Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Top 5 kitchen experiments over Christmas

List by Danielle

The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.
~ Johnny Carson

We have some beautiful, beautiful cookbooks downstairs on the Manukau Library's shelves, and I took an armful of them home over the break to see if I could learn to make some new Christmas classics for the family. Something about the warmer weather just seems to lend itself to experimenting with new techniques and flavours... or maybe it's just that smidgeon of extra time to relax and get playful in the kitchen. It's also kind of cool to have small kids and to start finding your own Christmas traditions, to mix and mingle with your own family standards (which for us is my mum's marinated pork fillet, and any kind of dessert that mulches strawberries together with cream). We went a bit old-school this year, too, after a radio ad for roast turkey inspired me to ask my mum to roast a chicken; hers is the BEST roast chicken, and something I'm completely incapable of, even if I buy a pot of lard. So, this year, to add to those old favourites, we tried a few new treats:

Anything from Warm bread and honey cake / Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra
Admission time: I haven't tackled anything from this mind-meltingly gorgeous book yet. Yeast scares me - I've barely dabbled in those warm, grey, foamy waters before. BUT... this book is like a manual of inspiring challenges when it comes to non-bakers like me. It's one of those matte-photo cookbooks, all vintage crockery and soft lighting, with browns and golds and soft buttery tones - pastries, soft rolls, fresh fruit and powdered sugar. A whole section on baklava variants! Super-talented Digital Services team-mate Julia is making jars of plum jam from the abundant crop at my house this year, so I may have to woman up, brave the yeast, and learn how to make some plaited loaves or sweet rolls.

Roast potatoes: from The perfect cookbook / David Herbert
Nowadays few of us are taught the sort of real home cooking we all adore. We love to eat lasagne, roast chicken and lemon tart, but we're lost when it comes to finding the definitive recipe.Packed with foolproof recipes from David Herbert's popular 'perfect' column in the Weekend Australian, The perfect Cookbook is the book you wish you'd been given when you left home.

Awesome! No longer are my roast potatoes distressingly soggy, thanks to advice in basic, 'how-to' cookbooks like this one. Tips include: buy the right kind of spud (d'oh!), boil briefly first, rough 'em up, heat oil in a pre-heated dish which is shallow enough to allow steam to escape easily, and only then drop in your boiled, roughed up taties to roast. Simplicity!

Aitutaki beef: from Sonja's kitchen : sustainable cuisine from the Cook Islands / Dee Pignéguy and Sonja Raela
These remarkably simple dishes are replete with healthy vitality and infused with flavour. Based on traditional, nutrient-dense fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry and seafood, with accents of ginger, lime, lemon, basil, garlic and coconut, Sonja's dishes excite the palate. This is sustainable cuisine!

A really tasty light dinner for a summer evening, good with rice and whatever veges you want to prepare alongside. Now I just have to get adventurous enough to try some of her recipes with breadfruit or cassava.

Crushed candy cane drink: from Take three : 200 fabulous fuss-free recipes using three ingredients or less / Jenny White
Eleven easy-to-use chapters, with recipes for every occasion, from breakfast bites and teatime cookies to al fresco meals, speedy suppers and elegant dishes for entertaining.

One of Tosca's finds... honestly, Tosca's desk is like a mini library of it's own, and full of marvels... this book kind of sort of cheats a bit - many of the recipes count pre-prepared food as at least one of their ingredients, so they really do have more than three ingredients - but their ease of assembly is a real drawcard. My favourite, and a new Christmas tradition for our household, I hope, is a luscious icy slurry made from pulverising candy canes and blending them with milk. A few drops of red food colouring turns the slush an appealing pale pink. YUM.

Lime and chilli dressing: from Speight's southern man cookbook / Speight's Brewery ; writing, Nicola McCloy
The Southern Man. No matter where he lives his heart is always in the south. He's straight talking and straight shooting. He's as rugged as the southern landscape. He loves a Speight's and he loves a girl who loves a Speight's. This is a masculine and hardy high-quality cookbook - a collection of simple tasty fare done the southern way and meant to be enjoyed across the country.

Ya gotta laugh at a book which only includes one recipe in it's pasta section, and then insists that Southern men don't eat pasta. Seriously, though, this is one of those cookbooks I'm going to have to buy because it is illegal to photocopy the entire book. Once you get past all the manly manliness, the recipes are just awesome, and the home-made mayo dressing above is just a sample - zingy, bright and full of flavour, plus so darn easy you'll wonder why you ever bought mayonnaise off the shelf. In a home-made chicken burger (see p121), it will make you cry with happiness. This book even taught me how to make my own pies, easy as!

Next cooking challenge: learn how to use the Taiwanese mung bean noodles/cellophane noodles I picked up over the weekend. They are broader noodles than most of the pics I've seen online, wider than the 'bean thread' type. Tips most welcome!


Danielle said...

Success with the mung bean noodles! Thanks to Vatcharin Bhumichitr's 'The big book of noodles' (641.822 BHU) for confirming that soaking in hot but not boiling water is the key to turning something that looks like packing material into a luscious glassy noodle that soaks up sauce like a sponge :) Now I have Aitutaki Beef with noodles for lunch today.

Madhamster said...

You can brave the yeast Danielle!
I recommend starting with the Alison & Simon Holst bread book. But, I would say that :D