More than Yorkshire Puddings by Elaine Lemm

More than Yorkshire puddings

What’s the USP? It all depends on who you’re asking. According to the front cover, More Than Yorkshire Puddings features ‘food, stories and over 100 recipes from God’s Own County’. This isn’t exactly the truth, though. The back cover does a much better job, promising ‘both much-loved Yorkshire favourites and a wealth of multicultural recipes’. 

Who wrote it? Yorkshire-born food writer Elaine Lemm, who seems equally confused about the purpose of her book. In her preface, she starts by explaining the long route taken to get to this point. She originally pitched her idea to publishers Great Northern several years ago: a cookbook championing the culinary wealth of Yorkshire. There is more to Yorkshire than Yorkshire puddings, and she planned to celebrate all of it. In a move that is far funnier than it really should be, Great Northern promptly turned her down, waited six months, and then commissioned her to write a book solely about Yorkshire puddings. It did very well, by her own account.

A few years on and, as Lemm is keen to point out, after a change of management at Great Northern, she finally gets to offer us the book she envisioned all along. And the end result is… well, still very different from what was originally pitched.

Different how? More Than Yorkshire Puddings takes its title and ignores the final word. It offers us some classic Yorkshire dishes, sure. But the overwhelming majority of the book has nothing to do with Yorkshire at all. The back cover blurb does allude to this, suggesting that we’ll be offered a look at Lemm’s culinary journey. But what journey is really on show here? There’s no real throughline that connects the recipes. Some are inspired by her time training in Tuscany. Others are presented without any apparent reason or context at all.

There’s plenty of room on my bookshelves for cookbooks that capture the culinary id of the author. Titles filled with relatively disparate dishes connected by stories, or personality. But Lemm’s book frequently falls back on others for inspiration. A recipe named ‘The Ultimate Chilli’ comes with the disclaimer ‘at least according to my husband… given it is not my thing!’ Elsewhere, a recipe for BBQ Rib Eye Steak, Grilled Asparagus and Teriyaki Sauce, though tempting, appears to be provided unedited, photo and all, ‘courtesy of British Asparagus’. It makes for a cookbook that under-delivers on every promise it makes. 

So does Yorkshire feature at all? Yes! Enough to confuse readers further, but not so much to offer any real value. Though the front cover promises ‘over 100 recipes from God’s Own County’ there are only 88 recipes in the book itself, and barely 30 of them are even tangentially connected to Yorkshire. 

It’s a real shame, because being England’s largest county, Yorkshire has a wide and fascinating culinary culture to draw on. It is, indeed, more than Yorkshire puddings. There are varied traditional foods, including parkin, pikelets and curd tarts – only two of which are covered (briefly) here. It is home to the world famous Rhubarb Triangle, represented by just two recipes and a single mention. Hell, it’s the county that’s given us Jelly Babies, Kit-Kats, and Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. They aren’t high cuisine, but they’re all iconic parts of the British culinary landscape. But Lemm doesn’t seem that committed to the concept that she’s apparently been fighting for years to deliver. A brief introductory chapter knocks through the classics (yorkshire puds, game pies and treacle tarts), before the book gives way to a hodge-podge of unrelated dishes, from Cantonese Ginger Fish to dhal, stromboli, and chicken marbella. There’s a two page spread dedicated to the filipino noodle dish pancit, and the book rounds off with a recipe for risalamande, a sort of Danish Christmas pudding. 

What will I love? Look, the dishes themselves often look very tasty. It’s just that they usually have nothing to do with Yorkshire. You’ll love the rich, bright Torta di Pomodoro, the Burrata and Grilled Peaches, and the Coconut Shrimp – but is that what you bought a book about Yorkshire food for?

What won’t I love? Apart from the confused premise and pick and mix approach to recipes? More Than Yorkshire Puddings also boasts one of the worst indexes I’ve ever seen in a cookbook. There’s no individual listings for ingredients, types of dish, or even Yorkshire places referenced – it lists only the 88 recipes of the book and does so using the exact name used on the page. Which means that readers looking for the classic gingerbread cake parkin will need to know not to look under ‘P’, but rather ‘T’ for ‘Traditional Yorkshire Parkin’. Looking to make a Yorkshire Curd Tart? You’ll want to remember that Lemm’s recipe is for individual ones, and so they’re listed under the letter ‘I’. 

