“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”

“Spaghetti Cake” from “Superfood Family Classics”

img_9483I read a lot. (This is germane to this post. Honest. Just stick with me.) For the last several years, it’s averaged out to at least a book a week. I’ve even kept a record of all the books I’ve read, which is either smart or sad, depending on how you feel about keeping track of things. Because I read so much and because I am nearly incapable of giving up on a book I’ve started, I have found myself “Hate Reading” books a few times a year.

Hate Reading is the literary equivalent of Hate Watching a television show. Hate watching is when you’ve devoted time to a series you love, which has taken a turn for the worse but you continue watching it to see how bad it can be. I’ve done the same with books, thus, Hate Reading.

Now I’ve done the same with this cookbook. But instead of Hate Watching or Hate Reading, I’m Hate Cooking from it. I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a cookbook on this blog that has forced me to Hate Cook from it. Several times in the past I’ve given up on a cookbook, but I’ve never persevered with one out of pure hate. Until now.

So today’s offering is “Spaghetti Cake.” We love spaghetti cake. I made it before from “Two Hungry Italians” but they called it the far more lyrical, “Frittata di Maccheroni.” We loved it. In fact, if I had to say one nice thing about this version, it’s that it reminded me how much we love Spaghetti Cake, so I will make another [good] version for Meat Free Monday very soon.

Since I was Hate Cooking from this cookbook, I also decided that I don’t have to follow the recipes to the letter anymore. Usually we are pretty strict with ourselves that we stick to the recipes as closely as possible for the cookbooks we’re testing, but given that I already hate this cookbook, there’s no point in giving it a proper test any more. In this case, I ignored Jamie’s entreaties to get wholewheat spaghetti (there’s just no way) and I also used some of the leftover 7-Veg Tomato Sauce rather than making the spaghetti sauce from scratch, as called for in the recipe. But I don’t think following his instructions to the letter would have made it any better.

How was it? It will surprise no regular readers of this blog to find out that it was disappointing. Like I said, we already made a better version once before, but this one definitely fell short. It wasn’t nearly as interesting or fun as the previous version from the two Italians. It seemed that there weren’t nearly enough eggs added to bind it as a cake. It tasted more like reheated spaghetti than a proper spaghetti cake.

Even the photo in the cookbook didn’t do it any favours, because it appears that the food stylist just threw a bunch of rocket on top so people wouldn’t notice how badly it was burned on the underside. No. Just no.

I wish Jamie had given Spaghetti Cake a proper chance, rather than trying to make it all healthy, which just ruined a perfectly good dish.

Thank god this month is nearly over. I should have known better. I was Hate Cooking, after all.

“Spaghetti Cake” from “Superfood Family Classics”

“Carrot and Cardamom Soup with Ricotta Dumplings” from “A Year of Good Eating”

IMG_8115

One of the many good things* about Meat Free Monday is it forces us to try different things.

While I do love a good hearty soup while we’re in the throes of winter (Editor’s Note: This was a week ago, when London really was winter-like. Now, not so much.) This soup has the added twist of dumplings in it, made by combining flour, fine oatmeal, ricotta, parsley and butter. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I thought it would be a bit different from our usual throes of winter soup fare, so I was willing to give it a go.

We all loved it. Andrew, 16, even requested that it go into the regular rotation of Meat Free Monday dishes, he liked it so much. Tim was surprised at how filling it was. Nicholas liked the dumplings. Having eaten the leftovers for lunch, I can tell you that it’s fantastic warmed up a few days later, too.

Yum. Yum. Yum. Another winner from Nigel.

*Some of the good things: Good for us. Good for our planet. Forces us, at least one day a week, to not look to meat as the starring player in our dinner. Did I say Good for Us? It bears repeating: Good for us.

Want to make this yourself? Find the original recipe from The Guardian, found by clicking on this link.

“Carrot and Cardamom Soup with Ricotta Dumplings” from “A Year of Good Eating”

“Gnocchi Dolcelatte” from “A Year of Good Eating”

IMG_8062

The photo may be rubbish, but the dish is anything but.

I made this for Meat Free Monday. It is far from healthy– there’s double cream, gorgonzola and the gnocchi– but it is delicious. It’s also easy, which is helpful when you’re trying to get back into the swing of things following the Christmas break. In this house, we are doing neither Dry January NOR a detox month, so this was just the ticket for a cold January night.

The original recipe calls for spinach, but Nigel helpfully offers up alternatives of purple sprouting broccoli or lightly cooked brussels sprouts. I used tenderstem broccoli, which isn’t purple, but it’s close enough. Three-quarters of this family like spinach, but the remaining one-quarter is a very vocal dissenter in fondness for spinach, and it’s not worth the fight sometimes.

The broccoli went a long way to breaking up the richness of the cheese, double cream and pasta. However, after a few bites the younger set found this dish too rich. But the adults loved it regardless.

Would I make it again? Most definitely.

If you’d like to make this yourself, click through on this sentence to find the original recipe in The Guardian.

 

“Gnocchi Dolcelatte” from “A Year of Good Eating”

“Pasta Snails with Garlic Butter” from “Simply Nigella”

IMG_7879Maureen: Meat free Monday! Featuring a dish from the new cookbook.

Tim: What is it?

Maureen: She calls it Pasta Snails with Garlic Butter.

Andrew (16): Why pasta snails?

Maureen: Look at the shape of the pasta.

Andrew: Got it.

Maureen: Nicholas, this might remind you of the escargot you tried when we went to Paris.

Andrew & Tim: Nicholas tried escargot?

Maureen: He did. [Nicholas makes gagging noises.] To be fair, the escargot was not the best I’d ever had. The restaurant was highly rated on Trip Advisor, but it was rubbish. The waiter literally raised his eyebrows in surprise when I ordered the escargot. Either he wasn’t used to tourists ordering escargot, or it was a subtle warning to stay away. We’ll never know. What do you think of this?

Nicholas (12): Unlike the snails, I like this.

Andrew: Me too. I would happily eat this again.

Tim: So would I. What’s not to like? There’s loads of garlic butter in here.

Maureen: I’m not even going to tell you how much butter each person was apportioned [Editor’s Note: 25 grams per person. That strikes me as a lot.], but I think that’s why it was so good. This is a great meal for when you’re short on time. Easy to prepare, no exotic ingredients, delicious. I will definitely be making this again.

Nicholas: Unlike escargot, which I’m not in any hurry to try again.

“Pasta Snails with Garlic Butter” from “Simply Nigella”

“Seared Tuna, Sicilian Couscous and Greens” from “Everyday Superfood”

IMG_8182

Having a friend around for lunch and catching up with them is always a good excuse to make a new recipe. And I have to admit I chose this particular one because it looked so good in the book. Lucky for us both, it was as yummy as it looked, even though I couldn’t find wholewheat couscous or Swiss chard for love nor money in deepest, darkest South London. The couscous was particularly lovely, super easy and will most definitely be made again. I might use baby asparagus next time instead though, so as not to have to slice the bigger asparagus along the length which was rather more time-consuming than I had thought it would be. And nutmeg on the tuna was a really lovely touch. Yes, a winning recipe all round.

“Seared Tuna, Sicilian Couscous and Greens” from “Everyday Superfood”

“Frying-pan Turkish Flatbreads with Spoon Salad” from “A Modern Way to Cook”

IMG_7363As we are headed to Istanbul for a long weekend soon, I thought I would take this opportunity to make this recipe to get us in the mood. I was already looking forward to our romantic weekend away, but this got me even more excited (if that’s even possible).

We all liked the fact that it was like a Turkish version of a burrito. Andrew (age 15) even rolled his up so it would be exactly that. I’m not sure that’s the way it’s supposed to be eaten, but he enjoyed it.

The topping (peppers and onions fried in olive oil) and the salad (onion, tomatoes, parsley and spices) were a nice combination on top of the warm, freshly made Turkish bread. We also put feta on top, as per the recommendation in the introduction, as I have found there isn’t any food in this world that can’t be improved upon by adding cheese.

I also need the record to show that this recipe took only slightly longer than the predicted time– about 55 minutes to the predicted 40– which was an improvement in the right direction.

The bread, which I had to cook individually, got better each time as I got more skilled at figuring out what was needed. I predict the next time I make this, it will be even better.

Would I make this again? Probably. I’m not sure it will make it into the high rotation list of our Meat Free Monday, but it was pretty good. I predict that it will take even less time the next time I make it, so it would be worth giving it a try for that reason alone.

If you find you’re also in the mood for some yummy Turkish food and would like to make this yourself, click through this sentence to find the recipe on The Guardian.

“Frying-pan Turkish Flatbreads with Spoon Salad” from “A Modern Way to Cook”