“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”

“Ten-Hour Porchetta with Borlotti & Pea Salsa” from “Home Cook”

I don’t know how appetizing this looks, but trust me, it’s delicious.

Every time I ask Nicholas what he would like for Sunday lunch, he inevitably says, “Pork belly.” He loves, loves, loves it. My go-to recipe is this one by Jamie Oliver’s pal Gennaro Contaldo, but we’ve also tried this one from Rachel Allen and this other one from Street Kitchen. The Rachel Allen one was good, but I’ve actually forgotten about, so perhaps that’s the recipe I should use the next time I get a request for it.

I really wanted to try this because of the title. Ten hours in the oven? BRING. IT. ON. There was, however, a minor complication. Thomasina does this overnight in her oven, but due to health and safety concerns, Tim nixed that method. (I don’t understand it myself. We’ve got a sensitve smoke alarm AND a dog, so I think if anything went amiss, something would wake us up.) I can’t argue with safety. So I pretended it was Thanksgiving (or indeed Christmas) and started cooking early in the morning.

Once it’s in the oven, you forget about it. You’ve got to love the front-loaded recipes, whereby you can just get on with things after you’ve got it ready. Equally the borlotti and pea salsa required overnight soaking of the beans (no safety concerns there) and the salsa itself only required a quick trip to the food processor.

The porchetta, and the stuffing, was delicious, but the best thing about this dish was it enabled us to have a spontaneous dinner party. I had just put the pork in the oven and was off to walk the aforementioned dog in the park when I ran into a friend on the way. Knowing the large piece of meat we had in the oven, I asked if she and her partner were available for dinner. Result! They were! Consequently, I didn’t have time to stress about having them over, because dinner was already in the oven. It made for a very chilled day.

We’d recommend this one. 5/5 would eat again.

“Ten-Hour Porchetta with Borlotti & Pea Salsa” from “Home Cook”

“Homemade Seedy Crackers” from “Dinner: Changing the Game”

We eat seedy crackers quite a bit, mostly because they are delicious and involve way less guilt than a salty snack. But whether you buy the posh Gail’s brand (£1.69 for 100 grams) or the standard Ryvita thins (£2 for 125g), they work out at £16 to £17 a kilo, not far from a rib of beef. When you do that sort of math, it gives you pause.

But tucked in the back of this month’s book is this recipe for Homemade Seedy Crackers. At last! We can make them ourselves and save our pennies for something else good. Like wine. The recipe is a mixture of spelt and plain flour, baking powder, salt, water, olive oil and seeds. They are a doddle to mix and bake, and probably cost about £2 a kilo. They disappeared quickly. We’re likely to be making these regularly.

Homemade Seedy Crackers FTW.

“Homemade Seedy Crackers” from “Dinner: Changing the Game”

“Red Coconut Curry Shrimp” from “Dinner: Changing the Game”

Fish Friday!

Although, for the record, someone (read: my husband) once told me that prawns/shrimp do not count as fish. I think it’s high time I finally learn if he’s right. [Editor’s Note: Pause to do a quick Google search.] It turns out he’s right. According to Quora and FunTrivia.com, shrimp are crustaceans with the group of arthropods, though they are classified as seafood. You can learn something new every day. If you try.

Despite the above fact finding, I’m still making prawns on Fish Friday. Maybe I just need to call it Seafood Friday on the days we have shrimp/prawns.

This was a good meal. Although it did take a special trip to the supermarket to get some of the ingredients– I don’t usually have Thai red curry paste on hand– it was easy and quick to make. Everyone liked it.

There was only one small problem, and this is something we run into from time to time when we use a cookbook from a different country, in this case, America. The recipe called for daikon radish, which I guess must be relatively easy to source over there but is impossible to find over here. (Believe me, I tried.) Subbing in regular radishes was not an option, because they are completely different. So in the end I just ended up dropping the daikon radish from the recipe. It’s impossible to know if its absence made a difference. The curry was still good, though.

Needless to say, it was another winner from “Dinner.”

 

 

“Red Coconut Curry Shrimp” from “Dinner: Changing the Game”

“Sweet Peppers and Sausages” from “Dinner: Changing the Game”

I could probably write a full 5,000 word essay on what my Ideal Dinner would be. But as I currently don’t have the time to do so, let me cut straight to the conclusion: It would be something like this dish.

Easy to create after a full day working? Check.

A full complement of vegetables included in the recipe? Check.

Bang it in the oven and forget about it while it cooks? Check.

Easily sourced ingredients? Check.

Of course, the ideal dinner can vary from night to night, depending on any number of variables. But this one definitely hit the sweet spot. It helps that our local butcher Drings has the most amazing sausages. But still.

Calling a dish an ideal dinner is fairly high praise, I think. We will be enjoying this again. And again.

If you would like to try this recipe, the Toronto Star helpfully published it, along with a review of the book. Click through here to read it.

 

“Sweet Peppers and Sausages” from “Dinner: Changing the Game”