At Home by Rick Stein

Rick Stein at Home
What’s the USP? Lovably grumpy old German sausage Rick Stein returns with his ‘what I did in lockdown’ opus. Prevented from his usual globetrotting tendancies by the worldwide lurgy, Rick regals us with ‘recipes, memories and stories from a food lover’s kitchen’.

Who wrote it? After more then a quarter of a century years on British TV screens and getting on for 50 years (!) of running his world famous The Seafood restaurant in Padstow Cornwall, Stein is something of a British national treasure. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) about his world travels that include France, Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, and Mexico.

Is it good bedtime reading? The clue is in the ‘memories and stories’ part of the subtitle. If you’ve seen Rick on the telly, you’ll know he loves an anecdote and to generally bang on about stuff and he’s in his element in this book. He pontificates about the joys of cooking in lockdown in the book’s main introduction (a subject we can only pray will soon be purely historical in nature) and provides substantial  introductions to each of seven chapters which cover bar snacks, first courses, fish and shellfish (of course; Stein is still the English culinary Poseidon), poultry, meat, vegetarian and desserts and drinks.

In addition, there are short, chatty essays on the subject of sourdough, gadgets, the art of stocking making, low calorie cooking for a quiet night in, Christmas, avoiding food waste (Stein is somewhat obsessive about this subject and keen to use ‘wrinkly shrivelled mushrooms, yoghurt that’s so out of date it nearly catching up with itself next year, little blocks of rock hard cheese, garlic clovres and ginger almost dried out, excessively bendy carrots, squishy tomatoes and red peppers’ and even dumps chopped up left over pizza into his nasi goreng), recipes that helped him get through lockdown, recipe testing, store cupboard ingredients, foraging and preserving.  With most of the 100 recipes coming with substantial introductions, this could serve as your cookbook at bedtime for at least a week.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The very first recipe in the book, feta and spainach filo ‘cigars’, calls for a ‘big pinch’ of chilli flakes. Elsewhere, there’s a ‘small handful’ and ‘handful’ of coriander and a ‘good handful’ of parsely (what might be the exact differences I wonder?). More annoyingly, the recipe for slow-cooked pork carnitas tacos needs a ‘handful’ of radishes, yet Rick is able to weigh out 150g of pitted green olives to go into his beef and pork meatballs with a spicy tomato sauce. Generally speaking however, ingredient list and methods are well written and detailed enough so that you shouldn’t  have trouble following the recipes, especially  if you are a confident cook.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Although Stein draws inspiration from around the globe, the vast majority of ingredients will be stocked by large supermarkets. Exceptions may include Arbroath smokies, oysters, scallops, gurnard, grey mullet, sea bream, John Dory, red mullet, espelette pepper, Chinese salted black beans, pandan leaf, goose, sea buckthorn berries and sloes.

How often will I cook from the book? As indicated by the chapters listed above and Stein’s well known freewheeling global cooking style, there is a lot of variety to the recipes and you will find something appropriate for any day of the week and pretty much any occasion, from an easy mid-week meal of chicken and prawn stir fry to a roast goose with sage and onion stuffing and apple sauce fit for Chritmas Day.

Killer recipes: Deep fried coconut prawns; stir fried salt and pepper squid with red chilli and spring onion; hot smoked salmon kedgeree; tarka dal, chicken fricassee with morels; crisp Chinese roast pork; apple tarte tatin and much else besides.

Should I buy it? If you are an avid Stein cookbook collector you may recognise a few of these recipes, but apprently every one has been re-cooked and slightly tweaked so don’t let that put you off. If you are new to Stein, this is a great place to start with a wide ranging collection of accessible and delicous recipes that you will want to cook again and again.

Cuisine: Global
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein at Home: Recipes, Memories and Stories from a Food Lover’s Kitchen
£26, BBC Books

An A-Z of Pasta by Rachel Roddy

An A-Z of Pasta Rachel Roddy
What’s the USP? A very satisfying premise indeed, and more or less what it says on the box: An A-Z of Pasta takes readers through the pasta world via an alphabetical exploration of pasta shapes.

Not all pasta shapes, though – depending on who you speak to, there are anywhere between 350 and 600 varieties out there, and that’s a bit much even those of us who can shovel away pasta like our bodies have mistaken gluten for oxygen. So instead we have an A-Z of (50 shapes of) Pasta, and that’ll do for now.

