IMPORTANT NOTICE: THIS PRIZE DRAW IS OPEN TO UK MAINLAND RESIDENTS ONLY
THE PRIZE James is a talented chef who has spent his life pursuing his passion for food.
In 2022 James was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, which has given him a new perspective on life. Despite his illness, he has remained determined to make the most of his time and has decided to auction his collection of cookery books to raise funds for the Brain Tumour Association.
The cookery books in James’ collection are his pride and joy, and he has collected them over 20 years in the industry. The 150+ books represent a lifetime of learning and exploration in the world of food and butchery.
His treasured collection includes books from the world’s best restaurants and chefs, and it is a testament to his dedication to his craft.
They range from unique and out of print books to accessible books, to say that from new to replace is a £4k + collection. The El Bulli collection alone is retailed at £500 and Sergiology book also retails over £500.
Since the diagnosis of a grade 4 inoperable brain stem tumour, James has discovered that brain tumour research receives only around 1% funding. The importance of raising funds for the Brain Tumour Association has never been more important, and he is auctioning his beloved collection to help others in need. It is a selfless act that speaks to James’ character and his desire to make a positive impact in the world, even in the face of adversity.
James hopes that his contribution will help others who are also affected by brain tumours, and he is grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in this way. He has met amazing people who also want to help, and he hopes that with more available funds, they will be able to help more people in the future.
Find out how to enter the draw by clicking here The draw is open to UK mainland residents only and closes 14th April 2023 at 2:46pm. Full terms and conditions are here.
This is of course an amazing opportunity to acquire an incredible collection of cookbooks, but more importantly to support a truly altruistic act that benefits a worthy organisation, the Brain Tumour Charity who are dedicated to ‘a drive to improve services and outcomes for everyone affected by a brain tumour’.
Follow James on Twitter @chefjamesfpl and Instagram @jamescon198
The Wilderness Cure begins and ends on Black Friday. In what Mo Wilde saw as a symbol of destructive consumer behaviour towards the planet, she made a pledge: to live off entirely free and foraged food for an entire year. As a foraging specialist, ethnobotanist and research herbalist, Mo was more than equipped to meet the demands of her wild experiment.
The book diaries her year, journaling the seasons and weaving in historical accounts and studies to present a compelling argument for more mindful eating habits. She details the highs and lows of the journey from the scarce winter months, her relationship with eating meat, to how her body changes and reacts to a diet of foraged food. And while food may be wild, the meals she makes are as elegant as the writing describing it. Nothing goes to waste, nuts are made into flours, berries into ferments and ingredients dehydrated to last for longer. They are turned into meals that sound as if they’d be at home on the menu of any fine dining restaurant.
It’s written with such charm and an open reverence for the natural world, it’s impossible not to want to join her in examining our relationship with food. For instance, she forages an astonishing amount of different plant species and in doing so, shines a light on the relatively small amount that most of us eat as supermarket consumers. In a time of soaring living costs, the knowledge of how to find nutritious and free food on our doorstep would be valuable to have.
The Wilderness Cure makes a thought-provoking case for us to examine what, how and when we eat certain foods and our relationship with the environment that produces them. It is essential reading, not just for those interested in foraging and food but for all of us as consumers.
Established over four decades ago to celebrate the very best of contemporary food and drink writing, the books nominated for the André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2022 cover themes which range from foraged foods to an exploration of grief through cooking, the remarkable medicinal history of alcohol to the colonial roots of the global wine industry.
There are seven food and four drink books in this year’s shortlist. The food books reflect theburgeoning trend of memoir in food writing, intertwining human relationships and stories with food and recipes. As the shortlisted book Eat, Share, Love observes: food can be a universal language and sharing our intimate personal stories behind recipes has the ability to ‘build bridges.’ Unusually, five of this year’s food books also come from first-time authors. Each year the André Simon trustees are guided by independent assessors.
Fozia Ismail is this year’s food assessor. She is a cook, scholar and founder of Arawelo Eats, a platform for exploring politics, identity and colonialism through East African food. Matt Walls is this year’s drink assessor, he is an award-winning freelance wine writer, author and consultant who contributes to various UK and international publications.
“This year’s André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards shortlist is a testament to the remarkable talent and diversity in the world of food and drink writing, as well as some impressive first-time writers. From memoirs to in-depth historical explorations, these books show the power of food and drink to bring people together, heal and inspire. Food is not just sustenance for our bodies but also for our souls. It is a privilege to celebrate and recognise these exceptional works.” –
Nick Lander, Chair of the André Simon Awards.
Breadsong by Kitty and Al Tait tells the inspiring story of how baking changed the lives of the dad and daughter team behind The Orange Bakery in Oxfordshire, transforming teenager Kitty’s life after suffering from crippling depression, accompanied by their favourite recipes. Cooking: Simply and Well, for One Or Many by Jeremy Lee is a masterclass in simple everyday ingredients uncovering the renowned chef’s rediscovery of home cooking; brimming with stories, wit and indispensable advice. Eat Share Love by Kalpna Woolf is an inspirational collection of recipes from home cooks around the world accompanied by the personal stories behind them,revealing touching tales of love, family, friendship, happiness, loss, laughter and much more.
Lune: Croissants All Day, All Night by Kate Reid is the ultimate guide to perfectly and precisely baking the world’s best-loved pastry and Kate’s journey from Formula One engineer to owner of the Lune Croissanterie where precision and innovation remain essential. Motherland by Melissa Thompson is a celebration of Jamaican food and the island’s complex cultural history, taking us on a journey from its roots to the modern dishes now eaten around the world, with in-depth research woven into the recipes and personal stories.
