Outdoor Cooking by Tom Kerridge

Tom Kerrige Outdoor Cooking

What’s the USP? They say it’s the ‘ultimate modern barbecue bible’. We say, steady on there old chap, it’s a nice book of barbecue recipes including marinades, sauces, ribs, steaks, joints, fish, skewers, wraps, burgers, subs and salads from a well known chef. That’s enough isn’t it?

Who wrote it? Chef Tom Kerridge has become known for his dramatic weight loss and series of diet-friendly TV shows and books including Dopamine Diet, Lose Weight and Get Fit, and Lose Weight For Good. His real claim to fame however is as proprietor of The Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, the only two Michelin starred restaurant in the world. He also runs The CoachThe Shed and The Butcher’s Tap in Marlow, Kerridge’s Bar and Grill in London and The Bull and Bear in Manchester. He is also the founder of the Pub in the Park, a touring food and music festival. Earlier in his career, he worked for such British restaurant luminaries as Gary Rhodes and Stephen Bull in London and David Adlard in Norwich.

Is it good bedtime reading? Well, sort of. There’s a breezy 10 page introduction where Kerridge reminisces about a aubergine he once ate at 3am in Singapore and talks about how we all used to drag woolly mammoths back to our camps back in the day, which is, uh, well it’s certainly something. He also urges his readers to ‘enjoy the process’ of barbecuing which is difficult to argue with, and shares his barbecue tips which include ‘anything goes’, ‘just go for it’ and ‘relax’. Thanks for that Tom.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You might need to go to a fishmonger for prawns, squid and scallops that are worth your time barbecuing and a butcher for pheasant, but let’s be honest, you are never going to drag the barbecue out in game season are you? Other than that, there is very little that you won’t be able to find in Asda. They’ve even got gochujang paste for the butter that accompanies Kerridge’s beer can chicken (there is some controversy over this method of cooking, just give it a Google. Kerridge does not address this in the book.)

What’s the faff factor? Let’s set aside the hassle of setting up the barbecue in the first place; if you’ve bought a barbecue book, you must have factored that in already.  There are a few recipes like a seafood platter that’s served with three different flavoured butters that are a bit of work, or a Fennel and ‘Nduja Spiced Porchetta that requires some advanced planning and a bit of skill to execute, but one thing’s for sure, this is Kerridge in approachable mainstream media chef mode rather than a delve into his two Michelin-starred repertoire, you’ll need The Hand and Flowers cookbook for that. For the most part, you’ll find thankfully short ingredient lists and encouragingly straightforward methods.

What will I love? I’m not sure that Outdoor Cooking is the sort of book you fall in love with, but it’s colourful, easy to read and to use. With a little bit of thought and adaptation of the cooking methods (you can figure out how to cook a meatball without resorting to a Kamado Joe can’t you?) you could prepare many of the recipes without going within 10 foot of a barbecue, which may appeal to BBQ-refusing readers (like me.)

What won’t I love?
In no sense whatsoever is this anything like approaching an ‘ultimate bible’. What even is an ‘ultimate bible’ other than the worst sort of marketing BS? It’s a cookbook with some recipes.  It’s a good cookbook with some very nice recipes (see below) but it’s not biblical in either proportion, at just 240 pages, or in scope or in ambition. There are just three pages in total on equipment and barbecue cooking technique for example. In a page of thanks at the back of the book, Kerridge marvels that, ‘What we have managed to create in such a short space of time is heroic’ and that he is ‘a fan of not overthinking books’. To be honest, we can tell. There is a feeling of Outdoor Cooking having been put together in fairly short order, but because Kerridge and Absolute are ‘ultimate’ professions, they can get away with it, just about.

Killer recipes: Squid and chorizo skewers; glazed pork skewers with pickle mooli; barbecued chicken BLT; smoky pastrami burgers; pork ribs with yellow barbecue sauce; spicy pork burgers with romanesco salsa.

Should I buy it? If you are a casual barbecue cook who is looking to go beyond their usual repertoire of bangers and burgers, this book will provide plenty of globetrotting inspiration.

Cuisine: Barbecue
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Tom Kerridge’s Outdoor Cooking: The ultimate modern barbecue bible
£22, Bloomsbury Absolute

monk by Yoshihiro Imai

monk Light and Shadow on the Philosopher's Path by Yoshihiro Imai

What’s the USP? Recipes and stories from monk in Kyoto, a 14 seat restaurant located on the philosophers path on the outskirts of the city where locally sourced ingredients are cooked with fire and the signature dish is, surprisingly, pizza.

Who wrote it? Yoshihiro Imai is the chef and owner of monk. Born in the small village of Mito-city, 60 miles northeast of Tokyo, Imai studied sociology at university, but an interest in baking bread and a stint working in a mountain resort hotel in Karuizawa lead Imai to take a job as a chef at enboca, a nearby pizza restaurant. Imai opened a sister restaurant to enboca in Kyoto in 2010. Inspired by a short internship at Noma, Imai opened monk in 2015.

Is it good bedtime reading? Food writing often falls flat when it aspires to any sort of  literary merit, lapsing into adjective-heavy, pseudo-poetic cliché that manages to express little more than the author’s desire to be taken seriously at all costs, including the text’s clarity and use to the reader. But, in a series of beautifully written essays about his life, career and culinary philosophy that includes subjects such as Oharah village market; Yoshida Farm cheese from the mountains of Okayama, and Yu Sasaki, ‘the mushroom whisperer’ of Iwate prefecture in Honshu, Imai communicates what is obviously a very deeply felt and considered passion for ingredients, the process of cooking and the nature and art of hospitality with a welcome directness and simplicity. For example (just one of many):

‘For us at monk, lighting the oven each day has become part of our daily lives, and we spend the entire day living with fire. The guests who join us at the counter end up gazing at the flames in silence during gaps in their conversation. Fire must have some kind of power to bring us back to our roots, to something ancient within us, and inspire philosophical thoughts. By cooking almost everything entirely by the heat of the fire at monk, I hope our guests can connect with this part of them through the food we share with them.’

What does it look like? There is an elemental simplicity and beauty to Imai’s food. Even a bowl of turnip soup looks like a work of art – swirled with purees of turnip greens and carrots and served in an elegant grey and blue-flecked artisan ceramic ‘vessel’ (of a large dark blue dish made by Taniai-based ceramicist Teppei Ono, Imai says, ‘Looking at it, I get the sensation that this is not a plate, but a hole in space through which one can peer into a deep ocean.’) The signature pizzas – made perhaps with fresh nori or fiddlehead ferns and koshiabura (the sprouts of a wild tree) – are extraordinary. Kyoto itself, depicted through the seasons (the book is divided into spring, summer, autumn and winter) looks like heaven on earth, with lush greenery, vibrant blossoms, crystal waters and open blue skies in the spring and summer; rich red and orange foliage in the autumn and a land of moss and frosts in the winter. At the risk of repeating myself on this blog, the publisher Phaidon are past masters at creating visually pleasing cookbooks, but monk is simply ravishing.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you want to follow the recipes to the letter and you don’t live in Japan, you are going to run into problems. Try tracking down Shogoin turnip, shirako bamboo shoots (‘the fresh heads of the shoots before they appear above ground’, explains Imai), seri (Japanese parsley), yomogi (Japanese mugwort), or nanohana blossoms in Middlesbrough(or London, probably).

What’s the faff factor? If you have a wood fired oven and you can navigate your way through the ingredients lists, finding reasonable substitutes for items that Imai sources locally in Kyoto, then often the recipes are fairly straightforward to execute. Some dishes, including slow-roasted napa cabbage; tomato soup, and the pizza dough recipe could even be adapted for a domestic oven, with a bit of tweaking. The reality for many home cooks however will be that this is a book to read, enjoy, marvel at and dream of visiting monk one day to experience it all for yourself, rather than try and replicate at home. Professional chefs are more likely to have the skills resources and suppliers to make more practical use of the book, especially those based in Japan.

What will I love? monk captures Imai’s distinctive, individual and inspiringly soulful culinary expression.  It’s a complete pleasure to read and to gaze at Yuka Yanazume’s gorgeous images.

What won’t I love? This is probably not a book that you will be cooking from on a regular basis.

Killer recipes: pea soup; suyaki pizza crust; romaine lettuce, egg and yomogi; cherry leaf roast beef; octopus, red shisho and red onion; assorted roasted vegetables, summer; plum lemon verbena and green tea oil.

Should I buy it? If you are passionate about modern gastronomy and love to travel to eat, this book is for you.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy the book 
monk: Light and Shadow on the Philosopher’s Path
£29.95, Phaidon

Mina’s Chicken Paprikash by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino

Chicken Paprikash

Unlike Dracula’s cold cuts, this traditional Hungarian dish – also known as Paprika Hendl – is a warm welcome in a bowl, thick, rich and shot through with the subtle smokiness of paprika. Serve the pink-sauced stew spooned over ribbons of black tagliatelle – usually coloured by squid ink or activated charcoal – for full Gothic effect. It’ll taste just as lovely accompanied by noodles, potatoes or rice, though. Or simply eat it with a spoon, perhaps with some chunky bread to mop up the sauce.
For a vegetarian version, try chickpeas in place of chicken, or simply roast extra veg like mushrooms, courgettes and leeks and add after step two.

Serves 4

Ingredients
4 tbsp olive oil
1kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 tbsp butter
2 onions, sliced into fine strips
2 cloves garlic
2 red peppers, sliced into fine strips
6 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp hot paprika
1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock
300ml sour cream
350g black tagliatelle, to serve (optional)

Method
1. Gently heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or stewpot and add the chicken, cooking for around 4-5 minutes on each side to brown. Remove and set aside.
2. Using the same pan, reduce heat and add the butter. Once melted, add the onion and pepper, cooking for a minute before adding the paprika.
3. Return the chicken to the pan, add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on a low-medium heat for around half an hour, until chicken is tender. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to packet instructions.
4. Combine a few ladlefuls of the sauce with the sour cream, then add back to the pan, stirring gently. Continue cooking until heated through, and serve over the pasta – or your chosen accompaniment.

This recipe is extracted from A Gothic Cookbook which is crowdfunding with Unbound Publishing. Readers can get 10% off pledges up to £100 by using the code PAPRIKA10 between Tuesday 13 July and Thursday, July 15. Click here to take advantage of this limited time offer. 

Cook more from this book and read an extract

Rice pudding with apple compote and milk jam by Rob Howell

Rice pudding - 227

Muller Rice was a regular treat growing up and I love them to this day – ‘madeleine’ memory flavours are always the best. This is Root’s take on Muller Rice which we serve cold on top of an apple compote. The puddings can be made in advance and will keep very well in the fridge for a good few days along with the milk jam.

SERVES 4

FOR THE APPLE COMPOTE
20g caster sugar
3 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3mm dice

FOR THE MILK JAM
65g caster sugar
280ml whole milk
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

FOR THE RICE PUDDING
100g pudding rice
650ml whole milk
50ml double cream
65g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla seeds (scraped from ½ vanilla pod)
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

First, make the apple compote. Tip the sugar into a medium saucepan and add the sliced cooking apples. Place the pan over a medium heat and allow the apples to break down for about 5 minutes, until soft. Transfer the apple mixture to a food processor and blitz until smooth. Return the purée to the pan and add the diced Granny Smiths. Place the pan over a low heat and cook the sauce for about 2–3 minutes, until the apples have softened. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Make the milk jam. Place all the ingredients into a small saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat to a low simmer. Cook, whisking occasionally, for approximately 15–20 minutes until you have a dark brown caramel. Leave to cool. (Any leftovers will store in the fridge for up to 5 days.)

Rinse the pudding rice in a bowl and repeat until the water runs clear. Tip the rice into a large saucepan and add the remaining pudding ingredients. Place over a low heat and cook, stirring well, for 15 minutes, or until the rice is softened but still has a little bite.

Spoon the apple compote equally into the bottom of each bowl. Top with equal amounts of the rice pudding and spoonfuls of milk jam, adding as much as you wish. Serve warm or cold.

Cook more from this book
Buttermilk-fried celeriac with Korean-style sauce by Rob Howell
Roasted carrots with spiced pumpkin seeds, peaches and crème fraîche by Rob Howell

Read the review

Buy this book
Root: Small vegetable plates, a little meat on the side
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Roasted carrots with spiced pumpkin seeds, peaches and crème fraîche by Rob Howell

Roasted carrots - 133
Carrots simply roasted with honey or agave syrup and some herbs is pretty much carrot heaven. The peaches are a lovely addition, but you could also use apricots, pears or, if you wanted something a little more exotic, kimchi.

SERVES 4

FOR THE SPICED PUMPKIN SEEDS
100g pumpkin seeds
1 pinch of paprika
1 pinch of allspice
1 pinch of ground coriander

FOR THE PICKLED CARROT
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thinly with a mandolin
pickle liquid (see below)

FOR THE ROASTED CARROTS
2 bunches of carrots (about 16 carrots), green tops discarded
6 thyme sprigs
6 rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons runny honey or agave syrup
3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
juice of 1 orange
2 peaches, destoned and sliced, to serve
100g crème fraîche, to serve
fennel fronds, torn, to garnish
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make the pumpkin seeds. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas Mark 4. Scatter the pumpkin seeds over a baking tray and scatter over the spices. Give it all a shake to combine. Place the tray in the oven and roast the seeds for 10–15 minutes, until they are lightly coloured and nicely toasted. Leave to cool, then transfer to a food processor and blitz to a crumb. Set aside.

Make the pickled carrot. Place the thinly sliced carrot in a bowl and pour over pickle liquid to cover. Set aside.

Increase the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/Gas Mark 6.

Make the roasted carrots. We don’t peel our carrots, as we feel the softer skin of the variety we use adds to the texture of the dish, but you can peel yours if you prefer. Place the carrots in a baking tray and scatter over the herbs and garlic, and drizzle over the honey or agave and the rapeseed oil. Season well and toss everything together in the tray. Place the tray in the oven and roast the carrots for 15–20 minutes, then add the orange juice to the tray and roast for a further 2 minutes, or until the carrots are tender but retain a good bite (the exact cooking time will depend on the size of your carrots).

Chop the roasted carrots into random sizes and divide them equally among 4 plates. Scatter over the pumpkin-seed crumb, then drizzle over any roasting juices. Add the peach slices and the pickled carrot. Finish with a nice spoonful of crème fraîche and garnish with the fennel fronds.

PICKLE LIQUID
Just like vegetable stock, we keep pickle liquid in the restaurant kitchen at all times ready to go. This is our base pickle recipe. You can tailor the pickle as you wish, adding extra flavourings such as citrus peels, spices or aromatics. Make a large amount to keep in the fridge for use as the occasion demands.

MAKES ABOUT 1 LITRE
600ml white wine vinegar
400ml caster sugar
300ml white wine

Place the ingredients in a saucepan with 300ml of water. Whisk them together and place them over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then immediately remove from the heat. Leave the liquid to cool, transfer it to an airtight container and keep refrigerated until you’re ready to use.

Cook more from this book
Buttermilk-fried celeriac with Korean-style sauce by Rob Howell
Rice pudding with apple compote and milk jam by Rob Howell

Read the review

Buy this book
Root: Small vegetable plates, a little meat on the side
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Buttermilk-fried celeriac with Korean-style sauce by Rob Howell

Buttermilk fried celeraic - 27

SERVES 5

Forget fried chicken, this celeriac is all you will need to satisfy your KFC cravings. The sauce is easy to make and demands just a few specialist ingredients, though nothing you can’t find in a large supermarket, and will help transform all sorts of dishes. It also keeps very well.

FOR THE SAUCE
150g gochujang paste
100ml dark soy sauce
50g light brown soft sugar
25ml mirin
75ml rice wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves
50ml sesame oil
50g stem ginger and
1 tablespoon syrup

FOR THE FRIED CELERIAC
1 celeriac
1 litre cooking oil, for frying, plus 1 teaspoon for rubbing the celeriac
200g buttermilk (or oat milk for a vegan version)
dredge (see below)
2 teaspoons chopped coriander
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
sea salt

For the sauce simply place all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add a little water if needed to reach a nice, saucy consistency. Keep in the fridge in a sealed container until needed.

Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/Gas Mark 6.

Rub the celeriac with the teaspoon of oil and then rub over a good amount of sea salt and wrap the celeriac tightly in foil. Cover with a further 4 layers of foil – this helps the celeriac almost steam itself and leaves it with an amazing texture. Bake for about 1½ hours (the exact time will depend on the size of your celeriac), until tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Then, remove it from the oven and leave it to cool in the foil for 2 hours or so.

Remove the foil and then, using a knife, remove the celeriac skin, taking as little flesh away as possible. Using your hands, tear the celeriac flesh into small chunks – different sizes is best, so you end up with some nice, small crispy bits alongside some lovely large pieces.

Pour the cooking oil into a deep pan until two-thirds full and heat the oil to 180°C on a cooking thermometer or until a cube of day-old bread turns golden in 60 seconds (or preheat a deep-fat fryer to 180°C).

Get 2 mixing bowls: put the buttermilk (or oat milk) in one of them and the dredge in the other. Using your hands, place the celeriac pieces into the buttermilk or oat milk first, then into the dredge. Make sure the celeriac pieces have a good coating on them. Fry the pieces in batches, for about 3 minutes per batch, until golden and crisp. Set aside each batch to drain on kitchen paper, while you fry the next. Once all the pieces are fried and drained, place them in a clean mixing bowl, season them slightly with salt and coat them in the sauce. Finish with a sprinkling of chopped coriander and toasted sesame seeds.

DREDGE

Our chef Josh Gibbons brought this fantastic recipe with him when he joined us and it’s been used with most things imaginable ever since. In the book I’ve used it with the celeriac dish on page 26 and the chicken recipe on page 210, but don’t stop there and be free to use it as you wish.

400g strong white bread flour or gluten-free flour
40g corn flour
2g baking powder
6g garlic powder
8g onion powder
10g white pepper
6g smoked paprika
5g cayenne pepper
3g ground turmeric

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container and store in a dry place. The dredge will keep for 6 months or more.

Cook more from this book
Roasted carrots with spiced pumpkin seeds, peaches and crème fraîche by Rob Howell
Rice pudding with apple compote and milk jam by Rob Howell

Read the review

Buy this book
Root: Small vegetable plates, a little meat on the side
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

The Curry Guy Thai by Dan Toombs

Curry Guy Thai

What’s the USP? An introduction to Thai cooking, The Curry Guy Thai seeks to show readers how to recreate their favourite Thai takeaway recipes at home. 

Who wrote it? Dan Toombs, the self-styled ‘Curry Guy’ of the title. The Californian crossed the Atlantic to settle in the UK way back in 1993, and has been something of an obsessive since discovering our nation’s fabulous curry tradition. After starting a curry recipe blog in 2010, Toombs’ popularity began to rise – and his work ethic no doubt has something to do with that. The Curry Guy Thai is his seventh book. His first, The Curry Guy, came out just four years ago. 

Is it good bedtime reading? Toombs enjoys giving context to each recipe through relatively detailed introductions, but there isn’t much to keep you entertained beyond those. It would have been nice to see some lengthier chapter introductions that explored the different aspects of Thai food. The country’s cuisine has exploded in popularity of the past few years, and whilst it is available on a much wider level than that of other Southeast Asian nations, there is still plenty of education to offered to a nation who still don’t really understand the difference between green and red curries (it is not, Toombs notes, the spice levels). 

What’s the faff factor? This was my first foray into the Curry Guy series and, having seen them all over the cookbook sections for the last few years, I was surprised by certain things. With the mass market publication Toombs’ books have received, their relatively low price (this title has an RRP of £15), and their lack of physical heft (around 150 pages here), I had assumed Toombs was putting out quick recipes that could offer busy families a way to enjoy a semi-authentic takeaway-style dish on a weekday night. 

In reality, The Curry Guy Thai offers an earnest attempt at authenticity wherever possible. This is great, in theory – a genuine way to explore Thai cooking at home and capture the flavour of a good takeaway or even restaurant dish. Unfortunately this also means committing yourself to a little more time and effort. 

Ingredients lists are pretty long, and frequently stretch beyond the local supermarket shelves, asking you to seek out galangal or lime leaves. With the focus more on true replication than home cooking, Toombs offers recipes that require deep frying when perhaps a shallow fry or oven-based alternative might have been more practical for the reader. 

Is it the best way to explore Thai cooking then? The problem quickly becomes that of the competition. It’s been two years since Kay Plunkett-Hogge put out Baan, which has quickly become the benchmark for Thai cookbooks in the UK. That one might have been marketed a little more squarely at enthusiastic hobby cooks, but in truth it outperforms The Curry Guy Thai in every field – more authentic, easier recipes and much more practical for regular weeknight dinners. 