Who wrote it? Rachel Roddy, who is fast making her name as one of the finer food writers out there. Roddy moved to Rome in 2005 and has been writing about her experiences with food ever since – from blogs to Guardian columns to cookbooks. Five Quarters, her first book, won a couple of awards. She could well be on track for some more with this, her third.

Is it good bedtime reading? Here’s the thing: An A-Z of Pasta is more or less the perfect cookbook. I’m going to get that out of the way now so that we can just sit back and enjoy the rest of this review without anybody stressing about anything. It’s a bloody brilliant book filled with bloody brilliant recipes and it makes for such good bedtime reading I’m half tempted to put up a food-writing shelf in my bedroom specifically for those times when I’m sleepy and I want to think about tomorrow’s dinner. Besides Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus and perhaps Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat I cannot think of a cookbook that reads more satisfyingly than this.

Roddy’s smartest trick here has been fitting a narrative around the pasta shapes she describes. Whilst the alphabetised form of the book allows for readers to readily dip in and out, to find the recipes they want for the shapes they desire, the reward for those who start at the beginning and work their way through all the way from A-Z is a full and rich understanding not just of the making and cooking of pasta, but also the fascinating culture that surrounds it.

We are introduced in turn to the six categories of pasta shapes, from the tiny pastine that are cooked and served in broth, to the strascinati that are formed by being dragged along a surface. Pastas we have already visited are called upon to help explain those we are yet to discover, and history unfurls and repeats itself in different forms and different regions and, most importantly, different delicious dishes.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? One of the best things about pasta is that it is an incredibly simple dish to create – or better still on a Wednesday night, to buy in. Roddy is very aware of this, and it’s to her credit that a book filled with such love that her reverence never gets in the way of simplicity. There is no judgement to be found for those who prefer to buy dried pasta over making their own – no silly gate-keeping over what is and is not allowed in the world of pasta. Break your spaghetti in half if you find it easier, goddammit.

The recipes themselves echo this simplicity. Measurements and instructions are clear, with timings a little more forgiving to take into account the varying needs of different pasta types.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Even post-Brexit Italian food is European food is British food, and the overwhelming majority of ingredients are easily sourced from your local supermarket or even the cornershop over the road in many cases. Occasionally a more traditional Italian ingredient will pop up – guanciale makes a few appearances – but Roddy offers simple and accessible alternatives in these cases.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you eat pasta? For me the answer to both these questions looks to be set for the foreseeable future as ‘two to three times a week’. We love pasta in the UK. As one of the quickest and most satisfying midweek dinner options we let it fill our diets, and I can’t be the only person who looks at his meal plans for the week and thinks ‘right, maybe not quite so much pasta, though’.

The biggest problem with pasta, in fact, is that it’s so easy to turn into a meal that we tend to fall into repetitive patterns, or allow ourselves to be satisfied with a jar of Dolmio dumped over some penne and a few cut up sausages. Which is silly, really, because so many fantastic and flavoursome dishes can be knocked together in more or less as much time as it takes for the pasta to boil.

An A-Z of Pasta is the perfect solution to this. There are quick and delicious dishes to suit every season here, from the cosy alfabeto Chicken Broth that will see us through the long winter ahead to Fresh Capelli d’Angelo with Prawns and Lemon that’ll take less than five minutes to cook and offer a bright burst of flavour on a summer’s day.

Killer recipes: All of it. Damn near every single thing. I cooked the Bucatini all’Amatriciana for my visiting parents and I think they finally believe that I, their married 33 year-old son, will be able to survive in the world. There’s a Fregula with clams or arselle that looks so good I’m convinced you could make a living by starting a restaurant and serving nothing else. The Tagliolini with chanterelles and datterini tomatoes would guarantee a marriage proposal on a second date, and the Pappardelle with duck is enough to have you call the wedding off just so you never have to share your food again.

It’s impossible to narrow down the best dishes here, simply because there is so much variety, and so much temptation that your favourites might vary from day to day, and mood to mood. Today the ultimate comfort food that is roast chicken served atop orzo that has been cooked in its juices, tomorrow the lightness of farfalle served with smoked salmon and mascarpone.

Should I buy it? It’s very rare that a cookbook offers such universally loveable dishes that it can, without hesitation, be suggested to one and all. And… well, this isn’t an exception. Look, if you have problems with gluten, An A-Z of Pasta is not going to be a big priority for you. But for everyone else, this book is a solution to a thousand different questions. What can I have for dinner if I want to be eating in twenty minutes time? What can I serve guests at my dinner party that looks and tastes impressive, but won’t cause me to have a nervous breakdown whilst I prepare it? What can I ask for this Christmas whilst simultaneously gifting to every single family member I’ve ever seen consume even a single strand of spaghetti? Here you go. Your answer is here.

