“Poor Man’s Paella” from “The Little Book of Lunches”

I need to admit up front that I didn’t actually eat this for lunch. I made it for dinner. But I would be surprised if you could find anyone who would be willing to get up 35 minutes early before lunch so they could make this and take it with them. Not me, that’s for sure.

It was decidedly delicious. We all loved it and I definitely will be making it again for dinner, not least because it’s a one-pot dinner, which makes cleanup spectacularly easy.

The inspiration for the dish, as explained in the introduction, was Ottolenghi’s paella. If I had to guess, it probably was this one, as published in the Guardian and the original was made by Kirstin in this very blog seven years ago, which you can read here.

Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing wanted to make Ottolenghi’s paella, but realised they didn’t have many of the ingredients so they boiled it down to the essence of the dish. Or, as Nicholas rightly pointed out, “Spicy rice with tomatoes.”

I added all of the optional extras, which I’m sure made it far more interesting and tasty: chorizo, peppers, frozen peas and parsley. Tim suggested the next time I make it that I also throw in some prawns at the end, which is similar to what Jamie Oliver did in Save Jame! (technically, “Save with Jamie”), which Kirstin also tested out and loved, which you can read here.

Clearly, paella for dinner is a winner. But getting up early to make paella for lunch? Very ambitious and equally unlikely for most people.

“Poor Man’s Paella” from “The Little Book of Lunches”

Our Verdict: NYT Cooking App

Kirstin: This is one of my favourite apps. It never ceases to cheer me up.

Maureen: There’s so many recipes to choose from! I would think of a recipe we wanted to eat and inevitably they would have one.

Kirstin: But we should point out that it’s crazy busy because it’s the end of term and other stuff happening, but we used this app way more than it would appear on the blog.

Maureen: That’s true. I made dozens more recipes than I actually got around to posting.

Kirstin: The comments are often worth having a peek at.

Maureen: There’s usually lots of good tips in there.

Kirstin: But just this week they announced that they’re going to start charging for access.

Maureen: They’re going to put a metered paywall, which means you’ll get a certain number for free, but after that you’ll have to start paying. It makes sense. I’m also from the school of thought that good content shouldn’t be free.

Kirstin: It’s a great app when you go on holiday because all the recipes are right on your phone.

Maureen: It’s also great when you’re out in the middle of the day when you don’t know what you want to make for dinner, so you can decide on the hoof and then stop at the shops for what you need.

Kirstin: Also, it’s got Melissa Clark and Sam Sifton. Do I need to say more?

Maureen: No. You do not. They are brilliant. I also liked the featured recipes at the top. They gave good suggestions.

Kirstin: Absolutely.

Maureen: It’s almost not a fair fight because the New York Times has so many good recipes over the years, and they’re all there. If you published all these recipes in books, it would be a multi-volume encyclopedia.

Kirstin: Also, the e-mails make my heart so happy. They just are so lovely. They have great suggestions. Sign up for the e-mail!

Overall Grade (A- F):  A (Maureen)  A (Kirstin)
Best recipes:  Salmon roasted in butter (Kirstin) The Katharine Hepburn brownies were definitely the most memorable, but the macaroni and cheese is a desert island dish in this house (Maureen)
Grade for Photography (A-F): A
Any disasters? Maureen: No. Kirstin: I’m trying to figure out how to spatchcock chicken.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Not applicable, but we’d put it on the front page of our phones.
Would you give this to a friend? (Both) Yes, though we would tell them to install it and to sign up for the daily e-mail.

Our Verdict: NYT Cooking App

“Steak Mock Frites” from “NYT Cooking App”

Here in London, we’re experiencing something that suspiciously feels like summer. I say it’s suspicious because I’m doubtful it will last. It never does. But in the meantime, we’re maximising our enjoyment of it while we can, which includes eating in the garden under the setting sun eating simple dishes that we love.

To wit: steak. Takes minutes to prepare, is delicious and we love it. As this is a rib-eye steak, it’s definitely a treat and not in the regular rotation, but still… full of yum. Also, we have a friend staying with us from the U.S. for the next week, so we wanted to treat her to one of the legendary steaks from our local butcher, Dring’s.

I’ve cooked steak enough times that I’m pretty confident on how to do it. But this recipe helpfully included a method for Maître d’Hôtel butter, which is pretty simple (butter, thyme, shoot, lemon juice & a splash of white-wine vinegar), but the real revelation was the recipe for “Mock Frites.” For this, you basically just boil new potatoes, dry them and smash them on a greased baking sheet and then bake them some more.

They. Were. Delicious. And so easy! Sam Sifton says in the introduction that the potatoes have “a terrific quality of French fry-ness, supreme crispness, with soft and creamy flesh within.” They really did all of those things. I plan to make these mock frites again. And again. And again.

If you’d like to make this yourself, click through this sentence to see the original recipe in the New York Times. 

 

“Steak Mock Frites” from “NYT Cooking App”

“Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma” from NYT Cooking App

Nicholas (14): We’ve had this before, haven’t we?

Maureen: Impressively remembered. Yes, we have. It was the Nigella Lawson version from “Simply Nigella” [Editor’s Note; I just went back to see if I blogged about it. Alas, I did not. But we do love it so.] That recipe was based on this version, which I’ve also made before. So I was hedging my bets because I already knew we all liked it.