Should I buy it? Probably not. There’s a wealth of interesting cookbooks drawing on traditional British foods at the moment, including recent additions from Ben Mervis and Carol Wilson. Though both of those cover much bigger regions, they’re frankly still likely to feature slightly more dishes that authentically represent Yorkshire cuisine than this book.

Cuisine: British/International
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cook
Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars

Buy this book: More than Yorkshire Puddings by Elaine Lemm
£19.99, Great Northern Books Ltd

Outside by Gill Meller

Outside by Gill Meller

What’s up?  You haven’t had a look on your face like that since your tortoise died. 

I’m not sure I can go through this again 

Through what?

It’s another one. By him. 

Have you had a stroke? What are you talking about?

Gill Meller, he’s got a new book out.

Who?

Don’t tell me you don’t remember. The last one was during lockdown. I’m still not really over it.

Oh, you mean Gill Meller, alumni of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage organization and chef, food writer and teacher. His first book Gather won the Fortnum and Mason award for Best Debut Food Book in 2017 and his other books include root, steam, leaf, flower and Time, both of which you’ve reviewed.

Why are you talking like that? You sound like a newspaper article or something.

I’m not talking like anything. Anyway, I don’t know why you’ve got such a problem with him, I think he’s great. The books always look fantastic, and his recipes are ace. Let me see. Oh, it’s Andrew Montgomery doing the pics. I like him. That one of Meller in the woods, that’s stunning.

Hmm, what do you know? I’m the cookbook blogger. Give it here. Actually, before you do, check something for me.

What? That Gill Meller is still better looking and more successful than you, you bitter old…

Poetry. Is there any poetry in the book? 

Oh, good point. That’s what tipped you over the edge last time wasn’t it? Let me have a look. Nope, nothing, unless you count the recipe for ‘The Bacon Sandwich’ which is better than an Amanda Gorman stanza.

It’s called ‘the’ bacon sandwich? 

Yeah. Why? What’s the problem with that?

Nothing. Not really, it’s just, you know…

Oh God, I remember, you’ve got a problem with his recipe titles, haven’t you? ‘Unnecessarily overwritten, arch and twee constructions like ‘A tart for May’ and ‘Aubergines and roast tomatoes for everything’ are like fingernails down a blackboard to me’ is what you said. What is wrong with you?

Tell me some other titles, go on. Do your worst, let’s get it over with. 

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but they’re all just sort of normal.

What?! Let me see. 

Alright, don’t snatch! Learn some manners.

This is weird, ‘Salted cabbage salad with chestnut mushrooms and flaked seaweed’, ‘Wild garlic polenta with barbecued asparagus and crispy stinging nettles’. They are just sort of normal. No poetry, no offensive recipe titles. It’s almost like he’s read my review. 

Oh, do not flatter yourself! You sound ridiculous.

I’ll have you know I’m an internationally renowned food writer.

*yawns*

What is Outside actually about? Let me have a look at the back cover. ‘We shouldn’t be shutting doors anymore – we should be opening them’. That’s terrible advice. One, obvious security issue, who leaves their front door open? Two, you’re going to let all the heat out and no one can afford to do that, hasn’t he heard about the cost-of-living crisis? And three, you’re not really using the full functionality of a door if you’re just opening it are you? Doors by their very nature open and close. You might as well just have a hole in the wall if you’re never going to shut it. Stands to reason. 

Very funny, have you considered a career in stand up? Russell Howard must be shitting himself.    

Anyway, it doesn’t make any sense, I’m going to have to read the introduction, aren’t I?

I see you’ve deliberately ignored the bit on the back cover where it also says ‘Gill Meller’s new book Outside is a thoughtful celebration of the joys of cooking and eating outdoors’, but you know, comic effect is more important than accuracy. And it is your bloody job to read the introduction. 

Suppose.

*sighs*

Read out the best bits otherwise there’s just going to be a blank space.

You mean a silence? 

Erm, yeah, whatever. 

I’m through the first paragraph, no problem. I think everything’s going to be OK…

Well done you. Keep going. You’re a hero. 

Oh shit…spoke too soon. 

What is it now? Jesus. 

Writing. Creative writing. So much. Can’t breathe. Heart is racing. Must stay calm. 

Read it out, you’ll feel better. We’ll all feel better. 

What do you mean ‘we’ll all feel better’? Who is ‘we’?

Just read it, there’s a dear. 

So, he’s writing about moving to the countryside from the town when he was a kid and getting into bird watching as way of adapting to the change. Which is all fine, and then he says, ‘the rooks would fall on to the wing and dance up over the pine, tumbling, shrieking, wheeling to the weather. They cut a shifty, marauding form, but squabbled with eloquence as they turned and raked together, a black ballet in the afternoon.’ 

Gosh. That’s…a lot. It’s very descriptive though, isn’t it? I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy a black ballet in the afternoon. Don’t get distracted, what’s the book actually about?

OK, now were getting to it. He’s having a Proust’s madeleine moment except it involves a flask of soup and some bread. The general idea seems to be that by cooking and eating outside we can reconnect with a kinder gentler time when we were closer to nature and not so tied to technology. 

What, by having a picnic? 

Actually, yes. 

Well, you can’t beat Ginster’s and a packet of Frazzles in the park can you? 

Don’t forget your four pack of Special Brew, will you? That doesn’t sound very ‘elemental’ does it, you’re not going to discover ‘another aspect of our primal hardwiring’ with that heart attack on a paper plate are you? No, Gill has something a little more sophisticated in mind for you, like wild mushroom and thyme sausage rolls or a ham hock, potato and parsley terrine.  

Ooh, fancy. Actually, I do fancy that. Go on, what else is in the book?

Why don’t you have a look yourself? 

Because you’ve got to tell me. Otherwise, this doesn’t work.

What won’t work? Honestly, you are in a strange mood today. Well, there’s a chapter on cooking over fire, one on eating out (don’t even think about making a joke, it’s beneath even you) that’s based around raw preparations, a chapter on camping out (I’ll just pause for a moment here. Are you done? Good) which is really just more cooking over fire, a section on wild things (foraging) and an early autumn feast that’s based around setting a sheep on fire by the looks of things. 

That doesn’t sound very PC. 

Hold that call to PETA. It says, ‘A Sheep on Fire’ but what it actually means is ‘A Sheep on a Fire’ which is an entirely different thing. It’s already dead and has had a pole stuck up its…

That’s quite enough detail thanks. So, what are you cooking for us tonight then, oh former Masterchef semi-finalist. 

Can you be a ‘former Masterchef semi-finalist’? You either are or you aren’t. It’s a bit like being a president. 

What, do you tart about insisting people call you by your title? When they ask you for your name at Starbucks do say ‘Masterchef semi-finalist Lynes’.

No, of course not. At least not since the, er, incident. I’m not cooking anything if you’re just going to take the piss.  

Just pick a recipe.

Alright, I’m thinking. I’m not setting fire to a sheep, that’s for sure. I could make the hispi cabbage with miso, honey, tamari and sesame. Sounds nice. Oh, hold on, I’ll need ‘a bed of hot chunky embers’ and some clay to wrap the cabbage in. Maybe not. Smokey anchovies with baked wet garlic? But where am I going to get fresh anchovy fillet and wet garlic from? Venison cured with blackberries, elderberries, juniper and bay…no good, got to marinate the meat for 24 hours. 

You’re just looking for problems, aren’t you? Give me the book. Look, what’s wrong with lentils cooked with garlic, chilli and rosemary with baked eggs and kale. Or spatchcock chicken, aioli and toast. Or a lovely vegetarian ‘Campervan’ stew?

*shrugs*

Sorry, I didn’t hear you. 

I said ‘nothing’. 

Right then. Supermarket it is. Well, shall we go?

Yes, let’s go. 

They do not move.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book: Outside by Gill Meller
£30, Hardie Grant

 

Core by Clare Smyth

Core by Clare Smyth
As the first and currently only British female chef to hold three Michelin stars, Clare Smyth needs no introduction. But in case you didn’t know, before opening Core restaurant in Notting Hill in 2017, Smyth was chef-patron of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, worked for Alain Ducasse in Monaco and staged at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Per Se, all of them three Michelin starred establishments. So it’s no surprise to flick through the gold lined pages of this sumptuously produced book to find immaculately presented, highly detailed and technically brilliant dishes.

From a ‘Caviar Sandwich’ – a perfect, tiny wedge of buckwheat pancake layered with sieved egg white and yolk bound in mayonnaise, creme fraiche, puffed buckwheat and caviar served on a beautiful bespoke wooden sphere – to a pear and verbena Eton mess that belies its name with a Faberge-like construction of upturned meringue dome filled with lemon verbena cream, pear puree, verbena jelly,
compressed pear pearls and pear sorbet, topped with miniature discs of pear and meringue, each of the 60 recipes (there are also a further 70 recipes for stocks, sauces and breads) is an elegant work of culinary art.

