60 Second Review: Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Taste by Stanley Tucci

Taste: My Life Through Food is a food-centric memoir with recipes.

The author is Stanley Tucci, the much loved American actor, writer, film producer and director, most noted for his performances in The Devil Wears Prada and The Hunger Games. However, foodies will know him best for the films Big Night and Julie and Julia and his excellent food and travel TV series Searching for Italy. He is the author of two cookbooks, The Tucci Table and The Tucci Cookbook.  

You should buy Taste: My Life Through Food first and foremost if you are a fan of Tucci. The handful of recipes are for very familiar Italian dishes such as pasta alla Norma or are so simple, like a tomato salad or lamb chops, as to hardly warrant a recipe at all. Perhaps I’m missing the point.

However, you do get the recipe for Timpano, the spectacular centrepiece dish featured in Big Night that Tucci describes as ‘a baked drum of pastry-like dough filled with pasta, ragu, salami, various cheeses, hard boiled eggs, and meatballs’. There’s also some of Tucci’s favourite cocktails (including his now notorious shaken not stirred negroni), his wife’s recipe for roast potatoes and American BBQ chef Adam Perry Lang’s chimichurri sauce among other things.

But Tucci is an engaging writer and you will have fun discovering his childhood in upstate New York (as well as a year in Florence), his time working as a nineteen year old bar man in Alfredo’s restaurant in Manhattan and anecdotes from his life in the movie business.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci
£20, Fig Tree

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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60 Second Review: Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains by Ruth Nieman

Freekeh
Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains is a collection of 80 ‘healthy’ recipes based around ancient grains including freekeh. The book’s six chapters also chart the 10,000 year history of the discovery and cultivation of grains including barley, rye and sorghum and wild wheats such as emmer and einkorn. 

The author is London-based food writer and former nurse and then caterer Ruth Nieman who specialises in the food of the Middle East. Her first self published book The Galilean Kitchen included home recipes from women of the northern Israeli region.  

You should buy Freekeh, Wild Wheat & Ancient Grains if you are interested in food history and finding out more about lesser known ingredients, as well as eating nutritious dishes such as pearl barley soup  with fennel, dill and feta which Nieman says is protein rich and contains fibre and antioxidants. The tone tends toward the  academic and there’s a distinct lack of food styling in the photography which gives the book a less than polished feel which may limit its appeal for some readers. 

Cuisine: Middle Eastern 
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Freekeh by Ruth Nieman
£20, Prospect Books

This book has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food Award. Read more here.

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Grand Dishes by Anastasia Miari and Iska Lupton

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What’s the USP? A global tour of grannies, learning about their lives and their cooking. Other grandmothers, it turns out, really did make exceptionally good food that tied together family relationships and defined the tastes of the generations that followed them.

Mine, on the other hand, didn’t really do any cooking but did have a habit of keeping the lunch meats from half-eaten café sandwiches in her pocket to feed to the dog later. She didn’t own a dog, but just hoped to see one at some point. The food ideas of the late, great Chris ‘Nanny’ Thomas have not made it into Grand Dishes.

Who wrote it? Iska Lupton and Anastasia Miari, two friends who were inspired by their own grandmothers to travel the world interviewing other grans about their lives and their food. ‘This book is not about what it’s like to be old,’ the book tells us on a number of occasions. ‘It’s about what it’s like to have lived’.

This is the first food book for either of the authors, though in a sense that doesn’t matter – we’re here for the Abuelas and the Nonnas, the Nannys and the Grandmas.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a very balanced prose-to-recipe ratio here, with the majority of the book split first into chapters (Soups & Sides, Vegetables, Fish, Meat, Something Sweet) and then divided by grandmother. The obvious flaw here is that grannies aren’t easily able to share both a recipe for trout and another for jelly – though I can think of a few I’ve met in my time who would be tempted to pair those two.

Each granny is given plenty of room to breathe (no factory farmed Bubbies here). As well as an introduction from Lupton and Miari that tends to mythologise their experience in meeting and eating with their subject, there’s a story from the grandmother that might cover where they’ve come from, or how food has impacted their lives. Finally, there’s a recipe or two, drawn from the grandmother’s kitchen but kindly edited by the authors for both consistency and – importantly – the inclusion of measurements that were often eschewed by instinctive grans.

Perhaps best of all, each woman has a little fact sheet that tells us where and when they were born, what their mother tongue is, the name of their grandchildren, and what those grandchildren call them. No getting in this book unless you’re a full-fledged gran! We’re not letting just any old lady in this book. You’ve gotta have the gran-specific nickname to prove your status!

