The Wok by J. Kenji López-Alt

The Wok by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

A friend does a great impression of a former housemate. It’s at exactly the moment they realise it’s much quicker to make mashed potatoes by chopping it into smaller bits first, rather than boiling one giant potato and mashing it whole. We’ve all been there. A fizzle and a crack as old neurons make new connections, a deluge of endorphins, a brief moment of shame and eureka: a higher plane of consciousness. 

Get used to this feeling reading The Wok, a book of such astonishing detail and craft that comparisons to other weighty tomes like encyclopaedias seem somehow derogatory. J. Kenji López-Alt has built his reputation on this meticulous, science-oriented approach to cooking and has seen him garner a huge online following with over a million subscribers to his excellent YouTube channel as well as regular contributions to major publications and a growing collection of cookbooks.

His latest is substantial in both size and scope. Physically, it’s the sort of thing that used to be compared to the Yellow Pages but now is probably more like a stack of iPads. Though the heft is a reward for the sheer breadth of information found on its pages, ranging from the basics of stir-frying and chopping all the way to Scoville units and the glutamic acid content of certain foods. 

Woks are versatile creatures and the chapters reflect this, being summarised by either ways of cooking with a wok, like Stir-Frying, Braising or Deep Frying or cooking with wok-centric ingredients like Rice or Noodles. Each chapter mingles technique, scientific explanations and applicable recipes like in the section dedicated to stir-frying chicken for instance, you will find an explanation for velveting, the scientific reasoning behind it and then a recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken. 

If you’ve ever enjoyed something cooked with a wok whether from China, Japan, Thailand or even at your local takeaway, it’s likely to be here. There’s recipes for ramen, tempura, dumplings, curries, all types of noodles, classic takeaway meals, traditional dishes, oils, and condiments. The recipes are written with such exacting measurements and instructions it’s almost impossible to get wrong and are so precise, you’re often told exactly where to place the ingredients into the wok (swirl your sauce around the side!). Trust in the process and it’ll deliver probably the best homemade version of that particular dish you could hope for. 

The book has elevated every part of my cooking with a wok. Dishes like Fried Rice, Dan Dan Noodles, Pad See Ew and Lo Mein that benefit from the turbocharged gas burners in restaurants were as good of an approximation I could have wished to achieve at home (I’ve yet to try the suggestion of using a blow torch to achieve more authentic results). Recipes less demanding of high heat like Kung Pao Chicken, Khai Jiao (Thai-Style Omelette), Mapo Tofu and Soy Glazed Mushrooms were all exceptional. Better still, The Wok has improved my cooking even when not following the book. Using the lessons learned like the specific size of the vegetables, the order of cooking the ingredients or how you heat the oil has meant the quick Tuesday night stir-fry is as good as it’s ever been. 

There’s no avoiding The Wok is theory heavy, more a Cook’s Book than a cookbook. Scientific explanations are almost always lurking over the next page and how much you engage with these will depend on your appetite for it. They are tiny marvels in themselves, using a data and process driven approach to justify any conclusions though personally, I find overly academic accounts of kitchen alchemy can leave me a little cold, like gazing at a rainbow and being told it’s just water drops and light dispersion, actually.

This however, is a pocket-sized gripe. Much like López-Alt’s The Food Lab, Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, The Wok is a book that isn’t content with showing you how, it wants to show you why. Sure, you can teach a man to fish but you could also show him how salt interacts with protein on a molecular level until he makes the best Kung Pao Prawns this side of the river. For a little time and energy, this is a book that will change how you cook for a lifetime.

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

Buy this book: The Wok by J. Kenji López-Alt
£36, WW Norton & Co

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Eureka by Andreas Antona

Eureka-Yellow-Background

What’s the USP? Michelin-starred chef shares recipes inspired by dishes developed for his restaurant’s home meal delivery service that launched during the pandemic so you can create a bit of fine dining glamour in your own home without too much fuss.

Who wrote it? Described by The Times as  “the godfather of modern Birmingham food”, Andreas Antona is a legend of the British fine dining scene. His flagship restaurant Simpsons opened back in 1993 and he now also runs The Cross in Kenilworth, also Michelin starred. He has mentored many award winning chefs that will be well known to keen British-based restaurant goers including Glynn Purnell, Adam Bennett, Luke Tipping, Andy Walters, Mark Fry, and Marcus and Jason Eaves. he was named restaurateur of the year in 2022 by industry bible The Caterer magazine.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s an introduction in the form of an interview with Antona that will probably be of more interest to professional chefs than home cooks and that’s about it. There are no chapter introductions or even introductions to the recipes which seems a missed opportunity, given that Antona is one of the most experienced chefs in the country. A bit of hard-earned kitchen wisdom would have been very welcome.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? A good butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer , deli and specialist online suppliers will come in handy for things like guinea fowl, chicken livers, ox cheek, blade of beef, bone marrow, sea bream, turbot, halibut, hand-dived scallops, smoked cod’s roe, monkfish, sea bass, red mullet, Roscoff onions, linseeds, mushrooms including shimeji, girolle and hen of the woods, soya bean lecithin granules and xanthan gum. That may seem like a long list but the vast majority of ingredients will be easily obtainable from your local big supermarket. With a bit of thought, you should be able to make reasonable substitutes for most of the above named items too so there should be little to stand in your way making most if not all the recipes in the book.

How often will I cook from the book? It was about five minutes after the book was delivered that I started to write a shopping list for the first dish I wanted to cook from it.  The food just looks so attractive and sounds so appealing that I wanted to give it all a go. Many of the recipes such as prawns with chilli, orzo and pesto or roast rump of Cornish lamb with peas a la Française, asparagus and roast potatoes are pretty straightforward and ideal for a mid-week meal.

That first recipe I tackled however turned out to be a bit more involved, but I couldn’t resist the idea of the sweet and sour tomatoes (marinated in honey, coriander seeds, rosemary, garlic, vanilla and sherry vinegar) that accompanied slow cooked beef cheek (I substituted some very nice braising steak) with courgettes, fried polenta, aubergine caviar and balsamic vinegar sauce made from the braising liquor. It was well worth the effort.

What will I love? The book’s bold and colourful graphic design and the clean and simple food styling and photography that really lets the dishes stand for themselves.

What won’t I love? Let’s get the price out of the way. Eureka costs £38 (plus £10 delivery charge!!) and is only available from the restaurant’s online store (linked below) or for £2 more, from the publishers site. That is a lot of money for a 224 page book with just 80 recipes. For comparison, Jeremy Lee’s recently published Cooking is nearly twice the length and has a cover price of £30, although at the time of writing is available for £15.

That makes some relatively minor shortcomings all the more difficult to stomach. Apart from being grouped into chapters headed starters, fish, meat, vegetables, desserts and staples and basics, recipes appear in almost random order. A starter of gem lettuce appears on page 42 and then another pops up ten pages later. Similarly you’ll find confit duck leg on page 108 and confit leg of duck on 122. The garnishes are different but its exactly the same recipe for the duck leg, so why not group them together? There are quite a few other similar examples. It’s a quibble, but it makes the book appear a little bit thrown together, as does the repetition of text in that otherwise lovely recipe for slow cooked ox cheek. If you follow the instructions as written, you’ll be roasting your aubergine for 30-40 minutes twice.

Another irritation is that the staples and basics recipes at the back of the book are reference in the main body of recipes but never by page number, only by chapter, so you have to search through the 18 page chapter to find them. One more annoyance is that it’s not until half way through the introduction that you learn that the book is named after the cooking school at Simpson’s restaurant which explains the otherwise mysterious title. It’s also not immediately obvious that the introduction is an interview with Antona as his name never appears in it. None of these complaints are significant but just a tiny bit more thought and care would have improved the reading experience greatly.

Killer recipes:  Leek and potato soup with potato beignets and chive oil; warm Roscoff onion tartlet with herb salad, olive tapenade, lemon and herb crème fraîche; twice baked cheese souffle; scallops with sweetcorn chorizo and red pepper; slow cooked blade of Irish beef with horseradish cream cabbage, potato terrine and bone marrow sauce; Yorkshire rhubarb and ginger trifle.

Should I buy it? If you are happy to pay nearly £50 for 80 recipes then the answer is a hearty yes. If you are a competent cook and love preparing sophisticated, modern restaurant-style dishes at home then this collection will be right up your street with recipes more achievable than many others written by Michelin-starred chefs (I’m looking at you Rene Redzepi).  If cost is consideration then you may want to think twice although you will be missing out on some great recipes.

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

Buy this book: Eureka by Andreas Antona
£38, Away With Media

Bowful by Norman Musa

9781911682325
What’s the USP? Food is better in bowls. There. That’s your USP and, equally, my personal culinary manifesto as a millennial who can’t see his way to home ownership and so, for now, simply aspires to having a really nice set of pasta bowls, please and thank you.  Bowlful focuses on a little more than the vessel your food arrives in, though, offering a collection of recipes with distinctly south-east Asian origins.

Who wrote it? Norman Musa, a Malaysian chef with a career that has consistently veered off in unexpected directions. Having moved to the UK in 1994 to study ‘Construction Management (Quantity Surveying)’, Musa didn’t turn his hand to cooking full-time for a decade. Since then he’s worked as a chef for Lotus’s Formula 1 team, popped up on your usual suspect weekend cooking shows here in the UK, and hosted a number of television series in his native Malaysia. Bowlful is his fourth cookbook, and the second to have been published in English.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not particularly – but that’s not what Bowlful is here to do. The front cover pull-quote from Rukmini Iyer tells you everything you need to know, assuring us that the book is ‘certain to add flavour to your weeknight meal plan.’

Like Iyer’s own Roasting Tin series, Musa’s book isn’t meant to be pored over late into the night. Instead, it’s a collection of simple recipes for busy working families. An opportunity to brighten your life a little with quick and easy dinners that are full of flavour. Accordingly, the recipes themselves are short and sweet, and ask very little of the home cook.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The past ten years in British supermarkets have been an absolute godsend for writers of Asian cookbooks. If you live near a Sainsburys or Asda big enough to host a modest collection of affordable clothing, chances are they also stock at least one small bottle of tamarind paste. Good god, you should see the big Sainsburys near me. Three or four aisles in the middle have more inclusive (and less problematic) cultural representation than the entirety of It’s A Small World. As well as extensive Indian, Caribbean, and Kosher sections, there’s a hefty Irish corner, and a stock of Japanese goods that includes Kewpie mayo and Nissin’s exceptional instant ramen. Tucked in the middle of all this, of course, is the real reward for those willing to explore cuisines beyond the Anglosphere – eight shelves stacked with kilogram bags of spices sold at the same price as Schwartz’s little bastard jars four aisles over. Anyway, what I’m getting at is this: kaffir lime leaves no longer present the same existential crisis to your dinner plans that they used to. You’ll be fine, bud.

How often will I cook from the book? The whole idea of Bowlful is that you can dip in readily and knock up something that will more than satisfy you on a Thursday evening after your second hour-long commute of the day. It’s easy to imagine dipping into this once a week, giving yourself little treats like the five-spice duck and kailan stir-fry that, though impressive and flavoursome, are only going to take up twenty minutes of your evening.

What will I love? By opting to cover the fairly broad area of South-East Asia, Musa gives himself plenty of room to manoeuvre. Bowlful has plenty of variety, from Burmese curries to Thai salads. Those really short on recipe collections to draw inspiration from could cook Musa’s dishes two or three times a week without things beginning to feel repetitive.

What won’t I love? Honestly, there aren’t many complaints to make here. This isn’t a book for those looking for great food writing, or even a lot of insight into the cultural history of the dishes on offer. But as simple cookbooks go, this is a very solid effort – the food styling and photography is impeccable, and Musa’s recipes are reliable and repeatable.

Killer recipes: Javanese Lamb Curry, Padang Beef Sambal Stir-fry, Kalio Chicken Curry, Lontong, Wok-fried Noodles with Asparagus and Enoki Mushrooms, King Mushroom Clay Pot Rice

Should I buy it? Too many of us are tied to office jobs that require an hour on the train on either side of the shift and keep us half an hour longer than we were taught to expect (Dolly Parton can count herself lucky that she gets to clock out at 5pm). Books like Bowlful are exactly what we need to inject a little joy and a whole lot of flavour back into that drab daily routine.

Cuisine: South-East Asian
Suitable for: Beginner home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book: Bowful by Norman Musa
£20, Pavilion Books

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

The Food Almanac: Volume II by Miranda York

Food Almanac

What’s the USP? A month-by-month guide to the culinary year, exploring seasonal produce and timely dishes with contributions from a wealth of chefs, writers and other folk with high-functioning tongues. This is the second edition of The Food Almanac, which suggests an earnest effort by publisher Pavilion to make this, if not an annual event (volume one was published two years earlier in 2020) then at least  a regular one. 

Who wrote it? A picnic basketful of names are involved, though once again the central voice is that of Miranda York. Though York has been a key figure in food and culture writing for a short while now, last year’s inaugural almanac was her first book. As with that edition, this volume draws on a range of voices of varying levels of familiarity. There are entries by Diana Henry and the currently inescapable Jeremy Lee, as well as Rachel Roddy and Olia Hercules. Some of the book’s most enchanting moments come from less established names: Nina Mingya Powles, author of meditative food memoir Tiny Moons, offers up a delightful recipe-as-poem in November. 

Is it good bedtime reading? Once a month, for a night or two, The Food Almanac will offer absolutely perfect bedtime reading – at once uniformly thoughtful and exquisitely varied. In each chapter the reader can explore a choice selection of seasonal offerings. An introduction by York that focuses on a specific ingredient, a deeper dive that expands on cultural context, or offers another perspective and a matching recipe. There’ll be a further section or two that might take the form of a guide to the ‘Easter Buns of Europe’, or a collection of ideas for warming tonics for a cold January day. Perhaps you’ll have a short personal essay to follow, before a three-part menu for the month, each curated by a different food writer (Ravneet Gill’s menu for July focuses on seasonal fruits; a month earlier, Nik Sharma presents us with Indian-influenced dishes, including a subtle but delicious Spiced Pea Soup that I couldn’t resist making half a year early). 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Curated and edited with every bit as much care as the rest of the book, each recipe is presented with clarity and precision. The joy of a collaborative title like this is the sheer variety of approaches to cooking on display – but York reigns everything in to ensure consistency amidst the cornucopia of ideas. 

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Most dishes are bracingly straight-forward, and based on seasonal ingredients. If you are seeking to source these in the allotted months (or a few weeks either side) you’ll mostly be in luck. Of course, our supermarkets are experts in allowing us year-round access to most fresh produce, so you’ll rarely struggle if you do want to attempt a summer dish in the depths of winter.

That said, occasionally the almanac may tempt you with something a little more difficult to source. Much is made in September of sea buckthorn – a forager’s delight that will be out of reach for many across the UK. 

How often will I cook from the book? You would hope at least once a month, but then, that isn’t really the point of The Food Almanac. If you decide to try out one of the five or so dishes on offer in each chapter, you’ll likely find joy on every occasion. But if you instead take the time simply to enjoy the wonderful food writing and spend a little longer thinking about the month’s seasonal offerings, the book will have been well worth the purchase. 

Killer recipes: Solyanka, Braeburn Eve’s Pudding with Calvados, Wild Garlic and Prawn Noodles, Sambal Bajak, Strawberry Popcorn Knickerbocker Glory, Mexican Flans with Mezcal Raspberries, Salt Mallard and Pickled Prunes, Deep-Fried Sprout Tonnato with Crispy Capers 

Should I buy it? Oh, goodness, yes. The Food Almanac is an opportunity to look at the gastronomical year through the eyes of some of our best food writers, offering a chance to rediscover the seasonality of our homegrown produce in the age of supermarket ubiquity. It’s an absolute joy, and only the strongest-willed amongst us will be able to resist skipping ahead and gobbling it all up in just a few sittings.

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

Buy this book: The Food Almanac: Volume II by Miranda York
£22, Pavilion Books

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

Noma 2.0 by René Redzepi, Mette Søberg & Junichi Takahashi

Noma Vegetable Forest Ocean

It’s a decade since Noma, Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine was published, the book that helped put Copenhagen-based chef Rene Redzepi, his love for foraging and his fiercely locavore culinary philosophy on the map. Now, the appropriately titled sequel Noma 2.0 tells the story of the restaurant’s reinvention in 2018 when it relocated to an urban farm on the outskirts of the city. 

The publication of the book coincides with Redzepi’s shock announcement that he will be closing Noma as a restaurant at the end of 2024 and, according to a report in the New York Times, will continue to run it as a ‘full-time food laboratory, developing new dishes and products for its e-commerce operation, Noma Projects, and the dining rooms will be open only for periodic pop-ups.’ Hopefully Redzepi will be able to make the change in a more speedy manner than his Spanish counterpart Ferran Adria who still hasn’t fully launched his research lab and pop up restaurant elBulli 1846 in the grounds of his legendary elBulli restaurant which closed back in 2011. This year, 2023 is the year apparently. We’ll see.   

So it’s fitting that, standing a foot high and containing 352 pages, Noma 2.0 is a tombstone of a book. Essays by Redzepi, Noma’s gardener Piet Oudolf and Mette Soberg, head of research and development, are beautifully illustrated by Ditte Isager’s stunning photography. Three chapters mirror the menus served each year in the restaurant; ‘Vegetable’ when Noma becomes a vegetarian restaurant in the spring and summer, ‘Forest’ in the autumn when the menu is based around wild plants, mushrooms and game, and ‘Ocean’ in the winter when when Redzepi says that ‘the soil is frozen and nothing grows’ but ‘fish are fat and pristine, their bellies full of roe’. 

Whatever the season, the food is so intricate there’s only enough space in the massive book for descriptions of the dishes; the ‘Noma Gastronomique’ appendix includes full details of building blocks such as ferments, garums and misos but you need to scan a QR to access the complete recipes for the likes of Reindeer Brain Jelly (or maybe you’d prefer Reindeer Penis Salad?) online.  

This is not a book for the faint hearted, with dishes such as Duck Brain Tempura and Duck Heart Tartare served in the cleaned and beeswax-lined skull and beak of the bird. His Stag Beetle dessert, fashioned from a leather made with blackened pears, blackberries and Japanese black garlic is all too scarily reminiscent of a bush tucker trial.     

Not everyone will have the time, resources or inclination to attempt to replicate Redzepi’s extraordinary cuisine in their own kitchens, but it is nevertheless an essential purchase for any ambitious and creative chef who can’t fail to be inspired by the book’s bounty of surprising and unusual ideas.    

Cuisine: Nordic
Suitable for: Professional chefs. And very, very dedicated home cooks. Who live in Scandinavia. And have a lot of time on their hands. Or who can persuade 50 odd people to help them make their dinner, for free.
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars (awarded for originality and beautiful presentation rather than practicality)

Buy this book: Noma 2.0 by René RedzepiMette SøbergJunichi Takahashi 
£60, Artisan Publishers

Thrifty Kitchen by Jack Monroe

Thrifty Kitchen

What’s the USP? As the title (which bears a striking similarity to the BBC TV show Thrifty Cooking in the Doctor’s kitchen with Dr. Rupy Aujla on which Monroe appeared as  guest) suggests, this is a ‘bumper’ collection of recipes intended to be wallet friendly without sacrificing flavour. The book also includes Monroe’s ‘Home Hacks’ – money saving tips and tricks to help you budget in the kitchen.

Who is the author? That’s a very good question and one that not even Monroe herself seems to know the answer to. That probably sounds a bit cryptic if you aren’t familiar with the name Jack Monroe but will make perfect sense to anyone who has followed her career over the last decade or so.

If you are new to Monroe, before continuing to read this review, I would recommend reading Tattle’s Jack Monroe Wiki (a word of caution, Tattle is very definitely a site for grown ups. While the Wiki is entirely factual, if you stray to the forums be prepared for some very strong opinions and even stronger language).

For a more potted version of events in Monroe’s public life and career, see the Awfully Molly blog which is partly based on Tattle’s work. Author Katie Roche’s Jack Monroe: An Investigation is also well worth reading. At the time of writing this review, a further investigation into Monroe’s fund raising activities was due to be posted on justpikachoo.com. This recently published Guardian profile is also well worth a read.