The Wilderness Cure by Mo Wilde is a diary of a wild experiment; a timely and inspiring memoir of Mo’s radical pledge: to live only off free, foraged food for an entire year. She sees foraging as one of the last acts of defiance in the concrete world. The Year of Miracles by Ella Risbridger is a heart warming mix of memoir and food writing. Ella charts a year through the lens of her kitchen, weaving touching reflections on grief, love and hope together with must-try recipes.
This year’s food assessor Fozia Ismail explains: “It’s been a really difficult decision shortlisting these wonderful books. Many of the shortlisted works have a strong narrative quality that speaks to the emotionally challenging times we live in today, as well as providing inspiring food stories and recipes that give solace, learning, and joy. What an achievement for all the authors shortlisted and thank you for such wonderful work!”
The Shortlisted Drink Books
A Sense of Place Dave Broom Octopus
Drinking with the Valkyries Andrew Jefford Academie du Vin Library
Imperial Wine Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre University of California Press
The Perfect Tonic Camper English William Collins
This year’s shortlisted drinks books delve into whisky, wine, colonialism and the history of alcohol and medicine, offering new perspectives. In A Sense of Place, former André Simon winner Dave Broom, travels around his native Scotland visiting distilleries from Islay to Orkney telling the story of whisky’s history, considering what whisky is now, and where it is going, with stunning specially commissioned photography by Christina Kernohan.
In Drinking with the Valkyries author Andrew Jefford shares his fascinating observations from half a century of wine discovery. This collection of revised essays, opinions, and articles explores the beauty of wine difference, offering a philosophy of wine founded on personal discovery. Imperial Wine by Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre provides a deep dive into the colonial roots of the global wine industry. This is the first book to argue that today’s wine industry exists as a result of settler colonialism and that imperialism was central to viticulture in the British colonies. The Perfect Tonic by Camper English is an interconnected history of alcohol and medicine. The book reveals how and why the contents of our medicine and liquor cabinets were, until recently, one and the same.
This year’s Drinks assessor Matt Walls discusses the shortlist: “After much deliberation, our final drinks shortlist contains four contrasting styles of book, all of which are equally absorbing. Dave Broom’s A Sense of Place transports you to Scotland so vividly you can almost smell the whisky, as he looks at its links to people, place, culture and community.
In The Perfect Tonic, Camper English covers the fascinating and peculiar medicinal history of beer, wines, spirits and cocktails with irrepressible flair and wit. In her eye-opening, meticulously-researched Imperial Wine Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre examines how deeply the roots of the international wine trade are embedded in Empire and settler colonialism. And finally, in Drinking with the Valkyries, Andrew Jefford lets us share his wonder of wine through his peerlessly precise use of the English language.”
The winners will be announced at an in-person awards ceremony on Tuesday 14 March, an event that’s become an annual celebration of Britain’s best food and drink writing.
About the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards
The André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards were founded in 1978 to honour the charismatic leader of the English wine trade André Louis Simon who wrote 104 books throughout his lifetime. They are the only awards in the UK to exclusively recognise the achievements of food and drink writers. Past winners include Elizabeth David, Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Rick Stein, Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke.
There are two categories for entry: food and drinks. For the winner of each category there is an award of £2,000. In addition, there are awards of £1,500 in honour of John Avery and the Special Commendation Award of £1,500 – both of these are at the discretion of the judges.
The André Simon Food & Drink Book Award Trustees are Nicholas Lander (Chair), Sarah Jane Evans MW, David Gleave MW and Xanthe Clay. See further details on the awards, the judging criteria, judges and trustees via the website at www.andresimon.co.uk.
What’s the USP? Compiling 91 recipes that span a broad range of global cuisines, each dish in Eat Share Love comes with a story, a personal connection, and a reminder that food nourishes us in more ways than one.
Who wrote it? The book has been compiled by Kalpna Woolf, a former Head of Production at the BBC, whose previous cookbook offered up spicy food for slimming. Seven years ago she launched charity 91 Ways to Build a Global City, named after the number of languages spoken by residents in Bristol, where the organisation is based. 91 Ways hosts ‘regular community-focussed events’ to bring the residents of the city together while also ‘helping people to make better decisions about their nutrition and well-being’. It’s a fairly messy concept with its heart in the right place. Which could also be a pretty neat summation of the charity’s new cookbook.
Is it good bedtime reading? There’s absolutely loads to read here, so in a sense, this could be a wonderful book to read for pleasure. Each recipe is introduced by its contributor, with stories of family members, different cultures, and the wide array of lived experiences you’ll find in any built up area. Woolf herself shares her father’s story of moving to the UK. Elsewhere, Negat Hussein teaches the reader about Eritrean bun ceremonies, and Reena Anderson-Bickley reminisces about roadside picnics and aloo from a Thermos flask.
Unfortunately, the design of Eat Share Love is consistently over-crowded. In an effort to include everybody’s stories, the type is tiny, and often forced to share a page with the recipe itself. Snuggle down under the sheets to peruse the introductions, but make sure you have extra-strong reading glasses nearby.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The problem with a collaborative book is that, unless your editor is really on the ball, the quality of the writing can be incredibly inconsistent. I had a go at Maria’s Cypriot Antinaxto Krasato, supplied here by Athanasis Lazarides.
Lazarides describes his recipe as ‘written by an artisan, not a professional’, and it’s a good warning: the instructions read as though they are being given by a grandmother who is a little annoyed to have you in the kitchen with her. During the entire process we are given no distinct times or temperatures. Ingredients are listed in metric, but we’re told we can add more red wine more or less on our own personal whim. Credit to Lazarides, though, the end result was rich and moreish.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? To its credit, Eat Share Love manages to offer up an international array of recipes using ingredients that can almost entirely be sourced from your local supermarket.