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Generally speaking, you should be fine. Lupton and Miari really have drawn in grannies from all over the place here, with Grandma Anne in New Orleans, Abuela Juana Maria in Cuba, and a wealth of ex-pat grannies who have relocated from the likes of Thailand and South Africa. Despite this, most ingredients are easy to pick up in even the biggest supermarkets. Occasionally a guest recipe from a professional chef will throw you into disarray though. Why is it everybody else’s gran shops at Tesco, but AngloThai chef John Chantarasak’s just happens to use salted duck egg? Typical.

What will I love? The book has been put together with immense love for all of the women involved, and it shows. The range of recipes on offer is immensely varied, too, and features meals that feel genuinely unique even amongst my fairly large cookbook collection. Grandmother Sharon’s Outer Banks Shrimp Stew with ‘Pie Bread’, for example. Or perhaps Miss D’s Pastry Pig Ears.

What won’t I love? The other side of the same coin is that there’s very little coherency between the recipes offered by the 60-plus grandmothers in here (that’s both a fair representation of quantity and age). As a result, this is less a book for casual cooking and one for browsing and inspiration. People often reach for Jamie Oliver’s books thinking ‘I want something quick and nutritious), or Claudia Roden’s thinking ‘I feel like something with a Mediterranean feel tonight’. What are you reaching for here? ‘I’m really craving food that’s been approved by a septuagenarian I’ve never met’?

Killer recipes: Bobee Harriet’s Corn and Crab Bisque, Grandmother Dona Margarita’s Mexican Rice with Chicken Offal, Abayeye Shewa’s Kale and Mustard Leaves Cooked With Garlic, Abuela Juana Maria’s Cuban Plantain Soup

Should I buy it? Grand Dishes often feels a little more like a coffee table title than a traditional cookbook. Though there are plenty of delicious recipes here, the real focus of the book is always on the stories of the women that sit at its heart. This weighting means that the title might be a little limited for those who have limited space in their lives and their kitchens for cookbooks – but those who want something warm and cosy to read that might also offer them an idea or two for dinner will be well served here.

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

Buy this book

Grand Dishes 
£25, Unbound

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

This book was longlisted for the Andre Simon Award 2021. Read more here.

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The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martinez

The Latin American Cookbook

What’s the USP? The latest entry in Phaidon’s ongoing quest to publish the definitive cookbook for every cuisine in the world, The Latin American Cookbook joins an increasingly heavy shelf that includes The Silver Spoon (and a few of its spin-offs) as well as titles dedicated to Japanese, American and Jewish foods.

The range was already fairly curious, with most titles priced at £35 despite the fact that some measure roughly twice the size of others. Each book follows roughly the same format – hundreds upon hundreds of authentic recipes, a smattering of pictures, and the occasional joy of having a dish require you to do something obscene to an animal you’ve previously only seen in a wildlife reserve.

Who wrote it? Virgilio Martínez is our guide to the biggest region to draw Phaidon’s attention so far. The Peruvian chef might also be the series’ most interesting author to date; he’s certainly the only one whose Wikipedia page has a section titled ‘Piranha smuggling incident’.

Martínez has previously broken onto our cookbook shelves with an exploration of his native Peruvian cuisine in LIMA, and a classic fancy-chef-does-good coffee table volume named after his restaurant Central. Here, though, he expands his vision to offer us over 600 recipes from over 20 different Latin American countries. No wonder the title also credits travel writer Nicholas Gill and Martínez’s own Mater Initiative as co-authors – this is a big undertaking by any measure.

Is it good bedtime reading? It would be unfair to say that I am not entirely a fan of Phaidon’s international cookbooks – I’ve just checked, and currently have six on my shelves, including currently out of print titles for France and Spain. But in their relative uniformity they are consistently flawed in a number of key places. Most significant among these: they are absolutely terrible reads.

Phaidon’s books are recipe collections, and little else. Though there are occasional exceptions, the series almost always features very minimal prose besides the recipes themselves. No change here, then: the introduction, given twelve pages in the contents, is actually one and a half pages and several very beautiful pictures presented without context (bar a single sentence for each tucked on the very final page of the book). Chapters, too, are limited to a couple of hundred words for an introduction.

