Monday, 4 December 2017

Cookbook review: The Modern Cook's Year - Autumn

Anna Jones is hands down my favourite food writer (I've written about my love of her before in 2015). Her first two books, A Modern Way to Eat and A Modern Way to Cook are my desert-island recipe books, with her dal with sweet potatoes and one-pot kale and lemon spaghetti being two of my favourite recipes of all time. Her food is all vegetarian and mostly vegan, with an emphasis on great-tasting healthy food which doesn't preach "clean eating" (which I despise). 

While she has her moments of recipes requiring "smoked water" and "pickled peppercorns", I find most of her recipes accessible and simple to make, and over the years she has rarely let me down.

So of course, as soon as I heard about The Modern Cook's Year I had it on pre-order. Unlike her previous two books, the format of her third offering is a little different. Instead of being split into meals and meal types like her first book (breakfast, salads, mains, desserts etc.) or timings like her second book (in the time it takes to set the table all the way to over an hour), her third book is split by season, into 6 seasons in total, from the start of the year to winter.

And this book is a beast. It's about twice the size of her previous books with over 250 recipes and each season starts with a guide to what is in season during that particular time. I admit I don't usually pay as much attention as I should to seasonality when cooking, so I decided that due to the size of this book, and to pay attention to the seasons, I would review this book in several posts. So obviously, first up is autumn.

I received this book in September after coming home to a changing leaves and cooler temperatures after a week in balmy Spain, so it was the perfect time to work through the autumn chapter. I'll admit this now, I am definitely one of those autumn-obsessed people, so I was particularly excited about this chapter. 

First Impressions
Autumn is one of the bigger chapters in the book (I realised this when I started planning for my winter recipes and deciding to combine both Winter and Start of the Year as these sections are much shorter) and I really appreciated the list of in-season vegetables and fruits which was particularly useful when doing my meal planning with recipes not from this book.

I wrote a list of 13 recipes I wanted to make from this section, with 9 seeming do-able for midweek and 4 being more weekend affairs. These ranged from breakfasts to main courses to desserts.

I haven't really explored the book beyond the autumn and winter sections so far (I didn't want to get excited about some delicious courgette or aubergine dish in the summer chapter that might lure me away from my seasonality goals!), but I know already this chapter will be a favourite, thanks to root vegetables, pumpkins, and curries. However, we'll have to wait and see!

What I made
So I actually only made 6 recipes, as towards the end coursework kind of took over and there might have been a time I had Quorn nuggets and chips for tea (no regrets), and I do want to go back and make the carrot fritters seeing as I waited 3 weeks for a jar of lemons to preserve in order to make them, but I did make one recipe twice so that might count?

Autumn bowl
I love a simple bowl meal, and this gave me loads of inspiration for future bowl ideas. I absolutely loved the homemade chilli sauce and spent the week throwing it on everything - I just wish it lasted a bit longer in the fridge! Phil didn't like the big grilled spring greens but this recipe did start my obsession with spring greens which I've been enjoying shredded and fried in loads and loads of garlic, so I'd do that instead next time. An easy and simple dish but with that chilli sauce it really hit the spot.

Dal baked eggs
Dal is basically my favourite food and we eat a lot of eggs, so I knew this was going to be a winner. We had it for dinner with pitta and the aforementioned garlicky greens and it was delicious. It needed the lemon juice to cut through it, but it was easy, quick and a great recipe to have on hand as it's made entirely of ingredients I always have in.

Squash Piadinas
One of my favourite Anna Jones recipes is her sweet potato quesadillas in A Modern Way to Eat, and I've tweaked and adapted the recipe so many times it's become a real easy-dinner staple with lots of chilli and feta. These felt a bit like an Italian version of those, but just not quite as good. It was tasty and quick, but I'd reach for sweet potato quesadillas, especially as I always have sweet potatoes in, over these.

Sri Lankan Squash Dal
I've made this recipe two weeks in a row (basically unheard of in our house!) and I absolutely adore it. I impulse-bought a spice grinder a few weeks ago and this recipe gave me the perfect opportunity to try it out. It's a little bit of a pain to make the curry powder, but it makes loads so I've popped mine in a jar so I can make this any time.

I got a bit obsessed with pumpkins during the autumn as Aldi had these adorable little mixed pumpkins for 80p each, and I think I bought about 10 in total. I used them as decorations for a few weeks and then most of them ended up in this.

I really recommended getting hold of some alternative pumpkins to the usual butternut squash as I fell in love with the super sweet orange pumpkins and deep green pumpkins I tried. They are absolutely incredible roasted and I kept sneaking pieces before they could make it into the curry.

The curry itself is very easy, with the only time consuming part being chopping up and roasting the pumpkin. After that it's plain sailing.

This was definitely the best recipe I tried and I know I'm going to make it over and over again. Now pumpkins are going out of season I might try it with other roasted roots or sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Mash
This isn't really a full meal, but Anna gives you some ideas of how to use it. This sweet potato mash is flavoured with chilli, coriander and soy sauce and partially blended which makes it super smooth and sweet. I had it with fried halloumi, garlicky greens and roasted chickpeas and it was pretty much my absolute dream meal. 

Maple Crumble
I'm not really a dessert person but I wanted to give one of the puddings in this chapter a go. I was planning the make the malt loaf, but I didn't want to spent god-knows-how-much on two different kinds of spelt flour and malt extract, so I settled for this.

It was pretty easy to make, but the dried fruit felt a bit unnecessary (and was quite expensive to get hold of!) and made it all a bit dry. Phil didn't like the dried fruit at all and would definitely preferred me to have just made a regular crumble! I did eat some for breakfast one day which was quite nice with yoghurt, but I'm not sure I'd be in a rush to make this again.

Conclusion
I'm really excited for the rest of this book, as there have been some real hits here in the Sri Lankan dal and sweet potato mash. One thing I will say of Anna Jones, which has been a problem for me throughout her books, is her portions can be tiny, or she'll suggest just a small salad on the side of a bowl of vegetables, and as a volume eater, it just doesn't do it for me. I'd definitely recommend having a few sides ready to go when cooking from her books.

I do love the format of this book, though, and it's really made me think more about buying in season and checking where my veg has come from, and maybe, sometimes, having second thoughts about aubergine in November and maybe swapping it for sweet potato. I'm looking forward to understanding more about seasonality as the book goes on.

I've already started planning some recipes to make from the winter and start-of-the-year chapters so keep your eye out for those in the new year!

Charlotte x

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