Andrew (17): What is it?

Maureen: It’s chicken shawarma.

Tim: I remember now. We all liked it.

Maureen: Indeed we did. Which is why I’ve made it more than once. This is from the new cookbook.

Andrew: What’s the new cookbook?

Maureen: it’s not actually a cookbook. It’s the New York Times Cooking App.

Nicholas [Incredulously]: An app???

Maureen: Yes. We’re embracing the future. It’s going to be great. We have so many favourite recipes that come from the New York Times. We will eat well this month.

Tim: Maybe there will be too much choice, actually.

Maureen: That’s a real possibility. I fell down the rabbit hole of options when I was trying to figure out what we were going to have for dinner tonight. This wasn’t even what I intended to make. But I stumbled across it, knew we had it before and liked it, so thought we’d just have it again.

Andrew [As he quickly polishes off his second one]: It was a good choice. It’s delicious.

If you’d like to make this yourself, here’s a link to the original recipe in the New York Times. 

“Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma” from NYT Cooking App

“Unbelievably Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake” from “Home Cook”

I’m not going to beat around the bush: This was a disaster.

Just look at the picture above as it really is worth 1,000 words. It’s just one big gloopy mess. It was, frankly, an embarrassment. Even worse, we had guests over for dinner, so I was mortified times 1,000.

The reason I wanted to make this was because I was intrigued (to say the least) by using melted Mars bars to make the chocolate ganache-like topping. It worked, but only up to a point, because there was no indication that I should let the topping cool a bit before assembling the cake, and thus, disaster struck.

Obviously, the instructions are lacking in some regard. Although I let the chocolate ganache on top cool before I had poured it over, (even though the recipe didn’t say to do this) clearly I didn’t wait long enough. But what is that sweet spot timing wise between having pourable chocolate that doesn’t melt the whipped cream but hasn’t solidified too much that it doesn’t pour? Alas, the recipe doesn’t say.

Consequently, it was just a big hot mess on the table.

The story does have a happy ending, though. After it had time to cool off and get its act together, the cake really was delicious the next day. It was just hard to forgive it the mess it made the previous evening.

“Unbelievably Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake” from “Home Cook”

“Fish Tacos” from “Home Cook”

We could retitle this post: “This is where things begin to go badly for this cook book.”

In the second chapter of a novel I was reading last year, the author made such an elementary factual error I found that I couldn’t trust anything she wrote for the rest of the book. The error, if you’re wondering, was that she references an American couple who arrive on holiday in Spain one morning who need to make a telephone call back to the U.S. She writes that the couple rushes off to make the call before the office closes for the day. That would be impossible, of course, because it would be THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT there. My point is didn’t anyone who edited the book notice this? I know I’ve got transatlantic kids, but even they knew what time it’d be in the U.S. versus Europe when they were 4 years old. (It’s easy: the U.S. is always one meal behind Europe.) It annoyed me so much that it ruined the rest of the novel for me.

I know that’s quite a long digression for a blog that’s supposed to be full of cookbook reviews, but it provides a salient point: if a book proves to be unreliable or even wrong early on, I can’t trust it very much going forward.

Unfortunately, this was true of “Home Cook.” I went to make the fish tacos because I knew everyone would love some for Fish Friday. The method for preparing the fish was good and the guacamole recipe was excellent. In fact, I’ve used it many times since. Both were delicious.

Where things went amiss was for the tomato salsa recipe: the page it referenced was wrong. Being a forgiving sort, I thought I could find the right location in the index, but there was no joy either, as the tomato listing didn’t reference salsa at all. Then I looked up salsa in the index. That took me somewhere else. So for the first Fish Friday tacos, I went to the Internet to find Thomasina’s salsa recipe and used that. More than a week later, I stumbled over the salsa recipe under the Huevos Rancheros recipe. To say I was surprised to find it there was an understatement.

My point holds, though. I know it’s a difficult business getting a book written, edited, proofread and published. I know indexing is an art form and difficult to do (I have said this before). But what I can’t abide is when a cookbook puts me on a wild goose chase to find a recipe. Things should be where they say they will be.

Don’t get me wrong, the fish tacos were delicious. The guacamole was divine. But the quest to find the salsa recipe left me with a sour taste in my mouth that I didn’t want, and I fear that will colour my opinion on this book for the rest of the month.

“Fish Tacos” from “Home Cook”

“Grilled Tandoori Chicken with Mango Chutney” from “Home Cook”

Sorry. I don’t have any photos for this. My phone died (a moment of silence, please), and I lost the photos I hadn’t backed up– which was only a few, but this was one of them.

This was the kind of brilliant dish that we loved so much  out of Melissa Clark’s “Dinner” last month. A tray bake that you bang in the oven and produces a delicious (but easy) dinner.

Although the recipe called for putting the chicken into baguettes to make them into sandwiches, we skipped that. Instead, we just enjoyed the chicken with some basmati rice, seasoned yogurt and the chutney. It seems as though that was a good choice, as when I looked up the recipe on the Guardian website, she did the same the first time it appeared.

This dish got a thumbs up all around. We definitely will have this again.

“Grilled Tandoori Chicken with Mango Chutney” from “Home Cook”