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

Seedy Almond Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Seedy almond cake

To create this recipe, I started with a basic Victoria sponge and swapped out the white flour for a blend of wholemeal and ground almonds, reduced the sugar substantially and added extra nuts and seeds. The result is delicious – and you really do not miss  all that sugar. I love to eat the cake still just warm from the oven, but it keeps well too. It’s great with a cup of tea or, for a high-fibre, probiotic pud, enjoy it with a spoonful of kefir or natural yoghurt, and a little heap of fresh berries or roasted fruit compote. The poppy seeds aren’t essential, but I love them for their look and their texture and, like any seed, they are rich in minerals.

Makes 8 slices
125g unsalted butter, softened
70g soft light brown sugar or light muscovado
Finely grated zest of 1 orange or lemon (optional)
100g wholemeal cake flour/fine plain wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
25g sunflower seeds
25g poppy seeds (optional) 3 medium eggs
3 tbsp milk or water
About 20g flaked almonds or pumpkin seeds (or a mix)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Line a 20cm round springform cake tin with baking paper.

Put the butter and sugar, and the orange or lemon zest if using, into a large bowl or a free-standing electric mixer. Use an electric hand whisk or the mixer to beat for a couple of minutes, until light and fluffy.

In a second bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, sunflower seeds and poppy seeds, if using.

Add an egg and a spoonful of the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mix and beat until evenly blended. Repeat to incorporate the remaining eggs. Tip in the remaining dry ingredients and fold together gently but thoroughly, finishing by folding in the milk or water to loosen the batter a little.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it gently and evenly. Scatter with the flaked almonds and/or pumpkin seeds. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, or until risen and golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool, at least a little, on a wire rack.

Remove the cake from the tin and cut into slices to serve. It will keep in an airtight tin for up to 5 days, but you’ll most likely finish it well before then.

Cook more from this book
Overnight oats
Spicy roast parsnips

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

Read the review 

Overnight Oats by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Overnight Oats

Soaking oats is a time-honoured route to a tender, tasty high-fibre breakfast – Bircher muesli is the classic example and ‘overnight oats’ the trendy interloper. This super-simple version uses jumbo oats, omega-rich seeds and skin-on almonds, which plump up and soften as they soak in orange juice and kombucha (or water). The result is juicy and mild, ready to be sweetened with a little fruit; I like a handful of raisins (which you can soak with the oats), or a grated apple – or both. If you include chia and/or flax seeds you’ll get that distinctive slippery texture, which not everyone loves but I do!

Serves 4
120g (7–8 tbsp) jumbo oats (or porridge oats)
A generous handful (30g) of mixed nuts and seeds (such as almonds and pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, flax and chia seeds)
Juice of 1 large or 2 small oranges
A small glass (about 150ml) kombucha (page 244) or water

To serve
A handful of raisins, chopped dried apricots or other dried fruit (soaked with the oats if you like), and/or a handful of berries, or a sliced small banana, or an apple, chopped or coarsely grated
1–2 generous tbsp natural yoghurt or kefir (page 246), optional
Toasted buckwheat groats (optional)

Combine the oats, nuts and seeds in a breakfast bowl (adding some dried fruit if you like). Add the orange juice and the kombucha or water. Mix well.

Cover the bowl and place in the fridge or a cool place for 6–8 hours or overnight. If possible, take the soaked oats out of the fridge half an hour before you want to eat them, so they’re not too chilly.

Serve with your chosen fruit. You could also add a spoonful or two of yoghurt or kefir and, to bring some crunch, a few toasted buckwheat groats.

Cook more from this book
Spicy roast parsnips
Seedy almond cake

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

Read the review 

Spicy roast parsnips with barley, raisins & walnuts by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Spicy roast parsnips

Parsnips are delicious with curry spices, particularly when roasted so that their thin, tapering ends turn delectably sweet and caramelised. Here, spicy roasted parsnips are tumbled with nutty whole grains, raisins and a scattering of walnuts to create a dish with lots of satisfying textures. I like to add some crisp leaves for contrast, too.