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

Buy this book
An A-Z of Pasta: Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes
£25, Fig Tree

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

Chicken pie by Ollie Dabbous


This recipe is a meal in itself, but can obviously be served alongside some mashed potato and gravy, if you like. The decoration on top is optional, but it is far easier than you think. Just scatter it on and you can’t go wrong.

Serves 5-6

Bechamel
500g whole milk
½ white onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves
¼ teaspoon ground mace
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
50g unsalted butter
25g plain flour

Pie filling
8 corn-fed chicken thighs
4 tablespoons garlic oil
2 carrots, peeled and quartered, then sliced across into 1cm pieces
25g salted butter
1 leek, quartered, then sliced across into 1cm pieces
1 celery stick, peeled, halved, then sliced across into 1cm pieces
100g shiitake mushrooms, halved
3 garlic cloves, crushed
200g canned sweetcorn, drained
100g frozen peas, defrosted
2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves
finely grated zest of ½ lemon

Assemble
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk or cream
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, defrosted

To decorate (optional)
spring onions, shredded
red onions, cut into slim petals
fennel fronds
tarragon sprigs
pansies
——-
Bechamel
~ Bring the milk to the boil in a saucepan then add the onion, spices, mustard and salt, cover and leave to infuse for 20 minutes. Pass through a sieve.
~ Heat the butter in a large saucepan, stir in the flour and mix until smooth.
~ Add the hot infused milk a bit at a time and whisk to combine until smooth. Once all the milk has been added, bring to the boil, whisking continuously, then remove from the heat.

Pie filling
~ Preheat the oven to 180oC.
~ Season the chicken with salt and roll it in the garlic oil, then place on a roasting tray and cook for 40 minutes, skin side up, until the skin is crispy and the meat is tender.
~ Leave to rest for 20 minutes. Discard the bone and sinew and flake the meat, reserving any juices. You don’t need the skin here, but you can use it for an extra decoration of chicken crackling, if you like. (Or just eat it.)
~ Sweat the carrots in the butter in a saute pan for 5 minutes, lid on, then add the leek and celery, season lightly with salt, cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic, cover and cook for a final 5 minutes.
~ Add the sweetcorn, peas, thyme and tarragon, then remove from the heat and mix in the chicken and bechamel with the lemon zest. Check the seasoning and leave to cool.

Assemble

~ Preheat the oven to 190 oC.
~ Mix the egg yolk and milk or cream in a small bowl to make an egg wash.
~ From the first sheet of pastry, cut out a circle using the top of an ovenproof frying  pan as a guide. This is the lid.
~ Cut a circle of greaseproof paper large enough to cover the base of the same ovenproof frying pan and come all the way up the sides. Use this as a guide to cut out a circle of pastry of the same size. This is the base. Place the circle of pastry in the pan, pushing it flat against the sides.
~ Fill with the cooled chicken pie mix, making sure it doesn’t cover the top of the pastry rim.
~ Top with the pastry lid, pinching the edges of both pastry circles together to crimp and join.
~ With some of the pastry trim, you may cut out some leaf shapes or make a simple lattice to garnish the pie.
~ Brush with egg wash and leave for 10 minutes, then brush again with egg wash and place in the oven.
~ Cook for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 170 oC and cook for another 20 minutes.

To decorate
~ Scatter over the vegetables, herbs and flowers, if using, and return the pie to the oven for a final 5 minutes for the decorations to crisp up, then serve.

Cook more from this book
Grilled bream with pink grapefruit by Ollie Dabbous
Tartiflette by Ollie Dabbous

Read the review

Buy this book
Essential
£30, Bloomsbury Publishing

Grilled bream with pink grapefruit by Ollie Dabbous

ESSENTIAL_050820_BREAM_7543_AW

Gilthead bream is one of the best-quality farmed fish you can buy. It is always consistent in quality and very good value; not as meaty as sea bass, but with lovely oily flesh and crisp skin. It is great cooked over the barbecue or under a hot grill. This dressing is as delicious as it is simple. Feel free to chop and change as you wish: lemon and mint would work brilliantly, as would blood orange and sage.

Dressing
2 pink grapefruits, segmented with 6 tablespoons of their juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Chardonnay vinegar
1 tablespoon clear honey
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and crushed

Bream & fennel
2 fennel bulbs
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
100ml white vermouth
2 gilthead bream, scaled, filleted and pin-boned by your fishmonger
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
fine sea salt

DRESSING
– Mix everything together and warm through in a pan. Do not heat it too much, or the grapefruit segments will cook and collapse.

