Monday, 9 April 2018

Cookery Calendar Challenge: March

My chosen book for March's Cookery Calendar Challenge was Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman, which I was given for my birthday. You may already know her website Smitten Kitchen, where she shares her recipes from her New York kitchen, and I really like her writing style; she's funny, self-deprecating, and utterly passionate about food and eating. This is her second book and has much more of a family-friendly cooking slant than her first, as she now has two children. The book's subtitle, "triumphant and unfussy new favourites" reflects this as she admits that the pressures of cooking for a family of four is very different to two adults plus a baby who'd eat a bit of what ever they were eating whenever they were eating it. 

This already felt like a breath of fresh air. I love it when cookery writers first admit to and then address the challenges of feeding children, children who aren't exactly fussy, but fickle and who change their minds about what they do and don't like on a regular basis; the challenges of eating together as a family and the planning around work, after school activities and bedtimes which that entails; the monotony of planning, shopping for and cooking meals that are budget friendly, healthy, interesting and also please everyone at the table. It's exhausting. 

The book is divided roughly into meals, sides and snacks, with an excellent baking section (the party cake builder recipe is genius). I have to admit that I found this a more inspiring book to cook from for breakfasts, lunches, vegetable sides and cakes, than I did for family dinners. 

My first recipe was from the Breakfast section: Baked Oatmeal with Caramelised Pears and Vanilla Cream. I won't lie, I liked the sound of it because it sounded more like dessert than breakfast, but had oats in so must be quite healthy, yes?

It's quite a fiddle to make, but not difficult, you just need to be in the mood for an hour of kitchen pottering on a weekend morning. You bake the pears in butter and sugar and lemon zest until they are cooked and caramelised, then you pour in the wet oat mixture before putting it back in the oven to finish cooking. 

Then you serve it with vanilla scented cream while it's warm. It is completely and utterly delicious. All breakfasts should taste this good. The oats were light and crispy on top but not dry, the pears were heavenly, it wasn't overly sweet. But, funnily enough, the cream was a step too far for me. I like cream, but not at breakfast time it would appear.

When I reheated the other five portions for breakfast during the week (that's lovely by the way, reheating and eating such a nice meal on a busy weekday morning) I ate them with milk or yogurt instead of the cream.

My next meal, from the Meat Mains chapter, was Meatballs Marsala with Egg Noodles and Chives. I was initially a bit confused by the talk of noodles - noodles to me are the kind that you eat with a stir fry in Asian cooking - but the recipe said wide pasta noodles, so I used some fresh tagliatelle. (Overall, I would say that this book has been beautifully translated to a British reader so that weights, methods and ingredient descriptions all make total sense. Perhaps the noodle thing is just me.)

Anyway, you make meatballs with minced chicken (I substituted turkey) and brown them in a pan. This was tricky as they tended to disintegrate a little. 

Once they're cooked, you remove them and de-glaze the pan with the Marsala (I just used sherry as it's what we had in the cupboard) before making the creamy sauce. Then the meatballs go back in to cook a little longer before you cook the pasta at the end. 

While not the most attractive meal, I loved it. The meatballs were light, the sauce creamy but not too rich, the pasta was divine and the chives cut through the slightly sweet sherry flavour.  However, everyone else absolutely hated it. It was a hilarious disaster that I had not anticipated. "It's just like spaghetti and meatballs", I told the kids in a cheery voice as I put their plates down in front of them, but they were not fooled. Angus liked the meatballs, but hated the sauce, which everything was covered in. Bella didn't like the meatballs or the pasta but conceded that the sauce was okay. John found the whole meal unremarkable and the tagliatelle "claggy". I wondered if we were all eating the same meal. You win some, you lose some.

Finally, I made Banana Bread Roll from the Cake section. It's a bit of joke between John and the kids that I am always making banana bread and they look at each other and roll their eyes when I bake it. The thing is, no-one in this house will eat a banana when it starts to go brown, including me, as we don't like them when they're overripe and so, to avoid waste, at least once a fortnight I make some kind of banana bread/cake. There's a great recipe in the first Hummingbird Bakery book that I usually use, and I add chocolate chips which strangely makes the children much more amenable. 

This recipe caught my eye though because I'd never made a Swiss roll style banana bread, or one with cream cheese frosting, plus I had - you guessed it - a few brown bananas in the fruit bowl. The cake part is easy to make and roll, and the moisture from the fruit makes the flat cake very easy to handle when rolling. 

The cream cheese icing was not overly sweet and the tangy flavour was perfect with the sweet cake. And the frosting part unintentionally came out in the shape of a G which made me ridiculously happy.

But overall, a really great book, one I'll cook from again many times I am sure. I am joining in with Penny from The Homemade Heart and her fantastic Cookery Calendar Challenge which I just love, it really makes me use my cookery books so much more and think about what we're going to cook and eat. I am not sure yet what April's choice will be. I'm not that organised. 


I hope you're all enjoying the Easter holidays, and "spring", if you're getting any of that. Here, we had three joyous days when it didn't rain, and then it started raining again. But we made the most of those days and I have been so busy doing things around the house and garden - I'll have lots to show you soon - but I am so weary of the rain now. Do you remember how warm it was this time last year? Unseasonably warm, yes, but no-one was complaining. 


