Friday 12 December 2014

4: Rachel Khoo–My Little French Kitchen–Cooking the Books


Starter:      Croquettes

Main:         Poulet Roti au Vin Rouge

Dessert:     Bisous Chaumontais

Since Rachel Khoo appeared on our TV in her Little Paris Kitchen, I’ve been hooked: Not only to the recipes, which always look so glamorous, but the whole styling of the programme. Some say that many food programmes these day are over-produced, but, I have to admit, I’m a fan of all the quirky, arty little graphics and gorgeous ‘set’ kitchens. In My little French Kitchen, Rachel works her way round various regions in France, putting her own spin on some familiar, and some less familiar recipes. Some of these are a bit fiddly, but all are typically French.

I left my homework really late this week, only completing two of the tasks on Thursday night and Friday evening. So, after work on Thursday, then picking up F, playing, bathing, bedtiming her, I eventually got round to cooking our dinner, plus the croquettes recipe. I was all out to do the Bisous then as well but since the OH didn’t get back from work until after nine, and I needed to keep the veg. warm for dinner and finish the croquettes in a high oven, and the fact the meringues needed two hours oven use at a low temperature, it just didn’t happen! So they were begun early Friday morning and completed early evening. Just about made my Friday deadline this week. Hopefully, next week’s will be a bit more manageable.

Starter: Croquettes

Easiness: 7/10 higher still if you use leftovers

Taste: 6/10

Make again: 6/10

Cheats & Changes: none, although I combined many of the ingredients when she suggested I use just one.

Now, these aren’t the BirdsEye ones you’re used to, or indeed the ones served with fish fingers for school dinners. They’re a much more presentable little snack which would be perfect if rolled into small spheres and served as a Christmas canapé.

Mash all your leftover veg together any will really do though I used potatoes, carrots, parsnips and some grated cheese. Form into little cylinders, roll each one into flour, then egg white, then bread crumbs. Bake in a hot oven drizzled with oil for around 15 minutes, through cooking a little longer won’t hurt.


These really could do with some seasoning – lots of pepper and salt in with the veg and also, season the breadcrumb mixture. Serve with a sweet chilli jam to dip if serving as aperos, or use instead of potatoes with a roast. They were ok, nothing special, but a change from the usual. Too phaffy for everyday though – just the thought of getting the flour, egg and breadcrumb saucers ready and taking up all that surface space is enough to put me off!

Main: Poulet Roti au Vin Rouge

Easiness: 6/10

Taste: 6/10

Make again: 5/10

Cheats & Changes: None


This Poulet Roti is very similar to a Jamie sticky chicken thighs recipe, and I would say not as quick and easy, or, in fact, tasty. Use a whole chicken and cut into pieces yourself for the cheapest option…

Marinate in a plastic bag with red wine, tomato paste, herbs and red wine vinegar. Leave overnight if you can.


Season too. Put your veg (potatoes, onion, carrots,) in a baking dish, pour over some water, pop the chicken pieces on top, over and roast for 30 mins. Roast uncovered for another 15 minutes.



Dessert: Bisous Chaumontais

Easiness: 4/10

Taste: 7/10

Make again: 5/10, but I would for a special present.

Cheats & Changes: 0


This recipe combines two things I’ve never mastered in the kitchen. The first is meringue…I think I’ve only ever managed to get my egg whites to the ‘stiff peak’ stage once. Maybe I add the sugar too quickly before getting enough air into them? I don’t know but somehow, they’re never quite right. The other thing for which I have no patience is sugar work, of any kind. I just about manage to add it to jams, jellies and chutneys but that’s about it. I always end up crystallising it and this time was no exception. Although it doesn’t impede the flavour, the texture is never quite right.

First make the praline. Toast 50g hazelnuts in a dry pan then remove. Add 75g and 2 tbs water, but make sure the pan has cooled first and is on a gentle heat otherwise you’ll crystallise the sugar as I did. Wait for the sugar to melt – do not stir, then turn up the heat and bubble until a dark caramel colour. Remove from the heat, quickly stir in the hazelnuts and pour onto a baking sheet in one layer. Allow to cool, then blitz in a food processor to make crumbs.