Smyth calls her style ‘British fine dining’, eschewing and ‘excessive reliance on imported luxury ingredients’ and instead celebrating world class produce from the British Isles such as Scottish langoustines and Lake District hogget. In Smyth’s hands, even the humble potato (from a secret supplier she won’t reveal the name of) is transformed into a signature dish of astonishingly intense flavours. Cooked sous vide with kombu and dulse, topped with trout and herring roe and homemade salt and vinegar crisps and served with a dulse beurre blanc ‘Potato and Roe’ is an homage to the food of Smyth’s Northern Ireland coastal upbringing.

With a forward by Ramsay, introduction by journalist Kieran Morris, essays on subjects such as Smyth’s suppliers and informative recipe introductions, there’s plenty to read, while the colour food and landscape photography – and black and white shots of the restaurant in action –are stunning. It all adds up to an unmissable package that any ambitious cook will find inspiring.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book: Core by Clare Smyth 
£45, Phaidon

Sea Salt by The Lea-Wilson Family

Sea Salt by Lea-Wilson Family

Sea Salt is the latest book to build itself around a single ingredient – but in letting that ingredient be ‘salt’, it might also be the most shoddily realised. See, salt isn’t a flavour most people aspire to taste. We use salt, every day, sure – but only to enhance the other flavours in our dish. ‘Salty’ is a term we use negatively to refer to our food. And so building an entire book around the concept of ‘salt’ doesn’t really work. Sea Salt doesn’t say ‘look at all these lovely dishes we built around salt’, but rather ‘here is a collection of dishes we like, that can be made even better with salt’.

The authors are ‘The Lea-Wilson Family’, but don’t worry if that means nothing to you. This isn’t a cookbook from the latest household of podcasting celebrities (see: Jessie and Lennie Ware, Chris and Rosie Ramsey, Idris and Sabrina Elba); this is the clan behind salt company Halen Môn. There is, then, a rather vested interest in selling the virtues of salt and, by extension, their specific range of goods.

You should buy Sea Salt for one reason, and one reason only: it has some lovely representation for Welsh food and culture. As well as each recipe’s name being transcribed in both English and Welsh, there are a few dishes that really champion what is perhaps Britain’s least recognised cuisine. So we have instructions for a Welsh Rarebit, of course, but also Fritto Misto and Moules Frites that, though Italian and French in origin, champion the local seafood.

The rest of the dishes look lovely and fresh, but offer very little originality. Worse: when something exciting does pop up, it often reveals the decidedly middle class world of the Lea-Wilson family. No sentence in a cookbook has ever isolated me more from the author than ‘use the mincing attachment on your mixer’. It’s not the fact they have one – it’s the fact they don’t seem to consider for a second that someone might not.

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

Buy this book
Sea Salt by The Lea-Wilson Family 
£26, White Lion Publishing

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

Sea and Shore by Emily Scott

Emily Scott Sea and Shore

Sea and Shore is a collection of recipes by a chef inspired by living and working in Cornwall. As there isn’t really such a thing as ‘Cornish cuisine’, it’s probably best to think of it as one cook’s personal culinary response to the produce and surroundings of the county.

The author is Emily Scott, chef of Emily Scott Food in Watergate Bay in north Cornwall and the former owner and chef of St Tudy Inn near Bodmin. She recently hit the headlines as one of the team who catered the G7 conference at Carbis Bay in Cornwall in 2021. Scott also appeared on the BBCs Great British Menu series in 2019.

You should buy Sea and Shore because you’ll want to make Cornish crab linguine with chilli, lemon and parsley; slow roasted lamb shoulder with smoked paprika, garlic and thyme; little gem tart with Keen’s Cheddar, spring onions and flat leaf parsley; meringue roulade with clementine curd, cream and passionfruit and Cornish faring biscuits made with coconut, ginger and golden syrup, plus many of the other 80 simple recipes, making it an ideal book for novice cooks. The food looks colourful and appetising while the Cornish landscape photography will inspire your next English summer holiday.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Sea and Shore by Emily Scott 
£26, Hardie Grant

Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali

Baking with fortitude
What’s the USP? Just because we’re not in lockdown any more doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned our national sourdough habit, does it? Either way, here’s a collection of sourdough cakes and bakes (and non-fermented recipes too) from cult London bakery Fortitude to keep your (sourdough) mother happy.  The book is the winner of  the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021.