There are options to save your energy – allowances for the use of ready made curry pastes instead of the time-consuming homemade version – but when I tried these within the context of the recipes I found them underwhelming. 

What will I love? The book does a good job at collecting all of your favourite takeaway dishes, meaning you’ll be able to put together a Thai feast of your own if you ever want to. 

What won’t I love? Very few of the recipes are as quick and easy as you’d like, so that Thai feast is going to be quite a bit of work. 

Killer recipes: Prawn Toasts, Duck Jungle Curry, Thai Holy Basil and Chilli Chicken Stir Fry, Red Pork Nugget Curry, Choo Chee Salmon 

Should I buy it? If you’re a fan of the existing Curry Guy books, this will fit in perfectly on your shelf and offer more of the same stylistically whilst expanding the canon into Thailand. Otherwise, maybe take a moment to explore the other options before committing to this fairly middle-of-the-road cookbook. 

Cuisine: Thai
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy the book 
Curry Guy Thai: Recreate Over 100 Classic Thai Takeaway Dishes at Home
£15, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

The Alchemist Cocktail Book by Holly Tudor, Felix Crosse and Jenny McPhee

The Alchemist Cocktail Book

What’s the USP? Modern and classic cocktail recipes from the UK cocktail bar group The Alchemist, established by the late and much admired restaurateur Tim Bacon.

Who are the authors? Holly Tudor (Cocktail Development, Bar Specialist and Head Bartender at The Alchemist, Media City in Salford); Felix Crosse (Head of Bars at The Alchemist group) and Jenny McPhee (Head of Brand for The Alchemist).  They are not credited on the cover, instead ‘The Alchemist has asserted their right to be indentified as the author of this work’. They are however acknowledged in the note ‘Recipe and content compiled by’ in the book’s front matter, although I had to Google their job titles.  I’ve never fully understood publisher’s reluctance to put author’s names on the cover of books of this sort. Of course The Alchemist name is what will catch the reader’s attention and will drive sales, but the book is not just a compilation of content; it hasn’t come from nowhere, someone has sat down in front of a computer and written it, it has been authored and that should get proper recognition. Rant over.  

Is it good bedtime reading? No. Just a one page intro and then your into a list of essential cocktail equipment and recipes for basic cocktail elements like L&G, an infusion of sugar and citrus peel. All very useful but more a practical instruction manual than chillaxing reading material.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There are elements of what used to be referred to as ‘molecular mixology’ in the book so you’ll need to refer to the list of specialist suppliers for sodium alginate powder and calcium lactate powder if you want to use the spherification process to create garnishes like rhubarb caviar for your drinks. You also need to find 24 edible gold sheet flakes to make gold vanilla spheres and garden mint flavour drops to make garden caviar. Unless you are already a cocktail enthusiast, you’ll also need to stock up your home bar with everything from marmalade vodka to coconut rum and crème de pêche liquer to velvet falernum (sugar cane, lime, almond and clove liqueur); the list goes on and on.

What’s the faff factor? Drinks range from the now classic simple and straightforward Cosmopolitan (just shake together vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice and fresh lime juice and Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City – the TV show that made the drink famous – is your slightly pissed up glamorous aunt) to the Legal One which requires infusing your own cardamom gin, making Tropical vermouth by dehydrating pineapple wedges (you’ve got a dehydrator, right?) and adding them to white vermouth along with some pineapple flavour drops you’ve ordered from your specialist supplier and leaving to infuse for 12 hours before straining. You can then place your dry ice pellets in your bong – no, really – and pour in your shaken gin, vermouth, lime juice, tonic water and pineapple and coconut syrup creation. The recipe screams LEAVE IT TO THE PROFESSIONALS but I suppose someone might give it a go.

How often will I use the book? How much of a raging lush are you? Seriously though, if you are looking for a fun new hobby, this book is a great introduction to the bartender’s art and you might well disappear down an alcohol-infused rabbit hole, discovering new drinks and techniques that are as much about flavour and texture combinations (foams as well as the aforementioned spherified ‘caviars’ are a big thing in the book)  as they are getting hammered, although they are about getting hammered, let’s not get too hammered to forget that. It will also come in handy for the more casual drinker looking for something easy to knock up to help welcome in the weekend.

Killer recipes? Tropic Swirl (vodka, passion fruit liqueur and a mix of fruit juices); Hot and Cold Espresso Martini; Porn Star Martini; Paloma; Dead Red Zombie (a mix of rums, Grand Marnier, various juices and a teaspoon of the deadly sounding Zombie Mix made with absenthe and marashino cherry liqueur).

What will I love? With its list of equipment, basic bar tending essentials, foams, spirit batches and infusions, shrubs and syrups, speherificaions and list of specialist suppliers in addition to the recipes, the book has everything a budding modern home mixologist needs. Just add Alka-Seltzer for the morning after.

Should I buy it? If you are looking to shake up your drinks repertoire and are willing to put some time, money and effort into it, you’ll have a lot of fun in the process. But the book is also worth the relatively small investment to have a range of reliable, classic cocktail recipes easily to hand.

Cuisine: Cocktails
Suitable for: Beginners and cocktail enthusiasts
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
The Alchemist Cocktail Book: Master the dark arts of mixology
£16.99, Ebury Press

Root by Rob Howell

Roots by Rob Howell

What’s the USP? A collection of modern, inventive vegetable-forward, often vegan recipes that also includes seafood and meat dishes. 

Who’s the author? Rob Howell is the head chef of Root, the Bristol restaurant that’s set in a converted shipping container on the city’s Wapping Wharf.  

Is it good bedtime reading? Aside from a brief introductory section that includes a forward from Root’s co-founder Josh Eggleton, an introducton from Howell himself and notes on  seasonality, produce and seasoning, the bulk of the reading material lies in the short but informative recipe introductions. So one more for the kitchen than the nightstand.  

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Salsify is still one vegetable that’s still a little tricky to get hold of, at least in the UK, so crispy frying it and serving it with roasted garlic mayo might take a little bit of effort, similarly kolrhabi for a slaw to accompany grilled flatbreads with babganoush. You’ll need a good cheesemonger for ewe’s curd to add to turnip and apple-filled chicory leaves and a decent deli for smoked rapeseed oil to add to yoghurt to serve with salt-baked beetroot.  You’ll hopefully have a good butcher who will get you ox heart to grill and serve with pickled red cabbage and sweetbreads to glaze with Marmite and maple syrup (God, that sounds good), plus a reliable fishmonger for pretty much everything in the fish chapter. That aside, the recipes include many accessible ingredients.  

What’s the faff factor? This is a book by a chef based on recipes from a small plates restaurant so you won’t be surprised that many dishes require several elements to be prepared and then brought together; easier to do in a professional kitchen compared to a domestic one. Often, you’ll need to put quite a bit of effort into something that will only be big enough to form one course of a meal. Therefore recipes such as oysters two ways (fresh with chilli ginger and gherkin and crispy with tartare sauce) or grilled red mullet with a sauce made from the bones will remain dinner party fodder. However, there are plenty of dishes like chilli and ginger Sharpham Park spelt with chestnut mushrooms or courgette ragu baked in a marrow that are  straightforward and satisfying enough to make a delicious mid-week meal.  

How often will I cook from the book? Although the book probably sits in the hobby/weekend-cooking category, there are dozens of delicious sauces, dressings, dips, relishes, pickles and savoury jams that you’ll want to add to your regular repertoire, as well as simple salads and vegetable courses that could be adapted as side dishes, making it a book that you’ll want to refer to often.    

Killer recipes? Roasted squash with kale pesto, squash barigoule prune puree and Old Winchester;  buttermilk-fried celeriac with Korean-style sauce; crispy potato and cheese terrine; hassleback parsnips with honey-mustard mayonnaise; heritage tomatoes with grilled focaccia, aubergine puree and tomato jam; baked seaweed hake with tikka masala-style sauce and bok choi; chicken schnitzel with garlic, parmesan and fresh anchovies; carrot jam-filled doughnuts with mascarpone vanilla cream. 

What will I love? The ‘larder’ chapter will help modernise your cooking with recipes for trendy items like seaweed vinegar, burnt onion puree, kale pesto and pickled wild garlic capers.  

Should I buy it? Root is bursting with exciting and inspirational ideas that any keen cook will delight in. The accent on vegetables is bang on trend and will help those of us in search of help in cutting down our meat intake.  One of 2021’s essential purchases. 

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars 

Buy this book
Root: Small vegetable plates, a little meat on the side
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Spicy Sichuan King Trumpet Mushrooms by Ching-He Huang

20-02-17 - Crispy King Trumpet Mushrooms - 006
Serves 2

This is my vegan version of a famous Sichuan pork dish, Hui guo rou, where the meat is boiled in an aromatic stock, then sliced and fried until crisp, and finally stir-fried with chilli, fermented salted black beans and a host of Chinese seasonings. Instead of pork, I am using meaty king trumpet mushrooms. This dish is perfect served with jasmine rice.

kcal — 410
carbs — 80.3g
protein — 10.0g
fat — 7.6g

1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp freshly grated root ginger
300g (10½oz) king trumpet mushrooms, sliced into 1cm (½in) rounds
1 tbsp Shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tbsp chilli bean paste
1 tbsp yellow bean paste
1 tbsp fermented salted black beans, rinsed and crushed
1 spring onion, trimmed and sliced on the angle into julienne strips (optional)
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp tamari or low-sodium light soy sauce
pinch of golden granulated or caster sugar
pinch of ground white pepper
cooked jasmine rice, to serve (see page 194)

Place a wok over a high heat until smoking, then add the rapeseed oil. Once hot, add the ginger and cook, tossing, for few seconds, then add the mushrooms. As they start to brown, add the rice wine or sherry, then stir in the chilli bean paste and the yellow bean paste, followed by the fermented salted black beans. Add the spring onions, if using, and stir-fry for less than a minute. Season with the dark soy sauce, tamari or light soy sauce, sugar and ground white pepper and give it all one final toss. Serve immediately with jasmine rice.

Cook more from this book
Smoked Tofu and Broccoli Korean- style Ram-don by Ching-He Huang
Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle by Ching-He Huang

Read the review  

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Asian Green: Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East
£20, Kyle Books

Smoked Tofu and Broccoli Korean- style Ram-don by Ching-He Huang

Smoked Tofu & Broccoli Korean Ram-don - 029
Serves 4

kcal — 552
carbs — 57.9g
protein — 30.2g
fat — 21.9g

This is inspired by the beef ram-don in the Korean movie Parasite. I wanted to make a vegan version using chunky smoked tofu, mushrooms and long-stem broccoli. The result is a more-ish, umami-rich, addictively spicy noodle dish. To make the dish speedier, I place the aromatics (garlic, ginger, shallots and chilli) in a food processor and then just add them to the wok.

200g (7oz) dried ramen or udon noodles
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 garlic cloves
2.5cm (1in) piece of fresh root ginger, peeled
3 shallots
2 red chillies, deseeded
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
200g (7oz) smoked tofu, drained, rinsed in cold water and sliced into 2cm (¾in) cubes
400g (14oz) firm tofu, drained and sliced into 2cm (¾in) cubes
200g (7oz) fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp Shaohsing rice wine
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
150g (5½oz) long-stem broccoli, florets sliced lengthwise and stalks sliced into 0.5cm (¼in) rounds
2 tbsp vegetarian mushroom sauce
1 tbsp clear rice vinegar
1 tbsp tamari or low-sodium light soy sauce
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced on the angle into 1cm (½in) slices

Noodle seasoning (per bowl)
1 tsp dark soy sauce and Chiu Chow chilli oil
1 tbsp each tahini and sweet chilli sauce
sprinkle of shichimi togarashi pepper flakes

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Rinse under cold water and drain well, then drizzle over the toasted sesame oil to prevent them from sticking together. Set aside in the colander until needed.

Place the garlic, ginger, shallots and red chillies in a small food processor and blitz to form a paste. Mix the cornflour with 2 tbsp water in a small bowl or cup to make a slurry. Set aside until needed. Heat a wok over a high heat until smoking and add the rapeseed oil. Once hot, add the aromatic paste and cook, stirring, for a few seconds until fragrant. Add both kinds of tofu and the mushrooms. Season with the rice wine and dark soy sauce and toss together well for 1–2 minutes until all the ingredients are coated.

Add the broccoli and cook, tossing, for 1 minute. Stir in the mushroom sauce, rice vinegar and tamari or light soy sauce. Pour in the cornflour slurry to thicken the cooking juices in the wok, and toss to mix well.

Pour some boiling water over the noodles in the colander to reheat them, then divide them between four bowls.

Place a ladleful of the tofu, mushroom and broccoli mixture on one side of the noodles in each bowl, and top with the sliced spring onion. Dress the noodles by drizzling over the dark soy sauce, Chiu Chow chilli oil, tahini and sweet chilli sauce, followed by a generous sprinkle of shichimi togarashi pepper flakes. Serve immediately.

Cook more from this book
Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle by Ching-He Huang
Spicy Sichuan King Trumpet Mushrooms by Ching-He Huang

Read the review 

Buy this book
Asian Green: Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East
£20, Kyle Books

Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle by Ching-He Huang

Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle - 014

Serves 2

Who doesn’t love sweetcorn soup? This soup brings out my inner child. The chunky sweetcorn kernels are so satisfying, but I like to add shavings of black truffle for a nutty, rich and decadent treat. If you are a die-hard vegan, then omit the truffle. Truffles are a fungus, but sometimes pigs are used to sniff for them. Whether or not you agree with this depends on your own personal stance. Truffle or no truffle, this Chinese-style sweetcorn soup never fails to hit the spot.

kcal — 247
carbs — 32.9g
protein — 6.8g
fat — 10.5g

1 large tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2.5cm (1in) piece of fresh root ginger, grated
340g (12oz) can sweetcorn, drained
100g (3½oz) cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
1 tbsp Shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry
8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp tamari or low-sodium light soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
pinch of sea salt
pinch of ground white pepper
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced into rounds
shavings of black truffle (optional), to garnish

In a small bowl, mix the cornflour with 2 tbsp cold water to form a slurry. Set aside until needed. Heat a wok over a high heat and add the rapeseed oil. Once hot, add the ginger and stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes, bouillon powder and rice wine or sherry, along with 600ml (20fl oz) water. Bring to the boil, then add the fresh shiitake mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Season with the tamari or light soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, salt and ground white pepper. Pour in the cornflour slurry and stir gently to thicken. Add the spring onions and give the soup one final stir. Divide between two bowls. If using truffles, grate generously over each bowl, then serve immediately.

Cook more from this book
Spicy Sichuan King Trumpet Mushrooms by Ching-He Huang
Smoked Tofu and Broccoli Korean- style Ram-don by Ching-He Huang

Read the review

Buy this book
Asian Green: Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East
£20, Kyle Books

Cooking on the Big Green Egg by James Whetlor

Cooking on the Big Green Egg by James Whetlor

What’s the USP? A user manual for the Big Green Egg ceramic barbecue (referred to from here on as BGE) that’s a big hit with professional chefs, keen home cooks and barbecue enthusiasts alike, with recipes.

Who’s the author? James Whetlor is probably best known as the owner of the Cabrito goat meat business. He is the author of Goat (read our review here) and is a former chef who worked in London and for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage in Devon.

Is it good bedtime reading? There is plenty for the BGE owner to get their teeth into with a meaty introductory chapter that covers everything from lighting and using your egg, to setting up your egg, fuel for your egg, tools and equipment for your egg and a guide to ingredients.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will need to head to Whetlor’s Cabrito website if you want to make goat shoulder with pomegranate raan or whole roast kid; your butcher for ox heart to make pinchos morunos and a specialist shop or online retailer for the ancho and pasilla chilles required to make recipes like pork or ox cheeks with masa harina soft tortilla or mole sauce.  There are other examples but in the main, you should have little trouble tracking down the majority of the ingredients required.

What’s the faff factor? This will depend on your view on BBQ, bearing in mind that you have to prepare your BGE before you get to cook anything on it.  Some will view it as a pleasure, others a pain, although the latter probably wouldn’t have splashed a grand on a sizeable ceramic lump in the first place. In terms of the recipes themselves, they range from a simple seared onglet à l’échalote to a more involved pork shoulder with vindaloo spices. 

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you barbecue? In his introduction, chef Tom Kerridge would have you believe that ‘Big Green Eggs can become a way of life’ and that ‘Once you’ve….tried some recipes in this book, you’ll be barbecuing in February’. For most of us, in the UK at least, barbecuing is very much a summer pastime. That said, if you’ve invested in a BGE then you might well be motivated to make as much use of it as possible.

Killer recipes? At the risk of labouring a point, there are some great recipes in this book, but they will only really be of interest to BGE owners.  Some may work on other BBQ set ups, but I’m not sure why, with so many other more general BBQ books on the market, you would take the risk. That said, whole crown prince squash stuffed with pumpkin seeds and chillies; hispi cabbage with jalapeno buttermilk and ancho dressing; lamb ribs with tamarind glaze; lamb chop bhuna; paratha and orange blossom honey and pistachio pastilla all sound delicous. The short chapter on sauces and condiments including mango ketchup and harissa is extremely handy.

What will I love? The embossed cover that replicates the scaly surface of a real Big Green Egg is just great.

What won’t I like? If you don’t own a BGE, have a guess.

Should I buy it? If you’re paying a minimum of £780 for a Big Green Egg (that will get you a mini version. A basic starter pack of accessories will cost you another £134. You can pay up to £1,665 for an XL egg) you’d think you might get an instruction manual and recipes thrown in for that sort of money. Mind you, if you have that amount of disposable income, what’s another £25?

Although there are some great recipes in the book which feasibly may work on other barbecues (such as the strikingly similar Kamado Joe), the whole affair is so obviously BGE-specific that there is really no point owning this book unless you have splurged on a BGE.

Cuisine: Barbecue/International
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Cooking on the Big Green Egg: Everything you need to know from set-up to cooking techniques, with 70 recipes
£25, Hardie Grant/Quadrille

Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021
PREP 10 MINS / COOK ABOUT 4½ HOURS / MARINATE 1 HOUR (BUT NOT ESSENTIAL)

When I was about 12 years old, I was introduced to the food of Algeria, and by strange means. This was during the Algerian War, and in France there were camps for Algerian refugees. One such camp was close to my village and, with my friend René, I would go and visit these intriguing, kind and friendly people. They fed us well. I remember seeing whole lambs roasted on the spit and, as the meat was turned, it was also painted with the spicy juices. For my young palate, it was perhaps a bit too spicy. I was the stranger who was drawn in, and have never forgotten their kindness. This dish does not require a whole lamb. When it comes to slow cooking lamb, the shoulder is the best cut, meltingly tender and incredibly tasty. When harissa is added, this is a wonderful dish, and the chickpeas will only complement it. A shoulder of lamb varies in weight, becoming heavier as the year progresses. A 2.5kg shoulder, like the one in this recipe, will take about 4½ hours; one weighing 3kg will need 5½ hours. Aim to remove it from the fridge 4–5 hours before cooking to come to room temperature.

1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
100g rose harissa
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
2.5kg new season’s
shoulder of lamb
300ml water

For the chickpea salad
1 jar (230g) piquillo peppers
2 preserved beldi lemons
a large handful of curly or flat-leaf parsley
2 tins (400g) chickpeas
sea salt and black pepper

TO PREPARE Mix together the salt, cumin and harissa, and then add the extra-virgin olive oil. Place the lamb in a roasting tin. Lightly score the skin of the lamb and rub it all over with the salty harissa mixture. At this point, you can leave the lamb for an hour, allowing the harissa flavours to infuse, but this is not essential.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. Roast the lamb for 20 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2. Cover the lamb shoulder loosely with foil, and return it to the oven to roast for a further 2 hours. Now baste the lamb, add the water and return it to the oven for 2 hours, again loosely covered with foil.
While the lamb is roasting, chop the piquillo peppers, finely chop the preserved lemons (skin and pulp) and coarsely chop the parsley. Put them to one side; you will need them to finish the dish.

Remove the lamb from the oven. Spoon out most of the fat from the tin, leaving the roasting juices. To the warm roasting juices, add the chickpeas, peppers and lemon. Add the parsley too and season with the salt and pepper. Toss together and bring to the boil on the hob. Place the lamb shoulder on a platter with the chickpea salad. Bring the lamb to the table and invite your guests to help themselves. The lamb will be tender enough to fall from the bone with a spoon, though it can be carved if you prefer.

