Pros: Nice photographs, Easy to follow instructions, Sturdy book
Cons: No nutrient content or high altitude directions
I love autumn. It seems as though everything gets bigger and bolder, including my appetite, as the temperatures change. Walking down the street to my mailbox, it hit me full on that autumn was here to stay. Overnight the snow had made it half way down the mountains, although not yet to my house. There was a definite chill in the air that I was sure would not be leaving any time soon. My normally leisurely stroll to the mail box took on a new determination. I attributed it to my eagerness to get my new cookbook, “The Illustrated Step-By-Step Cook,” by DK Classics – although the chilly air definitely lent expediency to my steps. I chuckled as I removed the package; my new cookbook was just like the season, big and prominent. As I made my way back home I noticed the squirrels were out gathering supplies as well.
I immediately opened my package and was happily surprised by the durable, glossy hard back cover and dust jacket. I know I have autumn on my mind, but finding it decorated with orange and gold pots was ironic and somewhat whimsical. Wasting no more time I got right into the heart of the book. The pages themselves are nice and durable. This means I could comfortably cook with this book on my work station. The quality and quantity of photographs in the book truly impressed me. Every single recipe is represented by more than one photograph, with each recipe actually showing some of the steps. Even the index has photographs in it. I enjoyed looking at the different sections in this book. There is a “Home From Work” section featuring “Simple but scintillating dishes to make in a hurry,” along with a nice “Meat-Free” section featuring actual entrees. My first selection was out of the “One-Pot Dishes” section, “Beef with barley and mushrooms.” I chose this one because it seemed like the perfect autumn meal. The ingredients were easy to find at my local grocery store, and the end product was wonderful and flavorful. My whole family enjoyed it. I found it to be a wonderful and creative variation on more traditional beef stews, with barley replacing potatoes. The texture of the barley in a thick, beefy stew was appealing. The pot of stew was rapidly consumed with few leftovers. My husband found the “Eggnog Tart” in “Pies, Tarts and Cakes.” Although we couldn’t find the amaretti cookies at our local store, I substituted a standard graham cracker crust. The filling was wonderful – easy to execute, smooth, and well-set. If you’ve ever done custards before, you know that achieving all of those can be difficult. The instructions and ingredients, however, made this one easy. Even better, it was delicious, with a layered and subtle blend of flavors. Rich, with a distinct but not overpowering taste of rum, this is a great holiday dessert.
Along with the beautiful pictures each recipe has a set of icons associated with it. For instance, the icons cover “serves, prep and cook.” Everything you need to know is on the pages facing you. If the recipe takes two pages, they are adjacent to each other, eliminating flipping pages while cooking. The binding is very nice and lays almost flat when open. I didn’t have any problems with pages flipping closed while cooking and not using a cookbook stand. The book’s layout with pictures showing the difficult steps has taken much of the mystery out of cooking. With its clear instructions, beautiful pictures, and logical layout, DK has brought even complicated dishes within the reach of any cook. While cooks of all levels will benefit from this versatile book, the beginner and intermediate level cooks will get the most out of it.
To me, reading a new cookbook and trying new hearty fare is just the thing to transition from summer’s light fare to the depths of fall cooking with layers of earthy flavors such as the beef, grains, and root vegetables found in many of the recipes, and the richness of custards and other decadent desserts. DK’s wonderful offering achieves all of this and more. There are dozens of dishes that I am anxious to try, from leg of lamb with roasted garlic to Grand Marnier soufflé. As squirrels are gathering nuts, I’m gathering ingredients so that I can joyfully spend stormy, chilly fall days exploring the depths of this new cookbook and sharing its bounty!
Beef with barley and mushrooms
Serves 6 – 8
Prep time: 35 minutes
Cook time: 2 ½ hours
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 lb braising steak in 2in dice
1 ¼ lb onions, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bouquet garni, made with 5-6 parsley stalks, 2-3 thyme sprigs, and 1 bay leaf
3 ½ cups beef stock, plus more if needed
13 oz carrots, sliced
4 celery ribs, peeled and sliced
1 cup pearl barley
1lb 2oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
Leaves from 2-3 parsley sprigs, finely chopped (optional)
Prepare the Ingredients
- Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Heat the oil in a casserole on top of the stove until hot. Add half the beef (it should sear when it hits the pan) and brown well. Transfer to a bowl. Brown the remaining beef in the same way.
- Add the onions with a little salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat stirring for 5–7 minutes, until lightly browned. Return the beef, add the bouquet garni, salt, and pepper. Pour in the stock and stir.
- Cover the casserole and transfer to the heated oven. Cook stirring occasionally for about 1 ½ hours, then add the carrots, celery, and barley. Stir in more stock or water, if necessary, to keep the casserole moist.
- Cover and continue cooking for 40-45 minutes longer, until the meat and vegetables are tender when pierced. The barley should be tender but still slightly chewy. About 10 minutes before the end of cooking stir in the mushrooms.
- Discard the bouquet garni and taste the stew for seasoning. Serve in warmed individual bowls, sprinkled with the parsley, if you like. Serve crusty bread on the side.