“Carrot Cake” from “My Paris Kitchen”

IMG_8335Carrot cake is practically a religion unto itself in our house. We have it every year for Thanksgiving without fail, and there’s always at least one occasion, if not more, where it’s called for again during the year.

Personally, I love everything about carrot cake. There’s the quasi-healthfulness of it, given that one of its main ingredients is sugar carrots. There’s the delicious cream cheese icing, which is always a treat. Finally, there’s the rustic combination of multiple spices and nuts, giving it its unique taste.

We are, in short, fans.

So I was not at all surprised when Tim was paging through this month’s book looking for what he wanted me to make him for his birthday when he landed on the carrot cake page. Although I’ve devised and used (and shared many times) a full-proof recipe for carrot cake for a few years now, he thought it might be worth giving a different version a go.

As I was making this cake with my 10-year-old niece, she turned to me and said, “Vegetables in cake! There’s no way I’m going to eat this now that I know what’s inside it.”

Trust me, she changed her mind once it was brought to the table in all its magnificent glory.

How did this carrot cake stack up against the other cake we know and love and I’ve made dozens of times? Well…The reaction was decidedly mixed.

I’ll proceed in a Praise Sandwich, so that if David Lebovitz happens to read this, he won’t feel bad.

The Good Points:

•The cake was moist;

•The flavour of the carrot cake was delicious (albeit not different from the one I usually make, but still good);

The “Development*” Points:

*Euphemism for things we didn’t like

• The icing was a combination of cream cheese and mascarpone and a tiny bit of icing sugar. We didn’t like it at all. We much prefer the traditional cream cheese icing I made. Worse, because there was so little sugar in it and I couldn’t fit it in the refrigerator (see below), the icing went moldy after a few days and I had to throw half of the cake away. A crying shame, I tell you.

• The cake was huge. Huge. HUGE. Way too big, and I say that as a person who loves cake.  Had it been a more reasonable size, I might have been able to fit it into the refrigerator. Then it wouldn’t have gone bad and I wouldn’t have had to throw half of it away. Not to repeat myself, but it really was a crying shame.

Finally, the other side of the Praise Sandwich:

• Everybody liked it. Even my niece who said she wouldn’t eat it when we were preparing it.

In short, while this was nice, I won’t be making this again. I’ll just revert back to my usual well-loved recipe.

“Carrot Cake” from “My Paris Kitchen”

“Vietnamese Beef with Rice Vermicelli and Crispy Vegetables” from “A Change of Appetite”

Anna: This tastes and smells just like authentic Vietnamese. Or the Vietnamese food we used to eat in Sydney. Making this has taken me straight back to that restaurant we went to in Glebe with Edyta and Mark. We had the summer rolls and I’d never had anything like them before. Isn’t it brilliant that a smell can take me back to seven years ago like it was yesterday!

Peter: It does taste pretty authentic. It’s delicious.

2014-04-15 20.12.12-2

Anna: It is, isn’t it? I love this. I love this type of food. If there wasn’t so much bloody chopping involved I’d make it every week.

Peter: Well I do like a good noodle so I’m happy for you to make it any time.



“Vietnamese Beef with Rice Vermicelli and Crispy Vegetables” from “A Change of Appetite”

“Rich Beef and Mushroom Stew” from “Mary Berry Cooks”

Anna: Dinner time!

Louis: Mummy has beef stew, Daddy and Louis have beef stew… what is Isabella eating?

Anna: Beef stew, all whizzed up! I think the porcini mushrooms are a bit lost….

Louis: More mushrooms Mummy!

Anna: Here, have some of mine.

Peter: Isabella can’t get enough of this.

Anna: It’s the first time she’s had beef and she’s clearly loving it. Must have been all those burgers I ate while I was pregnant.

Peter: I think I can guess who is going to get the leftovers.


“Rich Beef and Mushroom Stew” from “Mary Berry Cooks”

“Mothership Sunday Roast Chicken” from “Save With Jamie”


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaureen: Sunday lunch starring roast chicken! My favourite!

Nicholas (10): I love roast chicken. I bagsy* one of the legs. (For those readers among us who are unfamiliar with this fantastic British word, it means “claim”.)

Tim: I get the other one.

Maureen: Fair enough. What does everyone think?