Serves 4
150g pearl barley, pearled spelt or whole spelt grain
500g parsnips
2 tbsp curry paste
3 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
75g raisins
A bunch of leaves, such as watercress, rocket or flat-leaf parsley
Juice of ½ orange or lemon Sea salt and black pepper

Soak the pearl barley or spelt in cold water for anything from 20 minutes to a couple of hours then drain and rinse well. Put the grain into a saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender. This will take about 20–25 minutes for spelt, more like 35–40 minutes for barley. Drain.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C/Gas 5. Peel the parsnips and trim the base and tip from each. Cut each parsnip in half lengthways then cut each half from top to bottom into long batons, no more than 2cm at the thick end. Don’t worry if they are  a bit wobbly and uneven – this all adds to their charm!

Put the curry paste and 2 tbsp of the oil into a large bowl and mix together. Add the parsnips with a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper and toss the parsnips in the curry spice so they are all coated – you may find a pastry brush helpful for this.

Scatter the parsnips in a large, shallow roasting tray. Roast for about 40 minutes, stirring once, until starting to caramelise. Add the chopped walnuts, raisins and cooked spelt or barley to the roasting tray, stir everything together and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly for 5 minutes then toss with the leaves and transfer to a platter or individual plates. Squeeze over a little citrus juice and trickle over a touch more olive oil before serving.

Cook more from this book
Overnight oats
Seedy almond cake

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

Read the review 

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

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

The Hand and Flowers Cookbook by Tom Kerridge

Hand and Flowers Cookbook by Tom Kerridge

What’s the USP? A brief history of and recipes from the world’s only two Michelin starred pub.

Who is the author? Chef Tom Kerridge has recently 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 Coach, The 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? There’s a chunky introductory section telling the story of the pub, chapter introductions and full page introductions to all of the recipes, making the book a very enjoyable read. As a restaurant nerd, I would have loved to have read about Kerridge’s career before opening the Hand in 2005. As a good proportion of the book’s audience is bound to be professional chefs who would be equally interested to read about Kerridge’s rise through the ranks to stardom, it seems something of a missed opportunity. We can only hope there’s an autobiography in the works.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Specialist ingredients in the book include Alba white truffle oil, agar agar, foie gras, squab pigeon, caul fat, veal tendons, Sosa Airbag Pork Granet, Sosa Antioxidant gel powder, meat glue, lamb sweetbreads, pig’s head and trotter and meadowsweet among others. There are plenty of far more mainstream ingredients too, although if you are going to go to the trouble of attempting these recipes you’ll want to head to your butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer rather than rely on standard supermarket gear.

What’s the faff factor? If you want to prepare a complete dish with all it’s  various elements – for example lemon sole grenobloise made up of stuffed lemon sole, brown butter hollandiase, brown bread croutons, confit lemon zest, crisp deep fried capers and anchovy fritters – then you need to be prepared to put in some serious kitchen time. For many home cooks, probably the best way to approach the book is to pick and choose between the constituent parts and either make a simplified version of the dish with just the key elements or take the recipe for a garnish, such as the famous Hand and Flowers carrot that’s braised in water, sugar, butter and star anise, and use it to accompany something simple like a roast, grill or stew. The good news is that many of the recipes for the individual parts are relatively straightforward and it’s the quantity of constituent elements that make cooking a complete Hand and Flowers dish daunting for non-professionals.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes?   There are the usual suspects such as a  squeeze of lemon, sprig of thyme or half an onion (how big is an onion? How long is a piece of string?) and one dish calls for meat glue but gives no quantity. However, you should have no problems with the vast majority of the recipes.

