This book was a Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law, that I picked out for myself on a fabulous day in London with Susan (sis-in-law), from one of my absolutely favourite shops ever – Books For Cooks. I was lucky enough to go into the shop with money to spend so I knew I was coming out with at least one new book (which realistically would have happened even if I hadn't had any money since I can never resist!). So Sus and I took off our jackets (nothing like making yourself feel at home in a book shop!) and despite the absence of the big comfy couch we managed just fine, scouring all the shelves checking out the titles one by one! A little alarmingly for me was the fact that I was able to tick off a few too many books as already having them in my own library but I shouldn't really be too surprised when I have hundreds and hundreds of books!
As we were searching through the shelves and tables I soon came across this book. As soon as I saw the brown and pink cover sitting on the 'new releases' table I was instantly drawn to it and things only got better once I opened it and started looking at the recipes. You know it's a good sign when your tummy starts rumbling and you start drooling looking at photographs and reading the recipes!
Maria Elia has more than her fair share of culinary experience being brought up in her Greek Cypriot father's restaurant which obviously fueled her passion for food and cooking. She went on to work in some of London's leading establishments as well as spending a season with world-renowned Ferran Adria at El Bulli. She has since worked as head chef at Delfina's and the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room and is currently Executive chef for Joe's at Draycott Avenue. She is also the author of The Modern Vegetarian, her first cookbook, and regularly contributes to various food magazine's in the UK as well as appearances on television. Her culinary background and experiences from around the world are evident in this book and shine throughout the recipes.
The book is divided into chapters featuring 18 of her favourite ingredients and shows a variety of recipes and methods for each ingredient. Some of my favourite chapters include Birds, Pork, Grains & Pulses, Berries and Citrus. Elia's principal behind the book is to start with a main ingredient and then through understanding the essence of that particular ingredient to slowly add new ingredients and flavour combinations that build on the original through taste and experimentation. She also talks about the importance of texture, taking a recipe further and finishing touches – all of which help to create the most spectacular final result.
So it's one thing for a book to look beautiful and have recipes that sound delicious, but how did they taste?! So far I have managed to try 3 recipes, but I have several more bookmarked to try in the next few weeks ( I ran out of time this month!).
Halibut, Orange & Olive Tagine
Orange & Sumac Scented Quinoa
Spiced Carrot Puree with Dukkah
Up first was the Halibut, Orange and Olive Tagine. Not only did it sound delicious and right up our alley but the photograph accompanying it did more than seal the deal for me to give it a go. Living on the West Coast of Canada, there is a great supply of Halibut and having recently received quite a lot from my father-in-law after a fishing weekend it was the perfect dish to make. The instructions were very easy to follow and all of the ingredients were generally things I had in the house. I made this dish for a Monday night as it didn't take too long to prepare and seemed like a perfect mid-week meal to warm us up on a freezing cold January day, however she does suggest serving this to friends which I think would be perfect, especially for a last minute meal.
I pretty much followed the recipe to a tee other than I added more olives that the 20g suggested as that turned out to be about 6 olives and being an olive lover I knew I wanted a few more than that! The final dish was lovely.....but if I'm being honest not amazing. I'm not sure exactly what it was but it just seemed to be lacking something. That said hubby thoroughly enjoyed it so I will give it another go especially as I love Moroccan flavours and always have Halibut in the freezer. I served the Tagine with some couscous (as suggested) which went perfectly so with a few tweeks this would made a perfect meal.
Next was the Orange and Sumac Scented Quinoa which again, judging by the photograph looked wonderful. I knew I might have a bit of an issue selling this one to hubby as a main course meal so I made it to have for a few lunches for myself.
I've only had Quinoa once before but in a typical post-Christmas bid I had been wanting to eat more of it for its health benefits and obviously hoping it would taste good and better for me than eating a giant bowl of carbs which is a constant issue for me!! I don't particularly remember what I did the first time I made quinoa but I suspect I just followed the packet instructions on how to make it then added ingredients that I would add as if it was a couscous salad. Whatever I ended up doing, it obviously wasn't amazing as I didn't rush to make it again, so I was excited when I saw this recipe.
Once again the instructions were easy to follow and straightforward. I had some issues regarding the cooking of my quinoa and whether or not to use a lid as she didn't specify, but in the end I got there and I finally ended up with some light and tender quinoa. I did have to substitute pine nuts for the toasted almonds but in my opinion they worked just as well, if not better! Other than that though everything went according to her instructions and the final dish was delicious! It was tangy, nutty, and downright delicious! I can see myself making this quite a lot for lunches and it would be perfect for packing up into a container and taking with you for a packed lunch. Next time I'm also going to try it as suggested, with some Chilli-Roasted Feta which I know will be fabulous. What I might change however, is to perhaps try cooking the quinoa in stock rather than the orange juice as the orange was certainly the dominating flavour and by the following day had intensified even more. Everything else was lovely though and the addition of the Sumac is a perfect balance in the dish.
