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.