A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

What’s the USP? A celebration of communal eating, offering up advice and recipes that will allow you to host the perfect dinner party!

Wait a moment. Are we supposed to be having dinner parties at the moment? Oh, Christ. It’s complicated, isn’t it? I think so. I think we can host dinner parties as long as only one other household is invited.

What if I make everyone sit in the garden? Well, given we’re in September now, so you’d look like a bit of a tyrant. 

I’m lost. Yes, we’re all a bit lost here. Look, the general vibe is yes, you can host a dinner party, but no, you probably shouldn’t. I doubt Bloomsbury were planning for a global pandemic when they commissioned Skye McAlpine’s latest cookbook though.

Skye McAlpine? The Times columnist and daughter of the late Baron McAlpine of West Green, yes. Real salt-of-the-earth type. This book reads, funnily enough, a little like a modern take on the society handbooks of old. No etiquette guidelines, thankfully – but plenty of ideas on table setting, menu planning and why you should skip on starters (too formal, apparently). 

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to be getting on with in the opening chapter, where McAlpine runs through all of the above, champions the napkin, and encourages us to place bowls of fruit and veg on our table for decorative purposes (‘gnarly lemons’, red onions and – in a move that was also popular with colonial Britons – pineapples). Beyond here, though, we’re in standard cookbook territory: chapter and recipe introductions, and idyllic claims about the ‘wonderfully renaissant quality’ of a potato dish, or the ‘virtues of a good Tuscan bread salad’.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Nope – McAlpine does do a fantastic job of making sure almost every ingredient you could possibly need will be readily available at your average supermarket. Occasionally you might want to try a butcher instead, but for the most part you’ll get by just fine with off-the-shelf cuts.

What will I love? The way the book is split up is rather brilliant, with sections for mains (rather gratingly referred to as ‘stars’ because they ‘look and taste extravagant and impressive’), sides, sweets and extras. The first three of these chapters are then divided based upon the mode of preparation – ‘throw together’, ‘on the hob’ or ‘in the oven’.

McAlpine also puts a lot of work into helping you to create a cohesive menu for your socially-distanced/morally-inadvisable/maybe-just-happening-in-the-distant-future dinner party. Most recipes finish with suggestions for possible accompanying dishes, and an extensive section at the end of the book suggests set menus based on loose themes, seasons, the number of people attending, or how long you have spare for prep. It makes a book that might otherwise seem a little overwhelming a great deal more accessible.

What won’t I love? McAlpine’s decision to skip out on starters makes sense once you realise that the section would have nabbed many of its dishes from the mains anyway. Several of the salads and soups here feel like they’d have been a better fit as a starter than a ‘star’ course, and the Carpaccio of Figs with Lardo, Honey & Rosemary is clearly better suited to being a side, or perhaps even finger food for when your guests first arrive. Also, and this is a very personal thing, the fennel and parmesan puree is no doubt delicious, but looks like a giant platter of baby food.

Killer recipes: It’s all very Italian here, continuing McAlpine’s love for the food she grew up with in Venice. Highlights include the Tagliatelle Gratin, which looks like a cross of carbonara and macaroni cheese, and the Salted Honey Ice Cream – four words I am very happy to see together.

Should I buy it? This is by no means an essential cookbook – but it will be very welcome for a select demographic. In a lot of ways, A Table For Friends covers the same ground as Diana Henry’s popular How to Eat a Peach from a couple of years back. Whilst Henry’s title arguable offered a more varied and interesting selection of dishes, McAlpine’s is much more practical a tool for the dinner party host, and offers myriad mix-and-match options for dishes (where Henry instead presented a collection of pre-curated set menus).

If you are one to regularly host dinner parties, and are looking to serve light Italian-influenced dishes, you can do no wrong here. If you’re looking to cook for two, frankly, there’s still plenty of adaptable recipes that would more than work for a Tuesday night (and that handy index-by-time at the back will help you find which ones fit the bill). Ultimately, though, I’d have liked a wider catalogue of influences to draw ideas from. There are three recipes for roasted potatoes, two roast chickens (and a roast poussin to boot) and three or four tomato salads, depending on how you’d like to call it. There’s a lot here to like, but this is definitely a cookbook that requires a quick browse in the shop to determine whether it’ll fit your needs, your tastes, and your personality.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

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

Buy this book 
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Sicilian Couscous Salad by Skye McAlpine
Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce by Skye McAlpine
Berry Cloud Cake by Skye McAlpine

Sicilian Couscous Salad by Skye McAlpine

siciliancouscous-1106

If you were being pedantic, you would cook couscous in a couscoussière,
a Moroccan clay pot in which you slowly steam the grains over a bubbling stew. The way I do it is rather less romantic and utterly inauthentic, but it is quick and convenient without compromising either on the flavour or the delightful fluffy texture of the cooked grains.

