“The River Cafe Cook Book” – our verdict

Kirstin: It was lovely to see some of these old, familiar recipes. And to do them properly.

Anna: But we weren’t really doing them properly on the whole, because the quantities were mad.

Kirstin: But they tasted good when we ate them!

Anna: I’m definitely going to do the pork in milk again. In fact that whole meal including the cake. And I’ll stick to the things that I have always cooked from the book, like sausage sauce and the squid. But I don’t think I’ve got any new recipes that are going to become part of my repertoire. Like the crab, for example. I am going to stick to Bill’s recipe because we like it better. What about you?

Kirstin: I did enjoy cooking lots of Italian this month. Maybe not all that pasta in June, though. Not sure if I made any new friends in this book, but I might consider that broccoli again. And the sorbets were great.

Anna: In summary, as a book for people in general, you need to be a more confident cook than you might expect because you need to be able to interpret the recipes a bit. But for me, it’s nice to return to the original, pre-Jamie, pre-celebrity chef. It’s the original book which means it will always have an important place on my cookbook shelf.

Kirstin: And it’s a good basic Italian cookbook. If someone were to ask me which book to buy if they were going to try Italian cooking, I would suggest this book. Even though some of the later River Cafe books  are better.

“The River Cafe Cook Book” – our verdict

“Conchiglie con Broccoli” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”

Kirstin: I chose this recipe because we’ve been away for the weekend and I wanted to cook something quickly from ingredients in the cupboard. I nearly had what I needed: I didn’t have salted anchovies, so I used tinned ones, even though the book says “tinned anchovies in oil are no substitute”. I used them anyway. It had cream and butter, and it’s a summer evening, so I thought it might be a bit heavy. But it was really good! I didn’t use all the anchovies — I used half the amount they said. 100g of anchovies sounded grim.

Tom: In the event the anchovies were quite subtle… a sort of distant saltiness.

Kirstin: I did think the cream was a bit much. And I don’t like those small, tiny bones you get in anchovies.

Tom: It wasn’t that rich, though. And it was more substantial than, say, spaghetti al limone.

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“Conchiglie con Broccoli” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”

“Linguini with Crab” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”

Friday night and we need something quick but celebratory (it’s the end of the week after all), so linguini with crab it is.  I’d been looking forward to doing this recipe, as our usual pasta/crab favourite is from Bill’s Sydney Food, and has a bit more of an Asian feel to it (lime juice, spring onions as well as chillis etc).  So time to revisit an old Italian favourite…..

The curse of the River Cafe mad proportions returned – not having 2 large live male crabs to hand on a Friday night, nor having the inclination to find them and engage in all that faff, I guessed at a sufficient crab meat weight for two, and bought 100g of white meat and 100g of brown.  (This is what we use for Bill’s recipe).  Consequently the quantities of the rest of the ingredients had to be improvised – how many chillis… lemons…. how much garlic… flat leaf parsley?  How much did we feel like on a warm Friday evening?

The end result was perfectly nice, but just didn’t have the level of punch that we’re used to.  To be fair, this may have been down to improvising the quatities a bit, but this isn’t going to replace our usual recipe I’m afraid.  Good for the non-chilli fiends, but not a new favourite for us.

“Linguini with Crab” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”

“Strawberry Sorbet” versus “Raspberry and Red Wine Sorbet” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”

Kirstin: These are both sorbets, but one of them, the raspberry one, contains a very small amount of wine and double cream. The raspberry one was much easier to make; the strawberry one involved hulling a lot of strawberries. I used an ice-cream machine for both of them, but you don’t need one. So which one will my guests (Georgia, Alex, Tom M and Kathryn) prefer?

Georgia: The raspberry is slightly tart… slightly fizzy! What’s that word?

Tom M: Petillant.

Kathryn: Like a sherbet!

Kirstin: The raspberry one has a little bit of cream, which a sorbet is not supposed to have.

Georgia: Why? Maybe it’s to make sure it’s not too icy.

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“Strawberry Sorbet” versus “Raspberry and Red Wine Sorbet” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”

“Penne alla Carbonara” from “The River Cafe Book”

Kirstin: It’s been a long day at work today, so I chose something easy. And I wanted to see what cream in a carbonara would taste like, having previously thought it would be a very bad idea. We normally cook the recipe from the Zuni Cafe book, which is about three pages of very elaborate description of how you have to swirl the pan with the pancetta, and has two kinds of cheese (pecorino and parmesan); but the results are totally worth it. This is much simpler. As usual the quantity of pasta was totally wrong. So we halved the sauce but cooked the same amount of pasta. It had too much cheese, I thought. But the sauce itself was very good.

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“Penne alla Carbonara” from “The River Cafe Book”

“Penne with Tomato and Balsamic Vinegar” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”

Tonight I needed an easy weeknight meal , which would be pasta.  Trying to find a recipe that didn’t involve monster quantites of cream was a challenge, but my search was eventually rewarded.

Struggling with the recipe’s advice that it served 6, I made it for two.  That’s one hungry cyclist home from work, and me.  Normally I would have adapted the ingredient quantities for the sauce accordingly, but in the spirit of following the recipe faithfully I followed the recipe faithfully.  Well, apart from the quantity of butter and cheese.  Split between 6, maybe.  Between 2, I don’t think so.

As you’d expect, it was incredibly easy to make.  And we ended up with a very yummy bowl of pasta, much richer than expected.  Peter said it was very ‘tomato-y’, which would be about right.  The recipe as written would feed 3, or two very hungry people.  Or six midgets.  I give it 7/10.

(Apologies for lowering the photographic tone with this post, but unfortunately the official photographer wasn’t present at this meal.  This will happen sometimes, I hope you don’t mind….)

Verdict: Would I make it again?  Definitely, if I’m stuck and need a store cupboard dinner.

“Penne with Tomato and Balsamic Vinegar” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”

“Lemon sorbet” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”

Ella: Oh my god. That is amazing.

Georgia: It is awesome! Divine! Amazing! Stupendous! Phenomenal!

Ella: Lemonish.

Kirstin: And the mystery ingredient is?

Georgia: Lemon zest?

Ella: Guacamole! No, I know this. It’s banana! All lemon sorbet has banana in it. There’s just one thing. I don’t like the little lemon bits in it. The best sorbet I ever had was in Italy. It was actually in a lemon. It was yum. All lemon sorbet is fabulicious.

Kirstin: Oh, that was at the Four Winds in Montepulciano. I see these girls are adding their own secret ingredient, not in the River Cafe recipe…

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“Lemon sorbet” from “The River Cafe Cook Book”