Who wrote it? Irish-born baker Dee Rettali was something of an organic food pioneer, opening Patisserie Organic in London in 1988. She is the former head chef of the London-based cafe chain Fernandez and Wells and opened Fortitude bakery in Bloomsbury in 2018.  This is her first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a six page introduction plus one or two page introductions to each of the seven chapters but that’s your lot.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need an online specialist supplier for dried meadowsweet to make the first recipe in the book, a butter loaf cake flavoured with honey and meadowsweet (one of eight butter loaf cakes recipes – the book is organised around base recipes and their variations).

Go anywhere but your local supermarket for the ‘fresh ripe’ fruit Rettali specifies for things like Lavender and Pear Butter Loaf Cake because, well,  when was the last time you bought fruit from Asda et al that was fresh and ripe? If you need overpriced stuff that is rock hard, tasteless and goes bad before it approaches ripeness then you’d be laughing.

You’ll need to buy organic flour of course, including buckwheat flour to make orange, yoghurt and polenta cake, but you should have few issues obtaining the vast majority of ingredients specified in the book.

What’s the faff factor? Although the book is billed as a collection of sourdough bakes which might sound complicated, in fact most of the recipes don’t use a starter but can be fermented if you wish to deepen the resultant flavour which Rettali claims is an innovation in cake baking.  This process takes no additional effort, you just need to plan ahead.  The base recipes, that include the aforementioned butter loaf cake as well as olive oil cake, yoghurt cake and sour milk soda bread are often just a matter of combining the ingredients in a bowl although the brioche and sourdough butter cake mixes are a little more complex.

The complete recipes range from the simple and straightforward Blueberry and Lime Little Buns to the slightly more involved Sticky Cinnamon Buns with Molasses Sugar, but there is nothing off-puttingly complex or too fiddly here. This is good old fashioned baking rather than fancy detailed patisserie work.

What will I love? Rettali has a very clear culinary vision and distinct style so that the recipes never feel over-familiar. There are some classics like Eccles cakes and  hot cross buns (albeit a sourdough-based version mad with candied orange) but also creations you may not have come across before like  turmeric custard and roast pear brioche buns or chocolate and chilli sugar olive oil loaf cake.

What won’t I like so much? Using the base-recipe-and-variations format means there is cross over and similarity among the groups of recipes (there are an awful lot of loaf cakes for example) in what, at 192 pages, is a relatively short book. You will need a food mixer for some of the recipes as alternative methods are not provided. 

How often will I cook from the book? If you are a keen baker, there is enough variety, from tahini, za’tar and sesame seed biscuits to tomato, garlic and oregano soda bread to keep you busy for many weeks.

Should I buy it? If you are an experienced baker looking to create something that little but different, this is definitely the book for you. Newbies will also appreciate Rettali’s encouraging attitude, ‘By sharing my recipes and approach to baking, I want to take away the fear. Use your hands, get your fingers right into the bottom of the bowl and feel the dough.’ 

Cuisine: British baking
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/beginners/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali
£22, Bloomsbury

Cook from this book
Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

Winner of the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021. Click the image below to find out more.

Food Longlist (3)

Marcus’ Kitchen by Marcus Wareing

Marcus's Kitchen

What’s the USP? Approachable home-cooked recipes cooked up during lockdown by a Michelin-starred TV chef at his country home.

Who are the authors? Marcus Wareing has made his name as one of London’s best-known fine-dining chefs with the Michelin-starred Marcus restaurant at the swish Berkeley Hotel. he is also well known as the stern taskmaster on the BBC TV series Masterchef: The Professionals. He rose to fame in the 90’s as Gordon Ramsay’s right-hand man, heading up a number of restaurants including the original Petrus in St James’s Street. His falling out with Ramsay is well documented.

Wareing’s co-author for the first time (replacing Wareing’s former business partner Chantelle Nicholson) is chef Craig Johnston, a Masterchef: The Professionals winner and now Wareing’s head chef.

Is it good bedtime reading? As with Wareing’s last book, not really. A short introduction plus recipe introductions and that’s your lot.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? As usual you’ll need a reliable fishmonger for large scallops to pan fry and serve with celeriac and chimichurri slaw or halibut to bake with lovage and serve with white asparagus (another two ingredients you will probably need to hunt down) but you should have no problem tracking down most of the ingredients in this book.