What will I love? Though the globe-trotting means the book often feels as though it lacks any coherency or direction, it does uncover a fantastic selection of really interesting foods. There are some familiar dishes here, but many of the ideas were completely new to me. There’s nothing worse than an international cookbook that throws out the same ideas you’ve seen a dozen times before, and that’s not a problem in Eat Share Love.
What won’t I love? The design of the book is absolutely terrible. Pages are clogged up with photos of family members, leaving so little room for the recipes that everything is packed into dense word blocks. This is bad enough when you’re browsing an introduction, but can make missing an ingredient all too easy as well.
Also, that title: a personal gripe, maybe, but I prefer my cookbooks not to sound like something I might see on a fridge magnet at a garden centre, or hanging from the wall of a kitchen that is otherwise decorated entirely in shades of grey.
Should I buy it? It’s tough to review anything with so much good intention behind it, but Eat Share Love is an imperfect collection that scatters through a few delicious treats. If you’ve money to spare, then there’s no harm in supporting what 91 Ways are doing. But if you’re looking for an intuitive cookbook that’s easy to read and navigate, you’ll be better off looking elsewhere.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars
Buy this book: Eat Share Love by Kalpna Woolf
£22, Meze Publishing
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas
Eat Share Love has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2022
What’s the USP? The front cover of Melissa Thompson’s Motherland describes it as ‘A Jamaican Cookbook’, which is something of an understatement, all things considered. Motherland is a cookbook, yes, and it shares with its reader the food and recipes that feed and fuel Jamaicans each day. But it also shares something more than that: a history, both political and cultural, and an addressing of the many factors that create a modern cuisine.
Who wrote it? Thompson is a food writer who regularly pops up in weekend papers and glossy food magazines. Born in Dorset to a Jamaican father and a Maltese mother, this is her first cookbook. There will be no complaints if she chooses to publish a dozen more.
Is it good bedtime reading?Motherland is excellent, if not happy, bedtime reading. In Thompson’s introduction to the book she describes it as ‘a history of the people, influences and ingredients that uniquely united to create the wonderful patchwork cuisine that is Jamaican food today’. This history is scattered throughout the book – partly through the short introductions to each recipe, but mostly through powerful essays that are not afraid to cover the ground our school educations often ignore. These sections do not make for light reading, emotionally, but are fascinating and rich with a love and respect for the native people of Jamaica and its fellow Caribbean islands.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Thompson is descriptive without being prescriptive – the perfect balance. Here we have a book that accounts for the way real ingredients might vary, and offers crisp and clear instruction on turning the food you have at hand into something that is more than the sum of its parts.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The eternal question of where to find great cuts of meat remains for many, so you may stumble in your quest for oxtail, mutton or goat. And while many supermarkets still lack the likes of breadfruit and yams, they’re still easy enough to find if you look for a good international market. Otherwise, the majority of dishes here are well within reach.
What’s the faff factor? Thompson is serving up some real comfort foods here, and comfort foods usually go one of two directions. You’ve got your slow and steady options – stews and roasts that you can more or less leave to themselves. From the Red Peas Soup to Roast Chicken with Thyme & Grapefruit, there’s plenty of those on offer. And then you’ve got the fried goodness. These dishes, be they Ginger Beer Prawns, Sticky Rum & Tamarind Wings or Curry Fried Chicken are definitely a faff, but might also be the most delicious things in here.
How often will I cook from the book? This could easily be in regular rotation in your kitchen. Thompson’s ideas are fun, flavoursome and – importantly – varied. There are all the dishes you that may first leap to mind when you think of Jamaican cooking (jerk, curry goat, and even a recipe for homemade ginger beer), but also a wealth of discoveries to be made.
Should I buy it? If you’re looking for a book that delivers real gastronomical insight as well as deeply flavoursome dishes to bring real cosiness to your kitchen, this is a great way into Jamaican cuisine. If you aren’t looking for that, there’s no helping you.
Cuisine: Jamaican Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Lune: Croissants All Day, All Night – to which is there any other answer than, yes please? Making croissants is something I’ve always thought best left to the professionals. It’s a fine art and while not rocket science, there’s definitely crossover: one requires precision, delicacy and an intricate understanding of weight and heat distribution; the other is rocket science. Kate Reid, owner and author of Lune, originally worked as an aerospace engineer for the Williams Formula 1 Team before a trip to Paris convinced her to apply her skillset to making croissants. Over a decade later, Lune has multiple venues in Australia, queues of people willing to wait hours to try their products and as of last year, a debut cookbook.
Reid has talked at length at how the two seemingly distinct career paths have benefited one another. She compares Lune to a “croissant Formula 1 team”, being driven by a need for an experimental and results driven approach in the pursuit of excellence. The book wears its engineering influences quite literally on its sleeve: starting with the croissant-shaped spaceship logo, a sleek black and reflective silver design, high contrast photography and a rigorously assembled ingredients list and methodology. Recipes are broadly listed by what time of day to have them, from Breakfast to Dinner, all the times in between and interspersed with personal stories of establishing Lune.
The golden thread throughout the book is the croissant dough. Once made, it can be applied to numerous different pastry recipes ranging from croissants, cruffins, danishes, escargots and more. Alongside the classics, are inventive recipes like Chocolate Plum Sake Danishes or Beef Bourguignon croissants. The book gets this out of the way early and it’s only fair I should too: you will not be travelling at speed. It will take at least 48 hours over the course of three days and a decent amount of effort to produce a single batch. Croissant casuals need not apply.
Day one requires a morning making a poolish and an afternoon bringing the dough together. Day two is lamination, the process of layering butter and pastry that gives croissants their flaky layers and if laminated in the morning, can then be shaped in the evening. Day three calls for a 2am start (spoiler: I did not get up at 2am), proving the croissants for five hours before baking to have with breakfast.