Andrew: I’m not sure about the carrots.

Maureen: When you say, “not sure,” do you really mean, “I don’t like.”

Andrew (14): Well, no. Before I wasn’t sure. But now that I’ve had a few bites, I now know I mean I don’t like them.

Nicholas: I don’t like them either, and you know how much I like carrots.

Maureen: What don’t you like about them. Is it all the orange zest?

Nicholas: I guess so. I just prefer the other type you always make.

Maureen: OK. I’ll go back to the usual way the next time. I’ve been making that version, with carrots and honey, for years. That’s a Jamie recipe too. (Important note: I spent a good amount of time following this Sunday lunch trying to find exactly what Jamie book our beloved carrot recipe  is from, but to no avail. So I’m pretty sure it’s a Jamie recipe, but now I have to proof to back it up. This is the problem with having more than 150 cookbooks. Things can get muddled over time.)

Tim: The chicken is good, but I can’t see how it’s much different from any other roast chicken we’ve had over the years.

Maureen: I think the ability to be creative with a roast chicken recipe is somewhat limited. This version is fine and it works. The good thing about it, particularly for less confident cooks, is it includes directions on all the side vegetables to have with it. That’s a nice touch.

Nicholas: Other than the carrots, which we already decided we didn’t like.

Maureen: Fair enough. (Looking at the nearly empty serving platter). There’s one problem with this recipe though: We’re supposed to get two meals out of it.

Tim: Ha! Well, we do have a teenage boy at the table, and we are greedy when it comes to roast chicken, so maybe that’s the difference.

Cook’s Notes: Once I followed Jamie’s instructions to the letter, I realised that amendments were going to have to be made, otherwise we were going to end up having a variation of brown water on top of our chicken. So after I added just plain water, and tasted the flavourless “gravy,” I added the necessary amount of chicken stock cubes. So if you do make this, don’t add 600 ml of boiling water, add 600ml of chicken stock. You can thank me later.)


“Mothership Sunday Roast Chicken” from “Save With Jamie”

“Chicken Tikka, Lentil, Spinach & Naan Salad” from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals

Time taken: 27 minutes

Anna: Words cannot express how little I want to eat this. I feel like I’ve just fought a war with every pan and ingredient in the kitchen, and lost.

Ernie: Wow, this looks incredible. Do you eat like this every night?

Peter: Luckily, no.

Anna: Can I just point out that someone clearly didn’t proof read this book. Jamie says to ‘halve the chilli’. That’s it. Halve it. So I did. And put it in the frying pan. Sceptically. And five minutes later I had to pull the thing out of the frying pan to chop it up because really, that’s what you are supposed to do. Even though he DOESN’T SAY SO IN THE RECIPE. And. And. He calls for a small frying pan. What he means is a medium frying pan. You can’t get a whole packet of lentils in a small frying pan with spring onions and half a chilli and a squashed tomato. So I had to transfer everything halfway through cooking. And part of that bloody tomato went on the floor and my cashmere cardigan when I squashed it. What’s wrong with chopping eh Jamie?

Peter: Please excuse her. She’s having a rant.

Ernie: Well I think it tastes delicious. It is really different. It’s spicy and sweet. Very different.

Anna: I’m glad you like it Dad. But I’m never cooking it again.

“Chicken Tikka, Lentil, Spinach & Naan Salad” from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals

“Spatchcock and Sides” from “Virgin to Veteran”

Andrew (12): That chicken is some good eating!

Tim: I would definitely want to have this again.

Nicholas (9): I would want to have it again, but not with the coleslaw. Just with carrots.

Andrew: Same.

Maureen: You guys need to go to more American picnics, where coleslaw is considered its own food group in the summer. It’s all delicious.

Tim: This is a plate full of yum. The grilled vegetables are also really good too.

Maureen: Yes, but we’re not talking about those. I can’t stop eating this chicken, it’s so good.

Continue reading ““Spatchcock and Sides” from “Virgin to Veteran””

“Spatchcock and Sides” from “Virgin to Veteran”

“Fantastic roasted chicken”, “Baked carrots with cumin, thyme, butter and Chardonnay” and “Strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar” from “The Return of the Naked Chef”

Anna: Ah, this book. It reminds me a cooking in the flat a decade ago. We have cooked so much from this book and continue to do so to this day.

Peter: You’ve never done this chicken before though, have you?

Anna: I don’t think so. The first roast chicken recipe I ever made was from The Naked Chef. I think I just stuck with that, probably because this recipe requires half a pack of butter.

Peter: Half a pack of butter!?

Judy: Well I think it tastes delicious. Is this celeriac?

Anna: It is. A vegetable I wouldn’t normally use, but it is surprisingly good.

John: It’s all wonderful!

Anna: I was slightly disappointed that the potatoes and celeriac weren’t crispier. They didn’t roast so much as poach in the chicken juices. Which gives them a good flavour of course.

Peter: It’s hard to get a crispy celeriac I imagine.

Anna: What it did do though was minimise the effort and number of trays to wash up. Likewise the carrots were easy to prepare and you just bunged them in at the same time as the chicken.  I won’t be making this again though.

Judy: Why not? It tastes lovely!

Anna: Too much prep required versus my usual chicken recipe. I use the River Cafe Easy one which is really quick and doesn’t use any butter either.

Peter: Phew.

Judy: What’s this sauce on the strawberries?

Anna: Balsamic vinegar and sugar. I love this recipe, have been making it for years. I’m sure I’ve done it for you before.

Judy: I’m sure you have.

Anna: It’s a great way to serve strawberries, particularly at this time of year when they aren’t really in season.

John: Well this was a delicious feast from Jamie.  Or should I say ‘pukka’?

Anna: Given it’s this book, I think you should!

“Fantastic roasted chicken”, “Baked carrots with cumin, thyme, butter and Chardonnay” and “Strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar” from “The Return of the Naked Chef”

“Chicken noodle stir-fry” from “Easy Meals”

Anna: I took the liberty of adding green beans to this recipe to add some colour to the overall white-ness. Carrots on their own just weren’t doing it.

Peter: This was a nod to Thailand with its coconut milk and fish sauce…..

Anna: Yes, but where was the chilli? Where was the sourness?

Peter: That’s a bit harsh. If you’re not in the mood for chilli this would do nicely.

Anna: We have much better noodle stir-fry recipes than this though.

Peter: Well that’s true. You only have to turn to Bill for inspiration.

Anna: And because of that I don’t think we’ll be making this again. It’s just a little too blah for me. Sorry Rachel.

“Chicken noodle stir-fry” from “Easy Meals”

“Pick-Your-Own Minestrone” from “The River Cottage Family Cookbook”

Maureen: Well, we have a number of problems with this recipe, right out of the gate.

Andrew (12): Like what?

Maureen: Well, Hugh wants us to go into our garden and pick our own vegetables for this.

Nicholas (8): But we don’t have a garden!

Andrew: And it’s winter! Even if we had a garden, we wouldn’t be able to go out and pick any of them.

Maureen: Precisely. However, I visited the boys at The Creaky Shed and picked out the vegetables from there. Do you think that counts?

Nicholas: No.

Maureen: Hugh also advises that we should make the vegetable prep a family event. He wants us to gather around our picnic table and each of us prepare a vegetable.

Andrew: Well, that would be a problem, since it’s winter. As already discussed.

Maureen: It’s a nice idea, but I couldn’t see it happening, even in the summer. I think I could find more fun family events than cutting up vegetables.

Continue reading ““Pick-Your-Own Minestrone” from “The River Cottage Family Cookbook””

“Pick-Your-Own Minestrone” from “The River Cottage Family Cookbook”

“Casserole of Roast Chicken with Herbs” from “Easy”

Maureen: Hooray. This is our last recipe from “Easy,” which has been a disappointment from start to finish. This recipe had its share of problems too.

Andrew (11): What’s in here?

Maureen: Leftover chicken from the other night, mushrooms, carrots, onions, garlic, celery, tomatoes and a bunch of herbs. What do you think?

Andrew: It’s alright. It’s not brilliant, but it’s alright.

Nicholas (8): I agree.

Tim: I like it, but I’m inclined to like meals like this because it’s like a stew.

Continue reading ““Casserole of Roast Chicken with Herbs” from “Easy””

“Casserole of Roast Chicken with Herbs” from “Easy”