How often will I cook from the book? Will you be knocking up a torchon of quail with crispy quail leg and verjus everyday? Probably not. But you might well find yourself making the ‘Matson’s sauce’ (a ‘super-posh’ chip shop curry sauce named after Kerridge’s favourite fish and chips shop) that goes with it pretty regularly. Ambitious home cooks will find much to inspire them, and may well turn to the book  when planning a celebratory meal, a dinner party or just to indulge in a weekend of hobby cooking. But as previously noted, a close reading will reveal a treasure trove of sides and sauces, as well as some achievable main elements that will ensure the book won’t permanently reside on your coffee table and will get regular use in your kitchen.

Killer recipes: Smoked haddock omelette; crispy pigs head with black pussing, rhubarb and pork crackling; fish and chips with pea puree and tartare sauce; halbut poached in red wine with bourguignon garnish; slow cooked duck with duck fat chips and gravy; braised shin of beef with roasted bone marrow, parsnip puree and carrot; sweet malt gateau with malted milk ice cream and butterscotch sauce.

What will I love? If you know the pub, you’ll be glad to see all the classic dishes have been included and that the book’s claim to be a definitive collection of the pub’s recipe is an accurate one. At over 400 pages, the book has a pleasing heft, the design is colourful yet classic and elegant, and the food photography by Cristian Barnett is simply stunning.

What won’t I like so much?  If you’re after more of Kerridge’s diet friendly fare, you are definitely barking up the wrong butter, cream and foie gras-laden tree.

Should I buy it? If you are a fan of Tom Kerridge’s restaurants and want to challenge yourself in the kitchen, this is the book for you. It will also be of particular interest to professional chefs.  

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

Buy this book
The Hand & Flowers Cookbook
£40, Bloomsbury Absolute

Cook from this book
Smoked haddock omelette
Slow cooked duck
Vanilla crème brûlée by Tom Kerridge

A Love for Food by Carole Bamford

A Love For Food Carole Bamford

What’s the USP? An updated edition of the 2013 cookbook from the none-more-middle-class Daylesford organic farm in the Cotswolds.

Who wrote it? According to her website  ‘Carole Bamford has been a champion of sustainable, mindful living for over 40 years. As the founder of Daylesford Organic, she is recognised as a visionary in organic farming and food retail.’ She is also the wife of Brexit-backing JCB billionaire Lord Anthony Bamford.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Not if you pop along to a Daylesford Organic store. The ‘flagship’ on the farm in Kingham is as jaw-droppingly lovely as it is expensive (there are a number branches in London too). You can also buy Daylesford Organics produce through Ocado.  That said, you will have little trouble tracking down the ingredients for most of the recipes at your local supermarket, (stick to the organic aisle if you want to keep in Lady Carole’s good books).

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? If you read the introduction (and the  acknowledgements page at the back of the book – does anyone do that apart from me?) you’ll discover that long serving Daylesford chef John Hardwick ‘created’ the recipes and a great job he’s done of them too.

Little details like giving not just the diameter of the pastry case for a Bledington Blue Cheese and Broccoli tart, but the depth too make all the difference. In this instance, you now know exactly what cookware to use to ensure you get the correct ratio between tart and filling – too often recipes need trial and error to get just right.

Not every recipe is perfect however; Ginger Biscuits were a cakey disaster for me (according to a chef friend who I consulted after my disappointing effort, the mixture should have been chilled before baking which is not stipulated in the book).

What’s the faff factor? The recipes are very much designed for the home kitchen. Some, like home made corned beef,  will take time and planning ahead but most will be plain sailing for any keen cook.

How often will I cook from the book? A Love for Food is definitely the sort of volume you’ll be glad to have on your shelf when it comes time to plan your weekly menus (which, if you read this blog is almost certainly something you do). It will be well thumbed and food spattered in no time. There are also a decent number of baking, pickling and preserving projects for when you have more time on your hands (for example, during a pandemic).

Killer recipes: Slow cooked lamb shoulder with white beans and salsa verde; curried cauliflower, red pepper and nigella seeds; Rita’s baked eggs and onions; ham hock terrine with piccalilli; seven seed sourdough; vanilla rice pudding with apple and blackberry compote.