BREAM & FENNEL
~ Preheat the grill to its highest setting.
~ Slice the fennel lengthways as finely as possible on a mandolin or with a sharp knife, then mix in a roasting tray with the fennel seeds and vermouth. Season lightly with salt.
~ Lightly season the fish on both sides with fine salt, spoon 1 tablespoon of the oil over each fish fillet, then place skin-side up on top of the fennel, to cover the bulk of it.
~ Grill under the preheated grill for about 8 minutes, until the fennel has wilted but the fish is cooked through and has a crispy skin.

To serve
~ Divide the fennel and fish between 4 warmed bowls and spoon over the warm grapefruit dressing.

Cook more from this book
Chicken pie by Ollie Dabbous
Tartiflette by Ollie Dabbous

Read the review

Buy this book
Essential
£30, Bloomsbury Publishing

Tartiflette by Ollie Dabbous

ESSENTIAL_260820_TARTIFLETTE_0076_AW
A French mountain dish of potatoes with bacon, onions, cream and a whole Reblochon cheese. This is probably your recommended weekly calorific intake in a single bowl, but it is the sort of dish you eat just once a year. And well worth it. Maybe plan a long walk for afterwards, or beforehand, to build up an appetite. Actually, definitely have the walk first as, realistically, you’ll be asleep within
minutes of your last mouthful. Reblochon is a washed rind cheese, and you need that
pungency to cut through the bacon and the cream. No need to peel the potatoes, as the skins add taste and texture here. This is most definitely a meal in itself; serve with a crisp green salad in a sharp mustardy dressing.

1kg Charlotte potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled, sliced 1cm thick
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
200g Alsace bacon, or pancetta, or smoked streaky bacon, chopped into
1cm lardons
30g salted butter
2 white onions, sliced
250g white wine
300g double cream
2 garlic cloves, crushed, plus 1 garlic clove, halved
1 Reblochon cheese

~ Season the potatoes evenly with the salt, then place in a single layer in a steamer basket.
~ Steam over a pan of boiling water for 20 minutes until just cooked through.
~ In this time, colour the lardons in the butter until golden and the bacon fat has rendered. Strain through a sieve, reserving the fat.
~ Return the fat to the pan and add the onions, season lightly with salt and fry until light golden: about 5 minutes.
~ Return the bacon to the pan, then pour in the wine.
~ Bring to the boil, then add the cream and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the crushed garlic, followed by the steamed potatoes. Leave to cool to room temperature.
~ Preheat the oven to 180 oC.
~ Meanwhile, cut the cheese. First, cut a thin round from the top of the whole cheese, about one-third of its total depth. Slice the rest into 1cm slices.
~ Rub a round ovenproof dish with the halved garlic clove, then spoon in a layer of potatoes, followed by a layer of cheese. Repeat twice more, finishing with the cheese disc on top.
~ Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then glaze under a preheated grill until golden and bubbling. Serve.

Cook more from this book
Chicken pie by Ollie Dabbous
Grilled bream with pink grapefruit by Ollie Dabbous

Read the review

Buy this book
Essential
£30, Bloomsbury Publishing

Essential by Ollie Dabbous

Essential Ollie Dabbous

Ollie Dabbous of Michelin-starred Hide in Mayfair has finally followed up Dabbous: The Cookbook, published back in 2014. Whereas that debut book featured dishes from his now closed eponymous London restaurant, Essential is a collection of recipes for what Dabbous calls ‘boldly refined home cooking’ where ‘simple techniques, good taste and concise ingredients underpin every dish.’

That refinement might be something as simple as using milk and yeast to lighten dumplings served with a luxurious version of mince made with red and white wine, beef stock, mustard, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, or spreading a croque monsieur with garlic truffled butter. That sort of attention to small details that make a big difference crops up time and again over the book’s more than 300 pages that include recipes for grains, dairy and eggs, vegetables, leaves, shellfish and fish, meat, fruit and berries and sugar and honey.

While the book ably does its intended job of invigorating a home cook’s repertoire, providing exciting and interesting ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, you can expect more unusual and restaurant-friendly dishes (Dabbous is, after all, one of the most inventive and distinctive chefs of his generation) such as carrot tartare with sunflower seeds, mustard and tarragon; grilled quail with pistachio, mint and orange blossom, or roast venison with Jerusalem artichokes, tarragon and rye.

