Our Verdict: Cooking for Jeffrey

We’ve spent the month cooking with Ina while she did some cooking for Jeffrey.

Ina, also known as the Barefoot Contessa, has quite a following in the U.S. The book was given to me by my best friend in the U.S. who knows how much I love a good cookbook.

I ended up making nine recipes from the book. I suppose this is a “Greatest Hits” book for her, as it’s apparently all the things that her husband Jeffrey likes best. Kirstin said she thought the recipes were a bit dated, and not very inspiring. I can see what she means, but while they may have felt a bit dated, they all worked and were delicious.

In many ways, she reminds me of a modern Julia Child. She has no fear of butter and double cream. In fact, the more the merrier seems to be her philosophy. This is a philosophy I can fully endorse in the bleak month of January.

Equally, some of the suggestions are just daft. Why in the world do you need to add lobster to fish cakes? Answer: You don’t. (I suppose if you’re an internationally well known cook who has ready access to fresh lobster in the Hamptons it makes more sense. Not so much when you’re just an average Jane trying to make dinner in the deep mid-winter in London.)

In the end, I awarded this book a solid B+. It was very very close to getting an A, but what held me back was it seemed to lack something special to make it a Can’t Miss book.

 

Overall Grade (A- F): B+ (Maureen) B (Kirstin)
Best recipes: (Maureen) Devil’s Food Cake with Meringue Buttercream by a country mile.
Grade for Photography (A-F):
Any disasters? (Maureen) None, though adding lobster to fish cakes was pure folly.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? It’s going on my bookshelf, but not the high rotation one. (Maureen)
Would you give this to a friend? Maybe. After all, I got it from a friend, so maybe I should continue the circle of virtuousness. But I need to think about it. (Maureen)

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Our Verdict: Cooking for Jeffrey

“Filet Mignon with Mustard and Mushrooms” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

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Unfortunately, this photo doesn’t do this dish justice. But look at the name of it. How can you go wrong with filet mignon?

[Answer: You can NEVER go wrong with filet mignon. Unless you’re a vegetarian, of course.]

Believe it or not, this was our bargain dish of the week. I know that seems like a puzzling statement to make about filet mignon, but it’s true. Although Ina called for traditional medallions for this dish, you’ll see that I used the tail. This is because at our local butchers on Christmas Eve, they had tails at a bargain-basement price, because everyone and their sister was ordering filet from the middle for their Christmas feasts. So I picked up four, put them in the freezer when I got home, and then we were able to enjoy them a month later.

Butcher bargains for the win.

This was delicious. In the interest of accuracy, I have to note that the teenagers passed on the creamy mustard sauce for their steaks. I’m not sure why. I would suggest that perhaps their tastes aren’t sophisticated yet, but given that they both love sushi, I know that’s not true.

Would I make this again? Of course. Especially when I’ve got some butcher’s bargains to use.

If you’d like to make this yourself, the U.S. Today show has the recipe on the website, which you’ll find by clicking through this sentence. 

“Filet Mignon with Mustard and Mushrooms” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

“Roasted Vegetable Paella” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

Regular readers of this blog will know that Monday is Meat Free Monday in our house. But as much as I love Meat Free Monday, it’s not always easy. For reasons too boring and complicated to go into here, Mondays are always busy in this house. So when I look for a Meat Free Monday recipe, it’s got to relatively easy and quick.

This recipe was easy, but it certainly wasn’t quick. However, once I read the recipe again, I realised I could roast the vegetables in the early afternoon, before I had to head out (working from home does have its perks), and then I could make the rest of the paella upon my return.

The plan worked flawlessly. The recipe also worked. But the reception the dish received was less than enthusiastic.

I’m not sure why. I thought it was delicious. But the rest of the family was decidedly “Meh” about it. Given the effort involved to make it, I won’t be making it again, which is too bad for me, because I thought it was even better the next day, when I heated up the leftovers for lunch.

You win some. You lose some.

“Roasted Vegetable Paella” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

“Brisket with Onions and Leeks” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

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It’s high brisket season this time of year. I mean, brisket is good any time of year, but in winter especially, it really is something to treasure. There’s nothing like a good long roast in the oven to warm up the house and to warm up the tummies.

Unfortunately, when I made this for Sunday Roast, our friendly butcher had run out of brisket by the time we got there (our bad; we arrived at 3 p.m. on a Saturday). So we set off to our local Waitrose hoping they would have some. They didn’t, but they did have a cut called Silverside, which isn’t brisket, but a quick Internet search confirmed we could use it instead if we needed to do so.

[For the technical among you, the brisket cut comes from underneath the rib and above the shin. The silverside cut comes from the back, between the rump and the topside. If you’d like to peruse the multi-coloured Wikipedia drawing that shows you what cut comes from where in Britain, it’s here. There’s also an American version, and it’s here.]

In the end, this was a bit underwhelming, unfortunately. I don’t know if it’s because the cut of beef wasn’t really right, or if there’s just other briskets we liked so much more, but this wasn’t really working for us. It wasn’t awful, to be sure, it just wasn’t Over The Top Good, either. So it was a bit of a disappointment.

But I snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by using the brisket leftovers to make Jamie Oliver’s Beef Rendang, which, as it happens, our most popular post on the blog. I can confirm that Jamie’s Beef Rendang is still delicious. We all slurped it up and thoroughly enjoyed it. So the brisket was good for something after all.

“Brisket with Onions and Leeks” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

“Fish and Lobster Cakes” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

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Fish Friday!

We love a fish cake in this house. Who doesn’t? It’s deep-fried goodness. We’ve tried countless, but I can never remember which one I like best. Maybe because the recipes are all pretty similar.

This one is different, though, because it uses lobster (and cod). Yes, lobster. When I went to the fishmonger to see if I could get a cheap cooked lobster, they laughed at me. They laughed not because I wanted lobster, but because I wanted one cheap (Um.. No.. Not really possible) and also because I told them I planned to use them in fish cakes.

“Fish cakes? Really?” they asked, incredulously. “Why in the world would you put lobster in fish cakes? It’s so good on its own.”

I agreed, but told them the idea of the blog was to test these recipes as they were written, so I went away, dejected, thinking I’d never know if lobster really would make fish cakes better. But then I checked Ocado, and found a semi-budget solution: a full frozen pre-cooked lobster!

So I now can tell you definitely that there’s absolutely no point in putting lobster in fish cakes. Lobster is so good all on its own. While I could taste it in these, it was a waste.

The fish cakes were delicious, though. I most definitely would make these again (Andrew, 17, absolutely hoovered his down and then asked for more). I’d just make them with all cod the next time. Not lobster.

I’ll eat lobster as God intended next time: Straight out of the shell.

 

“Fish and Lobster Cakes” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

“Roasted Broccolini” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

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Barefoot Contessa calls it broccolini, but I took a punt and thought that she meant Tenderstem Broccoli, because that’s what it looked like in the pictures. [Pause to check Google to see if I was right. I was! Apparently Tenderstem Broccoli is the brand name for broccolini in the U.K. and Ireland. It even has its own website! ]

I loved this recipe because it gives me yet another way to prepare Tenderstem Broccoli, which I love and we eat all the time. In the past, I’ve only ever steamed it. But roasting it also works. It’s delicious.

This one hardly is a recipe, given that all you do is toss the tenderstem in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and then roast it, but that’s OK. To give credit where credit is due, I’m fairly certain that the Barefoot Contessa is responsible for my fail-safe way to roast cauliflower, which I always used to burn, until I followed her advice to cover it with foil. Looking at it now, it’s obvious that foil was what was needed, but I needed her to point it out to me.

I will definitely be making this again. I just won’t need the recipe next time.

“Roasted Broccolini” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

“Devil’s Food Cake with Coffee Meringue Buttercream” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

Ordinarily I wouldn’t include the title of the icing of this cake, but given the time and the effort involved to make what was probably the best cake icing I’ve ever made*, it would be remiss of me to leave it out.

*Not a typo. Truly. THE BEST CAKE ICING I’VE EVER MADE.

But the distinction of having been the best icing I’ve ever made– and I’ve made A LOT, believe me– comes with this caveat: it also took the longest amount of time and the most equipment.

For this is no ordinary buttercream, but MERINGUE buttercream. This involved me using my candy thermometer to create sugar syrup, beating said syrup into the egg white meringues for ONE HOUR (again, not a typo) and then beating in the butter and the flavourings. For the “Great British Bake Off” fans among you, this is the Italian meringue buttercream that some bakers have made in the past. If I ever try out for the show again**, I will make this.

**A story for another time.

So sure, it was a total pain to make. But honestly I can’t overstate how good and delicious this was. It also was super-easy to pipe with, because it was so light.

Barefoot Contessa advises you in the introduction of the icing that it’s a bit complicated to make and you may want to do a test run first before doing it for real. I didn’t follow this advice. Life is too short. If my skills were lacking in making this for the first time and it proved to be a disaster, I would have just made one of my tried-and-true buttercreams instead. To be fair, this does require some skill (not to mention a candy thermometer), but if you follow the directions, you should be fine.

This cake, which is the big stonking slice of cake that the Barefoot Contessa holds on the cover of the cookbook, is also good. It’s a good basic Devil’s Food Cake. The recipe was straightforward and it’s delicious.

Would I make this again? I would. I doubt very much that I would make Italian meringue buttercream for every cake I make in the future, as I’m pretty sure I’m going to reserve it for special occasion cakes only. But honestly, it was worth the time and the effort.

To reiterate: It was the best icing I’ve ever made in my life. Yum. Yum. Yum.

If you’d like to make this yourself, click through this paragraph to find the recipe on Food52.

“Devil’s Food Cake with Coffee Meringue Buttercream” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”