REVIEW: Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone

By Curtis Stone

Cookbook review written by

Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores

The premise for Aussie superstar chef Curtis Stone’s book is simple: easy entertaining that won’t leave you flustered or exhausted but instead will allow you to serve up fantastic food that tastes good and is straightforward to prepare.

Despite the fact that Curtis has worked as the head chef in several Michelin-starred restaurants, the recipes in Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone (published by Clarkson Potter, $32.50 USD) are completely geared towards the home cook. But that doesn’t mean they don’t plate up something pretty! Shhhh…let people think you slaved all day. Go ahead – it will be our little secret.

Here’s what I love about this book: The index is listed by ingredient. Okay so most people probably don’t really care about how the index of a cookbook is organized, but listing everything by ingredient is a time consuming step but from a user’s perspective makes the book much easier to navigate. This dedication to detail is carried through to the recipes themselves, which are essentially flawless. No step is missed, helpful hints are included throughout and everything is carefully and clearly written.

The photography is bright and fresh, allowing the food to really pop off the page. The layout is modern and simple, complimenting the style of food. Even the recipe categories themselves are exciting, and include sections with titles such as “First Thing in the Morning”, “Brunch That Will Blow Their Minds”, “Something to Eat on the Sofa”, and “Sweet Dreams”.

Here’s what I don’t love about this book: nothing.

Food has always been at the center of Curtis Stone’s world. Born in Melbourne, he began cooking with his grandmother at the tender age of five and has not looked back since. Curtis started working in the restaurant industry as soon as he left school, working his way up the chain and eventually becoming the head chef at some of the finest restaurants in the world. He is a cookbook author, television personality (most famous for his reality cooking show; Take Home Chef) and one of People Magazine’s sexiest men alive. Not bad.

Overall, Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone is a book that will appeal to more experienced cooks yet still be within the means of someone with limited experience in the kitchen. A great addition to any cookbook collection!

Lamb Shanks Slowly Braised in Red Wine, Rosemary & Thyme with Creamy Mascarpone & Parsley Polenta

RATING: 5 out of 5 (this meal will knock your socks off!)

THE TEST: My hubby had been bugging me for months to make braised lamb shanks, to the point where it was affecting our usual marital bliss. So when I saw this recipe all styled alluringly on top of a pillowy mound of creamy polenta, I knew it would have to be made. Pronto.

The instructions were written clearly and included a level of detail that would allow for even the most amateur cook to whip up this meal and have no one believe they made it themselves. Every little step was included but in a completely non-patronizing manner which I respect. This includes directions on how to properly and easily score the lamb shanks to help release the meat from the bone as it cooks.

The shanks are first dredged in a spiced flour mixture before being seared on all sides. An aromatic concoction of fresh veg and herbs are then sautéed and act as a bed of flavour in which the lamb is braised for three hours along with white wine, stock and tomatoes. Once the lamb is finished cooking the liquid needs to be strained and reduced until thick, with new veg being added at the very end. Honestly, the smell will transport you into a coma it’s so good!

While the shanks are in the oven the Creamy Mascarpone & Parsley Polenta can be prepared, which needs approximately an hour to cook. Confession? This recipe marked my first experience with polenta – both in terms of preparation and consumption. And to think I have the audacity to call myself a foodie. Everything was very straightforward, although be warned that the amount of dirty dishes is rather significant due to preheating and straining the various liquid components. Polenta also tends to be rather needy, requiring constant stirring until the desired consistency has been reached (similar to mashed potatoes and no longer starchy in taste). Normally this wouldn’t be an issue but it’s the NHL playoffs people! Being stuck at the stove away from the television is just plain wrong.

THE RESULTS: Not only did this meal plate up just as beautifully as in the photo, it tasted amazing. That bears repeating; IT TASTED AMAZING! The lamb was succulent and moist, cooked and seasoned perfectly. The flavours in the rich broth were mind-blowingly good, and the polenta? Incredible. So unassuming, its texture and taste mild enough to allow the lamb to be the star attraction yet it still managed to hold up to the strong flavours that dominated the meat. I loved the addition of mascarpone, the creamy nature of the cheese complimenting the polenta perfectly.

Mr. Spock has deemed this one of his top ten favourite meals of all time, and if you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that my hubby ain’t one to throw compliments like that around for just any old recipe. This will definitely be going in regular rotation around our house. Perfection.

As a side note, we ended up shredding the leftover lamb, mixing it with the sauce and topping it with the polenta to make the most incredible Sheppard’s Pie ever. It was epic.

Pan-Fried Pork Wrapped in Prosciutto with Sage & Capers

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 (quick to prepare & bursting with flavour)

THE TEST: When I read “pork wrapped in pork” and “less than 20 minutes” in the recipe intro, I knew this meal was made for me! Inspired by an Italian dish called Saltimbocca, Curtis’ version uses pork cutlets rather than the traditional veal. Basically you wrap the cutlet with prosciutto and pan sear it, before whisking together a pan sauce that consists of sage, capers, butter and lemon and throwing in fresh spinach at the last moment to wilt. Is your mouth watering yet?!

Despite the fancy dancy recipe name and how impressively everything plates up, this dish was incredibly easy to throw together. And yes – it was finished in less than 20 minutes.

THE RESULTS: Wowsa. Upon first bite a whole lot of flavour explosions began in my mouth and didn’t stop untill the last morsel was consumed! Fresh and exciting would be the best way to describe this dish. I loved how sweet and juicy the pork cutlets turned out in the end, and when combined with the crispy prosciutto and salty citrus flavours of the sauce this recipe nailed it in my book. Sage was the perfect herb addition, which rounded out the other flavours in the dish perfectly. The fresh spinach was also a nice touch and gave the meal a pleasant lightness despite the butter and heavy meat.


Spicy Sausage Breakfast Burritos

RATING: 4 out of 5 (great use of fresh ingredients)

THE TEST: Okay who doesn’t love breakfast burritos? It’s a perfect protein filled start to the day! Pretty much anything goes when it comes to breakfast burritos, but this particular recipe was inspired after a surfing trip in Malibu and really draws upon a lot of the fresh flavours often associated with California.

Everything came together easily, although a bit more preparation time is needed as the sausages need to be fully cooked prior to assembling the burritos. No biggie – especially if you happen to be making these on a lazy Sunday morning (which was the case for us).

THE RESULTS: We really enjoyed these burritos and will definitely be making them again in the future. I loved the addition of sausages (if we use any meat it’s typically bacon), and the green onions, cilantro and jalapeño brought a lovely freshness that complimented the heaviness of the sausage. Grilling the tortillas quickly on each side until warmed and soft was genius. We did end up adding some Monterey Jack cheese which I would highly recommend.