If you don’t want to do the reading (although I strongly recommend you do, it is quite the ride) Jack Monroe is the author of seven cookbooks, a food writer, journalist, blogger and activist campaigning on poverty related-issues and in particular hunger relief. She appears occasionally on TV, mostly as a poverty pundit but has demonstrated recipes on This Morning and Daily Kitchen Live among other programmes.

There has been some public debate about her effectiveness as a campaigner as well as her abilities as a food writer and TV presenter. Nevertheless, she has half a million followers on social media and makes what is estimated to be a healthy income from her Patreon account which, at the time of writing had somewhere between 588 and 647 subscribers each paying between £1 and £44 a month. Until recently, subscribers had received little of the content and rewards promised by Monroe. Currently, the account has just one post which is in fact an apology from Monroe for not supplying said content and rewards.

Although she does attract a fiercely loyal following (referred to by Monroe as her ‘flying monkeys’ who vociferously defend her against any negative comment on social media) and has celebrity supporters including restaurant critic Jay Rayner, food writer Tom Parker Bowles and TV cook Nigella Lawson, she is a controversial figure to say the least. Before parting with your hard earned money for this book, it is worth investigating Monroe’s background in order to assess if you are comfortable supporting her financially.

I personally have no wish to do so but was forced to spend my own cash as repeated requests for a review copy were ignored by the publisher (never a good sign when a publisher appears not to want reviews ahead of the publication date). As I don’t want it in my house longer than it takes to review, I plan to donate my copy to my local Amnesty International book shop (I changed my plans and got a refund instead. My thinking was that, even if Amnesty made a few quid from the sale, some poor charitable soul would end up with a duff book so it seemed best for everyone if I just got my money back) .

Is it good bedtime reading? `This is the first book on this blog that comes with a health and safety warning. Prior to it’s release, Thrifty Kitchen trended on social media due to a downloadable preview of the book available via Apple books and other online stores going viral for the contents of an introductory section titled ‘If You Don’t Have This, Try This’. Among some truly bizarre ‘home hacks’ (which bear more than a passing resemblance to to Viz magazines famous top tips) was the advice to use a mallet and ‘a small sharp knife’ as a can opener.

Such was the resulting furore that publishers Pan MacMillan briefly withdrew the ebook of Thrifty Kitchen from pre-sale to make some hasty edits and then published a safety statement  saying that ‘Bluebird has amended text in the e-book edition, and will do the same for future reprints, removing or amending some of the content that has been flagged, and adding enhanced safety information at the back of the book.” In a reply to Twitter account @AwfullyMolly (a blogger highly critical of Monroe), food bank charity Trussell Trust, which was due to receive up to a thousand donated copies of Thrifty Kitchen, said, ‘The books that will be donated to our food banks will contain an addendum that addresses any health and safety concerns and we will not be distributing any books via our food banks in the current form.’

Many of the other ‘home hacks’ have been criticised online for being batshit crazy including using a square of cotton, four carabinas and an s-hook in place of a colander or hoarding the water from a condenser tumble dryer in recycled drinks bottles to use for mopping the floor with. There is a very strong sense of a teenager being forced to do their homework by a stern parent about these parts of the book. It may be that they were included at the request of the publisher and Monroe struggled to come up with enough useful and credible hints and tips, was bored and taking the piss to see what she could get away with. And she got away with an awful lot as it turns out.

What has been included either doesn’t work (my wife tested the firelighter made with an empty loo roll tube stuffed with tumble dryer fluff – no, really – and it was literally a damp squib although some people apparently swear by the method), doesn’t really address a real problem (using a flannel to dry yourself after a shower in order to save space in the washing machine – what?!) or saves virtually no money (using old t-shirts as cleaning cloths. I’d rather keep wearing the t-shirt around the house – I have some that are nearly 20 years old – and buy a new cloth. Hasn’t Monroe ever heard of the pound shop?). Also, I have never managed to make icing sugar from granulated sugar by blending it (although apparently food writer Nancy Birtwhistle can).

The less said about ‘The Quarterhack’ the better. OK, I suppose I ought to say something. Basically, this translates from Monroe-speak as checking your kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer for what food items before you do the weekly big shop so you don’t waste money.  That advice is almost so sensible and obvious that it’s not worth writing down, except we’ve probably all done a spur of the moment shop or just couldn’t be bothered to check what we already had and have ended up with five jars of pesto or three bottles of soy sauce. OK, just me then.

Monroe takes things a step further however and suggests dividing a sheet of A4 into four columns (hence ‘quarterhack’. Christ.) and heading them Protein, Carbohydrate, Fruit and Veg and Snacks. You then note down every single item of food you have in your house under the appropriate column and then you…I don’t know, I gave up reading and ordered a Dominoes at that point. All you need to know is that it’s an unnecessarily complicated and unworkable methodology for what should be a very simple thing.

Monroe also claims the ‘quarterhack’ is how she manages to feed two adults (including herself) and her son for £20 a week. This is probably the most pernicious claim in the book. It’s one that Monroe makes regularly and which has seen her compared to Conservative politicians who claim that those living on the poverty line only need to learn how to budget better and how to cook in order to feed themselves. If Monroe does actually only spend £20 a week on food, it’s because she has spent a larger amount in the past in order to stock up her cupboards, fridge and three freezers (yes, she has said on social media that she has three freezers).  It’s a ludicrous claim, allowing only 95p per person per day for food. Unless you are serving up plain lentils three times a day, there is just no way to meet that figure. Tellingly, Monroe offers no example meal plan setting out exactly how to feed three people a day for £20 a week, probably because she can’t.

So the short answer to ‘is it good bedtime reading’ is no because you are much better off not reading it. Let’s move on to the recipes. Bound to be on safer ground there, this is Monroe’s seventh cookbook after all.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Fucking hell. If I see ‘generous fistful’, ‘a few pinches’ ‘plenty of’, unspecified amounts of oil ‘for greasing’ or ‘for frying’ (it doesn’t matter what it’s for, how much? A teaspoon, a tablespoon? It’s not hard is it?), unspecified amounts of ingredients for garnishing (how much ‘optional bread and  blue cheese for the Roasted Roots Soup? FFS, just work it out and write it down!!) unspecified varieties of mushrooms and potatoes (yes they really do matter, especially if you are going to roast the potatoes and you want them to ‘fluff up at the edges’, Charlotte or Ratte for example are not going to work. Just say King Edwards. How could that be difficult? How could it be difficult for an editor not to notice? Did the book even have an editor, at least one that gave a shit?) unspecified ‘soft fresh herbs’ (what if I don’t know the difference between soft and hard herbs. I mean, rosemary is quite soft isn’t it? Is that what you mean? Can’t you just bloody say what you mean?) I will bloody well scream.

And why does every clove of garlic in MonroeWorld have to be fat? Do I have to throw away the skinny ones? That’s not thrifty is it? I was going to count the number of times the world ‘generous’ appears in the book but I’m not an actual nut job. It’s a lot though, and it’s very annoying and very vague (edit – a kind reader of this blog with a Kindle version of the book has confirmed that Monroe uses the word 89 times, which is a generous amount and one way of meeting the publisher’s required word count).

Among all this vagueness, Monroe goes to the effort of specifying ‘cold fresh water’ in her recipe for Lemon and Rosemary Roast Potatoes (annoyingly, there is no  rosemary in the recipe, just dried mixed herbs which don’t contain rosemary. Why isn’t it called Lemon and Herb Roast Potatoes? Hello, editor, are you there?). Maybe this is to ensure you don’t use the supply from your collection of 2l bottles of tumble drier water that is no doubt now cluttering up your under-sink cupboard.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? No. Monroe is famously a loyal Asda shopper so you will have no problem buying any of the ingredients in the book.

What’s the faff factor? Probably not high enough to be honest. Some of the recipes are almost comically short. Lemon sardines on toast are just that, tinned sardines (which are already cooked) fried in their own oil and lemon juice (can you fry something in lemon juice?) served on a thick slice of toast. That’s it. You can buy sardines in oil and lemon by the way. Instant cheesy mash is a mix of instant mashed potato flakes, dried skimmed milk powder and dried hard cheese which you put in a jar and then throw away because no one in their right minds wants to eat a mix of potato flakes, milk powder and rancid dried cheese. Chicken and cannellini soup is a tin of beans that is simmered for 20 minutes for some reason (the beans are out of a tin, they’re already cooked) in water, a stock cube, lemon (why?) and ‘plenty of black pepper’. No fat clove of garlic for some reason, that would have been highly appropriate and added some character and flavour to the soup. But yum I guess.  Chicken porridge is oats cooked with milk and a stock cube. Oh stop it, you’re spoiling us.

As with many of the dishes in the book (see below), you will find similar recipes online for chicken porridge. They are slightly more complex in that they actually have herbs and spices and other ingredients that make them worthwhile cooking. It’s a common theme in Thrifty Kitchen; Monroe adapts a recipe found easily online but in the process of making it ‘her own’ she often removes ingredients that make the thing worth the effort of cooking.

She admits in the book that this is the basis of her working method, saying ‘This is how I work when trying something new; I compare and contrast three or four recipes, picking out fundamentals and common denominators, then weave in what I think will be the best bits from each, to my own tastes and intuition. Most of the time it works a charm.’ There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this of course, many recipe writers work in a similar fashion I’m sure, after all, Felicity Cloake based an entire Guardian column and several ‘Perfect’ books on it. The key objective however is to come up with something better than already exists not just something different so you don’t get sued.

How often will I cook from the book? There may be 120 recipes but the same ingredients seem to pop up again and again. Ask yourself how much you like eating lentils, crab and fish paste, tinned tomatoes, lemon in just about bloody everything and endless cans of various beans. One of the utterly astonishing things about the book is that, although Monroe uses cannellini, borlotti, chickpeas and butter beans etc throughout the book, they are always tinned and she never recommends the much cheaper dried versions, surely the staple of any truly thrifty kitchen?

I found little in the book to inspire me into the kitchen. I love a roast chicken and am always on the look out for new ways to cook one. I often use Simon Hopkinson’s famous version from Roast Chicken and Other Stories  and there is an excellent recipe in The Bull and Last Cookbook that includes a wonderful red wine gravy. I would also highly recommend spatchcocking a chicken and cooking it in an air fryer if you have a model that’s big enough. A 1.5kg bird will cook to bronzed perfection in about 40 minutes, a more thrifty method than using your oven. Surprisingly, Monroe never mentions air fryers or slow cookers in the book, two thrifty pieces of equipment that would be as much use as the bullet blender she recommends to make the white sauce mentioned below.

So what is Monroe’s signature roast chicken move you ask? Well, you take your chicken and put it in a lightly oiled roasting tin (there is no other fat used in the cooking process. Yeah, I love a dry chicken too), season it with salt and pepper and cook it for an hour or ‘according to package instructions’. That’s right, you’ve paid £19.99 (or if you are thrifty, £9.99 via Amazon, who you can send it back to for a refund once you’ve realised your terrible mistake) for a book to tell you to follow the instructions on the ‘package’ your chicken came in. Bad luck if you bought it from your butcher. She serves it with ‘coronation slaw’. I never want sultanas with my chicken so, fuck that. The introduction to the recipe is bizarre, banging on about geese and her Greek Aunty Helen and not mentioning chicken, or what to do with it once. It’s like no one checked to see if it made any sense or that it might be the introduction to another recipe entirely.

I don’t really want to eat Butter Bean, Veg and Stuffing Stew for my tea, but even less I don’t want to cook a recipe that advises me to toss chopped onion and garlic cloves sliced in half (why do I want great lumps of garlic in my stew?) to a dry cold pan, then pour over oil and seasoning and then turn the heat on. I think this is meant to be some sort of energy saving ‘hack’ (although she doesn’t actually say anything in the book about it) but how much energy do save by not heating you pan for thirty seconds so your ingredients cook properly? And if Monroe is so worried about saving fuel, why does she then say to cook very finely diced carrots and already cooked tinned butter beans for 40 minutes. And then cook for a further 10 minutes after adding thinly sliced courgettes and the stuffing crumbs. Imagine the claggy mess you’ll end up with.

In an introduction by Nigella Lawson, not written for the book but taken from a BBC 4 Radio programme, she calls Monroe a ‘kitchen savant’ with ‘a deep and instinctive understanding of the alchemy of cooking’. Far be it from me to contradict one of our finest food writers, but the butter bean stew recipe and many others in the book read like they were written by someone with little understanding of cooking techniques and not much interest in eating. That appears to be born out by the three recipes I tested from the book.

Instant white sauce

Instant White Sauce

A quick and simple recipe that produced a sauce of sorts. It’s not much of a surprise when you discover that there are dozens of similar recipes online like this one. The only problem was that it tasted rank. Well, what do you expect from microwaved milk, flour, oil and mixed dried herbs (one of Monroe’s favourite ingredients sadly. Who uses mixed dried herbs anymore)?

Monster Bums

Not a spelling mistake, just Jack’s little joke.  Spinach and parsley bread rolls that her son squished together before baking so they looked like an arse. Ha. Ha, and indeed,  Ha. I’d have more of a sense of humour if the recipe didn’t make me look like an arse too. For a cookbook aimed at non-expert bakers, including a recipe for bread that is around 80 per cent hydrated (i.e. has a lot of water in it. Not unusual in modern baking but a tricky technique to master) makes little sense. The use of plain flour rather than strong bread flour is also perplexing and probably a significant factor in why the recipe didn’t work as it should have done.

I followed the instructions as best as I could. However, the dough was so wet and sticky, made even more slack by the addition of defrosted frozen spinach (the recipe made no mention of draining the veg so I didn’t) which pushed the hydration level up even further, that it was impossible to knead on the worktop as per the recipe. With high-hydration doughs I would usually use the stretch and fold method made famous by US baker Chad Robertson and now much copied, but unfortunately not by Monroe. I ended up manipulating the dough as best I could with a dough scraper, an implement I would imagine few of Monroe’s intended audience would have and not something she recommends in the book’s Basic Kitchen Equipment section. I persevered for the prescribed 10 minutes but the result was less than ‘springy’.

IMG_-3ay5f5

Once ‘kneaded’ the dough needs to rise for three hours. Three feckin’ hours! Instead of doubling in size as per the recipe, the dough just laid there like a food writer sleeping through the Guardian knocking on their door at 12.30pm to get them to a photo shoot for a Saturday supplement cover story that shows them in an extremely bad light, even though they themselves think it’s good PR for them.

Monstor bum dough after first proveThe lack of rise may have been due to the way the dough was mixed. Monroe says to blend the spinach and parsley with warm water and then add to the flour and yeast. By the time I’d finished blending, the water had lost most if not all its heat. I often use cold water when making a dough but I then prove the dough overnight in the fridge. So I could have made this work but testing my baking skills and knowledge was not the point here, it was to see if the recipes in the book actually worked.

Using my dough scraper again I managed to form the dough into, well, small bits of dough and left them to prove again for another hour during which time fuck all happened.

Monster bum dough shaped

I then baked the rolls, if you could call them that for an astonishing 50 minutes at 140C. They needed a further 10 minutes to cook through. Why the long bake at a low temperature I have no idea and Monroe doesn’t explain. The oven needed to pre-heat too. It was the least thrifty bread recipe I think I’ve ever cooked. The result was at least edible if not particularly nice, the baked spinach and parsley gave the bread a faintly metallic taste and the long slow bake didn’t seem to have made any difference to the finished result. They could have been baked at 220C for 10-15 minutes and come out of the oven the same.

DSC_5718

From start to finish, the process took close to six hours. As I had planned to spend the day in the kitchen that wasn’t a huge problem as I could get on with things while the dough was resting, but it’s a ludicrous amount of time only to end up with a bog-standard result that a more traditional method would have achieved in half the time. Although its not exactly like for like, compare this one hour pizza recipe from the brilliant YouTube chef Brian Lagerstrom. It’s been properly developed and tested and I can vouch that it works a treat and is delicious. It’s a useful recipe to have when you are stuck for ideas for a weeknight meal, which I’m not sure I would say about any of the recipes in Thrifty Kitchen.

Marmite Crumpets

These didn’t work. I mean, look at them. That’s after 50 minutes of cooking time.  Apart from the addition of Marmite ( a nice idea by the way) the recipe ingredients and measurements are virtually identical to any you’ll find online or say, Delia Smith’s version (I like Gary Rhodes’s recipe from new British Classics which works a treat) so the mix should work.

IMG_afgm70 (1)

The first problem arose from the amount of mix Monroe says to use. Three tablespoons in a standard poaching ring just isn’t enough so you end up with something closer to a pancake than a crumpet. Secondly, the instructions state to use the smallest ring on the hob at the lowest setting. I happen to have an induction hob (hardly that rare these days) so the lowest setting is really low. Even though I pre-heated the pan at a higher setting as instructed, the crumpets, which should have taken around 10 minutes (that’s the minimum time according to Monroe, but she gives no maximum) just never cooked through.  I cooked a second batch using more mix and a higher heat but they still refused to set properly and tasted unpleasant. Everything went in the bin, including the leftover batter which there shouldn’t have been any of. I halved the recipe which should have made four crumpets but the mix would easily have made eight three tablespoon crumpets. Did anyone check?

I intended to test more Thrifty Kitchen recipes, but it was so dispiriting, spending the morning in the kitchen and having very little to show for the time, effort and money spent on ingredients and fuel. Both the crumpets and the white sauce went straight in the bin. The bread was one of the most exasperating and tricky doughs I have ever made, and I bake a great deal, but the result was at least edible.

Killer recipes: Well, you might find yourself a digit missing if you follow the tin opener ‘hack’ but nothing will actually kill you, probably. I am of course kidding. Regular readers of this blog will know that ‘killer recipes’ refers to the dishes that make the book irresistible and a must buy. That doesn’t apply in this case. Thrifty Kitchen remains eminently resistible.

Should I buy it? I’m honestly struggling to come up with a good reason what anyone would want to part with the best part of £20 to own this book. As discussed, its useless from a home hack point of view, the recipes are for the most part unappealing and badly written and there is very little truly thrifty about the book. Yes, there’s recipes for veg peelings and fish paste but who the fuck want’s to eat those? Where are useful budget-friendly meal planners and shopping lists? At Jamie Oliver’s website, that’s where. For free. They don’t even cost £19.99. Nada, zilch. And they are bloody great. So please, do yourself a favour and save your money.

120 reasons you don’t need to buy this book (a project that will never be completed) 

I started out when I wrote this review with the intention of completely negating the need to buy Thrifty Kitchen by finding exactly similar or as close as possible recipes available free on the internet by another author. I decided to stop after two chapters as it was massively time consuming, I felt I’d made my point and I have TV boxed sets to binge watch, bitches. I have included my finding as I think it shows that often, the free alternatives are a more enticing proposition than Monroe’s versions.

It should be noted that there is no accusation of plagiarism, the purpose of this is to provide a resource for those that can’t or don’t want to afford to buy Monroe’s book. Recipes titles on the left are Monroe’s from the book and, unless otherwise indicated, the linked recipe has the exact same title, although ingredients and method differ to varying degrees. The recipes linked to here are not necessarily the earliest posted online, just the first I came across so I’m not claiming they are necessarily any more original than Monroe’s versions.

I am aware that some of the recipes published in the book and billed as ‘brand new’ on the back cover have already appeared, either on Monroe’s blog or as part of commercial tie-ins with companies such as Del Monte and Netflix (Refried Potatoes with Blue Cheese is available here and a similar but much nicer sounding version by US chef Paula Deen here. It should be noted that Paula Deen is a very controversial figure too so I’m not endorsing her in anyway, but that recipe does sound bloody good) but I haven’t listed these as I am only one man and this is enough work by itself and I’m pulling 100 hour weeks and DO YOU WANT ME TO STOP BREATHING!

