I am a huge fan of Donna Hay. I have the majority of her books, I always buy her magazine and quite often you can find me looking on her website as well. But it occurred to me that maybe I am just a fan of her simple, clean style and amazing, drool-worthy photographs since I rarely (and I mean rarely!) have cooked from her books. I have no idea why not, especially when I spend so much time staring at the beautifully photographed pictures, so I decided it was time to remedy that and finally put one of her books to the test. In the end I picked the latest book of hers that I have which is Simple Dinners. I picked this book for a couple of reasons (and not just because it's the most recent one to add to my collection) as having just started working part time and my husband away a lot I need easy meals that are quick to prepare, will be liked by whoever is eating them and also don't cost a fortune to make by requiring expensive ingredients. This book seemed like a good fit.
The book has 13 chapters devoted to recipes and are divided up by ingredients which I happen to like. Included within those chapters are 'Eggs', 'Noodles & Rice', 'Chicken', 'Fish & Seafood' and 'Chocolate'. I tested 4 recipes from this book with many more bookmarked for future meals.
The Tested Recipes:
Pork Meatballs with Chinese Noodles
Cheat's Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Butter
Lamb and Feta Burgers
Spiced Yoghurt Grilled Chicken Skewers
Up first and I planned to make the Pork Meatballs with Chinese Noodles. As it turned out however, I had to work so hubby offered to make it instead – even better! His take on the recipe was that it was “simple to make” (he hadn't seen the cover of the book so at least it is true to it's title!) but took a while and found that the sesame seeds on the meatballs burnt really easily leading to some slightly dark spots and a smokey kitchen! The finished dish was really delicious and although the sesame seeds had burnt a little they gave a lovely nutty flavour to the meatballs, which were really flavourful and moist. The only criticism we had was that there wasn't enough sauce so I would recommend doubling that next time, but other than that it was really delicious. I think the meatballs would also be delicious in a baguette with some crunchy vegetables for a delicious alternative.
Next up and with hubby away I made the Cheat's Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Butter. The “Cheat's” part is to use Ricotta instead of potatoes but I have to say I loved it that way! I did have to add a bit more flour than the recipe suggested as it was just too wet and sticky but I got there in the end and had a lovely light gnocchi which tasted amazing. I did 2 versions – one following the recipe with the Sage Butter and the other coated in a light tomato sauce. The tomato sauce version was definitely my favourite. It was a great meal that didn't take long to prepare and was incredibly tasty.
The third recipe to be put to the test was the Lamb and Feta Burgers. They were really fast and easy to make and tasted fantastic. We did BBQ them rather than cook them in a frying pan but you could do either. Hubby was very impressed with them as they had such great flavour and were really juicy. We will definitely make these again for a lovely change to regular beef burgers.
The last recipe to be put to the test was the Spiced Yoghurt Grilled Chicken Skewers. The yogurt marinade was really easy to make. I let the chicken marinate for longer than suggested as hubby was running late but it did nothing but add to the flavour. We cooked the skewers on the BBQ rather than under the grill but I could definitely see myself using the grill (broiler) instead if hubby wasn't home and I wanted it in a hurry. The chicken was moist and full of flavour, with lovely char marks on the edges. I served it with flat bread as suggested and some hummus which I made myself (but the recipe calls for bought hummus as a time saver) and also a yogurt harissa dip which wasn't listed but went really well with it. Everyone enjoyed this meal and it's definitely one I will repeat for a quick and easy but delicious midweek meal.
I also attempted to make the Individual Chocolate Bombe Alaskas but had to give up. I wasn't able to buy any uniced chocolate cupcakes so used some homemade ones I had but they were just too small. It was a shame as I was really keen to give it a go but it just wasn't going to work.
As well as the above tested recipes I also bookmarked the following recipes :
Bacon Egg Rolls/ Prawn Spaghetti with Lemon Vodka Sauce/ Chilli Chicken Noodles with Spicy Broth/ Spicy Lamb Meatball and Lentil Soup/ Stir-fried Salt and Pepper Chicken with Coriander Noodles/ Garlic Pepper Beef Stir-fry/ Pork and Sweet Potato Curry/ Asian Pork Spare Ribs/ Caramelised Chilli Pork Neck/ Vietnamese Pork Skewers/ Crispy Fish Sliders/ Miso Grilled Fish/ Lemon Curd and Raspberry Brioche Pudding/ Cheat's Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tarts/ Easy Chocolate Mousse.
To be honest there were definite pros and cons to this book. The book itself is stunning with a beautifully photographed picture accompanying each recipe which is something I love. At the end of each chapter there is a useful page on 'tips and tricks' for the featured ingredient which is handy and a nice way to end each chapter. For some reason though despite the amount of bookmarked recipes I would find myself stuck for which one I really wanted to try. Although this book is based on simple dinners, I found quite a lot of the recipes just didn't jump out for me or begged to be made. I don't know if perhaps I just found the look of some of them too simple and perhaps lacking something or whether this month I was just being particularly fussy! However one possible reason for being deterred in making some of the recipes was because although the recipes themselves are deemed simple, a lot of the ingredients aren't necessarily ones you would just happen to have in your cupboard or fridge. There is definitely a lot of Asian inspiration within the book so if you have all the basic staple ingredients for Asian cooking you should be fine, otherwise you will have to buy them. Also a few recipes called for bought chutneys or relish which weren't particularly easy for me to find but I know would be easy to get in the UK and I imagine Australia. There is a very useful and informative glossary at the back of the book which details any ingredients that she obviously feels require a little explanation. Throughout the book whenever those ingredients appear they are marked with a * so you can flick quickly to the back for information.
As previously mentioned there is definitely quite a few specialty ingredients in this book. I would say primarily Asian ingredients but there were certainly other ones as well. Some of the more unusual ingredients include Char Sui which is Chinese BBQ Sauce and I was unable to get; Shaoxing – Chinese Cooking Wine and she uses a lot of coconut cream rather than milk which I don't have as easy access to.
My favourite chapter by far was the one on Pork and my least favourite was the chapter on Vegetables. The fruit chapter definitely had a summer feel to it with most recipes using seasonal summer ingredients/fruit so wouldn't be much good in the Winter.
Learn anything new?
Honestly? No! But it is definitely an inspiration for food photography.
If I'm being entirely honest the biggest draw to this book for me is the stunning photography. I wish it was the recipes as they look so unbelievably good in the pictures but for some reason this just didn't wow me but I honestly don't know why! That being said I did enjoy all of the recipes that we tried so perhaps I am being a little hard on the book and just need to try a few more! If you are looking for simple meals with not too many ingredients then I think you would like this book. The recipes are clean and fresh and although some were too plain for my taste they are certainly as the book aims to be – simple. The lamb burgers were by far my favourite recipe tested and they alone give the book a pass so Simple Dinners by Donna Hay does get the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops stamp of approval!