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
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