When a cook cooked from Cook

Reader Shel­ley McAlister set her­self the task of mak­ing 100 recipes from th­ese pages. Here, in her own words, are the hits and misses we’ve fea­tured in the past two years

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page -

I’ve al­ways had stacks of cook­books. Although I use them for in­spi­ra­tion, I rarely fol­low recipes – es­pe­cially when they in­volve long lists of in­gre­di­ents I can’t pro­nounce. When Cook first came out in early 2013, I du­ti­fully saved them, ad­mired the pho­to­graphs, en­joyed read­ing the 10 best recipes, themed food sto­ries, and con­tri­bu­tions from non-celebrity chefs. But cook from Cook? Un­likely. Be­cause, be­cause ... Even­tu­ally I couldn’t think of a rea­son and I de­cided to try 100 recipes. How hard could it be?

I or­gan­ised the Cooks in date or­der and made an in­dex. I kept a di­ary to record com­ments on what I made. I tried to choose at least one recipe from each is­sue and var­ied the dishes be­tween meals, sal­ads, snacks, desserts and drinks. I de­vised a sim­ple rat­ing sys­tem: would I cook it again? A star for yes; a grumpy face for no.

I started in my com­fort zone with a chai tea loaf and a spring greens risotto, then war­ily moved on to but­ter­nut squash bur­rito and a peanut and black rice salad with mango. My di­ary shows stars for a deep, dark, squidgy honey cake, pap­pardelle with spiced but­ter and a seafood paella. I soon gained con­fi­dence with in­gre­di­ents I had limited ex­pe­ri­ence of. Kale, cooked ev­ery which way, be­came a firm favourite, and is still dropped into just about ev­ery pot go­ing. Fen­nel was find­ing its way into more and more dishes, and star anise was used read­ily, even if I’d barely heard of it be­fore.

Sum­mer brought a gar­den full of herbs, fruit and veg, so lots of recipes were cho­sen to make use of our gluts. I earned brownie points at a bake sale with a brownie rasp­berry recipe ( pic­tured, right) from the 10 best choco­late recipes. I cooked my first clafoutis (tomato and basil): a great suc­cess. We had pump­kin ev­ery­thing through­out au­tumn and I have since cooked just about all the pear and plum recipes to good ef­fect.

Dis­as­ters: there were a few. Though I tried to stick to the spirit of the recipes, I couldn’t al­ways stick to the let­ter of them. I know fresh herbs are usu­ally bet­ter than dried, but where to find lemon thyme in Jan­uary?

Also, pa­tience is a virtue in cooking but the end re­sult has to be worth the time, and some just weren’t. Some recipes were too much trou­ble and not tasty enough to jus­tify the ef­fort.

By the end of 2013, I was buy­ing in­gre­di­ents I’d never owned be­fore: guava nec­tar, saf­fron, smoked pa­prika, lime leaves, mirin, sumac, harissa and car­damom – I don’t know how I ever lived with­out car­damom. I’ve since dis­cov­ered a whole new world of heav­enly spiced cakes, cur­ries and sauteed fruit.

Tarte tatins were an­other rev­e­la­tion. Quick, easy and adapt­able, they have pro­vided many a de­li­cious meal. Us­ing ready-to-roll pas­try, I’ve made gor­geous pastries and tatins, both savoury and sweet.

I am well past the 100 recipes now and still cooking strong from my well-splat­tered is­sues of Cook. I can­not yet take off my culi­nary L-plates, be­cause I

I’ve since dis­cov­ered a whole new world of heav­enly spiced cakes and cur­ries

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