Comfort Food cookbook review

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I like this cookbook, from the ‘fine cooking’ series by Taunton Press, even if it does look quite basic at first glance. The recipes are well laid out and easy to follow, and while they are ‘comfort food’, the dishes are varied and created with healthy ingredients. No short cut or processed ingredients are used. The only hitch for me, in a metric country, is that the measurements are in lbs and ounces and need to be converted.

The dishes covered are soups, chilis, stews, gumbo, ragout, pasta, one pot dishes, casseroles, fried chicken, curries, and familiar classics like chicken cacciatore, meatloaf, osso bucco and pot roast.  If you are a seasoned cook with a large repertoire (and a bookshelf groaning with cookbooks already) you probably know most of them but for a new, aspiring cook this is a good basic collection of recipes. It is always good to have reliable recipes for hearty international favourites like steak and Guinness pie, beef stew with red wine, braised lamb shanks, and of course, paella.

 It is a good all round reference recipe book for all sorts of occasions and meals. There are breakfast and lunch dishes with step by step photo guides. Every cook needs to know how to make a perfect omelet, blueberry muffins, buttermilk pancakes, waffles and eggs Benedict, to serve up a scrumptious breakfast, and homemakers, whether sharing or single, can benefit from tips like a buyer’s guide to bananas and how to fix a broken hollandaise. In fact, as a first cookbook, this would be an invaluable gift for a new homemaker. It even covers sandwiches, from classic grilled cheese to croque Madame.

Other sections of the book covers side dishes, like scalloped potatoes, shrimp fried rice and mashed potatoes. There there are the desserts, all classic comfort foods like eich, dark, sinful Southern Devil’s Food Cake to pure hearted, country style carrot cake (although it looks more on the indulgent than healthy side with a whipped cream cheese and vanilla frost). There are also instructions on how to ice a cake, how to make perfect pie crust, flaky pie crust and a classic rice pudding. In fact it covers almost every aspect of comfort food cooking in one book. I think it’s good value, available from both Amazon and Book Depository.

My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.

Barrio 2013!

After last year, we were all worried that the Brisbane Barrio Fiesta had lost its mojo – but this year I am happy to say it came back bigger and better than ever. It was great fun, and great food, all the way.

barrio2013 kids stall1

One of the new attractions was a kids’ activity tent. Here my granddaughters get into the fun of painting and decorating. If anyone spotted that pink My Little Pony baby she is holding, could you leave a comment? She is very upset at losing it.

barrio 2013 layla art

Very proud of her art work!

barrio 2013 2The weather was a bit overcast, but there was no rain, and a good crowd gathered. There were lots of stallas as well, and that always is good to see.

barrio 2013 bread stall

This is good to see as well – lots of lovely bread. I bought loaves and yummy coconut buns to take home and enjoy!

barrio 2013 cake pop

My grandkids loved the cake pops – this one was sooo pretty – until grandson ate it up!

barrio 2013 dancer

On stage there were graceful, beautiful dancers…

barrio 2013 girl duo

and talented singers

barrio 2013 family
I met this beautiful family from Saints Crusade

barrio 2013 food queue
and the queue for Hector’s Lechon went on forever, as usual – but on the Fruit Spin stall, the bubble tea ran out – sob!

barrio 2013 paquino Tshirt

My son-in-law Mannie got this great Tshirt

barrio 2013 adria

All in all – a great day. Can’t wait for next year.

Finding the Healthier You

The Colosseum
The Colosseum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Surfing the TV channels the other night, I happened upon the The Biggest Loser (Australia) and decided to give it a whirl. By the first ad break I was slumped in my chair, deflated and demoralised and hating myself. Not because I identified with anyone on the show, but because I realised I may as well be sitting in the crowd at the Colosseum in Ancient Rome, yelling at the Emperor to give these losers the thumbs down and throw them to the lions.

I felt dirty. I was watching people getting red faced and exhausted, falling over and clutching their chests, while impossibly toned and fit young gladiators bullied and harried them into pushing themselves beyond their limits. “Believe in yourself!” Michelle Bridges roared in the ear of a young girl who would make four of her, huffing and puffing on a running machine. Good grief. The girl fell off, gasping for breath and I finally went in search of another show.Something entertaining. Something uplifting. Something that did not involve a group of fat people facing each other off with a handweight and dreaming of being the one to stay standing, red faced and saggy kneed, longer. Just believe in yourself, folks.

How is this helping anyone? How is pushing people to the point of collapse for our “entertainment’ doing anyone but the studio execs and those overpaid trainers any good? When they are not threshing about gasping for air, the contestants are sobbing all over the place, releasing their ‘demons’ and berating themselves for being fat and unhealthy. How is tempting them with fattening food helping them, kind of like waving a packet of smokes under a quitter’s nose? Lit smokes at that.

And how is it helping us, in our quest to keep various weight related diseases at bay? Are we supposed to identify with these demoralised, sobbing, bullied, pitiable people? Are we supposed to think “there but for the grace of God and Michelle Bridges and the one called Shannon and the one who looks like he wishes he was actually in the SAS, go I?” Or are we supposed to feel the fear of God and Michelle Bridges et al, and quake in our slippers in case they come for us next? Put down that biscuit or else the cat gets it!!

Going on the usual Google hunt after being horrified (enlightened, inspired, excited – not) I found I was not alone in my concerns. There is a petition to stop the show promoting bad health and diet behaviours, and even sporting celebrities have come out again it. Good to know this is not considered the normal way to treat people who are obese and teetering on the edge of heart attacks.

Strangely enough, while hastily changing channels, I was again reminded that the only approach to health I have seen on TV that I admired recently is a flippin’ health fund ad. It’s for BUPA and you can see it here. I dare you not to get a teeny bit teary. Now, like most people, I can’t even afford to join a health fund and yet here I am, being incredibly moved and inspired by a  TV ad. Not a show which is designed to tug at my emotions and just leaves me feeling disgusted, but a TV ad that goes straight to the heart of the matter. That’s what I want. That healthier me, that person I haven’t seen for too many years, before the cares and pressures of life took away her love of life and most costly of all, her love of herself.

But fortunately, what the ad doesn’t tell you is that you don’t have to belong to a health fund to get those benefits. You can Google “healthier you’ and find, not just the BUPA ad, but a whole websworth of places you can learn to find your healthier self again. Try these:

Your local government or Federal health body – I live in Queensland.

Health fund websites are actually a good source of advice. Try AHM.

Reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack.

Find a good health magazine.

Learn about the best exercise, take up yoga, or tai chi.

Discover that finding a healthier you can be fun! Champagne and caviar? Yeah, baby!

Or you can download my free ebook, and follow the guidelines to a detox weekend to get you started.

The point is, finding that healthier you does not have to be a punishing process, letting fit bullies throw you to the lions and the derision of the crowd. You can take the gentle approach, loving yourself enough to want the best for you, enjoying food and life to the point where exercise and a good healthy diet become natural and life enhancing. Yeah, it’s about feeling good about yourself, not sobbing and blubbing in front of the cameras about how much you hate yourself and your horrible life and how grateful you are to that woman with the snarling face pushed into yours.

BUPA got it right, even if I still can’t afford to have health insurance. I can still afford to find a healthier me. And this didn’t turn out to be a rant against TV after all. It just depends what you watch. A lousy show, or a good ad?

Why kimchi is Irish comfort food

the-kimchi-cookbookThe strong resemblances between Ireland and Korea may account for my obsession with all things Korean – particularly cinema and food – but do these similarities exist on a more personal level? Reading Lauryn Chun’s Kimchi Cookbook, I am even more convinced that somewhere back along the line, the two groups were one, and split apart, maybe when Atlantis sank.

In her book, Lauryn Chun writes about the comfort food of her Seoul childhood – “Suddenly it all made sense – why I was so curiously drawn to food and wine, my secret fascination when the deep smell of an aged wine elicited a faint memory of roasted soybeans…that made me recall the comforting memories of my childhood in Seoul, Korea.”

And suddenly it does all make sense – comfort food is that food that reminds you of when you felt comforted and nurtured in childhood – which is probably why my particular comfort food is cabbage. My grandmother Jess had a knack for making children feel comforted and nurtured. She wasn’t a great cook, but she cooked a lot of cabbage.

These days I prefer it stir fried to boiled, but the smell of cabbage always makes me feel comforted. Even eating it raw has the same effect, because she always gave me the hard stalk from the centre of the cabbage to chew on.

It’s extraordinary that Lauryn (born in Seoul, Korea) and I (born in Cobh, Ireland) share a comfort food. Thousands of miles apart, but united by the same pungent vegetable, and memories of happy moments in childhood. I came to kimchi late in life, thinking it was probably what my elders used to call ‘an acquired taste’ – in other words, no one in their right minds could just naturally take to it.

In my mind I likened it to sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), which I have never liked. But kimchi is quite something else – spicy, cheeky and yes – comforting. It warms the stomach and the heart. (Now I am yearning for a gingered pork and kimchi riceburger from Mosburger – yum!)

Anyway, this book is basically everything you ever wanted to know about making kimchi at home, from ‘is it even possible?’ to ‘can I make instant kimchi with apples, persimmons and pears?’ Well, of course it’s possible – Koreans have been doing it for centuries – and yes, you can and it looks lush.

In her introduction to the recipes, Lauryn Chun writes movingly about her early childhood in Seoul, and growing up in the very different culture of Southern California, where her mother cautioned not to eat kimchi in public or share it with her American friends because they might be offended by its malodorous nature. I think I went through the same thing with pig’s feet when I moved to England as a child.

Similarly, it was discovering diverse food cultures elsewhere that did away with any self consciousness about her own food culture and awakened her love of food. Me too. Discovering Spanish, French and Middle Eastern cuisines opened my mind to new tastes, and my heart to old comforting memories. One thing we all share, world wide, is an attachment to the food we grew up with, and a feeling of being comforted by familiar tastes.

Lauryn’s mother operates the Korean restaurant Mother-in-law’s Kitchen in California, and Lauryn makes and sells Mother-in-law’s Kimchi (MILKimchi) using the restaurant’s own recipe, so the recipes’ pedigrees are impeccable.

Ah the recipes! I didn’t know kimchi could be so versatile.There are recipes for each of the four seasons, from long brined and complex in winter and autumn, to short brined and simple for summer and spring. For example, instant red leaf lettuce kimchi is more of a quick salad that can be served with barbequed meat.

The autumn sees kimjang, the cabbage harvest and annual kimchi making, with the abundance of the season reflected in the recipes – butternut squash kimchi, kimchi with persimmon and dates, traditional napa kimchi, daikon kimchi and the  recipe used by Mother In Law Kitchen. Then there are recipes for using kimchi in cooking, such as Eggs Benedict with Kimchi Hollandaise.

There is so much to take in, it is impossible to mention it all here. The Kimchi Cookbook is a great read as well as a great cookbook.

*If you want to know more about the Korean/Irish connection check out The Irish Association  of Korea, and the Irish Embassy in Korea.

You can buy MILKimchi and DIY kimchi kits at Lauryn Chun’s website.

Barrio Festival 2012

2012 may not be the end of the world as we know it, but will it be the end of the Brisbane Barrio Festival that celebrates all things Filipino? It’s been a bad year for our favourite fiesta. First it was cancelled mid year due to disagreements among members of the organising committee, then was rescheduled to September 9. But the rumours grew that many stall attendees had dropped out – almost half, we were told.

Half? More like 80 per cent! This is what the fabled food fest looked like on Saturday:

One food stall. One drink stall. And the food was all gone by the time we got there. The Filipino Son in Law was shattered. He had gone to extreme lengths to transport a big family party there from the outskirts of Ipswich, and all there was left to eat was churros. They were pretty good, but they didn’t make up for the absence of real food.

Last year it was a blast, with the planking mascot from Jolibee, grocery stalls, lines of food stalls and more bubble tea outlets than bubbles in the tea. This year it looked desolate. I never saw so many broken hearted Filipino men when the food ran out.

Of course, there were the usual parade of gorgeous dancers in their lovely dresses. There was a contingent from our home town as well.


The entertainment was good, with a great girl singer on stage, but we had skipped breakfast in anticipation of the food, and since it had taken most of the morning just to get there, we were starving. So we gave up and headed for Hancook, the SiL’s favourite Korean restaurant in Southbank, where he could dine us in style at a great restaurant with great food and great staff.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! Let’s hope the Barrio Committee can get their mojo back by next year.