Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Cookery Calendar Challenge

February's book for the Cookery Calendar Challenge was Leon: Family & Friends by John Vincent and Kay Plunkett-Hodge. I believe I bought this in Waterstone's in a post-Christmas sale and, if I remember rightly, it was pretty cheap. Although the RRP was £25 I'm sure I only paid five or ten pounds for it - something made me buy it on a whim, anyway.

Things about this book I liked:
  • the high production values; nice graphics and illustrations, thick pages, good photography and not one but two ribbon bookmarks
  • many recipes have a photo of the finished dish (I have realised that this is really important to me - I am far more likely to skip past a recipe that doesn't have a photo)
  • easy to read recipes - by easy, I mean a nice clear font that you can glance at rather than having to squint over while cooking
This book has a charming written style and it's very much a family cookbook with a mixture of traditional British and Thai recipes, drawing on the writers' childhoods and cooking influences. Full of memories and family history, it contains recipes like "Katie's Tartiflette", "Auntie Qing's Sushi Roll" and "Gardener John's Roasted Vegetables". It's pretty comprehensive, covering breakfasts, lunches and weekday dinners, slow weekend cooking, Christmas, birthdays and desserts. It's gorgeous to look at and leaf through and often made me smile.

And yet it's sat unused on my bookshelf for five years. I think it's partly because it tries to cover so much, and I have so many other books that perhaps do the same job. So I was keen to delve into this book and see what the recipes were like.

The first was "Storecupboard Daube", a rich and delicious beef stew containing garlic, red wine, anchovies and olives. This is not a weeknight meal, but something I'd cook on a Sunday for us to eat together as a family. I have to confess here that John cooked all of this meal as I was unwell, but I did eat and enjoy a little of it. We ate it with mashed potatoes and spring greens. 

Both John and I loved the deeper, saltier flavours the red wine and anchovies brought to the stew but the kids were underwhelmed. Angus was frankly appalled by the olives and made a big fuss about picking them out. Bella loved the olives but found the flavours too rich. (She didn't articulate it quite like that, more "I prefer your normal beef stew Daddy.") I actually enjoyed it more when we ate the leftovers a few nights later, reheated and served with brown rice and sour cream. That was amazing. So perhaps not a family favourite, but definitely a meal John and I both enjoyed. John said the recipe was a "bit of a faff", with various ingredients needing to be browned in a particular order, before being removed and the pan de-glazed. He said he'd make it again but next time just bung it all in together and shove it in the oven. John is a very good cook but has no time for faffing. 

My second choice was "Easy Pad Thai". It's one of those recipes that contains forty seven ingredients (ok, slight exaggeration) and takes ages to chop and prepare, but actually cooks in less than ten minutes. Despite the long list, it contains all my favourite flavours; lime, garlic, coriander, peanut...I was really excited to try it. 

I really wasn't sure how this was going to turn out. All I could smell was fish sauce, or Nam Pla and, while we all know that fish sauce tastes fantastic, it smells pretty terrible. Molly didn't even come into the kitchen to investigate during cooking, it was that bad. It also looked very beige, what with the noodles, prawns, eggs and beansprouts. 

But it was so good; light, zesty and full of texture with the peanuts and beansprouts providing just the right amount of crunch. Not a meal the kids would eat, but something John and I can eat together when they are in bed. Next time I might tone down the fish sauce though. 

I'm sorry about how horrible these photos are. They are all taken in electric light and food never looks the same that way, but until the clocks go forward that's all I can do. 

Continuing with an Asian theme, March's choice will be The Wagamama Cookbook

Do visit Penny at The Homemade Heart and find out more about her brilliant Cookery Calendar Challenge. Only two months in and it's already making me re-visit so many under-used cookery books, plus I am eating a lot of really nice food too and that's no bad thing. 


  1. The smell of fish sauce is not appealing but as you say, it adds beautiful flavour. I would happily tuck in both of the dishes you and John cooked. Thai flavours are some of my favourites, I would happily eat Thai every day. 'Something that John and I can eat together when they are in bed', this sounds great. Richard and I never eat together and maybe it is something we should start. x

  2. I love cookbooks with an interesting bit of prose as well as the recipes - Nigel Slater is a favourite of mine for that reason. Your meals look delicious - even to a veggie! I hope that you're all better now. xx

  3. Two interesting choices! I would never think of adding anchovies to a beef stew, but I imagine that they blend in well with the wine. As for the second dish, I am no fan of sea food, so no shrimps for me (or calamari etc.). But give me peanuts any time :-)

  4. just been blathering on my blog about how yummy the fast food at the new Leon shop in Brighton is, I have their vegetarian cookbook from the library. your recipes turned out well, look good enough to go in the book!

  5. Not made that pad Thai but with chilli toned down you might be surprised at how family friendly it is.

    I have been meaning to try the version if KFC in that book but haven managed it yet!

  6. Well done on trying new recipes, something I need to do more I think. I've had the vegetarian Leon book from the library, just trying to remember if I actually cooked anything from it... Have a good weekend Gillian. CJ xx

  7. Thank you for joining in once again with the Cookery Calendar Challenge Gillian. I have had a few Leon books over the years, and I agree about the production values and so on, however I do find them exhausting to read! There is SO much information, so many family photographs etc, all very lovely but a wee bit overwhelming unless you are psyched up! Looks like you chose 2 nice dishes though, and at least your children will try new flavours (don't get me started! ) x

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  9. A while back you wrote about your Wagamama cookbook. That inspired me to see if I could find an online recipe for my favorite Wagamama dish, their chicken chilli men. It's actually available on their website. I made it and it was delicious; just as good as eating at Covent Garden or Terminal 5 at Heathrow. I'm looking forward to seeing what you cook next time!

  10. It all looks delicious. I agree with your three points about cookery books, especially clear easy to read typeset. I like a picture of a recipe too, so I know what it is supposed to look like even if it doesn't turn out that way.

  11. The meals look delicious, especially the stew. Served with greens and mash it's a perfect warmer for this time of year.
    I am with you on the importance of a cook book to have easy to read recipes. If I'm going out on a limb to try something new it is really frustrating not to be able to check the recipe at a quick glance. I love a good photograph too, just so I can see what it should have looked like. X 😊

  12. I'm also with you on how a cookery book or magazine also, should both look
    & read. Both meals look delicious, though I'd have to opt out, being allergic to both spicy & garlic, but we get by, adding lots of other alternatives, or maybe, that is just reinventing recipes. Have a good week & take care.


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