  1. I have seen her cookbooks in the library, but I have to admit that many of her recipes seem a little...I don't know exactly...pretentious or something? Tasty and beautifully made, but fancier than I usually want to serve. I love the look of everything you made, though, especially the breakfast. I haven't cooked with pears much, they usually fall apart on me, but maybe I was using pears that were too ripe, or the wrong kind. It's always nice to see what you've been cooking lately, you're really a good cook!

  2. All the recipes look yummy, especially the pears - I agree that they sound nicer with yoghurt than with the cream. You made me smile about your tone of voice when presenting the meatballs. I well remember the forced jollity when I knew that I was serving up something that was likely to be viewed with suspicion! Not much sign of Spring here either - we've had one nice day amid all the rain. Hopefully, it will make the sunny weather all the sweeter when it does finally arrive. xx

  3. My comment just disappeared... trying again!
    Last weekend was fabulous, 25 Celsius!!! We spent Saturday outdoors nearly from dusk to dawn WITHOUT COATS, and Sunday afternoon on the sunny balcony as it was the only time we had between O.K. having to play two performances with the village band that day.
    Brown bananas threatening to go to waste? Why not simply buy less, and very green ones, so they get eaten before they have a chance to turn brown? ;-)
    Funny how different people can perceive the same meal so differently as your meatballs in Sherry sauce!

  4. You have made some wonderful things. I am pretty lucky because unless you served everyone shellfish in this house we all kind of eat the same which is great. (I love shellfish!) we cook a lot in the holidays so that when I am back to work there are a few meals in the freezer for crazy days. Enjoy the rest of your week. Jo x

  5. That pear and oats bake has stayed with me since you first instagrammed it - I must make it soon!
    I freeze bananas as soon as they turn (always, always peel them BEFORE freezing) and then have a stash to use for cakes, smoothies etc as necessary. Banana choc-chip smoothies are very popular in our house.
    Hope you get some proper warmer weather soon!

  6. I love some of DP's recipes, but I know exactly what you mean about family eating. It's a rare day when everyone really likes a thing. And then there's the challenge of feeding everyone at different times. Today, I have two people eating really early, plus I won't be here, so I have to come up with something they can sort out themselves and that will be okay just to reheat for the rest of us later and that people like. I've gone off food a bit at the moment. I was telling them all yesterday that I'd like to have three breakfasts every day instead of breakfast, lunch and tea. Have you ever tried Delia's banana and chocolate chip slices? I do them without the frosting, it's all I ever do with overripe bananas now. The biggest boy is the only one who eats them, but that's fine because he eats ALL of them. Recipe here if you're interested. CJ xx

  7. Pudding for breakfast - I like it. This dish sounds essentially like the most delicious pear crumble on the planet. I thought your meatballs look attractive for meatballs. I would love them, love marsala and sherry is not too bad either! My mum used to cook a dish for which she'd brown some thin slices of ham and deglaze them with lots of marsala, then add a dash of tomato puree and water. That's it. It was a childhood favourite even though it can barely be classified as a meal. Noodles in my house are also the Asian kind but in German, the term is used for all longish shapes of pasta that is not spaghetti. Confusing. Family cooking is tiresome I find. I have a feeling it is a fish finger sandwich day today... Anyway, must stop rambling and go back to my desk. Thanks for sharing your recipes, I'll look this food writer up online. x

  8. Hey Gillian,
    I would happily eat all three of the delights that you presented to your family. I thought the meatballs looked yummy. I'm afraid I've rather given up all hope of enticing my boys to broaden their palette. I just stick with what I know they like, and cook something different for Marc and I on the weekends.
    Leanne xx

  9. Your family's reactions to the meatball dish are so funny. I've made it three times, and we love it. In the US, we have all sorts of pasta (as you do, obviously) but egg noodles are a flat pasta, that is usually just a couple of inches long at the most, and you can find them in different widths. I think they have more egg than traditional pasta, and are more tender. I usually prefer a chewier Italian style pasta, but egg noodles are more suited to certain dishes, such as this one. But, twice I have actually served this on quinoa instead, and really liked it.

  10. I love the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook! The Baked Oatmeal with Pears was the first recipe I made from the new book. It was good, but like you said, a bit time consuming and best made on a slow, weekend morning. I'd love to try they the meatballs. They look delicious! I made Broccoli Melts for the second time last night. They are easy to make and delicious. The Perfect Blueberry muffins are also excellent and so is the Fudgy Chocolate cake with cream cheese icing, and the Bake Sale Oat Bars are pretty fantastic, too!

    Another cookbook I'm loving at the moment is The Simple Bites Kitchen. Check it out when you have free moment.

    1. Oh yeah, those muffins are the best ever! Splitting, toasting, and buttering the leftovers make them even better!

  11. Your swiss roll sounds and looks very tasty. A shame the family aren't so keen on everything you want to cook. I suppose that is normal for many families over time. When my 2 were younger, they'd eat anything. Now they won't eat many things such as 'Wanna be cucumbers,' their words (courgettes lol).
    The banana issue, we often make smoothies - put a banana or 2 in the blender with some scoops of icecream and maybe some chocolate dessert sauce or even other fruit such as some strawberries etc. Delicious poured into tall glasses.
    Incidentally, now the older teen 18 today brings his girlfriend home for dinner occasionally, we now have a list of foods that she doesn't eat either, lol. All the best, Cathy x

  12. These are really amazing. These dishes are looking very delicious. Thanks for sharing.


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