Asian Green by Ching-He Huang

Asian Green Ching He Huang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cook from this book 
Coming soon

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

Eat Better Forever by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

9781526602800

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salmon by Mark Kurlansky

Salmon Mark Kurlansky

What’s the USP? From the man who brought you Cod, a book about cod, now comes Salmon, a book about the history of the social revolutionary organisation Situationist International. I’m kidding. It’s about salmon.

Who’s the author? Mark Kurlansky is an award winning American writer, journalist and sometime playwright who, according to his website, has also worked as ‘a commerical fisherman, a dock worker, a paralegal, a cook, and a pastry chef’.

Is it good bedtime reading? Salmon is not a cookbook but a work of narrative non-fiction that charts the past, present and future of one of the world’s most popular  fish and ‘a barometer for the health of our planet’. Apart from a few recipes the author has collected along the way (see below for more details), it’s all bedtime reading.

Although Kurlansky does have a cookbook to his name (International Night), when writing about food, Kurlansky more usually views it through the lens of a single subject like Milk, or a person such as Clarence Birdseye (Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man) rather than basing his work around recipes.  He has also written numerous books on other subjects including Ready for a Brand New Beat:  How “Dancing in the Street” became an anthem for a changing America and Paper:  Paging Through History and so thankfully, he is not a food writer, per se. We are therefore spared the arch, sub-poetic simpering romanticism that can sometimes besmirch the genre.

Instead Salmon is a factual, historical and journalistic exploration of the subject. From the first page of the book’s prologue, where the author travels to Alaska and goes onboard two very different salmon fishing vessels, Kurlansky uses his not inconsiderable story telling talents to hook the reader like a…(well, you know know what like) and doesn’t let them off until a pensive epilogue ‘It concerns us’ where he contemplates the environmental impact of economic development and asks the question ‘What would it mean to lose a salmon species…that is intimately engaged in the life cycle of tiny insects like a stonefly or large mammals like a brown bear…How many species do we lose when we lost a salmon? And how many others do we lost from losing those.’

It’s not all doom and gloom. Kurlansky wonders at ‘the great mystery’ of the salmon’s return to its place of birth. Anadromous species of salmon are born in rivers then migrate to the sea to mature. They then return to the river to spawn. But not just any old river; they return to their place of birth. ‘The salmon not only finds that river after travelling thousands of miles away, but it returns to the very same stretch of gravel in that same crook in the same stream where it was born some years before’.

That makes sense doesn’t it? You’ve had your wild years out at sea; now it’s time to settle down and have a family. You’re bound to want to go back to the setting for the idyllic days of your youth and where there’s a nice big lake for the kids to swim around in. Except we’re talking about a fish, an animal with a brain approximately one fifteenth the size of a bird. It’s absolutely astonishing. Can Kurlansky explain this jaw dropping phenomenon? You’ll just have to buy the book to find out.  

What about the recipes? Think of them as a nice little side dish to the firm pink flesh of the book; it would be a mistake to buy Salmon expecting to get a lot of new dishes to try out and the recipes seem to have been included more for illustrative purposes than anything else. So we get the beer bread that Hannelore Olsen bakes for her husband Ole and his salmon fishing crew for dinner, and the salmon chowder prepared for Kurlansky by salmon fisherwoman Thea Thomas during a night at sea.

There’s also things like Robert May’s recipe from 1660 for pickled salmon ‘to keep all the year’ (and then throw away because, you know, it’s fish you boiled in wine and vinegar 12 months ago), and salmon al verde written in 1913 by novelist Emilia Pardo Bazán which has stood the test of time about as well as Robert May’s manky old seafood.

There’s a recipe for poached salmon which Kurlansky suggests was served to Jackie Kennedy in the White House, but it’s not clear if it’s the authors version or that of René Verdon, the Kennedy’s private chef  (a White House dinner menu from the time re-produced in the book simply lists ‘medaillons de saumon ‘ which isn’t a lot to go on).

Elsewhere, there’s culinary curiosities including Swedish salmon pudding and Hawaiian lomilomi (flaked salted salmon rubbed together with peeled and de-seeded tomatoes and chopped green onions. It’s the most popular salmon dish in Hawaii. They also love Spam. Let’s all take a culinary holiday in Hawaii after lockdown shall we?). Let’s just say its a curate’s egg of a recipe collection.

Should I buy it? An entire book about one variety of fish might, on the face of it,  appear to have niche appeal. But Kurlansky is such as skilled writer and his scope so wide ranging that anyone interested in food, history, the environment and sustainability will be fascinated.

Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of a Common Fate
£18.99, Oneworld

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

Cheesecake and wood roasted peaches by Tomos Parry of Brat, London

275 Parry

Serves 6

360 g cream cheese
160 g superfine (caster) sugar
Grated zest of 1⁄4 orange
4 organic eggs
225 ml double cream
20 g all-purpose (plain) flour
Grilled fruit (such as rhubarb or peaches), for serving
Crème fraîche, for serving

Preheat the convection oven to 350°F (180°C) or a regular oven to 390°F (200°C). In a bowl, whisk the cream cheese, sugar, and orange zest until light and glossy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Gently whisk in the cream, then slowly sift in the flour and mix thoroughly.

Line a 10-inch (25 cm) cast-iron skillet with parchment paper. Pour in the mixture and bake for 30 minutes, then rotate front to back and cook for 15 minutes longer. The aim is for the cheesecake to rise like a soufflé and caramelize, almost burning on the top.

Once the cheesecake is out of the oven, leave it to cool for 1 hour (it will sink a bit). Slice and serve it with grilled fruit and a dollop of crème fraîche on the side.

Photograph by Benjamin McMahon

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

9781838661359-3d-1500

Cook more from this book
Lamb navarin
Concha

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

Read the review Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

Concha by Elena Reygadas of Rosetta, Mexico City

307 Reygadas

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

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

Make the vanilla crust:

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

Make the conchas:

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

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

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

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

Bake the conchas for 18 minutes.

Photograph courtesy Ana Lorenzana

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

9781838661359-3d-1500

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

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

Read the review
Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

 

Lamb navarin by Neil Borthwick, The French House, London

027 Borthwick

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

Dish photographed by Peter Clarke

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

9781838661359-3d-1500

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

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

Read the review
Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

Today’s Special edited by Emily Takoudes

 

Todays Special

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Catch Your Gingerbread by Sam Bilton

First Catch Your Gingerbread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Relation Between Us by Bo Bech

The Relation Between Us Bo Bech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bull and Last

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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