Simply Delicious by Darina Allen

Darina Allen

What’s the USP? As the cover boldly states, ‘100 timeless, tried and tested recipes’ from the doyen of Irish cookery, collected from Allen’s now out of print Simply Delicious 1 and 2 and Simply Delicious vegetable books from the late 80’s and 90’s which were some of the most successful cookery books ever published in Ireland.

Who’s the author? You could call Darina Allen the Delia Smith of Ireland.  She is perhaps best known for running the world famous Ballymaloe Cookery School near Cork since 1983 but is also the author of 16 books including Irish Traditional Cooking and has presented nine series of the Simply Delicious TV show. She is a key figure in the Slow Food movement and founded the first farmer’s market in Ireland.  

What does it look like? Like the recipes, the design of Simply delicious is also timeless, tried and tested with simply-styled, full page overhead food shots and unadorned recipes. There are one or two portraits of the great lady herself in the busy in the kitchen and double page spread, photographic chapter headers featuring things like a metal colander of courgettes complete with flowers or a simple bunch of asparagus. Simple but nicely done.

 Is it good bedtime reading? A two-page introduction and that’s your lot sadly.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? How much is a ‘splash’ of sunflower oil? How much oil is enough for deep frying? How many lettuces and salad leaves constitute a ‘selection’ big enough to feed 6 people?  How many are ‘a few small leaves of lettuce’? What does ‘a little local goat’s cheese’ mean; do I need one log, two logs. And what weight? How much is ‘a little’ extra virgin olive oil. For a food writer of such long standing, and especially one who has run a cookery school for 35 years, the recipes are surprisingly littered with this sort of thing.

Killer recipes? This is comforting, home style cooking, dishes that transcend the fashions and fads of the professional kitchen like beef with stout; traditional Irish bacon with cabbage and parsley sauce;  farmhouse chicken and Irish stew. Things get a bit more racy with Lebanese cold cucumber soup and onion bhajis with tomato and chilli relish, but kombucha and dashi are notable by their absence.

What will I love? Simply Delicious is based on fundamental, sound cooking techniques and the food is appealing. The book will help you rediscover the delights of a well-made soup, stew, pie, salad or fruit fool.

What won’t I like? Clocking in at under 200 pages, the book is a little on the skimpy side for price and the lack of additional content like meal suggestions, glossary or more biographical details about Allen is disappointing.

Should I buy it? If your shelves are heaving with Redzepi, Humm and Bottura, then a shot of good old commonsense cooking in the shape of Simply Delicious might be exactly what you need.

Cuisine: Irish
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Simply Delicious the Classic Collection: 100 timeless, tried & tested recipes
£20, Kyle Books

The French Revolution by Michel Roux Jr

French Revolution Michel Roux Jr

What’s the USP? Classic French home cooking updated to ‘suit the way we like to eat today’, cutting down on butter and cream, eschewing luxury ingredients like foie gras, lobster and truffle and focusing on simpler recipes that don’t require a full batterie de cuisine and a KP to wash it all up afterwards.

Who’s the author? Michel Roux Jr is restaurant royalty, son of the legendary Albert Roux, father of Emily (who has just opened her first London restaurant Caractère) and is chef/patron of legendary Mayfair joint Le Gavroche and oversees fine dining destinations Roux at Parliament Square and Roux at The Landau, where he also has his own pub The Wigmore. He is a regular on TV shows like Saturday Kitchen and has written seven previous cookbooks.

Killer recipes? Basque-style chicken; shrimp tartlets thermidor; red mullet pastilla; duck confit pie; lamb with haricot beans; roast pears with nougat and dark chocolate sauce; fig tarte Tatin.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Apart from salt and pepper, there are weights and measures for every ingredient. The methods are sometimes usefully vague – for example, for Duck Confit Pie the instructions say to ‘sweat the chopped onion until soft and lightly browned’ rather than claiming that they will be cooked in five minutes; onions never are.

Is it good bedtime reading? There is very little additional text in the book, even the recipe introductions are kept to a bare minimum.

What will I love? Roux Jr has included recipes from all over France, some of which only the most ardent of Francophiles will have encountered before such as Seiche a la Sétoise from the Languedoc-Roussillon (cuttlefish as prepared in the port city of Séte, slow cooked with white wine, saffron, tomatoes and olives) and Tourment D’Amour from the overseas French region of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean (sweet pastry cases filled with coconut jam, crème patissiere and genoise sponge). Roux Jr is a skilled baker and the chapter on boulangerie is a particular joy with recipes for goat’s cheese bread; garlic bread that’s baked with cloves of garlic confit in the dough; and speculoos, spicy biscuits made with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

What won’t I like? The lack of explanatory text is disappointing, and these are not Roux Jr’s restaurant dishes; you’ll need to pick up a copy of Le Gavroche Cookbook for that.

Should I buy it? The huge variety of dishes could easily provide inspiration for a dinner party, special occasion celebratory meal for two or something quick and easy for days off or when you arrive home hungry after work.

Cuisine: American/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
The French Revolution: 140 Classic Recipes made Fresh & Simple
£25, Seven Dials

Black Sea by Caroline Eden

black sea by caroline eden

What’s the USP? According to the book’s back cover blurb, ‘With a nose for a good recipe and an ear for an extraordinary story, Caroline Eden travels from Odessa to Bessarabia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey’s Black Sea region, exploring interconnecting culinary cultures’.

Who’s the author? Caroline Eden is a writer and journalist specialising in the former Soviet Union. Her first book Samarkand – recipes and stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus appeared in 2016 and was named Guardian book of the year and won Guild of Food Writers ‘Food and Travel’ award in 2017.

What does it look like? With a stylish, iridescent cover, evocative location photography and rustic-chic food shots, Black Sea has bags of character a distinctive look and feel worthy of its road-less-travelled subject matter.

Is it good bedtime reading? Black sea is as much a travelogue, a narrative of a journey,  as it is a recipe book, so this is definitely one for the bedside table. Eden deftly mixes history and with her first-hand travel experiences to build up a vivid picture of the region, it’s people and its cuisine.

Killer recipes? Ardie Umpluti (Romanian stuffed yellow peppers); afternoon Zelnick pie (chad, spinach and filo pie from Bulgaria); citrus-cured mackerel with gherkins from Istanbul; black sesame challah; Navy Day Covrigi (apricot stuffed buns from Romania).

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Given that Waitrose stocks the pul biber (Turkish pepper flakes) you’ll need to make Eden’s version of ‘Cornershop pilaf’ from Kastamonu with bulgar wheat, loads of herbs, spinach and cherry tomatoes and that the date syrup required for baked sesame halva can be found on most supermarket shelves, you should have no problems finding the means to make these dishes. Where the authentic ingredient is difficult for those outside of the region to track down, Eden has provided a more convenient alternative such as pecorino for the more obscure Romanian Kashkavel required for Shepherd’s Bulz (Romanian cornmeal and cheese baked dumplings).

What’s the faff factor? Although some of the recipes are inspired by dishes eaten in restaurants, this is homely cooking. Ingredients lists are mostly short and concise and cooking methods simple and straightforward.

How often will I cook from the book? Although the cuisines covered in the book may be unfamiliar to many readers (and is certainly less storied that many other European regions), the spicy, herby flavours – sometimes fresh, sometimes comforting – are very accessible and you might easily find yourself reaching for Black Sea when you fancy something just a little bit different for a mid-week meal or a dinner party.

What will I love? This is a well researched and written book that will have you planning your own trips to the region. If your interest is really peaked, Eden has supplied a comprehensive list of further reading, alongside the books, newspapers, journals, websites and magazines consulted while writing Black Sea that should keep you busy for many months.

What won’t I like? I honestly can’t imagine.

Should I buy it? If you like food, travel, cooking (and if you don’t, why are you reading this blog?) this is the book for you.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginners/competent home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes – Through Darkness and Light

£25, Quadrille

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This book has been shortlisted for the 2018 Andre Simon award. Click the logo to read reviews of all the shortlisted books.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

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What’s the USP? According to the publishers, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is ‘The last cookbook you’ll ever need’, so by reviewing it, I’m risking consigning this blog to the dustbin of history. But of course, it’s not the last cookbook you’ll ever need; we all need new cookbooks all the time, one a day if possible (addicted, me? I beg your pardon!). What the book does, however, is attempt to codify the fundamentals of cooking so that the reader is freed, if they so wish to be, from the (delightful) tyranny of the recipe.   

Who is the author? Samin Nosrat is a writer, teacher and chef who has gone from working at Alice Water’s legendary Californian restaurant Chez Panisse to a being a culinary star thanks to the Netflix serialization of Salt, Fat Acid, Heat, her first book.

What does it look like? A great big comforting block of a book (it runs to over 470 pages) with a very distinctive look, from Rafaela Romaya’s eye-catching graphic cover design (illustrating what I’m assuming to be salt, fat, acid and heat at a molecular level) to Wendy MacNaughton’s charming colour hand-drawn illustrations (apart from headshots of Nosrat and MacNaughton, there are no photographs in the book).

Is it good bedtime reading? Divided into two halves, part one ‘The Four Elements of Good Cooking’ is nothing but bedtime, or anytime reading (part two is where you’ll find all the recipes). Four chapters explore Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat in turn, using Nosrat’s own experience cooking in professional kitchens and her culinary travels, mixed in with a dollop of easily understandable basic science and a generous helping of common sense to explain what cooking is and how you can understand the knowledge that will allow you to acquire the skill of cooking.   

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Nosrat takes a truly international approach to her subject, including recipes for anything from Vietnamese cucumber salad to classic American chicken pot pie with plenty of Italian pasta dishes along the way (not to mention food from North Africa, Mexico, Lebanon and on and on…), so inevitably you will come up against an ingredient or two that you might have to hunt around for, depending on how well you are served in your area by Asian supermarkets and other specialist suppliers. That said, the vast majority of recipes in the book should pose you no problem at all in the ingredients department.

What’s the faff factor? This is a book all about cooking, so expect to be doing a lot of it. The idea here is to learn and explore the techniques of cooking: braising, streaming, frying in all its forms, smoking, making stocks and sauces, baking etc. so don’t expect too many ‘meals-in-minutes’ (although the currently very trendy Roman pasta dish of Cacio e Pepe – spaghetti with pecorino cheese and loads of black pepper – literally takes only minutes to prepare). Nosrat is all about doing things properly, and not ‘cheffy’ flourishes. You won’t find yourself making endless fiddly garnishes that are best left to restaurant cooks, but you will need to be organized enough to marinate a chicken overnight to make Nosrat’s signature buttermilk-marinated roast chicken and then knock up a panzanella (Tuscan bread and tomato salad) to accompany it.

How often will I cook from the book? Despite the ‘cookery-course-in-a-single-volume’ conceit, this is not a book you will work through and then never look at again. The breadth and variety of recipes mean Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will provide inspiration for meals any time of the week, and for special occasions, for years to come.

Killer recipes? Those already mentioned above plus pork braised with chillies; chicken and garlic soup; spicy cima di rapa with ricotta salata; Lori’s Chocolate Midnight Cake; classic apple pie and many more.

What will I love? The look and feel of the book; it’s scope and ambition, the enthusiasm and care in the writing, the fact that you’re virtually getting two books (a 200-page treatise on cooking and a 200-page recipe book) for the price of one and the chance to hear a fresh new voice in food writing.

What won’t I like? As with any book that attempts to ‘deconstruct’ the practice of cooking or explain the underlying science behind cooking techniques, you may be left with the feeling of, so what? Do we need to understand that salt works by osmosis and diffusion or will the recipe for spicy brined turkey breast suffice? As a home cook of 35 years, it is interesting to see the subject from another angle but I’m not sure I’m a better cook for having read the book.

Although I loved the idea of the double-page fold-out charts and graphs, I’m not convinced of their practicality. If I consult ‘The World of Flavour’ wheel to check which ingredients I should be using when I’m cooking a dish from Argentina and Uruguay (parsley, oregano, chilli, paprika) what do I do with that information if I don’t already know that cuisine well? Unless I then refer to a recipe, which then makes the wheel redundant. From the ‘Ph of almost everything in Samin’s kitchen’ diagram, we ‘learn’ that lime is more acidic than black coffee; ‘the Avocado Matrix’ only serves to make something very simple – variations of avocado salad – head-spinningly complex, and I gave up trying to interpret the faintly ludicrous colour coded ‘Vegetables: How and When’ chart that seems to say that it’s OK to blanch potatoes but not sauté them – what!?

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat wouldn’t be the same book without MacNaughton’s lovely illustrations, but sometimes the accuracy of a photograph would have been welcome and more helpful; the drawings of how an egg changes minute by minute as it’s boiled are difficult to distinguish between, especially between 6 and 10 minutes, and the ‘Knife Cuts to Scale’ illustration is a little confusing; how thin actually are those thin slices of celery, and why is crumbled feta included at all (surely you do that with your fingers and not a knife?).

Should I buy it? Despite the reservations listed above, there is much to like about the book and it will be of particular value to those just starting out on their culinary adventure.  

Cuisine: International
Suitable for:
Beginner cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
4

Buy this book
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking: The Four Elements of Good Cooking

Slow-cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust by Yotam Ottolenghi

Slow-cooked chicken.png

This is a wonderful meal on an autumn day, served with a crisp green salad. The slow-cooked chicken is packed full of flavour and the crust – gluten-free, rich and corny – makes for a welcome (and lighter) change to a heavier mash. You can make the chicken well in advance if you want to get ahead: it keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days or can be frozen for 1 month. You want it to go into the oven defrosted, though, so it will need thawing out of the freezer. The batter needs to be made fresh and spooned on top of the chicken just before the dish gets baked, but it then can just go back in the oven. It can also be baked a few hours in advance – just warm through for 10 minutes, covered in foil, before serving. I love the combination of the chicken and the corn, but the chicken also works well as it is, served on top of rice, in a wrap or with a buttery jacket potato.

Serves six

3 tbsp olive oil
3 red onions, thinly sliced (500g)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsp rose harissa (or 50% more or less, depending on variety)(60g)
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
850g chicken thighs, skinless and boneless (about 9–10 thighs)
200ml passata
5 large tomatoes, quartered (400g)
200g jarred roasted red peppers, drained and cut into 2cm thick rounds
15g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
20g coriander, roughly chopped
salt and black pepper

SWEETCORN BATTER
70g unsalted butter,melted
500g corn kernels, fresh or frozen and defrosted (shaved corn kernels from 4 large corn cobs, if starting from fresh)
3 tbsp whole milk
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, on a medium high heat. Add the onions and fry for 8–9 minutes, stirring a few times, until caramelised and soft. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, harissa, paprika, chicken, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the passata and tomatoes. Pour over 350ml of water, bring to the boil, then simmer on a medium heat, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring every once in a while.

Add the peppers and chocolate and continue to simmer for another 35–40 minutes, with the pan now uncovered, stirring frequently, until the sauce is getting thick and the chicken is falling apart. Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander. If you are serving the chicken as it is (as a stew without the batter), it’s ready to serve (or freeze, once it’s come to room temperature) at this stage. If you are making the corn topping, spoon the chicken into a ceramic baking dish – one with high sides that measures about 20 x 30cm – and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan.

Pour the butter into a blender with the corn, milk, egg yolks and ¾ teaspoon salt. Blitz for a few seconds, to form a rough paste, then spoon into a large bowl. Place the egg whites in a separate clean bowl and whisk to form firm peaks. Fold these gently into the runny corn mixture until just combined, then pour the mix evenly over the chicken.

Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is golden-brown: keep an eye on it after 25 minutes to make sure the top is not taking on too much colour: you might need to cover it with tin foil for the final 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving.

Cook more from this book 
Braised eggs
Iranian herb fritters

Read the review

 

Iranian herb fritters by Yotam Ottolenghi

Iranian herb fritters.png

These can be snacked on as they are, at room temperature, or else served with a green tahini sauce and some extra herbs. If you want to make the tahini sauce then just blitz together 50g tahini, 30g parsley,½ crushed garlic clove, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1∕8 tsp salt. Once this is all in the blender, blitz for 30 seconds and pour in 125ml water. Holding back on the water allows the parsley to get really broken up and turns the sauce as green as can be. This sauce is lovely spooned over all sorts of things – grilled meat and fish and roasted vegetables, for example – so double or triple the batch and keep it in the fridge. It keeps well for about 5 days. You might want to thin it with a little water or lemon juice to get it back to the right consistency.

These fritters are a bit of a fridge raid, using up whatever herbs you have around. As long as you keep the total net weight the same and use a mixture of herbs, this will still work wonderfully. The batter will keep, uncooked, for 1 day in the fridge.

Alternatively, pile the fritters into pitta bread with condiments: a combination of yoghurt, chilli sauce, pickled vegetables and tahini works well. You’d just need one fritter per person, rather than two.

Makes 8 fritters to serve 4–8 (depending on whether everyone is having one, in a pitta, or two as they are)

40g dill, finely chopped
40g basil leaves, finely chopped
40g coriander leaves, finely chopped
1½ tsp ground cumin 50g fresh breadcrumbs (about 2 slices, crusts left on if soft)
3 tbsp barberries (or currants)
25g walnut halves, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
8 large eggs, beaten
60ml sunflower oil, for frying
salt

Place all the ingredients, apart from the oil, in a large bowl with ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix well to combine and set aside.

Put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large non-stick pan and place on a medium high heat. Once hot, add ladles of batter to the pan.

Do 4 fritters at a time, if you can – you want each of them to be about 12cm wide – otherwise just do 2 or 3 at a time. Fry for 1–2 minutes on each side, until crisp and golden-brown. Transfer to a kitchen paper-lined plate and set aside while you continue with the remaining batter and oil.

Serve either warm or at room temperature.

Cook more from this book
Braised eggs
Slow cooked chicken

Read the review

Braised eggs with leek and za’atar by Yotam Ottolenghi

Braised eggs.pngServes six

This is a quick way to get a very comforting meal on the table in a wonderfully short amount of time. It’s a dish as happily eaten for brunch, with coffee, as it is for a light supper with some crusty white bread and a glass of wine. The leeks and spinach can be made up to a day ahead and kept in the fridge, ready for the eggs to be cracked in and braised.

30g unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil 2 large leeks (or 4 smaller), trimmed and cut into ½cm slices (530g)
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
2 small preserved lemons, pips discarded, skin and flesh finely chopped (30g)
300ml vegetable stock
200g baby spinach leaves
6 large eggs
90g feta broken into 2cm pieces
1 tbsp za’atar salt and black pepper

  1. Put the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, and place on a medium high heat. Once the butter starts to foam, add the leeks, ½ teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Fry for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft. Add the cumin, lemon and vegetable stock and boil rapidly for 4–5 minutes, until most of the stock has evaporated. Fold in the spinach and cook for a minute, until wilted, then reduce the heat to medium.
  2. Use a large spoon to make 6 indentations in the mixture and break one egg into each space. Sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of salt, dot the feta around the eggs, then cover the pan. Simmer for 4–5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
  3. Mix the za’atar with the remaining tablespoon of oil and brush over the eggs. Serve at once, straight from the pan.

Cook more from this book
Iranian herb fritters
Slow cooked chicken

Read the review