Cookbook 145: Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook

My wonderful Scott bought me Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking for my birthday. It’s a fantastic book. Bourdain starts up by insulting you (the reader) in the introduction:

This book aims to be a field manual to strategy and tactics, which means that in the following pages, I will take you by the hand and walk you through the process in much the same way – and in the same caring, sensitive, diplomatic tone – as I would a new recruit in my restaurant kitchen.

Which means that if, from time to time, I refer to you as a “useless screwhead”, I will expect you to understand – and to not take it personally.

Every word in this book can be read in your head with Bourdain’s voice. His writing style is the same as his speaking style, clear, beautiful, and considered. The recipes are the rotating dishes depending on the season and availability of ingredients that were available at Les Halles when he worked there. The instructions are clear, and thanks to the standards of these dishes there are plenty of videos available on YouTube if you don’t quite understand the steps described.

I loved this book and am looking forward to cooking from this book again. It is not vegetarian friendly as such, the vegetable only dishes really are only potato dishes (quite tasty potato dishes nonetheless). Like a lot of French bistro food, the vegetables come in the dish with the meat. I cooked three dishes from this book over one weekend, and so have all three to share. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

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Cookbook 144: Slow Cooker: The complete collection

I bought Slow Cooker: The complete collection by the Australian Women’s Weekly from Aldi where it was on sale. Like all modern AWW cookbooks it says that it is triple tested, and that it contains “200 of our best slow cooker recipes together”. I love slow cooked food, it’s tender, tasty and means that you can set and forget. I loved the AWW cookbook Cook it Slow and despite not cooking a slow cooker recipe at the time, I have cooked others since and they have been great.

Which makes this cookbook such a bitter disappointment. Every single dish I made out of it (3 over 2 weekends) has been a disappointment. Each one of those dishes would have been better cooked in some other way. It may be that my slow cooker isn’t great or maybe was a bit too small, but none of these dishes worked. I won’t be keeping this book and I rate it 1 out of 5 stars.

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Cookbook 143: Classic Cookies – Biscotti Macaroons and More

Who doesn’t like a good biscuit/cookie/macaroon/biscotti? Yes, I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t like sweet food, which I just don’t understand, but ok maybe not everyone likes one. But for those of us who do, this book, the Australian Women’s Weekly’s Classic Cookies Biscotti Macaroons and More is a fantastic addition to your cookbook library.

Click on the link above and see the beautiful retro styling, it’ll take you back to retro… time… Anyway, I bought this on a clearance sale sometime ago, and then decided to make gingerbread and shortbread for Christmas (one of my family traditions), and then later the chocolate chip cookies for isolation. All of them were a hit, and I am interested in trying more recipes out in this book. Overall 4 out of 5 stars.

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Cookbook 142: Week Light

So… I hope isolation is treating you well, that you’ve survived CoVid successfully so far. It’s been a ride, and it isn’t even close to over yet. Please get vaccinated when a vaccine is found, it’s better to be inoculated than not (no, I will not be accepting arguments at this time).

Also, sorry for the very long hiatus on this blog. Life got in the way, including some family member ill health, work, other stress, and then the number of books I’d cooked from, but not written up kept growing, and I wasn’t cooking as much as I wanted to, and it got a bit overwhelming. I made a decision this morning to just write up the book I cooked from over the weekend, and to gradually go through all the other books as I have time, and you know, update as we go.

The fact that I am doing more cooking as I’m not going out, and I have money to spend on fancier ingredients does help too.

This cookbook is Week Light by Donna Hay, a gift I received for Christmas, and something that I wish listed after a colleague raved about how much she loved it. It’s full of vegetable heavy recipes, in fact most of the recipes are vegetarian, with options to add meat if desired, and those that have meat have options to make them vegetarian. Definitely a good book to consider cooking from if you are vegetarian or like cooking for vegetarians. I have some comments on the recipes I made (which will be following the recipes), and give this 3 out of 5 stars.

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Rewriting another recipe – Lamb racks with potatoes and cherry tomatoes

So I found some lamb racks going cheaply and looked for a recipe that was simple (given my household has the plague currently) and tasty. I was cooking for 3, because only the three meat-eaters were at home. This recipe should be pretty easy to scale. The recipe below is inspired by this one by Jamie Oliver, but I changed it so it would work for me and my household’s tastes.

Ingredients

  • 600 grams of potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 punnet of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • olive oil
  • 3 x 3 bone lamb racks (trimmed of most of the fat)
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • A rub (whatever suits your taste) for the lamb (we used a chipotle rub, but really you can use whatever flavour you prefer)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C (fan forced)
  2. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 10 minutes. Once cooked, drain, and return the potatoes to the empty pot. Cover with a lid and shake the potatoes several times.
  3. Meanwhile, rub the spices into the lamb
  4. Put some (about a tablespoon) of olive oil into a frying pan over high heat and once heated, sear the lamb racks on all sides. Remove and put on a plate.
  5. Add extra oil if required, add the potatoes and fry for a couple of minutes over a medium low heat. The potatoes will soak up any rub that is left behind.
  6. Stir in the tomatoes, add the unpeeled garlic, and pull the rosemary leaves from the sprig and sprinkle over the vegetables.
  7. Add the tomatoes, potatoes, garlic and rosemary to a baking tray. Season with salt and pepper. Place the lamb racks on top of the vegetables.
  8. Cook in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes (depending on how rare you like your lamb).
  9. Serve with the vegetables and enjoy!

Rewriting a recipe – Slow Cooker Pot Roast

I made this recipe (Slow Cooker Pot Roast by Nagi) last night and it didn’t work for me. The first reason it didn’t work was that my slow cooker wasn’t big enough to fit in the potatoes after putting in the meat and the sauce liquid. The second is that my slow cooker really struggled to heat up room temperature liquid and so the carrots and celery were still crunchy (which is not bad, just not expected). And finally, the liquid for the gravy didn’t thicken. The flour sunk to the bottom and the bottom of my slow cooker is currently scunge (tasty scunge, but still scunge).

Now I haven’t actually tried the recipe I’m about to modify of Nagi’s, but I’m pretty sure that this recipe will work much better in my slow cooker (and possibly yours, everyone’s is different). If I cook something like this again, I’ll come back and let you know if mine is successful.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg (approx) beef chuck steak roast/rolled chuck/bolar blade roast
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, cut into large dice
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 2.5cm pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into 4cm pieces
  • 1 cup dry red wine (or 1 cup beef stock)
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1/3 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary (1 tbsp fresh rosemary)
  • 1.5 tsp dried thyme (1.5 tbsp fresh thyme)

Method

  1. Pat beef dry with paper towels. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper all over.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet over high heat. Brown aggressively all over – a deep dark brown crust is essential for flavour base. Should take about 7 minutes.
  3. Transfer beef to slow cooker.
  4. In the same skillet, add onion and garlic. On medium heat, cook for 5 – 10 minutes until onion is browned. Add carrots and celery, cook for 3 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle flour over the onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Continuously stirring, ensure that the flour had absorbed all the oil, and continue cooking the flour for 3 minutes or until beginning to brown.
  6. Add the red wine and stock (or just stock), and herbs. Continuously stir until boiling when the sauce should begin to thicken. Remove from heat and pour sauce and vegetable mixture over the beef.
  7. Cover and slow cook on LOW for 8 hours.
  8. Remove beef, let rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with roasted potatoes and sauteed green beans, or very crusty bread. Ensure that the delicious sauce is drizzled over everything that you want it to be.

Other things you could add:

  • Like a bit of spice? You could add some chilli powder to the flour before adding to the vegetables
  • If you like things a bit richer, add 6 tbsp of cream to the sauce after it has finished cooking and after you have removed the beef.
  • Other herbs that would work well – oregano and sage.

Cookbook 141: the Aleppo Cookbook – Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria

I bought this book on sale a while ago, while the worst of the Syrian civil war (no war is ever civil) was happening, and as some of the profits were going towards refugees who had fled Syria, I was happy to get it. The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria by Marlene Matar, is the most honest cookbook I have ever purchased and cooked from.

That sentence probably doesn’t mean what you think it means. This cookbook takes the regular food of regular people and puts it into a cookbook. These are not the gourmet recipes of the elite or fancy tourist restaurants. These are recipes that use common ingredients, acknowledges that meat will often need to be cooked slowly and with tenderisers like vinegar, and that simple food is often very tasty and flavoursome. I really enjoyed cooking from this book. My only critique was that there might have been a bit too much liquid in the freekeh pilaf, but that’s pretty much it. Four and a half stars out of five.

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Cookbook 140: Thailand from the Source

I bought Lonely Planet’s, Thailand from the Source: Authentic recipes from the people that know them best, from Oxfam, thinking that it would be a great cookbook. And I was somewhat disappointed. My biggest problem is that there is not one vegetarian recipe. The index says there are, but all of them contain oyster and fish sauce, if not actual meat (bacon, chicken or minced prawns). I’m pretty sure, since I have been to many Thai restaurants in Australia, and since Thailand a country where many people practice Buddhism, that there are plenty of vegetarian recipes, but this book didn’t go looking for them. To me, that is a failure. The recipes I cooked were fine, nothing particularly special. Overall I give this 2 out of 5 stars.

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Cookbook 139: Cooking 4 Change

I backed Cooking 4 Change: 101 famous Kiwis share their favourite recipes by Dick Frizzell (with all profits going to charity) on Kickstarter. I wanted to love this book the same way I love some of the Kiwis who provided recipes (Sam Neil, Taika Waititi, Jacinda Arden, etc). It’s a great idea, get some famous people together, ask them for one or two of their favourite recipes, raise money for charity. Sadly the recipes in the book needed to be tested. When people write down their favourite recipes, they skip steps because they know what needs to happen next. For the casual reader and cook, this doesn’t work.

One of the recipes I tried to cook failed so miserably (a chocolate tart) that I just gave up and didn’t bother making it at all.

I can’t rate this cookbook highly sadly, though I want to, because the things I baked from it just didn’t work in ways I’d expect. 1.5 stars out of 5.

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Cookbook 138: The Vietnamese Market Cookbook

I picked up The Vietnamese Market Cookbook by Van Tran and Anh Vu because I didn’t have a Vietnamese cookbook and I really love Vietnamese food. This cookbook didn’t disappoint. I cooked from it almost a year ago and I still remember how good the food was. A good mix of recipes, written in a conversational style, with information about how the recipe came to be included or how the recipe is important to the authors (I’ve left this information out, you’ll have to find the book to read it). Overall, 4.5 stars out of 5.

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