Cook from the book: The Big Family Cooking Showdown

The hotly-anticipated BBC2 series, The Big Family Cooking Showdown, has finally hit our screens and we couldn’t be more excited. Celebrating family cooking at its best, the series is hosted by Zoe Ball and Nadiya Hussain and will see 16 families from across the UK battle it out to impress the judges, celebrity chefs Rosemary Shrager and Georgio Locatelli, to be crowned the series winner.

The brilliant cookbook of the series shares the best recipes by the families competing in the show, as well as original recipes and tips from Rosemary Shrager throughout. Divided into 7 chapters and featuring 120 recipes from a variety of cuisines, it includes plenty of easy-to-follow ideas to take the whole family from brunch through to dinner and dessert.

To celebrate the book’s release, we gathered together a team of Happy Foodies to put some of the recipes to the test. Here’s how we got on…

Who: Lottie Huckle, Ebury Marketing Manager

What I made: Tarka Dal

Lottie's dreamy dal

What I thought: Now this is my kind of cookbook. A family-friendly collection of recipes that’s still big on flavour and excitement and even packs a little wow-factor. There are no bland, forgettable recipes in this book, but only mouth-watering dishes you can’t wait to rush home and cook. Needless to say, I was hard pressed to choose just one dish for this cook from the book. Before I settled on the Tarka Dal I drooled over the Masala Fish & Chips with Coriander Chutney, the Baked Beans and Bubble and Squeak Hash Browns and the Summer Berry Shortbread Cake. Eventually though, I landed on the Dal, thanks to the unseasonably chilly August weather and my desire for a bowl of simple comfort food.

And oh was I pleased I plumped for the dal. It was such a doddle and came together in well under half an hour. I’ve never used mung beans in dal before, normally opting for just lentils, but the combination of lentils and beans made for a really satisfying texture. Oh and the tomato tarka – a revelation! Normally my tarka is fried garlic and spices, but the fresh tomato tarka gave a completely different feel to the dish, so light and refreshing. The perfect dal for August, really.

I’m thrilled to say I doubled up on the recipe so have four extra portions sitting in the freezer for when I don’t even have 25 minutes to stir together the dal from scratch. If you cook this dish, I’d completely recommend you do the same.

Who: Charlotte Macdonald, Editor, BBC Books

What I made: Mini Arancini with Arrabiata sauce

Charlotte's amazing arancini

What I thought: I knew instantly which recipe I wanted to make from The Big Family Cooking Showdown – the arancini with pistachio and sundried tomato filling had been on my mind since I missed getting to try it on the food shoot! Arancini are my go-to starter whenever I eat at an Italian restaurant, but I’ve never made them myself! Probably because I never have any leftover risotto…

This recipe had multiple stages, so having made (and eaten half) the delicious risotto on Saturday night, I prepared for a few hours in the kitchen on Sunday afternoon. This isn’t a super quick arancini recipe, but it is a hell of a lot of fun to make. I started by frying up pancetta and rosemary til crisp, then blitzing it with stale ciabatta to make delicious smelling breadcrumbs. That combined with simmering chilli, garlic and plum tomatoes was enough to draw my husband into the kitchen, asking about the amazing smells.

I roped him into the messy, but fun part – rolling the filling of mozzarella, pistachio and sundried tomato into the saffron coloured risotto, and deep-frying once rolled in the breadcrumbs. Thankfully this was speedy, and we couldn’t help but start eating as soon as they came out of the pan, golden brown and crispy. Dipped into the arrabiata sauce, they were better than any arancini I’ve ever had in a restaurant. I’ll definitely be making these again, either to show off at a dinner party, or just for a Sunday night treat!

Who: Stephenie Naulls, Ebury Senior Marketing Executive

What I made: Rosemary’s Vegetable Lasagne

Stephenie's lovely lasagne

What I thought: This veggie lasagne went down a treat with my friends this weekend – it was so tasty, comforting and full of flavour. I was looking forward to making it as my favourite things are mushrooms and the combination of spinach and ricotta and this lasagne is the perfect marriage of those ingredients.

The recipe was great to follow as it splits up the different sauces you need to make into sections so, as a relative beginner, I could take it one ‘section’ at a time. I would recommend wilting the spinach in advance as this slowed me down a bit half way through. I also switched out the butternut squash for yellow and green courgette as we had this growing in the garden already and it worked really well. The recipe recommends one red chilli but I only used half and it still gave it a nice little kick. It was also so nice to have a lasagne without pasta- the layer of vegetables worked as a great substitute. We served the lasagne with a rocket salad with parmesan shavings on top, as recommended.

I was able to prepare it in advance- it took me about an hour to make and when finished it looked very impressive on the dinner table so I would definitely recommend this dish for dinner parties or weekend cooking. It will definitely be my go-to veggie lasagne recipe from now on!

Who: Sarah Garnham, Ebury Publicity Assistant

What I made: Mango and Cardamom Posset with Toasted Coconut and Lime Curd

Sarah's perfect possets

What I thought: I’m a big baker and love making cakes and desserts, although I have never attempted making my own curd or posset. I’ve never felt overly confident in my culinary skills, so making something that requires heating to the perfect temperature so it chills just right would usually set me on edge, but the pictures in the book and descriptions of the flavour combinations were just too delicious to resist!

Luckily this recipe was dead easy with only four steps to follow and a few ingredients, so I really shouldn’t have worried. The posset and the curd was as simple as putting all the ingredients together in a pan and a quick blend - the only difficulty came when I had to sieve it into a jug (my sieve was too big and the jug was too small).

Overall it was a big hit! The mango and cardamom went together perfectly and the lime curd added a sharpness that kept the posset from being too sweet. It had a nice overall texture too as the coconut and lime zest kept it from being all smooth. The only thing I’d change next time is to get a slightly less ripe mango as my one was too squishy to cut up into cubes on top. I’d definitely try this again to get it perfect. It’s quick and easy enough to become my new dinner party signature pud. I now can't wait to try out the rest of recipes and see them being made on the show!

Who: Jessica Lockyer-Palmer, Marketing Executive, cookery

What I made: Cardamom Cheesecake with Rose Water Syrup

Jessica's creamy cheesecake

What I thought: My Mum is the queen of beautiful desserts and I can never quite live up to her reputation, but everything about this recipe, from its bold, perfumed flavours to the scattering of sugared rose petals on top, suggested it could really impress.

Both the base and the filling were incredibly easy to make. In fact, the whole process took around 45 minutes, including setting time. The cheesecake firms up really quickly in the freezer as it uses whipped cream to create a thick filling that requires no baking or gelatine, so it’s the perfect choice of dessert if your main course is quite involved and time-consuming and you want an easy pudding that you can quickly rustle up. Once set, I really enjoyed decorating it with the fresh berries, sugared petals and rose water syrup. It tasted light, creamy and floral, and looked the picture of summer. Plus it got the all-important thumbs up from the Queen of Desserts- winning!

The recipe doesn’t include guidelines for how to create the sugared petals and I couldn’t find them in my local supermarket either, but after some quick research online I discovered that they are super easy to do. You just need to carefully pluck the petals from one rose, dip each one in a little egg white and then in caster sugar. Place each one on a rack to harden for an hour or so and then you are ready to go. This is definitely worth doing as it completely transforms the look of the cheesecake and is a lovely nod to the use of rose water.

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