Breads and Breakfast
Courgette and cheese soda bread – BBC Good Food
Prune and pumpkin seed toast/bread –  The Brown Paper Bag
Oaty soda bread – Tesco Real Food
Get Up and Go Muffins – BBC Good Food
Banana peel pancakes – Petit chef and Cooking on a Bootstrap
French toast – BBC Good Food
Raspberry and lemon curd baked oats – double berry baked oatmeal with lemon curd from The Oatmeal Artist 
Warm sunshine oats – Sunshine Breakfast Baked Oatmeal Recipe from chocolatecoveredkatie.com
Lemon and berry Dutch babies – Lemon Dutch Baby With Fresh Blueberries from Saporito Kitchen 
Monster bums – Spinach burger buns from myhomemadekitchen.co.za
Secret scrambled eggs (with mayonnaise) – Tender and fluffy scrambled eggs recipe from Hellmann’s 
Pear and bacon porridge – bacon porridge (no pear, sorry) from tastefullyvikkie.com
Homemade muesli – Homemade muesli with oats, dates & berries from BBC Good Food 
Cinnamon crunch – Cinnamon-toasted oats from Eating Well
Pear and cinnamon buns – Spiced Pear Cinnamon Rolls from wanderingchickpea.com
Apple bircher – apple Bircher muesli from pinkladyapples.co.uk

Light bites
Radishes and other crunchy veg with a trio of dips – (this recipe has just too many possible variations to track down something exactly similar so this one will have to do – crudites platter from crunchyradish.com)
Marmite crumpets – I think we’re going to have to give Monroe this one. Here’s some Marmite bread instead from Great British Chefs.
Roasted roots soup (with chickpeas) – roasted root vegetable and chickpea soup by Elise Museles 
Pangrattato al Pomodoro (a version of pappa al pomodoro but made with dried stuffing mix) – the stuffing mix is a Monroe special, the closest I could get is pappa al pomodoro soup by Jamie Oliver
Veg peel fritters – Zero Waste Veg Peel Fritters by bottomfeeder.blog
Cream of mushroom soup – Mushroom soup from BBC Good Food
Roasted courgette and red lentil soup -Mediterranean Red Lentil and Zucchini Soup by dimitrasdishes.com
Chicken and cannellini soup – Chicken & White Bean Soup from Eating Well 
Carrot, coconut and chilli soup – Lightly spiced carrot soup from BBC Good Food
Chicken porridge with a poached egg – chicken oats porridge from cookpad.com
Radish, soft cheese and lentil salad –Lentil Salad with Marinated Radishes (and goat’s cheese) by callingtochitchat.com
Lemon sardines on toast – Spanish sardines on toast from BBC Good Food

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Not rated

Buy this book: (on your own head be it) Thrifty Kitchen by Jack Monroe
£19.99, Bluebird

Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark
Many cookbooks have emerged recently that started development during the lockdowns of the last few years. Sam and Sam Clark looked for ways to simplify their cooking to feed a five person household while compelled to stay under one roof. Luckily for the rest of the family, the Clarks are professional chefs and the husband-and-wife team behind Moro and other restaurants that focus on Southern Mediterranean dishes and flavours. The result of this endeavour is Moro Easy, a cookbook aiming to make their restaurant’s dishes accessible to the home cook through uncomplicated methods and ingredients.

Moro Easy delivers on straightforward and interesting dishes with many living in the sweet spot between undemanding and delicious, the kind of recipe that makes cooking tasty food deceptively easy and makes you think maybe one day, you too can open your own restaurant. On the menu could be the fish tagine with potatoes, peas and coriander requiring you to just whizz up a spice paste and bake fish in it for 8 minutes. Or a series of labneh recipes that are about as quick to make as they are to read.

Then there’s the ones that are a little more involved and bring you back to reality. For instance, it would be wise to stay focused on the kale purée with polenta unless you’re looking to paint your kitchen green.

However, books that have time limits or difficulty levels in their names set a high threshold of success. How easy is easy? How quick is quick? I remember the furore over the release of Jamie’s 20 Minute Meals when it transpired they did not in fact, take exactly 20 minutes. If you have a food processor at your disposal some recipes will take minutes of preparation. Without one, it’ll depend on your tolerance for chopping. Simple recipes also live and die by the quality of the ingredients you can source. A recipe with few components like Peas with Jamón and Mint will be inherently more delicious if the ingredients are of a higher quality.

There is a joy to be found in simple food, using the smallest amount of ingredients and effort to produce something remarkable. The best recipes here are the ones that just let the ingredients do their thing, roasted squash covered in cinnamon and a sweet and spicy vinegar is outstanding, as is aubergine dotted with tomatoes and tahini sauce. Mostly, they’re rustic and wholehearted dishes, the sort of thing you could eat entirely with chunks of bread. This isn’t a bad thing, I’ll be friends with anything that can be eaten using carbohydrate cutlery. On the whole, it’s an enjoyable book but something that’s more solid than spectacular.

Cuisine: Southern Spanish and Mediterranean
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark
£30, Ebury Press

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Japaneasy Bowls and Bento by Tim Anderson

Japaneasy Bowls and Bento

What’s the USP? The latest entry in the Japaneasy series of cookbooks keeps it simple, offering up a selection of simple to make dishes that recall the bento options found at conbini convenience stores across Japan. There’s also, as the name suggests, a heavy focus on food served in bowls – which is very often the most comforting way to have one’s food served. 

Who wrote it? Tim Anderson, the American-born, British-based Masterchef winner who specialises in Japanese cooking. Like, really specialises in it. Anderson is currently knocking out a cookbook a year, it seems, and they’re usually very accessible and filled with delicious ideas. 

Is it good bedtime reading? Cookbooks that focus on simplicity often carry that through to every element of their composition too, from design to the food writing itself. Thankfully, while Anderson sticks with the clean, attractive layouts returning readers will be used to, he also continues to inject a few sections to peruse between recipes. As well as your standard equipment sections, there are asides on bento culture, and the best way to enjoy rice. They aren’t exactly essays, but they make for a much more readable and enjoyable experience than comparable offerings from other publishers. 

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Anderson tries, as ever, to keep his dishes as accessible as possible. There’ll be plenty of requests for staple ingredients of the cuisine, like mirin, dashi powder and sesame oil, but none of these are particularly hard to source these days. Where more unusual ingredients are suggested, Anderson offers a readily accessible alternative. 

What’s the faff factor? As the title suggests, everything here will be relatively simple to knock together in your kitchen at home. Thankfully, he’s dropped the often terrible puns that the otherwise brilliant Vegan Japaneasy insisted highlighting said ease with. Now the dishes speak for themselves, and are all the better for it. 

How often will I cook from the book? This is the sort of book that could be pulled off the shelf weekly. It is filled with simple dinners that will offer new options for a quick meal after work. With its focus on bento lending the book a ‘small plates’ vibe at times, there’s also plenty of opportunity to put on a fairly impressive, hassle-free Japanese dinner party. 

What will I love? Japaneasy Bowls and Bento is a bit of an all-rounder. As well as a good selection of weeknight-friendly dinners, the bento-led focus of the book means it also offers great ideas for your packed lunch, or for a dinner party of small plates.

What won’t I love? It’s a small thing, but the lovely shiny blue lettering on the cover is not up to much at all – it only took one trip to my kitchen work-top for some of it to wear away. But all good cookbooks look a little worn in the end – perhaps this one is just keen to skip to that stage. 

Killer recipes: Enoki bacon rolls, Microwaved runner beans with yuzu ginger miso, Pork belly bowl with salted leek relish, Crab and spinach doria 

Should I buy it? The big question for many will be whether or not they already own a Tim Anderson book. While Japaneasy Bowls and Bento is a solid cookbook with plenty of tempting recipes for easy weeknight meals, earlier titles in the range offer a similar selection. This doesn’t break and new ground, so it’s worth heading to your local bookshop and comparing each title to figure out which one works best for you. 

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book: Japaneasy Bowls and Bento

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

Prawn Pad Thai by Norman Musa

Prawn Pad Thai - BOWLFUL. IMAGE CREDIT Luke J Albert

When anyone asks about the best Thai dishes that have been exported around the world, Pad Thai is certainly among the most sought after. My visit to the country’s capital in search of the best Pad Thai in Bangkok revealed how easy it actually is to cook this dish. It has a wonderful combination of sweet, sour and salty flavours with a good crunch of peanuts. Forget about ready-made sauce in a jar, you can make your own by combining tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce and soy sauce – it’s as simple as that.

SERVES 2

200g/7oz flat rice noodles
½ tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for the egg
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
10 raw king prawns, shelled and deveined, but tails left on
1 egg
125g/4½oz bean sprouts
50g/1¾oz garlic chives (kow choi)

FOR THE SEASONING

1½ tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce

FOR THE GARNISH

1 spring onion, cut into thin strips and soaked in cold water until curled, then drained
10 sprigs of fresh coriander, leaves picked
2 tsp dried chilli flakes
½ lime, cut into 2 wedges
2 tbsp salted peanuts, lightly crushed

Prepare the noodles according to the packet instructions; drain and set aside. In a small bowl, mix the seasoning ingredients with 2 tablespoons of water and stir well.

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over a high heat. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the prawns and cook for 1 minute. Push the prawns to one side of the wok or frying pan and drizzle in a little more oil. Crack in the egg, scramble it, cook until dry and then add the noodles and seasoning mixture. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the bean sprouts and chives, continue to cook for 1 more minute and then turn off the heat.

Transfer to two serving bowls and garnish with the spring onion, coriander, chilli flakes, lime wedges and peanuts. Serve at once. 

Image: Luke J Albert

Cook more from this book: 
Vegetarian Biryani with Chickpeas by Norman Musa

Read our review 
Coning soon

Buy this book: Bowlful: Fresh and vibrant dishes from Southeast Asia by Norman Musa (Pavilion Books).

Vegetarian Biryani with Chickpeas by Norman Musa

Vegetarian Biryani with Chickpeas - BOWLFUL. IMAGE CREDIT Luke J Albert

I visited Singapore many years ago on holiday and stumbled across a wonderful, well-organized food court whose name I can’t recall, but I vividly remember the stall that served delicious biryani. The chef showed me all the layers in the huge cooking pot he used to cook the aromatic rice. This experience always comes to mind every time I cook or read anything about biryani.

SERVES 4

FOR THE JACKFRUIT & CHICKPEA CURRY

2 tbsp ghee, butter or vegan spread, plus ½ tbsp extra for the rice
4 white onions, halved and thinly sliced
4 medium and ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 x 565g/20oz can jackfruit in brine, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g/14oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

FOR THE RICE

500g/1lb 2oz/2½ cups basmati rice, soaked in water for 20 minutes then drained 
3 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
10 black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp salt

FOR THE SAUCE

200g/7oz/scant 1 cup quark or natural yogurt
2.5cm/1in ginger, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp mild chilli powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
10 sprigs of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
20 fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
4 tbsp frozen peas

TO FINISH

3 tsp saffron water (a pinch of saffron threads soaked in 2 tbsp warm water for 20 minutes)
3 tsp rose water
20 fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
10 sprigs of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

To make the curry, melt the ghee, butter or spread in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Next, stir in the onions and fry for 10 minutes until golden to dark brown. Remove half the onion and set aside for later use.

Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes until softened. Add the jackfruit, chickpeas and all the sauce ingredients, except for the peas, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the peas, together with 200ml/7fl oz/scant 1 cup of water, and cook for a further 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. 

Meanwhile, place 1.8 litres/63fl oz/7½ cups of water in a large saucepan and add the spices and salt, then bring to the boil and stir in the rice. Cook for 8 minutes. After the first 4 minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for the remaining 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and drain.

Put the remaining ghee, butter or spread in a deep saucepan and scatter over one-third of the rice followed by 1 teaspoon of the saffron water and 1 teaspoon of the rose water. Scatter over one-third of the mint, coriander and fried onions, followed by one-third of the curry. Repeat the same process until everything has been used.

Cover the pan with aluminium foil, put over a low heat and cook for 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the biryani rest for 5 minutes, then remove the foil and divide between four serving bowls. Serve at once.

Image: Luke J Albert

Cook more from this book
Prawn Pad Thai by Norman Musa

Read our review 
Coning soon

Buy this book: Bowlful: Fresh and vibrant dishes from Southeast Asia by Norman Musa (Pavilion Books).

 

 

Black Power Kitchen by Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao and Lester Walker

Ghetto gastro

Black Power Kitchen is part cookbook, part manifesto. A combination of 75 mostly plant-based dishes that draw on recipes from across the African diaspora and emotive essays that speak of the power food has in connecting communities and creating shared histories and futures alike. 

The authors are Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao and Lester Walker, members of New York food collective Ghetto Gastro. The group, which comprises chefs and food enthusiasts and has been making a name for itself since 2012, breaking into wider public consciousness in recent years as they collaborate with big brands while delivering important social action, feeding Black Lives Matters protesters and offering a thrilling vision of what food can do within a community.  

You should buy Black Power Kitchen for both the passionate essays that shine a light on the collective’s vision for food in Black communities and beyond, and for the recipes, which are thoughtfully conceived and playfully reimagined takes on both iconic dishes and bright new ideas. Like last year’s Black Food by Bryant Terry, which also took a collaborative essay-led look at the diaspora’s rich food heritage, Black Power Kitchen is heavy on plant-based recipes, with a smattering of seafood and chicken dishes thrown in for good measure. But this is no clean-eating vegetable-led cookbook. The recipes are bold and creative, from a Jamaican jerk-inspired mushroom dish that includes a barbeque miso glaze, to a thrilling vegan take on the Brazilian feijoada. Pescatarians can add an unmissable take on the Japanese takoyaki that draws on Caribbean cooking to offer up a saltfish-led twist. The recipes can be a little more ambitious than casual home cooks will want to approach regularly, but the results will be amongst the best food you’ve ever made – your only disappointment will be that there aren’t more dishes to draw on.

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

Buy this book: Black Power Kitchen
£35, Artisan Division of Workman Publishing

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

Mabu Mabu by Nornie Bero

Mabu Mabu by Nornie Bero

Cookbooks are the cheapest and quickest way of travelling. Escapism through a chopping board and the hob as you explore the world from the kitchen. Some routes are more well-grooved than others with Thailand, China and India being particularly well-represented. You would however, struggle to find more than four titles on indigenous Australian food because well, to my knowledge there aren’t many more than that. 

Mabu Mabu is the latest and if we take distance travelled as an indicator of value, then this book is a steal: buying it in the UK will whisk you 8860 miles away to Mer Island, a tiny place in the Torres Strait off northern Australia and the birthplace of Nornie Bero, author of Mabu Mabu and owner of the restaurant that shares its name.

The book opens with a tribute to Bero’s cultural heritage, the indigenous people of the islands of the Torres Strait and an acknowledgement of the lands her Ancestors have lost to imperialism. Mabu Mabu though is much more of a celebration of the ingredients and recipes of these islands rather than mourning anything lost. A vivid colour palette and attractive flat design bring a brightness and energy to the pages and the recipes on them.

The first three chapters are dedicated to Bero’s life, the creation of her restaurant and her use of food to educate and share her upbringing with others. The latter three covers ingredients and recipes with lists of interesting, unfamiliar foods and spices to those of us living on this side of the world. It’s here however, we find a fairly critical issue for a cookbook review: I can source almost none of them. My idea of a good time is spending an hour or five in my local international supermarkets finding new ingredients to cook with. Imagine my delight at being asked to find wattleseeds, crystal ice plant, karkalla, seaberry saltbush, lilli pilli, muntries and quandong. Imagine my despair at completely failing. 

Turning to online suppliers didn’t bring much more joy. It would be quicker and more cost effective to fly to Australia than to have purchased every ingredient needed for Saltbush Pepperberry Crocodile. Replacing them is an option but also very much not the point. Swapping out ingredients more accessible for a European palette is how we ended up needing a book like this in the first place. 

I did manage to cook a few dishes without any trouble though: Pumpkin Damper, a chunky unleavened bread served with golden syrup butter; Semur Chicken, a salty, hoppy and fragrant stew poured over vermicelli noodles, and Sop Sop, a sort-of hearty simmered mash of root vegetables and coconut milk. All were interesting, some delicious and most tasting vaguely familiar by using ingredients found in South Asian and Oceanic cuisines. 

However, it’s ultimately a book for a part of the world much sunnier than here, where the ingredients are accessible in major supermarkets and can be appreciated in the ways they were intended. Which leaves this review to be continued. These ingredients feel exotic now but at one point, so was lemongrass and I can now get that from my local corner shop. It takes books like this to raise different ingredients into the collective consciousness and gain wider usage. For now, Mabu Mabu will sit on my shelf until perhaps one day, I can pick up a packet of quandong and a kilogram of emu from my local Tesco.

Cuisine: Australian 
Suitable for: Australian-based cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Not rated as we just couldn’t test the recipes properly 

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Mamacita by Andrea Pons

Mamacita

What’s the USP? Mamacita is, on the face of things, a cookbook about Mexican food, and the immigrant experience. But it is also a lifeline. It was originally compiled as a self-published cookbook that was sold to help author Andrea Pons fund her family’s legal fees as they attempted to navigate the US immigration system. Now it finds its way into print once more, via a more traditional publisher, with additional recipes and plenty of glossy photos. It’s the American dream come true. 

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s much to enjoy as a casual cookbook reader here. Though there isn’t much extended reading besides a thorough introduction at the beginning of the book, Pons shares her story, and that of her family, throughout the recipes themselves. This is a life, and a community, seen through food – and exploring each dish, and understanding how it fits into a bigger picture, makes what might otherwise be a fairly straight-forward collection of recipes a whole lot more enjoyable.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Despite listing a UK price on the back cover, this is a very US-centric cookbook, with measurements only listed imperially. If you can work around this, though, you’ll enjoy Pons’ uncomplicated writing.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Where are you cooking? Again, if you’re in the UK, you’ll have a more difficult time – even the most simple authentic Mexican ingredients, from chipotle in adobo to corn tortillas, can be a struggle to source here. Americans will likely fare better. The back pages list resources for immigrants in the US – but a list of resources for those looking to pick up Maseca flour and authentic Mexican cheeses might have been a useful addition too.

How often will I cook from the book? There’s plenty to love here, including showy dinner party dishes like Conchitas de Pescado (a fish gratin served in scallop shells). But the heart of this recipe book is family cooking, and so top of the agenda is simple, delicious food that’s easy to make at home. I tried out the Sopa Azteca at home last week during my lunch hour.  It’s a fallacy that a good soup takes a long time, and the rich bowl I mustered up in little over thirty minutes couldn’t make a stronger case for the prosecution.

Many of the dishes here would make fantastic weeknight dinners from families with relatively open minds. Why would anyone bother with an Old El Paso dinner in a box (everything is included! All you need to buy is chicken breast! And an onion! And two bell peppers! And a jar of our branded guacamole!) when the same money and effort will put Pons’ stunning Pork in Green Sauce with Potatoes on the table?

Killer recipes: Chilaquiles, Pollo al Curry, Chicken in Adobo, Pork Chops in Spicy Tomato and Poblano Sauce, Mexican Bread Pudding

Should I buy it? Mamacita isn’t a perfect book. You sort of suspect that being self-published, and then picked up by Princeton Architectural Press (who, unsurprisingly given their name, have limited experience with cookbooks) might explain a few of the simple missing elements that another cookbook wouldn’t have skipped over. But these are relatively small qualms – this is bright and positive food, beautifully written about and passionately presented.

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

Buy this book: Mamacita by Andrea Pons 
£21.99, Princeton Architectural Press

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

Bras: The Tastes of Aubrac by Sebastian Bras

Bras The Taste of Aubrac

In 2009, chef Sébastien Bras took over the kitchens at Le Suquet, the world-famous restaurant and hotel that’s perched on a hill above the Aubrac in the southern Massif Central of France. Sébastien’s father Michel won three Michelin stars there for his nouvelle cuisine creations including gargouillou (a warm salad of vegetables and herbs) and soft centred ‘chocolate coulant’ that inspired a thousand chocolate fondants. In his first cookbook, Sébastien offers his own updated variations; a ‘raw’ summer gargouillou made with 120 varieties of vegetables, some grown in the restaurant’s kitchen garden, and a curry cream coulant inspired by a trip to India. 

Many of the remaining 38 recipes also reflect the chef’s world travels, some of which are documented in the book, including a trip to the Sahara that inspired a dish of sand-baked taguella bread made with millet flour, semolina and honey and filled with air-dried courade sausage, and visits to Japan (until 2020, there was a Bras restaurant in Hokkaido) where Sébastien first tried the fried pork-loin gyoza that he serves with tangy carrot jus and chrysanthemums.  