Cook from this book 
Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc
Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

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Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021
PREP 20 MINS / COOK 40 MINS

Mussels and saffron are united harmoniously in this classic risotto. There’s no need for that constant stirring. Instead, the rice is stirred towards the end of the cooking time to activate the starches, a trick you can use with any risotto you make.

SERVES 4

For the mussels
1kg fresh mussels
1 onion
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
100ml dry white wine

For the risotto
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
200g carnaroli rice (or arborio)
2 bay leaves
a couple of pinches of saffron powder or strands
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 pinches of sea salt flakes
100ml dry white wine
300ml water (or fish stock)

To finish
50g Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
a handful of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
100g cooked peas (optional)
a handful of baby-leaf spinach (optional)
½ lemon, for squeezing

TO PREPARE First, the mussels. Ensure that all the mussels are tightly closed and not damaged before you begin to cook; any mussels that are damaged or open should be discarded. The preparation can be done in advance. Wash the mussels in a large bowl and under cold running water. Mussels that float at this stage are not very fresh, so discard them. Remove any barnacles and beards, but don’t scrub the shells as this can end up colouring the cooking juices. Drain.

Finely chop the onion and peeled garlic and grate the cheese. In a large saucepan over a medium heat, sweat half the onion, the bay leaves and thyme in the butter for 1 minute. Increase the heat to high, add the mussels, pour in the wine, cover with a lid and cook for 3 minutes. Drain in a sieve over a large bowl and discard any mussels that have not opened. Reserve the cooking juices, you will need about 200ml to make the risotto. Once the mussels have cooled, pick the mussels from their shells, leaving a few in their shells for decoration, and put them all aside.

Now, to the risotto … Melt the butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Add the remaining onion, cover with a lid and cook for 2–3 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and stir in the rice. Add the bay leaves, saffron and cayenne pepper and lightly season with salt. Stir and continue to cook on a medium heat for 2 minutes, until the grains of rice are shiny. Pour in the wine and let it boil for 30 seconds – bubble, bubble – and stir. Pour in the mussel cooking liquor and the water or fish stock and stir again. Now cook on the gentlest simmer, with just a single bubble breaking the surface. Cover with a lid and leave for 20 minutes, but it mustn’t boil. 4

Now it’s time for 5 minutes of some serious and fast stirring. At full speed, stir the risotto. The grains rub against each other, extracting the starch, and this gives the rice its creaminess. Yet every grain remains whole, unbroken. Taste – the rice should have a slight bite. Add the cheese, butter and parsley to the risotto, along with the cooked peas and spinach, if using, all the cooked mussels and a strong squeeze of lemon. Stir, taste and correct the seasoning just before serving. 

Cook more from this book
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc
Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

Read the review

Buy this book
Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

SIMPLY RAYMOND by Raymond Blanc. Headline Home 2021
It’s rare to find a dessert that is both simple and extraordinarily delicious. Pear Almondine is one of my favourites. You can find some excellent preserved Williams pears in jars or tins, ideal for this recipe. This dessert is a template to accommodate many other fruits and flavours. For baking like this, I like to use a baking stone. However, if you don’t have this, it will still be a winner.

SERVES 6
6 pear halves, tinned or jarred
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for brushing the tin
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 medium egg (preferably organic or free-range)

To serve
a handful of flaked
almonds (for extra flavour, first toast them in a dry pan)
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3. Butter (or oil) a tart ring, about 18cm x 2cm. Cut a long strip of greaseproof paper to stick to the inside. Place the lined tart ring on a lined baking tray or baking stone. Drain the pears and slice them in half again if they are large. In a large bowl, mix the softened butter and sugar. Then add ground almonds, cornflour, vanilla and egg, and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, spreading it evenly.

Arrange the pear halves evenly around the outside of the tart, resting them on top of the almond sponge mixture, and with the tip of each half meeting in the middle. According to size of the pears, you may require the base of half a pear to fill a space in the centre. Scatter with almonds. Bake the tart on the middle shelf of the oven, on the preheated baking stone or baking tray, for 16–20 minutes, or until golden. Leave the cake to cool for a few minutes before removing it from the ring. Before serving, dust with icing sugar.

VARIATION
In a saucepan, reduce the syrup from the jar, let it cool and add a dash of Poire William, the pear liqueur. After baking, puncture the pears with a fork and pour over the syrup. It adds colour and flavour.

Cook more from this book
Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc

Read the review

Buy this book
Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

Book extract: A Vegetarian Monster: Revenge, Betrayal & Berries in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino

Frankenstein main image
Food humanises Dr Frankenstein’s cobbled-together creation and raises the question: who is the real monster here?

An existential crisis doesn’t sound all that appetising. Nor does a jumble of long-expired body parts, cobbled together to create something resembling a human. And nor do gaping, stomach-churning chasms of icy loneliness. Yet this enduringly classic tale of the created and the creator, nature and nurture, and the pursuer and the pursued is an endless source of discussion worthy of the most salubrious of dinner parties.

The kind that Mary Shelley might have hosted or attended with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, holding court over a table groaning with glazed meats and platters laden with jewel-hued fruits. (Though Shelley may have abstained from the meat; the poet spent long periods as a vegetarian.) Guests glugging ruby wine and contributing bon mots might have included Lord Byron, who was present when the seeds of Frankenstein were sown.

In fact, one of the world’s most famous Gothic novels might not exist at all if it weren’t for Byron. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (she was yet to marry), Shelley, and his fellow Romantic poet Bryon were among the luminaries holidaying in Lake Geneva in 1816, which “proved a wet, ungenial summer”, according to Mary’s introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein. Conversation ducked and scurried down dark, Gothic avenues and, after long discussions dissecting ghost stories and musing on the horror genre, Byron had a proposal: they each pen their own terrifying tale.

After days struggling against writer’s block, Mary – then aged just 18 – created her monster after a particularly terrifying) “waking dream”. It wasn’t (and isn’t) a ghost story in any traditional sense, but it seems safe to say that her story cast a creepy shadow over the others. The novel was published in 1818 and has since been published in more than 300 editions and turned into several movies (perhaps most famously James Whale’s 1931 version, starring Boris Karloff as the droopy-lidded, bolt-necked monster).

Its themes of exile, misery, loneliness and guilt elevate it above a simple horror story and place it firmly in the complex Gothic genre, with a sprinkling of pioneering science fiction. Much discussed, too, are the novel’s parallels with the creation story and the Fall of Man, spelled out when Victor Frankenstein’s creation quotes Satan in John Milton’s epic biblical poem Paradise Lost:

‘all Good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good.’

The creature didn’t ask to be created; abandoned, rejected and betrayed by Victor, he morphs into the dangerous monster others already believe him to be. But is he really a monster? Or is Victor the monster for playing God in the most godless of ways: digging up bodies and using science to bring forth life? Their relationship is at the heart of the novel’s moral muddiness (a point on which it was criticised when it was released – The Quarterly Review described its “unmeaning hollowness”).

Common confusion over the eponymous character – with the creature often misidentified as Frankenstein – reflects this ambiguity. Literary critics have pointed out the sympathetic nature, eloquence and even innocence of the so-called monster. There’s a thin, blurred and sometimes invisible line between perpetrator and victim.

Yet there is one aspect in which this line is drawn quite clearly, if you grab a knife and fork and really dig in – and that’s food.

If there’s any uncertainty and moral fogginess when it comes to the creature’s innocence – and perhaps whether he should be considered “human” – then his diet should quash those doubts. He eats, for a start – and familiar foods, at that. He’s a sentient, living, breathing being, and that poses serious questions as to the ethics of Victor’s experiment. He brought the creature into a world that would inevitably reject him.

Mary Shelley doesn’t underplay her character’s vegetarianism; it isn’t incidental to the story’s central themes. On the contrary, she makes much of his choice to eschew the flesh-eating habits of humans. It becomes a device to emphasise his empathy and how connected he is to nature, perhaps more so than his fellow man. She throws in a conundrum for readers to wrestle with: how do you categorise a vegetarian monster?

The creature’s diet becomes even more significant in light of Percy Shelley’s vegetarianism, and indeed that of his friend Lord Byron. In the 1860 edition of his Life, Letters, and Journals of Lord Byron, Thomas Moore recalls the poet asking him, over dinner: ‘Moore, don’t you find eating beef-steak makes you ferocious?’ While Shelley’s 1813 poem, Queen Mab, he blames humans devouring the “mangled flesh” of lambs for “nature’s broken law”.

In Frankenstein, vegetarianism simultaneously highlights the creature’s separation from human society (unlike them, he doesn’t “glut” his appetite with meat) and becomes a symbol of his inherent goodness. Of course, goodness is corruptible.

Banished to the wilderness by Victor, who’s horrified by his own experiment, the creature observes a family living in a cabin in the woods. He gently observes their rituals, mainly revolving around food: preparing breakfast, gathering around the table, building and lighting fires for cooking, foraging for roots and plants. Their diet, he notices, is “coarse but wholesome”. It’s simple; uncomplicated by modern society and technology. Pre-Fall, if you like. The creature mimics their routine and attunes to the changing weather and seasons.

Moved by observing their interactions and sensitive to their poverty, he makes a conscious decision to only eat fruit and nuts. He will not steal from them, he vows to himself, because that would leave them hungry. The softness he shows in these moments endears us to him. And it makes his murderous rampage later in the novel – driven by repeated rejections and injustices – all the more shocking. He metamorphosises from a philosophical, gentle grazer, hungry for friendship, to a furious being consumed by fury and bent on revenge.

His reaction is both human and monstrous. The first kill he makes for food is an act to taunt Victor, gifting him with a dead hare as he leads him to “the everlasting ices of the north”.

In a desperate, final attempt to be accepted and forgiven, the creature uses his diet as a bargaining tool with his creator. If Victor would only “build” him a female companion, and allow him to be free, he could be happy subsisting on foraged acorns and berries. He describes a kind of utopian ideal that once again evokes Eden and the Fall of Man:

‘If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again; I will go to the vast wilds of South America. My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment. My companion will be of the same nature as myself and will be content with the same fare. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man and will ripen our food. The picture I present to you is peaceful and human, and you must feel that you could deny it only in the wantonness of power and cruelty.’

Sadly, there isn’t such a happy ending for the creature (nor for Victor, nor for anyone for that matter). The creature becomes the monster after all – one who murders from a very human impulse for revenge, out of anger that he has been judged and rejected by a world he skipped into, innocently and happily as a child, or perhaps a lamb.

The creature entered his dysfunctional life drawn to the earth, feeling a deep connection to the soil, flowers and nature. His final, heart-wrenching monologue describes the “cheering warmth of summer” and his wonder at the “warbling birds”. He tells how he was “nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion”. He longed for companionship, for “love and fellowship”. Spurned, he retaliated against a world that had turned its back on him. There is again a reference to Paradise Lost: “The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil.”

Frankenstein’s creature, hollowed out by hunger and his unsated appetite for human kindness, is utterly, hellishly alone.

Acorn Bread

Frankenstein acorn bread image

Frankenstein’s creature ate them raw, freshly plucked from the oak tree (or foraged from the woodland floor). It seems his stomach was a little stronger than ours, as unprocessed and uncooked acorns contain tannins that can be toxic to humans. They also have a rather unpleasant, bitter taste, so you probably wouldn’t want to nibble on them, anyway. Leave them on the tree for the squirrels (and any wandering, cobbled-together creatures) and instead get hold of some acorn flour to make this dense, crumbly, delicately sweetened bread. It has a similar texture to cornbread, and is perfect for sharing. Omit the spices if you prefer something more savoury – a pinch of chilli flakes will give it a kick, and pair wonderfully with a hunk of cheese.

Makes 1 medium loaf
Ingredients
250g acorn flour
100g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
A little freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
25g unsalted butter, melted
1 medium egg, beaten
250ml milk

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 6) and grease a medium (2 lb/900g capacity) loaf tin.
2. Combine all the dry ingredients, including the cinnamon and nutmeg (if using), in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre.
3. Whisk together the milk, egg and melted butter and pour into the well, mixing gradually with a wooden spoon until well combined.
4. Bake for around 20 minutes, until a skewer or sharp knife inserted into the middle comes away clean.
5. Remove from the oven and leave for around 10 minutes in the tin, then tip on to a wire rack to cool. (You might want to tear some off and slather it with butter before it loses all its oven-warm loveliness, though.)

Shepherd’s Breakfast

Shepherd's Breakfast from Frankenstein

While crunching on acorns and foraging berries and roots might not be hugely appealing, the “shepherd’s breakfast” – which the creature “greedily” devours, having unwittingly frightened away its preparer – sounds pretty delicious. It’s a simple platter of bread, cheese, milk and wine. This dish takes those humble plate-fellows and turns them into a warm, oozily baked savoury bread pudding. A warning, though: it can serve six people as a side but, should you be tempted to dig in a spoon just to try a little, don’t be surprised if you get carried away and end up with an empty dish, a full belly and hungry guests.

Serves 6

Ingredients
1 medium loaf of day-old or slightly stale bread, sliced
50g unsalted butter, softened
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Handful of fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, tarragon, rosemary etc), chopped
100g hard cheese (you can use cheddar or a mix), grated
200ml whole milk
2 eggs
200ml double cream
1tsp English or Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

For the caramelised onions:
2 red onions, finely sliced
1tbsp olive oil
50ml or balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp granulated sugar
Glug of red wine
Salt and pepper

Method
1. For the onions, heat the olive oil over a medium heat, add onions and and sauté for a few minutes or until soft. Add vinegar, sugar and wine, increase heat and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are sticky. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Beat together the softened butter and garlic, stir in herbs and add a pinch of salt. Spread this mix over each slice of bread, then quarter each one into triangles.
3. Preheat oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and grease a large baking dish. Arrange a layer of bread on the bottom, top with a layer of onions and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat the layers until the ingredients are used up, ending with cheese.
4. Whisk together the milk, eggs, cream, mustard and a little salt and pepper. Pour over the bread, pushing down so it soaks up the liquid.
5. Rest for 5 minutes then bake for 25-30 minutes, until puffy and lightly golden.

Berry Bite Squares

Berry bites

Our creature spends his first few days of existence subsisting on berries and the occasional acorn. He was happy (or, at least, willing) to do so, but we wonder if he would have enjoyed these crumbly, moreish fruit crumble squares a little better? Most probably. You can make these with pretty much any in-season fruit, from apples to rhubarbs. Eat for breakfast, afternoon tea, a snack, on a picnic…

Makes around 12 squares

Ingredients

For the crumble:
175g unsalted butter, melted
180g plain flour
125g soft brown sugar
150g rolled oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt

For the filling:
1 large egg at room temp
150g caster sugar
30g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
400g berries (blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants etc)

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 6). Grease and line a 20cm (8in) square tin (or similar).
2. Combine the dry ingredients for the crumble in a bowl, pour in the butter and mix.
3. Tip around two-thirds of it into the tin and press down firmly to make a base.
4. For the filling, whisk together the egg and sugar, then slowly add the flour, lemon zest and vanilla. Stir in the berries so each is coated.
5. Pour this over the base, then loosely sprinkle over the remaining crumble mix.
6. Bake for around 40-45 minutes until golden. Allow to cool completely in the tin before cutting into squares.

working cover

Extracted from A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino, with illustrations by Lee Henry. Find out more here.

The New York Times Cooking: No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton

New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton

What’s the USP? Sometimes food doesn’t need to be put together using precise  measurements and exact times – No-Recipe Recipes is all about the big, flavourful ideas and less fussy about what you need to do and when. Every dish here is described in loose and accessible terms so that the home chef can amble carefree through the cooking process. 

Who wrote it? Sam Sifton, the founding editor of The New York Times’ cookery website. His weekly What To Cook This Week column on the site has, since 2015, always featured a No-Recipe Recipe of his own – an easy to throw together sort of a dish that might have been influenced by something he’s eaten in a restaurant, or the passing comment of a chef friend, or simply the desire to combine two flavours and gleefully eat them. 

Is it good bedtime reading? On the one hand, there isn’t an awful lot to read besides the short and enthusiastic introduction to each recipe. On the other hand, though, the recipes read so conversationally that they become a genuine pleasure to read in their own right. This is a book that can be taken to bed and flicked through with hungry eyes as you picture yourself breezily moving around the kitchen – a splash of fish sauce here, a generous pinch of oregano there. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The entire book is annoyingly vague recipes. That’s sort of the point. Thankfully, Sifton’s bright and engaging writing – he clearly loves being in the kitchen almost as much as he loves food – enables the reader to confidently join him on his quest. 

The book’s brief introductory section convincingly champions Sifton’s approach. Cooking without recipes is a valuable kitchen skill, we are told: ‘It’s a proficiency to develop, a way to improve your confidence in the kitchen and makes the act of cooking fun when it sometimes seems like a chore’. 

The no-recipe recipes themselves certainly echo the ‘cooking is fun’ mentality. It’s impossible to resent vague instructions when they are written with as much relish as Sifton’s. The frankly obscene Cheese Ravioli with Duck Liver Mousse Sauce calls for a ‘huge amount of unsalted butter’, whilst his Roasted Shrimp Tacos with Cumin and Chile demands ‘a whole mess of peeled and deveined shrimp’. 

What’s the faff factor? It would be a bold move to expect readers to create lavish and complex dishes with only the loosest of instructions, so perhaps unsurprisingly the book is filled with nothing but the simplest dishes. The Tomato Sandwich recipe is four sentences long, and calls for only bread, butter, mayonnaise and tomato – but Sifton still manages to make it seem like an unmissable addition to a hot summer’s day. Even the most complex of dishes will come together in under half an hour and create only the most minimal of washing up. 

How often will I cook from the book? I have had this book for about a month now and can confidently say that I am cooking from it at least twice a week. It has already become the first book I pull from the shelf when I’m planning my weekly shop, despite being the title that arguably requires the least planning of the lot. 

Every one of Sifton’s No-Recipe Recipes is a temptation. They are easy to buy for and fun to cook. Above all else, the gentle thrill of cooking off-book, of trusting your own instincts and finishing, every time, with something genuinely delicious is a real confidence boost for new and old home cooks alike. 

What will I love? Though the book is designed to be minimalist and simple, it is still filled with useful information. Dishes frequently come with easy modifications that can be made – either to replace more obscure ingredients, or to offer a different flavour profile. Separate ‘Tips’ sections will help beginner cooks learn key kitchen lessons, or occasionally share Sifton’s own tasting notes (he recommends avoiding chicken or vegetable gyoza for his blasphemous yet irresistible Pot Stickers with Tomato Sauce). 

What won’t I love? It’s a small complaint, but the cloth-bound cover isn’t ideal for a book that will see as much use as this one. It picks up all sorts of filth, and thanks to some spilt flour and the eager attention of two cats, my copy already looks a fair bit older than it should one month in. 

Killer recipes: It would be impossible to make enough noise about the aforementioned Cheese Ravioli with Duck Liver Mousse Sauce, which must be the most outrageously indulgent dish it’s possible to compile in under twenty minutes. But pretty much every dish in here will inspire at least some level of food lust. 

Highlights include Crab Rangoon Burgers, Quick-Broiled Pork Chops with Peanuts and Gochujang, Ham and Radicchio Toast, and Asparagus and Boursin Tart. 

Should I buy it? Of course you should. Sam Sifton’s book is not a book about the joy of cooking – it’s an instruction manual that will help you discover it for yourself. This would be a brilliant gift for someone who is just discovering the world of cooking, with bright and easy recipes that feel like an accomplishment once finished. Student cookbooks are so often drab and patronising affairs that, at best, will help someone make a competent but uninspiring lasagne. From now on, let’s send our freshers off with No-Recipe Recipes tucked in their suitcase – I would have eaten a lot less £5 pizza delivery deals if I’d known how easy it was to knock-up Sifton’s Black Bean Tacos or Sloppy Joes. 

At the same time, confident cooks who have long since found their footing in the kitchen will still find a wealth of inspiration here – fresh new flavour combinations and easy dishes that can be pulled together quickly when you’re tired after work.

No-Recipe Recipes everything you want from a cookbook – it is simple, irresistible and innovative. But above all else, it reminds you exactly how fun cooking can be.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
New York Times Cooking: No-Recipe Recipes
£20, Ebury Press

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Simply Raymond by Raymond Blanc

Simply Raymond

What’s the USP? A collection of straightforward, mostly French recipes inspired by both the rustic country cooking of the author’s late mother and the simple recipes in Edouard de Pomaine’s classic 1930 book Cooking in 10 Minutes.