Turn the oven to low, 80 degrees C. Whisk two eggs whites until fluffy. Add a few drops of lemon juice and continue to whisk. As you whisk, gradually pour in 100g sugar and stop when the sugar is combined and egg whites form stiff peaks – never, in my case, but there you go! Pipe or spoon little blobs onto a baking sheet, sprinkle a little of the praline mixture over the top and bake for 1.5 hrs. Then turn oven off and leave them in the oven for a further half an hour with the door open. Remove to cool completely.


Whip 100g butter until pale and fluffy then mix with the praline, retaining 2 heaped tablespoons of praline). Sandwich the meringue kisses together with the praline butter mix, then roll in the remaining praline and serve.


These were delicious, but even I could only manage one little ‘kiss’ as they are super-super sweet. In the end, the meringue turned out ok, if a little sticky in the middle, but I quite like them like that anyway.

So, all in all, I think I’ll keep this one as a food porn bedtime book rather than cook from it as the pictures are beautiful. 

Friday 5 December 2014

3: Delia Smith–How to Cook, Book 3–Cooking the Books

Starter:      Grilled Polenta with Ham, Cheese & Sage

Main:         Lamb and Cannellini Bean stew

Dessert:     Lemon Curd

So after a really easy, quick week with Nigel, this time it’s Delia’s turn. You’d think with a title of ‘How to Cook’ the recipes would be fairly easy. Well, they are, but often have many ingredients and stages, whilst also teaching you processes along the way. The skill from this week’s main course was ‘how to peel a tomato’: make a cross in their bottom with a sharp knife, pop into just boiled water for a minute or two, then peel the skin away.

To be honest, the post this week has been difficult. I’ve had a busy Monday, including F’s gymnastics, worked three days, had three trips to the doctors, one to the vets, one to the gym (where I am currently, completing the writing of this) and, for some rest and relaxation, a visit to the cinema to watch Paddington with friends. The fact I’ve actually fitted in some cooking and writing as well is nothing more than a miracle! Well, it is nearly Christmas.

Starter: Grilled Polenta with Ham, Cheese & Sage

Easiness: 6/10 (It is easy, but there are several processes which make it quite longwinded)

Taste: 7/10

Make again: 6/10

Cheats & Changes: I used normal ham as we didn’t have any air-dried. I also used Cheddar (again) instead of Gruyere or Fontina.


I’d have never chosen to make this as neither me, nor my husband, are really fans of polenta, but I have a pack in the cupboard, primarily used as a fish-finger coating, (cut fish or chicken into chunks, dip in whisked egg, then into the polenta. Shallow fry and, for chicken, finish in the oven for a few minutes) so thought I’d use that up. The sage is from the garden, after popping a bag over it to protect from the worst of the frost.

You’ll find the recipe here, but its simple cooking the polenta as per the packet, making into circles, grilling, then topping with ham, cheese and sage and grill again to melt the cheese. It was easy, there were few skills involved, but I found the boiling of the polenta, allowing to cool, pre-grilling, then grilling again quite a long winded process. Having said that, it was much tastier than either of us had anticipated and would be a great dinner party starter, or even a nice Christmas canapé…what I’m saying is that just to make two it’s too much phaff, but if you’re making for a larger number, it’d be worth your while.


Main: Lamb Stew with Cannellini Beans

Easiness: 8/10 ( but lots of chopping )

Taste: 6/10

Make again: 3/10 (I’d make the one I cooked previously)

Cheats & Changes: Canned, rinsed and drained beans rather than the dried variety that you have to hydrate yourself. Half the quantity of wine, supplemented with half stock. (I couldn’t justify a half bottle of wine in a stew!) You could buy pre-chopped ‘stew’ veg as a quick alternative.


I know I made a very similar lamb stew a few weeks ago, but I had all the ingredients and wanted to try the Lamb Shanks from Abel and Cole, so, since it’s chilly out, thought this would be a different variation on the last one. And how I love that I can find all Delia’s recipes online – if you want to follow her version, just click here!

Basically, you brown the lamb shanks in a lidded hob-to-oven casserole then remove. Do the same with the veg, a selection of tomatoes (skin-off), celery, garlic, onion and carrot, add the beans, wine, stock, bay leaf, rosemary and seasoning and pop the lamb on top. Braise slowly in the oven for 3 hours.

This is a stew that will happily stretch to 4 people, especially if you use two large lamb shanks and bulk it out with a bit more veg. I also served it with new potatoes and broccoli which helped. I’d suggest taking the lamb off the bone before serving and mixing into the stew so it can be easily distributed, although it looks far more impressive served on the bone!


It was ok: a simple, rustic stew, but I felt the beans gave a mushy texture to it, which wasn’t very pleasant. Perhaps if I’d used dried, it’d have been better? It was also lacking a little flavour…I think the full half bottle (I know) of red wine would have combatted that though, rather than my cheat’s version. On reflection, after two very similar lamb dishes, the Waitrose Lamb and White Bean stew definitely had more flavour.

Dessert: Lemon Curd

Easiness: 7/10 (just weighing of ingredients, but you also have to sterilise jars)

Taste: 8/10

Make again: 8/10, but only to add to recipes.

Cheats & Changes: 0

009Not strictly a dessert I know, but you could always use as a filling for lemon meringue pie, or simple spread on biscuits! I used it to make the lemon and mascarpone filling for Nigel’s biscuits last week and was surprised by how much simpler it was than I thought: I usually end up with something similar to burnt scrambled eggs when using them in this way, but, after following the instructions carefully, it worked!

Delia’s recipe is here and I’d suggest you follow that rather than my abbreviated version, but if you want an idea of what to do then whisk eggs and heat gently with lemon juice and zest, caster sugar, unsalted butter and cornflour. Pour into sterilised jars, cover straight away and label when cooled. It will keep for several weeks in a cool place.


These would make a lovely Christmas present or addition to any hamper.


Friday 7 November 2014

1: Catherine Atkinson & Jenni Fleetwood - Slow Cooker, One-pot & Casserole – Cooking the Books



Starter:      Baked Field Mushroom with Hazelnuts

Main:         Irish Stew

Dessert:     Pumpkin & Banana Cake

Obviously, this week is a pumpkin week, so I needed to find a book that would help me use up the tasty flesh, definitely as a starter or main course, and possibly as a dessert. I hadn’t considered the actual food I’d have in my house each week before setting myself this challenge…maybe I’ll get better as I progress, choosing my recipes first, then ordering to fulfil it rather than the other way round, as was the situation this week! As well as pumpkin, I have much veg. including carrots, squash, beetroot and salad. As for protein, it’s a choice of whole chicken, scallops or diced lamb. Fruit includes options of apple, orange, kiwi or grapes. I also have a ready supply of eggs from our three chick-chicks and standard store cupboard ingredients.

I really wanted to start with my newest addition, Nigel Slater’s ‘Eat’, in a gorgeous yellow fabric cover, but he has no pumpkin recipes at all, so you’ll have to wait for a little treat from him next week. Instead, I chose (no, not Heston, although I’m going to have to get that one done sooner rather than later I think –  maybe its a holiday project!) one of my two slow cooker / one pot books. This book also includes tips for using the cooker in different ways and so, after reading these, it was with a little trepidation that I chose to use the pumpkin in a slow-cooked cake.

Starter: Baked Field Mushroom with Hazelnuts

Easiness: 9/10                                                                                                                         Taste: 7/10                                                                                                                                Make again: 8/10                                                                                                                     Cheats & Changes: I used pecans as I had them for the cake, but the recipe does state you could use any unsalted nuts. It also suggests that they should be eaten very fresh, so to buy small packets you’ll use quickly or nuts in shells – too much phaff for me, stick with the small packets!


