Our Verdict: “Home Cook”

Kirstin: It was always going to be difficult to follow last month’s book by Melissa Clark.

Maureen: Yes, because that book was utter perfection. This book, on the other hand, was not.

Kirstin: No, it was not.

Maureen: The disappointing thing for me was I had really high hopes for this book, but it just didn’t deliver. The time I had hunt for the salsa recipe really did me in. That’s an utter cookbook fail.

Kirstin: I felt the book was rushed. It seemed as though was produced in a hurry.

Maureen: That would explain the problem with the index, and also the missing recipes.

Kirstin: But also, some of the recipes I had to read over and over again to make sense of them. I even had to have Tom read one for me to make sure I had done it correctly. I never have to do that.

Maureen: You shouldn’t have to do that. Recipes should be clear from the start. That seems like an obvious rule for a cookbook.

Kirstin: The adaptions for the roast chicken were really hard to understand. It just came across as not as well thought out as it should have been.

Maureen: My disastrous chocolate cake experience is a good example of that. She said it was based on a recipe she stole as a child, but the instructions really lacked direction at points. Like how long to let the chocolate ganache cool so the whipped cream won’t melt.  It tasted good but it looked disgusting.

Kirstin: I wasn’t sure of some of her flavour combinations either.

Maureen: I don’t know if it really was that bad a book because it was so poor compared to the previous month. But thinking about it and all the cookbooks we’ve done, I’d have to call it just a fair effort overall.

Overall Grade (A- F):  C (Maureen)  C (Kirstin)
Best recipes:  Njuda with clams (Kirstin) The guacamole and the salsa recipes (once I found it) were sublime. (Maureen)
Grade for Photography (A-F): Kirstin: B
Any disasters? (Kirstin and Maureen) Maureen: The famous melting cake. Kirstin: I didn’t have any disasters, but there was nothing I wanted to make again.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Unfortunately, charity shop donation for us both. (Though Maureen is going to copy down the guacamole & salsa recipes before she donates.)
Would you give this to a friend? (Both) Uh, no.

Our Verdict: “Home Cook”

“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”

“Pomegranate-Glazed Chicken Thighs with Red Quinoa Salad” from Home Cook

Kirstin: I’ve been looking forward to cooking with pomegranate molasses, but never had the opportunity before.

Tom: Is that what’s on the chicken?

Kirstin: Yes, it’s what makes that wonderful glaze.

Tom: Well whatever it is, it’s awesome. And the salad is fab too!

Kirstin: I love all the herbs and vegetable textures in the salad. They go so well with the quinoa.

Tom: And the kids liked the chicken too.

Kirstin: They did! I do have to add that her timings with cooking the chicken were way off, but the end result was totally worth it. There is also a bonus recipe of a pomegranate cake at the bottom of the page. A little random, but still worth looking at.

“Pomegranate-Glazed Chicken Thighs with Red Quinoa Salad” 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”

“”California Roast Chicken with Citrus, Oregano and Chilli” from “Home Cook”

Kirstin: I have never stuffed a chicken before, so I was curious about this recipe on two fronts.

Tom: Well I love it!

Miles: It smelled of Greece in the kitchen!

Kirstin: I know what you mean, Miles. The stuffing had pancetta, along with lots of other yummy ingredients.

Tom: And I love the red peppers and potatoes.

Kirstin: Me too! Must try and remember that for future cooking.

Tom: But I really loved the guacamole.

Kirstin: Wasn’t that amazing with the chicken? Wow! So good. It was indeed ALL good. Although her wording could have been a little bit clearer, if I’m honest.

“”California Roast Chicken with Citrus, Oregano and Chilli” 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”

“‘Nduja, Plum Tomatoes and Clams with Casareccia Pasta” from “”Home Cook”

Kirstin: Today we have Guest Blogger, Anna. Remember her from the old days?

Anna: I think you should call me your Executive Blogger!

Kirstin: Really?

Anna: You weren’t sure about the pasta, were you?

Kirstin: Well it’s usually linguine or spaghetti with clams, right? But this works. I was surprised.

Anna: It totally works.

Kirstin: And I loved all that ‘nduja.

Anna: It’s incredibly rich. If I was going to do my own version of this, I would have left the pasta out and had more clams.

Kirstin: That’s interesting, because I would have had less wine. But same everything else. So less soup-y. I would also get that pot of water on the hob and start it boiling before starting the sauce.

Anna: We ate it in a record short amount of time. Fifteen minutes.

Kirstin: There were children to pick up from school.

Anna: And the fellow mums very much enjoyed our spicy garlic breath.

“‘Nduja, Plum Tomatoes and Clams with Casareccia Pasta” from “”Home Cook”

Cookbook of the month, May 2017: “Home Cook” by Thomasina Miers

Maureen: Even though I read it every week,  I’ve never made anything from her Saturday column in the Guardian

Kirstin: But it always looks nice.

Maureen: True. But it also always seems slightly mad, which could be the reason why I’ve never made anything.

Kirstin: I didn’t know she had won Masterchef.

Maureen: She won in 2005, which might have been when they relaunched it in its current format, whereas before it was with Lloyd Grossman. After she won, it really launched her career. She went on to do more TV, and then she started the Wahaca chain, which we love, in 2007.

Kirstin: Poor Thomasina has a tough act to follow after we did Melissa Clark. I could happily do Melissa Clark for the rest of the year.

Maureen: I don’t think Thomasina’s philosophy is that dissimilar to Melissa Clark’s. It’s all about making good tasty dinners for your family.

Kirstin: We shall see.

Maureen: Indeed.

Cookbook of the month, May 2017: “Home Cook” by Thomasina Miers