In addition to discovering his feelings about the Michelin guide (Sébastien famously ‘handed back’ the restaurant’s three Michelin stars in 2017), the book also tells the stories behind the creation of two of the chef’s signature dishes. The ‘miwam’ (a made-up word) is a filled wheat and spelt galette/waffle cooked in a special mould made by Sébastien’s engineer brother William and sold at The Café Bras in Rodez in the south of France; the ‘gouttière’ is its fine dining cousin, a potato waffle made from wavy tuiles sandwiched with hazelnut butter cream and drizzled with salted butter caramel. 

The stunning photography documenting the food, life at the restaurant and the austere beauty of the Aubrac through the seasons, and essays on the Bras family, restaurant team, producers and culinary techniques add up to a compelling picture of an extraordinary enterprise that will inspire any keen home cook or chef.

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

Buy this book: Bras by Sebastian Bras
£39.95, Phaidon

This review originally appeared in The Caterer magazine.  

 

Potato by James Martin

Potato by James Martin

What’s the USP? I can’t believe you didn’t get this from the title. It is Potato, a book that celebrates the potato, by the human equivalent of a Maris Piper, James Martin.

I know that name. He’s the Saturday morning guy, right? Martin has been a mainstay of our weekend television for sixteen years now, yes – first on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, and more recently for ITV’s Saturday Morning with James Martin. But let’s not pretend those are his only credentials – he won acclaim from restaurant critic Jay Rayner for his work at The Talbot Hotel and, last year, relaunched everybody’s least favourite option at the food court, SpudULike in collaboration with potato company Albert Bartlett.

So this new book is a cynical ploy funded by Big Potato? Now, now. It’s also entirely possible Martin is massively enthusiastic about taters. Whatever the case, ingredient-focused cookbooks are something of a miniature trend right now, from Claire Thomson’s Tomato to the Lea-Wilson family’s Sea Salt. Also, at the very least, the book gives us one of the most unintentionally funny front covers in recent memory: an uncertain looking Martin in front of what may as well be a stock photo of spuds, and, in massive letters at the bottom of it all ‘Potato James Martin’. Brilliant. Five out of five for that then.

So it’s a five star cookbook then? Woah, woah, woah. Easy now. It’s a five-star cookbook cover. The actual book itself is a lot less impressive. Titles that lean in heavy on single ingredients live and die on two things: the insight they offer around that ingredient, and the use they make of the ingredient in the recipes. Claire Thomson, for example, is a passionate champion of the tomato, and offered a range of vibrant and original dishes in her title. Sea Salt, which presented a wealth of recipes that used salt but, for obvious reasons, didn’t make it the star ingredient, struggled.

Martin doesn’t offer us much insight at all into the history of the potato, which is a great shame, given the fascinating impact it has had on our culinary world. A staple of diets across South America for perhaps ten thousand years, they did not find their way to Europe until the late 1600s, and yet have since become an indispensable part of our daily cuisine.

Our potato-loving author doesn’t seem all that bothered with sharing this history with us, though. In fact, the history of the spud gets about two sentences of attention across the entire book. But then, this is not a title for those who are looking for effusive food writing. The recipe introductions occasionally offer a little insight into a dish’s provenance – but frequently Martin phones them in with the briefest filler text. His introduction to a recipe for a sandwich is printed simply as ‘Why not?! The question is: to butter or not to butter…? You know it makes sense!’

It might make sense, James, but do you?

What about the recipes themselves? There are some dishes to play around with here, certainly, but for the most part Martin delivers to a core audience of fans who don’t want to try anything too wacky. Potatoes might be the embodiment of unshowy workmanship in vegetables, but their versatility also opens them up to a much more interesting range of recipes than those on show here.

Martin leans on the most obvious of dishes but does them well. And so, we have Coquilles St Jacques, Tartiflette, Fish and Chips, and Lamb Hot Pot. There’s also plenty of room for the greatest hits that always pop up in the cookbooks of popular TV chefs: beer can chickens and hasselback potatoes.

Does he venture any further afield than France for his recipes? Thankfully, yes – and this is where some of the cookbook’s few unexpected ideas get a look in. There’s the always tempting South African curry-in-a-loaf-of-bread, Bunny Chow, and Sweet Potato and Pecan Cookies. One recipe pairs a humble crab cake with a katsu curry sauce – though Martin is quick to credit this to Ynyshir’s Gareth Ward. And that’s… that’s about it for the book. There’s a short section towards the back that offers up stand-alone potato recipes for those occasions when you want to knock up some Pommes Parisienne or Dauphinoise as a side, and a very handy chart that shares the various uses of twenty-eight of the most common varieties, but neither of these are worth the price of admission by themselves.

Should I buy it? The thing with potatoes is that they aren’t exactly under-represented in cookbooks already. Do you have five to ten cookbooks on your shelf? Are two of them centred on English or French cuisine? Then you’ve probably already got most of what you’ll find here at your fingertips. This is a book for fans of Martin, and people who enjoy owning cookbooks with inadvertently funny front covers, and that’s about it.

Cuisine: European
Suitable for: Beginner home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book: Potato by James Martin

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

 

Snacks for Dinner by Lukas Volger

Snacks for Dinner by Lukas Volger
What’s the USP? A cookbook celebrating the picky tea – albeit the more refined, small plates version rather than baking trays of beige freezer food. All the recipes are vegetarian or vegan with the premise being that many smaller dishes of dips, pickles and salads with doughy or crispy things to dip into them is a more satisfying way to eat than one plate of the typical protein, carb and veg trio. It’s a proposition that’s hard to argue with.

Who’s the author? Lukas Volger a writer for many notable American food publications and the author of three other vegetarian cookbooks. The inspiration for Snacks for Dinner came from visiting a friend who emerged with several pre-prepared dishes for a lunchtime feast meaning minimal time in the kitchen and more time socialising. The ease and informality of this dinner left such a lasting impression on Volger it altered his perception of what dinner could be, authoring this cookbook and also making me wonder if he’s ever had a ready meal.

What will I love? Cookbooks based around concepts rather than cuisines can sometimes run out of steam, trying to find recipes to fit the premise rather than having a natural selection to begin with. This isn’t the case here. Snacks for Dinner delivers on its formula, following through on the idea from start to finish and being meticulous in its execution. It begins with an incredibly detailed introductory chapter that lists kitchen accessories, ingredients and tips for planning a snack-based dinner.

The chapters are colour coded for quick searching and based around traits like crispy-crunchy, tangy-juicy or scooped + smeared. The cutesy names aside, this makes planning a meal from the book incredibly easy with the suggestion you choose one recipe from each of the different traits to create a balanced meal.

In practice, this works exceptionally well. I put together several meals of varied and interesting dishes each representing different flavour profiles and textures. Favourites were the Umami Roasted Tomatoes, Beer Cheese Gougeres, Spicy Zucchini Quick Pickles which delivers what it promises and a delicious Creamy Sweet Potato Chipotle Dip that was so easy to make I felt like a fraud for receiving any credit for having cooked it. It should also receive commendation for being a vegetarian cookbook and resisting the urge to put a hummus recipe in the dips section.

What won’t I love? Despite its efforts to make the recipes straightforward and accessible, cooking them all simultaneously does take time and skill. You will need to be across several recipes at once, all requiring different cooking times, ingredients and preparations. Of course, many of these dishes can be cooked progressively and left until they’re needed though this will only mean more time in the kitchen.

It can also occasionally read like a utopian vision of millennial living with references to friends who text when visiting the farmer’s market, checking Instagram to find your new favourite micro-bakery or having an olive oil subscription. This isn’t to the book’s detriment and at this point, I’m just being pedantic and likely bitter about not having my own olive oil subscription. There is however, definitely a time and place for it and not something I would make a full meal from regularly, especially over the long winter months.

Should I buy it? If your idea of a meal is more than an assortment of dips and a trail mix made from puffed rice then Snacks for Dinner probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re into eating lots of lovely things smeared and scooped onto other lovely things then absolutely. It’s a well thought out book, with a clear throughline and full of inviting, often effortless recipes.

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

Buy this book: Snacks for dinner by Lukas Volger 
£25, HarperWave

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Pistachio madeleines by Sam and Sam Clark

277_Pistachio_Madeleines
Madeleines are always best served straight out of the oven. Make the batter, then bake the madeleines 10–15 minutes before you want to serve them. They are an excellent accompaniment to the ice creams.

Makes 24

100g butter (room temperature) + extra for greasing
100g caster sugar
2 free-range or organic eggs, lightly beaten
finely grated zest 1 lemon + extra for serving
70g very finely ground pistachios + extra for serving
50g self-raising flour, sieved + extra for dusting

Beat the butter and sugar until very pale and light, approximately 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs one by one, ensuring the first is fully incorporated before adding the second, followed by the lemon zest and pistachios. Once combined, gently fold in the flour. Leave the batter to rest in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.

Generously grease two madeleine or cupcake trays with butter and lightly dust with flour, tapping off any excess.

Spoon a dessertspoon of the mixture into each mould, being careful not to overfill them – this quantity should make 24 madeleines. Bake for 10–12 minutes, until golden.

Serve with the extra pistachios and lemon zest sprinkled over.

Cook more from this book
Roast shoulder of pork marinated with orange and cumin by Sam and Sam Clark
Roast squash, sweet vinegar, garlic and rosemary by Sam and Sam Clark

Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review

Roast squash, sweet vinegar, garlic and rosemary by Sam and Sam Clark

119_Roast_Squash_Sweet_Vinegar

The sweetness of the squash contrasts beautifully with the vinegar. Delicious with labneh, fish, chicken or lamb, like the Maghrebi slow-roast shoulder of lamb or tomato bulgur with lamb and cinnamon yoghurt.

Serves 4
1 large butternut squash or sweet potatoes, approx. 800g, peeled, deseeded and cut into 3cm chunks
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
3 tablespoons aged, good-quality red wine vinegar like cabernet sauvignon, or sherry vinegar (page 303) + pinch sugar if not sweet
1–2 teaspoons finely chopped red chilli (to taste)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.

Toss the squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil, the cinnamon, salt and pepper. Lay on a large roasting tray and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, until soft and caramelised. Check for seasoning.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil over a low to medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and fry gently for 2–3 minutes until the garlic is golden, then add the vinegar, taking care it doesn’t spit too much, and simmer for 30 seconds. Spoon the vinegar mixture over the squash and serve with the chilli on top.

Cook more from this book
Roast shoulder of pork marinated with orange and cumin by Sam and Sam Clark 
Pistachio madeleines by Sam and Sam Clark

Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review  

Roast shoulder of pork marinated with orange and cumin by Sam and Sam Clark

239_Roast_Shoulder_Pork

This really is a delicious way to cook pork shoulder. It is slow-roasted until the meat is soft and tender and the marinade has turned into a gravy delicately flavoured with orange and cumin. We recommend spinach, pine nuts and sultanas (page 133) and some fried potatoes to go with it.

Serves 4

1 boneless pork shoulder, 1.2–3kg

Marinade
100ml orange juice
zest 1 orange, finely grated
2 rounded teaspoons roughly ground cumin seeds
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon hot paprika
pinch saffron
1 small onion or banana shallot

Blitz all the marinade ingredients together in a food processor or with a hand blender and season with salt. Smear the marinade all over the meat and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.

When you are ready to roast the meat, wrap it tightly in tin foil and place it on a roasting tray. Slow-roast for 3 hours, then remove from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes.

When you take off the foil, take care to keep all the juices from the marinade. Slice the meat and spoon over the juices.

Cook more from this book
Roast squash, sweet vinegar, garlic and rosemary by Sam and Sam Clark
Pistachio madeleines by Sam and Sam Clark

Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review

More than Yorkshire Puddings by Elaine Lemm

More than Yorkshire puddings

What’s the USP? It all depends on who you’re asking. According to the front cover, More Than Yorkshire Puddings features ‘food, stories and over 100 recipes from God’s Own County’. This isn’t exactly the truth, though. The back cover does a much better job, promising ‘both much-loved Yorkshire favourites and a wealth of multicultural recipes’. 

Who wrote it? Yorkshire-born food writer Elaine Lemm, who seems equally confused about the purpose of her book. In her preface, she starts by explaining the long route taken to get to this point. She originally pitched her idea to publishers Great Northern several years ago: a cookbook championing the culinary wealth of Yorkshire. There is more to Yorkshire than Yorkshire puddings, and she planned to celebrate all of it. In a move that is far funnier than it really should be, Great Northern promptly turned her down, waited six months, and then commissioned her to write a book solely about Yorkshire puddings. It did very well, by her own account.

A few years on and, as Lemm is keen to point out, after a change of management at Great Northern, she finally gets to offer us the book she envisioned all along. And the end result is… well, still very different from what was originally pitched.

Different how? More Than Yorkshire Puddings takes its title and ignores the final word. It offers us some classic Yorkshire dishes, sure. But the overwhelming majority of the book has nothing to do with Yorkshire at all. The back cover blurb does allude to this, suggesting that we’ll be offered a look at Lemm’s culinary journey. But what journey is really on show here? There’s no real throughline that connects the recipes. Some are inspired by her time training in Tuscany. Others are presented without any apparent reason or context at all.

There’s plenty of room on my bookshelves for cookbooks that capture the culinary id of the author. Titles filled with relatively disparate dishes connected by stories, or personality. But Lemm’s book frequently falls back on others for inspiration. A recipe named ‘The Ultimate Chilli’ comes with the disclaimer ‘at least according to my husband… given it is not my thing!’ Elsewhere, a recipe for BBQ Rib Eye Steak, Grilled Asparagus and Teriyaki Sauce, though tempting, appears to be provided unedited, photo and all, ‘courtesy of British Asparagus’. It makes for a cookbook that under-delivers on every promise it makes. 

So does Yorkshire feature at all? Yes! Enough to confuse readers further, but not so much to offer any real value. Though the front cover promises ‘over 100 recipes from God’s Own County’ there are only 88 recipes in the book itself, and barely 30 of them are even tangentially connected to Yorkshire. 

It’s a real shame, because being England’s largest county, Yorkshire has a wide and fascinating culinary culture to draw on. It is, indeed, more than Yorkshire puddings. There are varied traditional foods, including parkin, pikelets and curd tarts – only two of which are covered (briefly) here. It is home to the world famous Rhubarb Triangle, represented by just two recipes and a single mention. Hell, it’s the county that’s given us Jelly Babies, Kit-Kats, and Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. They aren’t high cuisine, but they’re all iconic parts of the British culinary landscape. But Lemm doesn’t seem that committed to the concept that she’s apparently been fighting for years to deliver. A brief introductory chapter knocks through the classics (yorkshire puds, game pies and treacle tarts), before the book gives way to a hodge-podge of unrelated dishes, from Cantonese Ginger Fish to dhal, stromboli, and chicken marbella. There’s a two page spread dedicated to the filipino noodle dish pancit, and the book rounds off with a recipe for risalamande, a sort of Danish Christmas pudding. 

What will I love? Look, the dishes themselves often look very tasty. It’s just that they usually have nothing to do with Yorkshire. You’ll love the rich, bright Torta di Pomodoro, the Burrata and Grilled Peaches, and the Coconut Shrimp – but is that what you bought a book about Yorkshire food for?

What won’t I love? Apart from the confused premise and pick and mix approach to recipes? More Than Yorkshire Puddings also boasts one of the worst indexes I’ve ever seen in a cookbook. There’s no individual listings for ingredients, types of dish, or even Yorkshire places referenced – it lists only the 88 recipes of the book and does so using the exact name used on the page. Which means that readers looking for the classic gingerbread cake parkin will need to know not to look under ‘P’, but rather ‘T’ for ‘Traditional Yorkshire Parkin’. Looking to make a Yorkshire Curd Tart? You’ll want to remember that Lemm’s recipe is for individual ones, and so they’re listed under the letter ‘I’. 

Should I buy it? Probably not. There’s a wealth of interesting cookbooks drawing on traditional British foods at the moment, including recent additions from Ben Mervis and Carol Wilson. Though both of those cover much bigger regions, they’re frankly still likely to feature slightly more dishes that authentically represent Yorkshire cuisine than this book.

Cuisine: British/International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cook
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book: More than Yorkshire Puddings by Elaine Lemm
£19.99, Great Northern Books Ltd

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

Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

torta pastiera

This recipe is inspired by my friend Maria Hedley, who originates from Sorrento and has made torta pastiera for me on many occasions. Last Easter (the traditional time for eating it), at her place in Dorset, we had had a magnificent Neapolitan lunch of cannelloni and needed a long walk to burn off the carbs. We walked for miles and miles along the stunning coastline, and throughout the walk we had the happy thought that we still had the torta pastiera to return to. Long strides of anticipation carried us back to Maria’s, where she made a pot of hot coffee, gave us each a small glass of cold, homemade orange liqueur (much like limoncello but with orange) and a slice of her torta… Heaven. As a tip: the great thing about this cake is that it tastes even better after a couple of days. 

Serves 8  

For the pastry
250g (9oz) tipo OO flour
100g (3½oz) unsalted butter
75g (2½oz) icing (confectioner’s) sugar, plus extra for dusting
pinch of sea salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon runny honey
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange

For the filling
150g (5½oz) grano cotto (or, pre-boil some risotto rice in water for 15 minutes until al dente; drain and cool)
350ml (12fl oz) whole milk
zest of 1 lemon
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
250g (9oz) caster (superfine) sugar
400g (14oz) sheep’s ricotta
75g (2½oz) candied orange and lemon peel, chopped
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
2 tablespoons orange blossom water (optional)

First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a large bowl, and add the butter, icing (confectioner’s) sugar and salt. Run your hands under the cold tap for a minute to make sure they are really cold, then dry them and, using your fingertips, work everything together until the mixture is almost like breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg, along with the milk, honey and lemon and orange zests. Mix well to combine, bringing the dough together into a smooth ball. Flatten the ball into a disc about 2cm (¾in) thick with the palm of your hand. Wrap the disc in cling film (plastic wrap) and leave it in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/325°F/Gas 3.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the rice in a large saucepan with the milk and lemon zest. Place the pan over a medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, then pour the mixture out over a large, clean baking tray to cool down.

In a large bowl, ideally with an electric hand whisk, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks with the caster (superfine) sugar until pale in colour. In another bowl, again using the electric hand whisk if you have one, whisk the ricotta for about 4 minutes so it is light and fluffy. Fold the ricotta into the beaten eggs. Add the cold cooked rice mixture, candied orange and lemon peel, vanilla seeds and orange blossom water (if using). Gently fold everything together so all the ingredients are well combined. Leave to one side.

Dust your work surface with icing (confectioner’s) sugar and remove the pastry from the fridge. Roll out the pastry to a disc about 5mm (¼in) thick, then transfer the disc to a loose-bottomed cake tin and press the pastry into the tin, leaving an overhang. Using a sharp knife, cut off the excess pastry and shape these trimmings into a ball. Roll out the ball of trimmings to a rectangle about 5mm (¼in) thick and, using a pasta ravioli cutter, cut strips from the rectangle of dough. Leave to one side.

Pour the filling mixture into the raw pastry case, then cover it with the strips of pastry and trim any overhang (see photograph). Bake the torta for 80 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Transfer the torta in the tin to a wire rack and leave it to cool completely. You can eat it on the day you bake it, but Italians tend to eat it at least one day after baking, as the flavour just gets better. Dust with icing (confectioner’s) sugar before serving.

Cook more from this book
Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall
Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall

Read the review
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

Buy this book 
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall
£26, Hardie Grant

Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall

20220110_TheoPantry_Prosciutto_Di_Parma_035

I first had a leek pasta dish at a restaurant called Da Cesare in Monforte D’Alba back in the mid-90s. It was probably one of the best meals I have ever eaten. The fresh pappardelle was almost orange in colour as it had so much egg yolk in the dough. The leeks had been very slowly cooked and were so sweet in flavour – a great example of how a single ingredient cooked carefully can turn into something amazing.