Garlic mushrooms are always a favourite, especially since we visited River Cottage on a mushroom foraging course and learnt how to cook them properly. Unfortunately, they’re one of those things I don’t cook often enough so I was pleased to find a twist on this recipe, even though these are baked rather than fried. It’s a case of mixing crushed garlic with olive oil and lemon zest, leaving to infuse, then pouring half of it over some large mushrooms. Bake the ‘shrooms for about ten minutes before removing, sprinkling with chopped hazelnuts and the rest of the oil, then bake for another ten minutes. Before serving, sprinkle the parsley over the top. Crusty bread to dip is a must!


These were scrummy and could be used as a side dish for meat, as well as a vegetarian main if served with couscous / rice or similar. They were yummy, as you’d expect from a basic garlic mushrooms recipe, but the nuts really added to the earthy flavours.


Main: Irish Stew

Easiness: 10/10                                                                                                                        Taste: 6/10                                                                                                                                Make again: 8/10 (Frankie had seconds!)                                                                                   Cheats & Changes: erm, none, I just didn’t stick to the quantities, as usual. You could use ready prepped veg and cubed lamb.

I’m not really sure how ‘Irish’ this is, or how traditional, but it was very simple and quite tasty. Frankie even had seconds. You’re meant to make it with mutton, but unless you live near a fantastic butcher, this is quite hard to come by so I used stewing lamb instead. Neck of lamb would work well too.


This really was easy to make. Fry some lamb to brown then remove from pan. Fry off chunky carrots and onions until browned. The recipe says to quarter onions and cut wide slices of carrot. Add lamb back to pan with water to just cover then simmer for an hour. Add chopped potatoes to the pan along with a few sprigs of fresh thyme. The recipe doesn't say whether to peel or not, but I left mine skin-on. Cook for another hour. Leave to settle, season well, as there’s no salt or pepper added during the cooking process (something I was a little unsure about) and stir in a knob of butter and chopped parsley before serving.


Now I can’t make it look ‘nice’, well, not without a warm filter anyway, but it did taste good, just don’t forget the seasoning or parsley. And a little confession – I stirred in a good blob of mint sauce! 

Dessert: Pumpkin & Banana Cake (in a slow cooker!)

Easiness: 8/10                                                                                                                         Taste: 5/10                                                                                                                                Make again: 0/10 (There are far quicker and more reliable recipes out there!)                                 Cheats & Changes: none


A cake in a slow cooker? Nope. I’ve heard of it but never had the guts to actually try it out until now. I read the ‘tips’ and followed the instructions, but my main challenge was to find a cake tin than actually fit into my cooker as it’s not a large oval one, but a round one with a smaller base and a lip around the top. The tin also needed to have a ‘built in base’ rather than a spring form tin or one with a loose bottom (that would be dreadful!) or the water that creates the steam to cook it would seep in slowly but surely. As it turned out, I couldn't find a solid base tin, so used a loose based one with a cake-liner, coated it in foil and crossed my fingers: But I’m fairly certain the authors of the book didn’t have this completed vision in mind when they created the recipe…


Not only was the cake heavy, the icing was really more of a sauce, despite me putting it in the freezer for an hour to try to firm it up. Indeed, the question, “Is that icing?” was muttered as the OH wandered past! As for moistness, well, with all that water, it certainly wasn’t dry, and the taste? That was good too – why wouldn’t it be? It had cake ingredients in it! If you like this sort of cake, I’d suggest using an old favourite Good Housekeeping Banana Tea-Bread recipe I have instead and substituting some of the banana for pumpkin if you need to use it up. Quicker and far more reliable.


So my first week of ‘Cooking the Books’ had it’s ups and downs: I certainly won’t be cooking cake in a slow cooker again, not without the right tin anyway, and I’m going to try to cook more garlicky mushrooms of one sort or another.  But on the whole, as Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad!