You could of course serve couscous plain, dressed with a little oil and lemon juice, even a smattering of aromatic spice – cinnamon, nutmeg and so forth – to go with pretty much anything. But, inspired by the way they cook it in Sicily, I throw in salty caper berries, a good tin of oily, almost meaty tuna and sweet aniseedy fennel.This makes for a vibrant centrepiece more than substantial enough to serve on its own.

H A N D S O N T I M E
15 minutes

H A N D S O F F T I M E
15 minutes, for the couscous to swell

F O R 6
300g couscous
1 vegetable stock cube 400ml boiling water
70ml extra virgin olive oil
20g flaked almonds 10–12 caper berries, halved
1 small fennel bulb, finely sliced
400g tinned tuna, drained
A handful of rocket juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper

Pour the couscous into a large heatproof bowl. Dissolve the stock cube
in the measured boiling water, then pour the boiling stock over the grains, cover and set aside for 10–15 minutes to swell up.
When all the liquid has been absorbed, use a fork to fluff up the grains, then douse generously with one-third of the oil.

Now add the almonds, caper berries and fennel and toss everything together well. Add the tuna, breaking it up with a fork and mixing it through the salad. This will happily keep for a day in the fridge. Lastly throw in the rocket (if it sits in the dressing, it will wilt). Squeeze in the juice of the lemon and dress with what is left of the oil. Toss again and add salt and pepper to taste.

SERVE WITH…

This is perfect picnic food alongside some good hard cheese, cold ham or salami and a loaf of bread; I favour DAMPER BREAD (see book for recipe), wrapped neatly in a clean tea towel and served with lots of salty butter. I don’t think you’d want for much more.

AND FOR PUDDING…

Strawberries with a pot of clotted cream and a good solid picnic cake such as PISTACHIO BUTTER CAKE WITH MARZIPAN ICING (see book for recipe)… but on this occasion leave it uniced; instead, just dust it with icing sugar.

Cook more from this book
Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce
Berry Cloud Cake

Buy the book

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Read the review
Coming soon

Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce by Skye McAlpine

lemon spaghetti

I don’t often trust myself to cook pasta for more than four people, because the timings are too delicate. As they say in Naples: ‘people wait for pasta, not the other way round.’ Overcooked pasta is a cook’s worst nightmare, while pasta eaten cold when it should be hot is not much better. But this recipe – like eating a bowl of sunshine – is so simple that even I can happily chat and bring it together at the same time. I prepare the sauce in advance and leave it covered on the hob, then, while the pasta is bubbling, slice the lemon, shuffle everyone to the table and assemble the dish once they are sitting down, so they eat it hot.

HANDS ON TIME

20–25 minutes

F O R 4

2 lemons
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
220ml single cream
1 egg yolk
350g spaghetti
A small bunch of thyme Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Meanwhile, finely zest both the lemons and toss the zest into a deep frying pan, then add the olive oil and set it over a medium heat. Gently fry the zest for a few minutes until it begins to take on a deep, vibrant yellow colour.

Now pour in the cream and the egg yolk, mix well with a wooden spoon, then reduce the heat and leave to gently cook for 5–10 minutes, giving
it a stir every now and then.

Add a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water, and, when it begins
to gallop, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente according to the packet instructions. Finely slice one-third of a lemon.

When the pasta is cooked, drain in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water (roughly 1⁄4 cup). Squeeze the juice of the remaining lemons into the sauce, add salt and pepper to taste, then toss the pasta into the frying pan. Add the reserved cooking water, throw in the lemon slices and toss everything together so the pasta is well covered with sauce.Tear up the thyme sprigs, sprinkle generously over and serve immediately.

SERVE WITH…

You need little more with this, as it’s pretty much a meal in itself. Perhaps a nice green salad with OLGA’S PEPPERY VINAIGRETTE (see book for recipe).

