Cooking the Books: Week 2


Inspired by my friend Mel over at The Cooks Notebook, I’ve taken on the challenge to cook from as many of my cookbooks this year as I can.

What came out of the books and onto the table this week? More than usual. Here goes:


The Book:

Free Range in the City, by Annabel Langbein


I haven’t cooked that much from this book- at least not up to now…with the exception of the New York Cheesecake on page 234. It has no base, and is somehow a little lighter than others I’ve come across. Anyways, it’s a favourite for when it’s my turn to bring a gluten free sweet.

The recipe: Beef Pho p 118

Hubby and I crave pho. Usually, though, it’s far easier to go out for it than to faff around with beef bones and stocks.

This recipe is an easy make at home version, with a stock that has all of the flavour and aromatics of the original, but without the fat.

I borrowed heavily from Mindy Wood’s online version, and amped it up with star anise, cinnamon quills and garlic.

After simmering it for about 30 mins, I strained it, and then brought it back to the boil, adding the fish sauce, ground spices, a smidgeon of coconut sugar, lime and the mushrooms, chilli, ginger and lemongrass.


To do ahead:

The longer the stock infuses, the better. I had it simmering for an hour or so, and the resultant flavour was incredible.

My Tip:

Pop your beef into the freezer for a couple of hours. It makes it much easier to slice super fine, and is therefore more likely to cook evenly in the boiling stock. Also, the key to this one is having a decent quality beef stock as your starting point. Please, please, please no stock cubes!

The verdict:

This is a keeper…one of those concoctions that you have when you’re treating your body like a temple, but still, somehow, makes your soul feel better.


The Book:

Free Range in the City, by Annabel Langbein

The recipe: Tuscan Meatballs p202

In the blurb, Annabel says these are the lightest, tastiest meatballs of all time. She’s right…they are.

I didn’t deviate from the base recipe at all, but did attempt to shortcut the meatball cooking process by frying them off in the pan instead of putting them in the oven. Hello, it was 38Cdeg outside!

The thing is, these are so light and delicate, that the frying process, even if done gently, is too raucous for them. I abandoned the idea, and popped them in the oven the way Annabel said I should.

If you want to try them for yourself, the recipe is here…with a picture…we ate them too quickly.

To do ahead:

The meatballs can be made ahead, as can the sauce.

My tip:

Don’t be tempted to fry these off. Bake them in the oven before introducing them to the sauce. Besides, it gives you 20 minutes to do other things.

The verdict:

The request is in to pre-make some of these and have them in the freezer for when hubby and I go to Bali in May. Yep, a keeper.


The Book:

Rick Stein: My Favourite Seafood Recipes


Aside from a luxurious fish pie, I haven’t used this book as much as I should. I have, however, spied a cod with laksa noodles that I’ll be taking a closer look at.

The recipe: Grilled salmon with curly kale and noilly prat sauce p96-97

So, it was going to be grilled salmon with salad. Then I was browsing, and it turned from being a healthy midweek meal into one that needed to be seriously worked off.

Sadly, I had no noilly prat in the house. Sadly, buying it in meant that I had to then test it out on a martini. Sadly, my tummy no longer deals well with cream… But wow was this yummy.

I wish my 2 second plating could do justice to it!


To do ahead:

The sauce can be done a little ahead and kept warm. The martini can also be made and drunk before everything is assembled.

My tip:

None really, I just followed this recipe to the letter…and schedule an extra workout in.

The verdict:

Save for a special occasion. This is sometimes food.


The Book:

Spirit House, Helen Brierty and Annette Fear

This book is falling apart…enough said?


The recipe: Chang Mai Larb with fresh herbs

I’ve written about larbs before. Essentially they are chopped or minced meat, a spicy dressing, roasted rice powder or nutty substance, and fresh herbs or vegetables to serve. The perfect antidote to a rich, creamy sauce (see above).


To do ahead:

This is seriously quick to prepare, but it helps to have the roasted rice powder already done.

My tip:

Don’t be too precious about the herbs and vegetables. We like to eat this in butter lettuce leaves. If serving for an evening  meal, I often pop some rice on the side.

The verdict:

Larbs are a perennial favourite.


The Book:

Gordon Ramsay- Cooking for Friends


Now, I’ll start by saying that I don’t actually remember buying this book. I suspect I probably picked it up as a special extra at The Good Food Show or something.

Anyways, I’ve never cooked from it, but turned in desperation to scanning indexes madly (yes I know that I need an Eat Your Books subscription) to find a recipe for Goat Curry.

The recipe: Goat Curry p 122

Each year, my brother’s family and my family get together for a culinary challenge of the hot and spicy kind. We call it the Roarers Curry Off.

Last year the theme was Malaysian, the time before that was Thai. This time was Indian- and it challenged us all. How could it be that in my entire library, I didn’t have a book dedicated to Indian cuisine?

Then hubby said he wanted to try goat…and here we are.

Sorry, the pic is crap- the goat curry is at the top right of the pic below.


To do ahead:

Being a braising joint, this needed to be cooked long and slow, so it was all done ahead.

My tip:

We got the goat from, wait for it, the butcher at, wait for it, Woolworths. Yep. He even cut the joint down for us, making it much easier to deal with.

The verdict:

It tasted great, but the sauce wasn’t as thick as I would like, or had the depth I would have liked it to have had. Next time (if there is a next time) we’d toss the meat in flour before frying off. As for the goat? It was supremely tender, and even better as leftovers today.

The Book:

BBC Website. Yes, a website.

I put a call out on Facebook the other day for Indian recipe ideas, and one friend suggested I search this website.

The recipe: Paul Rankin’s Fresh Kaffir Lime and Coconut Posset with Cardamon Butter Biscuits


What do you make for dessert when the theme is Indian and most people around the table aren’t into dessert? Me included? You make this.

I’m sure it’s not traditional, but you know what? I don’t care. The flavours are those that you’d expect to find in somewhere like Goa.

Easy peasy to prepare, and hubby declared the biscuits perfect with coffee as well.

I didn’t change much in the recipe, just reduced the sugar a little, and reduced the serving sizes.

Also, I didn’t think it needed the mango salsa…so we didn’t.

The recipe is here.

To do ahead:

The cream needs to set, so this should be done 3 hours ahead…or more.

My tip:

39C days aren’t great for rolling cookie dough. Keep it cool.

The verdict:

‘I’m not a sweet person, but this was yum…’

A perfect, cleansing dessert after all that spice- and surprisingly light in texture.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

2 thoughts

  1. Ummm… the goat curry kinda did my head in. I love that you try so many different things – it’s very inspirational to the rest of us – like yours truly who fluffs about the kitchen with no friggin’ idea….

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