It is as time consuming as the book assures you it is but the dough recipe is so exacting, with photographs accompanying every step and measurements to the centimetre and gram there is little scope to go wrong. It is entirely worth the effort. I bake mine at a much more reasonable 1pm, filling the house with croissant pheromones that continually entice us back into the kitchen to check on their progress. The results are ethereal wonders, so lovingly formed and delicate I consider making an application for a UNESCO heritage listing to preserve them forever. They taste even better, as if they descended fully formed, a divine aura sailing them gracefully into my mouth.
Thankfully, the dough recipe returns enough for five batches and leaves plenty of opportunity to explore other pastries. The Cacio e Pepe Escargot is as lavish as its namesake. Danishes filled with strawberries and a burnt miso caramel custard are a rollercoaster of sweet and savoury. Cruffins are surprisingly easy to assemble and, in less of a shock, absolutely magnificent when filled with a peanut butter crème pâtissière and jam.
There are some small barriers to entry, investments in both time and equipment being examples. If you’re already a home baker, you’ll likely have the essentials to make the dough but for certain recipes, you’ll need more bespoke items like small, square silicone moulds for danish pastries. However, I didn’t have some of these and used the best equivalent I could find. The results were, admittedly, misshapen but no less delicious for it.
One of the many joys of this book is its laser focus. All of the recipes start from the same place – the croissant dough – which you’re going to learn to do very well and then apply it in an abundance of wildly inventive recipes. It’s refreshing to be encouraged to hone a craft, that yes, this is a practice of patience and discipline but it’s worth doing well. And once mastered, it can be taken in any creative direction you like – the sky’s the limit as they say, though I think Lune makes me want to shoot for the moon.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Jeremy Lee is one of the shortlisted authors in the food category of this year’s Andre Simon Awards for his marvellous debut Cooking. Dundee born Jeremy Lee one of London’s most celebrated chef and heads up the kitchens at Quo Vadis restaurant and club in London’s bustling Soho. He was previously the head chef of Sir Terence Conran’s Blueprint Cafe in Shad Thames and at Euphorium in Islington where he first came to national attention (Independent news paper critic Emily Bell said that Lee ‘delivers flavour like Oliver Stone serves up violence’, a very 1995 sort of thing to say). Working backwards in time, Lee also cooked at Alistair Little at 49 Frith Street (now home to Hoppers Sri Lankan restaurant and just a ladle’s throw from Quo Vadis in Dean Street) and at Bibendum in South Kensington for Simon Hopkinson.
Cooking has quite rightly been described by ESQUIRE magazine as ‘cookbook of the year’ and also ‘long awaited’ which is equally true. What took you so long!
Ah, you are too kind. This was a greatly appreciated gong. Oh golly, so many factors contributed to the time taken, not least building the confidence to realise that not all had been written about food as food evolves constantly as does cooking, ingredients and seasons. It took so long finding the path that would include, Mum and Dad, childhood, home, becoming a chef and the extraordinary learning curve required to acquire the knowledge to run a kitchen, write menus and find the produce with which to furnish the kitchen to produce the dishes. The book was not so different. It was also hugely impactful learning that writing a book and running a kitchen were not the easiest of bedfellows, played a considerable role in a lengthy delay.
The book is very distinctive, in terms of writing style, content and design. Was it a conscious decision to try and do something different or just the way the book turned out?
Ah, thank you. In truth, the arbitrary approach seemed to fall quite naturally on the pages. There was always just the great hope the book would be good but there was never really a structured plan, more an instinctive and intuitive feeling that grew exponentially as the book progressed. I have written much for newspapers and journals but had never written on this scale. The most fascinating thing was the realisation that the book had to feel quite natural and pleasing.
I’ve had the good fortune to see chef’s kitchen ‘recipes’ in situ which are often no more than a list of ingredients and weights if they are even written down. The recipes in Cooking are brilliantly written for the home cook and work perfectly in the domestic kitchen. Did that take some mental re-wiring on your part to see things from the home cook’s perspective?
Ah, years of writing columns for the Guardian, other broadsheets and a fair few journals had taught me much. The most important quality was a genuine and honest approach avoiding myriad pitfalls. Most importantly, taking nothing for granted and ensuring a place in the finished manuscript. There were too a wealth of memories from years watching my Granny and my Mum in the kitchen cooking for her family which were easily tapped being buried deep in our, my siblings and my subconscious.
I’m guessing that you had a lot of recipes to draw on for the book, how did you go about narrowing down the selection?
Oh that was fun, I would say, mostly trial and the occasional error. Writing a menu, you only ever choose dishes you want to cook and eat yourself. It was the same with the book. Some old, some new, some constant, some occasionally. It seemed natural to pay homage to the great writers, cooks, chefs, restaurants, suppliers and producers enjoyed over the years with a growing awareness of being in the now and dishes that would continue to please. Louise Haines who had commissioned and was to publish the book and Carolyn who edited the book were brilliant at steering with the most subtle of quiet comments ensured nothing went in that had not been fully considered and put down on paper fully. Many chapters grew wildly such as fish, a chapter that could have been twice the size until Louise calmly explained about the flow and balance of the chapters.
What are your three favourite recipes in the book or recipes that best represent your style of cooking for readers who might be new to your food?
Oh no, terrible ask. I love them all. It’s like someone in the dining room asking what they should order. Were I to choose, eek, then, roast leg of pork with bitter leaves, onions and sage might be one, another might be steamed kid pudding and probably that good friend, a smoked eel sandwich. But oh, there are so many more.
You’ve done some TV (Great British Menu obviously but I also remember a magazine programme on Channel 4 I think to which you contributed recipe demonstrations including what I recall as an historic version of mushrooms on toast – hope I haven’t misremembered that!) but isn’t it high time you had your own series? Could Cooking be the perfect springboard for that?