The individual recipes offer a slight surprise given Phaidon’s form, generally offering at least a small paragraph that explains the dish, and how it might feature in a traditional meal. This doesn’t sound like much and, indeed, it isn’t – but this bare minimum is more than several of the publisher’s titles have mustered. It makes all the difference in a book where the overwhelming majority of the dishes are both unfamiliar to readers outside of each given nation, and also lack an accompanying photograph to give the home cook a little extra context.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Oh, very. Perhaps this is the result of the ‘cookbook by committee’ that Martínez has created via the involvement of his Mater Institute, but the recipes here are incredibly inconsistent. Though it’s admirable to attempt to deliver coherent instructions for British English and American English audiences alike, there is confusion to be had when spring onions are sometimes listed as ‘spring onions (scallions)’, other times as ‘spring onions (salad onions)’, and other times still as ‘salad onions (scallions)’. This sort of mess is only compounded further when the reader is introduced to a wealth of specialist ingredients that they won’t be familiar with, and certainly haven’t been introduced to in the non-existent chapter introductions. Achiote paste, for example, is generally listed as being the same as annatto paste – but on at least one occasion both are listed separately for the same recipe. This should be an easy fix – readers should be confused whether or not ‘loroco’ is a type of edible flower or a type of edible vine. There’s a decent sized glossary at the back, but it’s ineffective – both of the above ingredients are listed but I’m still no clearer.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Another mainstay of Phaidon’s international range. The short answer is: absolutely you will. In fact, there will be long sections of The Latin American Cookbook in which readers will struggle to find a single recipe that can be completed according to instructions using all the ingredients listed. Of the Fruit chapter’s twenty-five recipes, I can only reliably source the ingredients for seven dishes. For all but those of us in the biggest of cities, with the most intimate knowledge of local world supermarkets, the likes of yam beans, chira (banana flowers) and chicasquil (tree spinach) remain an exotic fantasy.

Many of these ingredients are presented without substitution suggestions, which essentially wipes out the practical use of at least a third of the recipes. Others require one of no less than fifteen different peppers that will be totally new to most readers (and equally inaccessible). It’s possible in most cases to guess a sensible substitute for these – but as a general rule, Martínez will have no interest in helping you make your choice.

How often will I cook from the book? Whilst there’s technically enough recipes here to keep you fed for the best part of two years, you’re not going to manage that. For a start, you’ll spend most of that time on the road trying to find a reliable source of queso Oaxaca. But for elaborate and authentic weekend meals, there’s still plenty to love here. I spent a couple of hours putting together a Mexican mole known as ‘tablecloth stainer’ and, though during the initial process the dish looked my likely to find its way to the bin than my stomach, there was a moment of alchemy at which point everything coalesced into a rich and delicious meal I would never have thought myself capable of. This is all you can ask for from a cookbook, really – the chance to create something entirely beyond you and to feel, if only for a minute, like a wizard, or a Michelin-starred chef, or somewhere inbetween.

What will I love? There’s no way to deny The Latin American Cookbook’s commitment to authenticity. This is what fans of the series seek, and it’s delivered here in spades. Yes, it means that many of the dishes are damned near impossible to accurately create in your home kitchen – but that’s not really the point, is it? We can’t seek to understand another nation’s cuisine only through those dishes that can be made using exclusively the ingredients available in your local Morrisons. And who amongst us doesn’t get a small thrill from seeing a recipe that calls for large-bottomed ants? How many cookbooks can you name that have a generally fairly unpleasant picture of fried guinea pig?

What won’t I love? Maybe the picture of the fried guinea pig, if you’re vegetarian.

For all of the authenticity and wonder present in The Latin American Cookbook, there’s still plenty of questions that need to be answered. Could the publisher have sprung for an editor who’d introduce a little more consistency to the recipes? Why didn’t Martínez and his team put a little more effort into providing the reader with clarity on substitutes where possible?

Perhaps the most interesting question, though, is why had Phaidon made Latin America share a cookbook when there is such a wealth of flavours across that sprawling continent and a half? Mexico, which features prominently in this book, already has an entire title of it’s own, which is almost double the length of this. Cuba, a nation with a population of 11 million or so, was given a volume specific to its cuisine, but the enormous nation of Brazil, with an additional 200 million inhabitants and all the diversity of culture and cuisine that entails, finds itself tucked between the dishes of nineteen other nations.

Killer recipes: Brazilian Black Bean and Pork Stew, Chilean Corn Pie, Colombian Braised Beef, Creole Stew, Ecuadorian Easter Soup, Guyanese Pepperpot, Reddish Mole, Yucatán-Style Barbecued Pork

Should I buy it? Fans of Phaidon’s existing range will know what to expect here, but for all its authenticity, The Latin American Cookbook comes up short for accessibility. Though there are plenty of delicious dishes to discover, home cooks looking for an easy weeknight route into Latin American food would perhaps be better served seeking out one of the more focused books on the market.

Ultimately, The Latin American Cookbook’s ambition is never fully realised. Too authentic to be a practical collection of recipes, and yet too messy to serve as a definitive reference book – its audience is out there, but there’ll be plenty more who will be disappointed by the missed opportunity.

