Fellow blogger and food writer Rejina is a friend of mine, and one I’ve long thought deserved a cookery book deal, so I was delighted to be sent a review copy of her first title, Gastrogeek (What to eat when you’re in a hurry, hungry or hard up). Her blog of the same name has been a source of great ideas for the last four years – indeed she launched her blog just weeks before I started mine.
Having talked to Rejina, I can understand why her innovative pitch instantly caught her publisher’s attention – she proposed (and showcased) a photographic comic-book style approach based on her memory of teenage magazines from her childhood. Just as the illustrated stories in those magazines did for teenage love dramas, her aim with this book was to provide solutions to common kitchen dilemmas such as creating restorative meals after shitty days at work, conjuring up meals from the store cupboard when cash is tight, cooking up a storm to impress guests and feeding a hangover in the best possible way.
There are some disappointments about the book, and I know Rejina will forgive me for being honest about them. In my opinion, the publishers haven’t done a great job on the book design. Too focused on Rejina’s clever theme, they seem to have fallen under the impression that the audience for the book must be the same teenagers those magazines were aimed at and the design feels a bit childish as a result. And whoever thought teal green was the right colour for the cover of a cookery book or that a font suspiciously similar to Comic Sans was right for the text inside ought to be ashamed of themselves. I also found many of the photographs far too dark, especially the black and white ones – I’ve no idea whether the fault lies in the image processing or the printing but it makes the pages look far drabber than they should.
The good news, however, is that the quality of Rejina’s content shines through regardless and is why I recommend you purchase this book even if the appearance puts you off at first glance.
In a few of the dishes, Rejina’s British-Bengali background comes through – she shares her Dahl of Dreams, Curried Roast Bone Marrow (which reminds me of my own bone marrow curry) and Duck Egg, Spinach and Coconut Curry, amongst others. But the majority of the recipes are a wide-ranging and eclectic mix with influences from all around the world – just the way many of us cook these days. Rejina lived in Japan for a while, and her love of umami (and a few key Japanese ingredients) comes through too. I’ve bookmarked Miso Butter Roasted Chicken, Mini Chicken & Mushroom Pies, BBQ Ribs in Dr Pepper and Teriyaki Rice Burgers to name just a few.
Recently Pete and I made her Roasted Aubergine Macaroni Cheese and to say we liked it is an understatement. Not only did the textures and flavours of the dish come together to create a whole that was far more impressive than its simple ingredients suggested, the instructions were also spot on and very straightforward to follow. That last bit should be a given, shouldn’t it, but it’s not uncommon to find yourself adjusting cooking times and amounts to achieve the consistency and results described by the author. In this case, the recipe worked like clockwork.
What made this macaroni cheese shine were the smokey flavours from the smoked paprika, aubergine and smoked cheddar.
Gastrogeek’s Amazing Roasted Aubergine Macaroni Cheese
Serves 4 (or 2 very greedy people)
300 grams dried macaroni
35 grams butter
25 grams plain flour
300 ml whole milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly grated nutmeg, to season
0.5 teaspoon smoked paprika
1-2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
90 grams smoked Cheddar cheese, grated plus some for sprinkling
100 ml double cream
1 garlic clove, crushed
Roast the aubergine in a hot oven (220 C) for 20-25 minutes. Carefully peel and mash the creamy innards.
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Cook the macaroni according to the packet instructions. Drain and transfer to a 25 x 20 cm greased baking dish, reserving a little of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium pan and stir in the flour. Cook the roux over a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly and then gradually add the milk, still stirring constantly.
Stir in the mustard, nutmeg, paprika, salt, pepper and cheese and stir until melted.
Stir in the aubergine flesh, cream and garlic, along with a little reserved pasta cooking water (to adjust the consistency if required).
Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta and mix well. Sprinkle generously with extra grated cheese.
Bake at 180 C for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
There is absolutely no question whatsoever that we will be making this again, and soon. I recommend that you do too!
Gastrogeek by Rejina Sabur-Cross is currently available on Amazon UK for £10.23 (RRP £15.99).