Friday, March 29, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ Home Cooking by Rachel Allen

Although this is one of her older book's (2009) I couldn't resist testing out and cooking from Rachel Allen's Home Cooking for this month's Cooking the Books. My son is now 3 years old and although a fairly good eater, I'm always looking for ideas and reminders of family friendly meals that we can all enjoy without a fight at the dinner table! On top of that, my sister was coming to visit us for 2 weeks during March and unfortunately despite being 17 weeks pregnant was still suffering from morning sickness, so I thought she would appreciate some good home cooking and nothing too over the top! Cue therefore Rachel Allen's Home Cooking book which is packed full of very family friendly meals that are guaranteed to keep even the fussiest eater in your family happy (hopefully!). It was just coincidence that I happened to pick a book by an Irish chef for the month of March and the celebration of St. Paddy's Day!

The Chapters are divided up into meals of the day including Breakfast, Lunch, Supper and Dessert. There is also a chapter on Sunday Lunches and since this really is a family friendly cookbook there is even a handy chapter on Baby Purees. It is a lovely homely book with pages printed on different pretty pastel colours and lots of photographs throughout, showing not only the delicious looking meals but family snaps as well, which really adds to it being a family cookbook.

As per my standard method I bookmarked over twenty recipes which gave me lots to choose from. In the end I tested 5 recipes although I'm making a 6th one this weekend as a special treat and have a 7th one on my meal plan for next week!

The Tested Recipes:

Thai Peanut, Vegetable & Coconut Noodles
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage & Pine Nut Butter
Ham and Cheese Macaroni
Creamy Gratin of Butternut Squash
Chicken and Coconut Indian Curry

I absolutely love noodles in spicy peanut sauces so I had to try the Thai Peanut, Vegetable & Coconut Noodles. I had recently had something similar at a restaurant so I was keen to see if this one was as good and it was! Easy to prepare and cook and full of all of the flavours I was craving. The only thing I had to add was some fresh lime as it definitely needed some citrus to cut through the coconut peanut sauce and of course I couldn't resist some extra chillies but other than that it was perfect. I will certainly make this over and over again, just with a few tweaks here and there.

Next up and Scott had been away for a week so I decided to make us a special treat for dinner and tried the Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage & Pine Nut Butter. You start by cooking the squash in a frying pan with butter and oil “until pulpy but not brown”.......I was little distracted so mine did not follow the instructions and was most definitely brown – not a great start! It took longer than suggested to cook and I think in future I would rather roast them however it tasted great and the fact that they did brown just added a lovely caramelized flavour! The pasta recipe was exactly how I make my own pasta so that was easy enough and it didn't take too long to assemble although I found a lot of the pasta dough was wasted using the method she suggested. Regardless the end result was absolutely delicious and after a week of eating out Scott was ecstatic and loved it! My only criticism to the dish was that it suggests 5 pieces of ravioli per person which in my books (and certainly my husbands!) isn't enough – especially for a main course! Thankfully I had more and the leftovers I didn't cook were popped into the freezer for another time. I will most definitely be making this again – it was simple enough (as far as making your own ravioli) and absolutely delicious!

Next up and with the arrival of my sister I was looking for something comforting and not too strongly flavoured so with her approval we decided to test the Ham and Cheese Macaroni. I was treading on dangerous ground with this one as my sister's husband makes the best Macaroni and Cheese but I thought that meant it would really put the recipe to the test. The recipe itself was very similar to my own recipe so I knew there weren't going to be any surprises. It was a typical recipe for Mac and Cheese so completely straightforward and fairly quick to prepare. The finished dish went down well - the addition of the ham was liked by everyone and it was nice and oozy although I did find the cheese flavour quite mild. There was certainly plenty to eat (recipe serves 6) so since there were only 3 ½ of us eating we had lots of leftovers which no one complained about! A lovely recipe but to be honest I would probably just stick to my own version, maybe just adding the ham to it instead.

For recipe number 4 we tested the Creamy Gratin of Butternut Squash which I served alongside a Roast Beef for a family meal. It was incredibly easy to make and was a lovely change from a potato gratin. The taste was fantastic and the cream and gruyere cheese made it a deliciously naughty little treat that I will definitely make over and over again. It was a big hit for everyone.

Although her sickness eventually stopped whilst Lauren was out visiting here, there were still certain things that she was avoiding so I saved making the next recipe until after she had left! Recipe number 5 was Chicken and Coconut Indian Curry since it seems I can never resist a curry recipe! I'm so glad because it was perfect and a very family friendly curry – the perfect introduction to curries for Wee One. I did miss out the optional green chillies from the curry and instead just sliced one up for Scott and I to sprinkle over at the end if we wanted, but to be honest it was such a lovely mild flavourful curry that it was nice to just enjoy it as it was. We all loved it so it will definitely get made again and added to my curry repertoire!

One of my favourite parts of the book is that there are several recipes for homemade sweets/candies including Turkish Delight, Liquorice Toffee and Butterscotch to name a few. I love the idea of trying to make my own so the next recipe I will be trying is for the Turkish Delight but I ran out of time before the review was to be posted so I'll let you know how I get on with it! Having never made anything like that before I'm really excited to give it a go and just hope I don't end up with a giant gooey mess!!

The 5 recipes that were tested were all great dishes so I'm looking forward to trying more and know I won't be disappointed. Here are some of the recipes I bookmarked to try out in future.....

The Bookmarked Recipes:

French Toast
Spotted Dog
Zac's Chicken & Sweetcorn Soup
Fragrant Sugar Snap & Beansprout Noodle Laksa
Middle Eastern Spiced Lamb Koftas with Dips and Spicy Pittas
Stir-fried Noodles with Chicken Dumplings
Quick Swiss Cheese Fondue
Fish Pie
Family Chicken Burgers with Roast Tomato and Lime Mayonnaise
Roast Chicken Legs with New Potatoes and Summer Herb Dressing
Individual Steak & Mushroom Pies
Strawberry and White Chocolate Tiramisu
Dark Chocolate Layered Semifredo
Millionaire's Shortbread
Coconut and Chocolate Flapjacks
Liquorice Toffees

The ethos of this book is definitely delicious, easy home cooking to keep all of the family happy from morning til night year round. It has so many familiar, classic recipes that I grew up with and love but there are also plenty of new recipes for a new generation. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who perhaps is new to cooking for their family and are looking for straightforward recipes that don't take too long and will please everyone with delicious results. The book is filled with tips and tricks to make life easier for you as well as lots of variations on the recipes so you can change things up to suit your tastes. She also provides good explanations on dishes that you have perhaps not heard of before and advice on where to buy ingredients or what you can substitute them with. Whether you are looking for some classic quick mid-week meals, new breakfast/brunch ideas or are having friends over for dinner, you won't be stuck for ideas of what to make with this book. This is a fun, friendly book with lots of fantastic recipes that won't disappoint. Home Cooking by Rachel Allen definitely gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops stamp of approval!

{Although this is a slightly older book you can still purchase it from Amazon and other online stores and it is now also available for Kindle users.}


  1. Enjoyed reading this review - that ravioli sounds wonderful and the list of 'must makes' have a quite a few that intrigue me too! I'm wondering if Rachel is Darina's daughter?

    1. Thanks Susan - it really is a great book! Rachel is Darina Allen's daughter-in-law :)


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