“Marbled Chocolate and Almond Cake” from “Cook As You Are”

It’s a virtual guarantee that Ruby Tandoh, a finalist in the Great British Bake Off in 2013, will provide excellent baking recipes in her cookbook. She did not disappoint.

This cake is exactly what it says on the tin: marbled chocolate and almond cake. She writes in the introduction about the frequent need for “something sweet” at the end of a meal. This fulfils that brief. I knocked it the batter pretty quickly while our lasagna baked in the oven, and then the cake took the lasagna’s place in the oven when it was done. It was the perfect finish to our meal and indeed was something sweet.

If you’re a nervous baker, Ruby’s instructions are clear and concise, and as this is a straightforward cake recipe without any icing needed or any other additional steps, this is a pretty easy cake to impress your table with. (I’m already thinking about how I’ll do the marbling different next time.)

The cake didn’t hang around long, even with only three of us in the house. Highly recommended.

“Marbled Chocolate and Almond Cake” from “Cook As You Are”

Gnocchi with Harissa Butter and Broccoli” from “Cook as You Are”

There are times when all you want at the end of the day is something quick and tasty to eat for dinner. THIS is that recipe. Ruby uses pillowy gnocchi (which cook faster than pasta), a couple spoonfuls of harissa, butter and broccoli to make this excellent and vibrant meal. Everything you could want from a quick recipe on a busy Monday night.

Gnocchi with Harissa Butter and Broccoli” from “Cook as You Are”

“Yaji-Spiced Celeriac with Garlic Greens and Bulgur Wheat” from “Cook As You Are”

One of the things I love about this cookbook is that Ruby Tandoh seeks inspiration from around the world. With most cookbooks, authors restrict themselves to a particular region or country, and maybe that makes things more simple when it comes time to writing it. But Ruby has cast her net far and wide to find inspiration to present you an array of delicious options.

Enter this dish. Ruby writes, “Yaji, or suya spice, is a Hausa Nigerian spice blend used to make suya– grilled meat skewers almost blackened with a smoky, nutty, fiery dry rub.” Though here she uses the spice mix not on meat, but on chunks of celeriac.

I was excited to make this because we had a spare celeriac kicking around from our bi-weekly Oddbox box, and even more excited to try to cook something with Nigerian origins. Also, I’ve been cooking more vegetarian dishes this month, so it was very much a win/win/win.

When I first read the recipe title, I was worried that it would require a range of obscure spices that I didn’t have, but a quick glance at the ingredient list put my fears to rest. The spice mix called for spices that I already had– paprika, chilli powder, ground ginger, garlic powder, onion granules, ground nutmeg– along with peanuts and crumbled stock cubes.

While it did have a pretty big kick (which was down to my liberal use of chilli powder), it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle. But the thing we all enjoyed most of all was trying something different with the celeriac, which I usually just roast or make into a soup. The dish got three enthusiastic thumbs up from around the table, and I would definitely make this again.

One caveat, though, and this applies to many vegetarian dishes, not just this one: remember to set aside sufficient time for all the chopping you’re going to have to do. I always forget that part, and I’m always a bit grumpy when I’m still chopping things up 45 minutes after I started preparing dinner.

Another thing to love about this cookbook, is how heavily sourced it is. Usually, cookbook authors would like us to think that they’ve come up with these recipes entirely on their own, but the fact is, that’s probably not true. Ruby helpfully has a bibliography at the beginning of each chapter with a list of cookbooks from which she found her inspiration. While there are loads of recognisable names on there– Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, Rukmini Iyer, Samin Nosrat– there are many more that I don’t know that I now want to read, including Ntozake Shange, Ping Coombes, Lopè Ariyo.

(Ruby also gets bonus points for including “Heartburn” by Nora Ephron on the list. Though not a cookbook by any stretch of the imagination, it’s well worth reading, as is anything written by Nora Ephron.)

Every time I cook from this cookbook, I love it a little bit more.

“Yaji-Spiced Celeriac with Garlic Greens and Bulgur Wheat” from “Cook As You Are”

“No Waste Whole Cauliflower and Macaroni Cheese” from “Cook As You Are”

Ah, January. We’ve reached peak Cheesy Comfort Food Season. One of the best seasons of all. The sky might be grey, the Christmas bills might be due and we might all be sick of taking lateral flow tests, but the sadness any of those things might evoke can easily be erased by a Cheesy Comfort Food dinner. Like this dish.

The thing that makes this recipe different from all the other cauliflower macaroni and cheese recipes I’ve made was the use of absolutely all of the the cauliflower. Not one bit was wasted (other than the very end of the stem, which looked dodgy, and one part of the leaves, which had discoloured). Although I’ve consistently cut up the stalk to go with the florets when I make cauliflower, I had not idea that you could also eat all of the leaves, including the ribs, with the right preparation.

Be aware, however, that all the prep means this macaroni and cheese takes longer to make than your standard macaroni and cheese, but it’s worth it. At a time when we’re trying to lessen our food waste and make a lighter impact on the world, it’s good to be able to use up the entire head of cauliflower, leaves and all.

I know I’ve tested several cauliflower macaroni and cheese recipes for this blog, so I took an enjoyable dive into the archives to revisit the other ones I’ve made. In 2012, I made this cauliflower macaroni and cheese from Gordon Ramsay, and we very much enjoyed it. In 2011, I nearly had a nervous breakdown making three courses from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals, and one of those courses was a variation on this dish. I know that we liked it, but I also had a harsh flashback to the cleanup after making anything from that cookbook. Would not recommend (the cookbook, the recipe in particular, and the cleanup involved). Almost 10 years ago exactly, I made another macaroni cheese, although without cauliflower, which was good, but did not supplant our favourite version from the New York Times. It’s funny to note that all of these recipes were tested in the month of January. It truly is peak Cheesy Comfort Food Season.

“No Waste Whole Cauliflower and Macaroni Cheese” from “Cook As You Are”

Mushroom and Gochujang Udon Noodles” from “Cook As You Are”

Kirstin: All the good things in one bowl; mushrooms, gochujang, noodles. From the section More Food, Less Work. Which was perfect for a quick meal on a Tuesday night. And three of us absolutely loved this combination. But one of us was not convinced. The sauce is thickened with peanut butter and I wonder if there was just too much for them. I’m still going to make it again, just for the three of us though.

Mushroom and Gochujang Udon Noodles” from “Cook As You Are”

Cookbook of the Month: Cook As You Are by Ruby Tandoh

Kirstin: We are starting the new year with a lovely book by one of our favourite cookbook authors, Ruby Tandoh. It’s a beautiful, smaller sized book made for easy use in the kitchen, so the chapter headings are things like “Wild Appetites” with the subheading “Food for every mood, craving and occasion”. And rather than using photography, there are gorgeous illustrations by Sinae Park. But I think the thing I like most in this book are the Further Reading sections at the front of each chapter for deep diving into more of the same cooking and looking for more inspiration. As Nigella sums it up on the cover of the book “Not simply a recipe book, but a warm invitation to relax into and enjoy the experience of cooking and eating”.

And I dare you not to sing the Nirvana song Come As You Are every time you pick it up.

Maureen: Ruby is such a great food writer, it’s wonderful to be back reading her writing again. This is a slightly different approach to a cookbook, with illustrations rather than photographs, and food headings that could be described as a bit nebulous. But I managed to find four things I wanted to cook while I was paging through it at my local Waterstone’s (and got a signed copy, natch), so I think that’s an excellent sign. It’s just the sort of thing that will perk things up for a month that tends to be pretty bleak.

Cookbook of the Month: Cook As You Are by Ruby Tandoh

Our Verdict: A Cook’s Book

Another winner from Nigel Slater. We suspected as much at the beginning of the month, but it’s always nice to see our suspicions confirmed.

Nigel’s food writing is so cool, calm and collected that it’s nearly hypnotic. This is how Maureen found herself making a pie for dinner from scratch, after a full day (and then some) of work. Kirstin rediscovered some old favourites from her early days as a cook, which brought back fond memories of X-Files and Monday nights.

This is very much a Best of Nigel Slater book. So even if you have several of his other cookbooks, which we do, it’s nice to have all the recipes in one place. It’s also excellent as a gift for people who are just starting out their culinary journey or who want a good all-around cookbook.

It was a delightfully delicious month from Nigel and we loved it all. This one will go firmly on the high-rotation bookshelf.

Our Verdict: A Cook’s Book

“Cauliflower Soup” from “A Cook’s Book”

Soup Season has arrived! Huzzah!

I mean, sure, the official seasons are autumn, winter, spring, summer, but if we were going to classify them in a culinary way, the seasons could be soup, roasts, salad and barbecue.

We are now firmly in soup season, and I, for one, am thrilled. I love a good bowl of hearty soup.

This was a fairly standard cauliflower soup recipe with the addition of cheese toasties on top, which, frankly, yum. I was surprised that Nigel, who does not shy away from the use of double cream, didn’t recommend it here, but in all honesty, it didn’t really need it. (It wouldn’t go amiss as a type of accent on top, though, which is what I did.)

Nigel has several recipes for excellent soups here, which surely will come in handy as Soup Season steams ahead.

“Cauliflower Soup” from “A Cook’s Book”

“The Gory Glory of Steak” from “A Cook’s Book”

Yes, Nigel, I couldn’t agree more with your heading on this recipe. Steak is, hands down, my favourite thing to eat. Cooking it, however, is another matter, and Nigel agrees. He writes, “Truth told, it isn’t that easy to get right.”

It’s true. Even though I consider myself a halfway decent cook, I always get severe performance anxiety when it comes time to cooking a nice steak. It shouldn’t be that hard, but somehow, it seems that way to me.

Nigel also says that he tends to have steak when he’s on his own, and finding myself on my own for the first time in a long, long time, I figured I might as well treat myself with a nice ribeye. Nigel gave excellent directions on how to cook it without panicking. So I followed his directions to the letter, and the end result was a perfect steak. Yum.

I made some creamed spinach on the side, because hey, it’s my party and I’ll have creamed spinach if I want to, so I did. To be fair, creamed spinach also is an excellent partner to steak, so it made sense. I didn’t have the necessary eggs to make the béarnaise sauce that Nigel recommended, but it didn’t matter.

Also, I want to make an important point: this truly is a fast and delicious dinner. It was only marginally harder than making a ready-made meal, but it was 1 million times better. Note to self: the next time, pick steak over a ready made.

It was a sublime dinner. Highly recommended. Obviously.

“The Gory Glory of Steak” from “A Cook’s Book”