AND FOR PUDDING…
Something easy-going, such as a LAVENDER HONEY PANNACOTTA (see book for recipe), or STRAWBERRIES IN LEMONY SYRUP (see book for recipe).

Cook more from this book
Berry Cloud Cake
Sicilian couscous salad

Buy the book

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Read the review
Coming soon

Berry Cloud Cake by Skye McAlpine

summer berry cloudcake-1403

An ode to the fruits of British summer. If you are catering for friends with dairy intolerance, you can also make this with whipped chilled coconut cream, which is every bit as good.

HANDS ON TIME
25 minutes

HANDS OFF TIME
1 hour baking
1 hour cooling

FOR 8–10
Flavourless oil, for the trays
6 egg whites
300g caster sugar, plus 2 tbsp
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
850ml double cream
150g blackberries
300g raspberries
300g blueberries
30g flaked almonds
Thyme sprigs, redcurrants and flowers, for decoration (optional)

Heat the oven to 150 ̊C/fan 130 ̊C/Gas 2. Oil 3 baking trays and line with baking parchment. Draw a circle on each roughly 23cm in diameter (I trace around a cake tin).

In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until they begin to peak, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, whisking all the while.When all the sugar has been added and the mixture is glossy, gently fold in the cornflour and the vinegar. Spoon the meringue on to the baking trays, spreading it out to make 3 discs. Bake for 1 hour, then switch the oven off and leave the meringues in there to harden for another hour.You want the meringue to be crisp so that it can support the weight of the cream. You can make the meringue up to 3 days in advance and store it in an airtight container.

To make the filling, whip the cream with an electric whisk until peaks form, but take care not to over-whip it, or it will lose that silky quality.

Take the first meringue disc and spoon roughly one-third of the cream on top, then sprinkle with one-third of the berries, half the flaked almonds and 1 tbsp caster sugar. Top with the second layer of meringue and repeat. Top with the third meringue, spoon on the last one-third of the cream and decorate with berries, thyme sprigs and flowers (just make sure they’re not noxious), if you like.

SERVE WITH…
Everyone loves BUTTERY LEMON ROAST CHICKEN (see book for recipe), cooked so the skin is golden and crisp and the meat succulent, almost sweet. To go with it, THE SIMPLEST ROAST POTATOES (see book for recipe), A REALLY GOOD GREEN SALAD (see book for recipe) and plenty of good bread (I love WALNUT SODA BREAD, see book for recipe, but good bread from the bakery will do just as well). You literally can’t go wrong. Follow with this dreamy, creamy concoction and strong espresso or mint tea (just mint leaves in a pot of boiling water). If you’re cooking for a crowd, this works every bit as well: just scale up to two (or three) birds and perhaps make a second cake.

Cook more from this book
Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce
Sicilian couscous salad

Buy the book

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Read the review
Coming soon

The Rangoon Sisters Cookbook by Amy Chung and Emily Chung

Rangoon Sisters

What’s the USP? An introduction to the flavours and dishes that are central to Burmese cooking. Bright, tempting recipes for salads, stews and assorted Burmese treats are balanced with an overview of the nation’s love for food.

Who wrote it? As the title suggests, the book was written by the Rangoon sisters. The siblings made their name running incredibly popular supper clubs for the past seven years (and raising over £10,000 for charity in the process). The book draws on the food they’ve created for these supper clubs over the years, as well as traditional Burmese dishes and the flavours they were raised with in their Anglo-Burmese childhood home in South London.

Is it good bedtime reading? The Rangoons fill their book with engaging and entertaining prose. Alongside personal and family histories, there’s plenty to read on Burmese cooking, the individual flavours and the history and influences behind individual dishes.

Given the in-depth approach that the book has to all the above, it is perhaps a little surprising that the book doesn’t touch upon any of the recent political issues that Myanmar has had. Many UK readers will only really be familiar with the nation through these ongoing events, and though it is wonderful to see and celebrate another side of the region, it is perhaps something of a missed opportunity for the Rangoon sisters not to address this at all.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? There are a few ingredients scattered across the recipes that will require access to an Asian supermarket, but for the most part the sisters do a fantastic job of recreating Burmese dishes with relatively easy to find ingredients. For those flavours that aren’t necessarily so familiar, there’s a brilliant (and extensive) rundown at the beginning of the book, with nearly ten pages of detail on different ingredients.

What’s the faff factor? Pretty low, all things considered. It’s easy to see why their supper clubs have gone so well – the recipes are all straight-forward and require no exceptional technical skills – but the results are never anything less than tantalising.

How often will I cook from the book? Though the recipes are all simple enough, most are fairly hands-on, and so this isn’t necessarily a school-night cookbook. Still, there’s plenty of variety in here, with more than enough to tempt you back on a regular basis.

Killer recipes: I’m a sucker for an interesting egg dish, and the kyet u hin curry is damn near irresistible. The sisters’ butter bean stew is guaranteed to make it onto the table as an easy-but-impressive side next time you have guests over, too. But the headliner of the Rangoon Sisters cookbook must be their famous mango and lime cheesecake – made with a ginger nut base, and kindly presented here with storage advice (a generous gesture given the likelihood of anything surviving the first call for ‘seconds, anyone?’).

Should I buy it? Absolutely. One of the better trends in cookbooks over the last few years has been the proliferation of titles focusing on cuisines hitherto ignored by the average British palate. When done well, these can be both a brilliant insight into eating habits around the world, and a much-needed injection of new flavours into our own diets.

The Rangoon Sisters is filled with lovingly crafted and surprisingly accessible recipes, and makes for pretty decent bedtime reading to boot. Credit is due also to food stylist Aya Nishimura, who has put together some of the most appetising looking dishes I’ve seen in print. If you’re looking to expand your taste horizons a little, this is an excellent place to start.

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

Cuisine: Burmese
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
The Rangoon Sisters: Recipes from our Burmese family kitchen
£20, Ebury Press

Chicken Katsu Noodles

Chicken Katsu Noodles

There’s lots of wonderful textures to this recipe from the crunchy strips of crispy chicken katsu to the silky udon noodles. The miso sauce combines nutty sesame seeds, salty soy and miso, plus a dash of mirin for a touch of acidity. Use the Middle Eastern sesame paste, tahini, if you can’t get hold of the Japanese version, neri goma.

Serves 4

2 tbsp vegetable oil
400g (14oz/5 cups) wedge white cabbage, any hard core removed, finely sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
½ red pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
4 x 150g (5oz) portions straight-to- wok udon noodles
4 tbsp teriyaki sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE CHICKEN KATSU
2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts
cornflour, to coat
1 egg
7–8 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
sunflower or vegetable oil, for shallow-frying

FOR THE MISO SAUCE (MAKES DOUBLE)
50g (2oz) white miso
50g (2oz) caster sugar
1 tbsp honteri mirin
30g (1¼oz) sesame seeds
15g (½oz) neri goma (black sesame paste)
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
2½ tbsp soy sauce

First make the miso sauce. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir together until combined. Set aside.

Next, make the chicken katsu. Put the chicken breasts on a board and slice each one horizontally through the middle into two thin pieces. Lay between two sheets of clingfilm and bash with a rolling pin to flatten until they’re around 1cm (½in) thick.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons cornflour into a shallow dish. Beat the egg in another separate dish and put the breadcrumbs into another. Dip the chicken pieces first in the cornflour (patting off any excess), then in the egg and then in the breadcrumbs until they’re coated all over.

Heat 1–2 tablespoons oil in a large, flat frying pan over a medium-high heat. Fry the chicken pieces, in batches if necessary, until golden on one side (about 4–5 minutes), then turn over and fry on the other side until golden, about 4–5 minutes. Check the chicken is cooked – it should no longer be pink in the middle. Lift out onto a plate, sprinkle with a little salt and keep warm.

Heat the 2 tablespoons oil on the teppan or in a large, flat frying pan. As soon as the oil is hot and looks as though it’s shimmering, add the cabbage, spring onions and red pepper. Stir-fry for 3–4 minutes on a high heat, until the veg are starting to turn tender. Lower the heat to medium.

Add the noodles to the cabbage mix, stir to break them up, sprinkle with 1–2 tablespoons cold water and season well. Drizzle over half the miso sauce (see tip) and half the teriyaki sauce, then continue to cook, tossing every few minutes until everything is heated through.

Slice each of the cooked chicken breasts on a board into 6 pieces. To serve, divide the noodle mixture between four bowls and top with the chicken, then drizzle over the remaining teriyaki sauce.

TIP
Store the remaining quantity of miso sauce in the fridge and use within five days.

Cook more from this book
Chicken Ramen
Veggie Crunch Rolls

Buy the book
Japanese Cooking for the Soul: Healthy. Mindful. Delicious.
£14.99, Ebury Press

Read the review 
Coming soon

japanese cooking for the soul_fc_100%

Chicken Ramen

Chicken-Ramen

The base of this ramen comes from making a simple chicken stock – just simmer the bones of the chicken and some vegetables in water to garner the goodness. You can make the chicken stock up to four days ahead if you need to and keep it stored in the fridge. It freezes well, too, for up to three months.

Serves 4

FOR THE RAMEN
1 x quantity Chicken Chashu (recipe included in book), chilled
2 medium eggs
10g (¼oz) dried black fungus mushrooms
200g (7oz) dried buckwheat noodles (or see tip in book for soba noodles)
1–2 tbsp Mayu garlic oil, or to taste (or see tip in book)
200g (7oz/4 cups) beansprouts
125g (4½oz/1²/³ cups) iceberg
lettuce, shredded
1 carrot, shredded or coarsely grated

FOR THE CHICKEN STOCK
2 chicken carcasses
6 black peppercorns
1 medium carrot
1 garlic clove, smashed
½ leek
1 small onion, halved

Start by making the chicken stock. Put the chicken carcasses into a large pan. Add the peppercorns, carrot, garlic, leek and onion. Pour over 2 litres (3½ pints) cold water, then cover the pan with a lid. Bring to the boil and, as soon as the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook on a very low simmer for 1 hour. Strain into a clean pan – there should be around 1.4 litres (2½ pints) stock. Add a splash more water if it needs topping up.

When you’re ready to make the ramen, take the chicken chashu out of the fridge to come up to room temperature.

Next, cook the eggs. Carefully lower the eggs into a saucepan of boiling water, reduce the heat a little and simmer for 7 minutes. Lift into a bowl of iced water and leave for 4–5 minutes. Remove and peel off the shells. Set aside.

While the eggs are boiling, put the dried black fungus mushrooms in a bowl of hot water and set aside to rehydrate.

Cook the noodles in a pan of boiling water, according to the instructions on the pack. Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water.

Put the chicken on a board, discarding the string, and slice into finger-width strips.

Pour the stock into a large pan and stir in the garlic oil. Add the noodles and the beansprouts, reserving a handful to garnish.

Divide this evenly among four large soup bowls. Divide up the chicken, black mushrooms, reserved beansprouts, lettuce and carrot equally and put on top of each bowl. Finally, slice the eggs in half and put a half on each bowl, then serve.

Cook more from this book
Chicken Katsu Noodles
Veggie Crunch Rolls

Buy the book
Japanese Cooking for the Soul: Healthy. Mindful. Delicious.
£14.99, Ebury Press

Read the review 
Coming soon

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Veggie Crunch Rolls

Veggie_Crunch_Rolls

The combination of crisp vegetables, sweet teriyaki sauce, spicy mayo and crisp fried onions is sublime here.

Serves 4

180g (6oz/scant 1 cup) sushi rice
3 tbsp seasoned vinegar for sushi rice
4 nori half sheets
4 long slices of cucumber
1 small carrot, around 80g (3oz), cut into very fine matchsticks
8 slices avocado
teriyaki sauce, to drizzle
Spicy Mayo (included in the book ), to drizzle
ready-made fried onions, to sprinkle

TO SERVE
soy sauce, wasabi and sushi ginger

Make the rice according to the instructions on page 14, using 220ml (8fl oz/1 cup) water and the seasoned vinegar. Divide the rice roughly into four portions.

Put a sheet of nori on top of the sushi mat, shiny-side down and with the longest edge lying horizontally. Spread a portion of the rice to cover, then flip the nori over. Arrange a length of cucumber in the middle of the nori, followed by the carrot, spreading it out to the ends. Add a couple of slices of avocado and spread out again so it is even. Roll up to make an inside-out roll. Do the same again to make three more rolls.

Slice each into eight pieces, then drizzle with the teriyaki sauce, a little spicy mayo and top with the fried onions. Serve with soy sauce, wasabi and sushi ginger.

Cook more from this book
Chicken Ramen
Chicken Katsu Noodles

Buy the book
Japanese Cooking for the Soul: Healthy. Mindful. Delicious.
£14.99, Ebury Press

Read the review 
Coming soon

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Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley

Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley

What’s the USP? Environmentally responsible cooking is ostensibly at the centre of Eat Green – a cookbook that looks to create dishes from sustainable, locally-sourced ingredients. The author, Melissa Hemsley, offers up plenty of recipes, all of which will look loosely familiar to fans of her previous cookbooks as one half of Hemsley + Hemsley.

Hemsley + Hemsley? Weren’t they involved in the whole ‘clean eating’ controversy a few years back? Oh no, the Hemsley sisters were very much not involved in the ‘clean eating’ fad. At least, not if you ask them. Back in 2017 the sisters distanced themselves from the movement, just days before being featured in a BBC Horizon documentary on its dangers. At the time, they argued that the term was poorly defined, and they’d never advocated it directly.

“We’re not interested in making anyone feel fearful of food, scared of food, confused about food. We’re the opposite. We never talk about weight, diets, calorie-counting,” Melissa told the press.

So they weren’t part of the fad? Well, not according to them – but the problem with ill-defined movements is that people don’t always agree on where the border falls. Certainly the Hemsley sisters’ books bore many similarities to other titles circling the movement. Their dishes eschewed gluten, grains and refined sugars. Whether mentioned weight and diets or not, there was always a very distinct sense of virtue to the lifestyle their books represented.

Eat Green doesn’t exactly seem free of preachy virtuosity, as titles go. No, and Melissa Hemsley definitely talks up the importance of sustainable eating. She doesn’t spend much time examining why it’s important – but then, that in itself is refreshing. We know the environment is spiralling out control, and Hemsley’s introduction treats our understanding as a given – as it should be.

The recipes themselves do their best to live up to the challenge the title sets. A chart at the beginning provides a helpful map of seasonal fruit and veg, and there are tips scattered throughout for avoiding waste – a really lovely idea that’s executed nicely. Hemsley also offers up suggestions for locally-sourced alternatives where possible. She ignores miso in favour of British-grown fava bean umami paste – which is a bit more of a mouthful than miso on a couple of fronts. 

So Melissa has moved on from clean eating in favour of something that’s more objectively a good idea? Well, yes and no. The central focus of the book is definitely sustainable, ‘green’ eating. But as far as the recipes go, nothing much has changed at all. Nothing here would have looked particularly out of place in either of the Hemsley + Hemsley books.  The whole collection clings closely to what you’d expect from ‘clean eating’ at every possible opportunity.

How do you mean? The ‘Celebrations’ section of the book features such extravagant dishes as chickpea caprese salad and ‘mushroom mince’ lettuce cups.

Ah, gotcha. In fact, there’s a remarkable lack of excitement and variety to the recipes on display. There are multiple pancake and galette recipes, and at least a dozen salads that look more or less the same in their photos – piles of loose leaves and chickpeas, etc, that you can tell will be fighting to roll off your cutlery every bit as hard as you are fighting to get them in your mouth.

It feels as if Hemsley was so eager to present green eating that she neglected to include any imagination. The goal, though worthy, should allow much more varied and interesting dishes than are on show here. As a guide, Tim Anderson’s Vegan JapanEasy, reviewed earlier this year, was overflowing with hugely exciting and endlessly appetising ideas – even though its remit was much tighter.

Alright, alright. Calm down, you’ll have a seizure. After this and that Gill Meller review last week, I’m getting the idea you might not have much room in your heart for the sustainable cooking movement. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s incredibly obvious that we all need to spend a lot more time thinking about our food habits and doing our best to limit their impact on the world we live in. It’s just…

Yes? Well, why is nobody fun writing a cookbook on sustainable cooking? Why is it always left to people who think a chai parsnip and carrot cake is the best dessert we can manage in our new, environmentally-conscious world?

Killer recipes? The Bubble and Squeak with a Japanese-Inspired Dipping Sauce is a stand-out anomaly, as is the Braised Chicken with Lettuce, Peas and Radish Greens and Mash in a Flash. The one bit of the book that is genuinely brilliant, though, isn’t even a recipe: just before the index Hemsley includes an ‘A-Z of Odds, Ends and Leftovers’ that offers plenty of excellent ideas on how to use those annoying bits and bobs that sit about in the fridge unloved – the tired old fennel, the spare carrot, and so on.

Should I buy it? Look, if you have the Hemsley + Hemsley books, or enjoy any of their contemporaries, you’ll likely get some use out of this too. But this isn’t anywhere close to what I’d call an insightful or particularly useful guide for the average home cook.

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

Cuisine: English
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: One star

Buy this book
Eat Green: Delicious flexitarian recipes for planet-friendly eating
£22, Ebury Press

Table Manners by Jessie and Lennie Ware

Cover of Table Manners by Jessie Ware and Lennie Ware

What’s the USP? The hosts of the hugely popular Table Manners podcast bring together popular recipes from the series, alongside homespun family favourites and a smattering of traditional Jewish dishes.

Who are the authors? Jessie Ware is a critically-acclaimed pop star with four albums under her belt. Lennie is her mum – a joyful presence on the podcast, where the duo have celebrity guests over to dinner in their South London home. The podcast has had a regular presence on the charts since launching with guest Sam Smith in November 2017. Since then, they’ve hosted around ninety episodes, featuring pop stars, actors, politicians and plenty of famous food writers.

The show makes the most of Jessie and Lennie’s irresistible chemistry – the loving bickering between parent and child, their mutual reverence for home-cooked meals, and the occasional awkwardness that comes from having frank, relaxed conversations whilst your mother is present (a recent episode saw Aisling Bea explaining the difference between ‘doggy style’ and ‘dogging’ to an endearingly curious Lennie).

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s not quite enough here to call the Table Manners cookbook bedtime reading. There’s a relatively lengthy intro by Jessie (which has that distinctive writing style usually seen in celebrity biographies – easy to read, but informal and a little… ghostly) and a significantly briefer intro by Lennie (which is exactly as straight-forward and dryly sentimental as your own Mum’s occasional Whatsapp messages).

Beyond that, there are short chapter introductions from the duo, as well as brief descriptions ahead of each recipe, which Jessie and Lennie take turns to do. There’s no real depth or insight in most of these – at least, nothing that fans of the podcast won’t already have heard plenty of.  Curiously, then, for a celebrity cookbook, Table Manners real draw is the recipes themselves. Now that’s a pleasant surprise.

Why’s that, then? Because – and there’s a little generalising here, but bear with us – celebrity cookbooks are generally a bit crap. For the most part, they’re built around the cult of the celebrity themselves and, with so many celebrities living intensely regimented existences, the recipes tend to be basic, uninspiring and intensely worthy.

Pop star cookbooks in particular tend to be soulless collections of healthy bean stews and endless salads or, in the case of the curious sub-genre of cookbooks by rappers, big portions of American stodge. It’s rare to find a book that is filled with genuinely tempting recipes, foodie knowledge, and a true representation of the author’s personal food culture.

There have been, of course, a couple of exceptions to the rule. Action Bronson’s Fuck, That’s Delicious has been widely lauded, and Kelis (who happens to be Cordon Bleu trained) has, in My Life on a Plate, created a book that genuinely deserves a place on any bookshelf. But titles like these are few and far apart. That Table Manners might well deserve a spot alongside them is a decent feat.

What will I love? Though the two authors don’t really show their personalities off in their writing, they absolutely shine through their dishes. On the podcast, Lennie’s cooking, in particular, often sounds absolutely irresistible and it’s nice to see that come across here as well.

In keeping with the show’s premise you’d be proud to serve any of these dishes at a dinner party. Despite Lennie’s frequent hesitancy towards vegan cooking on the podcast, there are plenty of options for vegans and veggies alike throughout the book.

The highlight of the entire collection is a chapter dedicated to the Jewish dishes that have played a big part of family life over the years. Lennie’s chicken soup has found a cult following of its own since Table Manners started three years ago, and it’s showcased here alongside brisket, gefilte fish and the most alluring chopped liver I’ve ever seen.

What won’t I love? There’s not much to call this book out on. The crisp, bright design does have a distinct air of a ‘clean-living’ cookbook, but there’s no proselytizing here – in fact, though many of the recipes might fit the mould, you’d likely not even think about it if the design didn’t so frequently echo that of an Amelia Freer or a Hemsley title.

Should I buy it? Table Manners is a lovely collection of recipes – bright, delicious dishes that capture the heart and soul of the podcast and its stars. The excellent selection of Jewish recipes will offer many readers insight into a cuisine they might not have explored before. It isn’t a vital addition to any shelf – but it still has plenty to offer.

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

Cuisine: European/Jewish
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Table Manners: The Cookbook
£22, Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
‘Triple Threat’ Chocolate Brownies
Chicken Soup