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.

A Very Serious Cookbook by Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske

Very serious cookbook

What’s the USP? In an act of post-modernist, self-reflexive irony, Phaidon, famous for publishing very serious cookbooks by the likes of Magnus Nilsson of Faviken and Dan Hunter of Brae have published a not entirely serious cookbook and called it A Very Serious Cookbook.

Who are the authors? Two young chefs who run the acclaimed Lower East Side restaurants, Contra, which has a Michelin star, and its wine bar sibling Wildair and who have serious CVs; Fabian von Hauske (formerly of Noma and Faviken) and Jeremiah Stone (who worked for Giovanni Passerini in Paris and helped Ignacio Mattos open Isa in Brooklyn). Stone and von Hauske embody the ‘bistronomy’ movement of fine cuisine served in relaxed surroundings and incorporate many of the tropes of modern progressive cooking including dashi, fermented items and a sense of abandon when it comes to mashing up culinary traditions.

What does it look like? You might call the book design ‘urban chic’ if you couldn’t think of a better phrase. Recipe titles look like they’ve been scrawled on the page with a black sharpie, the text is printed on pink, green and beige (as well as plain white) paper and there’s plenty of double-page kitchen action photography alongside the moody overhead food shots.

Is it good bedtime reading? Underpinning the comedic aspects of the book (see below) is the urge to be honest and tell the relatively short story of Contra and Wildair (opened in 2013 and 2015) warts and all; the personal tensions between the two chefs, a stinging review, the dishes that didn’t quite make it are all included.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? A number of recipes will demand a fair amount of effort on behalf of home cooks to source ingredients like tuna bones, unseasoned grain vinegar and fresh hearts of palm (all necessary to make ‘Tuna, onion, tomato’) so you might need to make some carefully considered substitutions to make the book work for you.

What’s the faff factor? There are some relatively straightforward dishes like ‘Beef, paparras, umeboshi’ which is basically steak served with pickled Basque peppers and flavoured butter, but many recipes are very process-heavy and more suited to a restaurant rather than the home kitchen.

How often will I cook from the book? Unless you are a professional chef, A Very Serious Cookbook will be reserved for weekend kitchen project cooking or as a source of inspiration for your own simplified dishes.

Killer recipes? Littleneck clam, almond milk, XO; oyster, lapsang souchong; shrimp, yuba (the skin of heated soymilk), turnip; pommes darphin, uni, jalapeno; strawberry, charred milk.

What will I love? There’s plenty of New York attitude that may or may not be played for laughs. A list of ‘things that are important to know about the dessert recipes’ includes ‘No fruit sorbets. Ever’ (von Hauske, who worked as a pastry chef for Jean George Vongerichten, prefers the purity of a granita made with very little sugar) and a claim that ‘people treat microgreens like s**t’. A ‘recipe’ for Stone’s secret XO sauce lacks quantities and a proper method, and an entire chapter called Never dedicated to dishes that have either never appeared on their menus or ‘did once and never again’.

What won’t I like? This is primarily a snapshot of a pair of New York restaurants in 2018; the food, the people and the history and philosophy behind them. It has patently not be created to supply you with ideas for last-minute mid-week meals.

Should I buy it? Distinctive and engaging, the book will be particularly inspiring to chefs who are planning to or simply daydreaming about opening their first restaurant.

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

Buy this book
A Very Serious Cookbook: Contra Wildair
£35, Phaidon

Rogan: The Cookbook

Rogan Jacket

What’s the USP? A cookbook that many chefs in the UK and around the world have been waiting for; the print debut of Simon Rogan, one of the most highly regarded British chefs of the last decade.

Who’s the author? Simon Rogan needs no introduction as the two Michelin-starred chef/patron of L’Enclume in the chocolate box village of Cartmel in the Lake District which he opened in 16 years ago and where he also runs the more casual Rogan & Co. Rogan opened Aulis, an 8-seater chefs table and development kitchen in Soho in 2017 (a sister to the original Aulis development kitchen in Cartmel), closely followed by the second coming of Roganic, originally launched as two year pop up in 2011 and now a permanent restaurant in Marylebone. Rogan was the opening chef of Fera at Claridges hotel and relaunched The French at the Midland hotel in Manchester. His style of cooking, that draws heavily on locally foraged ingredients and organic vegetables from his own farm just outside Cartmel and the use of cutting-edge culinary equipment such as rotary evaporators, has been hugely influential.

What does it look like? At 28.5cm by 24cm, Rogan will stand proud of many other cookbooks on your shelf, and at over 300 pages, it constitutes a weighty tome. The look is very ‘green and pleasant’ in the Blakeian sense of the phrase with lots of double page spreads of stunning Lake District scenery and Rogan himself at work on Our Farm, harvesting turnips and radishes or out foraging on the shoreline at Grange-Over-Sands that’s close to L’Enclume.

Is it good after service reading? Rogan espouses his culinary philosophy in an extended introduction (‘in these days of overconsumption on a global scale, I believe we need to step back and appreciate what our local area offers us’) and tells the story of developing his farm. Articles on key ingredients such as Herdwick lamb, scallops and Tunworth cheese are dotted through out the book and recipe introductions include useful and interesting information such as ‘Meadowsweet flowers have an extraordinary honey almond scent that makes a wonderful flavouring for mousses and yoghurts’.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? As long as you are happy to go picking things like ox-eye daisies (they grow everywhere in June, from ‘roadside verges as well as in domestic gardens’ according to Rogan), mugwort and ramson leaves, then you’re golden. Rogan specifies varieties of veg such as Simane onions, Aquadulce broad beans and pigeon cabbage which, unless you cultivate them yourself, you may have problems tracking down, although you can get away with substituting more common types. Just don’t let Simon Rogan find out.

What’s the faff factor? Some of the dishes are dauntingly complex for the home cook; a scallop starter involves three preparations served in separate vessels including raw scallops with cider vinegar gel, a bouillon made from the scallop skirts and gooseberry tart with scallop roe. Others, such as roast cod with kelp butter sauce are far more approachable and could be knocked up for a mid-week dinner.

How often will I cook from the book? There is no question that Rogan: The Cookbook is aimed at serious home cooks (and, it goes without saying, professional chefs) and for the most part will be the sort of book you reach for when you are in the mood for a bit of a project.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There is the odd ‘drizzle of rapeseed oil’, ‘lemon juice, to taste’ and ‘pinch of chilli flakes’ but for the most part, accurate weights and measures are given and the methods are clear and easy to follow.

Killer recipes? Rogan has included some old L’Enclume favourites including the ridiculously titled Chick O Hake (hake loin wrapped in chicken skin and served with chervil root puree); roasted carrots with ham fat; Cubes from Land and Sea with eucalyptus hollandaise (a combination of lobster, sweetbread and girolles that critic Victor Lewis Smith once described as looking like ‘the inside of a Dalek’) and the grilled smoked salad over embers that he prepared for the Great British Menu TV series in 2012.

What will I love? Rogan feels like a labour of love, the distillation of sixteen years of knowledge and expertise developed during the evolution of L’Enclume (plus Rogan’s career beforehand that included several years at the three Michelin starred Lucas Carton in Paris) and the food looks distinctive, beautiful and extremely appetising.

What won’t I like? If you want your food to taste as good as Rogan’s, ideally, you’ll need to move to the Lake District and open an organic farm, or at least start an allotment there. The good news however is that many of the dishes are perfectly achievable without going to such extreme lengths.

Should I buy it? This book may have been a long time coming, but it’s worth the wait with much to read, techniques to master, ingredients to discover and ideas to explore.  A new classic and a must own.

Cuisine: Modern progressive 
Suitable for: 
Professional chefs/Confident home cooks 
Cookbook Review Rating:
5

Buy this book
Rogan
£30, HarperCollinsPublishers

Cook from this book
Radish stew
Smoked lamb shoulder
Quince tart with gingerbread ice cream

Wild Duck with Hokkaido Squash and Arabica by Bo Bech

Wild Duck Pumpkin

For 4 people

Ingredients:
2 wild ducks
Hay
1 Hokkaido squash
1 lemon
1 orange
1 tablespoon Acacia honey
200 grams salted butter
100 grams espresso
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon coriander seeds

Method:
Remove the legs from the wild ducks (reserve these for another use), leaving as much skin on the breasts as possible. Remove the wishbone and innards.

Place hay in the bottom of a large high-sided pot and rest the wild ducks on the hay. Set the hay afire, so it burns the wild ducks. Let the hay almost finish burning, then cover the pot with a lid to suffocate the flames. Let the wild ducks smoke for 10 minutes, then keep chilled until use. The wild ducks may be smoked a couple of days prior to use.

Bake the Hokkaido squash in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for an hour, then let rest for about 30 minutes.
Slice open the squash, remove the seeds and scrape out the flesh. Squeeze the lemon and orange and strain the juice. Blend the Hokkaido squash to a smooth pure, adding orange and lemon juice to taste. Sweeten with Acacia honey, if needed (we never add salt).

Brown the salted butter until foamy. Add espresso and maple syrup and keep the sauce warm.

Grill the skin of the wild ducks on all sides. Roast the wild ducks in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size, and let rest for five minutes.

Slice off the breasts and lay them skin-side down on the grill for a few seconds, then slice thinly and season with salt and toasted crushed coriander seeds.

Fan out slices of wild duck on a plate. Place a spoonful of Hokkaido squash puree on the side and pour the brown butter-maple syrup-espresso sauce over the duck.

Cook more from this book
Baked white onion with tamari
Turbot with fennel ravioli

Read the review 

Buy this book
In My Blood

Turbot with Fennel Ravioli on Gruyere by Bo Bech

Turbot Gruyere Fennel.jpg

For 4 people

Ingredients:
1 turbot, 3 kilo
4 fennel bulbs
3 whole star anise
1 lemongrass stalk
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
200 grams Gruyere cheese
200 grams salted butter
4 tablespoons yogurt Black pepper

Method:
Rinse and dry the fennel bulbs. Slice thinly on a mandoline and transfer to a pot, adding the grapeseed oil. Bruise the lemongrass stalk with the back side of knife, then transfer to a tea bag along with star anise. Add the tea bag to the pot. Place a piece of wet parchment paper over the fennel and roast at medium heat until tender and caramelised. It may stick a bit to the bottom of the pot.

Remove the pot from the heat and let stand for a few minutes. Stir the pot well so that the caramelised bits in the bottom dissolve. Return the pot to the heat. Let the fennel become tender and golden, then remove the tea bag. Blend the fennel smooth and add salt to taste. The consistency must be very thick. Transfer the puree to a piping bag.

Slice Gruyere cheese as thinly as possible, using a deli meat slicer if possible. Cut out circles of the cheese using a cutting ring about four centimetres in diameter. There should be 16 circles per dish. Place half the slices on a parchment-lined baking pan. Pipe a dot of fennel puree on the middle of each circle of Gruyere cheese and carefully place another circle on top, so that it floats on top of the puree.

Bake the raviolis at 90 degrees Celsius, until the top slice of cheese has melted over the fennel puree and touches the bottom slice. Remove the raviolis from the oven and let them cool slightly, then turn them over and season with black pepper. Blend the remaining cheese with 100 grams of melted butter and strain. Pour off the water from the cheese fat when cooled.

Melt the remaining 100 grams of salted butter slowly without boiling. Pour into a transparent bowl, so the clarified butter can be seen clearly on top and the whey rests on the bottom. Let stand for a few minutes while it separates completely. Use a strainer to separate the clarified butter.

Fillet the turbot from the bone, remove the skin and divide the fish into eight pieces of equal size. Cook the turbot in clarified butter on a hot pan. Cook the prettiest side first, so that it will face upward when serving.

Swirl a spoonful of yogurt onto a plate and add a few drops of cheese fat. Place two pieces of turbot on the plate and arrange four raviolis on each piece of turbot.

Cook more from this book
Wild duck with Hokkaido Squash
Baked white onion with tamari

Read the review

Buy this book
In My Blood

Baked white onion with tamari, ginger, lime and sesame by Bo Bech

White onion.jpg

For 4 people

Ingredients:
4-6 large white onions
1 lemon
4 tablespoons sesame seeds Sichuan pepper
50 grams ginger juice
50 grams lime juice
50 grams tamari
50 grams acacia honey
50 grams toasted sesame oil

Method:
Whisk together ginger juice, lime juice, tamari and acacia honey. Add toasted sesame oil to taste.

Bake the whole onions at 200 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes until tender (the baking time will depend on the size of the onions). Slice off the bottom of the onions and split each in half lengthwise. Divide each onion half into wedges and sprinkle with grated lemon peel, salt, Sichuan peppercorns, salt and sesame seeds.

Arrange the onion wedges on a plate and pour sauce into each wedge. The dish can be eaten as finger food.

Cook more from this book
Turbot with fennel ravioli on Gruyere
Wild duck with Hokkaido Squash

Read the review

Buy this book
In My Blood by Bo Bech
 

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

51V-LRn5VJL

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