Monday 3 November 2014

Dansk Kobenstyle Vintage Yellow Fondue Pot

And it's mine...all mine!

I've coveted this ever since I saw a picture from Delicious magazine using it to serve mussels, and within an hour of searching, had tracked down it's make, model, design and even managed to source quite a few too! My little number came via the USA and arrived safe and sound this morning.

Not sure I'm actually going to use it to cook anything, I really don't want to spoil it, but I'll definitely use it as an attractive serving bowl. And may even invest in the 'fondue' warmer part of it too. 
Couldn't help but share. 

Sunday 2 November 2014

Bonfire Baguettes

A perfect warming steak baguette for that post-bonfire night hunger. Again, this was stolen from a Waitrose recipe card, and this time, I stuck to it, except I used white wine vinegar instead of rice vinegar, oh, and shallot instead of red onion. (So, no, I guess I didn’t stick to it after all!)



4 tbsp The Spice Tailor Peanut & Tamarind Chutni
1 tbsp honey
Beef Sandwich Steaks / Thin Cut Steaks
1 cucumber, very thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1 tbsp rice vinegar
Pinch of sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large baguette
2 tbsp Mayonnaise


Mix together the chutni and honey. Spread over the steaks and leave to marinate in the fridge for 15 minutes. I left mine for a few hours, then made sure they were up to room temperature before pan frying.

Combine the cucumber with the red onion, rice vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt. Leave for flavours to infuse.

Heat the oil over a medium-high heat and fry the steaks for a couple of minutes ensuring they’re still pink in the middle. Slice into strips.

Spread a little mayonnaise in each baguette, add the steak and top with the cucumber salad.


I was a little hesitant about the wateryness of the salad, but after I’d left it for a while, it seemed to evaporate. The cleanliness and sharpness of the salad really cut through the heat and sweetness of the steaks to make an interesting and delicious alternative to the regular steak and onion sandwich. And I’ll definitely be using the chutni again – it would make a good chicken satay dressing with a little oil.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Cooking the Books – an introduction

I’ve had an idea, which, the more I consider it, is a bit stupid. For a start, it’s going to involve quite a bit of cooking, and not the ‘old familiar’ type either, but new recipes I haven’t cooked before. You see, I have over 30 cookbooks, ranging from many Jamies, to Heston and back to the older Hamlyn types, but never use them. I tend to stick to a few firm favourites, despite almost continuously browsing the lovely pictures: I’m a particular fan of how Nigel Slater writes, and find his gentle words soothing and comforting, along with the simple yet tasty ideas. Jamie’s are always packed with delicious flavours and Heston’s? Well, I haven’t actually tried that one yet.

The Challenge:

Cook a starter, main and dessert from each of my 36 books, that’s 108 recipes;

Begin with the ones I’ve never cooked from;

Include Heston (even though it’s not technically my book);

Complete the challenge within the year (52 weeks – 4 for holidays = 48 weeks. That’s 2.25 a week!)


Those of you who know me will also know I’m not very good at following recipes. I have a tendency to glance through, collecting some of the ingredients together and foraging in the cupboards for the rest, then resorting to using something similar, but not quite right. I foresee this happening quite a lot over the next few months – heaven knows what’ll happen with the desserts – so I’m also going to include a ‘Cheat & Change’ option in each post, which I hope to write once a week. If the recipes can be found online, I’ll simply create link to each, otherwise, be prepared for a shortened, Hannah-style version that rarely includes weights and measures! I’d like to focus more on the end results, tastes and learning (!) that goes on.

If you’ve read Julie & Julia, the story of how a New York based writer, Julia Powell, cooked her way through Julia Childs’ tome, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’, you’ll know she attempted to cook 524 recipes in a year. Thank goodness my challenge isn’t that huge, and hopefully, it’ll be much less stressful, but we’ll see!

Get Involved!