What will I love? At nearly 400 pages, there’s room for 150 recipes that cover everything from breakfast, things ‘on toast’, egg dishes, soups, salads and vegetables to savoury tarts and pies, fish, meat, puddings and baked goods, so you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.

What won’t I like so much? Not applicable.

Is it good bedtime reading? A three page introduction is supplemented by articles on sustainablility and the environment, the market garden, Daylesford’s creamery and cheese room, it’s bakery and the farm’s animals. In addition there are page long introductions to every chapter and each recipe has its own introduction. In short, plently to keep you informed and entertained outside of the kitchen.

Should I buy it? It looks great the recipes are varied and enticing and it’s a good read. What’s not to love?

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

Buy this book
A Love for Food: Recipes from the Fields and Kitchens of Daylesford Farm
£30, Square Peg

Vanilla crème brûlée by Tom Kerridge

creme brulee6363

Vanilla crème brûlée is one of those classic desserts that everyone knows about and loves. And it’s been on the menu at The Hand & Flowers right from the very start. As far as I’m concerned, the key to a properly perfect brûlée is to have three distinct flavours that you taste – vanilla, eggs and caramel – so that it’s not just a sweet, creamy dessert. And I’ve got Alex Bentley to thank for teaching me that. This is 100% the brûlée recipe I was cooking as a young chef at Monsieur Max, where he was head chef. I think Alex was given or inherited the recipe from Max Renzland, the restaurant’s chef-patron. Apparently, it was an old Elizabeth David recipe; she must have learnt it during her travels in France, so goodness knows how old it really is.

Until Alex taught this recipe to me, most crème brûlée recipes I’d come across were sweet and made only with egg yolks. This one uses whole eggs and just a small amount of sugar. It was a game changer for me. I suddenly knew how to make a magical crème brûlée. The technique that really brings the dessert to life is its caramelisation on top. Instead of just melting the sugar, Alex taught me to caramelise it really heavily. At Monsieur Max, customers sometimes complained that the sugar was burnt, but that’s the whole point. It’s supposed to be; the caramelisation makes it taste toasty and nutty. You end up with a smooth, vanilla dessert that’s creamy with a bittersweet crunchy topping.

We match it at The Hand & Flowers with an Innis & Gunn craft beer rather than a dessert wine. The beer’s aged in old whiskey barrels so it has this really rich toffee, creamy flavour, which harmonises beautifully with the
crème brûlée.

serves 6

750ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
4 medium free-range eggs
30g caster sugar

Put the cream and vanilla pod into a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl until smoothly blended. Bring the vanilla-infused cream back to the boil, then slowly pour onto the beaten egg mixture, whisking as you do so to combine.

Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook, stirring constantly, over a medium-low heat until the custard thickens and reaches 88°C (check the temperature with a digital probe). Immediately remove from the heat and pass through a fine chinois into a clean bowl.

Press a layer of cling film onto the surface to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool for 20 minutes or until the custard is at room temperature. Pour the custard into a high-powered jug blender (Vitamix) and blitz for 30 seconds; this will lighten it slightly.

Now pour the custard into crème brûlée dishes or ramekins, dividing it equally (about 125ml per dish). Cover each dish with cling film, leaving a small gap on one side, to allow any moisture to evaporate. Stand the dishes on a tray and place in the fridge to set; this will take about 3 hours.

Caramel glaze
200g demerara sugar

When ready to serve, sprinkle a generous, even layer of demerara sugar over the surface of each set custard. Wipe the edge of the dish with a clean cloth.
Using a cook’s blowtorch, caramelise the sugar, starting from the edges and working towards the centre. Take the caramel to a dark brown – this dish is all about  balancing the rich creamy egg custard with the slightly bitter caramel flavour.
Leave to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Cook more from this book
Smoked haddock omelette
Slow cooked duck

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The Hand & Flowers Cookbook
£40, Bloomsbury Absolute

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