This year I am joining in with Penny's Cookery Calendar Challenge. Penny began this idea when she found herself surrounded by cookery books but cooking the same old meals without enjoyment night after night, and hoped the challenge would reinvigorate her repertoire of family meals, encourage her to revisit her cookery book collection, and to plan and shop for meals in an organised way. I really enjoyed reading Penny's blog posts about her challenge last year and thought it sounded fun and simple; choose a book a month and cook two meals from it which you've never cooked before. You can choose any meal but not cakes or bakes, although puddings are included. (Oh good.)
Now, I don't think I am particularly in a cooking rut, but John and I do tend to cook the same things in a fairly cyclical way, depending on the time of year and how much time we have. We both enjoy cooking a great deal and do it to relax, although in different ways; I love to bake at the weekend, whereas John is much happier cooking a big dinner, and hooray for that. And regarding shopping and planning, I think this is something that we do quite well. The day before we go to the supermarket, or before we place an online order, we sit down and plan the meals for the coming week. This is often painful. How do you know what you fancy eating next Tuesday night, for example? But it does work, and we try to decide on four or five meals, the rest being leftovers from the freezer or nights when we might all be doing different things at different times so it's pasta pesto all round. This habit is ingrained and goes back to when I was a stay at home mum and money was tight. I'm sure I'm not the only person who's spent over £100 in Sainsburys then got home to realise there isn't actually anything for tea.
But we do have a large number of cookery books. I love cookery books, of any style or age, and often read them in bed at night. I've never regretted buying one or felt it was money wasted, but I have regretted giving them away (I'm thinking of that copy of the Wagamama cookbook I gave to a charity shop some years ago - I still kick myself.) Many came to us via our jobs in bookselling years ago, some are gifts, some just bought because we liked the look of them, and we've found some excellent bargains on Amazon over time. We probably use about half of them regularly, but the rest not so much. So, over the next twelve months, I will deliberately choose my least used books and hopefully discover some new meals which will become family favourites at the same time.
My choice for January was Diana Henry's Simple: effortless food, big flavours which I was given for Christmas. I suspect this might become a real favourite and there are many recipes which I think really suit the way we cook and what we like to eat, and I like the way the book is broken down into chapters like Pasta & Grains, Fish, Chops & Sausages, Chicken etc. The photography and styling throughout the book is beautifully done and it has - crucially - one of those ribbon bookmarks which are attached to the spine of the book. I love those.
My first choice was "merguez with sweet potatoes, beans & chermoula" chosen because any sausage/beans combination is going to be good, and I didn't know what chermoula was. It turns out it's a kind of marinade/relish/salsa, made from oil, garlic, chilli, coriander, spices and lemon juice.
I couldn't find merguez sausages so I used some spicy Toulouse ones, but I think merguez would have had more flavour. The result was hearty and warming, perfect January comfort food, and the chermoula was fantastic dolloped on top, adding a needed punch of pungent flavour.
Our second choice was "Tim's parmesan chicken"; chicken thighs coated in breadcrumbs, parsley and parmesan, then rolled and baked.
We ate it with roast potatoes and green salad and loved it, although the kids were less keen. Bella found the crust a little too garlicky and Angus protested about the "weird green bits". But for me it felt like more of a spring or summer dish, and would go better with new potatoes and some nice green veg, asparagus maybe, or a salad.
My choice for February is Leon: Family & Friends. I think this is one I saw for £5 somewhere and just bought it because, for that price, it seemed daft not to, and I really liked the look of it. I've used my Leon: Baking & Puddings book loads but this one gets ignored for some reason. Not this month!