Like & share my new Facebook business page where you’ll find updates & links to new posts on the blog

Follow me on twitter @direbonappetit

Post your own ‘Cooking the Books’ photos and comments on the Facebook page and on Twitter using the hash tag #recipeasy

Comment, both on Facebook but especially on the blog posts. There’s a section under each post which gives you the opportunity to share your ideas.

So, that’s it. I’m scared now, but excited about which book to choose first. Maybe not Heston hey?

Let the cooking commence!


Damn…I found another! And, surprise, surprise, it’s a Jamie!

photo (2)


Slow Cooked Lamb and White Bean Stew



I picked up one or two of those recipe cards on the way out of Waitrose the other day in the hopes of inspiring me to try a few new recipes, and this one caught my eye. I, as usual, changed the quantities to bulk it out a bit, adding an extra carrot and celery stick, and a leek: I also never have lamb stock so substituted a little veg. but mostly beef stock instead. And the spinach was baby red chard.


Cheat: Use a pack of pre-prepared winter root casserole vegetables and ready-made stock.


1 tbsp olive oil
350g  British Lamb, diced
2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
2  potatoes, peeled and diced
400g can Borlotti Beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp Tomato Purée
500ml lamb stock
260g Spinach


In your new purple cast iron pot – oops, sorry, that’s just me finding more ways to use mine! - heat the oil and cook the lamb, bacon, onions, celery and carrot (and leek) for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for a further minute.

This casserole doesn’t need thickening with cornflour or plain flour as the potatoes and beans release enough thickener of their own! Stir in the potatoes, beans, tomato purée and lamb stock. Now, the real recipe says to cover and simmer gently for 50 minutes until the lamb is tender, but if you want even better flavours and lamb that falls apart, I’d say two hours on a low simmer is a minimum. Mine bubbled gently for about three hours, then I turned the heat right down to keep it warm until I served it.

Just before serving, stir in the spinach until wilted. Serve with chunky bread to dip!


Saturday 25 October 2014

Pot Roast Chilli Butter Chicken with Squash

After my recent birthday, I had a little spending money and have always wanted a Le Creuset cast iron pot. My birthday money, however, didn't stretch that far, but I was able to buy a cheaper version, and in purple too! Cast iron is cast iron, surely? So, after a 50 minutes round trip to buy it, I couldn't wait to try it out. We had family visiting on Sunday so rather than the traditional roast dinner, I found a pot roast recipe which both used my new pot, and the chicken and leftover squash form the fridge. Perfect.
It's a ‘delicious magazine’ recipe. Those of you who read regularly will know I don't tend to do weights and measures, especially in savoury cooking so bear with me. If you want the scaffold to follow, the link to the real recipe is here, otherwise, putting in however much you want will do the trick! 
Oven 200 fan.
Chicken Butter rub:
Chicken (1.6-1.8kg) Butter, chopped red chilli, crushed garlic, lemon zest, chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
Cream everything together for the rub and gently spoon under the skin from the neck end (remember,chickens are upside down!). Squash it all in between the flesh and the skin. 
Squeeze the remainder of the lemon over the chicken and pop the two halves into the cavity. 
Other ingredients:
Butternut (or any other orangey) squash, cut into chunks
Shallots, finely sliced
Garlic, sliced
Glass white wine
Chicken stock
In your hob to oven pan, fry off the shallots over a medium heat until softened.
Add the garlic, fry for a couple of minutes.
Then tip in the squash and wine.
Reduce by half. 
Nestle the chicken amongst the veg and pour the stock until it reaches half way up the chicken
Bring to a boil on the hob, pop on the lid, then transfer to the oven for an hour. 
Remove lid and cook until the top is crisped and the juices run clear. Should only be another 20 minutes max. 
That's it. We found it made a nice change from the usual, and still served with roast potatoes, but with a lump of crusty bread to dip into the juices, it would make a delicious Sunday evening supper in front of the fire.
(Apologies for the picture - didn't have camera to hand and ate it too quickly after cooking to take a picture of it looking crispy and delicious - this was before it had cooked! )

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