Lately I’ve been missing joining in on a regular blogging theme, there are loads around, but for some reason none have seemed quite right for me. However last week Liz started a Tuesday’s Top Five theme and I thought that sounded like something I could get into, though probably on a Wednesday. Her topic this week was cook books for kitchen gardeners. They were ones that inspired her use of vegetables, though not all were vegetarian in their entirety. To be honest I’m not quite as dedicated to highlighting my home grown produce as Liz, I tend to just pop my harvest into whatever I’m cooking and get satisfaction from that. I guess the exception to this rule so far is the beetroot. This is harder to just add to any old dish, it requires more thought in it’s preparation and cooking, but I will write more on that in another post…. it seems I’ve been side tracked again.
Instead of offering up fabulous vegetable-inspiring cook books (let’s face it we’re meat-lovers around here despite reducing the amount of it that we actually eat these days) I thought I would post my top 5 cook books in general. Then having decided that, I thought how on earth am I going to choose just five, in the end I have stwo lists.
Top 5 Most Used Cook Books (remember most of us use only three recipes from any given cook book… well these are the ones I’ve cooked heaps out of, you can tell by the food splatters and pages stuck together!) These are in no particular order, I use them all equally.
1. Thai & South-East Asian Cooking & Far Eastern Classics by Deh-Ta Hsiung, Becky Johnson and Sallie Morris. This was a gift from my mother-in-law and transformed the way I cooked a stir-fry. Prior to owning this gem I often cooked stirfrys and was always disappointed. They were bland and boring, but because they are fast I wanted to master them. The first section of this book gives a thorough introduction to Asian ingredients, cooking equipment and techniques. The second half is full of recipes. There are several basic recipes that I use all the time, just altering the vegetables depending on what’s on hand or in the garden. These include dishes like stir-fried chicken with basil and chilli, chicken with mixed vegetables and stir-fried beef in oyster sauce. Then there are others that just blew me away like Bang Bang Chicken, a sweet and sour pork (not a pineapple piece in sight) and a minted lamb stir fry. These ones I stick to the recipe precisely as they are just the perfect balance of flavour and well worth ensuring I have all the ingredients. The best thing about this book is that it is so big and contains such a variety of recipes (Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Filipino, Korean) that I will be finding new favourites and experimenting with flavours and cooking methods for years.
2. No Time To Cook – Donna Hay. I’m a fan of a lot of Donna Hay recipes because they are usually quick, simple and don’t involve huge numbers of ingredients. This book certainly fulfill those criteria and most of the dishes I’ve tried from this one have been very tasty. Even better is that these recipes generally don’t leave you with piles of dishes to clean up afterwards, especially those in the one pan or one pot chapters. Some of my particular favourites include the mushroom tarte tatin, sichuan beef with ginger-soy greens, cider-glazed pork cutlets, squashed cherry-tomato spagetti and the chicken pot roast. Actually the list goes on and on. It’s also great for inspired, but simple breakfast, brunch or lunch dishes, and while I’ve been pregnant both times I’ve cooked just about all her freezer friendly dishes (the porcini mushroom and chicken pies are fantastic!) to have on hand when things get on top of me during the day.
3. The Cook’s Companion – Stephanie Alexander. This one is a very well used and appreciated wedding present, and quite a weighty tome. It’s my go to book when I have a particular ingredient I want to use up or try cooking with, or if I need clear and precise instructions on a cooking method. I’ve turned to it for anything from how to cook a perfect soft boiled egg and how to make a white sauce to what to do with the monstrous zucchini that I missed in the garden. Recipes that I keep coming back to are Anna-Maria’s zucchini slice, simple carrot cake and chicken noodle soup.
4. Home Foods. This was one of those no-specific-author cook books I found on a discount table somewhere in my travels and it’s been great. The dishes are just that, home foods, nothing fancy, but tasty and great for families. This would be one book I’d turn to if I’m trying to entice Miss Two to eat a bit more. I’ve tried the tune mornay (her favourite), eggplant parmigana, bubble and squeak cakes with bacon (great for Sunday nights) and the roast tomato risotto among others.
5. Bowl Food. Together with the above book I also picked up this one. It’s similar in that the recipes are good family foods and are quick and easy to make, but this one is a little more varied in cuisine. It has some very interesting sounding soups which I’m yet to try. I have explored the pasta section (Roast pumpkin, feta and rocket penne is nice and I often substitute the rocket for silverbeet and the penne with rustic lentil sauce was a revelation) and tried some of the curries. Finally the chilli con carne is on high rotation, anything that can be served with chips is good in Miss Two’s books.
Top Five Cook Books I love to look at. These are recipe books that have been worth the expense due mostly to the enjoyment I get from flicking through them over and over again despite the fact that I might not cook much out of them.
1. A Piece of Cake – Leila Lindholm. This is such a lovely book to look at, the pictures are beautiful and the recipes sound divine. The main reason I haven’t used it much (I have made one or two things) is the way the recipes are set out. Mostly there is a master recipe – say for cupcakes – and then the following pages give you lots of variations to try. This sounds great, but I find you have to constantly flick between the master recipe and the variation which gets annoying and confusing (you have to add and take out ingredients depending on what variation your attempting). I think this is a real flaw in its design, but I love it anyway and will endeavour to use it more (perhaps I’ll get used to it).
2. Bill’s Open Kitchen – Bill Granger. I bought this book years ago, it looks wonderful, the recipes all sound lovely but for some reason I just don’t use it much. Having said that I’m getting more into Bill Granger so perhaps this one is worth more consideration when I come to writing the week’s shopping list.
3. Falling Cloudberries – Tessa Kiros. Another wedding present and there is one recipe in here that I have cooked over and over again (Youvetsi – or Lamb & Tomato with Risoni). There is a real family story to this book. Kiros has parents or grandparents from Greece, South Africa, Finland, Cyprus and Italy and she has collected recipes from all of them. Each recipe comes with a childhood memory of the dish or a family tale of how each recipe came to be. It’s also beautiful!
4. Feast Bazaar – Barry Vera. This was a gift from one of my Year 12 History students and boy did she get it right. It’s full of Indian, Moroccon and Syrian dishes, cuisines I love, but sadly I’m yet to really explore them in my own kitchen. Perhaps when the girls are older and I have more time to shop for specialty ingredients and experiment in the kitchen. In the meantime, I’ll just pour over the book in the evening when the pickings on TV are scarce.
5. Cooking Spanish. Another gift, this one from my sister with a gorgeous ceramic tagine which sadly broke after being very well used. Spanish would have to be one of my all-time favourites. I love the flavours, the spicyness without blowing your head off and the idea of sharing many small dishes. One day I will try my hand at homemade tapas for friends, but for now I’m just at the looking and salivating stage.
I currently have three fairly recent additions to my collection which I haven’t spent enough time with to decide on their worth, but all are great just to look at. They are 30 Minute Meals – Jamie Oliver, Poh’s Kitchen (I have made her cream of celery soup which was fantastic!) and Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express. Finally, I’ve been slowly making my way through my collection of cooking magazines, cutting out the recipes that look interesting and recycling the rest. This has freed up some space in my cook book bookshelf, which means I will need to fill this up with more cook books, how terrible for me, so I’m looking for recommendations!
Anyway, that’s my Top Five (well 10 really), why don’t you go over and check out Liz’s for some real inspiration.