I have always been a fan of Jo Pratt's books. For me they always seemed to echo where I was in my life at the time of reading so they have always appealed that little bit more than usual. Her style of cooking and writing and the food she enjoys resonates so easily with me that I managed to convince myself that of course if I knew her, we would be best friends! (Don't worry Jo – I now live on the other side of the world!) But like a true, trusted friend that you can rely on here we are once again with her third book and surprise surprise it's just what I am looking for!
Her latest book, Madhouse Cookbook, comes from the current time in her life where she is a busy parent juggling work and young children so it is only natural that she deems her home a madhouse! Her latest book is all about trying to balance her work and home life and still have time to cook dinner for family, friends and of course, herself, so this book is all about simple, quick to prepare and easy to shop for meals that cover all eventualities! The book has three main chapters – Monday to Friday Survival, The Busy Weekend and Cling on to Your Social Life. Each chapter is further divided into different categories for even more direction and organisation, such as 'The Need for Speed', 'Quick Prep – Leave to Cook', 'The Family Meal' and 'Saturday Night (Kids are Banned)'.
The book is packed full of recipes as well as ideas for transforming leftovers. In the end I tested 4 recipes plus a leftover recipe.
The Tested Recipes:
Very Special Fried Rice
Simple Beef and Barley Casserole and Beef and Barley Pasties
Leek, Bacon & Brie Pasta
Sticky Toffee and Banana Pudding
The first recipe to be put to the test was the Very Special Fried Rice which comes from the chapter “Monday to Friday Survival/ The Need for Speed”. I decided to make this for a quick midweek meal for my son and I as hubby was away. It was full of flavours that Wee One loves so I knew it would be a hit and it was. I did have to cook my own rice as I didn't have any left-overs but next time I make a dish with rice as a side I will definitely make extra so that I can make this the following day. It was a perfect quick meal with plenty of flavour and a healthy dose of protein, vegetables and carbs all in one dish.
The next recipe to be put to the test was the Simple Beef and Barley Casserole. The instructions for the recipe couldn't have been easier – you literally tossed the beef in some flour with s&p and then add everything into a large casserole dish. I had planned to try it in my crock pot/slow cooker but due to having to go and buy some wine for it I left it too late so stuck to the original recipe. That being said it's definitely a recipe suited well to a slow cooker. After 2 hours of cooking (and smelling delicious) we were eager to try it. The first thing was it was a little too reduced for my liking so I had to add a splash of water to make sure there was plenty of sauce. The taste was fine but really nothing special. To me it just tasted like a standard stew and there was no wow factor to it. I was a little hesitant about using Pickled Silverskin Onions and to be honest we weren't a fan but they were great for convenience just not to our tastes as they stayed too vinegary. I really liked the barley through it so will do that again, but overall I just felt it needed something extra to make it better than just fine.
Since we had a lot of left-overs I decided to use it to make the Beef and Barley Pasties which she suggests on the same page. It's a great idea as really it is a much thicker stew recipe so it was really easy to prepare and they tasted great. I think I actually preferred the casserole like this rather than the initial recipe! These were a definite win and I would make them again – even if with a different casserole recipe.
Next up and for a quick Friday night dinner (having spent the day getting organised for our Halloween Party!) I made the Leek, Bacon and Brie Pasta. It was really easy to make and only took 15 minutes so a perfect quick and easy meal that was really delicious. Hubby was really happy with this one since we rarely eat cream based pastas so this was a special treat and it really was delicious. I'll definitely make this recipe again – in fact it's so easy I told hubby that he could even make it!!
For a Sunday night treat I finally got round to making the Sticky Toffee and Banana Pudding which I had had my eye on from the moment I saw it! It was ridiculously easy to make and was soooo good! I will definitely make this again and already have it marked for dessert for a special family meal in the future.
As well as the above tested recipes I also made the Chilli and Lemon Mozzarella with Pan-fried Avocado which was delicious and the South Indian Chicken Curry which we also really enjoyed. I'd make both recipes again, especially the first one as I loved the Pan-fried Avocado.
As usual I wanted to try even more recipes but I ran out of time. That being said this is a cookbook I can see myself turning to on a weekly basis as it really has everything in it for busy family life. As well as the above recipes I've bookmarked lots more to try over the next little bit, including:
Honey Miso Salmon with Warm Green Salad
Speedy Steak and Pan-fried Avocado Club Sarnie
Fish Finger Tortillas
Mediterranean Baked Chicken & Rice
Baked Fish in a Bag with Tomatoes, Butter Beans and Chorizo
Lifesaver Speedy Chocolate Puddings (yes please!)
Chocolate, Banana and Almond Croissants
Spanish(ish) Chicken Traybake
Lamb and Redcurrant Casserole with Rosemary Dumplings
Blueberry and Apple Fruit Strips
Raspberry Marshmallow Muffins
Mango and Lychee Bellini
Thai Sausage and Peanut Rolls
Crab and Avocado Blinis
Spicy White Bean and Red Pepper Dip
Spicy Halloumi with Tomato and Coriander Salad
Honey and Cinnamon Duck with Lentil and Pomegranate Salad
Quinoa, Beetroot, Squash and Feta Salad
Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart
The start of the book is clearly all about quick and easy family favourites and I have to admit when I started reading it I did think I might be a little disappointed if the book continued that way. However I had no need to complain because it didn't. Each chapter had it's strong points and plenty of appealing recipes to choose from that are sure to keep your family happy at the dinner table. I love how it covers all eventualities from the midweek rushed 'get everyone to the table as fast as you can 'cause we're starving!', to Weekend meals and even recipes for entertaining that won't leave you stressed out and a mess when your guests arrive! There is a good variety of traditional family favourites that are tried and tested, mixed with new updated inspiration to help introduce new flavours to your family. The recipes are all very straightforward and easy to follow with minimal fuss and there are no obscure ingredients that are impossible to find. Being a family cookbook I like how she labels the quantities such as 'Makes 2 adult or 4 kid-sized portions or 2 adult and 4 kid-sized portions', although in my opinion her portions are on the big size so we always had lots of left-overs (although no complaints there!).
My only criticism of the book are that the smaller sub-chapters aren't clearly labeled (in other words no cover page or clear divider) so you go from one category to a completely different one within the turn of a page and it doesn't quite flow.... until that is you realise you are in the next sub-heading (which is labeled at the top of the page). But that is me being super critical and really is nothing!
No. The whole point of this book is that it is simple, everyday recipes using ingredients from your local supermarkets/butcher and greengrocer. Perfect for family friendly recipes.
Learn anything new?
Probably not but I was reminded of some great family favourites as well as some new ideas. The best recipe of the ones I tried was definitely the Sticky Toffee and Banana Pudding and our least favourite – the casserole, although I did really like the pasties with the leftovers.
This is a fantastic cookbook for those with a busy family life. It has great suggestions that kids are bound to love but also caters for those nights when you want something special once the children are in bed. I honestly think if you are trying to balance family life and making sure you get some good home cooked meals on the table you need this book. The recipes are really straightforward, there are no strange ingredients that are impossible to find and most importantly the recipes work and taste good.
Without any question of doubt Madhouse Cookbook gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops Stamp of Approval!