In this recipe I have used paccheri pasta, which is lovely as the sauce gets stuck inside the tubes. I think it has the best texture of all dried pastas. The addition of cream brings out the salty prosciutto di Parma flavour. If you prefer, you can use butter. 

Serves 4 

6 slices of prosciutto di Parma, sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, cut into 1cm (½in) pieces and thoroughly washed
100ml (3½fl oz) double (heavy) cream 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a little sea salt
500g (1lb 2oz) dried paccheri
100g (3½oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sliced prosciutto di Parma and cook it for a couple of minutes until crispy, then remove it from the pan and set it aside. Add the olive oil to the frying pan, then add the leeks, and cook them for 20 minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. When the leeks are soft and sticky, add the cream, parsley, garlic and crispy prosciutto. Stir and keep everything over a low heat while you cook the paccheri.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the paccheri one piece at a time so that the pasta doesn’t stick together. Stir well (paccheri is a heavy pasta so can stick to the bottom of the pan if you’re not careful) and cook the pasta for 3 minutes less than the packet suggests. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pasta from the water and add it to the frying pan. Add 2 ladlefuls of pasta cooking water to the sauce and cook the pasta and sauce together for a further 2 minutes, stirring all the time.

Sprinkle in the parmesan and toss the pasta so the sauce emulsifies and coats the tubes. Add a little more pasta water if you need to. Serve in warmed bowls with extra parmesan and black pepper sprinkled on top.

Cook more from this book
Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall
Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

Read the review
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

Buy this book 
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall
£26, Hardie Grant

Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall

20220215_TheoPantry_Aubergine_Lasagne_053

My mother used to make the most delicious lasagne – I used to get so excited when I knew it was coming. She was brilliant at making the béchamel sauce – it was always perfectly creamy but never thick and floury. The trick to this was to cook it very slowly and use equal quantities of flour and butter.

This is a vegetable lasagne, but it has as much flavour as the traditional meaty offering because you roast the aubergines (eggplant) first. Try to use egg-based lasagne sheets as they tend to have more flavour and are not as brittle when you cook them (or, better still, make your own sheets of pasta).

Serves 6
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 red onions, finely sliced
500g (1lb 2oz) courgettes (zucchini), cut into 1cm (½in) rounds
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
500g (1lb 2oz) tomato passata
8 basil leaves, roughly torn
3 aubergines (eggplants), sliced into 2cm (¾in) rounds
300g (10½oz) egg-based dried lasagne
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the béchamel
75g (2½oz) unsalted butter
75g (2½oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
500ml (17fl oz) whole milk, warmed to just below boiling point
150g (5½oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, courgettes (zucchini) and a good seasoning of salt. Cook for 20 minutes, until the onion and courgettes are soft. 

Heat another tablespoon of the olive oil in a separate saucepan, then add the garlic. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the passata and cook the mixture gently for 20 minutes, until reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper, then stir through the basil.

Brush both sides of the aubergine (eggplant) slices with olive oil and season them with salt. Place the aubergines in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake them for 15 minutes, then turn them over and bake them for a further 15 minutes. Remove the slices from the oven and, when they are cool enough to handle, cut them into halfmoons. Set them aside and leave the oven on.

To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and cook it out for a couple of minutes, stirring to combine. Next, add the hot milk and stir continuously to avoid any lumps forming. Cook the sauce gently for 20 minutes, stirring all the while, until smooth and thickened, then mix in the parmesan and check the seasoning. Leave to one side.

Mix the aubergines, courgettes, onions and tomato sauce together in a large bowl and check that everything is seasoned well. 

Use the remaining olive oil to oil a baking dish, then place a layer of lasagne sheets in the base of the dish. Add one-third of the vegetable mixture in an even layer, then top this with one-quarter of the béchamel sauce. Repeat this twice more, then finish with a layer of lasagne sheets and a final layer of béchamel sauce. Sprinkle the top with some more parmesan, then bake the lasagne for 35 minutes, until the pasta is cooked and the top is golden. Serve with a little extra grated parmesan on top, if you like.

Cook more from this book 
Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall
Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

Read the review 
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

Buy this book 
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall
£26, Hardie Grant

The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall

The Italian Pantry Theo Randall

It’s always a delight to get a new book by Theo Randall. Head chef and proprietor of his eponymous restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel Park Lane since 2006, and before that, famously head chef of The River Cafe, Randall knows his way around an Italian recipe. His fourth collection is dedicated to his late mother and is inspired by her pantry that was stocked with produce from vineyards and markets collected on family holiday camping trips to Italy. 

The book is divided into ten chapters, each themed around what Randall considers ‘essential Italian ingredients’ including tomatoes, polenta, parmesan, pine nuts, porcini and ricotta, as well as things that are less instantly recognisable as Italian such as breadcrumbs, lemons and leafy greens. All however are used to fine effect in delicious sounding dishes you’ll want to cook and eat. The book errs on the side of comfort food with warming oven baked dishes including aubergine and courgette lasagne and slow cooked chicken thighs with porcini mushrooms and marsala but there are lighter options too including a quinoa and charred vegetable salad. 

Whether writing about familiar dishes like pork shoulder cooked in milk (a version of a River Cafe classic) or some less well-known Italian specialities that he’s unearthed such as torta pastiera (a pie from Sorrento filled with grano cotto – cooked wheat –  rice, eggs and ricotta) Randall is always informative and engaging.  

In the introduction to the recipe for a simple Meyer lemon cake, he reminisces about his time working at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters in California where the thin-skinned fruit that Randall says taste like a cross between mandarin and lemon ‘grew in people’s back gardens, just like apples trees do in the UK, and are so plentiful you can barely give them away when they are in season’. It’s evocative stuff and the book is full of similarly inspirational anecdotes and musings that will have you raiding the Italian larder as enthusiastically as Randall himself.

This review was originally published in The Caterer. 

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

Buy this book 
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall
£26, Hardie Grant

Cook from this book
Aubergine and Courgette lasagne by Theo Randall
Paccheri with leeks, parmesan and prosciutto di Parma by Theo Randall
Torta pastiera by Theo Randall

On The Himalayan Trail by Romy Gill

On The Himalayan Trail by Romy Gill

What’s the USP? An exploration of the food from northernmost India – specifically Kashmir and Ladakh, which sit amongst the Himalayan mountain range and are home to a cuisine notably different from more southerly regions.

Who wrote it? Romy Gill, who has become such a familiar name in British food writing that it’s something of a surprise to see this is only her second cookbook. Gill has been a regular across a number of publications for some time now, and has previously run two acclaimed restaurants as well. 

The writing of On The Himalayan Trail was fuelled by a trip to the region in April 2021, deep into the pandemic, ‘when [India’s] ever-increasing case rates and deaths were making global headlines’. Gill justifies this decision in her introduction with a quote from Anthony Bourdain, and by claiming that ‘great things never come from staying in your comfort zone’ – a rock and roll attitude that feels a little at odds with the end goal: writing a cookbook.

Is it good bedtime reading? Besides the usual opening section, there are plenty of short essays scattered throughout the book, exploring the ingredients and geography of Kashmir in particular. It’s enough to raise the book above your average regional cookbook, at least in terms of reading.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Vague enough that my first attempt to cook one of its recipes was an unmitigated disaster, that’s for sure. I was keen to try the Kaleji Tchokh Charvan – a ‘spicy liver’ dish that subjects the liver to around 45 minutes of cooking, which seemed a little much. A final fifteen minutes simmering in what felt instinctively to be too little water finished it off – I looked away for three minutes and returned to a dried out pan full of burned food. Now, I don’t doubt that this mess was in no small part my fault – but I can’t remember the last time I’ve ruined a cookbook recipe to quite this extent, so Gill isn’t getting off entirely scot-free here.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Attempting to authentically recreate the dishes of one of the more remote regions of a country on the other side of the planet will always involve some shopping for some new ingredients, but for the most part Gill’s asks aren’t out of reach to British shoppers. On those occasions that you are asked to source something relatively obscure, like ‘turtle bean flour’, a more accessible alternative is given (in that case, buckwheat flour).

How often will I cook from the book? This one feels likely to be drawn from your shelf only occasionally. There are a fair few dishes here that would suit a weeknight cook, but On The Himalayan Trail is unlikely to be your first port of call.

What will I love? The book itself is gorgeous – Poras Chaudhary and Matt Russell’s photos are evocative and have a quiet reverence about them. The design, too, is clean and modern, and a step up from the year’s other big Himalayan title – Taste Tibet, which suffered from a dated and frequently overcrowded design.

What won’t I love? That spicy liver dish has left me feeling burned (though not as much as my dinner), and though my second foray into the book’s recipes turned out as expected, I wasn’t won over by the Gaad Te Tamatar: fish in a tomato gravy. 

Killer recipes: Kong Kokur (a saffron roast chicken dish), Muslim Rogan Josh, and Gogji (a turnip curry). 

Should I buy it? This is strictly one for people with a keen interest in Kashmir and Ladakh, I think – but those looking for exactly that are unlikely to be disappointed by a well-designed and well-researched book. Was it the greatness that Gill sought as she travelled amidst a global health crisis? Probably not.

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

Buy this book
On The Himalayan Trail by Romy Gill
£27, Hardie Grant Books

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

Quick and Easy Gluten Free by Becky Excell & The Gluten-Free Cookbook by Cristian Broglia

The most common thing people say to you when they find out that you’ve been diagnosed with coeliac disease is this: ‘well, thank god it’s happening to you today, and not ten years ago. There are so many gluten free options now.’ 

It’s meant to be helpful. A kind statement to offer a sense of reassurance as you begin your path through the joyless, run-down end of Flavour Town. But it ignores two fundamental truths. First, that almost without exception, gluten-free alternatives are significantly more expensive and absolutely nowhere near as tasty. And second, that you are not capable of seeing the positive side, because you are in mourning. You have just lost the ability to enjoy good pasta, pizza, or bread that comes in slices larger than a cream cracker. A cream cracker that you also cannot eat, for that matter.

Telling a newly diagnosed coeliac that they’re lucky the supermarkets now stock three types of shit biscuit is a bit like telling a recent widower to be grateful that their winter fuel costs will be more affordable now they only have to heat the house for one.

All of this is to say hello, my name is Stephen. Two months ago I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, and I’m still fuming.

Gluten is one of those invisible qualities in food that exists almost everywhere, has a phenomenal impact on the texture and quality of what we eat, but is also barely ever thought about by anyone who doesn’t absolutely have to. It rocks up in all the obvious places – anywhere you might reasonably expect flour to be involved. But it also works its way into foods you would never necessarily think of, like soy sauce, crisps and even, thanks to shared factory environments, Dairy Milk chocolate.

I’m lucky in one way I will happily admit: I’m already confident in the kitchen and know my way around lots of the simpler gluten-free substitutes. I also have a fairly decent amount of cookbooks that are filled with recipe ideas that are, in many cases, naturally gluten free. But one of the biggest issues facing coeliacs, and those with gluten intolerances, is that of convenience. Sufferers aren’t able to grab any book off the shelf, select the dish that looks best in the moment, and dive straight into cooking. There are ingredients to check, and processes to adapt. And so, to this end, gluten-free cookbooks offer many a lifeline.

The undisputed queen of the gluten-free cookbook world right now is Becky Excell, an influencer who was herself diagnosed with IBS in 2009, and has since released four titles aimed at enabling those on gluten-free diets to enjoy the sorts of food they might otherwise have considered forever off the table. Her latest, Quick + Easy Gluten Free, specifically offers up a range of meals that will take less than 30 minutes to cook – a godsend when takeaways are almost entirely inaccessible for those avoiding gluten. 

Like her previous books (which have included How to Make Anything Gluten Free and How to Bake Anything Gluten Free), Excell’s book focuses on offering authentic-tasting versions of dishes that traditionally would feature unworkable ingredients. Her approach of replicating those much-missed takeaway staples like crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls or even a Gluten Free Boneless Banquet inspired by KFC is an inspired change from the health-kick leanings of many other GF cookbooks, which often cater more to fad dieters than they do to those forced to give up their favourite foods.

Quick + Easy Gluten Free isn’t perfect by any means. Excell’s writing is firmly stuck in blog-mode, and she relies too often on recipe introductions that simply tell us how much she used to enjoy eating the dish before her diagnosis got in the way. Listen: I get it as much as anyone. We’re all mourning here. But Becky, you’ve got this, and there’s no need to tell your readers how good a dish once was when you’ve generally managed to create a near pitch-perfect copy. 

There’s a good variety in Excell’s book, too – from Swedish Meatballs to a Sticky Jerk-Style Chicken that isn’t authentic but is absolutely delicious nonetheless. Too often gluten free cookbooks end up offering the same small rotation of dishes – uninspired, unoriginal, and limited to exactly the drab corners of the food world that you feared upon initial diagnosis. Quick + Easy Gluten Free avoids this – but another recent addition to the free-from bookshelf manages to absolutely destroy any notion of gluten-free eating restricting your diet. 

I have long-standing issues with Phaidon’s global cookbook range, and was predictably wary about The Gluten-Free Cookbook, which was released at the beginning of the year. Phaidon’s books are notoriously low on both pictures and descriptions of the dishes they feature, which means home cooks often have to undertake an additional Google, or simply hope for the best when undertaking a recipe. At the same time, though, Phaidon is always on the money for authenticity, and so a sprawling volume featuring over 350 gluten-free recipes from around the globe will prove hard to resist to anyone who, like me, has no intention of letting coeliac disease get in the way of ambitious, fun cooking. 

Organised into broad chapters (‘Breakfast’, ‘Meat and Poultry’, ‘Desserts and Sweet Treats’), the recipes in Cristian Broglia’s book rarely seek to replicate more troublesome dishes, à la Becky Excell. Instead, the majority are already naturally gluten free favourites from every corner of the globe. Even the ‘Bread and Wraps’ chapter focuses almost exclusively on recipes that traditionally use alternative flours, from Serbian corn bread to the teff of Ethiopia’s injera. This is a joy: the opportunity to explore international flavours freely, without worrying about what’s going into the dish is what every person on a gluten-free diet dreams of.

Unfortunately, one of Phaidon’s common problems does get in the way here: too often in these huge recipe tomes poor editing leads to mistakes getting through into the final edition. In other cookbooks, this isn’t a huge issue. But here it could cause major discomfort for readers. At varying points throughout the volume, ingredients like Shaoxing cooking wine, Worcestershire sauce and gochujang are called for but all of these generally are not gluten-free, and nowhere does Broglia give adequate warning. Still, this is a relatively easy issue to fix, and given how useful the title will be to those on a gluten-free diet, one hopes there’ll be many future editions in which these amendments can be made. 

For now, then, readers will just have to undertake a little extra vigilance as they work their way around the world through The Gluten-Free Cookbook’s pages. There’s a phenomenal range to choose from: Belgian roasted potato soup, shrimp pad Thai, Canadian poutine, and several of Brazil’s most famous traditional dishes, including moqueca, pão de queijo and feijoada. Ingredients aren’t always easy to source, but that will prove no obstacle to an audience well-versed in digging around to find gluten-free goods that don’t taste like cardboard. 

It’s never going to be easy going gluten-free, but Becky Excell and Cristian Broglia have each offered up a spectacular cookbook that will make life a lot easier for thousands upon thousands of people. Either one of these titles could well claim to be the only gluten free cookbook you’ll ever need, but together they represent an absolutely indispensable gluten-free cookbook shelf.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginners, confident home cooks
Quick + Easy Gluten Free Review Rating: Four stars
The Gluten-Free Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy the books
Quick + Easy Gluten Free
£20, Quadrille
The Gluten-Free Cookbook
£35, Phaidon

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

Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage

Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage

Mezcla, meaning ‘mixture’ in Spanish, is a celebration of fusion food and represents a journey through author Ixta Belfrage’s childhood experiences of Italy, Brazil and Mexico. You may recognise Ixta as the co-author of Flavour alongside benevolent culinary overlord Yotam Ottolenghi. 

Many of the recipes are the meeting point of these cuisines. Cannelloni enchiladas for instance, with the tortillas swapped for lasagne sheets or the Brazilian beef dish rabada com agrião covered in Mexican mole. Alongside, are plenty of other dishes that take inspiration from around the globe and introduce us to unique interpretations of familiar dishes.

There is so much joy to be found in this book, not least from Yuki Sugiura’s photography which is almost as satisfying as eating the actual dishes. The recipes are positively unsubtle, vibrant and as if designed by algorithm for maximum satisfaction (there’s a recipe for half a loaf of sourdough with cheese, honey and chilli butter for goodness sake). 

Highlights of the quick cooks include oyster mushroom skewers covered in rose harissa and roasted until charred; a ricotta dip with hot sauce and pine nuts; marinated prawns with burnt lime; and a bavette steak covered in a soy and maple butter. A butternut and sage lasagne gratin, in which I wanted to submerge myself and never return, is a standout of the Entertaining section, alongside noodles made from omelette with a charred red pepper sauce; a mushroom and sesame roll; and a prawn lasagne with habanero oil.

It must be noted as the Belfrage does in the foreword, that fusion food comes with baggage. Despite all cuisine in some way being a result of thousands of years of migration, invasion, trade routes and cultural exchange, there are legitimate concerns around appropriation and the dilution of tradition.

We are in safe hands here though. Mezcla presents distinctive takes on recipes that feel familiar and new at the same time while still respecting the traditions from which they derive. It is a mezcla of playful, personal and imaginative cookery with recipes and inventiveness that you won’t find anywhere else.

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

Buy this book
Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

That Sounds So Good by Carla Lalli Music

That Sounds So Good

What’s the USP? What we have here is one of my favourite themes a cookbook can have: food is good, but sometimes it’s exhausting, let’s make it easier. That Sounds So Good offers up ‘100 real-life recipes for every day of the week’, and in its introduction author Carla Lalli Music says each of the dishes in the book ‘is designed to help remove any psychic and emotional barriers that get in the way of cooking at home’. A lovely sentiment, if one that sounds like the author’s editor might also be her therapist.

Who wrote it? Carla Lalli Music, who is perhaps best known for her video work at Bon Appetit, until she quit in 2020 in solidarity with her BIPOC colleagues, who had been chronically mistreated by the organisation. Music is also behind 2019’s Where Cooking Begins, which focused on uncomplicated recipes, and was as much about how to shop for food as it was how to cook what you bought.

Is it good bedtime reading? Better than many cookbooks. Often the titles with the most to read are those that have specific themes that allow for deep-dives on history, culture and so on. A short essay on the cheesemaking process. A few pages on the socio-economic impact of grains on Western European culture. Given that Music’s book is essentially ‘here are some nice recipes to try’, she gets a decent amount of writing in. From a lengthy introduction that takes in essential kitchenware and revisits ideas around food shopping to chunky histories for various recipes, there’s a lot to browse here.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Everything is kept neat and simple here, with ingredients kindly presented first in metric and then in the usual US-friendly imperial measurements. There’s also handy little sections at the bottom of each recipe that cover variations and substitutions that might aid the process.

How often will I cook from the book? Music’s promise of real-life recipes is definitely fulfilled here, and you could plausibly find yourself revisiting this book a few times in any given week. Perhaps the biggest achievement is that the end results don’t look or feel like quick and easy dishes thrown together in a relatively short amount of time.

When Jamie Oliver offers up an idea for a Gnarly Chicken with Sizzlin’ Broccoli, or whatever the hell he’s suggesting this time around, it does the job, but it rarely looks particularly impressive. Music’s dishes manage so much more: they are rich and varied, feel fresh and healthy, and would impress any guest passing through your dining room that evening.

Killer recipes: Pantry Eggs in Purgatory, Seared Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Lime Pickle, Spaghetti with Melted Cauliflower Sauce, Banana Galette with Cashew Frangipane… there are honestly too many to mention.

Should I buy it? Carla Lalli Music has hit upon a winner with this book, which offers an absolute wealth of original ideas and inspired twists on classic dishes. It almost does itself a disservice by reducing its central promise, ‘100 real-life recipes for every day of the week’ to a fraction of its vibrant cover. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s something of a cost of living crisis going on right now, and books like Music’s are exactly what we need. Filled with affordable food and adaptable recipes, I can see dishes like Brothy Basil Beans and Split Pea Soup with Mustard-Chilli Sizzle offering some affordable warmth in many a cold home this winter. The dishes here don’t just sound good – they look good, taste good, and feel good too.