Who’s the author? A pioneer of the UK’s fine dining scene Raymond Blanc has trained and inspired many of the country’s leading chefs including Heston Blumenthal and Marco Pierre White. His beaming smile first adorned a cookery book back in 1988 with the publication of Recipes from Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. Thirty-three years later, Blanc is still smiling on the cover of his thirteenth cookery book, still running the two Michelin-starred Le Manoir and still cooking chicken with morels and Jura wine sauce from his native Franche-Comté, a version of which appears in both his first and latest book.

Is it good bedtime reading? A ten page introduction and decent length recipe introductions are supplemented by a series of short essays entitled ‘My Love For’ that cover everything from courgettes to tomatoes and aubergines to apples.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The vast majority will be stocked in your local big supermarket but you may need to visit a deli for things like dried morels and comté cheese. Blanc’s passion for fruit and veg may inspire you to seek out a good local greengrocer or veg box scheme if you haven’t already (supermarket versions seem to be getting worse and worse in my experience, flavourless and bland).

What’s the faff factor? When Blanc says ‘simply’ he means it.  All the recipes have a prep and cook time and usually you will be spending a matter of minutes preparing the dishes. Some of the more sophisticated offerings take longer, for example roast celeriac fondants with celeriac jus require 40 minutes to get ready for an hour in the oven, but they are the exception that proves the rule.

How often will I cook from the book? With granola bars for breakfast, tomato soup for lunch and leftover turkey curry for dinner, plus a TV snack of rosemary and Parmesan popcorn and cut and come again cake for afternoon tea, when won’t you be cooking from Simply Raymond?

Killer recipes? The book may have a noticeably French accent with recipes for moules Provençal, tartiflette and pear almondine, but Blanc’s love of global cuisine comes through in dishes such as tuna ceviche, Japanese-style; slow roasted shoulder of lamb with harissa and the northeast Indian dish of kadai (mixed vegetables in spicy gravy), a recipe contributed by Shailesh Kumar, a chef from the Brasserie Blanc restaurant group.

What will I love? The book is full of delightful little twists and surprises such as flourless crepes made only with over-ripe bananas, eggs and salt; mayonnaise made with chickpea water, and flatbreads that are simply equal quantities of flour and yoghurt.

Should I buy it? Straightforward and accessible, the recipes in Simply Raymond will provide much inspiration for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner snacks and sweet treats. That’s enough to put a smile on any cook’s face.

Cuisine: French
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five Stars

Buy this book
Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series
£25 Headline Home

Cook from this book 
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb, harissa by Raymond Blanc
Mussel and saffron risotto by Raymond Blanc
Pear almondine by Raymond Blanc

One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones

One Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones

What’s the USP? It’s a cookbook that offers ideas on how to live and eat more sustainably, with a selection of plant-based recipes that offer ‘a greener way to cook for you, your family and the planet’.

Sorry, I should have explained. USP means ‘unique selling point’. Haven’t we seen all this before? It’s certainly true that sustainable and plant-based cookery is very much on trend in the cookbook world at the moment. That said, the quality of the books has been fairly high all round, so it seems a little bit petty to call them out on it. Is anybody really complaining about the influx of interesting new ways to eat your veg?

Besides, One Pot, Pan, Planet has real pedigree. Anna Jones has made a name for herself as a columnist for The Guardian, and with her first three cookbooks (A Modern Way to Cook, A Modern Way to Eat and The Modern Chef’s Year). All three were built around healthy and overwhelmingly vegetarian cooking. Anna Jones hasn’t adapted to meet the current trends; the current trends have finally caught up with Anna Jones.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to read here, with recipe-free chapters on sustainability scattered amongst the dishes. it’s not exactly great bedtime reading, unless you enjoy falling asleep with questions of biodiversity and soil health on your mind. Jones writes to inform rather than entertain, and though these sections are both enlightening and useful, they aren’t quite the same vibe as a chef rambling on amiably about sea urchins off the Amalfi coast, or the joys of growing your own rhubarb.

That said, Jones does make space for a spectacular chapter on vegetables that sits right in the centre of the book. Galloping through a list of ten well-loved veg, the chapter gives essential rundowns on when to buy each ingredient, how to prep and cook it, and what flavours it pairs with, before offering up ten no-nonsense ideas for each one. Nothing groundbreaking, perhaps – but immensely practical.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Generally speaking, absolutely not. This is simple and accessible food using ingredients you’ll be able to pick up anywhere.

What’s the faff factor? Again, Jones strives for simplicity. As the title suggests, most dishes can be completed in a single pot or pan. All can be achieved on a single planet, but that’s not really an achievement. The idea behind this is that the cooking process, too, plays a part in sustainable cooking. Using a single dish requires less energy for the heating process and less water for the washing up.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you want to skip on the meat? For vegetarians and vegans there are enough dishes here (and enough variety) to cover most meals if you’re really short on cookbook funds. Meat-eaters looking to cut back on their intake can readily fill their meat-free days with the filling and hearty dishes on offer here, from Arepas with black beans & salsa verde to Lemongrass & tofu larb.

Killer recipes: Sweet potato, ginger & coconut stew, Corn risotto, Golden rösti with ancho chilli chutney, Carrot & peanut nasi goreng, Chocolate & muscovado fudge cake

Should I buy it? There has been no shortage of excellent sustainable plant-based cookbooks over the past year or two, but One Pot, Pan, Planet still manages to stand out as one of the very finest. With creative and varied dishes that are built to be as achievable as they are sustainable, Jones has written a book that would be at home on any shelf.

Cuisine: Vegan
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
One: Pot, Pan, Planet: A greener way to cook for you, your family and the planet
£26, Fourth Estate

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Roasted Italian sausages with borlotti beans and ’nduja sauce by Theo Randall

20200313_TheoRandall_W1_BorlottiBeansSausages_035
Dried borlotti beans from the protected area of Lamon, in the Veneto, are the finest dried borlottis available. You don’t have to use these specifically, of course, but if you are lucky enough to come across a packet, you are in for a treat. Combined with lovely, flavoursome sausage and the spiciness of ’nduja, they are heavenly. Make sure you have a good bottle of Chianti, or other super-Tuscan red wine to drink alongside – it’s essential.

Serves 2
250g (9oz) dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water
2 garlic cloves, 1 whole, 1 finely sliced
1 plum tomato
2–3 sage leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
4 Italian sausages
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
100ml (3½fl oz) red wine
400g (14oz) tomato passata
75g (2½oz) skinned ’nduja
2 tbsp mascarpone
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g (7oz) purple-sprouting, calabrese or longstem broccoli, cooked and seasoned with olive oil and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to serve

Drain the soaked beans and rinse under cold, running water for a couple of minutes. Place the rinsed beans in a large saucepan and pour in cold water so that the water comes 10cm (4in) above the level of the beans. Add the whole clove of garlic, along with the plum tomato and sage leaves. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 40 minutes, skimming off the foam from time to time, until the beans are soft enough to crush to a mash with your thumb.

Drain the beans, reserving the cooking water. Remove the tomato, sage and garlic and place them in a bowl. Using a hand-held stick blender and a little of the bean cooking water, blend to a smooth paste. Add the paste back to the beans and check the seasoning. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/315°F/Gas Mark 2–3.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan on a medium heat. When hot, add the sausages and cook for 5 minutes, turning frequently, until brown all over. Remove them from the pan
and set aside, leaving the sausage fat and olive oil in the pan.

Add the celery, sliced garlic, onion and carrots to the pan and cook gently for 5 minutes, until the onion has softened. Add the red wine and cook for a further 2 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the passata, cook gently for a couple of minutes, then add the ’nduja and stir well. Place the sausages on top of the passata mixture and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until the sausages are cooked through. Remove from the oven, dollop over the mascarpone and check the seasoning.

Warm the cooked borlotti beans and stir through the remaining olive oil. Place on the table for everyone to help themselves, with some steaming hot purple sprouting broccoli served alongside.

Cook more from this book
Twice-baked squash and fontina soufflé by Theo Randall
Chocolate, espresso and vin santo pots with cantuccini biscuits by Theo Randall

Read the review

Buy this book
The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients
£26, Quadrille Publishing

Twice-baked squash and fontina soufflé by Theo Randall

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Known in Italy as sformato di zucca, this dish was one of the first I mastered, more than 30 years ago, when I was an apprentice at Chez Max in Surbiton, just outside London, where the chef-owner Max Magarian became a huge influence on my approach to cooking. I must have made thousands of these delicious soufflés (the only difference in this one is the cheese choice) and I can still remember how excited I was when Max told me I had made them perfectly.  If you’re lucky to get hold of a black winter truffle, it will bring out the best in the soufflé. You will need ten moulds and ten gratin dishes to make this (just reduce the quantities if making fewer).

Makes 10
500g (1lb 2oz) butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 2cm (¾in) cubes
olive oil, for roasting
300g (10½oz) fresh spinach
90g (3¼oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
90g (3¼oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for flouring
1 litre (35fl oz) whole milk, hot
300g (10½oz) fontina, grated
10 organic egg yolks
12 organic egg whites
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish
200g (7oz) fontina, grated
100g (3½oz) Parmesan, finely grated
500ml (17fl oz) double (heavy) cream
shavings of black truffle (optional), to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Butter and flour ten 180ml (6½fl oz) metal or ceramic moulds. Place the squash in a roasting tin, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Cover the tin with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until soft. Remove the foil and continue baking for a further 15 minutes, so the squash dries out. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, then put through a mouli (or use a potato masher) until you have a fine purée. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Boil the spinach for 2 minutes, until the stalks are tender. Drain in a colander and push out any residual liquid with the back of a spoon. When the spinach has cooled, squeeze it with your hands until just damp. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, then add the hot milk. Stir with a whisk until there are no lumps and you have a smooth white sauce. Add the squash purée, along with the fontina and season with salt and pepper. Take off the heat and stir in the egg yolks.

Preheat the oven again to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Transfer the mixture to a clean, large bowl. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gently fold them into the butternut squash mixture. Pour the mixture equally into the prepared moulds, filling all the way to the tops. Place the moulds into a roasting tin, then pour boiling water into the tin so that it comes half way up the sides of the moulds. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until the soufflé rises and goes a light golden colour. Remove the tin from the oven (but leave the oven on), then remove the moulds from the tin and leave to cool.

To finish, grease 10 small gratin dishes. Divide the cooked spinach between each dish in an even layer. Remove the soufflés from the moulds and place one in each dish on top of the spinach. Sprinkle over the grated fontina and Parmesan then gently pour some cream over each soufflé. Season each dish with salt and pepper and bake them all for 10 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown. Finish with shavings of fresh black truffle.

Cook more from this book
Roasted Italian sausages with borlotti beans and ’nduja sauce by Theo Randall
Chocolate, espresso and vin santo pots with cantuccini biscuits by Theo Randall

Read the review 

Buy this book
The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients
£26, Quadrille Publishing

Chocolate, espresso and vin santo pots with cantuccini biscuits by Theo Randall

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I first tasted vin santo many years ago at Paolo di Marchi’s estate Isole e Olena, in Chianti, Tuscany. After the vineyard tour, we came to a brick outhouse that had no windows, and was breezy but dry. There were bamboo mats full of the most beautifully coloured grapes that were starting to shrivel up like raisins, soon to be pressed for their juice to make vin santo. That evening, after a huge meal and lots of Paolo’s other wines, we had a glass of vin santo and a plate of homemade cantuccini biscuits. I use vin santo in lots of sweet dishes, especially ice cream, but I love chocolate, too, so I came up with this recipe. What could be better?

Serves 6

For the cantuccini

2 organic eggs
2 tbsp honey (chestnut honey is best, if possible)
1 tbsp Amaretto or brandy
zest of 1 unwaxed orange
250g (9oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
150g (5½oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 tsp baking powder
150g (5½oz) whole almonds50g (1¾oz) shelled pistachios

For the chocolate pots
100ml (3½fl oz) whole milk
25ml (1fl oz) vin santo
300ml (10½fl oz) double (heavy) cream
200g (7oz) 80% dark (bittersweet) chocolate (use 70% if you can’t find 80%), chopped
50g (1¾oz) caster (superfine) sugar
4 organic egg yolks

First, make the cantuccini biscuits. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, honey, Amaretto or brandy, and orange zest. Add the flour, sugar and baking powder. Using your hands, mix everything together to a dough, then add the almonds and pistachios. Mix well to distribute the nuts evenly through the dough.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Wet your hands and then roll out each piece of dough into a log about 3cm (1¼in) wide and 20cm (8in) long. Place the logs on a baking sheet, cover with a sheet of baking parchment and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Bake the chilled cantuccini logs for 30 minutes, or until they are a golden brown. Remove from the oven (but leave the oven on) and transfer (off the baking sheet) to a wire rack to cool. When they are cool, using a bread knife, cut the cantuccini at a 45 degree angle into pieces 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick.

Place the cantuccini, spaced well apart, on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Return tot he oven for 10 minutes until crisp and golden brown.  Remove from the oven and transfer (off the baking sheet)  to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, place in a sealed container or serve straight away with the chocolate pots. (If you’re storing the biscuits, it’s very important that the cantuccini are fully cooked before you place them in the sealed container, otherwise the residual heat will make them go soggy.) 

To make the chocolate pots, pour the milk, vin santo and cream into saucepan and place on a medium heat. Bring to the simmer, then turn off the heart and add the chocolate. Leave for 1-2 minutes for the chocolate to soften. Using a spoon or a whisk, stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. 

Whisk the sugar and egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is pale and creamy. (Alternatively whisk by hand in a bowl for about 5 minutes.)

If using a machine, reduce the speed to its lowest setting. Slowly pour in the melted chocolate mixture and mix until an even colour. (Or do this in a bowl by hand.)

Pour the mixture into individual serving dishes (ramekings, glasses or cups will work). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then serve with cantuccini biscuits and really good, hot espresso. 

Cook more from this book
Roasted Italian sausages with borlotti beans and ’nduja sauce by Theo Randall
Twice-baked squash and fontina soufflé by Theo Randall

Buy this book
The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients
£26, Quadrille Publishing

Read the review

Asian Green by Ching-He Huang

Asian Green Ching He Huang

What’s the USP? Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East, or so says the cover. So, quick and simple vegan meals that are drawn from a number of Asian cuisines. 

Who wrote it? Ching-He Huang, who has been pumping out Asian-influenced takes on the cookbook zeitgeist for the last fifteen years or so. In the past this might have meant lining up with the problematic ‘clean eating’ scene, but right now it’s equals a timely and very welcome collection of vegan recipes. 

Is it good bedtime reading? Not really – there are a couple of glances at the impact of Covid-19 and the importance of eating sustainably, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a cookbook without these. Huang’s recipe introductions are short, too, so there isn’t much here that lends itself to a leisurely read. But then, that’s not why this book exists. With each recipe garlanded with nutritional information and a neat infographic demonstrating preparation and cooking times, it’s clear that Huang wanted to create something that will help you make decisions (and meals) quickly and without too much labour. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? In keeping with the clean design and nutritional breakdowns, Huang’s recipes are precise without over explaining. She also makes sure to include imperial measurements alongside the metric ones, so your mum can cook along as you knock up some Teriyaki Tempeh with Long-Stem Broccoli. There’s an extensive glossary at the back and also (albeit inexplicably separated from the former) a brief but fantastic UK-to-US glossary that introduced me to the fact that Americans don’t have golden syrup. A stunning revelation. 

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? This is always a risk with Asian cooking. As nice as it is to see fish sauce as standard on the shelf of your local Tesco, it’s fair to say that a lot of the continent’s tastiest condiments are yet to make it there, and are often recreated rather unconvincingly as an own-brand offering when they are – here’s looking at you supermarket gochujang. 

Similarly, vegan options in supermarkets have been enjoying a steady increase over the last few years. If you’d wanted to source yourself some tempeh in 2015 you’d have had to wrestle with some soybeans yourself, but head to a bigger branch nowadays and you might have some luck. 

And so, yes, there are ingredients here that could cause problems to those who aren’t able to access superstores or specialist markets – Chinkiang black vinegar or seitan, for example – but most recipes are wholly accessible, and will only become more so as we seek more sustainable and (perhaps counter-intuitively) more global ways of eating. 

What will I love? There’s absolutely loads of variety here. Huang’s recipes are light and full of colour. There are bold re-imaginings of iconic meat dishes in her Veggie Ants Climbing Trees or the fantastic take on the infamous Ram-don from Parasite, found here having traded in the beef for chunky tofu and mushrooms. Sweetcorn fans, in particular, will have plenty to occupy themselves with; Huang seems to have a thing for it, and I’m in no mood to complain. 

There’s something for everyone, with enough fresh ideas to inject new life into a vegan diet, and plenty of dishes that will tempt those of us looking to cut back on our meat consumption. Dishes are quick to make, and the nutritional information will be incredibly welcome to carb and calorie counters alike. Oh, and there’s a plump little dessert section too, something that is all too often skipped entirely in Asian cookbooks. 

What won’t I love? There’s not much to pick apart here, though it’d have been nice to get more pictures. The photography and food styling is brilliant here but too often dishes are skipped when a visual guide would have been useful. I’m curious about the Five Spice Seitan and Sweetheart Cabbage with Sweetcorn and Chilli, but having read through the recipe a few times I’m still unsure what I’m aiming for, and if it will be a big enough portion, or something better served with a portion of rice. These are small worries though. Small worries for greedy boys like me. 

Killer recipes: Mama Huang’s Onion, Tomato and Enoki Soup; Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle; Spicy Sichuan King Trumpet Mushrooms; Sweetcorn Dad Dan Noodles, Spicy Chilli French Bean Mapo Tofu; Hawaiian Sticky Mushroom and Pineapple Fried Rice. 

Should I buy it? Ching-He Huang has added a genuinely valuable title to the vegan cookbook shelf with Asian Green. It is accessible, simple and offers more variety for home cooks looking to skip the meat. Most importantly, though, it’s absolutely loaded with delicious food. 

Cuisine: Asian
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Asian Green: Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East
£20, Kyle Books

Cook from this book 
Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle by Ching-He Huang
Smoked Tofu and Broccoli Korean- style Ram-don by Ching-He Huang
Spicy Sichuan King Trumpet Mushrooms by Ching-He Huang

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Eat Better Forever by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

9781526602800

What’s the USP? Diet culture has taken hit after hit over the past few years, with increasingly popular movements highlighting the many problems that come from committing yourself to short-term bursts of meat-only consumption or eating like somebody who hasn’t yet invented indoor plumbing.

Better, then, is to simply commit oneself to eat better forever. Which in this case of this book means sticking by seven fairly simple rules:

Eat plenty of whole foods
Eat a varied diet
Eat some gut-friendly stuff now and then
Don’t eat a lot of refined carbs
Eat fats, but only the good kinds
Think about the nutritional content of your drinks
Be mindful about your eating

It’s all fairly sensible stuff, to be honest. But that’s all part of the appeal. Eat Better Forever isn’t about throwing confusing new ideas about food in your face – it’s about helping you to better understand what you already know, and give you some ideas about how to use that knowledge to change the way you eat for good.

Who wrote it? Mr. River Cottage himself – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall/Huge Furry Toadstall/Hugh Fearlessly Eatsitall (delete as appropriate). Hugh’s been going hard on the veg content for a few years now, but here he sets out a healthy plan for living that extends beyond his numerous ideas of what to get up to with a courgette.

Is it good bedtime reading? For the most part, yes! The book is split almost directly in half, with the first two hundred pages dedicated almost entirely to each of his seven rules. These chapters are easy and enjoyable to read. They don’t necessarily reveal anything too surprising, but the opportunity to better understand the science between the ideas we generally are only exposed to in passing is very welcome.

It helps, too, that Hugh never comes across as preachy. He simply explains why something is good (or bad) for you, and presents ideas on how to change your eating habits to accommodate those facts. Nothing he suggests feels too overwhelming, and the opportunity to change the way you eat for the better often feels not just attainable, but exciting. Sometimes it all feels a little too easy. When we’re told that Hugh’s plan for cutting back on alcohol entailed the introduction of ‘alcohol-free days’, it sounds like a sensible (if not particularly fun) way to go about things. Hugh, we’re told, aims for ‘two a week, minimum’, which even in the midst of a pandemic seems like a relatively low bar to aim for.

How often will I cook from the book? That depends on how you feel about Hugh’s practical suggestions for living with his seven rules. The 50/50 split between manifesto and recipes gives you plenty of opportunity to think on the guidelines presented and the small adjustments you might make to your current diet as a result of them. I found the first half of the book to be an invigorating and at times inspiring read, which made it all the more disappointing when I reached the recipe section and found, well, page after page of recipes that would not have looked out of place in a diet book.

