Monday, May 27, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ What's for Dinner? by Curtis Stone

I've been familiar with Curtis Stone since his debut TV show 'Surfing the Menu' that he co-hosted with his friend and fellow Australian chef Ben O'Donoghue in 2003, however surprisingly this is his first cook book that I have bought. What's for Dinner? is a collection of recipes for time-saving meals for every day of the week that take into consideration how busy our daily schedules can be but recognise the importance of sitting down every day to eat a balanced meal. The recipes are designed to be straightforward and easy to prepare with everyday ingredients and minimal appliances. Chapters are divided into each day of the week with incorporated themes such as “Motivating Mondays” to kick start your week, “Time-Saving Tuesdays” for when you are in a rush, “Thrifty Thursdays” for feeding your family on a budget and “Dinner Party Saturdays” for when you want to entertain and “bring out your inner chef”.

The Tested Recipes:

Having read through the book several times and seeing plenty of recipes that I wanted to try it was time to put the book to the test and start cooking. I managed to test 6 recipes from the book but that was really just the tip of the iceberg as this book really does have a lot of recipes in it that jump out at you waiting to be cooked and devoured! In the end I picked the following recipes.....

Grilled Ginger-Sesame Chicken Salad
Spaghetti with Garlic, Lemon, Kale & Parmesan
Chicken Masala with Cucumber Raita
Halibut & Spinach with Orange -Pine Nut Vinaigrette
Grilled Salmon with Orzo, Feta & Red Wine Vinaigrette
Olive Oil Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

The first recipe to be put to the test was the Grilled Ginger-Sesame Chicken Salad which looked so good in the photograph I just couldn't resist! The dressing was absolutely delicious - packed full of strong, punchy flavours but a perfect combination of each ingredient that went so well with the salad. The salad itself was very straightforward to make and tasty, my only complaint was that I felt it could have done with some more veges in it so next time I make it I would add in some peppers and sugar snap peas for a bit more crunch and variety and to make it go a little further. Overall though it was a very nice, healthy and delicious salad that hubby and I enjoyed.

Next up and for a super quick and easy Friday night meal I made the Spaghetti with Garlic, Lemon, Kale & Parmesan which we were lucky enough to enjoy outside. I did half this recipe since it was the 3 of us (but more like 2 ½ when it comes to eating!) but also because I didn't buy nearly enough Kale. I bought one big bunch thinking that would be more than enough but after weighing it once home it turned out it was pretty much only a quarter of what the recipe called for! That being said it was more than enough for the halved recipe and I definitely didn't need any more so in future when I make it again I would keep it to the lesser quantity. I would also perhaps cut back on the amount of olive oil used although it was of course absolutely delicious with the amount suggested! The overall dish was really tasty and so quick that I would be crazy not to make it again, especially since Wee One enjoyed it. I couldn't resist and added some finely chopped red chilli to ours which for our taste buds it needed, but if you aren't a chilli lover just stick to the original recipe and you will be more than satisfied.

The third recipe to be put to the test was the Chicken Masala with Cucumber Raita. I don't normally think of having a curry on a Monday (definitely more of a 'Friday night curry' kind of gal), but not being one who is able to resist a curry recipe and needing a recipe I could prepare in advance so I could go to the gym I couldn't not make it! In this recipe you keep the chicken breasts whole which is definitely a little different for a curry recipe but it did mean the chicken stayed nice and moist. The sauce had good flavour and the addition of the spinach finished it off perfectly. Since there was no cream added it was a nice healthy curry which we really enjoyed. Unfortunately though the Cucumber Raita was not so successful! I have no idea what happened (whether it was the new brand of Greek Yogurt I used or the lemon was particularly sour) but it was far too bitter – to the extent it was just not enjoyable. I don't necessarily think it was the recipe so I would try it again, although next time I try it out I would certainly half the recipe as there was far too much for the 4 servings suggested.

Next up was the Halibut & Spinach with Orange -Pine Nut Vinaigrette. This recipe is included in the “Time-Saving Tuesdays” chapter and seemed like a nice light recipe with the bonus that it wouldn't take long to prepare. The vinaigrette had quite a few ingredients including obviously orange and pine nuts, but it was amazing. I have to admit when I first tried it on it's own I was a little hesitant as to how the finished dish would turn out but it was fantastic and by far by favourite of the recipes tried so far. It was so light and refreshing with so many bright flavours and definitely a perfect meal for Spring and Summer. The fish and spinach were very straightforward and the dish didn't take long to make at all. I will definitely make this dish time and time again and would use the dressing for lots of other dishes as well as it was just so good.

Following the success of the Halibut dish I couldn't resist trying another fish dish and made the Grilled Salmon with Orzo, Feta & Red Wine Vinaigrette. It was another hit and everyone really enjoyed it. I did feel that the Salmon could have done with something extra as it is cooked with just a little oil and then served on top of the salad – but perhaps maybe just save some of the vinaigrette to spoon a little over. (I had used all of mine on the salad as instructed so just spritzed over a little lemon which was good.) There was a lot of the pasta salad but it meant we just had leftovers for lunch the next day so no complaints there. This was another nice and simple meal with good flavours that kept everyone happy.

I couldn't finish reviewing the book without trying something from the Something Sweet chapter so after much debate (there are a lot of delicious looking sweet recipes!) the final recipe to be tested was the Olive Oil Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote since the Strawberries and Rhubarb were jumping out at me in the supermarket! A nice and simple cake recipe that didn't take long to make or bake. Since we were heading over for dinner with our family I decided to take it over for dessert (so that I wouldn't eat it all myself!) and the general consensus was that it tasted like a lemon pound cake as it was nice and fresh flavoured although I didn't really taste the rosemary in it. The edges were a little dry (I cooked it for exactly 35 minutes as instructed but it could of perhaps done with a minute or two less) but the rest was lovely and moist, however it was not nearly as risen as in the picture – in fact compared to the pic it looked a little like a pancake! Thankfully though it still tasted good. The Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote was a delicious accompaniment to the cake and made it that little bit more special and a perfect dessert. I will definitely make this cake again.

Out of the 6 recipes tested my favourite was definitely the Halibut & Spinach with Orange -Pine Nut Vinaigrette, however I enjoyed all of them and there were certainly no disasters or bad recipes. I still have a long list of bookmarked recipes that I am keen to try, including.....

Bookmarked Recipes:

Korean Steak Tacos
Steak & Green Bean Stir-fry with Ginger & Garlic
New Orleans “Barbecued” Shrimp with Amber Ale
Shrimp Rolls with Herb Aioli
Bacon, Corn & Potato Chowder
Kimchi Fried Rice
Asian Beef & Vegetable Lettuce Cups
Conchiglie Pasta with Chorizo, Peppers & Spinach
Chipotle Pork Tacos
Thai Red Curry with Butternut Squash & Chickpeas
Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks & Green Beans with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette & Chilli-Gorgonzola Butter
Grilled Halibut & Asparagus with Melted Leeks
Seared Scallops & Spring Vegetables with Coconut-Lime Sauce
Classic Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes
Barbecued Spareribs with Apple-Bourbon BBQ Sauce
Lozza's Sticky Toffee Ice Cream
Salted Caramel Pots de Creme

By far the biggest pro to this book is the typical relaxed, easy-going approach of an Ozzie chef! The recipes are straightforward and uncomplicated and as the book intends perfect for cooking 7 days of the week. I love how the chapters are divided into the days of the week for something a little different and instant inspiration. The majority of the recipes are accompanied by beautiful photographs to inspire and guide you but also of course, to make you drool and the Chapter on “Something Sweet” is reason alone to buy the book!

The only slight downside to the book was that it has a bit of a wintery feel to it as a lot of the recipes seemed fairly hearty and bold, more suited to colder seasons. I probably noticed that more since when I first bought the book we were going through a mini heatwave and a lot of the recipes didn't appeal as they were too hearty but it does mean it will keep you going throughout the year, especially those of you living in colder climates! Other than that though there were no real complaints. A few editing issues perhaps (for example the recipe for Chipotle Pork Tacos says to see the Kitchen Note regarding the chipotle chillies in adobo sauce, however there is no Kitchen Note) but that again is small and not a big deal.

Specialty Ingredients to buy?
There wasn't anything particularly special that I had to buy for the recipes in this book as it is really based on simple home cooking but he does love to cook with shallots and spinach so I had to be well stocked with both of those ingredients! I really wanted to try the recipe for Kimchi Fried Rice but I couldn't find any Kimchi so I guess that could be listed as a specialty ingredient, other than that though everything else though was definitely supermarket ingredients which is great.

Learn anything new?
I don't think I learnt anything specifically new with the recipes that I tried as they are so straightforward and aimed for even a novice cook, but I did use rhubarb for the first time in a very long time, so for me that's a bonus as I love cooking with new ingredients, trying different recipes with the ingredients, or being reminded about ingredients I haven't used for a long time. The book has also provided me with some new delicious ideas for cooking with fish which I'm really happy about as I am trying to eat a lot more fish.

Overall this book is a very family friendly cookbook with a lot of variety but all of the recipes are pretty straightforward so it really is a book everyone would enjoy to give you new recipes to help you get through the week whatever your schedule. I gave the book to my Mother-in-law to have a look at and she liked it so much she went and bought a copy for herself and tried the Grilled Halibut & Asparagus with Melted Leeks which she said was great, so if that's not a seller I don't know what is!

What's for Dinner? By Curtis Stone definitely gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops stamp of approval!

*After posting this review I made the New York Cherry Cheesecake. Normally when I make cheesecakes I prefer the unbaked versions but this one looked so amazingly good in the photo I knew I had to try it. Definitely not a healthy option (not even close!) but absolutely delicious, this is a must-try recipe for next time you are entertaining. Click here to see the recipe for it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Creamy Tropical Fruit Smoothie

With Spring in full force (although with fairness last week felt like Summer!) I have been enjoying a lot more smoothies, especially since I have recently re-joined the gym. It's a great way to start my day or to give me an energy boost mid afternoon before or after working out. Even better my son loves it and not that I need any help getting him to eat fruit, if you have a fussy fruit eater in your family I am sure they will love this.

Makes 2 glasses (easily doubled)

1 cup of frozen mango cubes
1 full (slightly overflowing!) cup of strawberries, hulled
¼ pineapple, peeled
1 pot of yogurt (100g approx)*
Splash of milk (optional)

Put the mango cubes into a blender and leave to soften slightly while you cup up the other fruit, then add the strawberries and pineapple to the blender along with the yogurt. I tend to half fill my pot of yogurt with the milk and swish it around a bit to get the last of the yogurt before adding it to the blender. Blitz until smooth then serve while thick and creamy and icy cold.


If you don't have frozen mango cubes add a few ice cubes to the blended when you blitz it to make it nice and frosty cold.


If you don't like/ have allergies to Mango or simply can't get any you can replace it with 1 large banana instead, just don't forget the ice!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Coconut & Lime Macaroons

Since I am a huge fan of coconut and especially coconut and lime, it's no surprise that I absolutely love these Macaroons. They are quick and easy to make and utterly irresistible! Sweet and chewy the lime cuts through a little just to add just enough zing to stop them from being too cloyingly sweet.

I've tried lots of different macaroon recipes over the years but this one is my favourite since it is very straightforward, quick and easy and doesn't fail. It's a recipe by Rachel Allen from Home Cooking, I just changed it to use lime instead of the cinnamon that she prefers. This is a great recipe for getting kids cooking in the kitchen as it's as simple as 1-2-3 and is perfect for making if you have any unexpected guests showing up and even better it is also gluten free. If you have a batch of these in the cookie jar you are guaranteed to keep everyone happy.

Makes roughly 12 bite-sized cookies

100g shredded coconut
75g sugar
Zest of 1/2 lime
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Simply put all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix everything together until well combined. Use a tablespoon to measure out the macaroons and then with damp hands roll them into little balls and pop onto the baking tray.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until light golden brown. Cool on the tray for roughly 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

For an extra indulgent treat dip half of the macaroons into melted dark chocolate. Total decadence!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cooking the Books ~ May

I thought it was about time that I treated myself to a new cookbook so I managed to restrain myself and narrowed down the choices to 3 popular new books that have been recently released in Canada. The choice was between Gordon Ramsay's Home Cooking (originally entitled Ultimate Cookery Course, which I have been watching on TV), Curtis Stone's new book What's For Dinner and finally It's All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow. It was a really tough choice but in the end after looking through all 3 books I picked What's For Dinner by Curtis Stone which is the book I will be putting to the test for this months Cooking the Books

As usual if you have recently bought this book why not cook along with me or leave a comment and let me know what you think of it. Since it's so new I know there has been a lot of publicity on it so if you have perhaps seen a review or article in a magazine why not try those recipes? So what are you waiting for, let's put this book to the test and start Cooking the Books!!

*You can now read my full review of this book by clicking here.
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