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

Buy this book: That Sounds So Good by Carla Lalli Music
£25, Hardie Grant Books

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

Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Hazelnut Roulade with rosewater & raspberries

Paired Wine: Sparkling Rosé NV from Wiston Estate 

If you are reading this recipe on a dark, grizzly November day, I urge you to make this roulade and open a bottle of Wiston Sparkling Rosé. You will instantly be transported to a long, lazy, summer Sunday lunch in a sunny English garden. Roulades are a bit of a go-to in my kitchen if I need something that looks very impressive but is a doddle to make, be it sweet or savoury. Although I have suggested raspberries here, you could use redcurrants, rhubarb or strawberries, all of which match the red-fruit aromas in this delectable sparkling wine. As an aside, this rosé is also the ideal wine to serve with sweet-cured bacon and ricotta pancakes for brunch!

SERVES SIX TO EIGHT

4 egg whites
225g caster sugar
50g roasted hazelnuts, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
300ml double cream
Rosewater, to taste
200g raspberries, plus extra to serve Neutral vegetable oil, to grease 

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas mark 6. Grease a Swiss roll tin (23 × 33cm) with neutral vegetable oil and line with baking parchment.

Put the egg whites into the scrupulously clean bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk until stiff points form.

Still whisking, gradually add the sugar, about a heaped teaspoon at a time, and whisk well. By the time all the sugar is added the meringue should be glossy with very stiff peaks. Spread into the prepared tin, sprinkle with the nuts and bake for 8 minutes – it should be lightly coloured.

Reduce the temperature to 140°C fan/160°C/gas mark 3 and bake for another 20 minutes. Meanwhile, lay a large sheet of baking paper on a flat surface.

Remove the meringue from the oven and turn it over onto the sheet of baking paper (the nutty side will be underneath). Carefully peel off the lining paper from the meringue. Allow to cool for about 10–15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the rosewater according to taste. It is quite enthusiastic in flavour, so start with 1⁄2 teaspoon and taste to see if you need more.

Spread the whipped cream over the cold meringue and scatter with the raspberries.

Now form it into a Swiss roll shape. Using the base sheet of paper as an aid, roll the meringue firmly from one long side. Wrap in a fresh sheet of baking paper and chill in the fridge for an hour before serving.

Serve the roulade in thick slices, perhaps with more fresh raspberries on the side and a few chopped hazelnuts.

Cook more from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Buy the book: Watercress, Willow and Wine

Read the review

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Goats Cheese and Wasabi

Paired Wine: Bacchus from Lyme Bay Winery

These are perfectly behaved soufflés, with the second baking giving you, the cook, a comforting reassurance rather than blind panic as guests arrive. Surprisingly perhaps, since wasabi is associated with Japanese cuisine, this type of horseradish is grown in the south of England, and its fresh leaves give a peppery kick to dishes. It is available online but if it is hard to find, here you could instead use chives or watercress leaves (no stems). The citrus notes of the goat’s cheese match those in the Bacchus beautifully.

SERVES SIX

50g butter
25g panko breadcrumbs, blitzed briefly in a blender until very fine
40g plain flour
300ml milk, preferably full-fat
150g soft goat’s cheese, chopped or crumbled
3 tbsp chopped fresh wasabi leaves (washed and dried thoroughly)
3 large free-range eggs, separated 50ml double cream
30g Parmesan cheese, grated
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas mark 6.

Melt about 10g of the butter in a pan and sparingly brush the insides of six ramekins (approx. size 250ml). Coat the first with panko by rolling the breadcrumbs around until the base and sides are fully coated then tip the rest into the next ramekin and so on.

Melt the remaining butter in the pan over a medium heat. Add the flour and stir to cook for about 2 minutes.

Gradually add the milk – it should be full-fat but as I seldom buy it for one recipe, semi-skimmed works too if that is what you have in the fridge. Stir and gently bring to the boil. Cook for 3–4 minutes until it thickens. 

Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese, wasabi leaves and egg yolks. Beat well, taste and season, bearing in mind that you must slightly overseason to offset the neutrality of the egg whites. 

Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Mix an initial spoonful into the yolk mixture, which helps to blend it, and then carefully fold in the rest using a metal spoon, trying not to knock the air out.

Divide between the ramekins, almost to the top. Run a fingertip around the edge – this gives the soufflé a better chance to rise. 

Put the ramekins in a deep-sided baking tray. Fill the tray with boiling water so that it comes halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 15–20 minutes. Remove from the oven and out of the water bath and allow to cool. You can make these ahead at this point and keep in the fridge for baking later or the following day. 

When you are ready to serve, preheat the oven to 200°C fan/220°C/gas mark 7. Run a round-bladed knife around the inside edge of the soufflés and turn out into a buttered ovenproof dish. You can do this in individual dishes or a larger ceramic serving bowl. 

Pour the cream over the top, sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake for 10 minutes. Serve at once, possibly with a simple watercress salad on the side. 

Cook more from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Buy the book: Watercress, Willow and Wine

Read the review

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey

Monkfish Tail

Paired Wine: Native Grace Barrel Chardonnay from Henners Vineyard

The original dish that I planned to match with this wine was whole roasted turbot with fennel – and that would be delicious. But after a splendid tasting at Henners, I enjoyed a fabulous barbecued monkfish at the outstanding restaurant The Salt Room in Brighton. The smokiness of the ’nduja balances the barrel ferment, though you can replace it with smoked paprika for a less punchy element in the dish, while the ‘meaty’ texture of the monkfish is heaven with this wine. I was so taken with enjoying the English wine, the English seafood and great company, I neglected to ask the Chef for the recipe, so this is my reinvention from that inspiration.

SERVES TWO

Large jar of alargada white beans (about 700g undrained weight)*
Olive oil, for frying
1 large white onion, finely chopped
115g ’nduja
400–450ml vegetable stock (homemade if possible – keep on a simmer until needed)
1 monkfish tail (800g–1kg) – whole on the bone, skin and membrane removed
30g butter
100g samphire
Sea salt and black pepper

To serve:
Extra-virgin olive oil Smoked paprika (optional) Zest of 1 lemon

* The Perelló brand of alargada white beans is excellent but you can also make this with butter beans or even chickpeas. Do, however, buy them in jars not cans, as the texture and taste is so much better.

Please do read the method first because you can either cook the beans while the fish is cooking, or get ahead and prepare earlier – the beans (before the samphire is added) are very forgiving at being reheated. You won’t use all of the beans from a large jar but they are delicious next day as a salad with tomatoes and feta, or even on toast with some bacon!

Empty out the white beans into a sieve, rinse and drain. 

Heat a couple of glugs of oil in a large, heavy-based casserole (Le Creuset style) over a medium heat. Add the onions and leave to soften but not colour – about 10 minutes – stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat if they start to catch.

Add the ’nduja and, keeping the heat low, mix in well until it breaks down completely and the onions take on a rich red colour – about 5 minutes.

Tip in the drained beans and mix well with the onions. Add the heated stock and stir well again. Smush a couple of spoonfuls of the beans against the side of the casserole with a cooking spoon. This will give the dish a creamy texture. Continue to cook over a gentle heat for about 15 minutes – keep an eye on the stock level and add bit more if required.

Preheat the oven to 130°C fan/150°C/ gas mark 2.

Season the monkfish lightly with salt (bear in mind the samphire will give lots of saltiness to the dish).

Melt the butter until foaming in a large frying pan. Brown the monkfish on all sides (allow 4–5 minutes) and transfer to a roasting tin. Pour melted butter from the pan over the fish. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then turn the fish over and cook for further 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven, cover with aluminium foil, and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Ensure the bean mixture is hot and stir through the samphire – just enough to warm it through for 1 minute so that it does not lose its crunch. Do not be tempted to add more salt – the samphire will be naturally salty enough.

To serve, portion beans and samphire onto two plates, slice each fillet of monkfish down the side of the bone and place on the beans and samphire, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of smoked paprika. Finish with fresh lemon zest. 

Cook more from this book
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Buy the book: Watercress, Willow and Wine

Read the review

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Watercress, Willow and Wine by Cindy-Marie Harvey

High-Res Cover image

Watercress, Willow and Wine is a celebration of all things English wine covering the regions, vineyards and the wines themselves.  There are food pairings for a featured wine from each of the 33 wineries included in the book in the form of some of the best ingredients and food items produced local to the vineyard, as well as a matched recipe.

The author Cindy-Marie Harvey is a wine expert and former wine importer and owner of Love Wine Food Ltd, a private wine tour company. She has travelled continually for almost 25 years, visiting iconic wine estates across Italy, New Zealand, South America, Portugal and many others. This is her first book.

You should buy Watercress, Willow and Wine if you are curious about English wine and want to learn more, and would like to try some delicious recipes to match with some bottles you may not have tried before. How about mackerel tacos and gooseberry compote with a glass of Ridgeview Blanc de Noirs fizz, or linguine with crab, bottarga and lemon with Rathfinny’s Cradle Valley White?

Covering vineyards in the English counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, West Sussex, East Sussex, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Surry, as well as urban wineries in London and Gateshead, the book also acts as a useful touring guide to English wine country.

In addition to an overview of the English wineries and profiles of each of the wineries – some like Nyetimber that you will certainly have heard of, and some like Sugrue you may not have – Harvey has included lots of other useful stuff like a guide to the grape varieties used in English wine making, a glossary of wine terms and a guide to matching food and wine.  Beautiful hand drawn illustrations from Chloe Robertson complete the package.

As Julia Trustram-Eve of Wines of Great Britain says in her introduction, ‘The wine industry of Great Britain is at a pivotal moment in its history, so it couldn’t be a better time to discover more about this exciting wine region’. We agree and recommend you pick up a copy of Watercress, Willow and Wine, you won’t find a better introduction to English wine.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book: Watercress, Willow and Wine
£25, Love Wine Food Books

Cook from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Read an interview with Cindy-Marie Harvey

Outside by Gill Meller

Outside by Gill Meller

What’s up?  You haven’t had a look on your face like that since your tortoise died. 

I’m not sure I can go through this again 

Through what?

It’s another one. By him. 

Have you had a stroke? What are you talking about?

Gill Meller, he’s got a new book out.

Who?

Don’t tell me you don’t remember. The last one was during lockdown. I’m still not really over it.

Oh, you mean Gill Meller, alumni of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage organization and chef, food writer and teacher. His first book Gather won the Fortnum and Mason award for Best Debut Food Book in 2017 and his other books include root, steam, leaf, flower and Time, both of which you’ve reviewed.

Why are you talking like that? You sound like a newspaper article or something.

I’m not talking like anything. Anyway, I don’t know why you’ve got such a problem with him, I think he’s great. The books always look fantastic, and his recipes are ace. Let me see. Oh, it’s Andrew Montgomery doing the pics. I like him. That one of Meller in the woods, that’s stunning.

Hmm, what do you know? I’m the cookbook blogger. Give it here. Actually, before you do, check something for me.

What? That Gill Meller is still better looking and more successful than you, you bitter old…

Poetry. Is there any poetry in the book? 

Oh, good point. That’s what tipped you over the edge last time wasn’t it? Let me have a look. Nope, nothing, unless you count the recipe for ‘The Bacon Sandwich’ which is better than an Amanda Gorman stanza.

It’s called ‘the’ bacon sandwich? 

Yeah. Why? What’s the problem with that?

Nothing. Not really, it’s just, you know…

Oh God, I remember, you’ve got a problem with his recipe titles, haven’t you? ‘Unnecessarily overwritten, arch and twee constructions like ‘A tart for May’ and ‘Aubergines and roast tomatoes for everything’ are like fingernails down a blackboard to me’ is what you said. What is wrong with you?

Tell me some other titles, go on. Do your worst, let’s get it over with. 

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but they’re all just sort of normal.

What?! Let me see. 

Alright, don’t snatch! Learn some manners.

This is weird, ‘Salted cabbage salad with chestnut mushrooms and flaked seaweed’, ‘Wild garlic polenta with barbecued asparagus and crispy stinging nettles’. They are just sort of normal. No poetry, no offensive recipe titles. It’s almost like he’s read my review. 

Oh, do not flatter yourself! You sound ridiculous.

I’ll have you know I’m an internationally renowned food writer.

*yawns*

What is Outside actually about? Let me have a look at the back cover. ‘We shouldn’t be shutting doors anymore – we should be opening them’. That’s terrible advice. One, obvious security issue, who leaves their front door open? Two, you’re going to let all the heat out and no one can afford to do that, hasn’t he heard about the cost-of-living crisis? And three, you’re not really using the full functionality of a door if you’re just opening it are you? Doors by their very nature open and close. You might as well just have a hole in the wall if you’re never going to shut it. Stands to reason. 

Very funny, have you considered a career in stand up? Russell Howard must be shitting himself.    

Anyway, it doesn’t make any sense, I’m going to have to read the introduction, aren’t I?

I see you’ve deliberately ignored the bit on the back cover where it also says ‘Gill Meller’s new book Outside is a thoughtful celebration of the joys of cooking and eating outdoors’, but you know, comic effect is more important than accuracy. And it is your bloody job to read the introduction. 

Suppose.

*sighs*

Read out the best bits otherwise there’s just going to be a blank space.

You mean a silence? 

Erm, yeah, whatever. 

I’m through the first paragraph, no problem. I think everything’s going to be OK…

Well done you. Keep going. You’re a hero. 

Oh shit…spoke too soon. 

What is it now? Jesus. 

Writing. Creative writing. So much. Can’t breathe. Heart is racing. Must stay calm. 

Read it out, you’ll feel better. We’ll all feel better. 

What do you mean ‘we’ll all feel better’? Who is ‘we’?

Just read it, there’s a dear. 

So, he’s writing about moving to the countryside from the town when he was a kid and getting into bird watching as way of adapting to the change. Which is all fine, and then he says, ‘the rooks would fall on to the wing and dance up over the pine, tumbling, shrieking, wheeling to the weather. They cut a shifty, marauding form, but squabbled with eloquence as they turned and raked together, a black ballet in the afternoon.’ 

Gosh. That’s…a lot. It’s very descriptive though, isn’t it? I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy a black ballet in the afternoon. Don’t get distracted, what’s the book actually about?

OK, now were getting to it. He’s having a Proust’s madeleine moment except it involves a flask of soup and some bread. The general idea seems to be that by cooking and eating outside we can reconnect with a kinder gentler time when we were closer to nature and not so tied to technology. 

What, by having a picnic? 

Actually, yes. 

Well, you can’t beat Ginster’s and a packet of Frazzles in the park can you? 

Don’t forget your four pack of Special Brew, will you? That doesn’t sound very ‘elemental’ does it, you’re not going to discover ‘another aspect of our primal hardwiring’ with that heart attack on a paper plate are you? No, Gill has something a little more sophisticated in mind for you, like wild mushroom and thyme sausage rolls or a ham hock, potato and parsley terrine.  

Ooh, fancy. Actually, I do fancy that. Go on, what else is in the book?

Why don’t you have a look yourself? 

Because you’ve got to tell me. Otherwise, this doesn’t work.

What won’t work? Honestly, you are in a strange mood today. Well, there’s a chapter on cooking over fire, one on eating out (don’t even think about making a joke, it’s beneath even you) that’s based around raw preparations, a chapter on camping out (I’ll just pause for a moment here. Are you done? Good) which is really just more cooking over fire, a section on wild things (foraging) and an early autumn feast that’s based around setting a sheep on fire by the looks of things. 

That doesn’t sound very PC. 

Hold that call to PETA. It says, ‘A Sheep on Fire’ but what it actually means is ‘A Sheep on a Fire’ which is an entirely different thing. It’s already dead and has had a pole stuck up its…

That’s quite enough detail thanks. So, what are you cooking for us tonight then, oh former Masterchef semi-finalist. 

Can you be a ‘former Masterchef semi-finalist’? You either are or you aren’t. It’s a bit like being a president. 

What, do you tart about insisting people call you by your title? When they ask you for your name at Starbucks do say ‘Masterchef semi-finalist Lynes’.

No, of course not. At least not since the, er, incident. I’m not cooking anything if you’re just going to take the piss.  

Just pick a recipe.

Alright, I’m thinking. I’m not setting fire to a sheep, that’s for sure. I could make the hispi cabbage with miso, honey, tamari and sesame. Sounds nice. Oh, hold on, I’ll need ‘a bed of hot chunky embers’ and some clay to wrap the cabbage in. Maybe not. Smokey anchovies with baked wet garlic? But where am I going to get fresh anchovy fillet and wet garlic from? Venison cured with blackberries, elderberries, juniper and bay…no good, got to marinate the meat for 24 hours. 

You’re just looking for problems, aren’t you? Give me the book. Look, what’s wrong with lentils cooked with garlic, chilli and rosemary with baked eggs and kale. Or spatchcock chicken, aioli and toast. Or a lovely vegetarian ‘Campervan’ stew?

*shrugs*

Sorry, I didn’t hear you. 

I said ‘nothing’. 

Right then. Supermarket it is. Well, shall we go?

Yes, let’s go. 

They do not move.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book: Outside by Gill Meller
£30, Hardie Grant

 

Interview: Cindy-Marie Harvey, author of Watercress, Willow and Wine

What inspired you to come up with the idea for the book?
Like many people, there has been a potential book meandering around the edges of my mind for quite a while, and it was always going to be about food & wine pairing. But in lockdown, as all of the tours that I organise to vineyards around the world were not happening, I started doing online Zoom tastings for clients. I would choose between 6 – 10 wines and I would send recipes to match for clients to cook at home and share on screen during the tasting. I would also send suggestions of cheeses or charcuterie as easy pairings, and discovered a wealth of lesser known artisan cheeses and cured meats made in Britain. So after one particular English Wine tasting, with a glass of Pinot Blanc in hand, the germ of Watercress, Willow & Wine was created.

Why is it the right time for a book about English wine now?
English Wine is experiencing a really exciting time, as wine lovers both at home and abroad are starting to discover its quality and diversity. No longer a “patriotic one off” purchase, English wine is establishing a very loyal following – from sparkling wines that have repeatedly beaten top Champagne producers in blind tastings at international awards, through to crisp whites that delight the palate, fruit filled Rosés perfect for a picnic, even the fickle grape variety of Pinot Noir has found a happy new home in the South of England.

How did you develop the recipes for the book – were they directly inspired by your visits to the vineyards and tastings of the wine?
Some of the recipes draw inspiration from the produce of the county where the wine is produced, such as watercress in Hampshire. Some of them are inspired by my meanderings around the vineyards of the world, so might have an Italian influence but using clams from Cornwall or apples from Kent. Some of them indeed direct from the vineyards themselves. But the starting place was always the featured wine from each producer in the book. So it was a case of pouring a glass of the chosen wine, sitting quietly with a notebook and giving my creative food-brain free range to see what flavours the wine could inspire. It was such a tough job!

There’s a wide range of cuisines in the book, were you surprised at how adaptable the wines were in terms of dishes they would pair with?
Not really, as that was one of the reasons that I wrote the book – to share this incredible versatility with people. At the moment, quite a few wine lovers still think that we only make sparkling wines in this country – so spreading the word about what great food friendly still English wines there are being produced – and that will pair happily with a myriad of food styles. I hope the book encourages people to try new pairings – I’d love to see more people drinking white wine with cheese (rather than red) and also more people understanding that Sparkling wines are not just as an aperitif – but are fabulous with a meal as well.

It’s a beautiful book and I love the illustrations. Why did you decide on the drawings rather than photographs?
Much as I love great food photography, for this book I wanted a very quintessentially English feel – and was lucky enough to discover the brilliant illustrator, Chloe Robertson who lives just down the road from myself in the South Downs. As I envisioned the book as taking readers on a voyage of discovery of English wine, I wanted to make it as accessible as possible . I feel that illustrations are a lot more forgiving to the home cook – I’m sure that I’m not alone in having cooked a recipe for the first time and looked at the spectacular accompanying photo and been slightly disheartened at the comparison! Chloe’s beautiful illustrations give the cook an idea to aim for whilst still allowing for home creativity.