Everything looks clean, fresh and, well, a bit dull. The whole foods chapter suggests incorporating more seeds into your diet, which sounds lovely until you see Hugh’s suggesting for a slice of toast scattered with loose seeds and a few raspberries, or a plate comprising of nothing but slices of oranges and apple and just enough pumpkin seeds to guarantee no single bite isn’t ruined by a misplaced texture.

There are plenty of recipes to tempt you here – a ‘curried beanie cullen skink’, or an Asian Hot Pot that looks to be drowning in umami. But for the most part, the refreshing ideas presented in the book’s opening chapters are revisited under much harsher light and by the uninspiring dishes that follow.

What will I love? Hugh’s seven rules are well thought out and easy to apply to your existing cooking habits. Though I found myself completely turned off by a hefty chunk of his recipes, not a day has passed since reading Eat Better Forever where it hasn’t impacted my decisions in the kitchen. That’s a fantastic thing, and if this book serves only to build the foundations upon which your own take on healthy eating can be built, that’ll be worth more than the cover price.

What won’t I love? Whilst the initial ideas feel applicable to every household, it’s hard to imagine fussy children (or adults) adapting to the one-note recipes offered up here.

Killer recipes: Curried Beany Cullen Skink, Mussel Soup with Leek & Potato, Spicy Fish Fingers with Tomato and Bean Salad, Curried Carrot Blitz

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Buy the book
Eat Better Forever: 7 Ways to Transform Your Diet
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Seedy Almond Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Overnight Oats by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall
Spicy roast parsnips with barley, raisins & walnuts by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

The Italian Deli Cookbook by Theo Randall

Italian Deli Cookbook

Theo Randall’s third cookbook is a pean to instinctive cooking inspired by store cupboard ingredients.  Divided into 17 ingredient-themed chapters, the book covers much of what you’d expect to find on an Italian deli’s shelves, from tinned and smoked fish to olives and cheese, and salumi and Italian sausages to olive oil and vinegars, and much else besides.

Dishes such as wild rocket and cannelini bean soup with pesto; roasted lamb rump with polenta and creamy olive and anchovy sauce, and vegan dark chocolate and coffee tart with coconut ice cream and croccante demonstrate Randall’s knack for writing attention-grabbing and delicious sounding recipes.

You’ll have to buy Randall’s first book Pasta if you want his excellent pasta dough recipe but, in keeping with the book’s theme, he has included seven dishes made with dried pasta including orecchiette with anchovies and cima di rappa (bitter greens with a ‘turnip-like flavour’ and a signature Randall ingredient)  and spaghettini with garlic, chilli and parsley, a staff-food favourite from his time as head chef of The River Café.

For Randall, the devil is in the detail. He recommends tracking down dried borlotti beans from the protected area of Lamon in Veneto which, he says, combined with roasted Italian sausages and ‘nduja sauce, are ‘heavenly’; specifies pagnotta, a Puglian semolina bread for a bruschetta of courgette, olive and ricotta salata, and suggests spaghetti from Gragnano in Southern Italy (recognised as the home of dried pasta) for his take on spaghetti alle vongole.

There are other instantly recognisable classic Italian dishes in the book, but each has Randall’s imprimatur. So fritto misto is finished with mint and chilli, potatoes are roasted with balsamic, pancetta and red onion, and tuna carpaccio is accompanied by fennel and lemon. Even Randall’s version of tiramisu has an unusual genesis and is inspired by the recipe of a pizzeria in Antigua.

But fundamentally, Randall is not aiming for novelty or difference for difference sake, but rather to make ‘simple food with exceptional ingredients’. The Italian Deli Cookbook is further evidence that he is the master of that particular craft.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

A version of this review first appeared in The Caterer magazine. 

Buy this book
The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients
£26, Quadrille Publishing

Cook from this book
Roasted Italian sausages with borlotti beans and ’nduja sauce by Theo Randall
Twice-baked squash and fontina soufflé by Theo Randall

Caramel Pots De Crème With Whipped Crème Fraîche by David Hawksworth

Caramel Pots De Creme

This was one of the original desserts on the Nightingale menu and it’s still going strong. So simple, but so good.

NOTE  If vanilla bean is unavailable, use good-quality paste or essence.

Serves 6

Crème Fraîche
300mL (1¼ cups) heavy cream
100mL (7 Tbsp) buttermilk

Pots de Crème
415mL (1⅔ cups) cream
160mL (⅔ cup) milk
5g (1½ tsp) salt
¼ vanilla bean, split and scraped
100g (½ cup) sugar
6 egg yolks

Vanilla Breton
60g (½ cup plus 1 Tbsp) pecans
200g (1½ cups) pastry flour
12g (scant Tbsp) baking powder
3g (1 tsp) salt
¼ vanilla bean, split and scraped
130g (⅔ cup) sugar
130g (½ cup plus 1 Tbsp) butter
3 egg yolks

Butterscotch Sauce
45g (3 Tbsp) butter
145g (¾ cup) brown sugar
120mL (½ cup) cream

Whipped Crème Fraîche
200mL (¾ cup) cream
15g (2 Tbsp) icing sugar

CRÈME FRAÎCHE
Combine the cream and buttermilk in a stainless-steel bowl. Cover with cheesecloth and leave to culture and thicken in a warm spot in your kitchen for 24 hours, then refriger- ate overnight.

POTS DE CRÈME
Bring the cream, milk, salt, and vanilla to a simmer in a pot over low heat. Place a thick-bottomed pan with tall sides over medium heat. Add the sugar in 3 additions, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, allowing it to melt between addi- tions. Cook until dark amber in colour, then add the cream. Be careful as the mixture will bubble violently. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to 40ºC (105ºF). Place the egg yolks in a large bowl. Slowly pour the hot caramel and cream into the egg yolks while constantly whisking to create a custard. Refrigerate overnight.

VANILLA BRETON
Grind the pecans to a fine powder in a food processor. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the pecan powder. Rub the vanilla into the sugar to free the seeds, then sift together. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar with the butter on medium speed, then add the egg yolks in 3 additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the dry ingredients and blend to form a soft dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.

BAKING  
Preheat the oven to 135ºC (275ºF).  Strain the refrigerated custard through a fine-mesh sieve. Fill six 240mL (8 oz) jars with the custard to the halfway point. Place the jars in a shallow baking dish and fill the dish ⅓ full with simmering water. Transfer to the oven and cook until the custards are just set and jiggle when gently shaken, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven, then the jars from the dish, and allow to cool.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Increase the heat of the oven to 175ºC (350ºF). On a lightly floured work surface, roll the chilled pastry into a rectangle that is 0.5cm (¼ in) thick. Transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool.

BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE
Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the sugar and about 50mL (3 Tbsp) of the cream. Stir to dissolve, then bring to a simmer and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the remaining cream. Chill over an ice bath, stirring occasionally.

WHIPPED CRÈME FRAÎCHE
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cream, 90mL (about ⅓ cup) of the crème fraîche, and the icing sugar. Whip until the cream holds medium peaks. Refrigerate the remaining crème fraîche for up to 1 week.

SERVE 
Spoon the whipped crème fraîche into the custard pots. Top with shards of Breton pastry. Drizzle with butterscotch sauce.

Buy this book
Hawksworth: The Cookbook
£33.99, Appetite By Random House

Cook more from this book
48- hour beef short ribs, compressed melon, black pepper jam, green papaya salad by David Hawksworth
Roasted Duck Breast, Xo Sauce, Carolina Gold Rice, Macadamia Purée by David Hawksworth

Read the review

 

Roasted Duck Breast, Xo Sauce, Carolina Gold Rice, Macadamia Purée by David Hawksworth

Roasted Duck Breast

Duck is rich, and I wanted to make this dish as light as possible. Instead of a traditional sauce—like a reduction finished with butter—being in Vancouver, where our population is now almost a third Chinese, I thought of XO sauce. It’s very tasty and has good texture, a little heat, and some acidity too. It really works.

NO TE  In the restaurant we allow the duck to air dry for a few days, uncovered in the fridge; this helps the bird to retain more moisture when it cooks. You can prepare the XO sauce up to several days before serving; it helps the flavour to develop.

Serves 6

Macadamia Nut Purée
125g (1 cup) macadamia nuts, skin off
Salt
Splash Banyuls or champagne vinegar

XO Sauce
85g (5 Tbsp) brunoised bacon
150mL (⅔ cup) canola oil
30g (⅓ cup) dried shrimp, soaked and drained
30g (⅓ cup) dried scallops, soaked and drained
80g (½ cup) minced garlic
80g (½ cup) minced ginger
20g (1 Tbsp) tomato paste
15mL (1 Tbsp) Sriracha-style chili sauce
Fish sauce
Salt

Rice
1.5L (6 cups) water
3g (1 tsp) salt, plus more for seasoning
240g (1¼ cups) Carolina gold rice
30–45g (2–3 Tbsp) butter, cut in small cubes
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 sprig cilantro, finely sliced

Duck
large duck magrets (400–450g/ 14–16 oz each)
Sea salt

Garnish
6–12 pieces gai choy, cleaned, trimmed, and cut in half
15g (1 Tbsp) butter Sea salt

MACADAMIA NUT PURÉE
Preheat the oven to 160ºC (315ºF).  Place the nuts on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and toast until fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then transfer to a bowl. Cover with water (at least 10cm/4 in above the nuts; you should have double the volume of water as nuts) and soak in the fridge overnight.

The next day, drain the nuts and reserve the water. Blend the nuts on high speed for at least 5 minutes and up to 10 minutes, using as much water as required to form a smooth purée. Season with salt and a splash of vinegar. Set aside at room temperature.

XO SAUCE
Render the bacon until crispy in a medium pan over low heat, using a small amount of oil. Remove the bacon, but keep the fat in the pan. Add a bit more oil to the pan and fry the dried shrimp and scallops until slightly crispy. Remove the shrimp and scallops and return the pan to heat.

Once the pan starts smoking, add the remaining canola oil and caramelize the garlic and ginger. Add the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes. Return the shrimp, scallops, and bacon to the pan and add the chili sauce and any remaining oil. Let the mixture simmer for 30 minutes on very low heat, stirring often so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  Adjust the seasoning with fish sauce, salt, and more chili sauce as needed.

RICE 
Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).  Bring the water and salt to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan set over high heat. Add the rice, stir once, and as soon as the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just tender with no hard starch at its centre, about 15 minutes. Drain in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse thoroughly with cool water. Shake the colander to drain excess water.

Distribute the rice evenly on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Place in the oven and allow the rice to dry for about 5 minutes, gently turning from time to time with a spatula. Dot the rice with the butter and sprinkle with salt. Return the baking sheet to the oven and allow the rice to warm through, occasionally turning, until the butter has melted and the rice is hot, about 5 minutes. Mix in the onions and cilantro and keep the rice warm.

DUCK
Trim the excess fat around the duck magrets. With a sharp knife, score the skin of the magrets in a crosshatch pattern, making the squares as close together as possible without cutting into the meat. Set aside on paper towel to absorb excess moisture.

Season the duck magrets with salt on both sides. Place the duck breasts in a hot non- stick cast-iron pan (skin side down without any oil) over medium-low heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, moving from time to time (but not flipping) to ensure an even colouring and crisping of the skin, while continuously draining out the rendered fat.

Flip the magrets and cook for 3 minutes on the meat side. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes, loosely covered with a piece of foil. When ready to serve, slice the magrets in 6mm (¼ in) slices. Season with sea salt.

GARNISH
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the gai choy for 1 minute, then quickly sauté in a hot frying pan with the butter and a pinch of salt. Transfer to paper towel to absorb excess fat.

Gently heat the XO sauce. Divide it between 6 serving plates. Smear the macadamia nut purée on the side. Place a portion of gai choy and rice on each plate. Add the duck slices.

Buy this book
Hawksworth: The Cookbook
£33.99, Appetite By Random House

Cook more from this book
48- hour beef short ribs, compressed melon, black pepper jam, green papaya salad by David Hawksworth
Caramel Pots De Crème With Whipped Crème Fraîche by David Hawksworth

Read the review

48- hour beef short ribs, compressed melon, black pepper jam, green papaya salad by David Hawksworth

48 Hour Beef Short Ribs

Beef short ribs are such a great application for sous vide cooking. You get very little moisture loss so the meat turns out incredibly juicy. It gets soft, then you chill it to set it up, and grill it or roast it to finish. It’s a rich, fatty cut, so instead of saucing it with a reduction we glaze them and serve them with black pepper jam with loads of shallots, and a bright, refreshing green papaya salad. When we put this on the menu at West as a starter, we couldn’t keep up. We had to bring it back on the opening menu at Hawksworth.

Serves 6   

Beef Short Ribs
1.3kg (3 lb) bone-in beef short ribs
2 sprigs thyme, stems removed
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt
Pepper

Compressed Melon
100mL (7 Tbsp) water
100g (½ cup) sugar
½ honeydew melon, in 18 cubes 2cm (¾ in) each
3 juniper berries

Black Pepper Jam
30mL (2 Tbsp) grapeseed or canola oil
½ onion, chopped
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
2 knobs ginger, peeled and chopped
15 cloves garlic, chopped
1½ bunches scallions, sliced
15g (1 Tbsp) dried fermented black beans
½ Thai chili, seeded and coarsely chopped
10g (1½ Tbsp) pepper
125mL (½ cup) soy sauce
125mL (½ cup) water
100mL (7 Tbsp) hoisin sauce
Sugar

Green Papaya Salad
65mL (¼ cup) water
50g (¼ cup) palm sugar
2 lime leaves
½ fresh jalapeno or red Thai chili, seeds removed
15mL (1 Tbsp) fish sauce
250mL (1 cup) fresh lime juice
1 shallot, finely chopped
Salt
⅓ green papaya, peeled and sliced into very fine julienne

Beef Short Ribs Glaze
100mL (7 Tbsp) hoisin sauce
50mL (3 Tbsp) yuzu juice
30mL (2 Tbsp) light soy sauce
¼ orange, juice

Garnish
Sea salt
12 leaves Thai basil

BEEF SHORT RIBS
Rub the beef short ribs with the thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper, then cover and refrigerate for 5 hours. Transfer to 1 or more vacuum-seal pouches. Seal with a vacuum sealer and cook in a water bath at 63ºC (145ºF) with a sous vide immersion circulator for 48 hours. Remove from the water bath, cool the ribs, and remove from the bags. Trim the excess fat and bones and portion in 170g (6 oz) rectangles.

COMPRESSED MELON
Bring the water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Whisk in the sugar until it dis- solves, to create a syrup. Cool rapidly over an ice bath. Place the cubed honeydew melon in a vacuum-seal pouch with the syrup and juniper berries. (You can also use a regular ziplock bag but the flavour will be less intense.) Seal with a vacuum sealer and refrigerate for 2 hours.

BLACK PEPPER JAM
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium to high heat. Add the onion, shallots, ginger, and garlic and cook until golden brown, stirring frequently. Add the scallions, black beans, chili, and pepper, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 5 minutes longer. Add the soy sauce, water, and hoisin sauce and reduce by ⅓. Cook until the mixture is thick and jammy and coats the back of a spoon. Adjust the seasoning and balance with sugar as required. While the mixture is still hot, blend it in a food processor until smooth but not puréed.

GREEN PAPAYA SALAD
Combine the water with the palm sugar, lime leaves, and chili in a small pot. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Blend for 1 minute with an immersion blender until combined. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Add the fish sauce, lime juice, and shallot and stir to combine. Season with salt. Refrigerate until cool. When ready to serve, mix the papaya with the dressing.

BEEF SHORT RIBS GLAZE
Whisk all the ingredients together until combined.

SERVE  
Preheat the oven to 150ºC (300ºF). Cover or brush the short rib pieces with half of the glaze and heat in the oven until hot through, about 10 minutes. Halfway through cooking, brush with the remaining glaze. Cut each rib rectangle in half. Smear some of the black pepper jam on each of 6 serving plates and place the short ribs on top. Season with sea salt. Add the melon and papaya salad, and garnish with the basil leaves.

Buy this book
Hawksworth: The Cookbook
£33.99, Appetite By Random House

Cook more from this book
Roasted Duck Breast, Xo Sauce, Carolina Gold Rice, Macadamia Purée by David Hawksworth
Caramel Pots De Crème With Whipped Crème Fraîche by David Hawksworth

Read the review

Hawksworth: The Cookbook by David Hawksworth

Hawsworth The Cookbook

What’s the USP? Dishes drawn from the 30-year career of one of Canada’s most high-profile chefs and restaurateurs, with stories and anecdotes of kitchen and restaurant life. 

Who’s the author? David Hawksworth is chef propriator of the eponymous Hawksworth restaurant in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia and the more casual Nightingale restaurant and Bel Cafés, all in Vancouver. He is the winner of 2012 and 2013 Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year and for four consecutive years, Best Upscale Dining, as well as enRoute magazine’s top three Best New Restaurants, and Maclean’s magazine Restaurant of the Year. In 2008, he became the youngest chef inductee in to the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame.  In 2013 he launched the Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship Foundation and has had a culinary partnership with Air Canada since 2015. 

Is it good bedtime reading? The story of Hawksworth’s career is told through a series of memoirs dotted throughout the book. His time in the UK make for particularly entertaining and enlightening reading. When staging at Marco Pierre White’s The Restaurant, Hawksworth was warned never to look at the great chef during service, ‘Look him in the eye, then you’re a target – you’re finished’. As opening chef at Raymond Blanc’s Le Petit Blanc in Oxford, Hawksworth recalls having to cut the door to the meat locker in half and crawl in and out on his hands and knees because it was blocked by a staircase.   

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  Hawksworth’s contemporary Canadian food might exalt west coast produce like spot prawns, sablefish and sockeye salmon, but they can be easily substituted for more readily available alternatives if you’re based outside of Canada. 

The book includes not only fine dining dishes with ingredients that might be harder to source such as squab for pot-au-feu with parsley dumplings but also recipes from his more casual Nightingale restaurant and Bel Cafés, such as crispy buttermilk fried chicken and clam spaghetti, the ingredients for which are more straightforward to track down. 

What’s the faff factor? It varies hugely from recipe to recipe.  The average home cook is not going to tackle a sophisticated creation like foie gras, artichoke, truffle and madeira jus on a Wednesday night after getting home late from the office. On the other hand, you could knock up a bowl of Blue Hubbard Squash soup in about 45 minutes. Even easier, once you’ve marinated chicken overnight, spicy chicken and green papaya salad would take less than 30 minutes to complete. 

How often will I cook from the book? For the most part, you will need to set aside a decent amount of time to cook many of the recipes in the book. However aside from a few showpiece dishes like mosaic of venison, duck and quail and ‘Symphony of the Sea’ that’s made with prawns, oysters, scallops, halibut and salmon which will probably remain restaurant-only creations, recipes like 48-hour beef short ribs with black pepper jam; salumi pizza; roasted cauliflower with green harissa and sunflower seeds, and dark chocolate chunk cookies will mean the book’s glossy and beautifully designed pages will soon gather the stains of regular kitchen use.   

Killer recipes? In addition to distinctively west coast dishes such as  there is an unmistakably European accent to the recipes in his first cookbook. That’s no surprise, as Hawksworth spent the 1990s working in some of the best UK kitchens of the time including The Square and Marco-era L’Escargot. Dishes include a mosaic of venison, duck and quail taught to Hawksworth by Gary Jones at Le Manoir, and a yellowfin tuna-wrapped crab salad inspired by Bruno Loubet’s whole seabass stuffed with panzanella that was on the menu at Isola when Hawksworth worked there.  Vancouver is a famously cosmopolitan city and Hawksworth reflects that in dishes like spicy chicken and green papaya salad and jungle pork curry.

What will I love? Although aimed at a North American audience, ingredients  are listed with grams and ml measurements as well as cups, making the book perfectly usable for UK readers. 

Should I buy it? In his foreword, Phil Howard says, ‘I know for certain that you will not regret investing in this book – and the knowledge of this chef’. I can only concur.  

Cuisine: Canadian/International 
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs 
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

A version of this review first appeared in The Caterer magazine. 

Buy this book
Hawksworth: The Cookbook
£33.99, Appetite By Random House

Cook from this book
48- hour beef short ribs, compressed melon, black pepper jam, green papaya salad by David Hawksworth
Roasted Duck Breast, Xo Sauce, Carolina Gold Rice, Macadamia Purée by David Hawksworth
Caramel Pots De Crème With Whipped Crème Fraîche by David Hawksworth

Restore by Gizzi Erskine

Restore Gizzi Erskine

What’s the USP? ‘A modern guide to sustainable eating’. Restore seeks to debunk myths around ‘good’ food, and take an in-depth look at restorative farming – that is, bringing back greater biodiversity and reinvigorating the planet through mindful food production.

