Sunday, 9 February 2014

Cookery Book Challenge : weeks 1-4

At the beginning of January, I told you about my Cookery Book Challenge: each week I would make at least one recipe from a cookery book drawn at random. This is the first of my monthly updates to let you know how I'm getting on.

I was ridiculously excited and couldn't wait to make the first draw, imagining all of the interesting titles on my shelves. I reached into the bowl and drew out the first slip. It was....

Week 1: Wok cookery - Suzy Powling

What a disappointment! But then that's the point of the challenge: to use cookery books which would probably never make it off my shelf otherwise. I don't even own a wok now and think the book was bought for me as a present many years ago.

Several recipes were eliminated on the basis of needing to buy more spices (my cupboard already runneth over with those) and others because they were simply unappealing. Eventually I settled on Cashew Chicken.

It won't win any beauty contests but it was surprisingly tasty. Sadly though, I think the book will be heading to the charity shop as I don't think there's enough in it to earn its space on my shelves.

Week 2 : Happy Days with the Naked Chef - Jamie Oliver

With my next draw I was on familiar ground, as I've made several recipes from this and Jamie's other books and generally find his recipes very reliable. What I also like about them is that the recipe title tells you exactly what you're getting!

This time I went through the book and put slips of paper against interesting recipes and then let Chickpea choose. We liked the sound of so many that I ended up making two in the same weekend.

Tray-baked lamb with aubergines, tomatoes, olives, garlic and mint oil.

The lamb was lovely but I thought the aubergines soaked up too much of the fat with being baked in the same tray. If you'd like to make it yourself, you can find the recipe here.

Japanese rolled pork with plums, coriander, soy sauce and spring onions.

The pork in this recipe is steamed which is something I'd never tried before. Next time I'd give it a bit less time as it was probably a little overcooked. It would also be good served with the plum sauce which was only used to spread on the pork before rolling. I would have done it this time but wasn't sure if I'd contaminated it when spooning the sauce on the raw pork. Very tasty though and served with the last of my homegrown carrots.

Week 3 : French Leave - John Burton-Race

Chickpea had been dying to have a go at drawing out the next book, so I let her make the draw and browse through to choose a recipe. Before long she was exclaiming about 'the pompousness of it all' and that it was all 'too posh'! What she meant was that many of the recipes included expensive and difficult to get hold of ingredients. She did enjoy the tales of family life at the beginning of each chapter though.

I went through the book myself and found several to highlight though, admittedly, the majority were desserts. Knowing I was going to be hosting the Burns Night that weekend, I eventually settled on a side dish.

Pommes boulangeres is made of layers of potatoes and onions with thyme and bay leaf cooked in chicken stock. Absolutely yummy! It went down very well at the supper and there wasn't a scrap left at the end. You can find a similar recipe here.

Week 4 : Roast Figs, Sugar Snow - Diana Henry

I adore this book and was so happy when it was drawn out. Of all my cookery books I think this is my favourite aesthetically: the typeface, the photographs, the snippets from poems and stories - it's a complete visual pleasure. The recipes are pretty good too so, as I've tried several over the years, I selected a couple I hadn't made before.

Warm duck and brown rice salad with dried cranberries, pecans and maple-cider vinaigrette.

A festive-sounding recipe with the cranberries and pecans. We love duck but it's not something I cook often as it's on the pricey side. However, it was the dressing which made this so delicious. My favourite of the Challenge so far.

Whisky and maple-glazed spare ribs with caraway coleslaw.

Last but not least, another tasty recipe. I confess I did buy supermarket coleslaw and just added the caraway seeds but we'd have been eating it for weeks if I'd made my own. The ribs were lovely and sweet though I'm not sure what the whisky added. Looking at the plate there needed to be more veg but we did enjoy it and I'd make the ribs again.

So, 4 weeks down on the Challenge and I'm still excited on a Sunday evening when I make the draw. It's also been very successful given that I've ended up making more than one recipe in 2 of the 4 weeks. The downside is that I've probably spent a little more on food than I would usually. I also need to invest in a good thesaurus to find more ways of saying tasty: being a food/book critic is harder than I thought!

Hope you've enjoyed your weekend. I'm off to do some quilting before making the next recipe in the challenge :)


  1. A great idea to use your cookbooks Julie and try recipes you may not usually have tried. I am trying to use my cookbooks a bit more this year too...I have far too many but I do love them. The food you made looks delicious.
    Marianne x

  2. Good on you. Sometimes the usual food repertoire needs a little refreshing and this looks like an ideal way to have some fun and maybe find some new recipes that will become new 'old' favourites. I'll be watching for your next food post with anticipation.

  3. I can imagine that being a food/recipe book critic is hard, there are as you say only so many ways to say tasty!! However, if tasty it was that is all that is needed realty isn't it. It is good that you have been giving your books a try and if they are not keepers you can let them go and make room for some new friends on the shelf instead! I look forward to next months review. xx

  4. What a great way to get using cookbooks and try new recipes - I'm impressed that you've managed so many already.

  5. You've done well! I tried a new-to-me recipe today, chicken parmesan soup from pinterest, but it was just okay. Going by your experiences, it looks like you have to try around 3 mediocre ones to find one that merits a star:) Thanks for sharing your cooking adventures.

  6. Hey Julie!
    You will never guess what made me drool on this was the picture of the carrots on the plate! I miss the carrots in England, they are so good there!
    I like the idea of going to my cookbooks and cooking something different!

  7. What a great way of making new things and trying new recipes- they all look fab!

  8. Wow, I'm so impressed. They all look great and there's a couple I'd like to try myself one of them being the pommes boulangers.

  9. I loved reading about this Julie! I think it's a really great idea. I have favourite recipe books that I return to time and time again but others which just sit there. I'm struck by how adventurously you've eaten, with things like duck, and I can see how you've spent more on your food than you otherwise might. But still, what fun. Interesting to hear you'd recommend the Diana Henry book, I'll have to look out for that one. x

  10. Im sorry I missed this post when you originally wrote it,but I'm so glad I made it here! This is a brilliant idea, I love that you're sharing this on your blog! I'm going to have to add Roast Figs to my wish list...I'm a bit of a cookbook fanatic, with more than 100 (yes, 100!) on my shelves, so believe me, there are a few I need to take out and test new recipes like you're doing! I'm going to give it a go during half term...thanks! Chrissie x