It’s arguable that, although English sparkling wines have been embraced by the public, the still wines are perhaps less well understood. Is there one wine and recipe pairing in the book that you would point to that would open people’s eyes to English still wines.
I absolutely agree, our still wines are getting better known but still don’t have the wider spread fame of our sparkling wines (yet!). A hard call to mention just one, but perhaps the Pinot Gris from Stopham in West Sussex paired with Chameleon Curry. The off dry style of the Pinot Gris is fabulous with a host of spicy foods but also so much more.

Readers will probably be familiar with the big named vineyards in the book like Nyetimber and Chapel Down. Where would you recommend people to start if they wanted to explore some of the lesser-known vineyards?
If they are lucky enough to live close to a vineyard, then start by booking a tasting visit on their own doorstep as it were! There are so many smaller, family run wine estates that welcome visitors by appointment, where a warm welcome awaits from the people who actually grow the grapes themselves! Do visit winegb.co.uk as they have over 200 wine estates listed – You can search by location, those that offer lunches, those with accommodation and everything you need to know for a visit! From the private English Wine tours that we have organised, I can definitely say that a day out visiting a couple of English wine estates, is a great way to celebrate a birthday or just getting together with friends.

How do you think English wine tourism compares to other wine regions around the world?
In its infancy for sure, but growing rapidly and generally in the right direction. It’s great to see winery restaurants opening up such as the new one at Wiston (West Sussex), at Sandridge Barton (Devon) and at Hambledon (Hampshire). But also smaller estates that offer platters of local cheeses, or as at Nutbourne (West Sussex), a glorious picnic full of home baked goodies and heritage tomatoes from a few fields away! Looking ahead, I think it’s important that wine estates remember that all visitors are different, and not to follow the “one size fits all” approach of some of the New World Cellar Door operations, where the personal touch has been lost.

Did you come to any conclusions about English wine as a region in terms of style compared to other regions around the world?
Not in terms of style, as there is so much diversity – from Bacchus grapes fermented in terracotta amphorae to late harvested Ortega grapes resulting in delicious dessert wine. But one thing that did emerge, was that being a relatively young wine region, that our winemakers are unfettered by tradition, which gives them a huge scope for experimentation – which is great news for us, the curious wine drinkers.

What will be your next project?
Well once I’ve been to Sicily, Alto Adige, Piemonte and Chile on tour this Autumn, I’ll start focusing on my next book – but a few more glasses of wine are still needed yet, for creative purposes of course, before I decide which region to focus on!

Cindy-Marie Harvey’s book Watercress, Willow and Wine is published 15 September 2022 by whitefox. Visit Cindy-Marie’s website, Love Wine Food, to find out more: lovewinefood.com

Buy this book: Watercress Willow and Wine by Cindy-Marie Harvey
£25, Love Wine Food Books 

Read the review 

Cook from this book
Roasted Monkfish Tail with ’Nduja, White Beans and Samphire by Cindy -Marie Harvey
Twice-Baked Goat’s Cheese and Wasabi Leaves Soufflé by Cindy-Marie Harvey
Hazelnut Roulade with Rosewater and Raspberries by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Core by Clare Smyth

Core by Clare Smyth
As the first and currently only British female chef to hold three Michelin stars, Clare Smyth needs no introduction. But in case you didn’t know, before opening Core restaurant in Notting Hill in 2017, Smyth was chef-patron of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, worked for Alain Ducasse in Monaco and staged at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Per Se, all of them three Michelin starred establishments. So it’s no surprise to flick through the gold lined pages of this sumptuously produced book to find immaculately presented, highly detailed and technically brilliant dishes.

From a ‘Caviar Sandwich’ – a perfect, tiny wedge of buckwheat pancake layered with sieved egg white and yolk bound in mayonnaise, creme fraiche, puffed buckwheat and caviar served on a beautiful bespoke wooden sphere – to a pear and verbena Eton mess that belies its name with a Faberge-like construction of upturned meringue dome filled with lemon verbena cream, pear puree, verbena jelly, compressed pear pearls and pear sorbet, topped with miniature discs of pear and meringue, each of the 60 recipes (there are also a further 70 recipes for stocks, sauces and breads) is an elegant work of culinary art.

Smyth calls her style ‘British fine dining’, eschewing and ‘excessive reliance on imported luxury ingredients’ and instead celebrating world class produce from the British Isles such as Scottish langoustines and Lake District hogget. In Smyth’s hands, even the humble potato (from a secret supplier she won’t reveal the name of) is transformed into a signature dish of astonishingly intense flavours. Cooked sous vide with kombu and dulse, topped with trout and herring roe and homemade salt and vinegar crisps and served with a dulse beurre blanc ‘Potato and Roe’ is an homage to the food of Smyth’s Northern Ireland coastal upbringing.

With a forward by Ramsay, introduction by journalist Kieran Morris, essays on subjects such as Smyth’s suppliers and informative recipe introductions, there’s plenty to read, while the colour food and landscape photography – and black and white shots of the restaurant in action –are stunning. It all adds up to an unmissable package that any ambitious cook will find inspiring.

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

Buy this book: Core by Clare Smyth 
£45, Phaidon

Live Fire by Helen Graves

Live Fire by Helen Graves

Live Fire is a book so dedicated to the subject of barbecue that it will convince you that you can cook over live fire all year round. But this isn’t just a barbecue book for all seasons, it’s for all cuisines too with carefully researched recipes from around the globe, bolstered by interviews with experts in many of the national and regional traditions featured.

The author is a widely published London-based food writer and editor of the highly rated, independently published Pit magazine that’s not just about food and fire, but also is about it, if that makes sense. Live Fire is Graves’s first book.

You should buy Live Fire if you are new to barbecue and need some guidance on equipment, accessories, what fuel to burn and cooking techniques. But you should buy it especially if you are an experienced barbecue cook and are looking to expand your repertoire.  With more than 100 recipes covering everything from a simple plate of sugar snap peas with mint (the sort of thing you’d imagine Fergus Henderson cooking if you let him near the barbecue) to expert-level smoked and braised ox cheek tacos, Graves has got every skill level, taste and occasion covered.

Things get even more interesting when Graves delves into those aforementioned global live fire culinary traditions that include suya – spicy beef skewers from West Africa, Vietnamese bun cha – barbecued pork with noodles and a dipping sauce, and Jamaican jerk chicken among many others. Each comes with a well researched and fascinating essay, making the book as much of an entertaining and informative read as it is a cooking manual.  That said, it’s worth the cover price alone for Graves’s version of the legendary tandoori lamb chops from Tayyabs restaurant in Whitechapel.

There are many barbecue books on the market, but none I’ve seen are quite like Live Fire. Even if you don’t have a barbecue and never intend buying one, I’d still recommend getting hold of a copy of this book. As Graves points out, you can use a cast iron griddle pan to cook many of the recipes. The result may not be quite the same, but at least you won’t be missing out on all those delicious dishes.

Buy this book: Live Fire by Helen Graves
£26, Hardie Grant

Cuisine: Barbecue
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Curry Everyday by Atul Kochhar

Curry Everyday by Atul Kochhar
Curry Everyday is a curry cookbook that isn’t entirely about curry. Instead, it’s introduced as a kind of culinary cultural exchange programme where the plant-based recipes are linked vaguely by the techniques, ingredients and heritage of making curry.

In the foreword, Atul Kochhar, Michelin-starred chef, restaurateur and author of this book as well as Atul’s Curries of the World and 30 Minute Curries defines curry as “a spiced dish with a sauce, gravy or masala base”. And here they are: Cauliflower Korma, Paneer in a Tomato and Cashew Nut Gravy and a series of dals, featuring alongside their colleagues from other countries such as Japanese Katsu and Thai curries. Then there’s soups and stews, Laksa, Iranian Fesenjān (called “Persian Curry” here) and saucy spiced things like Shakshuka which in a dim light and a bit of goodwill, give a decent impression of curry. And finally, what can only be avant garde, Free Jazz interpretations of curry like Pad Thai, Tteokbokki, Momos, stir-frys and salads.

There is much to love in this book. It’s a backpacker’s tour of continents, subcontinents and countries with recipes from places that are certainly underrepresented in my culinary output. There’s dishes from Yemen, Zimbabwe, the Maldives, Ethiopia, Nepal, Tibet, Iran, Afghanistan as well as Indian recipes from all points of the compass. Its globe-trotting nature however means you’ll need a multilingual spice cupboard or a well-stocked international supermarket nearby and some disposable cash.

The book is all business: a brief foreword, sparse introductions and meticulous descriptions of preparation, occasionally calling for bespoke spice powders without substitutes. I did however make one recipe that began with the preparation of sweetcorn and instructions to set aside for later use, only for it never to be mentioned again. In the scheme of things, not something to write to your local MP in outrage over but somewhat annoying when the recipe is called “Potato and Sweetcorn Curry” (so you can sleep easy, I chucked it in at the end).

This omission felt at odds with the otherwise exacting nature of the recipes and summarises some of the contradictions in this book: a publication called Curry Everyday that isn’t really about curry or for cooking from every day. There’s certainly curry recipes, though many that aren’t and while there’s meals that can become weeknight staples, lots call for complex ingredients making for longer cooking times. But like the sweetcorn, put it aside, forget about it and enjoy a fascinating and diverse range of recipes from across the world.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book: Curry Everyday by Atul Kochhar 
£26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Sea Salt by The Lea-Wilson Family

Sea Salt by Lea-Wilson Family

Sea Salt is the latest book to build itself around a single ingredient – but in letting that ingredient be ‘salt’, it might also be the most shoddily realised. See, salt isn’t a flavour most people aspire to taste. We use salt, every day, sure – but only to enhance the other flavours in our dish. ‘Salty’ is a term we use negatively to refer to our food. And so building an entire book around the concept of ‘salt’ doesn’t really work. Sea Salt doesn’t say ‘look at all these lovely dishes we built around salt’, but rather ‘here is a collection of dishes we like, that can be made even better with salt’.

The authors are ‘The Lea-Wilson Family’, but don’t worry if that means nothing to you. This isn’t a cookbook from the latest household of podcasting celebrities (see: Jessie and Lennie Ware, Chris and Rosie Ramsey, Idris and Sabrina Elba); this is the clan behind salt company Halen Môn. There is, then, a rather vested interest in selling the virtues of salt and, by extension, their specific range of goods.

You should buy Sea Salt for one reason, and one reason only: it has some lovely representation for Welsh food and culture. As well as each recipe’s name being transcribed in both English and Welsh, there are a few dishes that really champion what is perhaps Britain’s least recognised cuisine. So we have instructions for a Welsh Rarebit, of course, but also Fritto Misto and Moules Frites that, though Italian and French in origin, champion the local seafood.

The rest of the dishes look lovely and fresh, but offer very little originality. Worse: when something exciting does pop up, it often reveals the decidedly middle class world of the Lea-Wilson family. No sentence in a cookbook has ever isolated me more from the author than ‘use the mincing attachment on your mixer’. It’s not the fact they have one – it’s the fact they don’t seem to consider for a second that someone might not.

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

Buy this book
Sea Salt by The Lea-Wilson Family 
£26, White Lion Publishing

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

The Year of Miracles by Ella Risbridger

The Year of Miracles Ella Risbridger

The best food writing is never really about the food. There is almost always something else that sits at the heart of the food writing that most appeals to us; the essays, memoirs or cookbooks that we read cover to cover as though they were a novel. Food, when written well, is a character that interacts with the world around it. In the same way that The Great Gatsby isn’t really about Gatsby, or Nick, the very best food writing uses food to tell us more about ourselves, and who we are as individuals. 

Nigel Slater remains one of the finest food writers around – whether he’s using food nostalgia as a means to explore family is his memoir Toast, or simply to meditate on the value of the seasons in books like his two Greenfeast volumes. Even Julia Child seems to have a sort of philosophy on her mind when she writes about food. In My Life in France she writes that ‘No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing’, and comes across as a sort of gourmand Yoda. 

The Year of Miracles is the second cookbook by Ella Risbridger and, like its predecessor Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For), is about so much more than the recipes within. As debut cookbooks by non-household names go, Midnight Chicken was a phenomenal success, becoming a bestseller both in classic hardback and the less traditional novel-sized paperback formats, and winning Cookbook of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards in 2020. 

And, excellent a collection of recipes as it was, this success is every bit as much down to the real subject matter of the book. It was a book not about food, but finding peace for oneself through food. About coming to terms with what life has given you, and learning how to build something you want around that. Much of the book speaks lovingly of ‘The Tall Man’ – Risbridger’s partner with whom she shared a home. Their relationship is portrayed evocatively as one that, though not without its clashes, was built on mutual respect and a deep, empathetic love. Which made the revelation that was tucked away amidst the acknowledgements a tremendous gut punch for those readers who were not already aware of Risbridger’s story. Much of the book was written whilst her partner was receiving treatment in hospital. Around the time she handed in her final draft, The Tall Man passed away. Though this part of Risbridger’s life doesn’t directly feature in the book itself, it impacts it at every turn, with the author’s view the world inevitably tied to what that world is presenting to her. 

Now, three years on from the publication of Midnight Chicken, we are gifted The Year of Miracles. It doesn’t feel entirely right to call the new title a sequel – we should reserve those for superhero films and YA adaptations on Netflix. This is simply: a life, continued. We return to Risbridger at the beginning of 2020, as she leaves the tiny flat she had shared with The Tall Man (here named Jim, though this is a pseudonym, as are all the other friend’s names throughout the book). Some months have passed since Jim’s death, and though she continues to grieve, the action of moving into a new home with a close friend feels like the opportunity for a fresh start. Of course, fresh starts were few and far between at the beginning of 2020, and so a food diary about change and new beginnings turns into something that is about grief, and solitude, and friends, and the family we build for ourselves as the world falls apart around us. 

Fans of Midnight Chicken will find nothing to disappoint them here. Everything that made Risbridger’s first book so lovable returns for this, her fourth (she’s tucked a children’s novel and a poetry anthology in between). Elisa Cunningham’s bright illustrations return, offering imperfect visions of dishes that are sort of meant to be imperfect. Risbridger does not fuss with stiff, precise recipes. Her dishes are flexible, so that they can fit around whatever life is throwing at you. Her ingredients lists are gloriously candid, filled with little asides offering ideas for substitutes, or simply reassuring you. She calls for vanilla extract a number of times – the first comes with a plea ‘(not essence! never essence!)’, the second with practical advice: ‘(don’t worry about using very expensive stuff; they’ve run tests and you can’t tell in baked goods)’.

The recipes themselves are similarly unpretentious, with instructions that kindly explain why you do the things you do or, just as frequently, politely request that you ‘just trust me’ on the matter. As in Midnight Chicken, the dishes are a mix between big meals you might serve to friends (Bourride! Pho! Fish Pie!) and small moments of sustenance that will keep you going when you need them most. These dishes are often the most fun in the book – a celebration of the unlikely combinations we discover in our early adulthood, and can be raised infinitely with a smart food-centric mind like Risbridger’s. Here we have a Salt & Vinegar Crisp Omelette, Jacket Potato Garlic Soup, or Marmite Crumpet Cauliflower Cheese. 

These recipes might not speak to everyone, but they will resonate with many. Risbridger approaches food as a restorative action. For the soul, for the heart, and for just about anything else that might need it. Every element of The Year of Miracles offers an element of comfort. Even as we touch on grief, guilt and the frustrations of living through a pandemic, Risbridger’s prose is written with such a contemplative warmth that it is impossible not to feel comforted – if only in knowing that we are not suffering alone. 

As the miraculous year ticks along, and the seasons change, and lockdowns are lifted, we are exposed more and more to the friendships that fuel both Risbridger and the book itself. The best food writing is never really about food. Here, it is a way of connecting with friends, with those we love, those we have lost, and those we are only just getting to know. The food has as much to say as anyone in this story, and it serves as a means to bring people together – for a conversation in the park, a cry in the kitchen, or a singalong in the back garden. We don’t need food for any of these things, but it is there nonetheless, and it is something that can be shared between whoever might be nearby. Something to bring us all together. 

It seems very likely that we can expect a third cookbook from Ella Risbridger at some point. After these first two, it would be a huge shame if there were not. What’s harder to guess is whether that third book will be all that similar to the two that came before it. The Year of Miracles itself was never intended to look like this, with the author initially pitching a ‘cheerful dinner-party’ cookbook. Perhaps that’s what we’ll get next. In a way, you sort of hope for it. For Risbridger to have an opportunity to explore something new. And down the line, maybe, there’ll be time again for another book like this. Not a sequel, simply: a life, continued.

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

Buy this book:
The Year of Miracles by Ella Risbridger
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

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

 

Kin Thai by John Chantarasak

Kin Thai by John Chantarasak
Ahead of the opening of his AngloThai restaurant later this year in central London, cult chef John Chantarasak has published his first cookbook. Kin Thai (‘eat Thai’) contains 60 recipes fusing Thai cuisine with British ingredients, reflecting Chantarasak’s heritage as a Liverpudlian born to an English mother and Thai father. In Chantarasak’s hands, the classic salad of som tam becomes ‘som tam farang’ (farang is Thai slang for ‘white foreigner’) with the usual unripe green papaya replaced by thinly shredded carrot, celeriac and parsnip which are pounded in a pestle and mortar with chillies, garlic, palm sugar, tamarind, fish sauce and lime juice to make a dish with the quintessential Thai taste combination of spicy, salty sweet and sour.

Chantarasak has been generous in sharing knowledge acquired from childhood trips to Bangkok where he ate his grandmother’s food, the 18 months he spent in the city working in David Thompson’s kitchen at Nahm, and as sous chef of London’s highly regarded Thai restaurant Som Saa. The expansive introduction covers the regional cuisine of Thailand and the British ingredients Chantarasak favours such as sea arrowgrass that he says has a flavour reminiscent of coriander, as well as Thai staples including yellow soybean sauce, dried shrimp and white cardamom.

He also outlines equipment, such a traditional clay mortar and wooden pestle, heavy cleaver and spice grinder that are ideal for preparing the book’s recipes that are divided into chapters covering salads and laab (Thai steak tartare), grilled dishes, relishes, soups and braises, stir fries, curries, snacks and sweets. Some of the dishes, such as Muslim-spiced curry of beef short rib, require numerous ingredients and are labour intensive, but many, including a classic pad thai or grilled coriander and garlic chicken, are much more straightforward.

The clearly written and easy to follow methods and informative chapter and recipe introductions mean that even chefs new to Thai cuisine will feel like instant experts after a few days spent studying the book, which, with its mouth-watering food photography and design as colourful and vibrant as the recipes it contains, would be no hardship at all.

Cuisine: Thai
Suitable for: Beginner, confident home cooks and professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book:
Kin Thai by John Chantarasak
£22, Hardie Grant

Greenfeast by Nigel Slater

Greenfeast is a two-part collection of seasonal, no-frills plant-based recipes from multi-award winning author, journalist and presenter Nigel Slater. These books represent some of his most recent output, alongside A Cook’s Book, in a career now spanning three decades. My parents cooked from his books, as I do now and in a testament to his quality and longevity, I wouldn’t be surprised if in thirty years time my children do too. His work is to have a constant reassuring presence in the kitchen, the culinary equivalent of calling your mum or putting on a favourite jumper. (He also really looks like my friend’s Dad, so maybe I feel like he’s been a bigger part of my life than most people.)

The first volume Spring, Summer contains lighter recipes for lighter nights, the kind of thing to throw together to eat on a picnic blanket and moan about how hot it is. The second collection of recipes, Autumn, Winter are heartier and more nourishing, ones to draw the curtains, leave to simmer and long for the days of moaning about how hot it is. Both books are divided into vague chapters such as In a Bowl, On a Plate and With a Ladle – the latter being to serve, not to consume with. Regardless of what you eat them with, the recipes are straightforward, informal and wholly appetising.