Who wrote it? Gizzi Erskine, who has had a pretty diverse career thus far. Having trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, and worked in such prestigious kitchens as St. Johns, Erskine made her way into TV via the now-problematic Cook Yourself Thin. From there: cookbooks, more TV work, modelling and more.

Over the past year alone Erskine has appeared to juggle four fairly distinct roles: frank sex podcaster for Spotify’s ‘Sex, Lies and DM Slides’, lockdown fakeaway creator with friend Professor Green, Instagram influencer and lux cookbook writer.

I say ‘lux cookbook writer’ because, as with Erskine’s last book, Slow, her new title presents a distinct take on home cooking. They ask for readers to take on a particularly mindful approach to their food – considering how it is sourced, what it means for the planet around us. They also present certain challenges – dishes frequently require a significant amount of time to prepare, or the sourcing of relatively hard to come by ingredients. We’ll get to that.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not particularly. Erskine’s ambition in ‘Restore’ is the championing of a sort of home cooking that seeks to better the planet through the more responsible sourcing of ingredients. In terms of reading, though, this amounts to one distinct theme: a lot of very worthy preaching about the various ways our food habits are damaging our world.

Erskine’s concerns are fair, though hardly new in the cookbook world – and herein lies the issue. Restore is a very drab read. Everything Erskine discusses has been shared with us before, and in a more enjoyable, more readable way. It’s a lot to pile the gloom of contemporary farming issues on cookbook readers, and the best cookbooks balance this out with engaging writing that highlights positives, and offers practical solutions. Restore manages neither. Many of the recipes fail to tempt the reader, and there are issues with those that do.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The problem with writing a sustainable cookbook has always been one of accessibility. There’s a reason that our society has failed to adapt to more planet-friendly approaches to our cooking, and overwhelming it’s a matter of cost.

Introducing her vegetable section, Erskine makes a passing mention to the development of her understanding of ‘social economic’ factors since the release of Slow. She talks about wincing at conversations she’s had in the past and… that’s about it. Onwards to the vegetable chapter that asks for dried Mexican chillies, Lebanese cucumbers, purple potatoes and dehydrated tamarind blocks. Restore remains resolutely middle class, as so many ‘sustainable cookery’ books have been before.

One of the most popular traits amongst these books has long been a call to cut down on meats. Erskine makes this incredibly easy for readers, by including two short chapters on the subject that include almost exclusively meats that the average reader will struggle to get their hands on. It’s just a shame that many of the most interesting recipes on offer here require the tracking down of game birds and meats that I’ve only previously seen on sale in rural butchers, or that one really fancy Budgens in Crouch End.

When Erskine opts for the more readily accessible animals, she seems to go out of her way to choose cuts that are unavailable in the supermarkets that the majority of the British public shop in. Bone-in beef shin, whole lamb neck, rolled pork belly, pig trotters and sheep lungs are all on the shopping list. Is this aversion to the mass meat production of supermarkets very much the point of Restore? Yes, but what is presented here as sustainable for the planet will not be sustainable for the majority of families in Britain today.

Killer recipes: Greenhouse Romesco Sauce with Chargrilled Spring Onions, Guinea Fowl alla ‘Diavolo’, Rabbit à la Moutarde, Wild Garlic Stuffed Mutton, Jamaican Goat Curry Patties, Tepache

Should I buy it? If you’ve an excellent local butcher, and the disposable income that such a thing warrants, there’s plenty to dig into here. Erskine also provides plenty of vegetable options, though these are generously less tempting (and frequently implies the reader has an allotment or greenhouse from which they can sustainably source their food). There are, however, plenty of other titles available that offer the same message as this book in a more accessible and enjoyable way.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Buy this book
Restore by Gizzi Erskine
£26, HQ

Cook from this book
Bibimbap
Green shakshuka

The Noodle Cookbook by Damien King Lee

What’s the USP? 101 easy, accessible and ‘healthy’ noodle recipes from the makers of Mr Lee’s instant noodle range.

Who’s the author? The late entrepreneur Damien King Lee, founder and CEO of Mr Lee’s Pure Foods which markets a range of ‘healthy and sustainable’ instant noodles available in supermarkets.

What does it look like? Simple, colourful, modern and really rather stylish.

Is it good bedtime reading? The non-recipe text is mostly of the bright and breezy variety and shouldn’t unduly detain you.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The recipes are mostly aimed at the supermarket shopper but you will find the likes of wagyu, crayfish tails, fresh crabmeat and togarashi alongside turkey mince and Monterey Jack cheese.

What’s the faff factor? They say the recipes take 30 minutes or less, although anyone that believes those sort of claims after Jamie’s 30-Minute Meal debacle needs to give their head a wobble. That said, the dishes are mostly very achievable (you are, after all, heating up noodles with bits and bobs) and each one is labeled to indicate the degree of difficulty from ‘doddle’ to ‘showing off’. Generally speaking, the recipes are ideal for mid-week after-work meals when kitchen time may be at a premium.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you want to eat noodles? Once a week? Once a month? There a good amount of variety in the book with Chinese, Japanese, Thai , Korean and Vietnamese dishes. But they’ve (nearly) all got noodles in them.

Killer recipes? Curry chicken stir fry ramen; lobster laksa curry, Hong Kong Street beef; Korean ‘fried’ sticky chicken’; dan dan noodle soup with lamb.

What will I love? The useful directory of types of noodle and their uses, the handy ‘shopping staples’ section that will help you stock your cupboards for when you really fancy a quick bowl of noodles. The store cupboard recipes will appeal to keen cooks who want to make their own sauces such as hoisin, teriyaki and satay. There’s even a vegan ‘fish’ sauce made with agave, pineapple juice and soy.

What won’t I like? If you’re a miserable old git like me, the overly-matey and ‘humorous’ recipe introductions with exhortations to ‘get your crisp on’ and descriptions of black vinegar as ‘rice vinegar’s chilled out mellow cousin’ may remind you of when corporations try to be your friend.

Should I buy it? If you really, really like noodles and you think you need 101 recipes for them, then, go ahead, get your noodle on!

Cuisine: Pan-Asian
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Dan dan noodle soup with lamb
Hong Kong Street Beef
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Nose Dive by Harold McGee

nose-dive-harold-mcgee

What’s the USP? A deep (nose) dive into the world of smell, exploring what creates the smells around us, and what we can learn from them. From the earliest smells in the universe to thoroughly contemporary stenches, Nose Dive opens up every corner of the sensory world, and takes a big old sniff.

Sounds like a Bill Bryson book…  Harold McGee’s initial premise might recall the bold all-encompassing approach Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and The Body have taken to their respective subjects, but don’t be fooled. Nose Dive is as academic as it is filled with wonder at the world around us. McGee starts at the very beginning, with early chapters on how chemicals formed in space at the very beginning of the universe, and the sulphurous formation of smells on the newly formed Earth. It’s a neatly chronological approach that the author has apparently used to get his head around the science as he took on what must have been a daunting project, but I found myself longing for some more immediately relatable smells.

Who is the book for? It’s a tough question that I asked myself throughout reading. There is no doubt that McGee has put together a remarkable document on an under-appreciated sense, but little compromise is made for the casual reader. Coming in at just over 600 pages, and unrepentantly scientific in its approach, Nose Dive is not an easy read.

What are you looking to get out of a book on smell? If it’s the nuances in the scent of a good blue cheese, you’ll be wading some five hundred pages in. If you’re excited, however, to learn about why some cat piss smells meaty, and other cat piss displays more distinctly fruity characteristics, then you’ll have a much shorter wait. 

Do I have to read it all in order? Not at all – in fact, McGee claims that the book is intended for dipping into at your leisure. A sprawling index means readers inspired by a particular scent are free and able to selectively read around their curiosities. But that does rather beg the question – how many of us are going to smell the unrelenting stench of manure and then both desire and later remember (as presumably nobody will be carrying a 600 page hardback around on the off-chance that their nose asks a question) to look it up, and learn more about concentrated animal feeding operations?

There are useful lessons to learn here for cooks – which makes sense, given the author’s background in food science writing. But too often it feels as though the average reader might only fall upon them by chance. The book gives roughly the same amount of time to food smells (and those immediately associated with food) as it does to everything else – but the result is unnecessarily unwieldy. Perhaps McGee can take all that he has learnt here and create a second volume, focused more tightly on the smells of the kitchen, and what we can learn from them.

Until then, Nose Dive should be filed under ‘Good Intentions’ – a stunningly researched, occasionally insightful title that will appeal mainly to those who are already in the habit of reading lengthy academically-minded science titles.

Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Buy this book
Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells
£35, John Murray

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
andre simon logo

André Simon Awards 2020 interview: Lisa Markwell

AS Shortlist Food Books - Andre Simon assessor Lisa Markwell

Ahead of the announcement  of this year’s prestigious André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards on 3 March 2021, Andy Lynes spoke to Sunday Times Food Editor Lisa Markwell about her first year as Food Book Award Assessor and what it was like reading 140 cookbooks in the space of a few months. 

COMPETITION: For a chance to win a copy of Red Sands by Caroline Eden, one of the shortlisted books, head over to my twitter account @andylynes and check out my recent timeline. Closes 25 February, open to UK readers of Cookbook Review only. 

Andy Lynes: When did you begin the judging process?

Lisa Markwell: Last November was really when everything started happening and publishers started sending their books in. The beginning of December was when I really started looking in earnest. So I suppose there were two months of hard  looking. Halfway through December, I’d whittled it down and then we decided, for the first time I think , to have a long list.

This is the first year I’ve been involved but I think usually it’s quite brutal, it goes from however many there might be (and this year has been a bumper year), so let’s say usually there’s something around 90 books, that’s then cut straight down to six or seven. So we decided to have a longlist in order to acknowledge the books, which perhaps weren’t central to the criteria of the awards but they were nevertheless really worthwhile to talk about. So that was six weeks of ‘tough, tough, tough cut, cut, cut’ down to the middle of December and then after Christmas I picked it back up again. I then worked quite hard on cutting it down to a shortlist which was towards the end of January. 

AL: That first round of culling, what’s your criteria?

LM: Luckily for me, the criteria are quite specific. The book does have to have an educational agenda and a sort of new facet; it can’t be for instance, a collection of recipes that has been done before, so some books you would take away immediately for that. And then the fact that it has to be educational, not in a very sort of nerdy way, but nevertheless, it has to teach you something new, so that meant fun books about, let’s say, cooking with a slow cooker weren’t right for this competition.  So that was the first cut – there’s nice books out there, but they’re not right for this.

Then you have to take into consideration how well it’s actually written. I’m lucky that, because I’ve done my chef training, I can look at recipes and think, I’m just not sure that that’s good and well enough written, so there were some books that fell by the wayside because of that. In terms of more narrative books, there were a couple that I really liked the look of but I found them impenetrable or boring.  Like any book they have to look appealing and that’s anything from font – is it easy to read – to the illustrations, what’s the photography like, the layout. 

I quite quickly got it down to about 24 books and then we ended up with the longlist of 15 that was announced in December. The Pie Room by Calum  Franklin was on the longlist which is a book that’s been really successful, much loved, fantastic book, really lovely and deserved to be there. Entangled Life is a book by food nerd (I don’t know if he’d want himself to be called that) Merlin Sheldrake, which is all about mushrooms and fungi which was a really fascinating book, a real deep dive into fungi and everything to do with them, so that definitely needed to be on the long list. There was something a bit more light hearted, like Victory in the Kitchen, which was the story of, Churchill’s cook, the woman who cooked all the food at 10 Downing Street when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, a lovely fun book. So the longlist was a bit more wide ranging, it was a bit more freewheeling, but then it had to be cut back and then it got hard.  

One thing I did feel was that I knew that sometimes an award is given to somebody for their first book and there were a couple of books, which I thought were terrific, but perhaps didn’t quite reach the height of some of the ones that were on the short list but I thought, those people I hope will  possibly get the amplification of getting a special award. 

AL: I was looking at all the past winners of the awards and, although there are a few big names like Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, often the winners will be lesser known writers. Is there any consideration given to getting bigger names on the shortlist that will have media impact and increase the profile of the awards, or is that not an issue?    

LM: I definitely didn’t have that in my mind. I didn’t see it that way. Nigella Lawson had a book out last year, Yotam Ottolenghi had a book out last year, but neither of those books were quite right, I didn’t feel, for the André Simon. You can see, perhaps for some people that it would be great to give it to a big name because then you get lots of hoo-ha around it, but I just don’t think this is that kind of award. Something like the Fortnum and Mason Awards for instance might be more – I don’t want to use mass appeal as a sort of pejorative term – but you know, André Simon is really about a particular kind of book.  Josh Niland who won last year – that is such a fantastic book from someone who’s not a household name, but if you’re interested in fish, I think anyone would love that book. That exemplifies what the André Simon award is all about; is it exciting and is it going to take you somewhere from either reading it or cooking from it or both? That’s one of the things that’s interesting about this year is that the recipe books are a much more than recipe books and the narrative books are much more than factual, they’ve got real spirit to them. 

AL: Over the years, the award has been given to what have turned out to be important and influential books such as On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan among others. Did you have an eye on longevity when drawing up the shortlist? 

LM: That was definitely one thing that Katy Lander, who administrates the awards, did say to keep in mind and that’s definitely in the entry criteria – is this a book that will be around in 10 years and will be on the shelf; is it something that people will refer back to? That’s really the spirit of the prize. Something like The Flavour Thesaurus that won ten years ago, that sort of book that transcends trends, that’s really a book that you pull down time and time again. It was a really unusual book as well and Niki Segnit, I didn’t know much at all at that point, so it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s the content that’s important.

Andre Simon books

AL: Did having the opportunity to see so many books in a short period of time allow you to identify any current trends in cookbook publishing? 

I don’t know how quickly trends move in food books.  In my day job, I get sent books a lot and last year, or maybe the year before, I felt if I got one more ‘easy vegan’ I’d go completely nuts. It felt like the publishers had thought, crikey, we’ve got to get the vegan book out. But that felt like it was quite a long time in coming. A food book is quite complicated, even if for no other reason just to actually cook the food and photograph it, these things take time. So I think the trends probably don’t move that quickly. But one of the biggest and welcome trends, if you can call it that, but perhaps evolutions, has been the rise of the travel-meets-food-meets-culture-meets history-meets-politics -the ‘holistic food book’ if  you want to use a terrible term – that really takes the subject in the round.

Four of the books on the shortlist do that. Summer Kitchens is about Ukraine; Red Sands, that whole central Asian thing; Parwana is Afghanistan and Falastin is Palestine. They’re all books that look at a geographical cuisine but then they do so much more than that. You can’t have a book about food from Palestine without talking about the politics of Palestine. Similarly Parwana, that’s such a beautiful book that actually doesn’t pull any punches about the politics in that country, but does it through the prism of food and family, which I think is really successful. 

I hesitate to sort of talk about it because it’s such a hot potato, but something that has caused a lot of friction in food writing and food books is the issue of cultural appropriation; who is the right person to write on any subject. The thorny matter of is Jamie Oliver allowed to talk about jerk chicken, or whatever it is. I think that the voice that’s been given to people like Durkhanai who wrote Parwana, that is fantastic. Food books are giving people who have grown up with a cuisine or have something really authentic to say about it – they’re given that voice and opportunity.  I think that can only be a good thing.

AL: Yes, absolutely. Although, over the last three or four years, books have been getting more and more granular in terms of the regions and areas that they’re covering. I just wonder if there’s anywhere left on the planet that hasn’t got a cookbook about it now! 

I haven’t got the full list of submitted books in front of me but I did think that there were some quite specific areas of food and I thought crikey, who’s going to buy this other than the author’s family, it has a very local niche appeal. But you can’t ignore the fact that last year, no one’s been allowed to travel, in fact they’re not going to be able to this year, so that sort of armchair travel and deliciousness you can get through food is a good thing. I wouldn’t want to say anything negative about books that marry travel and food. It’s been a real pleasure for me to read them. 

AL: Having gone through the process of being the André Simon Food Award Assessor for the first time this year, has it put you off – given that you also have your day job as Sunday Times food editor and your work editing and contributing to Code – or, if you were asked, would you do it again?

I would love to do it again. Probably what I would do next time is get to know XL spreadsheets a bit better and plot my time better because I’m probably the quintessential journalist, I can’t do anything without a deadline. No matter how long I’ve got to do something I will always do it at the eleventh hour.

It was definitely an advantage having already seen some of the books. Jikoni, Red Sands and Summer Kitchens I was pretty familiar with and Falastin, having been to Palestine myself, I was very eager to see that as soon as it came out. So having been quite familiar with them and cooked from them, it did give me a bit more time to read things like Harold McGee’s Nose Dive which is a hell of a tome, it’s a big, big book and it covers a huge subject. Hands up, I haven’t read every page of it yet, but I keep going back to it.

I  don’t know if every year is as amazing as this. It does feel like it has been a particularly fantastic year. But yeah, I’d love to do it, but I would be more scientific.

Lisa’s longlist

Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal
Summer Kitchens, Olia Hercules 
Falastin: A Cookbook, Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley
Nose Dive, Harold McGee 
Parwana, Durkhanai Ayubi
Salmon, Mark Kurlansky 
Red Sands, Caroline Eden 
Eating for Pleasure People and Planet by Tom Hunt 
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
Spoon Fed by Tim Spector
The Pie Room by Calum Franklin 
The Whole Chicken by Carl Clarke
Victory in the Kitchen: The Life of Churchill’s Cook by Annie Gray
The Chicken Soup Manifesto by Jenn Louis
Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking: savoury and sweet by Regula Ysewijn

About the awards

Founded in 1978, the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards are the only awards in the UK to exclusively recognise the achievements of food and drink writers and are the longest continuous running awards of their kind. The first two awards were given to Elizabeth David and Rosemary Hume for their outstanding contribution in the fields of food and cooking. Other winners include Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Rick Stein, Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke.

There are two categories: food, and wine, drinks and beverages. For the winner of each category there will be an award of £2,000. In addition, there will be an award of £1,500 in honour of John Avery and the Special Commendation Award of £1,500 – both of these are awarded at the discretion of the judges.

The main criteria against which the works are judged are:

  • The work shall contain a substantial proportion of original research and not simply be a re-arrangement of existing material.
  • Great importance will be attached to the educational value of the work.
  • The books chosen are likely to be ones that are pleasurable to read and not just professional textbooks.
  • The book should be well produced.

When judging the books, the Trustees have the help and advice of two independent assessors. In 2020 Lisa Markwell has kindly agreed to assess the food books and John Hoskins is assessing the drink books. Judging will be in the hands of the Trustees. Their decision will be final, and no correspondence will be entered into. The André Simon Food & Drink Book Award Trustees are Nicholas Lander (Chair), Sarah Jane Evans MW, David Gleave MW and Xanthe Clay.

Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb

071_Mr Lee's Dan Dan Noddle Soup with Lamb_Chinese

Serves 2
Wok to wonderful in 20 minutes
Showing Off /Vegan Option
Hero ingredients: garlic and ginger

A ‘dan dan’ is the pole that noodle sellers use to carry the baskets of fresh noodles and sauce, with one at either end. The star is Sichuan chilli bean paste, or toban djan (see page 17) but you can use other chilli pastes if you can’t get your hands on it. Combined with the Sichuan peppercorns, you get a lip-tingling intensity. You can also try it as a stir-fry dish by omitting the stock water, and using fresh noodles.

½ tablespoon vegetable oil
230g (8¼oz) minced (ground) lamb (or frozen vegan mince and 1/4 tsp yeast extract for a vegan alternative)
2 teaspoons garlic paste, or 3–4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon ginger paste or 5cm (2in) piece of fresh root ginger, chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
120g (4¼oz) dried wheat noodles
1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced, to garnish

 FOR THE SOUP:
600ml (20fl oz) boiling water, or ready-made fresh vegetable stock
1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce, or brown or red miso paste
1 tablespoon chilli bean paste, or 1 teaspoon any hot chilli paste
2 teaspoons crunchy peanut butter
½ teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Prepare the soup mixture by mixing all the ingredients together in a large bowl or jug, then set aside until needed. Heat the oil in a large wok over a high heat. Throw in the minced lamb (or vegan mince) and brown for a few seconds. Then add the garlic, ginger, carrot and onion and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Your kitchen should smell amazing at this stage, so take a second, stop and breathe it in. But don’t take all day, we’re on a schedule!

Next pour the soup mixture into the pan and mix well, simmering for another 3 minutes. Now it’s noodle time. Put the noodles in a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain. Divide your hot noodles between 2 serving bowls and pour over the soupy mixture. Sprinkle over the chopped spring onion (scallion). Strap in your taste buds: you’ll never forget your first Dan Dan Noodle Soup.

Cook more from this book
Hong Kong Street Beef
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Hong Kong Street Beef

075_Mr Lee's Hongkong Street Beef_Chinese

Serves 2 Wok to wonderful in
30 minutes
Showing Off
Hero ingredients: ginger and broccoli

Mr Lee’s Hong Kong Street Beef noodle pot is a customer favourite, so we just had to adapt it for our very first cookbook. The richly flavoured and aromatic soup base, combined with the savoury hit of the steak, wraps you in a warm, beefy blanket of contentment. It’s the best kind of comfort food: Tastes like it took hours, but ready in minutes. Winner!

1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
250g (9oz) rib-eye steak, or use sirloin/
porterhouse if you prefer
85g (3oz) sprouting broccoli, or use regular
broccoli cut into bite-sized pieces
120g (4¼oz) dried thin wheat noodles (or use
thin rice noodles for a gluten-free alternative)

FOR THE SOUP:
230g (8¼oz) lean minced (ground) beef, or substitute
900ml (1½ pints) of ready-made fresh beef stock
2 small onions, finely diced
2 whole star anise
1 large black cardamom pod
½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon ginger paste, or 2.5cm (1 inch) piece of fresh root ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic paste, or 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce
900ml (1½ pints) boiling water (if not using stock)

FOR THE GARNISH:
1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced
handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly torn (optional)
2 tablespoons chilli oil (optional)

Heat a medium saucepan over a medium–high heat and brown the minced beef (if using). Then add all the other soup ingredients except the water or stock.  Keep stirring for 2–3 minutes, then add the water (or stock, if using). Cover the pan with a lid and leave all those lovely flavours to simmer and intensify over a low heat for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together the yellow bean sauce and toasted sesame oil on a plate. Now it’s steak time! Put the steak on the plate and really rub the marinade all over, then set it aside for a few minutes. Heat a wok over a high heat and add the vegetable oil. Pan-fry the steak for about 3 minutes on each side. This will cook it medium – but it’s your steak, so cook it how you like. If you want it a bit pinker, then cook it for up to 2 minutes each side.

The super-high heat will seal the meat and keep it nice and succulent. As soon as the steak is cooked to your liking, put it on a chopping board, cover it with foil and let it rest for a bit. Place another medium saucepan on the hob and half-fill with boiling water. Add the broccoli and boil for 2 minutes, then add the dried noodles and simmer for another minute. Drain and divide the broccoli and noodles between two large, deep soup bowls.

Using a fine sieve, strain the soup broth as you pour it over the noodles in each bowl, discarding the aromatics. Slice the steak into strips, then layer on top of the noodle soup. Garnish with spring onion (scallion) and fresh coriander (cilantro). Serve with
a small pot of red chilli oil on the side for drizzling, and you’re good to go.

Cook more from this book
Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

163_Seafood ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper_Korean

Serves 2
Wok to wonderful in 15 minutes
Doddle / <15 Min
Hero ingredient: shiitake mushrooms

A Korean take on a Japanese favourite. We’re bringing some spicy, pungent gochujang to the party. Gochujang dances to its own tune; it’s unlike any other chilli paste. Sometimes labelled red pepper paste, look out for it in Asian supermarket. When you combine this with the sweet scallops and prawns, the umami-rich mushrooms and the cabbage, it gives ramen a spicy Korean makeover.

140g (5oz) dried ramen noodles, or dried wheat
and/or egg noodles
120g (4¼oz) scallops
120g (4¼oz) raw fresh prawns (shrimp), or any seafood, e.g. squid or cooked mussels
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper paste (gochujang)
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
60g (2¼oz) fresh shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
60g (2¼oz) savoy cabbage, finely sliced
¼–½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onion (scallion), to serve

Place a small saucepan of boiling water over a high heat and add the noodles. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain well and set aside. Place the scallops and prawns (shrimp) – or whatever seafood you’re using – in a small bowl. Add ½ tablespoon of the gochujang and mix it all together, using your hands to coat everything really well.

Next heat the vegetable oil in a wok over a very high heat and add the seafood to the pan. Fry for 45 seconds, keeping the heat super high
so the seafood caramelises and gets golden brown around the edges.
Add the mushrooms and cabbage and lightly season with the salt and pepper. Stir everything well, cooking for a further 45 seconds.

Finally add the cooked and drained noodles to the wok, along with the soy sauce, paprika, sesame oil and remaining gochujang. Stir-fry for another 2 minutes, over a high heat, combining everything well. Add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen the sauce.

Divide the noodles between 2 serving bowls and sprinkle with the spring onion (scallion) – cheffy flourish is optional. Serve immediately.

Cook more from this book
Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb
Hong Kong Street Beef

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Seedy Almond Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Seedy almond cake

To create this recipe, I started with a basic Victoria sponge and swapped out the white flour for a blend of wholemeal and ground almonds, reduced the sugar substantially and added extra nuts and seeds. The result is delicious – and you really do not miss  all that sugar. I love to eat the cake still just warm from the oven, but it keeps well too. It’s great with a cup of tea or, for a high-fibre, probiotic pud, enjoy it with a spoonful of kefir or natural yoghurt, and a little heap of fresh berries or roasted fruit compote. The poppy seeds aren’t essential, but I love them for their look and their texture and, like any seed, they are rich in minerals.

Makes 8 slices
125g unsalted butter, softened
70g soft light brown sugar or light muscovado
Finely grated zest of 1 orange or lemon (optional)
100g wholemeal cake flour/fine plain wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
25g sunflower seeds
25g poppy seeds (optional) 3 medium eggs
3 tbsp milk or water
About 20g flaked almonds or pumpkin seeds (or a mix)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Line a 20cm round springform cake tin with baking paper.

Put the butter and sugar, and the orange or lemon zest if using, into a large bowl or a free-standing electric mixer. Use an electric hand whisk or the mixer to beat for a couple of minutes, until light and fluffy.

In a second bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, sunflower seeds and poppy seeds, if using.

Add an egg and a spoonful of the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mix and beat until evenly blended. Repeat to incorporate the remaining eggs. Tip in the remaining dry ingredients and fold together gently but thoroughly, finishing by folding in the milk or water to loosen the batter a little.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it gently and evenly. Scatter with the flaked almonds and/or pumpkin seeds. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, or until risen and golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool, at least a little, on a wire rack.

Remove the cake from the tin and cut into slices to serve. It will keep in an airtight tin for up to 5 days, but you’ll most likely finish it well before then.

Cook more from this book
Overnight oats
Spicy roast parsnips

Buy the book
Eat Better Forever: 7 Ways to Transform Your Diet
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Read the review 

Overnight Oats by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Overnight Oats

Soaking oats is a time-honoured route to a tender, tasty high-fibre breakfast – Bircher muesli is the classic example and ‘overnight oats’ the trendy interloper. This super-simple version uses jumbo oats, omega-rich seeds and skin-on almonds, which plump up and soften as they soak in orange juice and kombucha (or water). The result is juicy and mild, ready to be sweetened with a little fruit; I like a handful of raisins (which you can soak with the oats), or a grated apple – or both. If you include chia and/or flax seeds you’ll get that distinctive slippery texture, which not everyone loves but I do!

Serves 4
120g (7–8 tbsp) jumbo oats (or porridge oats)
A generous handful (30g) of mixed nuts and seeds (such as almonds and pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, flax and chia seeds)
Juice of 1 large or 2 small oranges
A small glass (about 150ml) kombucha (page 244) or water

To serve
A handful of raisins, chopped dried apricots or other dried fruit (soaked with the oats if you like), and/or a handful of berries, or a sliced small banana, or an apple, chopped or coarsely grated
1–2 generous tbsp natural yoghurt or kefir (page 246), optional
Toasted buckwheat groats (optional)

Combine the oats, nuts and seeds in a breakfast bowl (adding some dried fruit if you like). Add the orange juice and the kombucha or water. Mix well.

Cover the bowl and place in the fridge or a cool place for 6–8 hours or overnight. If possible, take the soaked oats out of the fridge half an hour before you want to eat them, so they’re not too chilly.

Serve with your chosen fruit. You could also add a spoonful or two of yoghurt or kefir and, to bring some crunch, a few toasted buckwheat groats.

Cook more from this book
Spicy roast parsnips
Seedy almond cake

Buy the book
Eat Better Forever: 7 Ways to Transform Your Diet
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Read the review 

Spicy roast parsnips with barley, raisins & walnuts by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Spicy roast parsnips

Parsnips are delicious with curry spices, particularly when roasted so that their thin, tapering ends turn delectably sweet and caramelised. Here, spicy roasted parsnips are tumbled with nutty whole grains, raisins and a scattering of walnuts to create a dish with lots of satisfying textures. I like to add some crisp leaves for contrast, too.

Serves 4
150g pearl barley, pearled spelt or whole spelt grain
500g parsnips
2 tbsp curry paste
3 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
75g raisins
A bunch of leaves, such as watercress, rocket or flat-leaf parsley
Juice of ½ orange or lemon Sea salt and black pepper

Soak the pearl barley or spelt in cold water for anything from 20 minutes to a couple of hours then drain and rinse well. Put the grain into a saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender. This will take about 20–25 minutes for spelt, more like 35–40 minutes for barley. Drain.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C/Gas 5. Peel the parsnips and trim the base and tip from each. Cut each parsnip in half lengthways then cut each half from top to bottom into long batons, no more than 2cm at the thick end. Don’t worry if they are  a bit wobbly and uneven – this all adds to their charm!

Put the curry paste and 2 tbsp of the oil into a large bowl and mix together. Add the parsnips with a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper and toss the parsnips in the curry spice so they are all coated – you may find a pastry brush helpful for this.

Scatter the parsnips in a large, shallow roasting tray. Roast for about 40 minutes, stirring once, until starting to caramelise. Add the chopped walnuts, raisins and cooked spelt or barley to the roasting tray, stir everything together and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly for 5 minutes then toss with the leaves and transfer to a platter or individual plates. Squeeze over a little citrus juice and trickle over a touch more olive oil before serving.

Cook more from this book
Overnight oats
Seedy almond cake

Buy the book
Eat Better Forever: 7 Ways to Transform Your Diet
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Read the review 

Concha by Elena Reygadas of Rosetta, Mexico City

307 Reygadas

Makes 4 conchas
For the vanilla crust:
10 g all-purpose (plain) flour
10 g vegetable shortening
5 g sugar glass
5 g sugar
0.5 g baking powder
Pinch of salt
Seeds from 1⁄2 vanilla bean

For the conchas:
4 g fresh yeast
15 g whole milk
180 g wheat flour
25 g sugar
1 g fine sea salt
45 g eggs
40 g butter
Egg wash

Make the vanilla crust:

In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients and beat with an electric mixer at a low speed until well blended. Don’t overmix. Once the mixture is uniform, let stand at room temperature while you make the conchas.

Make the conchas:

Dissolve the yeast in the milk. In a large bowl, combine the flour, dissolved yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, and butter and mix with your hands, making small circles. Once everything has blended together, knead the dough, lightly striking it against the surface until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a covered container and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and shape each into a ball.

Divide the vanilla crust into 4 portions; they should be about 20 g. Form each portion into a ball and then use your palm to flatten it into a disk large enough to cover one of the dough balls.

Glaze each ball of dough with egg and cover with a disk of vanilla crust. Press a shell-pattern mold into the crust or make the traditional pattern with a knife. Dip each concha in sugar and place on a baking sheet. Cover the conchas with a lightly floured cloth and let sit at room temperature for 11⁄2–2 hours, preferably in a humid environment between 70–75°F (20–25°C). Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Bake the conchas for 18 minutes.

Photograph courtesy Ana Lorenzana

Extracted from Today’s Special, 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs, published by Phaidon

9781838661359-3d-1500

Cook more from this book
Lamb navarin
Cheesecake and wood roasted peaches 

Buy this book
Today’s Special: 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs
£39.95, Phaidon

Read the review
Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

 

Lamb navarin by Neil Borthwick, The French House, London

027 Borthwick

Serves 4

4 lamb neck fillets, cut into 4 pieces
Salt
Mirepoix: 1 onion, 2 carrots • 1 garlic bulb, halved
3 tablespoons tomato paste (puree)
1 bouquet garni: thyme, bay leaf, rosemary
1 liter chicken stock
500 ml veal stock
6 organic carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into lozenges
Olive oil
Chopped fresh parsley
Fresh mint

Season the lamb well. In a sauté pan, sear the lamb until golden brown all over and set aside.  Add the mirepoix to the pan along with the garlic and cook until caramelized. Add the tomato paste (puree) and cook for 4–5 minutes. Return the lamb to the pan along with the bouquet garni and both the stocks. Bring to a gentle simmer, skim well, reduce the heat, and cook until the lamb is tender when pressed with a finger, 1–11⁄2 hours. Set aside and allow to cool for 1 hour. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the carrots, turnips, and celery until just tender. Shock in an ice bath. Drain and set aside.

Remove the lamb from the braise and pass the sauce through a sieve, pressing as much of the vegetables through as well, which will help to thicken the sauce and give you lots of flavour. 

Return the lamb, along with the cooked vegetables, to the sauce and finish with chopped parsley and a touch of mint. Serve with buttery mashed potato.

Dish photographed by Peter Clarke

Extracted from Today’s Special, 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs, published by Phaidon

9781838661359-3d-1500

Cook more from this book
Concha by Elena Reygadas of Rosetta, Mexico City
Cheesecake and wood roasted peaches by Tomos Parry of Brat, London

Buy this book
Today’s Special: 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs
£39.95, Phaidon

Read the review
Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

 

Todays Special

What’s the USP? Twenty of the world’s leading chefs choose 100 emerging chefs to create a survey of ‘the most exciting rising stars paving the future of the (restaurant) industry’. Each chef gets a short profile and has contributed several recipes.

Who’s the author? The book has no attributed author but it has been edited by Emily Takoudes, Executive Commissioning Editor of Food & Drink at Phaidon Press.

Is it good bedtime reading? The 100 short chef profiles that accompany the emerging chef’s recipes make the book ideal for browsing through. In addition, there are brief biographies for the ‘leading chefs’ and each of the emerging chefs also get a biog in addition to their profile. There is also a one page introduction from Takoudes.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Quite possibly, unless you know a good place to to get blackthroat seaperch (skewered and grilled by chef Izumi Kimura of Sushijin in Japan); Australian pepperberries (served with roasted oysters and sake butter by Mat Lindsay of Ester and Poly restaurants in Sydney), or deer heart (served with trout roe mayo, smoked oyster mushrooms and pine vinegar by Jakob Pintar of Tabar in Ljubljana, Slovenia).

What’s the faff factor? There is no doubt whatsoever that these are restaurant recipes and as such you just have to accept the faff. There are some simpler recipes, for example Yuval Leshem of Hasalon in New York’s Maitake Entrecote Steak is made with just a maitake mushroom, olive oil and seasoning and is served with a sauce made with chicken stock, garlic and butter, and Danielle Alvarez of Fred’s in Sydney’s chilled beet and tomato soup with wild fennel and crème fraîche is pretty straightforward, but otherwise mainly expect multi-element dishes that often require lots of ingredients and time.

How often will I cook from the book? Depends how often you fancy ‘Coffee, Caviar, Lapsang’ for pudding I suppose. I’m being sarcastic. Not every dish is as  recherché as that and you may well cook Neil Borthwick of The French House in London’s lamb navarin or pumpkin, beet, bitter leaf and pickled walnut salad quite regularly. But unless you are a professional chef, it’s probably best to treat the book as an interesting read that will introduce you to chefs and restaurants you may never have heard about before rather than an everyday cookbook.

Killer recipes? Broccolini and passionfruit bearnaise; celeriac pasta; chicken liver terrine; pizza bianca al formaggi; potato croissant; octopus, salt-baked avocado, black garlic; hazelnut praline eclair; chocolate mousse.

What will I love? This is a truly global and diverse selection that includes chefs working in Brazil, India, Hong Kong, Thailand, Nigeria, Slovenia, Peru, China, Rwanda, Venezuela and Israel as well as North America, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the UK and mainland Europe. At over 400 pages, there are more than 300 recipes to provide professional chefs and keen amateurs with plenty of  inspiration.

What won’t I like? Apart from their biographies and a one line quote for each of their chosen chefs, the leading chefs are oddly absent from the book. Each of the chef profiles has not been written by the leading chefs who chose them but by a team of writers. Although expertly done, the profiles of the emerging chefs are rather anonymous and include no comments or direct quotes from either the chef in question or from the leading chef that chose them. If the profiles have been pieced together from anything other than CVs, information from the restaurant’s website and trawling the internet for reviews and interviews, then it is not clear from reading them. They are informative and you will learn a lot, but they lack the personal touch.

Unless you are a hospitality professional or a very serious restaurant nerd, many of the leading chef’s names may be unfamiliar to you. Ottolenghi is probably the most famous name involved, followed by New York based Michelin star chef Daniel Boulud. If you are a fan of the TV series Top Chef, you will recognise Hugh Acheson and Washington-based José Andrés’ tireless work with his World Central Kitchen non-profit organisation that’s devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters has raised his profile above his standing as an innovative Michelin starred chef. But there’s no Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, or even Thomas Keller, which may limit the book’s appeal.

However, it is perhaps irrelevant who the leading chefs actually are as, between them, they have picked a very interesting group of ’emerging’ chefs, some of which have been mentioned above. Exactly how ’emerging’ those chefs actually are is somewhat up for debate as many are very well established including Neil Borthwick in London, Michelin star holder Tomos Parry (also in London), Evan Funke in California (who has had a very good feature-length documentary made about him), Josh Niland in Australia who has published his own acclaimed and influential cookbook and Jeremiah Stone and Fabian Von Hauseke Valtierra of New York who also already have their own cookbook.

Should I buy it? If you plan your travels around dining out, the book will provide hours of fun daydreaming about the destination for your first post-lockdown trip. In the meantime, you can discover some novel and innovative dishes to try out in your own kitchen while you wait for some sort of normality to be restored.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional Chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Today’s Special: 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs
£39.95, Phaidon

Cook from this book
Concha by Elena Reygadas of Rosetta, Mexico City
Cheesecake and wood roasted peaches by Tomos Parry of Brat, London
Lamb navarin by Neil Borthwick, The French House, London

First Catch Your Gingerbread by Sam Bilton

First Catch Your Gingerbread

What’s the USP? Everything you always wanted to know about gingerbread, but were afraid to ask, including the history of gingerbread from ancient times to present day, plus gingerbread and ginger cake recipes. It is part of Prospect Books’ series ‘The English Kitchen’ that looks at dishes and their place in history and which has previously included books on quince, soup and trifle.

Who’s the author? Sam Bilton is a food historian and writer and is probably best known for her historically-themed supper club Repast. She’s also worked on projects with English Hertiage and the National Trust. This is her debut book.

Is it good bedtime reading? The first 80 pages are given over to the scholarly ‘The Story of Gingerbread’ that begins with its pre-history in the ‘reverence given by ancient civilisations to the medicinal properties of spices’ and continues with it’s medieval incarnation (including an appearance in The Canterbury Tales as ‘gyngebreed’) and includes the importance of treacle in the history of gingerbread, how the recipe migrated from England to America and the difference between the two varieties, historical gingerbread moulds and other related creations, and it’s more modern incarnations and enduring appeal.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will find virtually everything you need in the supermarket. However, you will probably need an online supplier for grains of paradise (a West African spice that looks like black peppercorns but is in fact a member of the ginger family) if you want to make Små Pepparkakor, the ‘intensly crisp, aramatic small gingerbreads’ from Sweden, and for long pepper to make Dulcia Piperata (Roman Peppered Honey Cake). There are savoury recipes in the book too so you’ll want to visit your fishmonger for the langoustine and crayfish for an unusual stew that includes gingerbread crumbs.

What’s the faff factor? Some recipes will take a little bit of planning, for example a game terrine or chocolate stuffed lebkuchen (a spiced shocolate cake), both of which are two-day processes, although neither are particularly complicated. But generally speaking, the recipes are very approachable, especially for home bakers with some experience.

How often will I cook from the book? If you have a sweet tooth and are a keen baker, the book is a treasure trove of interesting, unusual and, most importantly, delicious recipes that you’ll want to work your way through. The inclusion of savoury recipes makes it useful for when you want something just a little bit different for a dinner party or even just a family meal.

Killer recipes? Ormskirk gingerbread; Elisenlebkuchen (chocolate-glazed spice and nut biscuits from Germany); Indian gingerbread; Ginger scotch rabbit; baked Camembert with gingerbread; carrot and ginger roulade with honeyed ricotta;

What will I love? This is quite obviously a labour of love. Bilton has unearthed a fascinating history behind an everyday cake shop favourite and curated a selection of appealing recipes that you’d struggle to find anywhere else.

Should I buy it? For keen bakers and lovers of food history, it’s a no-brainer.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Bakers/beginners/confident cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
First Catch Your Gingerbread By Sam Bilton
£15, Prospect Books

Also available at Amazon
First Catch Your Gingerbread (English Kitchen)

Wine From Another Galaxy: Noble Rot by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew

Wine from another galaxy

What’s the USP? The none-more-hip guide to the world of upmarket European wine, with an emphasis on the natural wine movement, from the team behind Noble Rot, one of London’s best wine bars/restaurants and an acclaimed wine and food magazine of the same name.

Who are the authors? Noble Rot’s founders, who are Dan Keeling, a former record company executive (whose claim to fame is signing Coldplay, but we won’t hold that against him) and Mark Andrews, a wine retail and hospitality professional. This is their first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? With two highly acclaimed restaurants to their name, food is a very big part of what Noble Rot but, as you will have guessed from the title, this is not the Noble Rot cookbook. It contains just four recipes with wine pairing suggestions, not plucked from their own menus, but recycled from old books: crab and tarragon salad by Ottolenghi, quail and peas by Simon Hopkinson from the excellent Week In, Week Out and Onglet Braised in Pinot Noir by Henry Harris from one of my all time favourite books Harvey Nichols: The Fifth Floor (the cookbook of a restaurant where I did a few work ‘stages’ in the kitchen back in the 90s), plus an uncredited recipe for a dessert of rose-scented strawberries. So, Wine From Another Galaxy is all about bedtime reading. Or preferably, favourite-chair-and-glass-of-what-you-fancy reading.

What will I love? The book is divided into two parts (ok, I realise that’s nothing to get excited about in itself, but bear with me). The first ‘Shrine to the Vine’ comprises a series of essays that variously tell the story behind the Noble Rot empire (with a contribution from restaurant critic and Noble Rot investor Marina O’Loughlin), explain how to order wine in a restaurant, provide a brief overview of the wine making process and lay out the characteristics of the main grape varieties used in wine making. There’s also a guide on how to serve wine, how to judge wine, how to detect faults in wine and how to talk about it, so you’ll be fully primed to pull out terminology like ‘energy’, ‘texture’, ‘tension’ and ‘originality’ over a glass of Muscadet at your next oh-so-ironic cheese and wine party.

Although it’s all done with a certain style and attitude (which we’ll come back to), there’s much in the book that feels familiar from other introductory wine books such as The Richard and Judy Wine Book , a reference that may fit Noble Rot’s definition of ‘so un-cool, it’s cool’ (a phrase that appears in the book and also as a category on their wine lists) but sadly I’m not cool enough to know. However, whether or not it’s cool to be using the terms ‘un-cool’ and ‘cool’ in 2021 is definitely up for debate.

Part two, ‘Rotters’ Road Trip’ is where things get really interesting. Our intrepid heroes set out a across Europe to visit winemakers in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Greece before returning to England to, very briefly, investigate the sparking wine scene. The first hand reportage adds authority to the writing and, unless you are a serious wine geek, you will encounter producers such as Jonatan Garcia Lima in Tenerife and perhaps even some wine regions like the Gredos Mountains in Spain that may be new to you.

What won’t I like? The insistence on continually drawing comparisons between the worlds of wine and music (wine is the new rock’n’roll man!) becomes a little wearing. By the time you read that Cornas from Northern Rhone has a ‘character so feral it could have its own chapter in Mötley Crüe biography The Dirt’ you may well be rolling your eyes.

Despite O’Loughlin’s claim in the book that ‘exclusionary wine bollocks has never been what Noble Rot is about’ it’s difficult to shake off a sense of elitism about the whole thing. There’s the celebrity associations including Keira Knightly, Marc Ronson, Eno and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and a focus on wines that will require some time, effort and often money for many readers to track down. You certainly won’t find any of these wines at you local supermarket -‘their shelves are mostly full of competent yet bland, industrially made bottles’ we are told. I also struggled to find producers mentioned in the book at my local independent wine merchants. Readers in London will certainly have more luck and the online stores of big merchants such as Berry Brothers and Rudd are the best bet for those outside of the capital.

In the know ‘jokes’ such as including Petrus 1991 in a list of rare ‘unicorn’ wines (1991 was one of the years Petrus didn’t declare a vintage. What? You didn’t know? Oh, OK. Perhaps a bottle of M&S Classic Claret is more your speed?) also don’t help foster a sense of inclusivity.

Should I buy it? Despite the above detailed misgivings, Wines From Another Galaxy is a great introduction to the subject of wine, is an enjoyable read and well designed. Part two of the book also makes it suitable for those who know their subject

Suitable for: Wine newbies and more experienced drinkers.
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars
Buy this book: The Noble Rot Book: Wine from Another Galaxy
£30, Quadrille Publishing Ltd. 

Green Shakshuka by Gizzi Erskine

Green Shakshuka c. Issy Croker

I developed this recipe in the early days of Filth, with Rosemary Ferguson. Our mission was to get extra nutrition into everyday dishes. We wanted to make a healthy breakfast, both loved shakshuka and huevos rancheros, and thought we could somehow merge them. That week, I’d made a huge vat of Green Tomato Salsa that ended up being the base of this dish. We fried some cumin seeds in oil then added the salsa, before blending it with fresh spinach to an even more nutritious, virtually Hulk-green sauce, got some roasted green peppers into the dish and baked the eggs in this sauce instead of the usual red one. We finished it with a combo of Middle Eastern and Mexican toppings and served it with flatbreads or grilled Turkish breads with some good extra-virgin olive oil. It’s a superb healthy weekend brunch dish and pretty fancy-pants in the impressiveness stakes, too.

SERVES 2
Preparation time 10 minutes
Cooking time 10 minutes

3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
400g Green Tomato Salsa (page book for recipe)
1 tsp ground coriander
85g fresh spinach, washed, wilted in a pan for a minute and drained
80g green peppers, roasted (see book for Gizzie’s method) and sliced
4 free-range eggs
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

TO SERVE
good handful of coriander leaves, chopped
a few dill fronds
a few mint leaves, shredded 2 tbsp sour cream
300g Qyeso Fresco (see book for further info) made to a firm and crumbly texture
3 tbsp toasted mixed seeds mixed with ½ tsp za’atar
freshly made Flatbreads (see book for Gizzi’s recipe) or grilled Turkish bread
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

You will need 2 individual 22-25cm baking or gratin dishes.

Preheat the oven to 240°C/220°C fan/gas mark 9.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the cumin seeds and fry for a minute or two until toasted. Add the green tomato salsa, coriander and spinach and cook for a minute. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, then remove from the heat and blitz until smooth.

Divide the blitzed sauce between two individual (22-25cm) ovenproof baking or gratin dishes. Split the green peppers between the two dishes, then simply make two little holes in the top of the sauce in each dish and break an egg into each hole. Season each egg with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for about 8 minutes or until the egg whites are cooked through, but the eggs still have runny yolks.

Remove from the oven and top the two shakshukas with the chopped coriander, dill, mint, sour cream, queso fresco and seeds, and serve with toasted or warmed bread, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Recipe taken from Restore by Gizzi Erskine, available now (£25, HQ)’. Photography credit – c. Issy Croker

Restore

Cook more from this book
Bibimbap

Buy this book
Restore by Gizzi Erskine
£26, HQ

Read the review

Bibimbap by Gizzi Erskine

Bibimbap c. Issy Croker

One of my breakthroughs was bringing attention to Korean food in the UK back in about 2007. While working as a chef in NYC, I’d hit Koreatown in my downtime with my mates, drink ice-cold beers and eat Korean fried chicken. Koreatown was open late, and you could go from restaurant to karaoke bar eating and drinking yourself into a stupor. I fell in love with Korean food there, and fell in love with the culture 5 years later when I first visited Korea, later moving there to film my TV show Seoul Food.

I’m certain that the popular ‘buddha bowl’ has Korean culinary heritage, as it’s similar to a dish called ‘bibimbap’. In a bibimbap bowl, rice is topped with vegetables, meat (optional), egg yolk and a spicy sauce. It is quite refined -you can’t say that about a lot of Korean food – and is cooked in a searing hot cast-iron pot which is oiled before adding the rice; the vegetables and egg (and meat, if using) are swiftly put on top. By the time the rice gets to the table it has a fantastic caramelised crust that you peel away from the pot and you stir-fry everything at the table. It’s real theatre. Fear not if you don’t have cast-iron pots -you can eat it like Hawaiian poke, in a bowl with hot rice. Bibimbap is delicious, healthy and a great way to tackle a fridge forage. I’ve used traditional toppings, but do play around with seafood, tofu and different veg: the only mainstays are the rice, egg yolk and sauce.

SERVES 2
Preparation time 45 minutes
Cooking time 15 minutes

200g sushi rice
400ml water
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sunflower oil
150g spinach
1 courgette, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, finely julienned
100g beansprouts
6 spring onions, shredded
100g shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 corn on the cob
2 free-range egg yolks
300g rump steak, finely chopped sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp black or white toasted sesame seeds, to serve

FOR THE SAUCE
6 tbsp gochujang
2 tbsp Korean or Japanese soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp sesame oil
1½ tbsp caster sugar

Put the rice and water in a large saucepan with a good pinch of salt. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook for 12 minutes. Take off the heat and steam (lid on) for 10 minutes.

Gently heat the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan until emulsified. Set aside.

Mix  together the sesame and sunflower  oils. Heat a large wok or frying pan over a high heat, add 1 tablespoon  of the  oil mix and add  half the spinach with a pinch  of salt. Cook briefly until wilted, then remove and drain on kitchen paper, squeezing out any liquid. Repeat with the  remaining spinach. Add another  splash  of oil and briefly fry the courgette until golden. Remove and set aside. Repeat this process with the carrot, beansprouts, spring onions and shiitake mushrooms. Rub the sweetcorn cob with oil, salt and pepper, then brown in the pan until the kernels start to char.

Heat two stone bibimbap dishes or a wok on the hob until smoking hot. Place the stone dishes on a heatproof surface (if using). Brush the insides of the dishes (or hot wok) with the remaining oil and add the rice. Group vegetables around the edge, put the raw meat in the middle, then the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of the sauce for each serving. Top with sesame seeds. Mix the sauce into the rice at the table with a spoon.

Recipe taken from Restore by Gizzi Erskine, available now (£25, HQ)’. Photography credit – c. Issy Croker

Restore

Cook more from this book
Green Shakshuka

Buy this book
Restore by Gizzi Erskine
£26, HQ

Read the review

Red Sands by Caroline Eden

Red Sands by Caroline Eden

What’s the USP? Ever wondered what the food, people and places of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are really like? Then here’s your chance to find out.

Who is the author? Caroline Eden is a writer and journalist specialising in the former Soviet Union. Her first book Samarkand – recipes and stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus appeared in 2016 and was named Guardian book of the year and won Guild of Food Writers ‘Food and Travel’ award in 2017. He second book Black Sea was awarded the Art of Eating Prize, the John Avery Award at the Andre Simon Awards, Best Travel and Food Book of the Year at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards and Best Food Book at the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2019.

Is it good bedtime reading? It’s probably best to think of Red Sands as a travelogue through Central Asia with recipes rather than a cookbook per se (on her website, Eden describes herself as ‘a writer about places’ rather than a food writer) so you will spend at least as much time with the book learning about Nur-Sultan, the ‘purse proud and machine made’ capital of Kazakhstan as you will cooking dishes like mushroom khinkali (dumplings), something Eden ate at Café Tselinnikov in the city.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Although you may be new to Central Asian cuisine (I certainly was), the ingredients will be surprisingly familiar. Meatballs are flavoured with paprika and cumin in a soup from Karaganda made with lavash and chickpeas; Laghman, a noodle dish served throughout the region, features lamb, Chinese cabbage, peppers and cumin, and even canned peaches turn up in a sour cream cake from Northern Kazakhstan. You should even be able to find Tvorog, a soft curd cheese similar to quark in your local superstore (but if not head to a Polish shop if you have one nearby) which you’ll need to make a simple and light Zapekanka cake for breakfast.

What’s the faff factor? Basically non-existent. This is simple, homely food with mostly short ingredient lists and easy methods. There are a few dumpling recipes, including steamed pumpkin khunon, which by their nature are a little more complex as you’ll need to make both dough and filling and then shape and fill the dumplings  before cooking, but apart from that many of the recipes would be ideal for beginner cooks.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The ingredient list for non puju, (a sort of yeasted flat bread topped with beef stew flavoured with Chinese five spice, soy and chilli)  calls for 1/2 handful of coriander which is the epitome of vagueness, but the recipes are so straightforward that the odd handful (or half) is neither here nor there.

Killer recipes: Sultan kurgan tofu; autumnal soup with rice, barley and lamb; Kulich – Russian Easter bread; sweet bread and mung bean pilaf; blushing quince jam; Grand Asia Express samsa (chicken, potato and cumin puff pastry turnovers); pickled cauliflower.

How often will I cook from the book? With accessible and delicious recipes for soups, stews, breads, snacks, pickles, preserves, desserts and breakfasts, Red Sands should prove a useful resource that you’ll return to often.

What will I love? Eden has gone to the ends of the earth (well, sort of) to research the book and writes about her subject with great authority and style. The book is packed with telling details that enliven the prose and put the reader right in the action. For example, in a market in Tashkent, northeast Uzbekistan, Eden watches as ‘one sold out vendor packed his weighing scale back up and, reversing out of the block, licked the fingers of his right hand and counted the banknotes straight on to his ballooned belly.’ Also, what about that stunning cover?

Should I buy it?  Caroline Eden is an outstanding writer and if Red Sands doesn’t win as many if not more awards than Black Sea I’ll be amazed.  An essential purchase for anyone interested in world cuisine and travel. 

Cuisine: Central Asian
Suitable for: Beginners/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Red Sands: Reportage and Recipes Through Central Asia, from Hinterland to Heartland
£26, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

The Relation Between Us by Bo Bech

The Relation Between Us Bo Bech

What’s the USP? Travelogue meets photography portfolio meets philosophy tract meets recipe book (it’s complicated) with the aim of illustrating that ‘we are closer to each other than we think’.

Who is the author? Danish chef Bo Bech (the surname is pronounced ‘Beck’) made his name with his avant garde cooking at the Michelin-starred Paustian in Copenhagen in the early 2000’s and then opened the more casual Geist in 2011 which he left in 2020. He has appeared on a number of food TV programmes in Denmark and is also the author of ‘What Does Memory Taste Like’ and ‘In My Blood. At the time of writing, regarding Bech’s future plans, the bio on his website simply says ‘watch this space’.

Is it good bedtime reading? The majority of the book’s 368 pages are taken up with Bech’s travel photography, but there are also 20 vignettes where Bech ponders subjects such as the conflict between homesickness and wanderlust, the pursuit of the perfect restaurant, how to properly prepare to cook, a life changing meal and the correct kitchen technique.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Although the book lists 37 recipes, all with one word titles such as ‘avocado’, ‘pasta’, ‘scallops’ and ‘waffles’, there are no recipes in the book. At least, not what we think of as traditionally formatted recipes with a list of ingredients with weights and measures followed by a detailed method. Imagine being in a room with Bech, or on the phone with him. You’re discussing food and every so often in the conversation he’ll describe how to cook something. That’s what the recipes in The Relation Between Us are like. Many do include measurements but so don’t. You have to go with the flow.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The recipes mostly concern common, easily available items that you’ll be able to find in the supermarket, online or at your butcher, fishmonger or deli. But as Bech says in his introduction, ‘Instead of handing you a a strict recipe to dutifully follow I’m giving you a suggestion for how to best begin your food journey’ so there’s lots of leeway to interpret the dishes and use what’s easily available.

What’s the faff factor? Given the conversation style of the recipes, they are, generally speaking, simple dishes that can be easily explained and executed. Some methods, like pot roasting cauliflower or slowly caramelising pineapple, will take time and attention, but this is food to be made and enjoyed rather than messed around with.

How often will I cook from the book? This is probably not a book you’ll be reaching for every day of the week, but there are plenty of dishes such as baked risotto rice flavoured with lime, soy, ginger, honey and sesame oil that will earn a place in your repertoire and that you will return to often.

What will I love? As previously mentioned, the big draw is Bech’s photographs that draw on a decade of global travels and represent Bech’s ‘peak experiences’ in locations as diverse as Nashville, Colombia, Tokyo, New Orleans, Copenhagen, Montreal, Sichuan, Saint Petersburgh, Bangkok, Cuba and the Faroe Islands (as well as many more). Often the shots are food related, taken in markets and restaurants. They may be of Bech’s fellow star chefs including Sean Brock and Daniel Boulud, or they may be of street food vendors or just local inhabitants. Bech has an eye for colour, composition and an interesting face which makes browsing the book a visual feast.

What won’t I like so much? You may find the format of the recipes off putting, although I personally found them charming and full of character and personality.

Should I buy it? Although it shares similar ideals with Rene Redzepi’s You and I Eat the Same, The Relation Between Us is a genuine one off, much like it’s larger than life author. In a time when few of us can travel much further than the local supermarket, joining in on Bech’s global gastronomic adventures, albeit from the comfort of your living room, is a real treat.  

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
The Relation Between Us
£43, Bo Bech

The Bull and Last by Ollie Pudney, Joe Swiers and Giles Coren

Bull and Last

What’s the USP? Recipes and stories from a landmark North London gastropub, famously a favourite of The Times restaurant critic Giles Coren who contributes a forward to the book.

Who are the authors? The pub’s chef Ollie Pudsey (formerly of Richard Corrigan’s late lamented Lindsay House in Soho, London) and front of house manager Joe Swiers.

Is it good bedtime reading? The first 80-odd pages tell the story of the pub and there are a further eight essays dotted throughout the rest of the book.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The Bull and Last take a delightfully broad view of what gastropub food can encompass, so expect to be shopping for everything from mirin to squid ink; moscatel white wine vinegar to speck ham and artichoke hearts to amaretti biscuits. The good news is that there are few if any ingredients that you won’t be able to pick up at a supermarket or deli. You will however want to hit up your friendly local butcher for things like hare, rabbit and  smoked ham hock and a good fishmonger for crab, hake and whole brown shrimp, among other seafood items.

What’s the faff factor? Faff is the wrong word to use here, as it implies undue effort that fails to pay off in the finished dish. You don’t get to be one of highest rated pubs in the country by cutting corners, so you should expect to invest a bit time to produce some of the dishes in the book. For example, if you want to make The Bull and Last’s version of roast chicken you’ll first need to follow the recipes for brown chicken stock and red onion chutney, but you will end up with a stonking red wine gravy to go with your fragrant, delicious butter roasted bird that’s infused with lemon, garlic and thyme. There are plenty of more straightforward dishes in the book too, such as sea trout with samphire, peas and Jersey Royals or roasted romano peppers with white soy and sesame (to accompany grilled or roasted meat or fish).

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Handfuls, pinches, drizzles and splashes of herbs, seasonings and oils abound. However, as long as you are a reasonably experienced cook, that shouldn’t prevent you from making any of the recipes as ingredients lists and methods are otherwise sound.

How often will I cook from the book? With a good range of seasonal dishes that would suit everything from a quick weeknight meal to a long indulgent Sunday lunch or special occasion, it’s likely The Bull and Last will come in useful many times throughout the year.

Killer recipes: Killer scotch egg; smoked haddock, giant macaroni with leek velouté, egg yolk and Berkswell cheese; buttermilk fried chicken; vodka-cured salmon with lemon and dill; chicken liver with ceps, Madeira, sage and Parmesan on toast; pheasant schnitnel club sandwich; oxtail croque monsieur; sticky lamb ribs with pistachio and herb sauce; Bramley apple and nut crumble.

What will I love? It’s obvious that a lot of love has gone into the production of the book and get a real sense of the what the pub is all about. There is a luxe feel to the whole thing, from the paper stock to the elegant design.

What won’t I like so much? Giles Coren’s introduction stands out as by far the best writing in the book. It’s a shame they didn’t ask him to help out with the narrative text too which can be a little confusing to follow at times and really needed a firmer editing hand.

Should I buy it?  If you are a fan of British gastropub food, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better example of the genre and you’ll be gagging to cook from the book. The same applies if you just love tasty grub. 

Cuisine: British/Gastropub
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
The Bull & Last: Over 70 Recipes from North London’s Iconic Pub and Coaching Inn
£30, Etive Pubs Ltd