Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Cookery book challenge: The End

Thirteen months ago, I set off on a quest to make more use of the cookery books in my collection. Each week I would draw out a book and the challenge was to make at least one recipe from it. I started off with 49 books and ended up making 74 recipes, which seems a pretty impressive achievement. I'd safely call the challenge a success!

Poached cod with lentils and salsa verde (Week 25)

It wasn't all plain sailing. Some weeks I just felt fed up of the whole thing or totally uninspired by the book in front of me. I also won't miss having to photograph my food when all I wanted to do was eat. However, for the most part, it was a positive experience. I really enjoyed sharing it with Chickpea and we both had a buzz of excitement each Sunday when we made the draw. It also really stimulated our interest in food throughout the year. So much so that it has inspired Chickpea to want to learn to cook (no comments about whether this has actually translated into action yet...). I also think the challenge was successful because it was realistic - one new recipe a week is achievable.

Equally, I enjoyed rediscovering my book collection. Many of the books were a visual pleasure and a good read too. I do prefer books with photos so that you know what you're aiming at. It also makes it quicker to browse through to choose what to make. Not that the quality of the writing or photography makes any difference to the quality of the recipe.

Mozzarella, mint, nectarine and prosciutto salad (Week 29)

Reading back through my reviews, the most common complaint was that the dish was bland or needed more flavour. I suppose the message there is that taste is very personal and you have to be lighter or heavier with the seasoning and spices depending on your preference. We are clearly on the gutsy flavour side of the fence.

Having mentioned complaints, our experience of the recipes was mostly positive. Of the 74 recipes, 56 were good and only 18 were either bad or, more accurately, indifferent: from the bowl-lickingly delicious to one which was close to inedible.

In time-honoured fashion then, here are some of the best and worst bits.

Bang-Bang chicken (Week 34)

Most popular main ingredient: Chicken. No surprise there and I probably would have put money on it. What did surprise me was that vegetarian dishes were 2nd.  Not that we don't eat vegetarian, just that I hadn't been conscious of choosing so many. Although, if you count up all the types of fish and seafood dishes, that ingredient would have been runner-up.

Fava with meatballs (Week 15)

Most popular region: Mediterranean. Again no surprise. Nor was it a surprise that Far Eastern was runner-up. Despite trying so many cookery books, it seems we haven't been particularly adventurous in our choices!

Warm duck and brown rice salad (Week 4)

Favourite recipe: This was a really tough one and I couldn't choose just one. My top three then, in no particular order were:

Warm duck and brown rice salad (Week 4)
Poached cod with lentils and salsa verde (Week 25)
Thai chicken laksa with a mildly spiced noodle squash broth (Week 41)

Worst recipe: Chicken with egg and lemon sauce (Week 14). Bleurghh. I soldiered on and managed to eat half of this before it hit the bin. Nothing else even came close to winning this title.

Weirdest recipe: Tray-baked chicken Maryland (Week 35). Chicken and banana didn't sound the most promising of combinations but it worked! In general though, meat or fish with fruit is not a combination we like in hot dishes: salads are fine.

So, what next? Well, a couple of the books have already gone to the charity shop but I love books so it was hard to let any of them go: some of them I love for the illustrations and writing if not for the recipes.

Several of you asked if the challenge will continue or if I've given myself a new one. Well, I'll continue to revisit my books as they still have slips of paper marking all the recipes we thought looked interesting. I also decided to take out a year's subscription to BBC Good Food magazine to continue the challenge in a different way: I'm planning to make at least one meal from each issue to make sure I make the most from the subscription (hopefully a lot more than that). I won't be writing about it this time though: I need a break from thinking of 100 ways to say tasty!!!

Thank you for all the comments over the year. I'm glad so many of you enjoyed reading along with the challenge. I'd be interested to know if you decided to have a go yourself or if you made any of the recipes. For now though, it's The End.

See you on Saturday for a different challenge - the Scavenger Hunt. x


  1. I love eating fish when I am in England, and your poached cod looks really good to me!
    You have inspired me to go and look at my cookbooks, I need to shake things up a little! xx

  2. Oh! Will you be mad with me if I tell you that the photo of the banana makes me feel a bit sick? Of course, I am totally against bananas anyway...unless they are in a Banoffee Pie, that is! xx

  3. I agree, just the sound of the egg and lemon one is not good - odd though because I love lemon curd which is lemons and egg! Oh well!! Glad that you enjoyed it overall and found some new things that you liked. It is also good that you found out that you like things a bit more spicy - nothing wrong with that!! I hope that you enjoy your new venture and not having to worry about 100 ways to say tasty - I did laugh at that! xx

  4. Well done Julie, it's a tasty challenge to do ! and what a lot of books. I do like the BBC Good Food magazine as well, will buy it every so often.
    Looking forward to your scavenger hunt photos.
    Amanda xx

  5. How satisfying to feel that you've got the most from your book collection. Enjoy your Good Food subscription xx