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

Buy this book
The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martinez
£35, Phaidon

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

This book was longlisted for the Andre Simon Award 2021. Read more here.
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Happy Cooking by Candice Brown

Candice Brown Happy Cooking

What’s the USP? The blurb describes Happy Cooking as a cookbook filled with recipes to make you smile! Which sounds incredibly twee, and a little bit exhausting – which is a huge shame, because if you venture even so far as the introduction you’ll quickly discover that Happy Cooking is a little more than that. From comforting treats to dishes that will keep an anxious mind occupied, the book is actually a much more mindful approach to mental health and cooking.

Who wrote it? Candice Brown, who some might recognise as the winner of series seven of The Great British Bake Off. Brown has been busy since her win, opening up a pub in Bedfordshire and, like so many of us, living with a number of mental health problems. In a candid opening, Brown talks about her depression, PTSD, chronic phobia and recently diagnosed ADHD.

Happy Cooking, then, is her attempt to broach these subjects whilst acknowledging the role food has in helping us face up to, or simply cope with, our own mental health. No ‘guilty food chats, no rules and no judgement’.

Is it good bedtime reading? Perhaps not as much as you’d expect. Brown doesn’t lean in particularly hard to the theme, beyond short introductions to each chapter. Often the intros to the recipes themselves don’t refer to mental health at all, and would sit just as happily in any other cookbook. This could have been an annoyance but, in all honesty, is actually quite welcome. Mental health – and depression in particular – is such an amorphous and individualistic beast that any attempt to provide confident and universal answers will always come across as misjudged and ill-informed. Better, then, to keep it to personal experiences, and broad ideas that are easy to identify with.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Not at all – this is straight-forward cooking with very few of the dishes coming from any further afield than western Europe. Sriracha is about as exotic as this book gets, and supermarkets don’t even bother sitting that in their international food sections anymore. You’ll find sriracha with the other condiments now. Heinz does a version. Heinz!

What’s the faff factor? How much faff do you want? Brown has smartly recognised the different ways we approach cooking when struggling with our mental health. There are times when you need rich and comforting food quickly, but simply do not have the energy for anything complex – the Fancy Eggs that open Brown’s initial ‘Quick Pick-Me-Ups’ chapter look delicious, and will readily sate this desire.

At other times, the troubled mind relishes the escapism of cooking, and getting lost in more hands-on and prescriptive tasks like an elaborate recipe can help to fill that space. The ‘Keep-Your-Hands-Busy Cooking’ chapter, as well as confirming Brown’s fondness for the hyphen, is filled with these, from Bacon, Cheese and Chive Croquettes to Apricot and Amaretto Pastel de Nata.

How often will I cook from the book? There are lots of recipes here, though the nature of the chapter on nostalgic foods means that many dishes are very familiar. Brown offers nothing new in her recipes for various roast meats or ‘proper’ fish and chips. But those looking for recognisable flavours and simple, cosy meals will no doubt be able to dig something up regularly.

Killer recipes: Pork Meatballs with Creamy Mustard Broccoli and Orzo, Kedgeree Hash Browns, Apple and Pear Sweet ‘Dauphinoise’

Should I buy it? A lovely premise for a cookbook is let down a little by the underwhelming range of dishes on offer – though a few gems do shine through. The question is, who will enjoy this best? Fans of the Great British Bake Off will certainly discover a few recipes to quench their thirst, and those trying to understand how best to cook around their own mental health needs may draw a few scant ideas. Ultimately, this feels a little like a missed opportunity.

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

Buy this book
Happy Cooking: Easy uplifting meals and comforting treats
£22, Ebury Press

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

The Female Chef by Clare Finney and Liz Seabrook

The Female Chef

What’s the USP? Interviews with and recipes from 31 leading British chefs/cooks (despite the book’s title, there is much debate in the introduction and the interviews about which is the correct/preferred title) including Angela Hartnett, Thomasina Miers, Andi Oliver, Gizzi Erskine, Ravinder Bhogal, Olia Hercules and er, Elizabeth Haig (click here to catch up on the controversy that has recently sprung up around Haig).

Who wrote it? Food writer Clare Finney won Food Writer of the Year in Fortnum and Mason’s Food and Drink Awards in 2019. She contributes to a wide variety of national publications. This is her first book. Liz Seabrook is a portrait and lifestyle photographer.

Is it good bedtime reading? Finney ponders the question Cooks or Chefs? in her  introductory essay, a question more fraught than you might imagine. Finney says that the words ‘cook’ and ‘chef’ are ‘inherently gendered’ and that ‘several women in this book have chosen to reject the label ‘chef”. However, she also explains that ‘the question ‘Do you consider yourself a chef or a cook?’ continued to prompt an extraordinary array of discussions’. I don’t have room to detail the various viewpoints here but the 30 short interviews (Sam Evans and Shauna Guinn of the now closed Hang Fire Southern Kitchen in Barry are interviewed together) are well worth reading to discover them for yourself.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The first recipe in the book is Anna Jones’ Dhal with Crispy Sweet Potato and Quick Coconut Chutney.  Ingredients include ‘2 sweet potatoes’ no size or weight indicated, ‘olive oil for drizzling’,  ‘vegetable or coconut oil for frying’ a ‘thumb-sized piece of ginger’ (my wife’s thumb is roughly half the size of mine) ‘bunch of fresh coriander’ (according to my local Asda, a bunch is either a 30g bag or a ‘growers selection’ which is about three times the size and would be enough coriander for a week’s worth of recipes). There are plenty of other recipes in the book with similarly vague ingredients lists, although with 30 different contributors (Ravinder Bhogal of Jikoni restaurant in London has failed to cough up a recipe for some reason) the accuracy waxes and wanes as you might expect as the recipe writing style varies.

You may say at this point, well, can’t you just use your common sense you annoying (male) pedant. To which I would respond, have a look at these recipes for Pasta Salad by professional chef, baker and YouTuber Brian Lagerstorm which include gram weights for every ingredient including the water and salt to boil the pasta in and all the vegetables (he does specify ‘a splash of olive oil’ to dress the cooked pasta with directly after cooking but I’m going to let him off that one minor detail as it is an instinctive part of the process).  They are just very well developed and written recipes that anyone could follow. Cookery books are manuals and should have the appropriate level of detail. If you bought a woodwork book and it said ‘drill a hole in some bits of wood and screw them together’ you’d quite rightly be pissed off that it didn’t specify the type of wood, size of the hole and the type of screw (that’s a very male example isn’t it. Or is it?).  Recipes are really not that different. Although if you’re cooking up screws and bits of wood I  don’t want to eat at your house.

Will I have difficulty finding the ingredients? With dozens of contributors, all with their own unique styles, the book covers a lot of culinary ground, so it’s not surprising that one or two more difficult to track down ingredients appear in the recipes. Erchen Chang of BAO restaurant in London uses doubangjiang (fermented broad bean paste) for her Braised Pork Gua Bao that’s available in Chinese supermarkets or online at Sous Chef, and Pamela Brunton of Inver in West Scotland pairs Gigha Halibut (which, unless you have a top class fishmonger nearby, you can order from the Fish Society) with coastal greens such as sea blite and sand wort (again, the Fish Society has something similar). Good luck finding tasso ham for Sam Evans and Shauna Guinn’s Shrimp and Tasso File Gumbo though, you might have to make your own.

How often will I cook from the book? There are some recipes, like Angela Hartnett’s Anolini that requires chuck beef, veal rump, Italian sausage, beef brisket, smoked bacon, Toulouse sausage, a free range chicken and much else besides that might be once a year or even once in a lifetime cooks. However, there are plenty of everyday dishes like Skye Gyngell’s Leek, Potato and Parsley Soup and Lisa Goodwin-Allen’s Sundried Tomato and Goat’s Cheese Quiche that make this a genuinely useful book to have on your shelf.

Killer recipes: Wadadli spiced roast chicken and coconut gravy; beef kofta; apricot tarte tatin; braised squid, parsley and potatoes; Thai noodle soup; Tahini and preserved lemon cookies; fish curry and pumpkin maize meal.

Should I buy it? Eight of the 29 recipes (as mentioned above, Ravinder Bhogal hasn’t contributed a recipe and Sam Evans and Shauna Guinn contribute one between them) have already been published elsewhere so if you already have a large cookbook collection it might be worth checking how many of the recipes you already own if that is your main reason for buying the book.

Finney’s prose can at times tend towards the overheated (for example, of Thomasina Meirs’ Wahaca Mexican restaurant group, she claims that ‘it’s impossible to overstate the impact the chain has had on our culinary landscape’. Um, OK) but she has succeeded in identifying a group of genuinely interesting talents, some of which may be new names to readers or at least under-reported, which makes this a worthwhile purchase for anyone interested in the modern British restaurant scene.

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

Buy this book
The Female Chef: 30 women redefining the British food scene
£28, Hoxton Mini Press

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

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

Outdoor Cooking by Tom Kerridge

Tom Kerrige Outdoor Cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curry Guy Thai by Dan Toombs

Curry Guy Thai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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