So with 2 meals down, both of which were relative successes, I was pretty excited to get on and try recipe number 3 which was the Spiced Carrot Puree with Dukkah. We had a family Birthday to go to and I had offered to make an appetizer so this seemed perfect! It was something different to make that no one would expect and a great way to get some more feedback on a recipe from this book. The decision to make this recipe was based purely on the sound of it as there was no accompanying photograph for this recipe (which I wished there had been half way through cooking!).
I am familiar with Dukkah (an Egyptian side dish made from grinding up nuts, spices and sometimes herbs) but had yet to try it or make it so this seemed like a perfect opportunity as not only did it sound delicious, but it was very easy to make. As soon as I started making it however, a few alarm bells started sounding.....it seemed like a huge amount of coriander seeds, and that's coming from someone who loves coriander and the seeds! Same with the cumin seeds although that was less than half the amount of the coriander. Still I continued, toasting and browning my ingredients. I was a little rushed for time but if I hadn't been I think I would have stopped and checked a few other recipes for Dukkah to see if this compared. I should have trusted my instincts with this one.....it was very strong and I had WAY too much of it. The recipe said to sprinkle it over the dip but I seriously had an entire container full of it (and not a small container!!). I wished she had been more specific about how much it made and realistically how much you use for the dip. I would definitely have halved or even quartered the recipe because I certainly didn't like it enough to use it as you ordinarily would by serving it with bread and olive oil for dipping. That being said, the Carrot Puree was delicious and definitely something different. My first bite reminded me a little of Pumpkin Pie but with Carrots instead! Although by the second bite the flavours really came out and it was truly delicious. I probably sprinkled a tablespoon of the dukkah over the top and I could have got away with more but I was erring on the side of caution with this one! Everyone loved it and we all agreed it was a dish we would love to have again. The fact that it was so healthy was just an extra added bonus. Next time however I will possibly make a different recipe for dukkah or at least only make a small amount!
Unfortunately due to a few unforeseen circumstances I didn't manage to try any more of the recipes this month but there are definitely quite a few more that I will be trying over the next week or two including the Butternut Squash Falafels which we are having tonight!
This book didn't disappoint although I did have a few moments where I was wondering if it was going to let me down. On the whole however, it didn't! Based on the recipes I tried this book is a lovely book to cook from and I look forward to trying more recipes. Everything was tasty and enjoyable and the book introduced me to new flavours and dishes that I haven't tried before. The recipes all have easy to follow instructions and generally not long ingredient lists which I know is a big thing for a lot of people. A lot of the recipes also have variations at the bottom which is a nice addition.
It wasn't my intention to try mainly vegetarian recipes and it certainly isn't a vegetarian cookbook, but there are plenty of vegetarian recipes included and it just so happened that the ones that stood out to me were pretty much meat free! That being said I'm looking forward to trying more recipes from this book and have quite a few bookmarked including.....
Pear Beignets with Rosemary Sugar & Pear Crème Anglaise
Slow-Roasted Paprika Chicken with Butternut Squash, Smashed Butter Beans and Tomatoes
Sausage and Butternut Squash Tagine
Cosy Lamb Meatballs with Peas and Tomato Sauce
Dukkah Rolled Lamb, Feta Mind Curd, Watermelon and Olives
Prawn, Peach and Thai Basil Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls
New Potato Flatbread with Rocket, Mozzarella and Porcini Salt
Rhubarb, Rosewater and Ginger Trifle
Middle Eastern Inspired Eton Mess
Pomelo and Lime Leaf Salad with Nam Jim Dressing
There are also a few unusual, inventive and perhaps slightly more adventurous recipes included in the book, so if you are looking for some new ideas this definitely has a few. Some of my favourites are:
Fried Lemon Sole with Thai Spiced Strawberry Sauce
Sea Bass with Creamed Corn and Porcini Popcorn
Oysters with Beer Jelly, Green Apple and Lime and Coriander Salad
Dried Fig Leaf and Goat's Milk Panna Cotta
The book finishes with a handy “Take it Further” section at the back which includes ideas for how to change and adapt some of the recipes for different flavour combinations along with blank pages for writing down your own notes.
Overall I think this is a lovely book to own and to cook from and I love how she encourages you to take things further and change little things here and there in order to create new taste sensations to suit your own tastes. Her worldly experiences definitely radiate throughout the book and lead to a fantastic array of cuisines and influences within the recipes, which I love. This book gets my seal of approval and who knows...maybe one day I'll be brave enough to try the Oysters with Beer Jelly!
*For more information on the Orange and Sumac Scented Quinoa, including the recipe, have a look at my other post here.
Cooking the Books in February
The 2 books that I have chosen to cook from in February are.........
Casual Entertaining by Ross Dobson.....
A Taste of Home by Angela Harnett....