The short Larder chapter contains ideas for flavourings, marinades and pickles that cooks will want to return to again and again to brighten up any number of dishes. Dabbous says the store cupboard miso, soy, rice wine vinegar, mustard, honey and vinegar marinade he spreads on aubergines before frying works just as well on salmon or chicken, and says Amlou, a Moroccan concoction of toasted almond, honey and argan oil is an alternative to peanut butter than can be served on toast or with cheese or baked fruit.

With everything from a comforting venison toad in the hole and onion gravy to a light and sophisticated grilled bream with pink grapefruit, as well as baking projects that include an exotic fig leaf cake, Dabbous has covered all the bases and created a cookbook that’s as essential as its title suggests.

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

Buy this book
Essential
£30, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Chicken pie by Ollie Dabbous
Grilled bream with pink grapefruit by Ollie Dabbous
Tartiflette by Ollie Dabbous

Gastro Obscura by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras

What’s the USP? Well, it isn’t a cookbook, for one.

Oh. Right. You do know this is a cookbook review blog, right? The clue is right there in the title. Yes, yes, but Gastro Obscura has earned its place on our shelves too. It’s decidedly cookbook-adjacent.

Insofar as that’s where you’ve put it on your shelves? No – in that it’s a big and beautiful hardback about food that has come out just in time for Christmas. Gastro Obscura is a food-based spin-off to the globally-minded Atlas Obscura website. The original site – and its first book by the same name – is a crowd-sourced collection of weird and wonderful attractions around the world, be they strange museums, unusual folk traditions or unexpected attractions.

And let me guess – Gastro Obscura is the same thing, but for food? You got it. Organised by continent, and then by country, there are almost five hundred entries. From ‘North Korean Diplomacy Noodles’ to Jeppson’s Malört, an almost undrinkable liquor from Chicago, the book touches upon every corner of the globe.

I imagine it makes pretty good bedtime reading? Maybe more ‘cosy late night armchair reading’ – it’s a pretty hefty thing. But it is infinitely explorable. Very much fitting into that mould of intriguing coffee table books that are intended to be dipped into on a whim, I still managed to read the whole thing cover-to-cover in a matter of days.

There’s an element of focus that the food theme provides that gives Gastro Obscura a little more purpose than the original book (which has admittedly sat on our bookshelf, mostly unread, since being gifted to my partner a couple of years ago). Where that first title could be a little hit and miss, everything here brings you back to those inescapably fascinating questions we all have about food – why do we eat what we eat? What is everyone else having for dinner tonight? And, most importantly: can I have some?

‘Can I have some’? Yes! One of the smartest additions to the book is a little paragraph next to each entry that tells you how to go about trying the food in question. This might be a fairly general tip (“The days of cocaine-laced bordeaux are over, but try regular bordeaux – it’s very good.”) or, more frequently, a tip directing you to a direct source. If I ever find myself in Botswana’s Okavango Delta you can bet I’ll be heading to African Horseback Safaris to try their pizza made in a termite hill oven.

This all sounds very out of reach. In many cases, the entries absolutely are. The Siberian sashimi competition at Festival Stroganina sounds remarkably difficult to get to, and I doubt I’ll find myself at any of the Antarctic base stations listed here. But for every genuinely obscure choice, there’s plenty of Gastro Not-So-Obscura options. The section dedicated to the US is huge, and if I ever find myself on the east coast in late September, you better believe I’ll be making the detour to West Virginia’s annual roadkill cook-off.

In fact, there’s plenty of very accessible entries here – sauna sausages in Finland, a full marathon that includes 23 glasses of wine in (you guessed it) France – even a secret subterranean cave bar in my hometown of Nottingham that I had no idea existed. There is also a smattering of recipes – though they are surprisingly tame (Finnish mustard, Korea’s budae jjigae) and frustratingly not listed together in the index, meaning you are left to stumble upon them in the course of your reading.

Should I buy it, then? If you love trying unusual foods, or exploring other cultures, there’s much to love here. But let’s not ignore this book’s true raison d’être: a Christmas present for difficult-to-buy-for relatives. Not everyone is a fan of big hardbacks they’re only going to flick through sporadically – but if you’ve got a friend or family member who is really into their food, this could be the perfect Christmas present for them. I, for one, am in the process of writing an email to everybody I know informing them that, thank you very much, but I already own Gastro Obscura. I know how those buggers think.

