Well Seasoned by Russell Brown and Jonathan Haley

Well Seasoned

What is it? Former Michelin starred chef/patron of the much missed Sienna restaurant in Dorchester and now head honcho of the Creative about Cuisine food writing, photography and consultancy business has teamed up with leading food blogger Jonathan Haley for his first book that’s all about ‘exploring, cooking and eating with the seasons’; a guide to ‘seasonal living’ that doesn’t just tell you that crayfish are in season in May, but where and how to catch them.

What’s the USP? In addition to Brown’s seasonal recipes and accompanying photographs, the book contains a month by month guide to the year that encompasses seasonal ingredients, what you can expect to find growing wild in the fields and meadows, what you can forage for on land and at sea and what feasts and festivals to celebrate.

What does it look like? Beautifully designed by Matt Inwood (who has also worked on books by Tom Kerridge and Jason Atherton among many others), the introductory pages of each monthly-themed chapter have their own colour – an icy blue for January, a warm sage green for July – giving the book a lively feel and providing a suitably hued contrasting frame for Brown’s seasonal landscape and nature photography which is every bit as impressive as his food photography.

Is it good bedtime reading? You’ve got to love a book that goes that extra mile with some well-written prose to enjoy away from the stove and blogger Jonathan Haley has provided that in spades with chapter introductions and a series of ‘Out and About’ ‘Food and Foraging’ and ‘Feast and Festival’ articles that appear in each chapter.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Although the book encourages the reader to get out there and forage for their own food, the recipes are kind to the more indoorsy cooks amongst us and you should have little trouble finding all the specified ingredients or suitable alternatives. A list of recommended suppliers at the back of the book should help fill in any gaps.

What’s the faff factor? As this is written by a former Michelin starred chef, you won’t be surprised to encounter some degree of complexity in some of the recipes, but that is more than balanced by plenty of very approachable, straightforward dishes.

How often will I cook from the book? The seasonal theme and mix of everyday and special occasion dishes ensure Well Seasoned will be a well-thumbed tome.

Killer recipes? Warm salad of new season’s spring lamb; harissa mackerel flatbreads with quick-pickled cucumber; hay-baked leg of kid goat; sauteed squid with chorizo and piquillo pepper dressing; white chocolate mousse with cherry compote.

What will I love? Brown and Haley have really taken their seasonal premise seriously and have unearthed all manner of useful and sometimes arcane information (who knew that the Celts called the first of May Beltane Day and that there is a cake named in its honour? The recipe is included in the book).

What won’t I like? If you were hoping for a collection of recipes from Sienna restaurant, this is not it.

Should I buy it?  Seasonality should always be a top priority for any serious home cook or chef and Brown and Haley have created a year-round reference work that should find a place on the shelves of amateur and professional kitchens alike up and down the land.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Home cooks and professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Well Seasoned: Exploring, Cooking and Eating with the Seasons
£25, Head of Zeus

Cook from this book
Harissa mackerel flatbreads with quick pickled cucumber
Warm salad of new season’s spring lamb
Iced strawberry parfait

Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman

Smitten Kitchen Everyday

What is it? Five years on from her debut book, this is the second outing for New York-based dating-turned-food blogger extraordinaire Deb Perelman of New York Times profiled smittenkitchen.com with over 100 recipes for ‘real people with busy lives’.

What does it look like? What is it about American-published cookbooks that makes them just so damn desirable? I’m not an uber font-nerd but the Minion typeface used here (originally developed by Adobe for Macs in 1990 according to a note at the back of the book) is particularly attractive and clean looking. At over 300 pages, the book has a certain authoritative weight and the glossy paper makes the 127 full-colour photographs pop.

Is it good bedtime reading?  Set aside that Grisham, the generous recipe introductions include plenty of culinary-related personal anecdotes and opinion, as well as cookery lore and background to the recipes themselves, making it a nighttime page-turner par excellence.

Killer recipes? Charred corn succotash with lime and crispy shallots; pea tortellini in parmesan broth; Manhattan-style clams with fregola; winter squash flatbread with hummus and za’atat;  ricotta blini with honey, orange and sea salt; raspberry hazelnut brioche bostock; chewy oatmeal raisin chocolate chip mega-cookies.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Despite an almost encyclopedic approach to global cuisine, you should have no trouble finding the vast majority of ingredients in a good supermarket.

What’s the faff factor? Make no mistake, this is ‘proper’ cooking and many of the recipes have several elements that need to be brought together at the point of serving, but with a little planning and organisation, they should be stress-free.

How often will I cook from the book? Every day (duh!).

What will I love? This is an American book, but, God bless them, they’ve included gram or millilitre equivalents for cup measures which rockets the book to the top of the usability charts for UK readers (other US publishers please take note). The guide for special menus at the back of the book that highlights vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and diary-free recipes (of which there are many) is particularly thoughtful.

What won’t I like? Me, if I find out you don’t love this book as much as I do.

Should I buy it? Only if you like cooking delicious food. Otherwise, give it a miss.

Cuisine: American/International
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 5 Stars

Buy this book
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
£25, Square Peg

Cook from this book
Crispy tofu and broccoli with sesame peanut pesto
Smoky sheet pan chicken with cauliflower

Hawksmoor: Restaurants & Recipes by Huw Gott and Will Beckett

Hawksmoor

What is it? A sequel to the excellent Hawksmoor At Home was always going to be a tough gig but Gott and Becket, owners of the London-based modern steak restaurant group Hawksmoor that’s recently expanded to Manchester and will open in New York in 2019, have nailed it.

What does it look like? In a word, sumptuous. That’s not a word I particularly like but I can’t think of a better one for this hefty, 300-odd page tome with its hand-drawn illustrations, stunning photography of the food and restaurant interiors and imaginative page layouts.

Is it good bedtime reading? Absolutely. The story of the restaurant is told in detail with essays written by all the key players with additional contributions from suppliers.

Killer recipes? I could just copy out the book’s index, but some standouts include potted beef and bacon with yorkshires; Tamworth belly ribs; lobster slaw; macaroni cheese; whole roast pig’s head; trotter sausages; short rib bubble and squeak and sticky toffee tatin

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  If you want to follow Hawksmoor’s ethos of serving the best quality meat and fish, you’ll want to give Asda a swerve and start chatting up your local butcher and fishmonger, if you’re lucky enough to have them, especially when it comes to things like pig’s head, trotters and whole brill and monkfish. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

What’s the faff factor?  Although the food is often quite simple, if you want to go full on Hawksmoor at home, you will have to set aside some time to make stocks, sauces and condiments.

What will I love? The sheer breadth and depth of the recipes. As well as all that meat, the chapters on seafood, vegetables and sides, breakfast and brunch and puddings are excellent. There’s even recipes for bar snacks like hot buttered lobster rolls and some serious sounding cocktails including Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew made with gin, London Pride beer and ginger syrup.

What won’t I like? Some material from Hawksmoor At Home is repeated including how to cook the perfect steak and how to make the restaurant’s signature burger but there’s more than enough new content, including a new seafood chapter written by Mitch Tonks, to justify the purchase if you already own the first book.

How often will I cook from the book?  You’ll be most likely to reach for Hawsmoor: Recipes and Recipes at the weekend when you have a bit more time in the kitchen, but the snacks, salads, vegetables and sides (and those cocktails) will come in handy anytime.

Should I buy it? Here’s a tip: if you’re best friends with Morrissey who wrote the song ‘Meat is Murder’, he probably won’t talk to you again if this celebration of all things carnivorous ended up on his coffee table. But if you’re a chef considering opening a steak restaurant or looking for inspiration for meaty starters and mains, this book is unbeatable. For fans of the restaurant, it’s the perfect memento with many of the recipes achievable at home. In short, Hawksmoor: Restaurants and Recipes over-delivers in every department, making what could have been a cash-in into an essential purchase.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars

Buy this book
Hawksmoor: Restaurants & Recipes
£30, Preface

Akelare: New Basque Cuisine by Pedro Subljana

Akelare

What’s the USP? Recipes from one of the great innovators of modern Spanish cuisine.

Give me some background. Global restaurant fashions come and go, but San Sebastian in Northern Spain, with its thrilling mix of casual pinxcho bars and cutting edge high-end restaurants, remains a place of true gastronomic pilgrimage. It’s home to a constellation of Michelin stars including Arzak, Mugaritz, Martin Berasategui and Akelare, run by legendary chef Pedro Subljana for nearly forty years.

Occupying a commanding position west of the city centre on the slopes of Mount Igueldo with stunning views over the Bay of Biscay, Akelare has maintained three Michelin star status since 2007 for its imaginative and playful ‘New Basque Cuisine’ (the Spanish equivalent of Nouvelle Cuisine).

What does it look like? Stunning. It’s more like an artist’s portfolio than a cookbook with visually arresting images of dishes such as ‘zebra squid’; roast loin of hare a la royale with chestnuts and razor clam with veal shank.

Is it good bedtime reading? Move along please, there’s nothing to see here.

Killer recipes? An amuse bouche based around bathroom toiletries that includes tomato flavoured liquid soap, onion sponge, Idiazábal cheese moisturiser and bath salts made from potato starch, prawn and rice ‘sand’.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Zopako bread, Beasain onion morcilla and ‘cortrezas de trigo’ (wheat snacks similar to pork scratching) may well be difficult for British cooks and chefs to lay their hands on.

What’s the faff factor? On the inside cover, it says, ‘This book was printed using the font ‘faff’. Look up the word ‘faff’ in the dictionary and you will see a picture of the cover of this book. I took the book to my doctor and he told me it had a terminal case of faff. I showed the book to Darth Vader and he said, ‘The faff is strong with this one’. It is number one on the faff parade. It was pulled over by the police for being three times over the faff limit. An Irishman, a Scotsman and an Englishman went into a bar specifically to agree that Akelare: New Basque Cuisine by Pedro Subljana had the highest faff factor of any cookbook ever published. So, um, yeah, there’s a lot of faff.

How often will I cook from the book? Don’t take this the wrong way, but unless you are a professional chef interested in modernist, progressive cooking, you are highly unlikely to have the skills, resources or time to tackle these recipes. I certainly don’t.

What will I love? A short introductory section, including a page from Subljana himself, prefaces the main body of the book. Articles on the restaurant’s cookery school and associated Basque Culinary Centre, service at the restaurant and suggested wine pairing for the featured recipes round out the book.

What won’t I like? Just 23 out of the book’s 240 pages are taken up with recipes in English meaning methods tend to be on the sketchy side, not ideal with such technical food. Spanish and Basque translations of the text occupy a significant amount of space; fine if you’re reading a free in-flight magazine but a tad galling if you’ve splashed out thirty quid on a relatively slim glossy cookbook. Although beautiful to look at and a real pleasure to browse, the book suffers from a case of style over substance, something that New Basque Cuisine itself could be accused of.

Should I buy it? There are two reasons to buy this book: as a memento of a meal enjoyed or an invitation to make a reservation at the restaurant if this sort of Spanish sleight of hand still floats your culinary boat in 2018.

Cuisine: Progressive Spanish
Suitable for: Chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
Akelare
£30, Grub Street

Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura

Bread is Gold

What is it?
Italy’s greatest gift to modern gastronomy, the three Michelin-starred, Modena-based chef Massimo Bottura of the former number one restaurant in the world Osteria Francescana follows up his 2014 book Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef with a compendium of recipes from his charitable ‘soup kitchen’ project Refettoria Ambrosiano that he created for Expo 2015 in Milan set in Teatro Greco, an abandoned and restored 1930’s theatre. The project continues to run as a community kitchen for homeless shelters using waste food from supermarkets.

What’s the USP?
All the dishes in the book were created by Bottura and dozens of other high profile chefs from around the world from ‘waste’ food from the Expo including wilted veg, bruised or over-ripe fruit and meat, fish poultry and diary close to their expiration date that would otherwise have been thrown away.

Who are these mysterious ‘friends’ who share the author credit?
Massimo is a well-connected guy and counts the likes of Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Daniel Humm and Ferran and Albert Adria among his many mates (more than 45 chefs have contributed to the book).

If Refettoria Ambrosiano is a soup kitchen, am I getting 400-odd pages of soup recipes?
Not quite. There are a dozen or so soups and broths including Redzepi’s Burnt Lime soup and Fish Soup with Bread Gnocchi by Antonia Klugmann from L’Argine a Vencó restaurant in Italy, but the 150 recipes cover the usual starters, mains and desserts. Given the nature of the project (a chef jetted in for a day and improvised a meal for a hundred people using whatever ingredients were to hand) some repetition of ideas and ingredients is inevitable. So there’s nine meatballs recipes, two for meatloaf and dozens involving stale bread; no surprise given the book’s title.

About that title, bread isn’t gold is it? Otherwise that loaf of sliced white going mouldy in my cupboard would be worth a fortune.
It’s the name of a Bottura signature dish created in memory of his late mother and based on the chef’s childhood memory of eating zuppa di latte or milk soup for breakfast which he made by grating leftover bread into a bowl of warm milk with sugar and a splash of coffee. The recipe, included in the book, is made from layers of salted caramel ice cream, caramel bread croutons and bread and sugar cream topped with a bread crisp sprinkled with edible gold dust.

Why should I buy the book?
Food waste in professional kitchens continues to be a big talking point and Bottura is leading the discussion. The book provides lots of inspiration for how to use produce that might otherwise end up in the bin which means you’re not only doing the world some good, but it could well help you cut your food costs. As well as the recipes, it’s also a great read with a one-page introduction to each chef, explaining how they prepared their meals and telling the story of the project.

What won’t I like?
At £29.95, you might expect hard-covers and glossy pages. What you actually get is soft covers and what appears to be recycled, matt paper which means the images are not as pin sharp as you might like. However, it’s all in keeping with the ‘make do’ ethos of Bottura’s Food For Soul charity that Refettoria Ambrosiano is a part of and to which all royalties from the book will be donated to, so stop complaining!

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
£29.95, Phaidon
Bread Is Gold