Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cookbook Review: Gordon Ramsay's 'Cooking for Friends'

I felt inexplicably nervous while trying out recipes from Gordon Ramsay's latest cookbook. And then, it hit me as I carefully basted roasting Campari tomatoes with their pan juices. I was expecting Ramsay, the foul-mouthed celebrity chef who I both adore and fear, to point out I was doing something wrong. (This, despite the fact I have met and interviewed the multi-Michelin starred chef and he was nothing but gracious, and gentlemanly.)
When I finally acknowledged my irrational fear, and stopped waiting for someone to call me "You donkeh!", I set to work and the evening's dinner unfolded as it should. I also have Ramsay's "Fast Food" cookbook and while that one has been sitting on my shelf for several weeks now, this cookbook already has several post-it notes marking pages. Last night, I tried three recipes from "Cooking for Friends," in which Ramsay shares the meals he loves to cook when he's off-duty.


Broccoli, Stilton and pear soup
This recipe was even easier than I imagined. Ingredients consisted of two large heads of broccoli; 800 ml hot chicken or vegetable stock; 100g crumbled Stilton; 2 firm but ripe pears; 25g butter; a handful of flaked almonds to garnish. After boiling the broccoli in the broth, and pureeing it with half the Stilton, the cookbook advises seasoning the soup to taste. I found it needed an extra kick - so I added some freshly ground pepper and that did the trick.
The recipe also called for caramelizing pears as garnish, and I found it necessary to leave them cooking in the butter for longer than suggested (1-2 minutes each side.) Once topped with the pears, Stilton, and almonds, the result was elegant and delicious, the perfect starter when entertaining.

My substitutions:
I should have used homemade stock, I know, but I used the ready-made broth for convenience's sake.

Would I make this again?
I'm already planning my next dinner party so that I can show this off. Next time, however, I will boil the broccoli for a shorter amount of time to maximize the beautiful green colour.


Roasted tomatoes with marjoram
The photo of this recipe was so beautiful I couldn't resist trying it out, particularly because I always seem to have some extra tomatoes lying around that get stodgy and squishy before I use them.
The list of ingredients is, once again, short and to the point: vine-ripened plum tomatoes; two large garlic cloves, thinly sliced; leaves from handful of fresh marjoram; 3-4 tbsp olive oil. Basically, you cut the tomatoes in half, place the garlic slices on top, then scatter marjoram, salt, pepper, and olive oil on top. Bake for 30 minutes at 150 C and baste with pan juices halfway through.

My substitutions:
I used Campari tomatoes as there were no plum tomatoes at the grocery store. I also left the tomatoes in the oven for something closer to 45 minutes and finished them off with 5 minutes under the broiler, as I like them slightly browned, but that's a personal choice.

Would I make this again?
There's no reason not to - it's easy and adds a dash of colour to the table. Particularly comforting when served warm as the cold weather begins to set in. They're tasty as a side dish, but I also added these tomatoes to the pasta (below), and my leftovers for lunch were moist and fresh.


Farfalle with bacon, peas, and sage
This is Ramsay's adaptation of an easy pasta carbonara, one his kids request once a week. The list of ingredients is short, and likely to already be in your refrigerator and pantry: 400g dried farfalle, 3 tbsp olive oil; 8 rashers of streaky chopped bacon; 1 large garlic clove; 300ml double cream; 150g peas, thawed if frozen; 60g freshly grated Parmesan, and more to sprinkle; small handful each of sage and flat-leaf parsley.
While I followed the steps carefully, I found the sauce was quick to thicken and that there wasn't enough of it.

Substitutions:
I didn't use parsley, I just doubled the amount of sage as I love the taste.
I must admit to adding a dash of white wine near the end to loosen the sauce. If possible, add the cream after leaving it out for a bit to avoid the ugly cottage-cheese-type curdling. I also added some of the roasted tomatoes to add colour and this helped to keep the pasta moist when I heated it up for lunch the next day.

Would I make this again?
I will likely attempt it again, but I will make more sauce, and simmer it for a shorter amount of time to keep it from thickening too much.

Grade: Five stars out of five. This cookbook is relatable, the ingredients are readily available, and best of all ingredient lists are short. The recipes are also written with time-pressed home cooks in mind, and it shows, keeping directions simple and to the point.

2 comments:

space81 said...

Who knew you were such a food junkie? Glad I discovered this blog. :) I might just show up at your house one day for dinner, since it's not that far of a walk for me :P And yah, I'd be nervous if I was replicating Gordon Ramsay's recipes too!

- Ab.

Mary said...

Ab, you are always welcome for dinner, just name the date!
And - we don't have to worry about designated drivers!