Oh Telly…well thank you, you certainly know how to make a cook blush. I love telly and think often of Michael Smith, Claudia Roden and Madhur Jaffrey who presented cooking with such ease, charm and style. Should the stars align, perhaps something charming in the loveliest kitchen with the glorious family we made when turning a manuscript into a book?
What does being shortlisted for the Andre Simon award mean to you?
Oh my goodness, such a nomination means the world. I have judged books several times and it is a task not taken lightly. I know well from my time as adjudicator that each book had to be scrutinised and each decision made, justified to a scrupulous committee. When the judgement of the judge is under scrutiny , oh lordy, one must be so sure and say so. So this is truly a very great honour and I could not bow lower.
What is your desert island cookbook?
Oh my, there are so many. Yet there is always a pile of constant favourites and I think, the one forever on the or near the top is French Provincial Cooking, beside Italian Food by Elizabeth David. Peerless.
Cooking has been a big success, are you planning a follow up?
Thank you. Tis such a great honour. And, well, as it happens, there is to be another ,4th Estate having just commissioned a second book. We barely touched on puddings, and I can say no more as the scraps of paper covered in thoughts once again litter desk and floor at home.
Two of my friends, Jack and Harry, are brothers. Sometimes it seems as though Jack and Harry have very little in common, besides the fact that they are both singer-songwriters with a satisfying mid-Wales accent. But the truth, of course, is that they share many traits. Perhaps the biggest of these: they each are blessed with a confidence in their own opinions hitherto not seen outside of the central residence of Vatican City.
In most folk, this sort of conviction of belief might come across as arrogant. But Jack and Harry deliver their righteous indignation with a charm and a knowing sense of silliness. After all, absolutely nothing Jack or Harry share their opinions on actually matters, and I think they know it. And so I’m able to enjoy the ludicrous confidence I am faced with as they pretend the first three Billy Joel albums don’t exist, or chastise me for having the audacity to drink Orangina despite not being a Parisian schoolboy. None of this matters. It’s all just supplementary colour; decoration to a life well lived.
Andy Baraghani’s The Cook You Want To Be reminds me a little of Jack and Harry. Baraghani, who trained at Chez Panisse before working for Bon Appétit as a Senior Food Editor, is perhaps as present in his cookbook as any food writer has ever been. Yes, the cookbook can be an intensely personal literary form, and writers like Nigel Slater have made a career out of delivering food-forward diaries. But Baraghani somehow moves beyond this. He is more than the author of The Cook You Want To Be; he is an ingredient in each recipe, his opinions and obsessions worn on his turmeric-stained sleeves.
From the very outset, Baraghani writes with passion and walks a tightrope of self-awareness. The book’s title often seems like a deliberate misdirection – though his advice frequently encourages the reader to grow and develop as a cook, it is only rarely that we aren’t pressed in very specific directions. We are told which brand of Japanese mandoline to use, we are gently pushed to use more herbs, teased if we don’t love garlic. Is this The Cook You Want To Be or The Cook Andy Baraghani Wants You To Be? Does it really matter, when the food tastes this good?
And the food does taste good, that much is not in doubt. Baraghani’s dishes draw heavily on his Persian background, his training at Chez Panisse, and what he eats at home. The result is a book that is, not unlike the author, unpretentious but still a little showy. Take the Buttery Beef and Peanut Stir-fry, which I knocked up on a weekday evening in less than half an hour. Twenty minutes of that was marinating time. The final dish was scrappy-looking but full of depth of flavour. The sort of thing that will catch a visiting friend off-guard, which is possibly the best thing one can do when cooking for someone else. Surprise: this is incredible.
Dishes are split into sections with tellingly possessive titles (‘Snacks to Share… or Not’, ‘Soup Obsessed’, ‘Fish, I Love You’), but the real theme here is always Baraghani’s tastes and desires. Some of my favourite cookbooks are those that focus solely on what the author loves best, from Neil Perry’s Everything I Love To Cook to Colu Henry’s Colu Cooks. But it doesn’t work if the author doesn’t have anything fresh or exciting to put on the table. Baraghani has plenty, and there’s often a tantalising stickiness to his dishes, be they Caramelized Sweet Potatoes with Browned Butter Harissa or Jammy Egg and Scallion Sandwiches. The food here celebrates itself and asks to be relished, to be wolfed down and savoured, lips and fingertips licked for every last speck.
There are irresistible vegetable dishes tucked amongst the sticky goodness and the self-assured writing (“When you make this dish (not if)’, “I wish you could press a button on this page and hear the sound effects of how I feel about this recipe”). From Roasted Carrots with Hot Green Tahini to Fall-Apart Caramelized Cabbage Smothered in Anchovies and Dill, Baraghani is constantly encouraging you to rediscover the most common of ingredients.
The Cook You Want To Be is one of those most glorious of things: a cookbook with real character. Baraghani’s presence is so keenly felt on every page – there’s no dry, anonymous advice here. Everything is served with a little slice of a big personality. And it’s a joy to see this singular vision place so much importance upon something with such low stakes because cooking like this doesn’t really matter, not really. Like all the little things Jack and Harry have needlessly precise opinions on, nothing in this book is a matter of life and death. But finding joy in this small, delicious stuff: that’s what makes life matter in the first place.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
What’s the USP? Somewhat delightfully, there isn’t one. There’s no tortuous concept or shoehorned-in theme. There’s no claim of quick and easy recipes, that it’s the only cookbook you’ll ever need or that it’s yet another of that irksome and ubiquitous ilk, the cookbook for ‘every day’. As Robert de Niro once memorably stated in The Deer Hunter ‘This is this. This ain’t somethin’ else. This is this.’ It’s a cookbook. It’s a very good cookbook written by an outstanding chef with thirty years of knowledge, experience and wisdom he’s like to share with you. What else do you need?
