Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson

Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson

What’s the USP? Less of a unique selling point, and more of an all-encompassing approach to the cookbook, Home Cookery Year is a 400 page, 200+ recipe doorstop tat seeks to offer seasonal ideas for every possible situation, from midweek dinners to elaborate dinner party feasts.

Who wrote it? Claire Thomson, who has made something of a habit of releasing practical, down-to-earth cookbooks over the past five years. Her first title focused on cooking for families, and last year saw her release New Kitchen Basics, which offered a wide range of recipes based around ten classic ingredients.

If you’ve come across her this year, though, chances are it will have been during lockdown. Her 2017 title The Art of the Larder is one of the most informative titles on store-cupboard cooking available, and likely saw a healthy boost to sales around the tail end of March. It’s also the book that first introduced me to Thomson – albeit one that I didn’t enjoy as much as I’d expected to. Rather than re-invigorate the store-cupboard, it frequently reminded me of how drab tins and dried pulses can be. With that in mind, I find myself approaching this new book rather tentatively. Thomson has been inspired, she says, by the ‘evergreen’ cookbooks her mother had (‘and still has’) on her shelves. Paired with a title that Thomson herself admits is more honest than fashionable, I’m ready for a collection of practical, if dull, recipes.

This is heading for a delightful twist, isn’t it? Oh, you know me so well. The book’s an absolute bloody delight. Thomson’s straight-forward approach and practical application of her expertise means that from the outset, tHome Cookery Year is a joy to navigate. Though she has aspirations towards the simple, accessible and everyday cooking of all your mum’s favourite TV chefs of the 70s, her taste buds are firmly of the moment. This is an old-fashioned cookbook in spirit only.

Home Cookery Year is set out seasonally, with a chonker of a chapter for each season. These are split further, to allow the reader to find recipes that fit the bill whether they’re looking for a quick midweek supper, a budget meal from the larder, something a little more luxurious, and so on.

What’s the faff factor? Everything in the book is built towards accessibility. With a few (very rare) exceptions, you’ll be able to get all the ingredients from your local supermarket. Thomson’s recipes are straight-forward, even when they yield beautifully complex dishes and flavours. Even the recipes under the ‘leisurely weekend cooking’ headings are only listed as such because of the time they take, or the mess they’ll make.

How often will I cook from the book? Look, this is not something I get to say very often, but here goes: you could cook from this book every single day for a year and not get bored. The depth and variety within these pages is astonishing. Take Autumn, for example: the midweek offerings alone include comfort foods with a twist (Smoked Haddock with Curry Butter & Poached Egg), international staples (Goan Green Chicken, Nasi Goreng) and quick, simple recipes that are bound to impress anyone (Fig Leaf Pilaf with Aromatic Tomato Sauce & Toasted Almonds). The store cupboard dishes roam from an unctuous Cavolo Nero Polenta Soup to Sichuan classic Dan Dan Noodles.There are inspired takes on classic game recipes, simple yet irresistible desserts by the dozen and, most outrageously of all, a recipe for Duck and Damson Bao that is as good as anything I have in my healthy collection of far more specialised Chinese cookbooks. And that’s just Autumn.

Killer recipes: That Duck & Damson Bao, obviously. But also the Fried Potato Masala Toastie, or the Pasteis de Nata, which I am thrilled to finally have a decent recipe for. Or hey, how about the Crab Gnudi with Butter Baked Cherry Tomatoes & Tarragon. I put down the book and went to the other room to tell my wife about the Beer-brined BBQ Chicken with Mustard & Miso Mayonnaise Sauce. She was very understanding.

The desserts alone deserve a separate paragraph – the Cherry, Marshmallow & Dark Chocolate Chip Cobbler, the Peach & Dulce de Leche Cake, the Blackberry & Bay Brownies made with Rye. Look, there’s over 200 of these bad boys in here, and I honest-to-god reckon I’d eat every damn one of them.

Should I buy it? Oh god, like, twice over, at least. One for you, and one for anybody in your family who loves to cook. Because here’s the thing: with Christmas coming up faster than any of us are truly comfortable with, the bookshops are filled with brand new cookbooks vying for your attention. And this year, like every other, the big names like Nigella and Jamie are going to get the lion’s share of the sales.

Fun fact: I’ve worked in a bookshop at Christmas, and I’ve seen the absolute demolition of cookbook stock that happens on Christmas Eve. But the problem with gifting cookbooks is that you either have to go broad, which means celeb chefs, and the risk of giving your mum her third copy of the new Ottolenghi, or you need a deep insight into their personal tastes and their specific desire for a particular cuisine. This book lets you opt firmly for column A, whilst avoiding the obvious titles and throwing in some unexpected regional dishes to boot.

With Home Cookery Year, Claire Thomson has created exactly what she intended to: a five-star all-rounder that you will be using on a weekly basis for years to come. This is accessible, exciting cooking at its very finest, and though it’s up against bigger titles and starrier names, it might just be the best cookbook to give without discretion this Christmas.

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

Buy this book
Home Cookery Year: Four Seasons, Over 200 Recipes for All Possible Occasions
£30, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

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

Sicilian Couscous Salad by Skye McAlpine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SERVE WITH…

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

AND FOR PUDDING…

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

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

Buy the book

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

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

Read the review
Coming soon

Banana Cake with Miso Butterscotch and Ovaltine Kulfi by Ravinder Bhogal

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To confine your use of miso to just soup would be to miss out on a multitude of exciting gastronomic opportunities – one of the best of which would have to be the miso butterscotch that goes with Jikoni’s famous banana cake. This dessert has such a cult following that certain die-harders will call ahead to make sure we have a portion saved for them.

The banana cake is based on the idea of a sticky toffee pudding, although it
is much less dense. Then there’s that dizzyingly luxurious miso butterscotch with its compelling mix of sweet and salty flavours. To top it all off, we have the ‘nostalgia in a bowl’ of Ovaltine kulfi, a condensed-milk ice cream that has an almost chewy texture. And if that wasn’t enough to make you fall in love with this dessert, making it is a piece of cake!

SERVES 12

1 tbsp black tea leaves
200ml boiling water
200g pitted dates
110g unsalted butter
350g dark muscovado sugar
1 tbsp treacle
1 tbsp date syrup
400g self-raising flour
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda 200g peeled bananas

For the kulfi
50g Ovaltine
450g condensed milk
300ml double cream

For the butterscotch
500ml double cream
175g demerara sugar
175g unsalted butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
60g white miso

The kulfi will take at least 6 hours to set, so make it ahead of time. In a large bowl, mix the Ovaltine into the condensed milk until there are no lumps. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks, then fold it into the condensed milk mixture. Pour the kulfi into a tub and freeze until set. It really is as simple as that!

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C/Gas Mark 5. Line a 24cm square cake tin with baking parchment.

Put the tea leaves in a heatproof jug or bowl, pour over the boiling water and allow to infuse for a minute. Strain the tea, discarding the tea leaves, then soak the dates in the hot tea for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in the treacle and date syrup, followed by the flour, and mix well. Mix the eggs in one at a time.

Tip the soaked dates and tea into a blender or food processor, along with the vanilla extract, and blitz to a puree. Add the bicarbonate of soda and pulse briefly, then add to the bowl and mix thoroughly.

Wipe out the blender, add the bananas and blend until smooth, then add to the cake batter and stir in well. Pour into the tin and bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, to make the butterscotch, put the cream in a saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar, butter and golden syrup and whisk until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Finally whisk in the miso, then remove from the heat.

Turn the cake out on to a wire rack and leave to cool a little.

To serve, cut into 12 portions, then serve warm with the hot miso butterscotch and the Ovaltine kulfi.

Cook more from this book
Lemongrass Poussin with Green Mango and Peanut Salad
Lamb and Aubergine Fatteh

Read the review

Buy this book
Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing