My Favorite Cookbooks in 2015

Mid 2014 we decided to help improve our diet, and the variety of food we eat, that we would have a new rule for home cooked meals — each dinner meal had to be different.

It wasn’t necessarily the easiest of rules but was achievable using weekly meal plans combined with a good selection of cookbooks.

Most content I prefer to read online but when it comes to cooking I prefer to grab a cookbook from my bookshelf.

Considering cookbooks are always in the Weekly top 10 best sellers at my local bookstores — I’m obviously not the only cookbook lover!  So I thought I would share my current favorite cookbooks in 2015 that have helped make me a better cook!

What’s for Dinner and Good Food. Good Life‘ by Curtis Stone
whatfor dinnerCurtis Stone’s ‘What’s for Dinner‘ and ‘Good Food. Good Life‘ are my favorite cookbooks.

When we implemented the new rule of every dinner meal had to be different Curtis’s ‘What’s for Dinner‘ was the first cookbook I started with.  I’ve cooked more recipes from his cookbooks than any other cookbook as his recipes always work out well.

Good Food. Good Life‘ is Curtis’s latest book published in March, 2015.

goodfoodWhat’s for Dinner‘ and ‘Good Food. Good Life‘ take a slightly different approach to the recipes.  ‘Good Food. Good Life‘ is packed with hidden gems that I didn’t initially appreciate because I’m a visual learner and not all recipes include photos.  ‘What’s for Dinner‘ was an excellent starting place for improving meals and ‘Good Food. Good Life‘ has been great for expanding cooking techniques.

I track recipes cooked using a Google Sheet.  You can check out the Curtis recipes I’ve cooked in the embedded Google Sheets below (color coding means Red = loved, Orange = liked, Blue – Did not like).

You can check out Curtis’s recipes on his website, Coles Recipes and cooking or watch his recipe videos on YouTube.

Everyday Super Food by Jamie Oliver

I brought Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food to work on eating healthier breakfasts.  Breakfast should make up 1/4 to 1/3 of our daily calorie intake — but most adults eat less than 265 calories and don’t eat a balanced breakfast.  My breakfasts were unbalanced and too low in calories.

Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food is packed full of great healthy, balanced and delicious recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks while providing good tips on health and nutrition.

I’ve learnt from our rule that every dinner meal had to be different that palate is very individual and you don’t know what you do or don’t like until you’ve tried it.  My husband and oldest son’s dislike of pumpkin and sweet potato is a classic example of this (how can any one really hate pumpkin and sweet potato?).  So my approach with Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food breakfasts has been to work through the recipes to work out what I do like and then adapt the recipes if I don’t like the taste but like the recipe concept.

Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food is the cookbook I’ve written the most notes in!  I’ve enjoyed working out how to adapt the recipes I like the concept of as much as cooking the recipes I liked.  My favorites are Awesome Granola Dust, Pretty Fruit Posts and I love Earl Grey Banana Bread (I freeze the Banana Bread in slices and eat it as a snack).  I haven’t found any recipe of Bircher muesli I like but have found some great baked oatmeal recipes.

I enjoy watching Jamie’s Everyday Super Food TV series because the show provides extra information or tips that you don’t necessarily appreciate in the book.   You can check out recipes from the book here.

Of the other Jamie Oliver books I own my next favorite one is Cook with Jamie.

Eggy Bread
Notes on Eggy Bread recipe for a healthier version of French Toast

The Food Lab:  Better Home Cooking through Science by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

The Food LabJ. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab is my cookbook for reading!  It’s the cookbook I read to learn more about the science that underpins cooking (which appeals to me with my science background).  I love how he explains that apprentice chefs in restaurants learn from the chef but don’t question what they learn while at home we learn from our family and cookbooks but never challenge the fundamentals. As you read through The Food Lab you realize how many of these fundamentals aren’t logical and don’t improve your cooking.

In terms of the recipes – they are more American style cooking which I enjoy being an Australian.  American style cooking is less common here in Australia. My only wish is I would have liked a metric version of the book.

The Food Lab also helped me organize my kitchen better.  Simple things like placing commonly used utensils in utensil holders close to the areas where I use them, using a Amco 2-in-1 Lemon & Lime Squeezer (for quickly squeezing lemon juice) and buying a good mandoline (I went with a Borner Mandoline because I’m accident prone) have made a difference.

And I’m now able to cook the perfect poach egg thanks to being introduced to Heston Blumenthal’s method of poaching eggs.

Matt Preston’s 100 Best Recipes

Matt PrestonMatt Preston’s books are my cookbooks I use for reading and for cooking.  Matt is a well known Australian food writer and MasterChef Australia Judge.  I love how he shares information on the history of different well known recipes and the inspirations behind his recipes.

Of the Matt Preston books I own 100 Best Recipes is my favorite.   Favorite recipes include ‘Lasagne that’s well worth the work’ and ‘That ex-girlfriend’s potato salad’.  My lasagne is based on Matt’s recipe using techniques I’ve learnt from Jamie Oliver’s Foodtube ‘How to cook classic lasagne’ video.  I cook half the quantity suggested in Matt’s recipe which is enough to feed us for two nights (family of four).

What Else?

My choices aren’t necessarily classic cookbooks.  But as a home cook, with discerning critics, my choices need to be based on cookbooks that provide recipes that are practical, work well and taste nice.

I’m always searching for new recipes or techniques to try.  Let me know in the comments below if you have any recipes or cookbooks I should check out.

Ways To Use Crowd Sourcing In The Classroom

Can you help?

I’m facilitating a session with Tzvi Pittinsky on using Crowd sourcing in the Classroom at ISTE 2015 and Tzvi decided that the best way to demonstrate the power of crowd sourcing is to crowd source our presentation.

Here is how you can help:

  1. Add a slide to the Google presentation, put up some text, perhaps add a picture, include your name and/or your Twitter handle or blog URL to share your ideas on how crowd sourcing can be used in the classroom.
  2. Share a link to our Google Presentation with your social networks.   The more ideas we receive, the better we demonstrate the power of crowd sourcing and its use in the classroom.
  3. Leave a comment on this post to share links to any recent articles you’ve written on this topic or additional ideas we could include in our presentation.

Presentation Background

Inspiration for our presentation developed from the relationship Tzvi and I formed while crowd sourcing notes from the ISTE 2014 conference.   Tzvi started crowdsourcing notes and resources being shared at ISTE 2014 into a Google spreadsheet when a friend of his asked if he could share his notes from sessions he attended with her as she wasn’t able to attend ISTE 2014.

Tzvi thought rather than just share his own reflections, and notes, with one individual; why not share his notes with everyone while also inviting others to share their own resources.

I wasn’t at ISTE 2014 but had decided to learn how much I could get out of ISTE from afar by being #NOTAtISTE using a range of different strategies — one of which involved curating the best information and content shared during the conference into the ISTE Insights Flipboard magazine with the help of Jeffrey See.  Together Jeffrey and I curated over 936 articles shared during ISTE 2014.

While curating articles into the ISTE Insights Flipboard magazine I started seeing requests to add to Tzvi’s Google Spreadsheet being shared.  It made logical sense for me to add links I saw into his Google spreadsheet while curating my Flipboard magazine since I was at home on a computer which is faster and easier compared to those at the conference.

After the conference Tzvi and I worked together to organize the Google spreadsheet into Categories to make it easier for others to search specific information.

ISTE Insight Magazine

You can read Tzvi’s reflections on this exhilarating experience here and here.

About our Presentation

Our plan is to demonstrate how participants at ISTE 2014 worked with global participants #NOTatISTE while encouraging participants to reflect on all the different ways crowdsourcing can be used in classrooms.

The crowd sourcing the presentation on Crowd sourcing in the Classroom  is based on Tom Barrett’s Interesting Ways series.

Tom Barrett began his series of using Google presentations to crowdsource ideas about the uses of different tools for the classroom in November 2007 — starting with One idea, one slide, one image.  Make sure you check out Tom Barrett’s series if you haven’t seen his Interesting Ways series.

Watch this video to see how crowd sourcing a Google presentation works.

Where’s Sue?

For those wondering if I’ll be at ISTE 2015 — the answer is no.  I’ll be participating again in #NOTatISTE and will be presenting remotely from Australia with Tzvi who will be at ISTE 2015.

I’m hoping that some of my friends at ISTE 2015 will be able to attend our session Crowd sourcing ISTE: A Dynamic Model for Collaboration Inside and Outside the Classroom on Monday June 29 8:30-9:30 to assist Tzvi if needed.

What else?

Thanks again for any help you can provide with our presentation.  Here’s the help again we need:

  1. Add a slide to the Google presentation, put up some text, perhaps add a picture, include your name and/or your Twitter handle or blog URL to share your ideas on how crowd sourcing can be used in the classroom.
  2. Share a link to our Google Presentation with your social networks.   The more ideas we receive, the better we demonstrate the power of crowd sourcing and its use in the classroom.
  3. Leave a comment on this post to share links to any recent articles you’ve written on this topic or additional ideas we could include in our presentation.

Thanks to the #NOTatISTE community (especially Jen Wagner for setting up this amazing community), Jeffrey See for helping with the Flipboard Magazine, those at ISTE 2014 and  Tzvi Pittinsky for the opportunity to present at ISTE 2015.

Learning by blogging: My Gardening Adventures

Blogging is an important part of how I learn.   The process of sharing information in posts helps me reflect deeper, document information I want to refer back to and provide a mechanism for others to provide input into aspects I hadn’t considered.

It’s also important to blog about what you’re passionate about , and what interests you.

The purpose of this post is to reflect on my veggie patch progress.  While the topic mightn’t necessarily be of interest — you might find it helpful to observe how someone like me uses blogging for learning and why it is important to encourage students to not only blog for school but allow them to blog about their passions.   It might also help those the develop school vegetable gardens with students.

Background

Mid last year we decided to help improve our diet, and the variety of what we eat, we would have a new rule for home cooked meals — each meal had to be different.  Isn’t necessarily the easiest of rules  but has been achievable by working through recipe books by well known chiefs.  For those wondering my favorite is Curtis Stone’s What’s for Dinner.

Fresh herbs are an important part of many of these recipe.  Buying weekly fresh herbs isn’t cheap and I was frustrated by the wastage when they weren’t all used.   This inspired me to work on my gardening skills at the same time as improving cooking skills.

I don’t necessarily have the greenest thumb.  Our climate is temperate – warm summers with low humidity and cool winter with average annual lowest temperature of 5 C (41 F) which helps but our soil is sandy which isn’t the best for growing veggies.  It’s been trial and error; and I’ve been experimenting with a range of herbs and vegetables.

Gardening Frustrations

Trial and error is very frustrating.

My local store is always stocked with an extensive range of herb and vegetable seedlings.  I regularly purchase seedlings I hadn’t intended to buy (they call me!) that are either hard to grow, don’t suit our soil conditions or it isn’t the right season for planting in our garden.

Apparently it’s a common problem and the best ways to avoid it is to have a list of what you want to buy before going plant shopping.

To solve the problem I’ve developed my own planting guide for Perth based on recommendations by other local home gardeners and Gardenate.   Belle’s Vegetable Garden shares great insights into their gardening.  Their humor makes me laugh!  SilverbeetGood to grow if you like to eat it. Personally I think it is like eating dirt …

Plant Plant in Garden
Celery Nov, Dec
Coriander Sept, Oct, Nov
Basil Oct, Nov, Dec
Chilli Sept, Oct, Nov
Chives Any month except June, July, August
Curry Plant Oct
Dill Sept, Oct
Oregano Any month except June, July, August
Parsley Any month except June, July, August
Radish All months
Silver Beet Any month except June, July, August
Spring Onions Sept, Oct, Nov
Thyme Oct, Nov
Tomato (Cherry) Oct, Nov, Dec
Zucchini Nov, Dec
Mulching Garden bed Add Straw mulch late spring (November)

I haven’t included lemon tree, lime tree, mint, sage, tarragon in the planting guide as these shouldn’t need regular replanting.  Oregano and thyme don’t need regular replanting but have been included because both herbs have suffered from hubby turning off watering system.

My Herb Garden

Herb gardenMy herb garden is fairly small but includes all the herbs I need for cooking (except not all herbs are available year long).   I occasionally plant some vegetables among my herbs in the hope they may grow.

I also have a separate garden bed with a lemon tree and a lime tree as well as three rectangular small planters with a mixture of herbs and some veggies.

Below is a summary of the different herbs (and some veggies) I grow with links to recipes I enjoy cooking.

Basil

Basil is an annual plant that doesn’t like colder weather.  It should be planted once the night time temperature is above 10 C (which could be any time from late August to October in Perth).    It’ll continue to grow through until about mid May (unless your husband turns off the watering system and upsets the plants!).

Basil flowers during summer and the flower spikes should be regularly pruned to encourage bushiness.

Basil is easy to grow with a wide variety of basil to choose from.  I have three varieties of basil: sweet basil; Greek Basil and purple basil.  I confess I haven’t always been the greatest fan of eating basil but it has grown on me.  Haven’t been game enough yet to try my purple or Greek basil and they are on my to do list.

My other ‘to do’ is to look at preserving fresh basil as I produce more fresh basil in the growing season than we eat.

Recipes:

  1. Pesto glazed chicken breast with spaghetti
  2. Orecchiette with Brown Butter, Broccoli, Pine Nuts, and Basil (I add chicken as well).

Chilli

Chilli
Chilli

Chilli are fairly easy to grow.  My biggest challenge is finding the right chilli varieties to grow!  Chilli’s I grew a few years ago were so hot only my friend could eat them.

Fortunately chilli seedlings now includes a chilli hottest rating to help with selection.

This summer I grew Chilli mild and Chilli Jalapeno.  Both produced chilli that were too mild for what I needed.  Next planting season I’m going to try some slightly hotter chilli varieties.

Chilli heat vary considerably even when they look the same.  A handy tip for working out the chilli heat is to cut the chilli in half, run your finger along the inside of the chilli, then rub it on your bottom lip.  If you feel nothing it is very mild.  Slight tingle means it is mild and you’ll know if it is hot.  Following this technique when using Chilli in a recipe helps ensure you get the desired amount of heat (or mildness).

Recipes:

  1. Grilled Fish Tacos with Pico De Gallo

Chives

Chives
Chives

Chives are perennial and easy to grow.  They die down in winter and return again in spring.

To harvest you should snip close to the ground rather than snipping ends of shoots otherwise stalks become tough.

Recipes:

  1.  Matt Preston’s Potato Salad (this is our favorite potato salad recipe).

Coriander

Coriander grows best during cooler months. My coriander grew well during winter and spring but went to seed as it warmed up.

Coriander
Coriander

Pushing boundaries I planted two new advanced Coriander Slowbolt seedlings in summer. Slowbolt is a fast growing but slow bolting variety of coriander (i.e. bolting = goes to seed). Both plants are growing slowly and so far haven’t gone to seed.

Coriander and flat leaf parsley look very similar; it’s a good idea to keep them separate.

Recipes:

  1. Grilled Fish Tacos with Pico De Gallo

Lemon

Lemon
Lemon

Lemon is the most common ingredient I use weekly and I can use up to 7 lemons per week which can cost about $7 per week.   We had an advanced lemon tree planted last November.

It’s already bearing fruit however I’ve discovered lemons gradually mature and it can take up to 9 months for lemons to change from green to yellow.

Apparently patience is a virtue.  Hopefully both my lemon and lime trees will eventually bear fruit.

Recipes:

  1. Roast Chicken with lemon & shallot asparagus
  2. Matt Preston’s Chicken with oregano, lemon and garlic.

Mint

Mint
Mint

Mint is incredibly easy to grow.  Once planted it keeps propagating and can take over the garden as it is very invasive.  I learnt the hard way years ago that the best option is to plant mint in pots otherwise you end up spending a lot of time pulling it out.

It dies off in winter and comes back in spring.

Recipes:

  1. Vietnamese-style chicken salad 

Oregano

oregano
Oregano

Oregano is a small perennial shrub that grows to 30 cm and produces white flowers in late summer.

My oregano hasn’t fully forgiven me for that time I didn’t realize the sprinkler wasn’t working. Need to do some more trimming to remove damaged leaves.

Recipes:

  1. Grilled lemon oregano lamb chops with rustic bread salad.
  2. Matt Preston’s Chicken with oregano, lemon and garlic.

Parsley

Flat leaf parsley
Flat leaf parsley (Italian Parsley)

I have both curley leaf parsley and flat leaf parsley (Italian parsley).   Flat leaf parsley is used more in recipes because it is considered to have a more robust flavor while curley leaf parsley is more associated with decorating.

Parsley is one of the easiest herbs to grow.

My first batch of flat leaf parsley grew well over winter but went to seed early and had to be replaced.   Should have lasted 1 to 2 years.

Curley leaf Parsley
Curley leaf Parsley

I replaced with a range of different sized seedling batches but planted them when it was hot (they survived!).

Parsley doesn’t like being transplanted and are more temperamental if you plant seedlings during periods of warm weather (oops).

Recipes:

  1. Cheesy Garlic and Herb bread

Rosemary

Rosemary
Rosemary

Rosemary is one of the few plants that is Sue proof!  Easiest herb to grow.   Great for flavoring meat and roast veggies.

Perennial herb that produces spikes of lavender blue flowers from early August to October and should be pruned after flowering to maintain a dense shape.

My rosemary is a bit yellow and probably needs fertilizers.  Checking my soil pH is on my to-do list.

Recipes:

  1. Moroccan beef skewers

Sage

Sage is a tough perennial that has so far survived me (and the hubby factor).  There are several different varieties of Sage.

I have the common sage which has velvety, grey-green leaves, grows to 75 cm and produces pink flowers in spring.

  1. Homemade Ravioli of Pumpkin and Parmesan with Roasted Pine Nuts

Tarragon French

Tarragon
Tarragon

French tarragon is the most popular variety of tarragon because it has the peppery tarragon taste.  It needs to be propagated from cuttings as it really ever flowers.

It has thin grey green leaves on a sprawling bush that dies down in winter and returns again in spring.

Recipes:

  1. Poached Salmon with Green and Yellow Beans
  2. Easy flatbreads

Thyme

Thyme
Thyme

Thyme is a perennial that grows to about 30 cm and produces pretty flowers in summer.

It is the most flavorsome when in flower.

Recipes:

  1. Fettuccine Bolognese
  2. Turkey meatballs with marina sauce

Tomato

I’ve had varying success with tomato plants!  Bellie’s veggie garden reports the same issue.  They’ve been successful with cherry tomatoes but struggled with larger tomato varieties.

I’ve accepted defeat and next planting season I’m planting cherry tomatoes.   Proof it is in the best interest of the tomato plants.

Recipes:

  1. Homemade Pizza with Mozzarella, Cherry Tomatoes, and Pesto

Your tips?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!  What else should I consider growing?

Still trying to work out how often I need to fertilize and what to use.  What is your advice?

I’ve also had a look at some of the gardening apps.  Do you use or recommend any?

And always looking for new recipes to try!  Feel free to share links to your favorite recipes.  You can check out my Recipes for Inspiration Flipboard magazine to see what I’m trying to learn or are thinking of trying.