Who is the author? Dundee born Jeremy Lee is the head chef of Quo Vadis restaurant and club in London’s bustling Soho. He was previously the head chef of Sir Terence Conran’s Blueprint Cafe in Shad Thames and at Euphorium in Islington where he first came to national attention (Independent news paper critic Emily Bell said that Lee ‘delivers flavour like Oliver Stone serves up violence’, a very 1995 sort of thing to say). Working backwards in time, Lee also cooked at Alistair Little at 49 Frith Street (now home to Hoppers Sri Lankan restaurant and just a ladle’s throw from Quo Vadis in Dean Street) and at Bibendum in South Kensington for Simon Hopkinson. There’s more, but you can buy the book to find it out (spoiler alert, you really should buy the book). Surprisingly, Cooking is Lee’s first cookbook.
Is it good bedtime reading? It is. There’s a reasonably chunky introduction that skips and hops briefly through Lee’s background and culinary career as well as some thoughts on his approach to food and cooking in general. Each of the 24 chapters, themed most around ingredients, includes a full page or so of introduction and many of the 100 or so recipes have substantial intros. There are also a couple of essays, one on equipment and one on stocking your pantry. That’s how you end up with a 400 hundred page book.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The first line of the book reads ‘The simple truth I’ve learned from a lifetime of cooking is that good food is honed from fine ingredients.’ The simple truth that I’ve learned from a lifetime of shopping at supermarkets is that last thing they sell is fine ingredients. I mean, they’re fine for plebs like us, but they’re not fine. The likelihood is that you’ll be able to get most things that Lee cooks with in the book, but probably not of the same quality, unless you live somewhere that has great butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers and delis. You know, central London.
Some ingredients that might prove tricky if you are reliant on Lidl (or even Waitrose) might include fresh artichokes, samphire, monk’s bread, Tropea onions, Roscoff onions, Treviso, Tardivo, Banyuls vinegar ‘very, very good chicken’, ‘excellent duck’. marjoram, summer savory, Agen prunes, fennel pollen, herring, fresh mackerel, whole lemon sole, cuttlefish, verdina beans, skate knobs, cockles, Arbroath smokies, razor clams, smoked eel, quail, onglet, lamb’s sweetbreads, feuilles de brick, kid, hare, dandelion, puntarelle, Catalonga, lovage, salsify and sorrel.
That might seem like a long list, but do not let it put you off buying the book. Help is of course at hand from specialist internet suppliers and, post pandemic, it’s now easier than ever to get hold of excellent quality fresh fish, meat, vegetables and groceries delivered to your door (for a price of course). The excellent list of stockists at the back of the book will be extremely useful to many readers. There are also many recipes that you will be able to source ingredients for with no trouble or you will be able to make substitutions with reasonable ease.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There is the odd ‘handful’ of this and ‘pinch’ of that, but they are few and far between. Methods are as well written as you might expect of such a well experienced chef and are as detailed as they need to be and easy to follow.
How often will I cook from the book? A lot. There’s pretty much a dish for every occasion, every time of day and every cook’s mood. There’s maple walnut biscuits breakfast or mid-morning coffee, chard and cheddar omelette for a quick lunch and chicken leek and tarragon pie for a comforting dinner. There a simple as can be puntarelle and anchovy salad for when time is short or a cottage pie made with braised oxtails for when you want to linger in the kitchen. Lee is also particularly good on baking, desserts and sweet things in general so expect an apple tart in your future soon.
However, this is a resolutely British and European book; a pinch of chilli flakes or a few drop of tabasco is about as spicy as things get. There are no modish Middle Eastern influences and India, Asia and South America don’t get a look in. Lee knows what he likes and sticks to it which gives the book a very strong identity. Cooking doesn’t cover every conceivable culinary base, but that’s no bad thing at all. There are many, many books available that will fill those particular needs, just have a browse around this site. Cooking is not an encyclopaedia of the subject but ‘home cooking rediscovered after a lifetime spent in professional cooking’ and all the better for it.
What will I love? You’ll recognise John Broadley’s intricate yet bold black and white illustrations from the menus at Quo Vadis if you’ve been fortunate enough to visit the restaurant (and if you haven’t, I’d highly recommend rectifying that particular situation, especially now as the restaurant has just been refurbished and expanded). They are a complete joy and give the book a unique style.
Lee’s writing style is also highly individual and charming. He has a turn of phrase like no other food writer. A spiced marmalade steamed pudding is ‘made bold with whole ginger and a spice’ and breadcrumbs are fashioned from ‘husks, heels and buckshee slices of bread’. Open the book at random and you’ll find sentences such as ‘I like the Presbyterian forthrightness of leek pie’ or ‘It is near miraculous how much water is released from the chard but perseverance pays a fine dividend’. There’s a kind of effortless poetry on every page that’s utterly delightful and doesn’t feel in the slightest bit forced. Within a single paragraph, Lee can be informative, instructional and celebratory; that’s fine food writing.
Killer recipes: salmagundy (warm roast chicken salad with summer slaw); maple walnut biscuits; chard potato and celeriac gratin; St Emilion au chocolat; hake with parsley, dill and anchovy sauce; smoked eel sandwich; lamb’s sweetbreads, peas, almonds and herbs; duck pea and cabbage hash (the list goes on…)
Should I buy it? With Cooking, Lee has joined the pantheon of great British food writers that includes Jane Grigson, Sophie Grigson, Elizabeth David, Alan Davidson, Alistair Little, Richard Whittington, Shaun Hill, Stephen Bull, Mark Hix and others. It might be reminiscent of older books, but in the current publishing climate, it’s a breath of fresh air. Rather than advising you on hints and tips that will enable you to spend the least amount of time as possible in your kitchen, Cooking is aimed at a readership that actually enjoys the craft and are happily chained to their stoves (you won’t find air fryer or slow cooker recipes here).
Cooking is worth the cover price just to learn how to cook chard properly. But you will learn so much more including the virtues of making a properly good vegetable salad, how to lift the flavour of a rustic kale soup with a spoon of new season Tuscan olive oil and how to make ‘coupe Danemark’ – a delicious yet simple dessert made from chocolate melted with cream, poured over vanilla ice cream and topped with nuts. Cooking is also full of intriguing kitchen miscellanea. Did you know a wishbone used to be known as the ‘merry thought’? Or that there’s a variety of potato called ‘Mr Little’s Yetholm Gypsy 1899’? Of course you didn’t. That’s why you need to buy this book. A genuine pleasure to cook from and to read, Cooking is an essential addition to any keen home cook or professional chef’s cookbook collection.
Cuisine: European Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
What’s the USP? Phaidon are back with the latest addition to their ever-expanding range of globally-inspired cookbooks. Previous entries have included hefty volumes on the food of Latin America, Greece, Mexico and Lebanon, but this time round we’re focusing a little closer to home.
The British Cookbook delivers exactly what it promises: around 550 recipes drawn from across the United Kingdom. This means there’s plenty of room for all the obvious regional specialties (Staffordshire Oatcakes, Sussex Pond Pudding) and a wealth of niche little wonders you may never have heard of (Singin’ Hinnies, Bara Sinsir, or Beesting Pudding, which has absolutely nothing to do with bees).
Who wrote it? Ben Mervis, a Philadelphian native who moved to Glasgow for university and never left. Well, except for his turn in the kitchens at Noma. A man with culinary pedigree, then, and a good deal of love for the food of his adopted home. Mervis has drawn this book together over several years, whittling down from a preliminary list of around 1,500 recipes to bring us this final selection. The recipes themselves have been contributed by a mixture of ‘food writers, chefs, bakers and home cooks’.
Is it good bedtime reading? Phaidon’s international cookbooks rarely are, being so focused on the delivery of hundreds of recipes. Mervis offers up an interesting introductory essay on the meaning of ‘British food’, and there’s a short foreword by man of the hour Jeremy Lee, the one voice in British cooking who seems truly inescapable right now.
Though hardly enough to count as bedtime reading, credit is due to Mervis for his recipe introductions. Phaidon’s titles often skip these altogether, leaving readers baffled over the difference between various Mexican moles that they’ve never previously encountered, nor fully understand. Mervis provides short introductions for every recipe in the book, though. These offer valuable insights into the history of the dish, the best way to serve it, or the colonial influences that often crop up.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Mervis delivers again with precise instructions that will even go so far as to define a ‘splash of buttermilk’ for those who aren’t content to judge for themselves (about 20ml, he reckons). Measurements are provided in imperial and metric as well.
Efforts have been made to highlight dietary concerns in each dish, with small symbols denoting whether it will be suitable for vegetarians, vegans, or those suffering from intolerances to gluten, nuts or dairy. This is a thoughtful touch that would be very welcome across the rest of the series.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? For the most part, no. Occasionally you may find yourself in need of a good butcher, but besides that everything should be within reach.
What’s the faff factor? We are a nation in love with a good stew, and so there are plenty of recipes here that require a few hours. But for the most part, Mervis strives for simplicity. Alongside the legends denoting dietary concerns there are also symbols highlighting one-pot dishes, as well as those featuring five ingredients or fewer, or deliverable in under half an hour.
How often will I cook from the book? This will come down to very personal preferences. I grew up in a house where 90% of our dinners would have been considered ‘British’, and have responded as an adult by returning to the national cuisine once a week at the very most. But if you’ve a taste for the comforting treats of our home nation, there’s more than enough here to keep you very happy. Mervis’ choice to include dishes we’ve stolen or co-opted from nations we’ve invaded in our past means there’s more variety than the average British cookbook too.
Killer recipes: Tweed kettle, Mussel popcorn, Stargazey pie, Pastai persli, Flummery, Sauty bannocks, Goosenargh cakes and Cumberland rum nicky – there are so many delicious dishes here, sometimes it’s easiest just to hone in on the ones with the most satisfying names.
Should I buy it? It’s no secret that British food has long been maligned as drab and lacking joy. The past thirty years or so has seen us throw everything we have at dispelling this myth, and we’re finally at a point where London is seen as one of the great food cities of the world, and a cooking show is one of our biggest cultural exports. Hopefully Ben Mervis’s excellent book can act as our closing argument, then. By digging deep into the food of our small nation, Mervis has highlighted the variety of flavours we have to offer. From national dishes to delicacies originating from the smallest of villages, The Great British Cookbook delivers the benchmark by which all other Phaidon cookbooks should be measured.
Cuisine: British Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
What’s the USP? Emma Warren’s third cookbook proudly declares to eschew many of the most famous dishes of Spain, the country she has called home for the best part of twenty years. Instead, Spanish at Home explores food popular in domestic kitchens across the country. It’s a nice idea, if one that immediately lends itself to a sort of fantasy. Homecooking, after all, is a concept leaden with romanticism and nostalgia.
We have our own language to describe the food cooked at home. It is honest, and ‘humble’ – another term whose meaning shifts dramatically depending on who is being asked. Home cooking – at least, the concept of ‘home cooking’ that so often is championed in cookbooks, is fuelled as much by the loving intentions of the person making the food as it is by the electricity or gas that powers the stove itself. And so Spanish at Home is about the food made in home kitchens across the length and breadth of Spain – drawing on the ‘generous hospitality’ that Warren has experienced during her time in the country.
