Posts Tagged recipe books

Cooking the Latin books

I admit I nearly walked straight out the library door when looked on the hold shelf for my on-loan copy of Gran Cocina Latina, the latest challenge cookbook from my virtual friends over at Cook the Books.

I mean this thing is massive, not just in terms of its 902 pages, but for sheer heft. It weights in at just shy of 2.2 kilos, or 4 lb 13 oz.  And it’s dense, with a lot of history and back story, recipes flipping over a page (a big no-no for me and my grubby fingers) and a lot of cross-referencing to previous instructions which are often (irritatingly) cross-referenced to the wrong page. It’s sloppy editing that got me annoyed before I even thought about what I might want to cook.

I pushed my way through that one, but a long weekend work day stymied plans to head out for ingredients to Kensington Market Latino heaven to pick up some of the mildly obscure ingredients.  I improvised, with a scallop cebiche

fried plantains

and an avocado salad.

I will admit first off that I didn’t follow the recipes properly for any of these. The scallop cebiche in the book used juice that wasn’t available in local stores, so I used the clam dressing for scallops, and the red pepper was an (inspired) addition to the onion avocado salad, where I also cut the garlic to one clove from an astonishing three. The avocado salad (dressing of onions, garlic, olive oil and lime juice) was very, very good, and the fried plantains made me wonder why I’ve never cooked them before. The cebiche was ok by Day Two, but pretty tasteless on Day One, and the spouse, who only now tells me he doesn’t really like sushi either, raced off and cooked his portion. That’s not a good sign.

But will I use the recipe book again? Or would I actually go out and buy it?

I think not. It would take up 2-1/2 inches of valuable bookshelf space, and needs too many ingredients that I don’t normally cook with to make it worth while. And while there were recipes I liked the look of, they all had specific ingredients I didn’t have to hand, and the faulty cross-referencing irritated me madly. The first cebiche recipe I looked at had frozen tumbo juice (with passionfruit juice as a substitute), and mirasol pepper, which was supposed to be explained on page 54. Page 54 talked about recado and sazon, whatever they may be.

Let’s face it. Maybe I’m just not a recipe book person. Feel free to take any cook book reviews with a pinch of the proverbial salt.

But there again I seem to remember it’s an ice cream book next month. I’ve never made ice cream. Should I give that one a swirl?

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Read your vegetables

I’m not sure I need to cook anything from this month’s Cook the Books recipe book. I’m just going to buy the book and work my way through it, one glorious recipe after another.

You see Nigel Slater’s Tender is my sort of book, heavy on the veggies (well duh, it’s a vegetable cook book), easy on the other ingredients and totally flexible in the way it goes about things. And it’s a good read to boot, with tips about growing the veggies as well as cooking and eating them. It didn’t seem to matter where I opened the book, there was something I wanted to make, whether the grilled eggplant, the broad bean hummus or the moist chocolate cake with mashed up beets. I mean it sounds so weird it has to be worth a try.

In some ways this book, cover-less, torn at the edges and clearly well used by many library borrowers before me, reminds me of another well worn offering in my own cookbook collection, Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book. Grigson writes her way from artichoke to watercress and Slater starts with asparagus and ends with tomato, but the idea is the same. Two well-written books that work for me.


Yes, okay, I’ll probably cook something before the month is out, but that will have to be another blog entry.

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Melon jam

cantaloupeHow can you go wrong with a mix of melon, two types of ginger and little ribbons of lime peel? And if it tastes good with imported melon from the middle of winter, just think how seriously good it will be with fresh Ontario melon later in the season.

New Jersey canning buddy and I made this one a while back, but it’s a 2-day jam, and I don’t remember if I even tasted the final version. She say it’s one to try again, but admits also distressingly runny. As she remembers it, we only used one pouch of liquid pectin, while the recipe calls for two. (We could call it melon syrup and pour it over yogurt or ice cream, perhaps).

The jam came from an intriguing book called Salt sugar smoke that NJCB got from her local library. My thanks to her for the pictures. It’s my fault that the posting is so late.

Cantaloupe jam
1 melon, peeled, seeded, chopped into 3/4 inch cubes
6 cups sugar
1/2 cup sliced fresh ginger
Zest and juice of 6 limes
6 pats preserved ginger in Syrup, chopped
2 pouches pectin

Macerate melon with half the sugar overnight.

Next day, take out the fruit, and boil the liquid up until it has reduced by half.

Add limes, melon, ginger and remaining sugar and simmer for three minutes. Then bring to a rolling boil.

Add pectin, and boil for 1 minute.

Bottle in sterilized jars.

Be ready to serve on plain Greek yogurt, because it might be far to runny to use on bread.

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Fishing around

I really wanted to like “Good Fish” the book of the month in the cookbook challenge from OhBriggsy and Grow and Resist. I love fish, and it’s usually my meal of choice when I eat out. And this one is for sustainable fish — the stuff we ought to be eating rather than the stuff we’re overfishing to extinction all around the world.

But I’m sad to say that “Good Fish” and I never bonded despite a number of read-it-through attempts. Some recipes had a vague appeal. But when I looked more closely, most of them were a notch too finicky, with ingredients I would have to go out of my way to find, or different layers to make the meal  look pretty on the plate. I am, it must be said, a lazy cook. Most of the stuff I make tastes good most of the time, but plating food to look pretty just isn’t what I do.

But having wimped out on the February Cook the Books dumpling challenge, I wanted to try something (anything) this time around. The recipes for mussels looked the best of the bunch, but I made mussels for my last cookbook challenge. I needed something new.

Cue squid, which  I’ve ordered at restaurants, but have always been a little afraid of cooking. Well-cooked squid is tender (although often bland).  Overcooked squid is almost as bad as eating whale.

I chose a recipe near the back of the book called quick squid with red chili sauce and herbs, where you marinade the squid for a few minutes in a mix of fish sauce, lime juice and spring onions, stir fry it for another few minutes and serve it in a lettuce wrap with herbs and (bought) sweet chili sauce.

I admit it was quick to make, but at the end of the day I bonded with the squid just like I bonded with the book, which is barely at all. It was tender not rubbery, but without the chili sauce it was beyond bland, despite all that fish sauce, lime juice and seasonings. I broke the serve-in-lettuce  rules and added brown rice and french beans with garlic, but even that barely added pep.

Anyone out there with a squid recipe that is worth trying?

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It’s starting

Round about this time of year I start fretting that I’m running out of jam. I never have, and I probably never will, but there were only six jars of jam in the cold room at last count, and I was starting to worry whether there would be enough for two people to eat yogurt with jam between now and the summer fruit season.

But then I remembered the rhubarb, which has just hit the market, albeit in a rather pale and skinny way. Last year’s rhubarb ginger jam was a big success, but I couldn’t find the recipe, so I had to start over.

Here is what I did, heavily gingering a recipe from the Jams and Jellies book from Australian Women’s weekly.

Rhubarb apple jam with ginger

4 cups rhubarb, finely chopped
4 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 cup candied ginger, sliced thin
Sugar — about 4 cups

Simmer the rhubarb, apple, water and lemon juice together for 15-20 minutes until the mixture is soft and mushy. Measure how much liquid you have, and add the grated ginger, along with 3/4 of a cup of sugar for every cup of pulp. (I think I might cut the sugar and up the ginger a little next time). Boil for 10 minutes until it sets, throwing the crystallized ginger in just before the end.

Bottle. Water bath for 10 minutes if you feel so inclined.

And it’s a beautiful jam, in a delicate shade of coral pink. A little runny perhaps – it seemed to be setting, so I didn’t even do a set test – with a taste that you can’t quite place.

Definitely worth trying again.

Of course canning buddy, fearing that I might have to buy jam, also handed over a few spare jars, including one from 2010, so I’m laughing. How long before I start fretting about having too many jars again?

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