What’s the faff factor? That will depend greatly on what chapter of the book you’re cooking from. Quinoa salad with cottage cheese and roasted onions from ‘Tight for Time’ should take 20 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to cook if the timings given in the book are correct. On the other hand, prawns with a bisque and tomato fregola from ‘Something Special’ requires 2 to 2.5 hours of prep time and 1.5 hours to cook the dish.

How often will I cook from the book? A lot. Over the course of eight chapters (in addition to the two named above, there’s Market Garden, Simply Essential, Weekend Wonders, Baking, Worth the Wait and Kitchen Foundations) Wareing has compiled more than 100 recipes for pretty much any occasion, mood, inclination, ability, budget and appetite. It’s versatile is what I’m trying to say.

Killer recipes? Marcus’ Kitchen is all killer and no filler, but to give you some examples:  barbecue pork burgers (these are great, although I dialled down a bit on the quantity of Marmite when I made the recipe); rosemary and malt glazed lamb belly with salsa verde; roasted onion tarte tatin with cheddar mascarpone; Korean-style fried monkfish with sesame pickles; baked chilli beef with sweetcorn cobbler; pork loin in black bean sauce (an excellent, easy mid-week family dinner); sautéed potato gnocchi with broccoli, rocket and parmesan. Basically, you can let the book fall open anywhere and you’ll find something you want to cook.

What will I love? We are in similar territory as Waring’s previous book Marcus Everyday, at home in his stunning East Sussex hideaway Melfort House (beware: the photos of Wareing’s amazing kitchen garden may make you very jealous indeed) where he’s created dishes aimed at home cooks rather than his fellow professional chefs (although I’m sure they’d appreciate them too). There’s a huge variety of global influences here, from Indonesian to Italian and Peruvian to Middle Eastern, reflecting the way many British home cooks love to compose a weekly menu, hopping around the globe to avoid culinary boredom (there are plenty of British dishes too, albeit with a twist such as English muffins with brown crab and miso or brown sauce-glazed ham with onion gravy).

Should I buy it? It seems as though lockdown provided Wareing with the chance to really concentrate his efforts on the book which I think may well be his best yet. It’s a book I’ve already enjoyed cooking a lot from and it’s one I can see myself returning to again and again in years to come.  It’s true that there may be more authentic sources for a banh mi recipe than a white bloke from Southport, but that doesn’t stop Marcus’ Kitchen from being a joy to cook from and an essential purchase for every keen home cook.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book: Marcus’ Kitchen: My favourite recipes to inspire your home-cooking 
£22, HarperCollins

Chestnut and Chocolate Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Chesnut and Chocolate Cake
This is one of my family’s favourite chocolate ‘pudding’ cakes, and I make it at least once every Christmas (and not infrequently for birthdays and other celebrations too). It’s delectably tender, fudgy and chocolatey, and not too sweet or over-rich. You can serve it warm from the oven, with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream, but it’s also good made a day or two ahead and served cold or at room temperature.

Serves 10–12
250g peeled cooked chestnuts (vacuum-packed or tinned are fine)
250ml milk
250g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), broken up
250g unsalted butter, roughly cut up
4 medium eggs, separated
100g caster sugar

You will also need:
A 25cm springform cake tin

Preheat the oven to 170°C/Fan 150°C/Gas 3, and grease and line your 25cm springform cake tin.

Put the chestnuts and milk into a pan and heat until just boiling. Take off the heat and mash well with a potato masher – you are aiming for a creamy purée, with just a few crumbly bits of chestnut. Set aside.

Put the chocolate and butter into a second pan and place over a very low heat. Keeping a close eye, to ensure that the chocolate doesn’t get too hot, melt them gently together, stirring now and then. Allow to cool a little.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until blended and creamy (they don’t need to reach a ‘moussey’ stage). Stir in the warm (not hot) chocolate mixture and then the chestnut purée, to create a well- blended batter.

Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they hold stiff peaks. Take one spoonful of egg white and mix it into the batter to loosen it, then fold the rest in lightly, trying not to knock out too much air. Carefully transfer the mixture to the prepared tin. Bake for 25–30 minutes until the cake is just set but with a slight wobble still in the centre.
To serve warm, leave to 22, a little then release the cake from the tin. Slice carefully – it will be very soft and moussey. Alternatively, leave the cake to go cold, when it will have set a bit firmer.

