New releases round-up December 2019

The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook by Annie Gray

Downton Cookbook

So, this is a quick and nasty cash in on a world-famous TV franchise, right?Well, it will undoubtedly make a few quid off the Downtown name, but there is nothing quick and nasty about it.  Written by the acclaimed historian, cook and broadcaster Annie Gray this a pukka piece of work that takes the fictional Downtown Abbey as a jumping off point to chart the history of British country house cooking in recipes and a series of short articles

Killer recipes:  Palestine soup; Cabbage as they served it in Budapest; mutton with caper sauce; the queen of trifles; beef stew with dumplings; treacle tart; rice pudding.

Should I buy it?: You don’t have to be a Downtown fan to buy this book but it will help if you are one. There are quite a lot of photos from the set of the TV series which won’t mean much to those who don’t follow the show. That said, it’s a sumptuously produced book with some lovely food photography by John Kernick and the quality of the writing and recipes means it will appeal to anyone with an interest in British food and its history.

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

Buy this book
The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook
White Lion Publishing, £25

Super Sourdough by James Morton

Super Sourdough James Morton

Another book about sourdough, really? Yes, really. Like the shelves aren’t already heaving with them. If you don’t own the ten year old Tartine Bread: (Artisan Bread Cookbook, Best Bread Recipes, Sourdough Book) by legendary San Francisco baker Chad Robertson then you really need to rectify that massive mistake immediately, and then you can still buy Super Sourdough. Although Morton’s 20 page recipe for Pain au Levan shares many striking similarities with Robertson’s 40 page Basic Country Bread recipe, what Morton is particularly good at is helping novice bakers through the process every step of the way. The troubleshooting guides on sourdough starters and bread making are particularly useful and reassuring.  

Should I buy it? If you’ve never made sourdough before and are looking for a new hobby, this is a great place to start. It’s not just an instruction manual; once you have mastered the basics of sourdough there’s plenty of fun to be had knocking up Chelsea buns, pizza, crumpets and even cornbread. 

Cuisine: Baking 
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating:
Four stars

Buy this book
Super Sourdough: The foolproof guide to making world-class bread at home
Quadrille Publishing Ltd, £20

Week Light by Donna Hay

Week Light Donna Hay

So what is this, the 900th Donna Hay cookbook? Calm down mate. She might be the self -styled ‘Australia’s leading food editor and best-selling cookbook author’ and have sold ‘over seven million copies worldwide, with the books translated into 10 languages’ but in fact this is ‘only’ her 29th book.

That’s still about half a dozen more books than Charles Dickens ever wrote. What has she got left to say about food that anyone wants to hear? Well, how about, ‘No longer the side dishes, the back up dancers, the understudies, vegetables have EARNED THEIR PLACE to be front and centre on your plate’ (capitals, Donna Hay’s own).

Radical. Except didn’t Bruno Loubet say something very similar about 5 years ago with his brilliant book Mange ToutIts unlikely that there’s much overlap between Hay and Loubet’s audience. And there’s nothing truly new in cooking anyway is there, so stop quibbling.

Sorry, but before we go any further, WTAF is that title all about? That has got to be the weakest pun in the history of publishing.  It’s never explained or referred to at all in the book, it’s almost as if it was an after thought. Weeknight/Weeklight? Who knows?

So what’s the USP then? Healthy food that’s easy to prepare and which ticks all the modish boxes of the last few years including ‘bowl food’ like cheat’s chilli cashew tofu larb; a version of banh mi made with marinated tofu; chipotle chicken and cauliflower tacos, and ‘pizza’ made with a base of mashed sweet potato, almond meal, flour and eggs.

Christ on a bike. She knows how to suck the fun out of food doesn’t she? Actually, a lot of the dishes look extremely appealing in a fresh, green sort of way. Perfect for when you want your weeknight to be weeklight!

Just drop it, it doesn’t work does it? Don’t let the stupid title put you off. If you can stomach the endless shots of Hay being the perfect Aussie mum to her perfect Aussie kids in perfect Aussie settings and the relentlessly upbeat tone of the whole thing, then you might actually get a lot use out of the book.

Are you actually suggesting I buy Weakpun? There are worse things you could spend £20 on. And you don’t want your veggies to be understudies and back up dancers for the rest of their lives do you?  After all, they’ve EARNED THEIR PLACE front and centre.

They earn it every weeklight baby, every weeklight.  

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

Buy this book
Week Light: Super-Fast Meals to Make You Feel Good
Harper Collins, £20

Dishoom

by Shamil Thakrar, Kavi Thakrar and Naved Nasir 

Dishoom

Dishoom, oh I love that place. The breakfast bacon naan rolls are to die for.  Get you, Mr London hipster. Some of us have to settle for a greasy caff.

Actually, there’s now eight Dishooms, inspired by the Persian-style Irani cafes of Mumbai, including branches in Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh so its long past being a hipster hangout, if it ever was you suburban ninny.  OK, I know, I’ve read the book’s introduction thank you very much. Dishoom is an all day dining destination,  so there’s recipes for mid-morning snacks like keema puffs, lunch dishes including aloo sabzi (vegetable curry served with bedmi puri bread), afternoon refreshments such as salted laksi, ‘sunset snacks’ like…

Sunset snacks? They’ve made that up! Its a thing apparently; street food from vendors on Girgaum Chowpatty beach including pau bhaji, a spicy vegetable mash served with toasted Bombay bread buns. Of course there’s also recipes for dinner dishes such as soft shell crab masala, lamb biryani and spicy lamb chops.

I’m still hungry, what’s for pudding? No one gets to pudding in an Indian restaurant. But if you do have room then there’s the likes of basmati kheer (rice pudding with cardamom and a brulee topping) or berry Shrikhand (a type of thick, sweetened yoghurt popular amongst Gujarati families).

I’ve got loads of recipe books from modern Indian restaurants already, why do I want another?  Besides the delicious recipes, the book looks beautiful, is a great read and gives you more than enough detail about Mumbai to plan a truly sybaritic holiday there.

So I should buy it then? Does a naan roll have bacon in it? Get clicking the link below.

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

Buy this book
Dishoom: The first ever cookbook from the much-loved Indian restaurant: From Bombay with Love
Bloomsbury Publishing, £26.

From the Earth by Peter Gilmore

from the earth_final

What’s the USP? One chef’s obsession with heirloom vegetable varieties explored in recipes, detailed ingredient profiles and features on specialist growers.

 Who’s the author? Peter Gilmore is one of Australia’s leading chefs. His restaurant Quay overlooking Sydney Harbour has held Three Chef Hats in the Good Food Guide (the Australian equivalent of three Michelin stars) for 16 consecutive years and was listed for five years on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. He is also executive chef of Bennelong in the Sydney Opera House which holds Two Chef Hats.

What does it look like? Even by the uniformly high standards of modern cookbook production values, From The Earth  is something special. The book’s large format adds extra impact to Brett Stevens’s full page shots of Gilmore’s exquisitely presented dishes and the artfully arranged vegetable portraits that you’ll want to frame and hang on your wall.

 Killer recipes? Tartare of wagyu, fermented chilli, redmeat radishes; salad of violet de Provence artichoke; braise of Gagon cucumber, green-lipped abalone, shimonita onion; salad of raw trentino cabbage turnip with caper vinaigrette.

 What will I love? This is no veggie bandwagon jumping exercise. Gilmore has been a dedicated cultivator of rare heirloom varieties for more than a decade and really knows his stuff. He is passionately pro-biodiversity and anti-genetic modification but restrains himself to a few words on the subject in the introduction saying, ‘this book is not about the politics of food’ and lets his imaginative and creative dishes do the talking.

Ingredient profiles have been expertly put together by Gilmore’s wife Kathryn, who spent ‘countless hours researching each featured vegetable, referencing and cross-referencing information on species, origin and history’. All that work shows in the detailed and fascinating finished product. Want to know about the history of radish cultivation? Look no further (the Egyptians got there first in 2000 BC apparently).

 The four grower profiles that include provide an interesting insight onto Australia’s specialist produce scene and are illustrated with photographs that show the Aussie landscape in all its rugged glory.

What won’t I like? By its very nature, From The Earth presents all but the most dedicatedly green fingered chef with the problem of sourcing the raw ingredients for many of the recipes. You may not be able to easily get your hands on Cherokee White Eagle corn, Gete Okosomin squash or Kyoto red carrots but you will want to cook the delicious sounding dishes so, as Gilmore points out, you can ‘use the recipes as a starting point to experiment with all sorts of varieties’ while you grow your own crops or convince a supplier to do so for you.

Should I buy it? Informative, inspiring and stunning to look at, From The Earth is a fresh take on  vegetable cultivation and cookery that could well have an impact on how you serve vegetables in your restaurant. It’s also a lovely, aesthetically pleasing object that will be catnip to all cookbook enthusiasts. How can you resist?

Cuisine: Australian/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
From the Earth: World’s Great, Rare and Almost Forgotten Vegetables
£ 35, Hardie Grant