Cuisine: Global
Suitable for: Curious foodies
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide (Atlas Obscura)
£32, Workman Publishing

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

Gelupo Gelato by Jacob Kenedy

Gelupo Gelato Jacob Kenedy

What’s the USP? This little square book offers up a wide selection of recipes for various ice creams and associated forms – ‘a frosty masterclass in the simple art of gelato’, or so the publishers claim.

Who wrote it? Jacob Kenedy, who is perhaps best known for his restaurant Bocca di Lupo, a favourite of London food critics since 2008. He has since opened the neighbouring Gelupo, a gelateria of similar renown. Here, then, is the recipe book for the latter venture – a small but dense volume that runs the gamut from classic favourites (fior de latte, pistachio, hazelnut) to less expected flavours (rice, for instance, or the elderflower, cucumber and gin granita).

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s no denying that Kenedy squeezes plenty of extra reading into the book, starting with an extended introduction to gelato. That said, the information in this section can be a little confusing; Kenedy claims that gelato is simply the Italian word for ice cream and that there is no difference between the two – only to admit in the very next sentence that ‘there is something a bit special about Italian gelati’. This isn’t all that useful if you’re trying to get your head around the differences – which most writers do not struggle to identify (fat content is a major factor).

Elsewhere the book offers more useful insights, though – the importance of scraping the bowl in a game where ingredient ratios can make such a big difference, the best way to store gelato (pre-freezing your containers to aid that transition to the freezer). Each recipe has an introduction too – many draw on the cultural significance of the flavours, whilst others simply espouse the virtues of a particular combo.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Yes. Many of the recipes rely on the use of stabilisers like locust bean gum powder and glucose syrup. Thankfully, Kenedy is happy to offer more supermarket-ready alternatives, like arrowroot and light runny honey. That said, his willingness to compromise for home cooks is not limited – both the hazelnut and pistachio recipes specifically require pastes that need to be sourced online. This is a shame when these two flavours are so iconic in the gelato world – perhaps Kenedy is keen to maintain authenticity here, but I’m much keener on the idea of actually being able to make the damn ice cream.

What’s the faff factor? Ice cream is never a simple task, regardless of what cookbooks try to tell you. Even the smoothest of processes for a churned ice cream will involve creating a custard base, giving it time to cure in the fridge, and then wrestling with your maker of choice. Kenedy spells out each step fairly clearly here, but he can be a little vague in his instructions – perhaps the result of not knowing precisely which equipment the reader is using.

How often will I cook from the book? How often does anyone actually use their ice cream maker? I bought one earlier this summer and quickly went on something of an ice cream making bender – I still have the remnants of malted milk, strawberry, peach and cherry and chocolate ventures in my freezer right now. But once that initial burst fades – maybe once a month? At a push? If you live with someone who you’re trying to justify the purchase to?

What will I love? Hands down the stand out feature of the book is its absolutely gorgeous contents page. No dull list here: instead, each flavour in the book is represented by a minimalistic coloured circle laid out in an 8×10 grid. It’s an impactful start to the book that would look just as good framed on the living room wall of some beautiful couple who are absolutely not the type to consume ice cream ever.

What won’t I love? For all the variety and exciting flavours, there are a few more familiar options that have been left out. Strawberry ice cream is off the table – instead you’ll have to opt for a strawberry granita, wild strawberry sherbet, or strawberry & pink peppercorn. All told, though, the book’s problem isn’t the lack of choice (Kenedy has filled it with a ridiculous selection to suit every taste), but the lack of precision and attention to detail.

Killer recipes: Lemon & Rosemary, Whisky & Vanilla, Pear & Blackberry Crumble, Roast Plum Sorbet

Should I buy it? If the flavours tempt you, and you already have a very solid grasp of the art of ice cream making, then Gelupo Gelato has some great ideas. For most people, though, this title shouldn’t be the top of the list when learning to create ice cream at home – there are more useful books like Dana Cree’s Hello, My Name is Ice Cream that are better suited for that.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Gelupo Gelato: A delectable palette of ice cream recipes
£14.99, Bloomsbury Publishing

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

Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian by Chetna Makan

Chetnas 30 Minute Indian

What’s the USP? ‘Quick and easy everyday meals’ boasts the front cover – something you might not expect from Indian cuisine. As much as Britain loves Indian food, it’s clear that for those of us without an Indian background to influence our home cooking, there are two distinct camps. You have what we’ll call the ‘Dishoom Cookbook Show-offs’, who see authentic Indian flavours as something one can only achieve by committing the better part of the weekend to toasting dry spices, creating luscious sauces and slowly stewing a difficult-to-come-by cut of meat that they had to bribe the butcher to source for them. And you have the ones who fry up some chicken breast chunks and dump a jar of Patak’s Tikka Masala on top before serving alongside a sachet of microwaved rice.

I have, it should be made clear, repeatedly found myself in each of these camps. A mercenary in the ongoing war: flavour vs. convenience. Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian, then, should be a dream addition to my shelf – rich and delicious Indian food that can be pulled together in around half an hour.

Who wrote it?  The ‘Chetna’ in question is Chetna Makan, who placed 4th in The Great British Bake Off in 2014. Though her initial foray into cookbooks, The Cardamom Trail, focused on bakes with a distinctly Indian flavour profile, her four titles since have steadily tipped the balance away from baking and into Indian cooking. This title, her fifth, does feature a chapter on ‘Bread, Rice & Noodles’, but even here the breads are fried or grilled. Hardcore GBBO fans will have to make do with the Butter Almond Biscuits, the Rose & Pistachio Cake with Cardamom Toffee Sauce or the Glacé Cherry & Orange Cookies – all tucked away at the tail end of the book.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not really – there’s a three page introduction to the book, which is mostly tips to help you make the most of your time. After that, it’s straight into the action – no chapter intros, and only a short paragraph to lead into each recipe.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? For the most part, no – Chetna’s approach to home cooking is built around doing so in the UK. As such, spices tend to be fairly commonplace. Occasionally you might need to visit a specialist to find dried fenugreek leaves or amchur – but you’ll usually be able to Google an easy substitute in a pinch.

What’s the faff factor? Decidedly non-faffy. The whole point, after all, is to create a meal in half an hour. And unlike some chefs on a time limit (I’m looking at you, Jamie), Chetna’s recipes won’t have you charging around the kitchen juggling awkward tasks, or expect your ingredients to have magically chopped themselves beforehand. Everything I tried was done in 30-40 minutes, even working at my decidedly leisurely pace.

Part of this comes down to shortcuts – Chetna makes no secret, and has no shame, about her use of tinned tomatoes or pulses. She encourages the reader not to be shy of pre-prepared ginger and garlic options – an opinion I’ll happily go ahead with. If you need me to finely slice or chop these, I’m all for it, but you’ll never see me mince garlic again as long as I live.

How often will I cook from the book? If you’re looking for a way to liven up your weekday dinners, you’ll get a lot of use out of Chetna’s book, which has enough variety to offer at least a couple of meals a week.

What will I love? The simplicity is one thing, but more than anything else, it’s the sheer range of ideas on offer. Chetna hasn’t allowed the thirty minute dinners brief to diminish any of her ambition, and tucked away among the more familiar faces of butter chicken are a vibrant green Yoghurt Lentil Curry, ambitious but delicious Peas-stuffed Fried Flatbread and an entirely unexpected breakfast noodle dish, Upma Vermicelli.

What won’t I love? Not everything I tried was a hit. My Black-eyed Bean & Mushroom Curry looked delicious in the book, but came across decidedly flat. A recommendation for a longer, gentler cooking option might have turned out better, but in the half an hour I was working to, the result was disappointing. Other dishes, though, come out gorgeously. The Masala Chicken looked ugly and unconvincing, until the moment it hit the pan, and suddenly came together into a warming delight.

Killer recipes: Coconut Curry Leaf Prawns, Peanut Haddock Curry, Malvani-style Chicken Sabji, Tamarind Aubergine Curry, Paneer Pav Bhaji, Ginger & Chilli Chutney

Should I buy it? I’m not sure there’s a greater challenge in Britain’s kitchens right now than how to keep cooking interesting. The pandemic, working from home and the constant effort of, you know… existence. Oof. It’s no wonder so many of us are feeling fatigued and uninspired in the kitchen at the moment.

Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian is a wonderful balm to that – a chance to inject authentic flavours and a little variety into your dinnertime, and all for a small commitment of time that will leave you the rest of the evening to dedicate to something you love: Love Island, perhaps. Scrolling through TikTok until 3am. Or my personal favourite: ever-spiralling climate anxiety. Either way, it’ll be nice to do it on a full stomach.

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

Buy this book
Chetna’s 30-minute Indian: Quick and easy everyday meals

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

Cookbook review round up Summer 2021

East London Food by Rosie Birkett and Helen Cathcart

East London Food

What’s the USP? A second edition of the best selling guide to the restaurants, bars, cafes, bakeries and food shops of East London written by an expert resident.

Who is the author? Rosie Birkett is a food writer with columns in the Sunday Times and Good Food Magazine and the author of A Lot on Her Plate and The Joyful Home Cook. Special mention must go to photographer Helen Cathcart, whose portraits, food and location shots really bring the East London Food world to life.

Why do I need a guide to East London Food? Over the last decade, East London has emerged as the culinary powerhouse of the capital with Michelin-starred restaurants, artisan bakeries and breweries and everything in between.  If you want to expereince some of the best food in the UK, you have to visit East London, and this book is your essential guide.

Can I cook from it though? There’s just a baker’s dozen recipes, the one disappointment of the book. I would have swapped some of the perfunctory one paragraph write ups of some of the included places (most get several well researched and written pages) for more recipes. But you do get things like butternut squash, whipped yoghurt, harissa and crispy sage from Morito in Hackney and Chicken and Girolles Pie from the Marksman pub in Haggerston.

Should I buy it? If you are a restaurant nerd, someone who travels to eat or a Londoner that wants to know more about their cities culinary DNA, it’s a must.

Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
East London Food (Second Edition): The people, the places, the recipes
£30, Hoxton Mini Press

Foolproof BBQ by Genevieve Taylor

Foolproof BBQ Genevieve Taylor

Whats the USP? Barbecue recipes, it’s no more complicated than that.

Who is the author? According to her website, ‘Live fire and BBQ expert, Genevieve Taylor is the author of eleven cookery books including the bestseller, Charred, a complete guide to vegetarian barbecue, The Ultimate Wood-fired Oven Cook book and How to Eat Outside.’ She’s also something of an all-rounder having written books on soup, stew, pie and er, marshmallow (it’s not easy being a food writer, I can tell you. You’ve got to take the gigs when you can get them).

Killer recipes:  Devilled chicken wings with spicy tomato relish; lemon and oregano souvlaki with tzatziki; spicy coconut lamb chops; cajun fish tacos with slaw and line cream.

Should I buy it? If you’re partial to a bit of barbecue and fancy a lively collection of globally inspired skewers, burgers, sandwiches, grilled meats, seafood, vegetables and even desserts, with some delicous sounding sauces, slaws and relishes thrown in for good measure then you won’t go far wrong. Not life changing, but a reliable little volume that will no doubt become a summer regular.

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

Buy this book
Foolproof BBQ: 60 Simple Recipes to Make the Most of Your Barbecue
£12.99, Hardie Grant Quadrille

Super Natural Simple by Heidi Swanson

Super natural simple

What’s the USP? Its, uh, a vegetarian cookbook. In 2021, that rates of course as one of the rarest of all the USPs. Hardly ever see a vegetarian cookbook. Or a vegan one come to think of it. They should publish more of them. Help save the planet wouldn’t it? This one is for when your pushed for time and need simple recipes with only a few ingredients and you’ve misplaced your phone and can’t get a Deliveroo. You know, those times. Again, not many books with simple recipes for when your hectic life doesn’t allow you to spend too much time in the kitchen. I think the idea could catch on.

Who is the author? I have to admit to being ignorant of Heidi Swanson until this book arrived on my doormat, but she is a big noise in America. Voted one of the 100 greatest home cooks of all time by Epicurious.com (I’m not on that list for some reason and I’m seriously good, so that gives you some indication of the quality of that particualr line up), she’s the author of several other New York Times bestsellers with the words Super Natural in the title. She definately isn’t Alison Roman. Or Deb Perelman.

Killer recipes: Ten ingredient masala chilli;  grilled corn salad with salty-sweet lime dressing; grilled rice triangles; spicy chickpeas with kale and coconut; feisty tofu with broccoli, chilli and nuts.

Should I buy it? Look, there really isn’t such a thing these days as a really bad cookbook; the industry has becme so adept at churning them out that you will get something out of this. It looks pretty good in a bright, modish retro sort of way and there’s enough content to warrant the price (you’ll get it cheap on Amazon anyway). I get the feeling that Swanson’s earlier books might have more about them, but I’ve never read them so I can’t be sure. Fans will be delighted by the book no doubt and probably furious at this review, but, that’s life isn’t it? One thing that might influence your decision is that fact that Swansons website has over 700 recipes for free on it. Something to think about.

Cuisine: Vegetarian
Suitable for:
Beginners/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Three stars

Buy this book
Super Natural Simple: Whole-Food, Vegetarian Recipes for Real Life
£22, Hardie Grant Books