Cook more from this book
A Festive Fumble by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
My Favourite Stuffing by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Christmas at River Cottage
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Extract taken from Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier, with seasonal notes and recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £22)

Photography © Charlotte Bland

 

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

Restore by Gizzi Erskine

Restore Gizzi Erskine

What’s the USP? ‘A modern guide to sustainable eating’. Restore seeks to debunk myths around ‘good’ food, and take an in-depth look at restorative farming – that is, bringing back greater biodiversity and reinvigorating the planet through mindful food production.

Who wrote it? Gizzi Erskine, who has had a pretty diverse career thus far. Having trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, and worked in such prestigious kitchens as St. Johns, Erskine made her way into TV via the now-problematic Cook Yourself Thin. From there: cookbooks, more TV work, modelling and more.

Over the past year alone Erskine has appeared to juggle four fairly distinct roles: frank sex podcaster for Spotify’s ‘Sex, Lies and DM Slides’, lockdown fakeaway creator with friend Professor Green, Instagram influencer and lux cookbook writer.

I say ‘lux cookbook writer’ because, as with Erskine’s last book, Slow, her new title presents a distinct take on home cooking. They ask for readers to take on a particularly mindful approach to their food – considering how it is sourced, what it means for the planet around us. They also present certain challenges – dishes frequently require a significant amount of time to prepare, or the sourcing of relatively hard to come by ingredients. We’ll get to that.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not particularly. Erskine’s ambition in ‘Restore’ is the championing of a sort of home cooking that seeks to better the planet through the more responsible sourcing of ingredients. In terms of reading, though, this amounts to one distinct theme: a lot of very worthy preaching about the various ways our food habits are damaging our world.

Erskine’s concerns are fair, though hardly new in the cookbook world – and herein lies the issue. Restore is a very drab read. Everything Erskine discusses has been shared with us before, and in a more enjoyable, more readable way. It’s a lot to pile the gloom of contemporary farming issues on cookbook readers, and the best cookbooks balance this out with engaging writing that highlights positives, and offers practical solutions. Restore manages neither. Many of the recipes fail to tempt the reader, and there are issues with those that do.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The problem with writing a sustainable cookbook has always been one of accessibility. There’s a reason that our society has failed to adapt to more planet-friendly approaches to our cooking, and overwhelming it’s a matter of cost.

Introducing her vegetable section, Erskine makes a passing mention to the development of her understanding of ‘social economic’ factors since the release of Slow. She talks about wincing at conversations she’s had in the past and… that’s about it. Onwards to the vegetable chapter that asks for dried Mexican chillies, Lebanese cucumbers, purple potatoes and dehydrated tamarind blocks. Restore remains resolutely middle class, as so many ‘sustainable cookery’ books have been before.

One of the most popular traits amongst these books has long been a call to cut down on meats. Erskine makes this incredibly easy for readers, by including two short chapters on the subject that include almost exclusively meats that the average reader will struggle to get their hands on. It’s just a shame that many of the most interesting recipes on offer here require the tracking down of game birds and meats that I’ve only previously seen on sale in rural butchers, or that one really fancy Budgens in Crouch End.

When Erskine opts for the more readily accessible animals, she seems to go out of her way to choose cuts that are unavailable in the supermarkets that the majority of the British public shop in. Bone-in beef shin, whole lamb neck, rolled pork belly, pig trotters and sheep lungs are all on the shopping list. Is this aversion to the mass meat production of supermarkets very much the point of Restore? Yes, but what is presented here as sustainable for the planet will not be sustainable for the majority of families in Britain today.

Killer recipes: Greenhouse Romesco Sauce with Chargrilled Spring Onions, Guinea Fowl alla ‘Diavolo’, Rabbit à la Moutarde, Wild Garlic Stuffed Mutton, Jamaican Goat Curry Patties, Tepache

Should I buy it? If you’ve an excellent local butcher, and the disposable income that such a thing warrants, there’s plenty to dig into here. Erskine also provides plenty of vegetable options, though these are generously less tempting (and frequently implies the reader has an allotment or greenhouse from which they can sustainably source their food). There are, however, plenty of other titles available that offer the same message as this book in a more accessible and enjoyable way.

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

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

Buy this book
Restore by Gizzi Erskine
£26, HQ

Cook from this book
Bibimbap
Green shakshuka