You should buy Greenfeast if you want to grab a few ingredients, mix together with a handful of this, a dollop of that and get something tasty to eat. There’s plenty to go on here: broths, stir-frys, curries, salads, pastas, stews, burgers and more. Some are spectacular in their simplicity like Spring, Summer’s mushrooms on toast with a pea, herb and lemon puree; and orzo with smoked mozzarella and thyme from Autumn, Winter. Most recipes though are unfussy, hearty food. Spring, Summer highlights include aubergine, chilli and soy; shiitake, coconut, soba noodles; and fettuccine with samphire and lemon. From Autumn, Winter: milk, mushrooms and rice; sweet potato, cashew nut and coconut curry; and beetroot with sauerkraut and dill. The writing is masterful – it’s Nigel Slater, guys – descriptive, homely and approachable all at once. You get the impression that these are the sort of things he would cook you if you popped round for tea, waiting politely while he nips out to the garden to grab a few more broad beans to chuck in the lasagne.

The seasonal approach to cooking is a great idea in principle but considering we have roughly three days of summer in this country, most recipes will be suitable for all year round. If you were to get one, I would say Autumn, Winter has the most diverse and interesting recipes, though both would make great additions to the kitchen shelf for the next thirty years or so.

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

Buy this book:
Greenfeast: spring, summer
£24, 4th Estate
Greenfeast: autumn, winter
£22, 4th Estate

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi

Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi

What’s the USP? Flavour is the third in the series of Ottolenghi’s veggie focused books following on from Plenty and Plenty More. This edition focuses on maximising the distinct characteristics of different vegetables and exploring cooking techniques to ramp up their flavours to create “flavour bombs”. The book is divided into three categories – Process, Pairing and Produce – with each featuring subcategories discussing further techniques for making the most of vegetables. Process for instance, delves into charring and ageing; Pairing has sections dedicated to acidity and chilli; while Produce is all about the ingredients themselves. 

Who wrote it? Yotam Ottolenghi, who if you’re reading this blog likely needs no introduction. If you do need a reminder, he’s the reason you chargrill your broccoli rather than boil it. And if you need more than that, he’s an internationally renowned writer, chef and restaurateur. He’s joined by frequent collaborators from the Ottolenghi family Ixta Belfrage and Tara Wigley. 

Is it good bedtime reading? Only if you want to get back out of bed to start cooking. There are insightful and in-depth forewords to each of the book’s sections though the main value of this book will be found in the kitchen. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Not at all. Everything is written with the utmost care and attention to weight and size with all opportunities for doubt removed. Instead of fretting about whether your small onion is actually medium-sized or if your handful of herbs depends on how big your mitts are, it’s listed in precise measurements (if you’re interested, one small onion is 60g). 

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? We often have a philosophical Ottolenghi-chicken or egg debate in our household: do the Ottolenghi team make recipes based on what they can find at Waitrose or do Waitrose stock Ottolenghi ingredients knowing their customers are likely to own a copy or two? All of this is to say you can get 99% of what you need in this book from Waitrose, including the more unusual ingredients such as dried black limes or Aleppo chilli flakes. You’ll also find them more affordably at an international supermarket if you should have one near. Failing that, Ottolenghi have their own online pantry for you to order from including the 20 main ingredients you’ll need for this book. 

What’s the faff factor? That definitely depends on what you’re making. Some of these recipes take hours and are all the better for it such as Spicy Mushroom Lasagne and Aubergine Dumplings alla Parmigiana. Many others require little effort and with most recipes, you can take shortcuts to reduce the time. My first try at Swede Gnocchi with Miso Butter took most of the evening making the gnocchi from scratch. The second time took minutes, simply making the sauce and using pre-made gnocchi. 

How often will I cook from the book?  While suffering from a bout of COVID-19 at the beginning of the year, I itemised every recipe I wanted to cook from every cookbook I own to pass the time (don’t judge me, it was a simpler time). Such is the depth of the recipes in this book, I listed almost every recipe from Flavour. There are meals for all occasions in here: quick weeknight dinners such as Spicy Berbere Ratatouille with Coconut Salsa, adventurous weekend cooking projects like Cheese Tamales, or adventurous weekend cooking projects that can be modified to be quick weeknight dinners like the Stuffed Aubergine in Curry and Coconut Dal. I have yet to stop returning to this book for old favourites or to find something new.

Killer recipes: Stuffed Aubergine in Curry and Coconut Dal, Spicy Berbere Ratatouille with Coconut Salsa, Hasselback Beetroot with Lime Leaf Butter, Miso Butter Onions, Oyster Mushroom Tacos, Tofu Meatball Korma, Charred Peppers and Fresh Corn Polenta with Soy-Cured Yolk… I really could list the whole book here.

Should I buy it? If you haven’t already bought it by this point I haven’t done a good enough job in this review. 

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

Buy this book
Ottolenghi, Flavour
£27, Ebury Press

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk.

Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew

Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
Tokyo Up Late is a guide to the after-dark dishes of Japan’s sprawling capital city. Taking you through the long night with recipes that reflect that breadth of gastronomical options Tokyo offers even in the depths of the witching hour, the book attempts to offer something fresh in the increasingly crowded Japanese cookbook market. Whether it succeeds is another matter entirely.

Starting with the food you may find in izakayas – Japan’s popular type of bar, which often serves a range of light meals and snacks that put your local Greene King to shame – the book also offers a look at a cross-section of the city’s society. From makanai (meals served to restaurant workers at the end of their shifts) to fast food, convenience stores and the late night snacks eaten once the evening comes to a close, there’s plenty of ideas here, but very little that hasn’t been shared elsewhere already.

The author is Brendan Liew, whose last book, Tokyo Local, offered a similar look at the practical everyday eating of the city. Liew’s writing here is well researched, but frequently let down by the book’s design, which clumps paragraphs together into a hard to read mass. It’s not the only design flaw in a title that often feels fairly claustrophobic to look at. Gorta Yuuki’s photography and Yuko Yamaguchi’s food styling both work hard to overcome the oppressive colour scheme and blocky prose, but it’s too big an ask.

You should buy Tokyo Up Late for a friend who has a real obsession with recreating Japanese food at home, and the commitment to follow through. Whilst many of the ideas here have been presented previously (and more accessibly) in books like Tokyo Cult Recipes or Tim Anderson’s recent Your Home Izakaya, Liew is a stickler for authenticity, and regularly calls for hard-to-find ingredients like zarame or usukuchi soy sauce. There are some tasty looking dishes here, including a lovingly-presented egg sando and a tempting instant ramen carbonara. But Japan’s cuisine is well-represented on bookshelves at the moment, and this is unlikely to be anybody’s first port of call – especially at the end of a long day.

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

Buy this book
Tokyo Up Late by Brendan Liew
£26, Smith Street Books

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

Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa

Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa

Taste Tibet is a collection of recipes from Tibet, drawing on the warming foods that feed local cooks in the often challenging climate of the region. 

The author is Julie Kleeman, who works in close collaboration with her husband Yeshi Jampa. Kleeman might do the heavy lifting on the writing front, but it’s Jampa who brings the authenticity, having learnt how to cook in a tent on the Tibetan plateau, where he grew up herding livestock with his family. The pair now live in Oxford, serving Tibetan dishes from a restaurant that shares its name with this book.

You should buy Taste Tibet for an insight into the culture of the region – though perhaps not as much insight into its ongoing independence movement as you might expect. Those looking for comforting foods will certainly find something here – though the book received a spring release, its dishes are better suited to the colder months. There’s not as much variety as one might hope for – the same base ingredients star in an overwhelming amount of the dishes. It’s tempting to put this down to the limited options available to locals in the region, but that doesn’t ring entirely true – Taste Tibet is one of a number of recent books exploring the cuisines around the Himalayas, and others (including Santosh Shah’s Ayla and Romy Gill’s On The Himalayan Trail) manage to do so with much more variety. Perhaps opt for those, unless you are specifically interested in Tibet.

Cuisine: Tibetan
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book
Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa
£25, Murdoch Books

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

Coriander & peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Badam ko chutney - Coriander & peanut chutney
MAKES 4–6 SERVINGS

The freshness of this chutney is perfect to accompany Sherpa Roti (Sherpa Fried Bread, see page 180) and Pyaj Ke Kachari (Crispy Onion Beignets, see page 39). To keep the colour a vibrant green, prepare it at the last minute.

ingredients
150g (5½oz) fresh coriander
50g (⅓ cup) blanched peanuts
15g (½oz) fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 green chillies, tailed and chopped
75ml (⅓ cup) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
An airtight container, for storing

Method
Wash the coriander and pat dry with kitchen paper (paper towels). Chop roughly.

Combine all the ingredients in a large pestle and mortar and crush to obtain a thick paste. Alternatively, blend all the ingredients in a small food processor.

Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar, salt or lemon juice as needed.

This should be eaten on the day it is made, and stored in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Aloo ko tarkari – potato curry by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

Steamed chicken momos with ginger & chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) – by Santosh Shah

Kukhura ko momo - Steamed chicken momos with ginger & chilli with a tomato sesame chutney

MAKES 20 (ALLOW 5 PER SERVING)

Originating in Tibet, momos are now Nepal’s most popular dish – we have them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Minced (ground) buffalo meat is often used in the filling, but you can substitute a meat filling with a mixture of finely chopped vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, broccoli and asparagus. They can be served with any chutney but I like to pair them with a Tomato Sesame Chutney.

Tip: If you prefer, you can skip making the momo wrappers and substitute these with 20 sheets of store-bought round dumpling pastry.

For the wrappers
200g (1½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 good pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch), to dust

For the filling
250g (9oz) free-range chicken thighs, skinned, boned and finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2.5-cm (1-in) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 fresh green bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
1 spring onion (scallion), finely chopped
1 small lemongrass stick, finely chopped
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh coriander (chopped)
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
¾ teaspoon salt
Juice of ½ a lemon

To serve:
Served with any chutney. I like to pair them with a Tomato Sesame Chutney (page 151 in Ayla)
Finely sliced red onion and chopped coriander (cilantro)

Special equipment: A large steamer basket

Method:

For the wrapper dough (if making), sift the flour and baking powder onto a clean work surface. Make a well in the centre, sprinkle in the salt and 50ml (3½ tablespoons) of water. Start working the dough with your hands. Add another 50ml (3½ tablespoons) of water and continue to work until the dough is formed. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cover with a dry kitchen towel (dishcloth) and set aside for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, make the filling. Place all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and set aside.

Make the wrappers. Transfer the dough onto a tabletop well dusted with flour. Roll with your hands into a long cylindrical shape about 2.5cm (1in) in diameter. Cut into pieces about 2.5cm (1in) wide. Dust with flour and flatten each piece into a circular shape. Roll out each piece with a rolling pin until you have a circle about 8cm (3¼in) in diameter and the thickness of 1–2mm. Dust the pastry with cornflour between each layer and cover the wrappers with a damp kitchen towel (dishcloth) to prevent them from getting dry.

Take a momo wrapper and wet the edge of the pastry with a little water. Place a heaped teaspoonful of the filling mixture in the centre and starting from one point on the outer edge of the wrapper, make a succession of small pleats, in a circular motion, until you come back to the starting point. Now hold all the pleats together and twist them slightly to seal the opening. Repeat the process to make the rest of the momos and keep them covered. Transfer all the momos into a large steamer basket. Steam over high heat for 10–12 minutes, until the filling is well cooked. To serve, place a dollop of chutney on a serving plate, place 5 momos on top and garnish with sliced red onion and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.

Cook more from this book
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Aloo ko tarkari – potato curry by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah

Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu - Crispy chilli chicken
One of our most popular street foods in Nepal is a direct influence from our Indo-Chinese borders: crispy chilli chicken. It is found everywhere, usually served with soup and chow mein. The success of this dish is all in the technique. First the chicken cubes are coated and deep-fried until golden and beautifully crispy. Then the sauce, prepared in an extremely hot wok, wraps the crispy chicken in a caramelized, charred, umami seal.

It is traditionally served with Amilo Piro Tato Kukhura Ko Jhol (Hot & Sour Soup, see page 68 in the book).

For the chicken
2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
¼ teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder, or medium hot chilli powder
¼ teaspoon salt
400g (14oz) skinless, free-range chicken breasts, cut into 2.5-cm (1-in) cubes
500ml (2 cups) vegetable oil, for deep-frying

For the sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
15g (½oz) fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 fresh green chillies, finely chopped
100g (1 cup) chopped onion
150g (1⅓ cup) diced mixed (bell) peppers
½ chicken stock cube
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch) mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1 large pinch of timmur peppercorns, or Sichuan peppercorns
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon Luiche Masala (Chicken Garam Masala, see page 193 in the book)
4 tablespoons finely sliced spring onions
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

Equipment: A kitchen thermometer

To serve (optional)
Amilo Piro Tato Kukhura Ko Jhol (Hot & Sour Soup, see page 68 in the book)

Method
First, marinate the chicken. Place the cornflour, plain flour, chilli powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Add 4 tablespoons of water and mix until well blended. Add the chicken cubes and toss until well coated.

Heat the 500ml (2 cups) of oil in a large wok until it reaches 180°C (350°F). Deep-fry the coated chicken cubes, in batches, for approximately 7–8 minutes until golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper (paper towels) and set aside. Discard the oil.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in the wok over high heat. Stir-fry the ginger, garlic and chillies for 1 minute, until golden. Add the onion and (bell) peppers and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes until charred, stirring frequently. Add about 200ml (scant 1 cup) water and the ½ chicken stock cube and cook for about 3 minutes, until reduced by three quarters. Add the fried chicken pieces, soy sauce and vinegar, and stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the cornflour mix and cook for 1 minute until the mixture is thick enough to coat the chicken and the mixture is well caramelized. Finish by adding the timmur, cumin and garam masala. Adjust the seasoning and add salt if needed, then add the coriander.

Serve the chicken hot and crispy, topped with the sliced spring onions. Offer a bowl of the hot and sour soup, if you like.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Aloo ko tarkari – potato curry by Santosh Shah
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

Aloo ko tarkari – Potato curry by Santosh Shah

Aloo ko tarkari Potato curry

SERVES 4

Aloo Ko Tarkari (potato curry) is so often eaten with puri, that I have combined the two recipes for you here. Puri are also served alongside other dishes, such as Chana Ko Dal (Spicy Chickpeas, see page 93 of the book). The puri here are vegan, but see page 177 of the book for an alternative recipe, with the option of ghee (clarified butter), and if you want to make them without the potato curry.

For the puri (makes 20)
500g (3¾ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour or roti (chapati) flour, or an equal mixture of both
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, for working into the dough
1 litre (4 cups) vegetable oil, for deep-frying
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for rolling

For the potato curry
2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon nigella seeds
½ teaspoon garlic paste
½ teaspoon ginger paste
500g (18oz) red-skinned waxy potatoes, unpeeled and diced
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 dried hot red chillies, crushed
¼ teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder, or medium hot chilli powder
½ teaspoon Sakahar Barha Masala (Vegetable Garam Masala, see page 194 of the book)
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock, or water

A kitchen thermometer

Method

First, make the puri dough. Combine the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the 1 tablespoon of oil and, using your fingers, work the oil into the flour until well incorporated. Make a well in the flour and measure out 250ml (1 cup) of water. Add some of the water into the well and start mixing the dough, gradually adding the remaining water, a little at a time, until a firm dough forms. Knead the dough well with your hands for about 10 minutes until soft and elastic. Cover with a clean damp cloth and set aside for 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 20 pieces and keep them covered.

Make the potato curry. Heat the oil in a medium non-stick frying pan. Add the fenugreek seeds and let them crackle until they turn dark brown.  Add the cumin and nigella seeds. Cook them for a few seconds just until they crackle. Add the garlic and ginger pastes, potato cubes, salt, crushed red chillies and all the ground spices. Sauté for a couple of minutes, until the potatoes are well coated with oil and spices. Add the vegetable stock or water, bring the mixture to the boil, and then turn down the heat to low.

Simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the potatoes are soft. When the potatoes are soft enough, start stirring them while lightly crushing them with a spatula. You want the potatoes to absorb all the liquid and to have some chunkiness and texture. When they are thick and glossy from the juices, they are ready.

While the potatoes are cooking, fry the puri. Heat the oil in a deep sauté pan until it reaches 190°C (375°F). Roll one of the dough pieces in your hand to make a smooth ball. Apply a little oil on the dough ball and roll it out on an oiled surface with a rolling pin to obtain a 10-cm (4-in) disc. Repeat with the other dough balls. Keep the discs covered with a wet cloth. Place a puri in the hot oil. When it rises to the surface, press it down very gently into the oil with a skimmer. The puri will start puffing up. Flip it over and cook for a few seconds. When the puri are crisp and golden brown – this should take a couple of minutes on each side – remove from the oil and place on kitchen paper (paper towels) to drain.

Serve the potato curry hot with the crisp puri on the side.

Cook more from this book
Steamed chicken momos with ginger and chilli with a tomato sesame chutney (Kukhura ko momo) by Santosh Shah
Crispy chilli chicken (Swadilo piro tareko valeko masu) by Santosh Shah
Coriander and peanut chutney (Badam ko chutney) by Santosh Shah

Read the Review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas by Santosh Shah.
£20, DK

Photographer: Matt Russell

 

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi

Ottolenghi Test kitchen
Think of Shelf Love as a culinary extemporisation by the Modern Ottolenghi Quintet featuring Noor Murad, Verena Lochmuller, Ixta Belfrage, Tara Wigley and Gitai Fisher. They are the key players who work at the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen (OTK) in a converted railway arch in north London devising recipes with Yotam Ottolenghi for his cookbooks and restaurant and cafe empire. Shelf Love is the first of a planned series of OTK-branded cookbooks and is designed to help you work with what you have in the house and make the most of (and improvise with) the ingredients lurking on your shelves, in your veg box, in your fridge and in your freezer. There’s a chapter on sweet things too thrown in for good measure.

You should buy Shelf Love if you ever find yourself staring vacantly into your fridge at six o’clock at night wondering what on earth you are going to make for dinner. The book is not only packed with thrillingly delicious recipes such as magical chicken and parmesan soup with papparedelle; one pan crispy spaghetti with chicken; spicy pulled pork vindaloo; sweet potato shakshuka with sriracha butter and pickled onions, and carrot cake sandwich cookies, but each one comes annotated with a ‘make it your own’ footnote with suggestions for substitutions and alternatives. As you cook through it, Shelf Love encourages you to think for yourself so that one day you may not be left with unloved ingredients at the back of your fridge, but you will still want to keep the book in a prominent position on you kitchen bookshelf.

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

Buy this book
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi
£25, Ebury Press

Weekend by Matt Tebbutt

Weekend by Matt Tebbutt

Weekend is an old fashioned famous white bloke’s cookbook. The 100 motley recipes that brazenly raid global cooking traditions – like famous white bloke’s cookbooks  tend to do – are hung around the thin premise of ‘weekend’ cooking when notionally you have more time to spend in the kitchen.  In reality, you could knock many of the recipes up at any time of the week. But no matter, the concept doesn’t seem to detain Tebbutt too much, who expounds on it briefly in some fleeting introductory passages, so let’s not let it spoil our fun. There’s some nice things to cook here.

The author is Saturday morning BBC TV’s Mr Wobbly Head Matt Tebbutt, presenter of Saturday Kitchen. He formerly ran The Foxhunter pub in Wales and has worked in the kitchens of top chefs Marco Pierre White and Alistair Little, among others.  That dates him.

You should buy Weekend if you want to cook some nice things to eat. It’s really no more complicated, or interesting than that. Recipes are divided into six chapters: Friday Night (I’m not even going to try explain what that’s meant to mean as I’ll have to use the phrase ‘ fuss-free fodder’ and then I’d have to kill myself); breakfast and brunch; lunch and BBQ; Saturday night (when you’re not watching Britain’s Got Talent in your PJs with a Domino’s, apparently); Sunday lunch and Desserts.

The head-spinningly varied collection careens from Portuguese chicken, coriander and garlic soup to Malaysian nasi lemak, and from a Reuben sandwich to biltong. There’s Mexican-style grilled corn, Italian malfatti dumplings with tuna, American cobb salad and Cape Malay lamb curry.  It’s not what you’d call cohesive, or true to any particular culinary heritage, style or tradition. It’s all over the bloody place, but then, isn’t that how many of us cook at home?

You’re not going to learn anything profound from the book, it’s not going to change your life, but you will almost certainly enjoy cooking from it. It’s something for the weekend.

Buy this book
Weekend by Matt Tebbutt
£22, Quadrille 

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