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Cooking the books …. and some fish!

I have a confession to make – my name is Yvonne and I am a Cookbook Addict.

I was brought up in a houseful of books and book lovers so I’m not quite sure when my obsession with cookery books started . I know I used to leaf through my Mum’s Good Housekeeping book and wish we had exotic ingredients like glucose and peppermint essence!

Fast forward to college and I was given a present of ‘Monica’s Kitchen’ – an absolute gem of a book even for someone like me who could barely boil an egg at the time.

Monica and good housekeeping sepia

How it started

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Books For Cooks & Corn Soup

Thursday night is date night here. I cook, he brings the wine and we both relax. It started as an excuse for me to try out new dishes using the Chief Taster as the guinea pig but with all that’s being going on this summer we went a little off track, The night we resorted to shop bought pizza I knew it was time for a rethink.

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Rosemary Shrager’s ‘Absolutely Foolproof Food for Family and Friends’

A few years ago my friend Siobhan and I headed to Swinton Park in Yorkshire for a residential cookery course with Rosemary Shrager.  the location is beautiful and Rosemary herself gives the course and while she can be a tad scary she was great fun. We had an absolute ball and learned lots.

I use the recipes from the course regularly and also have a few of her booksthat are well-thumbed so I was delighted to receive a copy of her new book ‘ Absolutely Foolproof Food for Family & Friends’ from Octopus Books.

When I saw the title I assumed the book would be full of quick and easy recipes for everyday meals which is not like the Rosemary I love. My assumption was wrong – this is a book for dinner party dishes that you can impress with such as  Venison Carpaccio of Sea Bass with a Pickled Carrot Salad and Roast Crown of Pheasant , dishes for larger celebrations such as Salmon en Croute and even detailed instructions on curing pork and salmon.

There  is a lovely introductory section detailing all the kitchen equipment you may need (the only thing I’m missing is a potato ricer!), what knives to use and how to use them.  The recipe sections are divided by main ingredient such as vegetables, poultry, game and pasta. Each section begins with a very detailed technique complete with step by step pictures and complete with tips and ideas and possible variations on the main recipe.

My pet peeve as you know is cookbooks without finished photos of each dish – this book unfortunately falls into this category. This surprises me as I learned so much about presentation when I was at the Cookery School but the detailed technique pictures are good. The other thing that I found strange is that there is no dessert section in the book.

So what did I cook? Well for a change I gave my main taster  the book and asked him what would he like for dinner. The choice : Scallops en Papilotte with Curried Coconut Milk and Pak Choi and Roast Venison with Chocolate Sauce and Braised Chicory. 

I was unable to find either pak choi or chicory so I decided that as a starter the pak choi could be omitted and I picked up some curly kale to use with the venison. Rosemary uses loin of venison in her recipe but as I had two venison steaks (farmed I will admit)  in the freezer I used those.  I spent a very pleasant afternoon prepping the dishes – the recipes are well laid out and easy to follow.  The sauce for both dishes can be made ahead of time making them ideal for entertaining.

I julienned the vegetables for the scallop dish so when it came to dinner I just had to cook the scallops, assemble the parcels and put them in the oven for 10 minutes.

There was a lot going on this dish flavour wise but it all worked and the pak choi wasn’t even missed!

I decided to try the recipe for Fondant Potatoes and this was the only one I had any problem with – and I think it was my own fault for not adding enough stock. However I finished them in the oven and they were so tasty – they may even replace roast potatoes as my favourite!

The chocolate sauce took  time – and a lot of ingredients – but it was so worth the effort and it complimented the venison perfectly.

I would have preferred to serve the dish with chicory but he loved the kale (I stir-fried it with orange zest and juice).

Was it good? Well the Chief Taster certainly thought so …

This book has already earned a place on the ‘favourites’ shelf and if anyone can tell me where I can get partridge then Roast Partridge with Cabbage, Bacon and Apple is the next recipe I want to try  and Stuffed Yellow and Red Pepper Rolls has also been requested……

My verdict – if you want to impress your family and friends with your cooking then you need this book.

Pssst – if you want to try the Chocolate Sauce here’s the recipe:

What you need: 

  • 100g butter ( I don’t think I used quite this much!)
  • 150g leeks, finely chopped ( I used 2 leeks)
  • 1 rasher smoked streaky bacon, chopped
  • 250ml red wine
  • 2 tsp redcurrant jelly
  • 300ml game or venison stock  (I had to resort to beef stock)
  • 120 ml port
  • 15g 70% chocolate, finely chopped

What you do:

  • Melt 30g butter in pan, add the leeks and bacon and cook gently for 15 minutes.
  • Add the wine and the redcurrant jelly and simmer until reduced to a syrupy consistency.
  • Add the stock and simmer until reduced by half.
  • Finally add the port and simmer to coating consistency.
  • Season then strain through a sieve into a clean pan (I prepared ahead to this point)
  • Reheat gently and stir in the chocolate until it melts
  • Cut remaining butter into cubes and whisk into the sauce a few at a time.
  • Check for seasoning and serve.

Happy Cooking !