Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef
I’m going to cut to the chase and announce right off the bat that I have a lot of heart for Alice’s Cookbook (Lyons Press $21.95 CDN). My crush on this book is unexpected as I picked it up on a whim, my purchase simply a reaction to the unusual thick cardboard cover with sketched illustrations on the front and back. The collection of recipes continue to inspire and motivate me in the kitchen. In fact, I’m having a hard time putting it aside and have a number of recipes earmarked to make in the near future.
Written by Alice Hart, a British chef and food stylist, this book bridges a years worth of seasons and holidays with recipe options that include an autumn movie night, New Year’s brunch, hot summer barbecue and a light, post-Christmas dinner. The book is divided into five separate sections: breakfast and brunch, picnics and happy camping, seasonal Sunday lunch, supper and lunch to share and – simply – party. It is geared toward creating feasts to be shared with friends and family at leisure and in celebration. If you’re looking for prepared food or quick-fix ideas this book isn’t for you. That’s not to say that Alice believes in slaving away in the kitchen up until the last minute guests arrive, but instead spending time a day or two beforehand to make a marinade or bake a cake. In other words, taking what she calls an intelligent and enjoyable approach to cooking and entertaining.
Each section of the book contains a collection of recipes for a particular menu (e.g. spring breakfast for six on the weekend) and provides make ahead suggestions to help avoid that dreaded last minute rush in the kitchen. I really appreciated the fluidity with which the recipes are written…and this coming from a self-professed rule follower. Alice include all of the relevant detail one looks for in a recipe, but keeps it open to interpretation in a way that really makes you feel in control of the dish as if you are co-creating it together. It’s more of a guide, leaving room for your natural culinary instincts to take charge. Don’t get the wrong idea here folks – precise baking measurements are included along with oven temperatures etc. – but instead of dictating one tablespoon of chile Alice leaves it open to your own interpretation. You pick the type and amount of chile that suits you. Don’t like a particular root vegetable suggested for a dish? Swap it out for whatever root you fancy more. It’s a liberating approach to recipes that went over quite well with me.
Two thumbs up from me!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
THE TEST: Just reading the listed ingredients made my mouth water: roasted sausage and red pepper, green onions fried with mushrooms, garlic and parsley topped with dollops (what a great word…dollop) of chile jam and yogurt. Eggs are cracked overtop of this mishmash of deliciousness before being thrown into the oven. Easy peasy. Maybe a few more steps are involved here than with a normal frittata, as the sausage and peppers are called to be cooked separately.
THE RESULTS: I ended up making this for dinner and serving with a fresh tomato salad tossed with a light, citrusy vinaigrette. The leftover frittata was great in our lunches the next day…it even tasted good cold.
What I like best about this recipe is the potential for creating new flavor combinations. For the sausage component, why not use a maple breakfast sausage with balsamic caramelized onions and a soft Brie, or try a spicy chorizo with roasted red peppers, feta and cilantro. Honestly – the possibilities are endless! My best advice for this recipe is to season to taste. Ours turned out a bit bland but I’m not holding anyone but myself accountable for that result. Next time I’ll know better.
Rice Pudding Squares with Star Anise Plums
Rating: 5 out of 5
THE TEST: This is not one of those last minute ‘oh you forgot the in-laws are coming over quick what are we gonna make desserts’. In order to maximize its awesomeness, this recipe needs to be tackled at least a day or two in advance. That being said, the process is fairly straightforward you just need time for all of the flavours to jive and exist harmoniously together.
First off I made the star anise plums. Halved dark Italian plums are sautéed with a pinch of brown sugar until caramelized, before an irresistible pan sauce is made with the leftover juices from the plums, port, anise flowers and fresh orange juice. The plums are then left to soak in the sauce until ready to serve.
Next, make rice pudding in the usual fashion (risotto rice, cinnamon stick, milk and sugar boiled and simmered until cooked through) and let cool. Once the pudding is chilled, add eggs and orange zest before baking in a pan until golden. Once cool, slice into squares and serve with the crack sauce whops I mean plum sauce.
THE RESULTS: The fact I just called the plum sauce ‘crack sauce’ should give you a good indication of how addictive and incredible this sauce tasted. It was syrupy and fragrant without being too sweet, the port complemented the natural sweetness of the plums and the orange juice brightened the sauce beautifully. Combined with the creamy rice pudding squares this dessert rose to a whole new level of tasty. And because everything can be made ahead of time it’s a good option for entertaining.
Skirt Steaks with Red Chimichurri Sauce Charred Corn Salsa
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
THE TEST: In our house Mr. Spock is king of the fajitas. So it took a bit of convincing on my part to let him relinquish his throne in order for me to tackle this recipe test (thanks babe).
We love skirt steak for fajitas – the buttery richness of the meat perfect for grilling without becoming dried out and great for holding the flavor of the marinade and spices. In this case, half the marinade is reserved for the chimichurri sauce and combines sherry vinegar with garlic, fresh bay leaves, cumin, paprika and cayenne. For the corn salsa, fresh corn is sautéed in a dry pan with jalapeños until browned and charred to taste. Once cooled, the corn and chili mixture is tossed with black beans, lime juice and cilantro.
THE RESULTS: This recipe received high praise from everyone, including my husband and his high expectations. And while his fajitas will always rule supreme in our household, this dish turned out super tasty. The charred corn salsa needs to be made as it really elevated the flavor of the meat, adding a nice texture and freshness to the whole dish. We served ours with sour cream and guacamole and honestly it doesn’t get better than this folks. Big yum.