Is it good bedtime reading? There are a few short chapter introductions throughout, and a paragraph or so ahead of each individual recipe. Though these are brief, Warren writes enthusiastically, and occasionally slips in little nuggets of information for extra flavour. Nevertheless, this is a book that is intended to be opened on the kitchen counter rather than underneath a bedside lamp.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Unfortunately, I suspect sourcing all the ingredients for dishes featured in Spanish at Home will often seem out of reach. Food writing frequently champions home cooking as though it is one thing that unites us all: our desire to offer good food to the people closest to us. And the sentiment is, I suppose, ultimately true. Whether we cook alone with the kids in the other room, or together as part of a large community, the food we make at home seeks to build up our loved ones, to give them strength and ensure that they are healthy.
But this idea, life-affirming though it might be, doesn’t change the fact that nations differ greatly. Spain is not far from the UK, in the grand scheme of things, but many of the ingredients here will not be practical for home cooks looking to replicate these Spanish dishes.
Sometimes this is a matter of sourcing. The difficulty of finding certain fresh seafood in the UK is not a problem unique to Spanish at Home. I can get my head around the absence of cuttlefish from our high street food retailers, but until very recently it was much simpler to buy fresh mussels that had not been vacuum-packed with a ready-made cream sauce, and I don’t know quite what’s changed there. But difficulty here is not solely the fault of UK retailers: ‘chicken ribs’ feel like a fairly niche ask for the Arroz del Campo, and as the recipe lists other ingredients including rabbit and snail, it is plausible that the recipe will never be in serious contention in any home, at least in its intended form.
Mostly, though, the barrier to getting your hands on all the necessary ingredients will be your budget. Perhaps, in Spain, meat is distinctly cheaper. Perhaps Emma Warren’s experiences of Spanish home cooking have mostly occurred in the houses of well-off families. Whatever the case, something has been lost in translation. These dishes, though desperately good-looking, are also frequently very costly.
Take one of the highlights of the book, for instance: the Ragú de Cordero. Captured by Rochelle Eagle’s sumptuous photography, it should be hard to resist. But once you spot that the recipe (to serve four) calls for both a kilogram of boneless lamb shoulder and a supplementary rack of lamb, the average reader may be less tempted. Readers may not even get to the point where the recipe requires ownership of a bottle of Cognac to finish the dish.
For another exquisitely presented dish, Carrilleras de Cerdo, Warren espouses the affordable virtues of pig cheeks – but short of one extraordinary trip to a Morrison’s in Brighton (also in Waitrose sometimes -ed.), I have never seen this cut of meat outside of a butcher shop. Calling around the butchers of Nottingham, I’ve yet to find it in any of those, either.
How often will I cook from the book? Clearly, not as much as you might like to. But that isn’t to say all hope is lost. There are still plenty of (mostly vegetable-led) dishes that are entirely accessible to British home cooks, from minestrone soup to panzanella salads. The patatas bravas, served with two homemade sauces, were absolutely gorgeous when I made them, and those looking to experience something truly unique would be well advised to try the Arroz Cubano, which somehow allows banana, fried egg, tomato and rice to team up in perfect unison.
Killer recipes: Beans in salsa ‘gravy’, beef fricassee, red wine-poached pears and saffron ice cream.
Should I buy it? Ultimately, the problems with Spanish at Home are not problems with Spanish at Home. Instead, they are problems with our over-reliance on supermarkets, the increasingly homogenised range of meats available to us, and, importantly, with the romanticised view we have of home cooking. When we talk about home cooking in £26 cookbooks exploring other cuisines with hungry eyes, we are talking about the food we make at home when we most want to impress. Food that takes a lot of time or a huge wealth of ingredients. When we talk amongst friends about home cooking, we think of the simplest of dishes, and of cuts of meat that are frugal, yes, but also accessible. I would dearly love to eat a great deal of the recipes in Spanish at Home, but the home we are given access to here is, generally speaking, not one I will be able to visit nearly as frequently as I might like.
Cuisine: Spanish Suitable for: Confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars
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, Heatand 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
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.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
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. Bowlfulis 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
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
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)
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
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)?
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’.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
1 boneless pork shoulder, 1.2–3kg
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
From the publishers: Breadsong tells the story of Kitty Tait who was a chatty, bouncy and full-of-life 14 year old until she was overwhelmed by an ever-thickening cloud of depression and anxiety and she withdrew from the world. Her desperate family tried everything to help her but she slipped further away from them.
One day her dad Alex, a teacher, baked a loaf of bread with her and that small moment changed everything. One loaf quickly escalated into an obsession and Kitty started to find her way out of the terrible place she was in. Baking bread was the one thing that made any sense to her and before long she was making loaves for half her village. After a few whirlwind months, she and her dad opened the Orange Bakery, where queues now regularly snake down the street.
Breadsong is also a cookbook full of Kitty’s favourite recipes, including:
– the Comfort loaf made with Marmite, and with a crust that tastes like Twiglets
– bitesize queue nibbles, doughnuts with an ever-changing filling to keep the bakery queue happy
– sticky fika buns with mix-and-match fillings such as cardamom and orange
– Happy Bread covered with salted caramel
– cheese straws made with easy homemade ruff puff pastry
– the ultimatebrown butter and choc chip cookies with the perfect combination of gooey centre and crispy edges.
About the Author
Kitty Tait and her Dad Al live in Watlington, Oxfordshire and between them run the Orange Bakery. From the most original flavoured sourdough (miso and sesame, fig and walnut) to huge piles of cinnamon buns and Marmite and cheese swirls, the shop sells out every day and the queues stretch down the street. In 2018, Kitty was at school and Al worked at Oxford University, but when Kitty became so ill she couldn’t leave the house, the two discovered baking and, in particular, sourdough. Chronicled in Kitty’s Instagram @kittytaitbaker they went from a small subscription service to pop ups to a shop – all in two years. Along the way Kitty got better, a Corgi got involved and Al realised that he was now a baker not a teacher.
Our review coming soon
Cuisine: Baking Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars