What’s the USP? Here’s a book guaranteed to stir up some sort of response in anyone over, say, thirty years of age. as cooked on TikTok is a collection of ‘fan favourites and recipe exclusives’ from over 40 of the social network’s food influencers.
And look, we’re coming into this one with serious trepidation, yes? The front cover promises a foreword by ‘Gordon + Tilly Ramsay’, and the pictures on the back include ‘Cloud Bread’, part of a trend of ‘fluffy’ foods that also included whipped coffee and ‘cloud eggs’, which are both featured inside as well.
In case you were wondering, Cloud Bread looks atrocious. Dyed blue (like… clouds?), and made using only egg whites, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla extract, it looks less like a cumulonimbus, and more like a failed soap that’s been dumped unceremoniously on the Lush factory floor. A good start, then.
Who wrote it? Primarily referred to by their TikTok handles, the names of the 40 influencers here won’t mean much to anyone not actively following foodtok (you’ve got this, really, I’m right here with you, offering my love and support – foodtok is just the corner of TikTok focussed on cooking and eating).
There’s a real sense of variety, though. Most of the featured creators are based in North America, but many are immigrants who are bringing the dishes of their home country to a wider audience. There are students and young professionals who love to share their homemade concoctions, professionals who have found a new way to expand their brand, and retired grandmothers with a penchant for cosplay amongst the contributors. And @newt who, according to his bio, ‘really likes parsley’. Good for @newt.
Is it good bedtime reading? Gordon Ramsay and his daughter Tilly do their best to convince you otherwise with a painful foreword that is meant to read like an improvised dialogue but instead feels like the pained patter of morning television presenters pulled in to replace the usual hosts.
Beyond the foreword, though, there’s more to engage with here than you might expect. as cooked on TikTok could have easily chosen to share nothing but the easiest and most attention-grabbing dishes. Instead, it serves as a pretty decent beginner’s guide to cookery. One that doesn’t assume the worst of its readers, and seeks to teach them some useful skills beyond the basics.
Admittedly, these lessons tend to come in relatively grating formats – recurring segments with TikTok-themed titles like ‘#lifehack’ or ‘I was today years old’. But the information within is usually a cut above keeping your knives sharp, or maintaining different chopping boards for different foods. Instead we get introductions to asafoetida and Chinkiang vinegar, piping bag tips and recommendations of kitchen gear that include sesame grinders.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Editorial consistency is always the key in a compilation cookbook. It’s a big part of why I couldn’t get on with the Andre Simon-award nominated Eat, Share, Love – but it’s not an issue here. Ebury Press have reigned in the wildly different styles of their contributors; recipes are simple to follow, with measurements in both imperial and metric. For anyone still unsure, each recipe has a QR code that will take you to the creator’s corresponding TikTok video. Admittedly these vary greatly – @auntieloren’s video for Biscuit Pot Pie is almost meditative, soundtracked by a Janet Jackson slowjam. Aforementioned grandmother @cookingwithlynja, on the other hand, offers up an intense and chaotic video for Ramen Carbonara in which she is mostly yelling, and dressed as anime icon Naruto. Sure, why not?
What’s the faff factor? Dishes here are, as you might expect from a format where most videos come in under three minutes, pretty simple. The #lifehack suggestions often help cut your work down further, too.
How often will I cook from the book? Let’s be very clear here: the target audience for this title skews young. My best guess is that this will mostly be used by students and those in their early twenties – the sort of people who are just starting out on their road of culinary discovery and are looking for quick and exciting meals that they can throw together after a shitty 9-5:30 job with an hour’s commute at either end. And for those people: actually, this could see them through a decent part of the week.
Cookbooks for students in particular remain a sad and uninspired little corner of the market in which the same clichéd dishes are trotted out in drab titles that haven’t evolved that much in the past twenty years. as cooked on TikTok is an excellent alternative to these. Recipes are playful, and really varied – almost every recipe here stands out as unique amongst my entire cookbook collection. Where else would I turn for a Korean/Mexican fusion like Kkanpoong Tofu Tacos, or unexpected twists on classics like Cookies and Cream Kulfi?
As easy as it was for me to approach this book with an entitled sense of superiority over what could easily have been a zeitgeisty money-grab, as cooked on TikTok has a legitimately interesting range of meals that could happily feed mind and stomach alike.
Killer recipes: Marinated Riblets with Guajillo Salsa, Chilaquiles Rojos, Hot Crab and Spinach Dip with Garlicky Toasts, Butter Chicken Pasta, Ramen Lasagne, Sweet Chile-smashed Sprouts, Mini Burnt Basque Cheesecakes
Should I buy it? It won’t be for everyone – and it misses out on input from my favourite foodtok creator, @goodboy.noah, whose recipes are dictated by a rapping cheetah. But ultimately, as cooked on TikTok is delivering much more than it needed to. With dishes that are happy to subvert expectations, and draw on influences from around the world with irreverent joy, it’s a great introduction for those looking to step up their cooking from basic self-preservation to actually enjoying oneself.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Beginner home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Have you seen the multi-Oscar winning Everything, Everywhere, All At Once? OMG you should, it’s great. Michelle Yeoh travels through the multiverse to save the world from destruction, amongst other much more nuanced things. The film exists in a place where up is not only down but left, right, a circle, a square, you, me, a reasonably priced hatchback, a holiday in Tenerife and every permutation above and beyond.
How else to explain Extra Good Things, the latest from the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen? A book with introductions to recipes such as “Potato slab pie: Think potato dauphinoise, meets quiche, wrapped up in pastry”. It is everything, everywhere, all at once. This has been the Ottolenghi way for years, who now surely exists as a multiversal version of himself: man, brand, restaurant and as the book tries to make the case for, a verb. It defines to Ottolenghify as taking an Eastern inspired, “vegetable-forward” approach to familiar dishes and mix with exotic ingredients from this universe or the next.
The authors are listed as Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi though more broadly, it comes from the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, a diverse team of chefs assembled in a bespoke North London kitchen tasked with finding new ways to blister pepper skins or marinate swedes. This spirit of adventure and experimentation makes its way into their cookbooks with the first, Shelf Love, reaching into the back of the cupboard to repurpose unloved ingredients into something greater. Extra Good Things looks at filling that space by making recipes featuring sauces, oils, ferments, pickles and salsas to be used again. Each chapter is arranged by these condiments, rather than the ingredients. “Something Fresh” features recipes with added pestos or salsas for instance while “A Little Bit of Funk” plays with ferments, brines and pickles.
It is a typically glossy and considered cooking experience as you would come to expect from Ottolenghi publications. The photography is just on the right side of messy, measurements are exacting and replacements are suggested for hard to find ingredients. Every recipe has an explicit aim for you to take something away with you, whether a bit of extra sauce to pair with other ingredients or pickles to layer onto sandwiches. A peanut gochujang dressing adds a zingy, spicy and creamy edge to the suggested tenderstem broccoli, but I’ve made it repeatedly since to throw onto other green veg, rice and sandwiches. Harissa butter mushroom Kyiv were both a spectacular main dish and a jumping point for stuffing other buttery herby things in between breaded mushrooms. The burnt aubergine pickle has been applied to pretty much everything it can.
While there are a handful of meat and fish dishes, the recipes are overwhelmingly vegetarian. The Ottolenghi approach to vegetables is where I think these books really shine, awarding an indulgence and satisfaction that can be missing in many plant-based dishes. I can understand why they’re not for everyone, recipes can be complicated or like maximalist artistic experiments in flavour. There is, of course, beauty to be found in minimal ingredients cooked well and dressed sparingly. I would also argue there’s beauty to be found in an aubergine Parmigiana pie the size of a Victoria Sponge baked with a spiced tomato sauce and stuffed with cheese and filo. There’s a reason these books are popular: the recipes are diverse, interesting, sometimes spectacular like the Butternut crunch pie or deceptively easy and impressive like 2-scalloped potatoes with chimichurri. I’ve yet to make anything that isn’t delicious.
In my opinion, all good cookbooks should seek for the reader to take something away with them – a new understanding of a cuisine, an introduction to new ingredients or a way of refining your skill in the kitchen. Extra Good Things does all this by putting an outcome at the forefront of every recipe. The book is all the better for it. Your cooking will be too.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
What’s the USP? Compiling 91 recipes that span a broad range of global cuisines, each dish in Eat Share Love comes with a story, a personal connection, and a reminder that food nourishes us in more ways than one.
Who wrote it? The book has been compiled by Kalpna Woolf, a former Head of Production at the BBC, whose previous cookbook offered up spicy food for slimming. Seven years ago she launched charity 91 Ways to Build a Global City, named after the number of languages spoken by residents in Bristol, where the organisation is based. 91 Ways hosts ‘regular community-focussed events’ to bring the residents of the city together while also ‘helping people to make better decisions about their nutrition and well-being’. It’s a fairly messy concept with its heart in the right place. Which could also be a pretty neat summation of the charity’s new cookbook.
Is it good bedtime reading? There’s absolutely loads to read here, so in a sense, this could be a wonderful book to read for pleasure. Each recipe is introduced by its contributor, with stories of family members, different cultures, and the wide array of lived experiences you’ll find in any built up area. Woolf herself shares her father’s story of moving to the UK. Elsewhere, Negat Hussein teaches the reader about Eritrean bun ceremonies, and Reena Anderson-Bickley reminisces about roadside picnics and aloo from a Thermos flask.
Unfortunately, the design of Eat Share Love is consistently over-crowded. In an effort to include everybody’s stories, the type is tiny, and often forced to share a page with the recipe itself. Snuggle down under the sheets to peruse the introductions, but make sure you have extra-strong reading glasses nearby.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? The problem with a collaborative book is that, unless your editor is really on the ball, the quality of the writing can be incredibly inconsistent. I had a go at Maria’s Cypriot Antinaxto Krasato, supplied here by Athanasis Lazarides.
Lazarides describes his recipe as ‘written by an artisan, not a professional’, and it’s a good warning: the instructions read as though they are being given by a grandmother who is a little annoyed to have you in the kitchen with her. During the entire process we are given no distinct times or temperatures. Ingredients are listed in metric, but we’re told we can add more red wine more or less on our own personal whim. Credit to Lazarides, though, the end result was rich and moreish.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? To its credit, Eat Share Love manages to offer up an international array of recipes using ingredients that can almost entirely be sourced from your local supermarket.
What will I love? Though the globe-trotting means the book often feels as though it lacks any coherency or direction, it does uncover a fantastic selection of really interesting foods. There are some familiar dishes here, but many of the ideas were completely new to me. There’s nothing worse than an international cookbook that throws out the same ideas you’ve seen a dozen times before, and that’s not a problem in Eat Share Love.
What won’t I love? The design of the book is absolutely terrible. Pages are clogged up with photos of family members, leaving so little room for the recipes that everything is packed into dense word blocks. This is bad enough when you’re browsing an introduction, but can make missing an ingredient all too easy as well.
Also, that title: a personal gripe, maybe, but I prefer my cookbooks not to sound like something I might see on a fridge magnet at a garden centre, or hanging from the wall of a kitchen that is otherwise decorated entirely in shades of grey.
Should I buy it? It’s tough to review anything with so much good intention behind it, but Eat Share Love is an imperfect collection that scatters through a few delicious treats. If you’ve money to spare, then there’s no harm in supporting what 91 Ways are doing. But if you’re looking for an intuitive cookbook that’s easy to read and navigate, you’ll be better off looking elsewhere.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Two stars
Buy this book: Eat Share Love by Kalpna Woolf
£22, Meze Publishing
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas
Eat Share Love has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2022
Lune: Croissants All Day, All Night – to which is there any other answer than, yes please? Making croissants is something I’ve always thought best left to the professionals. It’s a fine art and while not rocket science, there’s definitely crossover: one requires precision, delicacy and an intricate understanding of weight and heat distribution; the other is rocket science. Kate Reid, owner and author of Lune, originally worked as an aerospace engineer for the Williams Formula 1 Team before a trip to Paris convinced her to apply her skillset to making croissants. Over a decade later, Lune has multiple venues in Australia, queues of people willing to wait hours to try their products and as of last year, a debut cookbook.
Reid has talked at length at how the two seemingly distinct career paths have benefited one another. She compares Lune to a “croissant Formula 1 team”, being driven by a need for an experimental and results driven approach in the pursuit of excellence. The book wears its engineering influences quite literally on its sleeve: starting with the croissant-shaped spaceship logo, a sleek black and reflective silver design, high contrast photography and a rigorously assembled ingredients list and methodology. Recipes are broadly listed by what time of day to have them, from Breakfast to Dinner, all the times in between and interspersed with personal stories of establishing Lune.
The golden thread throughout the book is the croissant dough. Once made, it can be applied to numerous different pastry recipes ranging from croissants, cruffins, danishes, escargots and more. Alongside the classics, are inventive recipes like Chocolate Plum Sake Danishes or Beef Bourguignon croissants. The book gets this out of the way early and it’s only fair I should too: you will not be travelling at speed. It will take at least 48 hours over the course of three days and a decent amount of effort to produce a single batch. Croissant casuals need not apply.
Day one requires a morning making a poolish and an afternoon bringing the dough together. Day two is lamination, the process of layering butter and pastry that gives croissants their flaky layers and if laminated in the morning, can then be shaped in the evening. Day three calls for a 2am start (spoiler: I did not get up at 2am), proving the croissants for five hours before baking to have with breakfast.
It is as time consuming as the book assures you it is but the dough recipe is so exacting, with photographs accompanying every step and measurements to the centimetre and gram there is little scope to go wrong. It is entirely worth the effort. I bake mine at a much more reasonable 1pm, filling the house with croissant pheromones that continually entice us back into the kitchen to check on their progress. The results are ethereal wonders, so lovingly formed and delicate I consider making an application for a UNESCO heritage listing to preserve them forever. They taste even better, as if they descended fully formed, a divine aura sailing them gracefully into my mouth.
Thankfully, the dough recipe returns enough for five batches and leaves plenty of opportunity to explore other pastries. The Cacio e Pepe Escargot is as lavish as its namesake. Danishes filled with strawberries and a burnt miso caramel custard are a rollercoaster of sweet and savoury. Cruffins are surprisingly easy to assemble and, in less of a shock, absolutely magnificent when filled with a peanut butter crème pâtissière and jam.
There are some small barriers to entry, investments in both time and equipment being examples. If you’re already a home baker, you’ll likely have the essentials to make the dough but for certain recipes, you’ll need more bespoke items like small, square silicone moulds for danish pastries. However, I didn’t have some of these and used the best equivalent I could find. The results were, admittedly, misshapen but no less delicious for it.
One of the many joys of this book is its laser focus. All of the recipes start from the same place – the croissant dough – which you’re going to learn to do very well and then apply it in an abundance of wildly inventive recipes. It’s refreshing to be encouraged to hone a craft, that yes, this is a practice of patience and discipline but it’s worth doing well. And once mastered, it can be taken in any creative direction you like – the sky’s the limit as they say, though I think Lune makes me want to shoot for the moon.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Two of my friends, Jack and Harry, are brothers. Sometimes it seems as though Jack and Harry have very little in common, besides the fact that they are both singer-songwriters with a satisfying mid-Wales accent. But the truth, of course, is that they share many traits. Perhaps the biggest of these: they each are blessed with a confidence in their own opinions hitherto not seen outside of the central residence of Vatican City.
In most folk, this sort of conviction of belief might come across as arrogant. But Jack and Harry deliver their righteous indignation with a charm and a knowing sense of silliness. After all, absolutely nothing Jack or Harry share their opinions on actually matters, and I think they know it. And so I’m able to enjoy the ludicrous confidence I am faced with as they pretend the first three Billy Joel albums don’t exist, or chastise me for having the audacity to drink Orangina despite not being a Parisian schoolboy. None of this matters. It’s all just supplementary colour; decoration to a life well lived.
Andy Baraghani’s The Cook You Want To Be reminds me a little of Jack and Harry. Baraghani, who trained at Chez Panisse before working for Bon Appétit as a Senior Food Editor, is perhaps as present in his cookbook as any food writer has ever been. Yes, the cookbook can be an intensely personal literary form, and writers like Nigel Slater have made a career out of delivering food-forward diaries. But Baraghani somehow moves beyond this. He is more than the author of The Cook You Want To Be; he is an ingredient in each recipe, his opinions and obsessions worn on his turmeric-stained sleeves.
From the very outset, Baraghani writes with passion and walks a tightrope of self-awareness. The book’s title often seems like a deliberate misdirection – though his advice frequently encourages the reader to grow and develop as a cook, it is only rarely that we aren’t pressed in very specific directions. We are told which brand of Japanese mandoline to use, we are gently pushed to use more herbs, teased if we don’t love garlic. Is this The Cook You Want To Be or The Cook Andy Baraghani Wants You To Be? Does it really matter, when the food tastes this good?
And the food does taste good, that much is not in doubt. Baraghani’s dishes draw heavily on his Persian background, his training at Chez Panisse, and what he eats at home. The result is a book that is, not unlike the author, unpretentious but still a little showy. Take the Buttery Beef and Peanut Stir-fry, which I knocked up on a weekday evening in less than half an hour. Twenty minutes of that was marinating time. The final dish was scrappy-looking but full of depth of flavour. The sort of thing that will catch a visiting friend off-guard, which is possibly the best thing one can do when cooking for someone else. Surprise: this is incredible.
Dishes are split into sections with tellingly possessive titles (‘Snacks to Share… or Not’, ‘Soup Obsessed’, ‘Fish, I Love You’), but the real theme here is always Baraghani’s tastes and desires. Some of my favourite cookbooks are those that focus solely on what the author loves best, from Neil Perry’s Everything I Love To Cook to Colu Henry’s Colu Cooks. But it doesn’t work if the author doesn’t have anything fresh or exciting to put on the table. Baraghani has plenty, and there’s often a tantalising stickiness to his dishes, be they Caramelized Sweet Potatoes with Browned Butter Harissa or Jammy Egg and Scallion Sandwiches. The food here celebrates itself and asks to be relished, to be wolfed down and savoured, lips and fingertips licked for every last speck.
There are irresistible vegetable dishes tucked amongst the sticky goodness and the self-assured writing (“When you make this dish (not if)’, “I wish you could press a button on this page and hear the sound effects of how I feel about this recipe”). From Roasted Carrots with Hot Green Tahini to Fall-Apart Caramelized Cabbage Smothered in Anchovies and Dill, Baraghani is constantly encouraging you to rediscover the most common of ingredients.
The Cook You Want To Be is one of those most glorious of things: a cookbook with real character. Baraghani’s presence is so keenly felt on every page – there’s no dry, anonymous advice here. Everything is served with a little slice of a big personality. And it’s a joy to see this singular vision place so much importance upon something with such low stakes because cooking like this doesn’t really matter, not really. Like all the little things Jack and Harry have needlessly precise opinions on, nothing in this book is a matter of life and death. But finding joy in this small, delicious stuff: that’s what makes life matter in the first place.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
A friend does a great impression of a former housemate. It’s at exactly the moment they realise it’s much quicker to make mashed potatoes by chopping it into smaller bits first, rather than boiling one giant potato and mashing it whole. We’ve all been there. A fizzle and a crack as old neurons make new connections, a deluge of endorphins, a brief moment of shame and eureka: a higher plane of consciousness.
Get used to this feeling reading The Wok, a book of such astonishing detail and craft that comparisons to other weighty tomes like encyclopaedias seem somehow derogatory. J. Kenji López-Alt has built his reputation on this meticulous, science-oriented approach to cooking and has seen him garner a huge online following with over a million subscribers to his excellent YouTube channel as well as regular contributions to major publications and a growing collection of cookbooks.
His latest is substantial in both size and scope. Physically, it’s the sort of thing that used to be compared to the Yellow Pages but now is probably more like a stack of iPads. Though the heft is a reward for the sheer breadth of information found on its pages, ranging from the basics of stir-frying and chopping all the way to Scoville units and the glutamic acid content of certain foods.
Woks are versatile creatures and the chapters reflect this, being summarised by either ways of cooking with a wok, like Stir-Frying, Braising or Deep Frying or cooking with wok-centric ingredients like Rice or Noodles. Each chapter mingles technique, scientific explanations and applicable recipes like in the section dedicated to stir-frying chicken for instance, you will find an explanation for velveting, the scientific reasoning behind it and then a recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken.
If you’ve ever enjoyed something cooked with a wok whether from China, Japan, Thailand or even at your local takeaway, it’s likely to be here. There’s recipes for ramen, tempura, dumplings, curries, all types of noodles, classic takeaway meals, traditional dishes, oils, and condiments. The recipes are written with such exacting measurements and instructions it’s almost impossible to get wrong and are so precise, you’re often told exactly where to place the ingredients into the wok (swirl your sauce around the side!). Trust in the process and it’ll deliver probably the best homemade version of that particular dish you could hope for.
The book has elevated every part of my cooking with a wok. Dishes like Fried Rice, Dan Dan Noodles, Pad See Ew and Lo Mein that benefit from the turbocharged gas burners in restaurants were as good of an approximation I could have wished to achieve at home (I’ve yet to try the suggestion of using a blow torch to achieve more authentic results). Recipes less demanding of high heat like Kung Pao Chicken, Khai Jiao (Thai-Style Omelette), Mapo Tofu and Soy Glazed Mushrooms were all exceptional. Better still, The Wok has improved my cooking even when not following the book. Using the lessons learned like the specific size of the vegetables, the order of cooking the ingredients or how you heat the oil has meant the quick Tuesday night stir-fry is as good as it’s ever been.
There’s no avoiding The Wok is theory heavy, more a Cook’s Book than a cookbook. Scientific explanations are almost always lurking over the next page and how much you engage with these will depend on your appetite for it. They are tiny marvels in themselves, using a data and process driven approach to justify any conclusions though personally, I find overly academic accounts of kitchen alchemy can leave me a little cold, like gazing at a rainbow and being told it’s just water drops and light dispersion, actually.
This however, is a pocket-sized gripe. Much like López-Alt’s The Food Lab, Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heatand Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, The Wok is a book that isn’t content with showing you how, it wants to show you why. Sure, you can teach a man to fish but you could also show him how salt interacts with protein on a molecular level until he makes the best Kung Pao Prawns this side of the river. For a little time and energy, this is a book that will change how you cook for a lifetime.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
What’s the USP? Michelin-starred chef shares recipes inspired by dishes developed for his restaurant’s home meal delivery service that launched during the pandemic so you can create a bit of fine dining glamour in your own home without too much fuss.
Who wrote it? Described by The Times as “the godfather of modern Birmingham food”, Andreas Antona is a legend of the British fine dining scene. His flagship restaurant Simpsons opened back in 1993 and he now also runs The Cross in Kenilworth, also Michelin starred. He has mentored many award winning chefs that will be well known to keen British-based restaurant goers including Glynn Purnell, Adam Bennett, Luke Tipping, Andy Walters, Mark Fry, and Marcus and Jason Eaves. he was named restaurateur of the year in 2022 by industry bible The Caterer magazine.
Is it good bedtime reading? There’s an introduction in the form of an interview with Antona that will probably be of more interest to professional chefs than home cooks and that’s about it. There are no chapter introductions or even introductions to the recipes which seems a missed opportunity, given that Antona is one of the most experienced chefs in the country. A bit of hard-earned kitchen wisdom would have been very welcome.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? A good butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer , deli and specialist online suppliers will come in handy for things like guinea fowl, chicken livers, ox cheek, blade of beef, bone marrow, sea bream, turbot, halibut, hand-dived scallops, smoked cod’s roe, monkfish, sea bass, red mullet, Roscoff onions, linseeds, mushrooms including shimeji, girolle and hen of the woods, soya bean lecithin granules and xanthan gum. That may seem like a long list but the vast majority of ingredients will be easily obtainable from your local big supermarket. With a bit of thought, you should be able to make reasonable substitutes for most of the above named items too so there should be little to stand in your way making most if not all the recipes in the book.
How often will I cook from the book? It was about five minutes after the book was delivered that I started to write a shopping list for the first dish I wanted to cook from it. The food just looks so attractive and sounds so appealing that I wanted to give it all a go. Many of the recipes such as prawns with chilli, orzo and pesto or roast rump of Cornish lamb with peas a la Française, asparagus and roast potatoes are pretty straightforward and ideal for a mid-week meal.
That first recipe I tackled however turned out to be a bit more involved, but I couldn’t resist the idea of the sweet and sour tomatoes (marinated in honey, coriander seeds, rosemary, garlic, vanilla and sherry vinegar) that accompanied slow cooked beef cheek (I substituted some very nice braising steak) with courgettes, fried polenta, aubergine caviar and balsamic vinegar sauce made from the braising liquor. It was well worth the effort.
What will I love? The book’s bold and colourful graphic design and the clean and simple food styling and photography that really lets the dishes stand for themselves.
What won’t I love? Let’s get the price out of the way. Eureka costs £38 (plus £10 delivery charge!!) and is only available from the restaurant’s online store (linked below) or for £2 more, from the publishers site. That is a lot of money for a 224 page book with just 80 recipes. For comparison, Jeremy Lee’s recently published Cooking is nearly twice the length and has a cover price of £30, although at the time of writing is available for £15.
That makes some relatively minor shortcomings all the more difficult to stomach. Apart from being grouped into chapters headed starters, fish, meat, vegetables, desserts and staples and basics, recipes appear in almost random order. A starter of gem lettuce appears on page 42 and then another pops up ten pages later. Similarly you’ll find confit duck leg on page 108 and confit leg of duck on 122. The garnishes are different but its exactly the same recipe for the duck leg, so why not group them together? There are quite a few other similar examples. It’s a quibble, but it makes the book appear a little bit thrown together, as does the repetition of text in that otherwise lovely recipe for slow cooked ox cheek. If you follow the instructions as written, you’ll be roasting your aubergine for 30-40 minutes twice.
Another irritation is that the staples and basics recipes at the back of the book are reference in the main body of recipes but never by page number, only by chapter, so you have to search through the 18 page chapter to find them. One more annoyance is that it’s not until half way through the introduction that you learn that the book is named after the cooking school at Simpson’s restaurant which explains the otherwise mysterious title. It’s also not immediately obvious that the introduction is an interview with Antona as his name never appears in it. None of these complaints are significant but just a tiny bit more thought and care would have improved the reading experience greatly.
Killer recipes: Leek and potato soup with potato beignets and chive oil; warm Roscoff onion tartlet with herb salad, olive tapenade, lemon and herb crème fraîche; twice baked cheese souffle; scallops with sweetcorn chorizo and red pepper; slow cooked blade of Irish beef with horseradish cream cabbage, potato terrine and bone marrow sauce; Yorkshire rhubarb and ginger trifle.
Should I buy it? If you are happy to pay nearly £50 for 80 recipes then the answer is a hearty yes. If you are a competent cook and love preparing sophisticated, modern restaurant-style dishes at home then this collection will be right up your street with recipes more achievable than many others written by Michelin-starred chefs (I’m looking at you Rene Redzepi). If cost is consideration then you may want to think twice although you will be missing out on some great recipes.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
What’s the USP? A month-by-month guide to the culinary year, exploring seasonal produce and timely dishes with contributions from a wealth of chefs, writers and other folk with high-functioning tongues. This is the second edition of The Food Almanac, which suggests an earnest effort by publisher Pavilion to make this, if not an annual event (volume one was published two years earlier in 2020) then at least a regular one.
Who wrote it? A picnic basketful of names are involved, though once again the central voice is that of Miranda York. Though York has been a key figure in food and culture writing for a short while now, last year’s inaugural almanac was her first book. As with that edition, this volume draws on a range of voices of varying levels of familiarity. There are entries by Diana Henry and the currently inescapable Jeremy Lee, as well as Rachel Roddy and Olia Hercules. Some of the book’s most enchanting moments come from less established names: Nina Mingya Powles, author of meditative food memoir Tiny Moons, offers up a delightful recipe-as-poem in November.
Is it good bedtime reading? Once a month, for a night or two, The Food Almanac will offer absolutely perfect bedtime reading – at once uniformly thoughtful and exquisitely varied. In each chapter the reader can explore a choice selection of seasonal offerings. An introduction by York that focuses on a specific ingredient, a deeper dive that expands on cultural context, or offers another perspective and a matching recipe. There’ll be a further section or two that might take the form of a guide to the ‘Easter Buns of Europe’, or a collection of ideas for warming tonics for a cold January day. Perhaps you’ll have a short personal essay to follow, before a three-part menu for the month, each curated by a different food writer (Ravneet Gill’s menu for July focuses on seasonal fruits; a month earlier, Nik Sharma presents us with Indian-influenced dishes, including a subtle but delicious Spiced Pea Soup that I couldn’t resist making half a year early).
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Curated and edited with every bit as much care as the rest of the book, each recipe is presented with clarity and precision. The joy of a collaborative title like this is the sheer variety of approaches to cooking on display – but York reigns everything in to ensure consistency amidst the cornucopia of ideas.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Most dishes are bracingly straight-forward, and based on seasonal ingredients. If you are seeking to source these in the allotted months (or a few weeks either side) you’ll mostly be in luck. Of course, our supermarkets are experts in allowing us year-round access to most fresh produce, so you’ll rarely struggle if you do want to attempt a summer dish in the depths of winter.
That said, occasionally the almanac may tempt you with something a little more difficult to source. Much is made in September of sea buckthorn – a forager’s delight that will be out of reach for many across the UK.
How often will I cook from the book? You would hope at least once a month, but then, that isn’t really the point of The Food Almanac. If you decide to try out one of the five or so dishes on offer in each chapter, you’ll likely find joy on every occasion. But if you instead take the time simply to enjoy the wonderful food writing and spend a little longer thinking about the month’s seasonal offerings, the book will have been well worth the purchase.
Killer recipes: Solyanka, Braeburn Eve’s Pudding with Calvados, Wild Garlic and Prawn Noodles, Sambal Bajak, Strawberry Popcorn Knickerbocker Glory, Mexican Flans with Mezcal Raspberries, Salt Mallard and Pickled Prunes, Deep-Fried Sprout Tonnato with Crispy Capers
Should I buy it? Oh, goodness, yes. The Food Almanac is an opportunity to look at the gastronomical year through the eyes of some of our best food writers, offering a chance to rediscover the seasonality of our homegrown produce in the age of supermarket ubiquity. It’s an absolute joy, and only the strongest-willed amongst us will be able to resist skipping ahead and gobbling it all up in just a few sittings.
Cuisine: International Suitable for: Confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
What’s the USP? As the title (which bears a striking similarity to the BBC TV show Thrifty Cooking in the Doctor’s kitchen with Dr. Rupy Aujla on which Monroe appeared as guest) suggests, this is a ‘bumper’ collection of recipes intended to be wallet friendly without sacrificing flavour. The book also includes Monroe’s ‘Home Hacks’ – money saving tips and tricks to help you budget in the kitchen.
Who is the author? That’s a very good question and one that not even Monroe herself seems to know the answer to. That probably sounds a bit cryptic if you aren’t familiar with the name Jack Monroe but will make perfect sense to anyone who has followed her career over the last decade or so.
If you are new to Monroe, before continuing to read this review, I would recommend reading Tattle’s Jack Monroe Wiki (a word of caution, Tattle is very definitely a site for grown ups. While the Wiki is entirely factual, if you stray to the forums be prepared for some very strong opinions and even stronger language).
For a more potted version of events in Monroe’s public life and career, see the Awfully Molly blog which is partly based on Tattle’s work. Author Katie Roche’s Jack Monroe: An Investigation is also well worth reading. At the time of writing this review, a further investigation into Monroe’s fund raising activities was due to be posted on justpikachoo.com. This recently published Guardian profile is also well worth a read.
If you don’t want to do the reading (although I strongly recommend you do, it is quite the ride) Jack Monroe is the author of seven cookbooks, a food writer, journalist, blogger and activist campaigning on poverty related-issues and in particular hunger relief. She appears occasionally on TV, mostly as a poverty pundit but has demonstrated recipes on This Morning and Daily Kitchen Live among other programmes.
There has been some public debate about her effectiveness as a campaigner as well as her abilities as a food writer and TV presenter. Nevertheless, she has half a million followers on social media and makes what is estimated to be a healthy income from her Patreon account which, at the time of writing had somewhere between 588 and 647 subscribers each paying between £1 and £44 a month. Until recently, subscribers had received little of the content and rewards promised by Monroe. Currently, the account has just one post which is in fact an apology from Monroe for not supplying said content and rewards.
Although she does attract a fiercely loyal following (referred to by Monroe as her ‘flying monkeys’ who vociferously defend her against any negative comment on social media) and has celebrity supporters including restaurant critic Jay Rayner, food writer Tom Parker Bowles and TV cook Nigella Lawson, she is a controversial figure to say the least. Before parting with your hard earned money for this book, it is worth investigating Monroe’s background in order to assess if you are comfortable supporting her financially.
I personally have no wish to do so but was forced to spend my own cash as repeated requests for a review copy were ignored by the publisher (never a good sign when a publisher appears not to want reviews ahead of the publication date). As I don’t want it in my house longer than it takes to review, I plan to donate my copy to my local Amnesty International book shop (I changed my plans and got a refund instead. My thinking was that, even if Amnesty made a few quid from the sale, some poor charitable soul would end up with a duff book so it seemed best for everyone if I just got my money back) .
Is it good bedtime reading? `This is the first book on this blog that comes with a health and safety warning. Prior to it’s release, Thrifty Kitchen trended on social media due to a downloadable preview of the book available via Apple books and other online stores going viral for the contents of an introductory section titled ‘If You Don’t Have This, Try This’. Among some truly bizarre ‘home hacks’ (which bear more than a passing resemblance to to Viz magazines famous top tips) was the advice to use a mallet and ‘a small sharp knife’ as a can opener.
Such was the resulting furore that publishers Pan MacMillan briefly withdrew the ebook of Thrifty Kitchen from pre-sale to make some hasty edits and then published a safety statement saying that ‘Bluebird has amended text in the e-book edition, and will do the same for future reprints, removing or amending some of the content that has been flagged, and adding enhanced safety information at the back of the book.” In a reply to Twitter account @AwfullyMolly (a blogger highly critical of Monroe), food bank charity Trussell Trust, which was due to receive up to a thousand donated copies of Thrifty Kitchen, said, ‘The books that will be donated to our food banks will contain an addendum that addresses any health and safety concerns and we will not be distributing any books via our food banks in the current form.’
Many of the other ‘home hacks’ have been criticised online for being batshit crazy including using a square of cotton, four carabinas and an s-hook in place of a colander or hoarding the water from a condenser tumble dryer in recycled drinks bottles to use for mopping the floor with. There is a very strong sense of a teenager being forced to do their homework by a stern parent about these parts of the book. It may be that they were included at the request of the publisher and Monroe struggled to come up with enough useful and credible hints and tips, was bored and taking the piss to see what she could get away with. And she got away with an awful lot as it turns out.
What has been included either doesn’t work (my wife tested the firelighter made with an empty loo roll tube stuffed with tumble dryer fluff – no, really – and it was literally a damp squib although some people apparently swear by the method), doesn’t really address a real problem (using a flannel to dry yourself after a shower in order to save space in the washing machine – what?!) or saves virtually no money (using old t-shirts as cleaning cloths. I’d rather keep wearing the t-shirt around the house – I have some that are nearly 20 years old – and buy a new cloth. Hasn’t Monroe ever heard of the pound shop?). Also, I have never managed to make icing sugar from granulated sugar by blending it (although apparently food writer Nancy Birtwhistle can).
The less said about ‘The Quarterhack’ the better. OK, I suppose I ought to say something. Basically, this translates from Monroe-speak as checking your kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer for what food items before you do the weekly big shop so you don’t waste money. That advice is almost so sensible and obvious that it’s not worth writing down, except we’ve probably all done a spur of the moment shop or just couldn’t be bothered to check what we already had and have ended up with five jars of pesto or three bottles of soy sauce. OK, just me then.
Monroe takes things a step further however and suggests dividing a sheet of A4 into four columns (hence ‘quarterhack’. Christ.) and heading them Protein, Carbohydrate, Fruit and Veg and Snacks. You then note down every single item of food you have in your house under the appropriate column and then you…I don’t know, I gave up reading and ordered a Dominoes at that point. All you need to know is that it’s an unnecessarily complicated and unworkable methodology for what should be a very simple thing.
Monroe also claims the ‘quarterhack’ is how she manages to feed two adults (including herself) and her son for £20 a week. This is probably the most pernicious claim in the book. It’s one that Monroe makes regularly and which has seen her compared to Conservative politicians who claim that those living on the poverty line only need to learn how to budget better and how to cook in order to feed themselves. If Monroe does actually only spend £20 a week on food, it’s because she has spent a larger amount in the past in order to stock up her cupboards, fridge and three freezers (yes, she has said on social media that she has three freezers). It’s a ludicrous claim, allowing only 95p per person per day for food. Unless you are serving up plain lentils three times a day, there is just no way to meet that figure. Tellingly, Monroe offers no example meal plan setting out exactly how to feed three people a day for £20 a week, probably because she can’t.
So the short answer to ‘is it good bedtime reading’ is no because you are much better off not reading it. Let’s move on to the recipes. Bound to be on safer ground there, this is Monroe’s seventh cookbook after all.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Fucking hell. If I see ‘generous fistful’, ‘a few pinches’ ‘plenty of’, unspecified amounts of oil ‘for greasing’ or ‘for frying’ (it doesn’t matter what it’s for, how much? A teaspoon, a tablespoon? It’s not hard is it?), unspecified amounts of ingredients for garnishing (how much ‘optional bread and blue cheese for the Roasted Roots Soup? FFS, just work it out and write it down!!) unspecified varieties of mushrooms and potatoes (yes they really do matter, especially if you are going to roast the potatoes and you want them to ‘fluff up at the edges’, Charlotte or Ratte for example are not going to work. Just say King Edwards. How could that be difficult? How could it be difficult for an editor not to notice? Did the book even have an editor, at least one that gave a shit?) unspecified ‘soft fresh herbs’ (what if I don’t know the difference between soft and hard herbs. I mean, rosemary is quite soft isn’t it? Is that what you mean? Can’t you just bloody say what you mean?) I will bloody well scream.
And why does every clove of garlic in MonroeWorld have to be fat? Do I have to throw away the skinny ones? That’s not thrifty is it? I was going to count the number of times the world ‘generous’ appears in the book but I’m not an actual nut job. It’s a lot though, and it’s very annoying and very vague (edit – a kind reader of this blog with a Kindle version of the book has confirmed that Monroe uses the word 89 times, which is a generous amount and one way of meeting the publisher’s required word count).
Among all this vagueness, Monroe goes to the effort of specifying ‘cold fresh water’ in her recipe for Lemon and Rosemary Roast Potatoes (annoyingly, there is no rosemary in the recipe, just dried mixed herbs which don’t contain rosemary. Why isn’t it called Lemon and Herb Roast Potatoes? Hello, editor, are you there?). Maybe this is to ensure you don’t use the supply from your collection of 2l bottles of tumble drier water that is no doubt now cluttering up your under-sink cupboard.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? No. Monroe is famously a loyal Asda shopper so you will have no problem buying any of the ingredients in the book.
What’s the faff factor? Probably not high enough to be honest. Some of the recipes are almost comically short. Lemon sardines on toast are just that, tinned sardines (which are already cooked) fried in their own oil and lemon juice (can you fry something in lemon juice?) served on a thick slice of toast. That’s it. You can buy sardines in oil and lemon by the way. Instant cheesy mash is a mix of instant mashed potato flakes, dried skimmed milk powder and dried hard cheese which you put in a jar and then throw away because no one in their right minds wants to eat a mix of potato flakes, milk powder and rancid dried cheese. Chicken and cannellini soup is a tin of beans that is simmered for 20 minutes for some reason (the beans are out of a tin, they’re already cooked) in water, a stock cube, lemon (why?) and ‘plenty of black pepper’. No fat clove of garlic for some reason, that would have been highly appropriate and added some character and flavour to the soup. But yum I guess. Chicken porridge is oats cooked with milk and a stock cube. Oh stop it, you’re spoiling us.
As with many of the dishes in the book (see below), you will find similar recipes online for chicken porridge. They are slightly more complex in that they actually have herbs and spices and other ingredients that make them worthwhile cooking. It’s a common theme in Thrifty Kitchen; Monroe adapts a recipe found easily online but in the process of making it ‘her own’ she often removes ingredients that make the thing worth the effort of cooking.
She admits in the book that this is the basis of her working method, saying ‘This is how I work when trying something new; I compare and contrast three or four recipes, picking out fundamentals and common denominators, then weave in what I think will be the best bits from each, to my own tastes and intuition. Most of the time it works a charm.’ There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this of course, many recipe writers work in a similar fashion I’m sure, after all, Felicity Cloake based an entire Guardian column and several ‘Perfect’ books on it. The key objective however is to come up with something better than already exists not just something different so you don’t get sued.
How often will I cook from the book? There may be 120 recipes but the same ingredients seem to pop up again and again. Ask yourself how much you like eating lentils, crab and fish paste, tinned tomatoes, lemon in just about bloody everything and endless cans of various beans. One of the utterly astonishing things about the book is that, although Monroe uses cannellini, borlotti, chickpeas and butter beans etc throughout the book, they are always tinned and she never recommends the much cheaper dried versions, surely the staple of any truly thrifty kitchen?
I found little in the book to inspire me into the kitchen. I love a roast chicken and am always on the look out for new ways to cook one. I often use Simon Hopkinson’s famous version from Roast Chicken and Other Stories and there is an excellent recipe in The Bull and Last Cookbook that includes a wonderful red wine gravy. I would also highly recommend spatchcocking a chicken and cooking it in an air fryer if you have a model that’s big enough. A 1.5kg bird will cook to bronzed perfection in about 40 minutes, a more thrifty method than using your oven. Surprisingly, Monroe never mentions air fryers or slow cookers in the book, two thrifty pieces of equipment that would be as much use as the bullet blender she recommends to make the white sauce mentioned below.
So what is Monroe’s signature roast chicken move you ask? Well, you take your chicken and put it in a lightly oiled roasting tin (there is no other fat used in the cooking process. Yeah, I love a dry chicken too), season it with salt and pepper and cook it for an hour or ‘according to package instructions’. That’s right, you’ve paid £19.99 (or if you are thrifty, £9.99 via Amazon, who you can send it back to for a refund once you’ve realised your terrible mistake) for a book to tell you to follow the instructions on the ‘package’ your chicken came in. Bad luck if you bought it from your butcher. She serves it with ‘coronation slaw’. I never want sultanas with my chicken so, fuck that. The introduction to the recipe is bizarre, banging on about geese and her Greek Aunty Helen and not mentioning chicken, or what to do with it once. It’s like no one checked to see if it made any sense or that it might be the introduction to another recipe entirely.
I don’t really want to eat Butter Bean, Veg and Stuffing Stew for my tea, but even less I don’t want to cook a recipe that advises me to toss chopped onion and garlic cloves sliced in half (why do I want great lumps of garlic in my stew?) to a dry cold pan, then pour over oil and seasoning and then turn the heat on. I think this is meant to be some sort of energy saving ‘hack’ (although she doesn’t actually say anything in the book about it) but how much energy do save by not heating you pan for thirty seconds so your ingredients cook properly? And if Monroe is so worried about saving fuel, why does she then say to cook very finely diced carrots and already cooked tinned butter beans for 40 minutes. And then cook for a further 10 minutes after adding thinly sliced courgettes and the stuffing crumbs. Imagine the claggy mess you’ll end up with.
In an introduction by Nigella Lawson, not written for the book but taken from a BBC 4 Radio programme, she calls Monroe a ‘kitchen savant’ with ‘a deep and instinctive understanding of the alchemy of cooking’. Far be it from me to contradict one of our finest food writers, but the butter bean stew recipe and many others in the book read like they were written by someone with little understanding of cooking techniques and not much interest in eating. That appears to be born out by the three recipes I tested from the book.
Instant white sauce
A quick and simple recipe that produced a sauce of sorts. It’s not much of a surprise when you discover that there are dozens of similar recipes online like this one. The only problem was that it tasted rank. Well, what do you expect from microwaved milk, flour, oil and mixed dried herbs (one of Monroe’s favourite ingredients sadly. Who uses mixed dried herbs anymore)?
Not a spelling mistake, just Jack’s little joke. Spinach and parsley bread rolls that her son squished together before baking so they looked like an arse. Ha. Ha, and indeed, Ha. I’d have more of a sense of humour if the recipe didn’t make me look like an arse too. For a cookbook aimed at non-expert bakers, including a recipe for bread that is around 80 per cent hydrated (i.e. has a lot of water in it. Not unusual in modern baking but a tricky technique to master) makes little sense. The use of plain flour rather than strong bread flour is also perplexing and probably a significant factor in why the recipe didn’t work as it should have done.
I followed the instructions as best as I could. However, the dough was so wet and sticky, made even more slack by the addition of defrosted frozen spinach (the recipe made no mention of draining the veg so I didn’t) which pushed the hydration level up even further, that it was impossible to knead on the worktop as per the recipe. With high-hydration doughs I would usually use the stretch and fold method made famous by US baker Chad Robertson and now much copied, but unfortunately not by Monroe. I ended up manipulating the dough as best I could with a dough scraper, an implement I would imagine few of Monroe’s intended audience would have and not something she recommends in the book’s Basic Kitchen Equipment section. I persevered for the prescribed 10 minutes but the result was less than ‘springy’.
Once ‘kneaded’ the dough needs to rise for three hours. Three feckin’ hours! Instead of doubling in size as per the recipe, the dough just laid there like a food writer sleeping through the Guardian knocking on their door at 12.30pm to get them to a photo shoot for a Saturday supplement cover story that shows them in an extremely bad light, even though they themselves think it’s good PR for them.
The lack of rise may have been due to the way the dough was mixed. Monroe says to blend the spinach and parsley with warm water and then add to the flour and yeast. By the time I’d finished blending, the water had lost most if not all its heat. I often use cold water when making a dough but I then prove the dough overnight in the fridge. So I could have made this work but testing my baking skills and knowledge was not the point here, it was to see if the recipes in the book actually worked.
Using my dough scraper again I managed to form the dough into, well, small bits of dough and left them to prove again for another hour during which time fuck all happened.
I then baked the rolls, if you could call them that for an astonishing 50 minutes at 140C. They needed a further 10 minutes to cook through. Why the long bake at a low temperature I have no idea and Monroe doesn’t explain. The oven needed to pre-heat too. It was the least thrifty bread recipe I think I’ve ever cooked. The result was at least edible if not particularly nice, the baked spinach and parsley gave the bread a faintly metallic taste and the long slow bake didn’t seem to have made any difference to the finished result. They could have been baked at 220C for 10-15 minutes and come out of the oven the same.
From start to finish, the process took close to six hours. As I had planned to spend the day in the kitchen that wasn’t a huge problem as I could get on with things while the dough was resting, but it’s a ludicrous amount of time only to end up with a bog-standard result that a more traditional method would have achieved in half the time. Although its not exactly like for like, compare this one hour pizza recipe from the brilliant YouTube chef Brian Lagerstrom. It’s been properly developed and tested and I can vouch that it works a treat and is delicious. It’s a useful recipe to have when you are stuck for ideas for a weeknight meal, which I’m not sure I would say about any of the recipes in Thrifty Kitchen.
These didn’t work. I mean, look at them. That’s after 50 minutes of cooking time. Apart from the addition of Marmite ( a nice idea by the way) the recipe ingredients and measurements are virtually identical to any you’ll find online or say, Delia Smith’s version (I like Gary Rhodes’s recipe from new British Classics which works a treat) so the mix should work.
The first problem arose from the amount of mix Monroe says to use. Three tablespoons in a standard poaching ring just isn’t enough so you end up with something closer to a pancake than a crumpet. Secondly, the instructions state to use the smallest ring on the hob at the lowest setting. I happen to have an induction hob (hardly that rare these days) so the lowest setting is really low. Even though I pre-heated the pan at a higher setting as instructed, the crumpets, which should have taken around 10 minutes (that’s the minimum time according to Monroe, but she gives no maximum) just never cooked through. I cooked a second batch using more mix and a higher heat but they still refused to set properly and tasted unpleasant. Everything went in the bin, including the leftover batter which there shouldn’t have been any of. I halved the recipe which should have made four crumpets but the mix would easily have made eight three tablespoon crumpets. Did anyone check?
I intended to test more Thrifty Kitchen recipes, but it was so dispiriting, spending the morning in the kitchen and having very little to show for the time, effort and money spent on ingredients and fuel. Both the crumpets and the white sauce went straight in the bin. The bread was one of the most exasperating and tricky doughs I have ever made, and I bake a great deal, but the result was at least edible.
Killer recipes: Well, you might find yourself a digit missing if you follow the tin opener ‘hack’ but nothing will actually kill you, probably. I am of course kidding. Regular readers of this blog will know that ‘killer recipes’ refers to the dishes that make the book irresistible and a must buy. That doesn’t apply in this case. Thrifty Kitchen remains eminently resistible.
Should I buy it? I’m honestly struggling to come up with a good reason what anyone would want to part with the best part of £20 to own this book. As discussed, its useless from a home hack point of view, the recipes are for the most part unappealing and badly written and there is very little truly thrifty about the book. Yes, there’s recipes for veg peelings and fish paste but who the fuck want’s to eat those? Where are useful budget-friendly meal planners and shopping lists? At Jamie Oliver’s website, that’s where. For free. They don’t even cost £19.99. Nada, zilch. And they are bloody great. So please, do yourself a favour and save your money.
120 reasons you don’t need to buy this book (a project that will never be completed)
I started out when I wrote this review with the intention of completely negating the need to buy Thrifty Kitchen by finding exactly similar or as close as possible recipes available free on the internet by another author. I decided to stop after two chapters as it was massively time consuming, I felt I’d made my point and I have TV boxed sets to binge watch, bitches. I have included my finding as I think it shows that often, the free alternatives are a more enticing proposition than Monroe’s versions.
It should be noted that there is no accusation of plagiarism, the purpose of this is to provide a resource for those that can’t or don’t want to afford to buy Monroe’s book. Recipes titles on the left are Monroe’s from the book and, unless otherwise indicated, the linked recipe has the exact same title, although ingredients and method differ to varying degrees. The recipes linked to here are not necessarily the earliest posted online, just the first I came across so I’m not claiming they are necessarily any more original than Monroe’s versions.
I am aware that some of the recipes published in the book and billed as ‘brand new’ on the back cover have already appeared, either on Monroe’s blog or as part of commercial tie-ins with companies such as Del Monte and Netflix (Refried Potatoes with Blue Cheese is available here and a similar but much nicer sounding version by US chef Paula Deen here. It should be noted that Paula Deen is a very controversial figure too so I’m not endorsing her in anyway, but that recipe does sound bloody good) but I haven’t listed these as I am only one man and this is enough work by itself and I’m pulling 100 hour weeks and DO YOU WANT ME TO STOP BREATHING!
Black Power Kitchen is part cookbook, part manifesto. A combination of 75 mostly plant-based dishes that draw on recipes from across the African diaspora and emotive essays that speak of the power food has in connecting communities and creating shared histories and futures alike.
The authors are Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao and Lester Walker, members of New York food collective Ghetto Gastro. The group, which comprises chefs and food enthusiasts and has been making a name for itself since 2012, breaking into wider public consciousness in recent years as they collaborate with big brands while delivering important social action, feeding Black Lives Matters protesters and offering a thrilling vision of what food can do within a community.
You should buy Black Power Kitchen for both the passionate essays that shine a light on the collective’s vision for food in Black communities and beyond, and for the recipes, which are thoughtfully conceived and playfully reimagined takes on both iconic dishes and bright new ideas. Like last year’s Black Food by Bryant Terry, which also took a collaborative essay-led look at the diaspora’s rich food heritage, Black Power Kitchen is heavy on plant-based recipes, with a smattering of seafood and chicken dishes thrown in for good measure. But this is no clean-eating vegetable-led cookbook. The recipes are bold and creative, from a Jamaican jerk-inspired mushroom dish that includes a barbeque miso glaze, to a thrilling vegan take on the Brazilian feijoada. Pescatarians can add an unmissable take on the Japanese takoyaki that draws on Caribbean cooking to offer up a saltfish-led twist. The recipes can be a little more ambitious than casual home cooks will want to approach regularly, but the results will be amongst the best food you’ve ever made – your only disappointment will be that there aren’t more dishes to draw on.
Cuisine: African/International Suitable for: Confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars