Take One Tin by Lola Milne

Take one tin

What’s the USP? Practical storecupboard meals, with recipes that stray a little from the drab usual suspects.

Who’s the author? Lola Milne isn’t necessarily the most obvious author for a cookbook – her work in the food industry has mostly been behind the camera, as an in-demand photographer and food stylist. This does pay dividends in the book though, with vibrant and beautifully shot dishes livening up what could have easily been a fairly unexciting premise.

What’s great about it? Milne’s focus on long-life products and storecupboard staples feels decidedly modern, and will appeal to people of all ages – perfect for knocking together something for the family when you’ve not had a chance to get to the shops. By focusing on tinned foods as a starting point, Milne has found it easy to put together a collection of recipes that are entirely without meat. Vegetarians will delight, and a wealth of pescatarian dishes ensures plenty of variety throughout the book.

You can’t help but feel that the timing of Take One Tin’s publication will prove a little fortuitous for Milne, too. As much of the world contemplates societal lockdowns and potentially long isolation in the wake of Covid-19, this cookbook will prove an increasingly useful addition to many homes.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not at all. A two-page introduction and two short sentences at the beginning of each recipe. Three, if you’re lucky.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The very nature of Take One Tin ensures that there are no real surprises on the ingredient lists. Whether or not you have trouble securing what you need will come down solely to how well your local supermarket is dealing with any panic buying that might be going on.

What’s the faff factor? What faff factor? Milne’s recipes are all remarkably simple affairs. A bit of pan-frying, maybe. Mix a few items together and chuck them in the oven for a bit. Whilst Milne’s food-styling skills ensure dishes look very impressive, the actual work necessary to pull them off won’t faze the average home cook in the slightest.

How often will I cook from the book? In normal day-to-day life? Maybe once every couple of weeks. These are easy and practical recipes that many people will happily call on when they don’t want to work too hard for their dinner. In a global pandemic? Take One Tin might just prove invaluable.

Killer recipes? Jackfruit & kidney bean chilli, crab thoran, Sri Lankan mackerel curry, banoffee pie with hazelnut cream.

Should I buy it? There are a few storecupboard-centric cookbooks out there, and whilst others might cover more ground (Claire Thomson’s excellent The Art of the Larder being one), Take One Tin is a great deal more accessible, and balances the genre’s practical aspects with genuinely exciting and contemporary ideas.

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

Buy this book 
Take One Tin: 80 delicious meals from the storecupboard

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas who is a Brighton-based writer, and is exactly the sort of person who posts his dinner on Instagram. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

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.

The Mushroom Cookbook by Michael Hyams and Liz O’Keefe

The Mushroom Cookbook coverWhat is it? A directory of the most widely available mushrooms, both wild and cultivated, plus a collection of 50 mushroom- based recipes. Michael Hyams, based in Covent Garden Market, is apparently known as The Mushroom Man and supplies markets and restaurants with fungi while co-writer Lix O’Keefe is a chef, recipe developer and food stylist.

What’s the USP? From morels to mousseron and portobello to pom pom, Hyams describes in detail 33of the most widely available wild and cultivated mushroom varieties, listing alternative names, their Latin name, where the mushroom can be found and when, along with a detailed description of its appearance, flavour and texture and how it should be prepared and cooked. In the second half of the book, O’Keefe provides 50 ways to cook your fungi.

What does it look like? It’s a game of two halves. The first half that contains the directory is a reference work with the emphasis on providing simple, clear and well organised information. The photos are mainly of unadorned mushrooms against a white or grey background accompanied with step by step illustrations of how to clean and prepare them. By contrast, in the second recipe half, there is a serious amount of food styling going on with all manner of folded napkins, trays, boards, slates and other props to liven up proceedings.

Is it good bedtime reading? Although there is plenty of text, this is more of a reference work than a relaxing read. 

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? That will depend on how keen you are on foraging. You could substitute easier to find mushrooms for some of the more obscure varieties, although that would seem to defeat the whole object of the book.

What’s the faff factor? There’s a fair amount of wrapping and stuffing going on, but for the most part, the recipes are quite straightforward.

How often will I cook from the book? How much do you love mushrooms? For most readers, the book will come in handy for when they want to cook something a little different for a dinner party or find themselves with a sudden fungi fixation.

Killer recipes? Chinese mixed mushroom curry; Asian mushroom and pork ramen; wild mushroom and boar sausages

What will I love? The price. A 250 page, full-colour illustrated hardback cookbook for £15 is excellent value.

What won’t I like? Some of the recipes, like mushroom sushi, are a little gimmicky, there are some odd flavour combinations (Camembert and blackberry fondue on your mushroom burger anyone?) and some of the dishes like whole roast salmon with garlic pesto and truffle look messy and unappetising.

Should I buy it? At the knock-down price, it’s worth picking up for the mushroom directory alone.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars 

Buy this book
The Mushroom Cookbook: A Guide to Edible Wild and Cultivated Mushrooms – And Delicious Seasonal Recipes to Cook with Them
£15, Lorenz Books