywhere so I just popped in a few big handfuls of fresh spinach at the end. I did also make a bit of a mistake regarding the fennel seeds (I used whole seeds rather than the ground she suggested) so it was a little on the strong side but regardless the final soup was still amazing. So many wonderful, hearty flavours packed into one bowl. It doesn't have much of a broth as it's a very thick soup – almost like a stew so it is really filling and perfect for a lunch or even dinner. Now I'm certainly not an expert – seeing as this was my first time making and having it, but I did a little research on Ribollita and checked out a few other recipes for it, and was a little surprised to see that this recipe was almost identical to a version on the internet by another well known chef (I thought it maybe best not to mention names!). Maybe this is just a classic recipe for it, maybe they have worked together and this is a recipe they have both used but it was certainly a little strange to find it quite so identical!
The second recipe that I decided to make was the Red Wine and Chorizo Risotto. Considering I love chorizo, red wine and risotto is seemed a fair assumption that this would be delicious and it was! I halved the recipe as it was just me at home but I literally halved everything exactly. I did have to add quite a bit more stock than suggested and a little olive oil to my chorizo but other than that all was good. I make risotto a lot but this was by far the richest risotto I have ever had. There was a ludicrous amount of butter and parmesan added and way more than I have ever done but boy did it result in the most luxurious, rich and delicious risotto!! The only downside to the risotto was that it isn't the most appealing colour once cooked – which is probably why the accompanying photo to the recipe is of the ingredients rather than the final dish - but when it tastes this good who cares! A definite winner for me and one I will make again especially when I can make Arancini out of the leftovers which was also delicious!
So with the first two recipes being decidedly Italian I decided to change things up for recipe number 3 and went for the Thai Fish Cakes. Unfortunately they weren't nearly as successful as the first 2 recipes.
I was very intrigued by the honey dip that went with them but as I made it I was more than a little skeptical and as it turned out the idea of serving a honey dip with the Thai Fish Cakes did sound a bit better than it tasted. It certainly wasn't bad – sweet and tangy however it reminded me of a relish to top a burger with! As for the fish cakes I knew as I was making them that it wasn't going to work!! To be honest the fish I had was extremely wet so I did try and dry it as much as possible but the mixture was still far too wet – in fact it was so sloppy and not at all something I could shape. My only solution (short of throwing it out which I was not prepared to do!) was to add some breadcrumbs – ok quite a lot of breadcrumbs! Finally it got to the stage where with gentle hands I could shape it but I had to use more flour than suggested. Miraculously I was able to cook them and they did stay together however I wasn't too impressed with the final result. Due to the breadcrumbs and excess flour they looked nothing like the beautiful picture of her Fish Cakes and I thought they had a strange texture...Needless to say they were edible and Mum and Hubby thought they were fine, but having made Thai Fish Cakes in the past and really enjoying them I won't be using this recipe again and will stick to my own!
So with 2 passes and 1 fail it was up to recipe number 4 to determine the success of this book! I decided to stick with another fish recipe and opted for the Salmon with Dill Sauce. It sounded straightforward with not too many ingredients so I hoped this would be another success.... Thankfully it was! It was uncomplicated, simple and enjoyable. I cooked the leeks a little longer than suggested and to be honest they could maybe have done with a few more minutes but they were still delicious. Since I had my griddle pan out I decided to also griddle some asparagus to go with it which worked perfectly! The Dill Sauce was made with only 3 ingredients but worked perfectly and what was meant to serve 4 disappeared between the 3 of us! I was happy that this fish dish was a success and made up for the not-so-good fish cakes!
So 4 recipes tested, 3 of which we enjoyed and 1 failure but to be fair it was still enjoyed by hubby and Mum, but only due to some last minute changes!! As well as the 4 recipes I tried I also bookmarked quite a few more which I'm still keen to try out at some point as they really do sound lovely. That being said the Lemon Risotto might have to wait as my waist line might not agree with the amount of butter involved, especially after the last Risotto!! The recipes that I have bookmarked are.....
New Potato Crisps with Black Pepper & Parmesan
Chickpea Soup with Mint & Garlic
Prawn & Almond Soup
Pasta with Walnut Sauce
Lemon Risotto with Brown Shrimp
Polenta with Poached Egg & Mushrooms
Seared Lamb with Mint & Feta
Scotti's La Caprese Chocolate Cake
Fried Figs with Honey
When it comes down to it I loved the idea of this book and when reading through it there are certainly lots of recipes that I want to try. There are a lot of beautifully photographed pictures throughout the book, however I would have liked (and appreciated!) perhaps a few more. The book features a lot of classic recipes as well as some new ideas and recipes that definitely look worth trying.
The downsides of the book (apart from the obvious failure of the Thai Fish Cakes) was that I did find that the instructions are not always very clear and are really pretty vague at times, for example the recipe for the Amaretto Cake that I really want to make calls for “a glass of amaretto”. Now I'm assuming the exact quantities obviously don't have to be completely precise (since they aren't!) but generally for baking you expect them to be so if I am being honest I do find that a little off putting as I don't want another recipe fail! That being said I will still keep cooking from this book and as mentioned I will definitely make the Ribolitta and Red Wine and Chorizo Risotto again so for me that's always a big plus when it comes to deciding if I like a cookbook or not! So with that being said this book does get my recommendation but with a slight hesitation due to some vague instructions and quantities.
Do you have this book? Have you cooked from it? If so please let me know how you got on with it and what recipes you would recommend or were failures for you!
Cooking the Books in March
The books that I have chosen for this month are.......
Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home – Nigella Lawson
The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days – Tarek Malouf
If you have either or both of these books please feel free to cook along with me and let me know how you like them and how your recipes turned out!