Updated 5th November 2010
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I have reviewed many a good book on wine, and I have been wafted into an almost dreamlike state whilst reading tomes on cheese in all its seductively stinky guises, but this is the first I have come across which has the marriage of these beloved products as its focus, plus a liberal helping of anecdote.
The author, Arthur Cunynghame, spent 18 years as a wine merchant and another 17 as a cheesemonger. He must be one of the few who can boast expertise in both these disparate but allied fields. He has also held Royal Warrants as cheese-maker for both Prince Charles and the Queen.
It took me only a few pages of reading (up to page 19 in fact) to be convinced that this book should have wide appeal. A simple section-head called ‘Cheeses to go with Wines’. Eureka! At last a book that provides an idiot-proof recommendation of what goes with what. Not specifics but a general guide that should enable you to make good choices.
Arthur introduces us to his food and drink heroes, and touches on the problems which beset cheese makers in particular. It seems that the Food Standards Agency have caused much unnecessary heartache, even though The Times reported in 1999 that in the previous year only 34 people in the UK had died of food poisoning – and that was not just cheese-related illness. This compares with 83 deaths from falling out of bed – would a government department suggest we saw the legs off our four-posters? We should be supporting our cheese makers, and The Cheesemonger’s Tales is a tool to that end.
There are marvellous cheeses to be had but we need to know a bit about them. We can try a crumb from the end of the cheesemonger’s knife, but that tang or creamy comfort is more enticing when one knows a little about the producer; and even more so when one has the confidence to nip into the wine merchants next door to select just the right little red to go with that Brie or Cheshire. One might even seek out a bottle of Chateau Chalon to accompany Sanchey Richard’s Mont d’Or.
The Cheesemonger’s Tales will expand your wine and cheese pairing horizons. It’s a volume that informs and charms. I have read this book and enjoyed meeting the producers but I also find myself planning a little retro cheese-and-wine party and perhaps a small but well-executed cheese board for the end of that meal with friends. Inspiring.
Cookbook review: The Cheesemonger’s Tales
Author: Arthur Cunynghame
Published by: Loose Chippings
There truly is a Mr and Mrs Pathak (‘Patak’ is the anglicised spelling given to the label). They are not an aberration of marketing men in the same way as Mr. Kipling. The current Pathaks are the son and daughter-in-law of the founders who sold Indian food from their Drummond Street shop back in the 1950s. It must have been a struggle as we Britons thought, at that time, that even pasta was exotic.
Meena Pathak is the creator of many of the pastes and has several books to her credit, but this one is not a Patak's product handbook. Yes, there are a few recipes that use those pastes and sauces, and you will likely have them in your larder anyway, but there are plenty of traditional and contemporary dishes to make from scratch.
Meena Pathak Celebrates Indian Cooking could perhaps be renamed Meena Pathak Celebrates real Indian Home Cooking in Britain. A laborious title but this volume does seem to represent the reality of Indian home cooking. Irresistible Spiced Beans on Toast is a simple recipe that reflects what we honestly eat when in a hurry or alone. Common spices, a chilli, coriander, some onion and grated cheese combine to produce an economic but delicious comfort food.
The Classics chapter offers a treasury of celebrated dishes from all over the subcontinent. Goan Fish Curry is becoming a familiar item with the mushrooming of South Indian restaurants. A dish with complex flavours but it’s easy to prepare and you’ll be eating in just half an hour. Much faster than phoning for a take-away.
Pork Sorpotel is new to me. Pork isn’t as common on Indian menus as say chicken or lamb but here is a quick and warming dish using pork tenderloin. Vegetarians are not forgotten and one of the most interesting recipes is for Pan-fried Potato Masala – Masala Pyaz Aloo. It’s a traditional breakfast from central India where it is served with hot Indian bread. Add a mug of chai (recipe here) and you’ll be set for a trip down the Grand Trunk Road.
A favourite dish when eating out is Lentils with Cream and Butter – Dal Makhni. This is a marvellously textured black lentil confection. It takes a couple of hours to cook although this time will drastically reduce if you have a pressure cooker. Yes, it’s rich but you’ll not eat it every day; don’t use oil but rather push the culinary boat out and use butter. I love this with chapatti as a meal in itself.
Meena Pathak Celebrates Indian Cooking is a book that will tempt the Indian food novice into the kitchen, but there is plenty here for those who are already confident Indian food cooks. The recipes are simple and the results are rewarding. Meena invites the reader into her own kitchen with stories of family past and present. A charming and practical book and great value for money.
Asian cookbook review: Meena Pathak Celebrates Indian Cooking
Author: Meena Pathak
Published by: New Holland
It’s all about flavour. A sprinkle of a particular herb can make all the difference to a dish and can even be the primary ingredient. Consider Lebanese Tabouleh with its pile of fresh parsley, or even the humble mint sauce. Take away that mint and what have you got? Nothing you would want to eat with that roast lamb.
We are less adventurous when we don’t have herbs to hand. We can’t be spontaneous when our spontaneity has to be put on hold while we trudge off to the supermarket. A recipe might demand a generous handful of chives but that translates to a couple of pots of pricy herbs. Even worse is a dish that calls for a tablespoon’s-worth of dill. You hang on to the remaining wilting fronds and then they head for the bin.
Why not grow your own herbs? They are always fresh. Cutting bunches will often help to keep the plant in shape. Collect just a sprig to add savour and a floret for garnish. This is a hobby not just for the cottage garden fanatic, nor for those who are looking for a horticultural challenge. Growing herbs is easy and The Cooks Herb Garden is a book to give you all the advice and hand-holding you’ll need.
This book is a photographic catalogue of more than 120 herbs and a cookbook of 60 recipes. There is a raft of information on growing your herbs and improving your harvest. You’ll want to store your produce so there is a section devoted to drying and freezing. There are great tips, including one for chopping and freezing your fresh garlic that will save your cash and effort.
You don’t need a smallholding to grow a worthwhile collection of herbs. Just a window-box or a container will supply you with some money-saving aromatics. The authors have included some planting suggestions for those with little space but the love of taste. There are six container gardens that each have a different focus. Everyday Essentials gives you basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, sage and coriander. Salad Herbs offers those light fresh summer flavours of chives, rocket, tarragon and the like. The Mediterranean Pot will transport you to those southern climes with basil and lavender. There are planters for every culinary persuasion.
The Cooks Herb Garden is an impressive book which gives you all you’ll need to grow those leaves and flowers that so enhance our foods. It’s a step-by-step guide to selecting the herbs best suited to your particular growing conditions and to your style of cooking, be it traditional northern European or exotic Asian; this could be the book for you. An attractive volume and great value for money.
Cookbook review: The Cooks Herb Garden
Authors: Jeff Cox and Marie-Pierre Moine
Published by: Dorling Kindersley
The author, Susan Chan, was born in Burma of mixed Asian heritage. She draws on the culinary tradition of her homeland, of China and of the West. Many of the soups will be familiar to Chinese restaurant goers and we have enjoyed these, giving no thought to the benefits these delicious broths might be bestowing. Other soups and drinks are a little more obscure but will be welcomed by those who want to take a more homeopathic route to better health.
Each soup has its ingredients and method, a comment on nutritional value and, most interestingly, an overview of traditional beliefs which gives information on heating or cooling properties. For example Shanghai-Style Hot and Sour Soup contains vitamins A and C and potassium. It is considered a “neutral” soup. This will soothe the internal system, boost energy levels and maintain general wellness.
Black Bean with Dried Mandarin Peel Soup has very few ingredients and is simple to prepare. It’s an ideal winter warmer having ginger in the base broth. It is also considered “warming” with regard to traditional medicine. This soup will be suitable for those with colds, flu, or cold extremities. Another soup offering similar properties would be the convivial Steam Boat. This is like a Mongolian Hot Pot or a fondue. A chicken stock is heated and each guest cooks his or her choice of a selection of ingredients. Small wire strainers are provided for each guest to fill with meat and vegetables. When cooked the food is transferred to individual bowls and eaten with chilli sauce or oyster sauce. The remaining and now fortified soup is consumed at the end of the meal. Much lighter than melted cheese.
If you are after a somewhat more instant “warming” curative then Ginger Tea could be for you. It takes only 20 minutes to prepare. It is said to be good for upset stomachs, and even in the West ginger is believed to ward off the symptoms of travel sickness. Ginger Tea contains fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Traditional and Modern Healthy Chinese Soups and Drinks will be a welcome addition to the cookbook collection of those wanting some traditional recipes, but also of those who want to follow a drug-free life. This book gives a unique perspective.
Asian cookbook: Traditional and Modern Healthy Chinese Soups and Drinks
Author: Susan Chan
Published by: New Holland
Price: AUS$29.95, US$19.95, £12.99
The Great British Storecupboard Cookbook starts with Marmite. This will encourage my British reader to either exclamations of unadulterated horror or no sound at all – the reader having instantly headed for the toaster and a jar of that savoury and black nectar of the gods. Tuscan Picnic Loaf has the air of Continental sophistication and includes a dessertspoon of Marmite. A little goes a long way, which makes this product an economic flavour-enhancer.
Colman’s Mustard is a classic. Its distinctive tin has graced larders for generations. It’s the key ingredient in Piccalilli, that yellow and warming companion to many a platter of cheese or cold cuts. Fillet of Beef Romanoff is perhaps a classier dish which makes liberal use of this powerful condiment.
HP Sauce is another British standard found on cafe tables, in burger wagons and store cupboards throughout the land. It is the shake of choice for many who could not possibly eat a meat pie without it. There are those who prefer it with fish and chips. Its strength is, however, that it adds balance and richness to so many dishes. The Great British Storecupboard Cookbook offers Oxtail Soup which uses a dash of HP. No, one doesn’t taste the HP, it just adds a certain je ne sais quoi.
This is an amusing but practical cookbook. Its use of bygone advertising imagery is charming. It is most definitely a book from which to cook. The recipes are well written and sensible. Yes, they use readymade products but let us not feel ashamed to use those bottles and jars. They have endured for decades because they are good. We have more food choices now than ever before but there are brands that we still reach for. The Great British Storecupboard Cookbook has a selection of the best branded products and reminds us that a soupçon of Bovril will perk up a rabbit stew, a drizzle of Lea and Perrins’ Worcestershire Sauce is essential for many meat dishes, and a syrup Sponge Pudding could never have anything other than Lyles Golden Syrup as its crowning glory.
The Great British Storecupboard Cookbook is a winner. It will be appreciated by both serious home cooks and the novice who would like to be introduced to simple, flavourful dishes which use common ingredients. There are more than 200 recipes to tempt every palate and temperament.
Cookbook review: The Great British Storecupboard Cookbook
Author: Paul Hartley
Published by: Absolute Press
ISBN 13: 9781906650117
The chapters here are divided by type of dish rather than country. They start with sauces and dips and progress through meats and fish to desserts and drinks. Marvellous recipes with several alternatives for each. An ingenious way of presenting 500 recipes in a single book that’s smaller than a Honda. There is a culinary overview of each country to set the scene as well as a glossary of less familiar ingredients.
The Sauces and Dips chapter presents the easiest recipes, although it’s the nature of food in this region to be simple and quick to prepare. Vietnamese Dipping Sauce is a condiment that you’ll use often. It has the tapestry of flavours that is typical of Asian foods: pungency from garlic, heat from chillies, sweetness from palm sugar, sharpness from lime juice and saltiness from the distinctive fish sauce. The author offers six alternatives including one with the addition of fresh ginger.
Singapore Laksa is a celebrated dish of vegetables, chicken and seafood. The broth is the key to the success here as with any soup. The ingredient list is long but the method of preparation should hold no terrors for even a novice cook. It can be a main meal or a starter. Ghillie has a vegetarian version as well, although I prefer the more interesting original.
If you want a traditional recipe with few ingredients then the ever-popular Salt and Pepper Squid is worth trying. Yes, it truly is as simple as it sounds. Use freshly ground black pepper for full effect. Once again you have the choice of five similar recipes including one which replaces the squid with prawns.
Korean cuisine is little known in the UK and other European countries. The USA has long had Korean restaurants but they are only just becoming popular here. The recipe for Korean Stir-fried Potatoes shows the style of Korean food. It’s spicy with a salty note from soy sauce. A gentle introduction to the food of this exotic but mostly overlooked peninsula.
I often bemoan the lack of Asian desserts but this book offers some delicious and traditional delights. Indonesian Sweet Black Sticky Rice is flavoured with coconut milk. If you can’t get pandanus leaves (a common Malaysian ingredient) then look for the extract, available from Asian supermarkets. Malaysian Sago Pudding with Palm Sugar is a favourite. Don’t substitute regular sugar for the palm sugar as it is that which gives the dessert its distinctive toffee flavour. This is a world away from the sago that was inflicted on many of us at school dinners.
500 Asian Dishes has traditional recipes that are accessible to the European home cook. Many of them are little-known in Europe but all of them are worth tasting. Nothing too taxing for those unfamiliar with Asian food but plenty of recipes to hold the interest of the aficionado.
Asian cookbook review: 500 Asian Dishes
Author: Ghillie Basan
Published by: Apple Press
Gift quality is a phrase with which I have oft regaled my dear reader. That indicates a book which will be well received for its visual style by those who might be content only to leaf through its pages and dream themselves to a far-off destination. They might not ever cook from the volume but they will enjoy its picturesque charms.
The Country Cooking of Ireland is indeed gift quality but a gift for any serious cook, and a veritable must for any cookbook collector. This is a definitive work on the subject and it is only waiting for the passage of time to be recognised as such. It’s a striking book in every regard.
The author Colman Andrews isn’t a native-born Irishman. The name Colman might be traditionally Irish but the lad is named after Ronald Colman of classic movie fame. Our Colman can, though, trace family connections back to the Emerald Isle, but it’s his skill as a food writer, rather than his genetic makeup, which gives him the credentials to pen this tome.
Colman Andrews was the co-founder of Saveur Magazine and has had six James Beard Foundation awards bestowed upon him. He is the author or co-author of numerous cookbooks. His partnership with Christopher Hirsheimer has produced this stunning masterwork on the unexplored cuisine of the land at the edge of Europe. A foreword by Darina Allen indicates that this man has the seal of approval from the highest authority.
Any book which has the Irish as its topic is bound to be liberally laced with humour and warmth. No, I am not convinced of the verity of that concept just because I am myself half Irish; but we all know that the Irish have a particular philosophy that has seen them through the hardest of times. It’s a country that has been coloured by famine and fights, by poverty and poetry and by Guinness and good times. The Country Cooking of Ireland gives a taste, both literal and metaphorical, of what Ireland has to offer. A dash of culture, a soupçon of smiles, a glaze of history and a raft of some of the best and most accessible food around.
It’s about fresh ingredients: we discover food producers with a passion for cheeses, for their livestock and their vegetable gardens. It’s true to say that the Irish have not been famed for fine food and restaurants but that is changing. London has successfully changed its image and Ireland is doing the same. The celebrated promoters of its food ( Darina Allen, Richard Corrigan and Clodagh McKenna) have encouraged us to take a second look and we have liked what we have found.
The Country Cooking of Ireland is a showcase for some of the best recipes. They include those that one would expect such as the Ulster Fry (the equivalent of the English Full Monty or fried breakfast), corned beef, soda bread and colcannon, but there is much more which is just as traditional but less known.
Rabbit was a popular meat in the past and it deserves a revival. Colman has a couple of recipes which are both simple and flavourful and show this underrated meat to best advantage. Braised rabbit has fresh vegetables and a sprig of thyme as supporting cast. It’s a dish that typifies the style of food here: seasonal ingredients, no exotic techniques, and uncomplicated flavours.
Spiced Beef is a dish I am drawn to. This would make a stunning Sunday lunch and would be somewhat different from the regular roast. It takes a good few hours to cook but it’s not labour-intensive. A great idea for a hectic weekend as you’ll cook the beef the day before.
A pie can never be a bad thing. Donegal Pie is a cheap and versatile article which is portable and tasty. OK, so it’s potato and bacon in a pastry case but there is nothing wrong with that as long as your bacon is the best and the potatoes are flecked with fresh herbs. If it was French it would be called Pate de l’Ile de France or some such name and you would think yourself very chic for ordering it.
The Country Cooking of Ireland is a stunner of a book. It is well researched and Colman Andrews shows real passion for the subject. His writing is engaging and informative and the photography is outstanding. One doesn’t need to be an expert home cook and one doesn’t need to have Guinness coursing through one’s veins to be enchanted by this volume. This must surely be the Irish food book to which others are compared. A grand addition to any collection.
Cookbook review: The Country Cooking of Ireland
Author: Colman Andrews
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: $50.00US, £30.00
This is a hefty paperback volume with the first 60-odd pages devoted to the history of India and the evolution of its food, tools and equipment, and basic preparation. He goes into great detail about the spices before we reach the recipes. His research is obviously thorough and adds a lot to the overall quality of the book.
There are a great many “Modern Chef’s Recipes”, with Spiced Stuffed Peppers being the offering from London chef Pital Gopal. Creamy Brown Lentils is a dish based on a recipe from London restaurateur Camilia Panjabi. Beef Tomatoes stuffed with gorgonzola is another chef recipe which is obviously a bit of a fusion dish.
Most of the recipes are said to be authentic and Pat give the region from where these originate. They are a delicious bunch and cover everything from starters through meats and vegetables to drinks. There is even an interesting item about the famous Bombay Duck, which I haven’t seen for years. It’s not a duck at all but rather an eel-shaped fish that is filleted and dried and used as a condiment.
My favourite recipe would have to be the Raan, Aromatic Roast Lamb. This is succulent leg of lamb, and the meat just falls from the bone. It’s savoury and delicious and easy to make. You can marinate the lamb for up to 60 hours (be warned, your fridge will smell of spice for all those 60 hours) and then just roast for 3 hours. It’s an ideal Sunday meal for a crowd.
Kulfi, Indian ice cream, makes a welcome end to any spicy meal and you don’t need to invest in an ice cream maker. Pat lists several varieties all using the basic recipe but with the additions of either chocolate, pistachio, mango or almonds. Yum!
The Chutney and Pickle chapter has Pat’s wife’s Sweet and Hot Tomato Chutney. It’s a clear chutney that looks attractive and bright. The traditional Lime Pickle would be the one for me and you can also use the same recipe to create a lemon pickle.
India Food and Cooking would be a good choice for anyone wanting to know a lot more about Indian food and history. There is plenty of reading, marvellous pictures and recipes to make your mouth water.
India Food and Cooking - Paperback
Author: Pat Chapman
Published by: New Holland
MasterChef is now in its sixth series offering contestants, for that is what they are, the chance to win the coveted title of MasterChef 2010. This book represents the efforts of the best of previous years with its battery of some 250 recipes. They are guaranteed to work in a domestic kitchen even though some of them have names of a dozen or so words.
This is a smart, crisp book with plenty of striking photographs. The text is clear and the recipes are well-written. It’s probably best described as a cookbook for the more confident home cook, although there is plenty here that is simple and even the more complex dishes can be broken down into their constituent parts. For example the Rabbit Saddle and Langoustine Mousseline with a Carrot, Lemongrass and Ginger Puree has four individual recipes which could, in theory, be used to produce other dishes.
The chapters are divided into starters, veg and fish, meat, game, and desserts. Each section offers some culinary gems, be they traditional or innovative. Curried Butternut Squash Soup: it’s an easy but stylish starter and comes complete with a Master Tip on how to make your own coconut milk. Glazed Goat’s Cheese and Beetroot with Pea Shoots Salad is a must-try. It takes a good 45 minutes of preparation which might be off-putting to the anxious, but a perusal of the recipe reveals that it’s the cooking of the roast beetroot which takes the time. You don’t need to keep the cooking vegetables company, so the real duration for hands-on effort is a lot less-daunting 15 minutes.
I am very taken with Loin of Pork Stuffed with Sweet Peppers with Aubergine Puree, Choi Sum, and Star Anise and Ginger Sauce. It’s a three-part dish which illustrates, in my humble opinion, the best of fusion food. If you are after pure Asian then Thai Beef Massaman Curry with Jasmine Rice is a good choice. This uses a homemade curry paste but you know you’ll manage when the author directs you to simply put the ingredients in the blender and whiz. A painless introduction to fresh paste-making.
Pineapple Tart Tatin with Coconut Caramel is a dessert I’ll make often. 20 minutes of work gives a stunner of a pud. Pineapple is a great-value fruit these days and can be found for as little as a pound. The pastry used here is ready-made from your local supermarket and the other ingredients are desiccated coconut and golden syrup, which you may already have lurking in the far reaches of your larder.
Any enthusiastic cook will warm to The MasterChef Cookbook. At first glance it might seem a bit over-cheffy but read the recipes and you’ll discover that they are many-faceted and each of those elements offers inspiration, education or some nice nosh. A great gift for lovers of the programme.
Cookbook review: The MasterChef Cookbook
Published by: Dorling Kindersley
OK, so now we are on to another flight of fancy. What is E & O? Is it something medically akin to A & E? E,N & T? No, it’s an acronym for Eastern and Oriental, although this fine London restaurant is better known as E & O. The name is well-chosen as it’s a pan-Asian restaurant with a soupçon of fusion.
There are a good many pan-Asian eateries around. They vary in quality from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some are basic Chinese restaurants which offer Thai noodles and a selection of commercially produced sushi. Others present a concoction of poorly executed versions of Asian classics. E & O was one of the first pan-Asian restaurants and it is reputed to be one of the best.
Will Ricker isn’t a chef. He is the restaurateur behind not only E&O but Cicada, Great Eastern Dining Room, Eight Over Eight and XO, all of which I hope to review in the near future. He has won numerous awards for his restaurants and food, so a cookbook was bound to be on the cards.
The Eastern and Oriental Cookbook is a striking volume with photographs by William Meppam. The black pages with white text give a contemporary and stylish feel although it remains a thoroughly practical cookbook. It’s designed with the home cook in mind. The dishes are stunning but the recipes will hold no terrors.
Pan-Asian, in this context, means China, Japan and Thailand. They are three individual cuisines which have qualities that can be easily combined to great effect. One might choose a Chinese soup along with some Japanese tempura followed by a Thai curry. You’ll have the freedom and indeed the inspiration to find the selection that will be most tempting for your friends and family.
There are plenty of classics here. Chicken Jungle Curry, Beef Bulgogi (a nod to Korea with this one), and Pad Thai will all be familiar. But how about Lobster and Prawn Sweet Ginger Noodles for a special meal, and you might consider a Jasmine Cosmopolitan to finish. There are every-day dishes as well as dinner-party fare within these classy pages.
My favourites from The Eastern and Oriental Cookbook include Sole Tempura with its unique presentation, Chilli Tofu for those days when I want something quick, light and noble, and Crispy Pork Belly for the times when I crave comfort food with attitude. It’s a Dim Sum suggestion but you’ll eat so much it’ll be a meal.
The desserts are appealing. Asian restaurants are not generally famed for their sweets, and often resort to the standard banana fritters and even Chocolate Fondant Cake. Will, however, has White Chocolate and Berry Dumplings, and Mini Cinnamon Doughnuts served with a Passionfruit Syrup. My pick of puds must be the Ginger Cheesecake with Caramel Bananas. It’s a melange of exotic flavours in a Western guise.
The Eastern and Oriental Cookbook is a culinary page-turner. It offers a feast for the eyes as well as a wealth of accessible dishes that are simple to prepare, but which have that often elusive “wow” factor. It’s gift quality so buy two copies. It’s unlikely you’ll want to let this one out of your grasp.
Asian cookbook review: The Eastern and Oriental Cookbook
Author: Will Ricker
Published by: Hardie Grant Books
The Market Kitchen Cookbook is a three-dimensional representation of the show. It has recipes divided by season and a diverse raft of dishes from a cross-section of British chefdom. Rachel Allen (daughter-in-law of Darina), Tom Parker Bowles and Bill Granger head the list of the celebrated visitors and presenters, but there is a flock of others.
It’s an attractive, organic-looking cookbook with pages of natural hues, plenty of pictures and sensible well-tested recipes. Those dishes are for the most part economic and make the best of changing produce. You might not have access to a Farmers Market but you can buy the best veggies and fruit you can manage in your local supermarket.
Traditional dishes like Matthew Fort’s Hotpot are well represented but there are twists to that theme with Gino d’Acampo’s Italian Shepherd’s Pie. Olive oil, basil, sweet potatoes and Parmesan cheese contrive to make this a more cosmopolitan (or is that Neapolitan?) version.
Lemon Chicken with Roasted Garlic Mash is a simple stunner. Roasted garlic is a totally different animal from its raw counterpart. It’s sweet and aromatic and an ideal companion to roast chicken. Here Merrilees Parker has chicken baked in a flavourful sauce of lemon mustard and sherry, with the garlic added to the fluffy mashed potatoes.
Theo Randall is Chef at one of my favourite restaurants in London. The restaurant bears his name and has an Italian focus, and here he offers Hazelnut and Chocolate Croccante. It’s a dessert with a crunch, as the name suggests. Chocolate, nuts and cream are a winning combination and the recipe for this moreish dessert is simple. You might not want to eat this every day... but you probably would.
Condensed Milk Ice Cream with Welsh Shortbread and Raspberry Salad is Bryn Williams’ contribution. Condensed milk is one of those unsung culinary heroes of yesteryear. It’s been out of favour for a while and there is probably a generation of people who have never been introduced to its sweet, sticky charms. This dessert shows the confection off to good advantage, and the fruit with a drizzle of lime juice gives a good contrast.
Market Kitchen Cookbook will be an ideal gift for Mother’s Day or for any fan of the series. Its collection of dishes is eclectic and interesting. The recipes are easy to prepare and will have wide appeal. A book to cook from and to enjoy.
Cookbook review: Market Kitchen Cookbook
Published by: Collins
This sumptuous tome is penned by both the owner, Helen Brierty, and the chef, Annette Fear. Thai cookbook collectors might know them as the authors of Spirit House, which is a bestseller. This is another collection of contemporary dishes from one of the world’s most fascinating dining destinations.
Helen and Annette don’t expect you to be expert Thai cooks. They lead you through the ingredients which are now widely available either in your regular supermarket, in an Asian grocers or by mail order if you live in a lighthouse off Shetland. Thai food is becoming more popular in Europe with the advent of long-haul travel. We have been able to see for ourselves the reasons why Australians have held this cuisine in such high esteem.
Travels with Thai Food offers recipes that are simple and quick to prepare. Heavenly Beef has got to be one of the most delicious dishes and ideal for a novice cook. Only five ingredients and on the plate in about 7 minutes. Rice can be cooking at the same time as the beef is being prepared so it’s going to be much faster than a take-away and only a little slower than toast.
Royal Son-in-Law Eggs are a must-try. It’s seldom one finds a recipe for deep-fried boiled eggs. These are garnished with a sauce of well-seasoned minced chicken. The recipe suggests using two medium red chillies but the timid might add a little less for the first attempt.
Vegetarians are not forgotten here. Fragrant Red Curry of Tofu with Caramelised Sweet Potato, Cashews and Ginger is a recipe for the slightly more confident cook as the ingredient list seems lengthy. It’s a three-part dish so consider each element as a stand-alone recipe and the job will not seem so daunting. The curry paste just requires mixing all ingredients together, and the sweet potatoes just need baking. The final curry cooking isn’t a taxing task and the results will make your initial worry a thing of the past.
Sorbet is a great way to end a spicy meal or equally a Western dinner. It is simple to make if you have an ice cream machine, but try these recipes even if you only have a freezer and a plastic tub. Make the liquid base and freeze, but scrape with a fork periodically so that your sorbet does not set into a brick. The texture will be more granular than the classic sorbet but the flavour will be just as delightful. Banana and Passionfruit Sorbet uses passionfruit juice which is much less work than using the fresh fruit. Lychee and Ginger Sorbet is exotic and memorable and would be a unique addition to an Eastern menu.
Travels with Thai Food – A journey with Spirit House is a visually striking book. It offers accessible recipes which tempt this Londoner to buy a ticket to Queensland with a stop-over in Bangkok on the way.
Asian cookbook review: Travels with Thai Food – A journey with Spirit House
Authors: Helen Brierty and Annette Fear
Published by: New Holland
Price: US$24.95, AUS/CAN$35.00, GB£14.99
It’s obviously not just children who have to live with allergies. Adults have the same symptoms and the same threats but they are more able to look after themselves and are better equipped to make the right choices. Kids are under a lot more pressure to conform and to eat the same snacks and treats as their friends and siblings. It’s easy to consider oneself stigmatised when one feels like a dietary oddity.
Allergy-Free Cookbook for Kids comes to the rescue of food-intolerant children and their parents. There are 150 or so recipes here which are gluten-free as well as being free of the eight most common allergens. The dishes contain no wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, fish or shellfish.
That list sounds daunting. It contains within its ranks all the common ingredients for making your regular family meal. Cut out wheat and you can kiss your pasta goodbye... or perhaps not. It’s about ingredient substitution and there are many substitutes for your daily bread. Different flours do however have different qualities and that’s the strength of this book. All the guesswork has been taken out. You are presented with recipes that work and which are delicious, and are designed to be enjoyed by the whole family with no complaints.
Cakes and sweet snacks tempt all of us but they also present the greatest hazard. Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins use white rice flour instead of wheat flour. And there is a recipe for homemade icing sugar rather than the commercial version which might, amazingly, contain corn flour. These muffins do double duty as a lunch-box filler as well as an alternative to fairy and cupcakes. The poppy seeds add an air of adult sophistication.
Pasta of any kind is a favourite with kids. It’s a regular on most family menus and now there are wheat-free alternatives in the guise of rice noodles and the like. There are commercial allergen-free pasta sauces but it’s easy to chop a few veggies and make your own. That’s Wednesday night’s supper sorted.
Pizza is popular but a real problem for many. Allergy-Free Cookbook for Kids offers a recipe for pizza dough which has rice flour and tapioca flour as a wheat-flour replacement. Use your choice of fresh vegetables and spices to create your perfect pizza topping.
Allergy-Free Cookbook for Kids will take the anxiety out of safe food preparation. Its recipes are fun, easy and tasty, and will be enjoyed by every member of the family. No strange tastes and textures. Just good food that coincidently has no allergy triggers. Bon appetit!
Cookbook review: Allergy-Free Cookbook for Kids
Author: Leslie Hammond and Lynne Marie Rominger
Published: Apple Press
Indian Superfood is based on the unique but time-honoured Indian concept of using foods to maintain good health. It considers the medicinal properties of spices and even the everyday foods we eat, or should eat.
The book focuses on these superfoods and superspices to present dishes that are original, comforting, familiar and exotic. There are recipes for your favourite Indian meals, for childhood staples, and for some truly delightful desserts. No, this isn’t a diet book in the conventional sense. It’s more a healthy lifestyle cookbook with none of the over-worthy, off-putting self-sacrifice of many. There is no hint of “Eat this, it’s good for you” but more, “It’s delicious and it just happens to be good for you.”
This attractive book uses, amongst other things, mushrooms that are prized for their anti-viral and anti-cancer properties, and goji berries for enhancing the immune system function. Seems also that many spices have benefits and they are probably already filling your pantry shelves, or at least they will be if you have ever made Indian food at home.
I have a passion for cardamom and it’s good to know that this particular addiction is one to encourage. It’s antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and is beneficial for everything from gums to lungs. Cardamom is also the world’s third most expensive spice but it’s worth the price, I’d say. Less costly spices are equally healthful, like your regular garlic which has many of the properties of cardamom with the addition of the possibility that it could combat Alzheimer’s.
It’s unlikely that you’ll want to chomp down on raw spices so you’ll need to avail yourself of those aforementioned Indian Superfoods recipes. The properties of the spices are listed for each dish so you can choose the foods which will have the most positive impact on your health. They are not complicated recipes and most of them have only a short list of ingredients.
We British have long had a love affair with the humble baked bean. We have enjoyed them on toast for breakfast. With egg and chips for lunch. Sausage and mash with baked beans is a love triangle made in heaven, and what could be better than eating them straight from the can when it’s late and you are alone. Gurpareet offers us an alternative to the unadulterated bean. He adds a few spices which transform them into something exotic but comforting. Cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry powder will enhance the dish with antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory qualities. A lovely start to a cold winter morning.
There is a recipe here which I can almost guarantee will be made by the purchasers of this volume. Best-ever Chicken Tikka Masala might even be the reason that many will have sought out the book in the first place. OK, Chicken Tikka Masala is honestly a British invention but let’s not be food snobs. It’s a flavourful yet mild dish and it’s popular. Now we find that it’s actively good for us, or at least it would be if we use this particular recipe to make it at home.
Chocolate has been elevated to the status of a health food, so these days high-end dark chocolate is a no-guilt pleasure. Indian Devils Chocolate Pot combines luscious bitter chocolate with coffee, eggs, milk and spices to create a decadent and rich dessert. It might not be an everyday indulgence but it’s an impressive end to a smart dinner.
Indian Superfoods will appeal to Asian readers as well as Europeans who love Indian food. It’s not a classic recipe book but it has tasty food, easily and quickly prepared but without the “fast food” connotations. This is sensible eating. I am off to start supper: Red Lentil Kedgeree with eggs followed by some Carrot Lamingtons. A fusion meal from Anglo-India to Sydney Harbour, but the trip will do me good.
Cookbook review: Indian Superfoods
Author: Gurpareet Bains
Published by: Absolute Press
It was a relief when The Food and Cooking of Peru arrived. It’s full of recipes that are truly different, flavourful and all of them accessible to the European cook. The author hasn’t included a recipe for guinea-pig here, although you may encounter it on the menu in Peru. But one shouldn’t be horrified by that; it’s a free-range and healthy meat which one could liken to rabbit or chicken, although with less eating on the legs. The recipes in this book draw on familiar produce found in your local supermarket, but with a unique twist.
It’s not only the food of Peru which is unique. These people can trace their heritage back to the mighty Incas, the Spanish conquistadores, Africans, Chinese, Japanese and finally French and Italians. The food reflects the cooking of four continents as well as the 28 different climates and the diverse landscapes of this extraordinary country. Peruvian cuisine is considered by many to be the best in South America.
The author of this striking and informative book is Flor Arcaya de Deliot who was born and brought up in the capital, Lima. She is well-travelled and has a passion for the regional dishes of her homeland. She has written two other Peruvian cookbooks, and one of her recipes has even had an honourable mention in the annual International Competition for the Potato.
The Food and Cooking of Peru is a marvellous melange of food history, culture and recipes. Flor has selected recipes which would be inspiring and simple for the European home cook. The ingredients are not only readily available but inexpensive. There are stunning ideas for presentation, making this a book for those who want to entertain with style as well as those of us who want to enjoy good food with the family.
It’s a practical book as well as being of coffee-table quality. There is a raft of stunning photographs by Jon Whitaker. Finished dishes shown in all their vibrant glory but also step-by-step shots of cooking techniques, although those will hold no terrors for even the novice. It’s the combinations of flavours and textures which help to create these dishes, rather than cheffy processes.
My attention was drawn to Humitas (Corn parcels): these are like the more familiar tamales of Mexico. They make a stunning canapé for drinks parties or as part of a Peruvian or South American-themed meal. If you have trouble buying fresh corn with husks then use best-quality frozen corn, and parchment paper to wrap. The presentation won’t be as attractive as the traditional, but delicious nevertheless.
Fried Beans with Eggs and Plantain - Tacu Tacu - is a substantial rustic dish and ideal for cold winters in Northern Europe. The aforementioned beans are haricot (navy) beans and can be tinned. Plantains are widely available and taste like a green banana, but they must be cooked before eating. You’ll likely already have the ingredients for the salsas.
Peruvian desserts are a striking selection of sweet but flavourful confections. Spiced Rice Pudding - Arroz Zambito - is rice pud with attitude. Simple to make but rich with evaporated milk and perfumed with cinnamon and cloves. The inclusion of nuts adds crunch and the dark brown sugar gives the dessert a tempting toffee colour and taste. It’s served cool so is ideal for entertaining.
The Food and Cooking of Peru is an enchanting cookbook. The recipes have introduced me to an unknown cuisine which has so much to offer any food enthusiast. Out of the ordinary, yes, but there is nothing bizarre and nothing that I would say is “an acquired taste”, a phrase that has readers heading for the hills ...or in this case the Andes. Great dishes, well-written recipes, and an absorbing travelogue. Brilliant.
Cookbook review: The Food and Cooking of Peru
Author: Flor Arcaya de Deliot
Published by: Aquamarine
Price: £ 15.99
It’s called Easy Japanese Cooking but that might give the impression that it concerns traditional Japanese fare. I prefer to think of it as Easy Contemporary Japanese Cooking. The Japanese, along with the rest of the world, are becoming more global in their food horizons and Kentaro has no prejudice when it comes to introducing Western ingredients into his larder. Appetizer Rex is a volume that shows the acceptable face of fusion cuisine, and does it in a fun way.
Just think of appetizers or hors d’oeuvres and we conjure thoughts of convivial gatherings. These little dishes are not taxing to prepare but choose the right ones to match your guests, along with their drinks, and success is assured. There are no worries about preparing a balanced meal: appetizers are not meals in themselves, they are little ‘amuse-gueules’ as the French would poetically describe them.
Kentaro offers us his usual mix of lively ingredients combined with thoughtful but simple presentation. There are a few recipes that will be somewhat familiar to Western readers – for example, Nachos, Tomato Salsa, and Tomato and Olive Bruschetta are well loved standards, but my advice would be to consider the lesser-known dishes that will be not only delicious but great conversation pieces.
Wasabi Butter Beef will be a winner with the carnivores. A simple dish to prepare but sliced beef always contrives to look luxurious. Ribs with Green Onions will also help to slake manly appetites. Sunny-side Up Beef is a good way of using up leftover Sunday roast. A striking presentation of sauced meat and an egg yoke.
Fried Rice Balls would be an exotic alternative to crisps (chips). Serve them with some good flavourful Japanese condiments for a healthier but substantial snack. Two-Way Fritters are ideal for those who must have a fried-food fix. They are an agreeable combination of corn, ham and shrimp. They are said to stay crisp even when cooled so a good choice for a drinks party.
My absolute favourite dish will have my dear reader reeling in horror. Whelks! WHELKS? Yes, and you should try them. Kentaro has a Whelk Sauté which has few ingredients, is simple to make and economic as well. I would perhaps counsel that you slice the shellfish rather than leaving them whole. The whelks found off British coasts are large and, I must admit, unattractive. Don’t tell your guests what they are eating and they will love them.
Easy Japanese Cooking – Appetizer Rex is another winner from Kentaro Kobayashi. He continues to offer dishes that are simple but impressive. Always something unique and stunning. Don’t stop now, Kentaro, I await the next volume.
Asian cookbook review: Easy Japanese Cooking – Appetizer Rex
Author: Kentaro Kobayashi
Published by: Vertical Inc. New York
Price: $14.95 US, £10.99
1984 saw the publication of Valentina's first cookbook, Perfect Pasta, which was translated into 6 languages and won the award for literature and gastronomy in Germany. Seven other books followed, and even the BBC took notice. They offered Valentina a 6-part TV series called Italian Regional Cookery which was aired for the first time in 1990. The book of the series became a top-ten best seller. Valentina has now written 20 books of her own on Italian cookery as well as contributing to several others.
Valentina Harris is successful because she has a sunny disposition and is eminently approachable. She has given cookery demonstrations and lectures around Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Africa. Her style is relaxed and she encourages her viewers/students with humour and good advice. Her books reflect that same accessible style.
Pasta Galore is an attractive and practical volume. There are 120 pasta recipes between its covers so it’s safe to say there is something for every taste. There are dishes that will be new to the experienced home cook and a raft of simple recipes for the novice. Every common shape of pasta has its sauce and Valentina lists 30 forms of the 650 or so shapes available.
You might feel adventurous and want to make your own pasta dough. All you need is the correct flour, good eggs and a quantity of elbow grease to produce amazing pasta. A little pasta machine is handy and they don’t cost much these days. Valentina has a recipe for the standard homemade pasta although it’s perfectly acceptable to use commercial dried varieties just like the Italians mostly do.
This isn’t a vegetarian cookbook but there is so much here that would be appropriate for a meat-free diet. Seafood is also well represented with some unbeatable classics. Apart from recipes using vegetables and fish there are lots which use cheese and eggs and this section offers some of my favourite recipes.
For the card-carrying carnivores there is, amongst others, the ubiquitous Spaghetti Bolognese. It’s often a nasty, gloopy concoction and to be avoided, but this book offers a version that is a bit more authentic and a lot more delicious than the norm. OK, this isn’t a quick meal as it takes a couple of hours or overnight to come to comforting perfection. Do consider, dear reader, that you don’t have to sit by the stove and watch it while it cooks, but you’ll taste the difference if you allow it that extra time.
The dish that takes the prize for simplicity and economy goes to Pasta with Courgettes. This recipe always works as long as you can stir some vegetables. It takes only as long as it takes for the pasta to reach the ‘al dente’ stage. A revelation for novice cooks who might want to try this before venturing on to the more elaborate but still easy recipes.
Stuffed Conchiglie is a stunner. Yes, it is a bit more labour-intensive than some others from this collection but it’s not complicated and the end result will impress the in-laws. It’s a baked dish and ideal for making in advance.
Pasta Galore is truly a book for those who want to eat well, who don’t have endless time, and who love this most evocative of Italian food. Valentina Harris brings her usual down-to-earth approach so you’ll not feel overwhelmed. A book for those who want to add to their repertoire and for those who would like to be confident cooks. Fantastic value for money. Recommended.
Cookbook review: Pasta Galore
Author: Valentina Harris
Published by: Octopus
Mridula Baljekar has long been respected by the UK-based Asian food industry. She has penned numerous cookbooks, received awards and plaudits and continues as a successful author, and has added her own range of pickles to her span of achievements. Mridula is joined by three others: Rafi Fernandez is a prolific author of Indian cookbooks. Shehzad Husain is the Marks and Spencer consultant for Indian foods. She has several Indian cookbooks to her credit as well as contributions to food-related magazines. Manisha Kamani is a freelance home economist and has written regularly for Family Circle, and worked as a food demonstrator.
Complete Indian Cooking is a chunky stunner. It presents 325 recipes and over 1800 pictures, the majority of which are step-by-step guides. I am an experienced home cook but even I still find this format to be comforting. A novice to kitchen pursuits will find those photographs a great help. Yes, the recipes are for the most part simple, but a picture paints a thousand words.
Mughlai-style Chicken is a rich royal dish laced with cream, almonds and saffron, ingredients often found in Nizani Mogul cuisine. Another star chicken dish finds the bird in an orange and black pepper sauce which is thick and creamy. The pepper gives aromatic heat.
Okra is an under-rated vegetable. It’s used extensively in India but it’s a relative newcomer to the European greengrocers’ shelves. Okra in Yogurt is mild and can be used as a side dish or as a main meal for vegetarians. Serve with a dhal and either rice or Indian bread.
South Indian food is gaining popularity in London. Many of us have travelled to Goa for long-haul breaks and there are more restaurants specialising in the dishes of Kerala. This book includes Goan Fish Cakes, which can be made from haddock but also the cheaper coley or whiting. These make an attractive and flavourful starter served with lemon wedges and your favourite chilli sauce.
Complete Indian Cooking is a book for those who want to learn and to cook. It’s a lovely book to look at, but it would be a shame if it remained decorating your bookshelves. Buy it and use it. Amazing value for money.
Cookbook review: Complete Indian Cooking
Authors: Mridula Baljekar, Rafi Fernandez, Shehzad Husain, Manisha Kamani
Published by: Southwater
The author, Pascal Aussignac, is the celebrated head chef of Club Gascon in London. He has been harvesting accolades and awards since its inception in 1998. Club Gascon Group founder and Director Vincent Labeyrie enticed him away from his successful career in France, to cross the Channel. With missionary zeal they have expanded the enterprise to several venues with different emphases and now there is a Food Hall and Bistro. You can visit the Club Gascon site at http://www.clubgascon.com/cc_intro.php.
Pascal has trained under the best chefs in France. He determined at the age of nine to become a chef and he started work at thirteen. His first weeks were spent dropping bottles on floors and food on guests but that was evidently due to youthful nerves. He settled down to become well respected by his peers. He has imported his love of fresh seasonal produce as well as his famed originality to both his restaurant and this book.
Well, what’s so appealing? Is this the first French cookbook to cross my desk (kitchen work surface on trestles)? Well, hardly. It’s just that Cuisinier Gascon – Meals from a Gascon Chef is so charming in every detail. I love the typeface, the page design, and the outstanding photography. Jean Cazals is responsible for the pictures and will be in good measure responsible for the inevitable success of this gorgeous book.
It’s a cookbook. The clue is in the name. It’s a book to cook from. The collection of recipes reflects the culinary heritage of the south-west of France. It’s a region I know quite well and it’s good to see so many traditional recipes that I have enjoyed whilst there. Pot au Feu is a classic but here it’s given a bit of a twist The author uses beef cheeks and marrow bones to create a rich dish that will provide you with two courses and a stock for another day. Serve the usual condiments of gherkins or cornichons, crushed salt and mustard to add more flavour notes. Don’t forget the baguette.
Cassoulet is a dish that stirs passions. There are any number of recipes for this hearty dish of meat and beans but Pascal has offered his mother’s favourite version. The recipe for Gasconade is included and it is a mouth-watering roast delight. The combination of a leg of lamb, anchovies and garlic might sound a little bizarre to the uninitiated but it’s a classic marriage and made in heaven. The anchovies melt and add an agreeable hint of salt rather than a taste of kippers.
There are many must-try’s here, well, probably all of them. Nougat is a speciality at Club Gascon and you’ll find the recipe in this book. Not many ingredients and not expensive to make. Gateau Basque is a custard-filled pie and would be ideal for either afternoon tea or to finish a Sunday lunch. A dash of dark rum and a soupçon of Pernod add a very French air. Delicious.
Cuisinier Gascon – Meals from a Gascon Chef is striking in both style and substance. It’s a veritable treasure house of classic and almost-classic recipes. A page-turner for any lover of fine food and a book to be coveted by serious French food enthusiasts. I adored the book and I am sure I’ll enjoy the restaurant.
Cookbook review: Cuisinier Gascon – Meals from a Gascon chef
Author: Pascal Aussignac
Published by: Absolute Press
Mridula Baljekar is a food consultant, restaurant consultant, author, and she has been away from the UK food TV screens for too long. She had her own cooking series on Carlton a few years ago and many of us wonder why she is not now presenting Indian cooking programmes on the UK food network.
Regional Cooking of India is the latest in a line of books from Ms Baljekar. It’s a large-format tome with a wealth of pictures of finished dishes, but also step-by-step shots which will be a comfort to the less-confident home chef. 350 photographs make this either a coffee table book to cook from or a cookbook to grace the aforementioned furniture.
Many of us are avid collectors of cookbooks but there is always that duplication of recipes. This book presents so much that is new. Dishes that I have not come across in other recipe books and in fact have not eaten in restaurants. Having said that, there is nothing here to incite horror at the hob in a European kitchen. Mridula writes with the home cook in mind. She does not expect you to own a tandoor (although I have heard you can find plans on the internet for such things using big terracotta flower pots) and she even suggests an alternative for the traditional idli maker: use your grandmother’s egg-poacher!
There are 80 recipes here to tempt you to the kitchen and indeed to India. Each region is considered and Mridula guides you through the culinary culture of these diverse areas. Six chapters cover north, south, east and west, with north-east and central India added for good measure. It’s a huge country with varied climate and geography. Coastal regions with their array of seafood dishes, and mountains with lamb. Marvellous vegetables everywhere, and sweets that are a bit more impressive than those found in UK restaurants.
Prawn Rissoles are from the west, and these would make a delicious main course, or smaller versions could be made to go with drinks. Several regions offer dishes that would work in this fashion - stuffed savouries with contrasting tastes and textures: Meat-Filled Potato Cakes from Eastern India, and Stuffed Meat Patties from South India are both flexible recipes. Baby Corn Fritters could also enhance a canapé tray. My Indian friends have given the smartest of drinks parties with finger foods like these, which put cheese straws and twiglets to shame - vibrant flavours from small dishes which are both tempting and moreish.
If you want a dish to impress then you can’t do better than using Mridula's recipe for Nawabi Raan, royal-style marinated leg of lamb. It’s not a difficult dish for even a novice to undertake. The aroma of spices and roasting meat will fill your home. I know that estate agents always advise sellers to brew coffee or make bread when expecting potential house-buyers, but I think this lamb could get the deal done quicker.
There are many other dishes here deserving of a mention, including Spicy Stuffed Bananas from West India, which are new to me. A simple dish and economic, a great departure for vegetarians who will appreciate the stylish presentation of dark banana skins and savoury filling. A good standby, using lots of store-cupboard ingredients. Spicy Scrambled Eggs make a much more exciting breakfast than cornflakes – attractive and simple to prepare even with only one eye open.
Mridula Baljekar is a many-faceted consummate professional. One would expect a fascinating book full of inspiring and different recipes and that’s exactly what this is. Even those of us who have shelves liberally garnished with Indian cookbooks will want to find a space for Regional Cooking of India. It’s a joy.
Asian cookbook review: Regional cooking of India
Author: Mridula Baljekar
Published by: Aquamarine
Perhaps there is only one member of your family who has a food allergy but it can create a problem for the cook. If you have to provide a special meal for just one person then you have twice the work. Many of us love cooking but it needs to be stress-free and, hopefully, fun. Far better that everyone eats the same food but it needs to be delicious rather than over-worthy with a healthfood garnish.
The author, Antoinette Savill, has also penned the best-selling Gluten, Wheat and Dairy Free Cookbook so it’s fair to say she knows something about the preparation of foods that will be safe for all members of your family. This book does not, at first glance, read like a special diet cookbook. It has lots of recipes that are adapted from traditional favourites but there are many more that are cosmopolitan and good enough for a dinner party. Food should be good for us but we shouldn’t think of it as medicine.
Smoked Salmon and Dill Tarts would make a smart starter or light lunch. The author suggests using a ready-made gluten-free puff pastry for this one, although she has thoughtfully included a recipe for such a pastry should you have the time or the inclination to get out the mixing bowl. There are now many good-quality gluten-free products on the market, so use them sans guilt.
I’ll eat squid at every opportunity. Seared Squid with Chorizo is a flavourful Mediterranean recipe that has no special ingredients. It just happens to naturally be free of those foods that tend to cause problems. This recipe nicely illustrates that there are many dishes that will need no adapting at all. You’ll make this and then realise that there is other seafood that might work. This is a book to give you confidence and ideas.
Learn to Cook Wheat, Gluten and Dairy Free is one of a good number of books on the subject. The bookshop shelves are full of them but so many of these are sponsored by food manufacturers. Yes, Antoinette Savill offers particular brands that she has found to be reliable, but these are only suggestions - you’ll find your own favourites. The recipes are appealing and well-written and the advice is sound. Grub Street is a publisher with a good reputation for quality cookbooks from well-regarded authors, and this is another good-value, practical tome from their battery.
Cookbook review: Learn to Cook Wheat, Gluten and Dairy Free
Author: Antoinette Savill
Published by: Grub Street
We should be eating more fish, it’s true. We have an amazing choice of seafood of all kinds, both domestic and imported, but what to do with it? Chef Vivek Singh has penned this book with the home cook in mind. The recipes are accessible and will show you exactly what to do with the fishmonger’s wares, and to great effect.
Not only is The Cinnamon Club Seafood Cookbook a practical recipe book but it’s a visual stunner. Photographer Jean Cazals has a reputation for some of the best food photography around. This is a good representation of his excellent work. Unfussy shots to encourage you into the kitchen.
The Cinnamon Club is celebrated for its fine Indian and fusion food. Vivek offers culinary marvels of both taste and presentation, but he has a kitchen full of well-trained and passionate staff, doesn’t he? His books, however, enable us civilians to cook food that is both impressive and well within the grasp of the enthusiastic home cook. A glance at the lists of ingredients might be off-putting to the faint-hearted but on closer inspection you’ll find that it’s mostly spices and you’ll doubtless have them lurking at the back of your larder anyway. Time to move them to the front and buy some fish.
Whitebait was once a common item on menus and even for Saturday teatime. These little fish are eaten whole so they are perhaps a good starting point for those who are unsure about piscatorial preparation. Vivek offers Whitebait in Garlic and Pepper Batter. That batter is a cut above that which houses your chip-shop haddock. This recipe is simple: Mix batter ingredients together. Add fish. Leave for ten minutes. Fry for two minutes. Eat. I defy you to make this just once. Use sprats if you can’t get whitebait. Another recipe for delicious little morsels is that for South Indian Shrimp Pickle. Another simple recipe that produces stylish nibbles for your next cocktail party. A must-try.
A recipe which I shall make often and pass off as my own is for Red Snapper with Ginger-Jaggery Chutney. Another easy dish in two parts. The chutney has Indian cane sugar as one of its main ingredients. It’s easy to find these days in any Asian supermarket but if you live in a lighthouse you could use a dark brown sugar.
The Cinnamon Club Seafood Cookbook offers more than 130 recipes for fish and seafood in all its guises, as well as suitable accompaniments. It’s a book to inspire, encourage and tempt. Vivek Singh does not expect you to be a budding chef. His recipes are well-written and easy to follow. He steers you to dishes that will delight and impress and you won’t need a catering qualification to achieve good results. Jean’s pictures make this a gift-quality book and I look forward to more from Vivek Singh and the Cinnamon Club team.
The Cinnamon Club Seafood Cookbook
Author: Vivek Singh
Published by: Absolute Press
Some of us are genetically inept. We consider a well-presented meal as one which has the burnt bits hidden under the sprouts, gravy that at least moves, the blob of jam just in the middle of the rice pud and perhaps an oily thumb print as decoration. It’s sad but true. We know it doesn’t look appetising but have no idea how to elevate our culinary offerings from mundane to marvellous.
Cara Hobday and Jo Dendury have penned a book which is full of techniques (over one hundred in fact) to enable you to shine at food presentation. There are expert tips and suggestions for ways to produce garnishes that you’ll see in the best restaurants. They are not all cheffy. Each technique is marked with its degree of difficulty so the less-confident among us can practise level one for a while. Even these easy exercises will stun your guests. Spaghetti of Vegetables is colourful and attractive and a good way to encourage the kids to eat something healthy. The secret is a julienne peeler. I have never thought to buy one but I can see the application now.
The novice cook is supported with not only a raft of simple ideas but also a wealth of step-by-step pictures. It’s the nature of the subject that makes it so important to have good illustrations. What would have sounded complicated in words is seen to be quite straightforward when one can observe the process and when one learns that even a chef uses a handy little gadget for this, or a crafty gizmo for that. As with many things, it’s easy when you know.
Sugarcraft has always been a minefield for the beginner. It’s the fear of molten confectionery that tends to put off many of us less daring souls. Whilst it’s true that a healthy respect for anything at boiling point is advised, it’s equally true that the end results of your efforts will be impressive. The shape-forming techniques are quite basic, it’s only the sugar temperature which is exacting. I’d start with the Sugar Baskets, before advancing to Sugar Cages – stunning when veiling a scoop of exotic ice cream or perhaps a lemon soufflé. They are not overly taxing to make …but get somebody else to do the washing-up.
Chocolate Piping is perhaps the most fun of all the presentation techniques. The process is easy and it’s a great project for kids. A few artful swirls of chocolate propped on a white meringue would look stylish. A chocolate bee landing on a buttercreamed cupcake would be charming. The possibilities are endless.
Food Presenting Secrets is a thoroughly sensible volume offering advice on how to give your dishes that professional edge. Yes, the food should still taste good but we also eat with our eyes. It’s the little touches that make the difference. The equipment is minimal and you’ll already have most of it – anything you need in addition will cost only a pound or two. There is nothing here that is beyond the home cook. This is a book that will give confidence to a novice and ideas to the more practised. A gift-quality book from the ever reliable Apple Press.
Cookbook review: Food Presenting Secrets
Authors: Cara Hobday and Jo Dendury
Published by: Apple Press
Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen has been penned by the chef-owner of the Rasoi restaurant, Vineet Bhatia. He has achieved much critical acclaim for his sterling work in several Indian restaurants in London. He is one of that rare breed of chefs of any culinary persuasion who has been praised by both the UK’s two most celebrated restaurant critics, Fay Maschler and A. A. Gill. I have not yet had the privilege of visiting Rasoi but if the book is a faithful representation then it’s worth exploring.
Vineet suggests that his book may not be for the novice. Well, at first glance that might seem so but even the most complicated and many-faceted dishes can be often broken down into their constituent parts and either made in advance or used as stand-alone dishes.
Raan Mussallam is in fact a simple dish for the most delicious roast lamb you will ever eat. The meat is cooked in a covered roasting tin to melting perfection. It cooks for 3 hours so it’s an ideal alternative to the regular Sunday roast. It would work well with traditional roast potatoes although I prefer my raan with rice or naan.
Black Pepper Chicken Masala is a dish that Vineet remembers from his childhood. He has adapted it and serves his with Black Lentil and Cashew Nut Rice, but the less-confident home cook could start by practising the chicken dish and just serving it with plain steamed rice. Add the black lentil rice when you’re more at ease with the cuisine.
We all have those occasions when we want to impress the in-laws or we want to push the boat out. No better way of doing that than with seafood. Crab Curry with Lime and Coriander, Peanut and Curry Leaf Rice is a dish with impact but you won’t need to be a skilled chef to undertake it. Vineet has done the clever work for you. He has chosen the ingredients to give savour and richness. One of the easiest dishes to execute, but memorable.
Desserts are often a little thin on the ground in Indian restaurants. I have had fine ones in Indian homes, but these don’t seem to have migrated to commercial establishments. Chef Bhatia has broken that mould and devised some stunning desserts based on traditional recipes but with his usual flourish. Try Roasted Tandoori Pineapple Infused with Saffron and Fennel, Pineapple and Saffron Halwa, Warm Coconut Milk Shooter. That all sounds like quite a complicated plateful, but you can just make the halwa and it will be delicious at the end of the meal with some tea. The Tandoori Pineapple would make an exotic addition to your next barbecue.
Whilst it’s true to say that Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen is a coffee-table book, that statement would be diminishing its true merit as a cookbook. There is so much here that has the Must Try element. It’s a volume full of ideas and inspiration. A noble addition to any serious cookbook collection. A stunner.
Cookbook review: Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen
Author: Vineet Bhatia
Published by: Absolute Press
MacNean House & Restaurant, Blacklion, was originally opened as MacNean’s Bistro in 1989 by Neven’s mum and dad, Joe and Vera Maguire. The bistro was named after the nearby MacNean Lakes. This was a real family-run restaurant which had Joe and Vera as well as all 9 of their children working for the enterprise. Sounds like an amazing training ground - Neven began cooking at the age of twelve. He took over the business as Head Chef and Proprietor in 2003.
Home Chef has immediate appeal. The type-face is clear and bold and the book boasts a host of photographs drawn from the camera and talents of David Munns. The recipes are well-written and for the most part devoid of lengthy lists of ingredients. Yes, this a chef-penned volume but this chef seems mindful of the constraints of the domestic kitchen and the possible nervousness of the domestic cook.
Neven Maguire lives in the real world so he suggests using commercial pastry from your local supermarket and I have even noticed the artful use of microwave popcorn. There is plenty of advice and also lots of simple recipes to engage the novice. The dishes are graded for difficulty although even the most taxing 3-chef-hat ones should not be beyond the scope of the majority of housewives / husbands.
This book offers something for every taste. There are classic, ethnic and playful dishes to tempt the reader. Multi-Seed Wheaten Bread is just about the easiest bread you’ll ever make. This isn’t a yeast-based dough but uses bicarbonate of soda. This would be a lovely breakfast bread but also ideal for an afternoon teatime. Walnut and Fig bread uses dry yeast and is another simple loaf to make, and is sure to be a delight with a nice bit of cheese.
Salmon Sausages are popular at the MacNean House and Restaurant. They have been marked with 3 chefs bonnets but it’s just a matter of following the recipe and success is assured. They look cheffy and impressive but much of the work is done in advance making these a good dinner-party choice.
Nutella Cheesecake is bound to be a winner. It is a simple preparation of a baked cheesecake with a ginger biscuit base and a filling of mascarpone, stem ginger and the aforementioned Nutella. The kids will love to help make this, as well as eat it.
Home Chef is a sensible book with recipes that you’ll want to make and will indeed be able to make. This is a book to use. A great gift for a wedding, housewarming or to any aspiring chef.
Cookbook review: Home Chef
Author: Neven Maguire
Published by: HarperCollins
The accompanying DVD introduces us to the author. She might not be a household name but she is well known in the UK and Indian food industries. She is a director of Masala World, a UK Indian restaurant company. Doesn’t ring bells? Well, perhaps you have heard of Veeraswamy in Piccadilly? It’s the oldest and most iconic of Indian restaurants in London. Chutney Mary and Amaya are also from the Masala World stable, offering high-end Indian food to the increasingly discerning British public.
Ms. Panjabi has a quiet and reassuring stage presence. Her conversational style puts the novice cook at their ease. Any cookbook author who suggests that it’s perfectly acceptable to change the recipe to suit your personal taste is OK in my book. This is a lady who might be a restaurant magnate but she still lives in the real world. Even in India one’s mum’s Chicken Dopiaza will taste subtly different from her neighbour’s. Camellia is aware that some ingredients might be a bit thin on the ground so if you live in a lighthouse miles from civilisation then you can, for instance, use powdered coconut milk instead of the real thing. There really is nothing to stop you having a go.
This is an amazingly attractive book. The pages are edged with traditional fabric motifs which, along with the striking photography, help to give this volume a sumptuous air. A paperback it might be, but it’s gift quality nevertheless. The author’s notes for each recipe help to put the dishes into geographic or cultural context. 50 Great Curries of India will not only teach you how to make, well, 50 delicious curries, but it will also take you on a culinary voyage.
50 Great Curries of India offers recipes for curries (that is to say, dishes with sauces) as well as breads, vegetables, lentils etc. And a nice selection of desserts, and a meal planner to give a bit of confidence if you want to show off to the in-laws. You will recognise the names of many of the dishes from visits to your local Indian restaurant. It’s very probable, however, that you will prefer your own, freshly-made version. Do I have favourites from this volume? Yes, many.
Lamb with Plums had my immediate attention. It’s a speciality from the aforementioned Veeraswamy restaurant. The dish hails originally from Hyderabad, as did the founder of the restaurant, Edward Palmer – his grandmother was a Hyderabadi Princess. A delightful history for a delicious curry. It’s an economic dish for the home cook: stewing lamb is the main ingredient and the spices are those found in your local supermarket.
Another must-try from the non-vegetarian dishes is Meat Cooked with Cardamom. It’s home-style food rather than restaurant fare. I love anything flavoured with cardamom. It has a distinctive taste and aroma and is used extensively for both sweet and savoury dishes. This a simple dish to make and has few ingredients. In fact none of the recipes in this book should hold any terrors for even the inexperienced home cook. The recipes are clearly written and the cooking techniques don’t demand exotic kitchen equipment or any cheffy skills.
Cauliflower has long had a bad press for being a dull and boring and aesthetically unappealing vegetable. Perhaps Cauliflower and Potato Curry will help to elevate its profile. It’s a marvellous main dish for vegetarians but it’s hearty enough to be enjoyed by those who are card-carrying carnivores. The vegetables are chunky and the sauce warming. An ideal winter supper.
50 Great Curries of India gives a colourful overview of regional Indian food. Camellia Panjabi’s writing is charming and accessible, and the book is full not only of recipes but also of information on spices and their uses, as well as hints and shortcuts. A book for curry connoisseurs and those who would like to be.
Asian Cookbook review: 50 Great Curries of India
Author: Camellia Panjabi
Published by: Kyle Cathie
If we can encourage children into the kitchen then we are giving them a shot at a healthier future. If we can convince them that cooking is really enjoyable then their enthusiasm will save them money and, later on, make them the most popular students at university. Yes, it is a social activity as well as a practical life skill.
The Minichefs Cookbook is the paper incarnation of the cookery school founded by Claire McAvoy in the Channel Islands. She has taught thousands of children in their school holidays and weekends. Claire emphasises that cooking should be a fun activity as well as educational. Her food is accessible to novice chefs and her dishes are just the ones that children like to eat.
The Minichefs Cookbook has a section for breakfast, lunch and dinner, another for baking, and the final one for party foods. How about a homemade ketchup. This is child-friendly on every count. The finished product will last for up to two weeks in the fridge, thus giving your little darlings plenty of praise opportunity from family and friends, and even from that auntie you don’t often see.
Bugs Bunny Cake is a healthy version of a carrot cake. It contains wholemeal self-raising flour rather than real rabbits, as well as carrots, bananas and walnuts. But my favourite sweet treat from this book is Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Cheesecake. It does indeed have several chocolaty ingredients including chocolate digestive biscuits, coco powder and melted chocolate. You wouldn’t want to eat this every day, although the kids might.
Bread-making is pure magic and always seems to capture young imaginations. Honey Pot Rolls are bread buns baked in terracotta pots. Don’t go trotting off to the shed. You’ll have to buy unused small pots at the garden centre but then you’ll be all set to introduce your children to the wonders of active yeast and rising dough. It still gives me a thrill even though I can hardly even remember the menopause.
The Minichefs Cookbook is a delightful book full of ideas for food for children to prepare and enjoy. This is a godsend not only to parents but also to grandparents who have the joy of looking after younger members of the family on long winter afternoons. Help is at hand. Don’t tell the kids that it’s educational but rather allow them to chop, mix, beat, spread and spill, and convert them to a love of good food.
Cookbook review: The Minichefs Cookbook
Author: Claire McAvoy
Published by: Grub Street
Reza was born in England to Indian parents and was sent off to boarding school in Panchgani, India, to be educated. His parents were worried that he would lose touch with their roots if he stayed in the UK. This provided Reza with a good British education but he says, “It left me speaking English with a public school accent and Hindi with an English accent. A hybrid torn between two worlds.”
It wasn’t the boarding school food that gave him a passion for fine Indian cuisine. “The food at boarding school was vile – Breakfast: cold fried eggs, watery lentils, stale bread, and rancid butter. Lunch: bland curry, stodgy rice.” He fell in love with Indian cuisine in the holidays when he stayed with his extended family in the Western Ghats in India.
Mr. Mahammad Senior was one of the first Indian chefs to come to Britain. “My father had arrived here in 1937 and we had been brought up on stories of how hard he used to work - tales of how he'd have to wait at the docks for the boats carrying the spices to come in.”
Tragedy struck the family when Reza was 16. His father died of a heart attack and the responsibility of the family business fell on Reza’s young shoulders. “There was an obligation to continue what my father had left behind. It was a duty.” The business in question was The Star of India Restaurant, Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London.
This was the caricature of a 1950s Indian restaurant with flock wallpaper, which wasn’t much to Reza’s taste. He embarked on a series of revamps and has settled on classic contemporary...for a while! His mother, Kulsum, was horrified. “But I said to her: ‘Who is running this restaurant, you or me?’ People thought I was making a terrible mistake but actually it was the best thing I did.”
The Star of India didn’t have the best reputation for food either, so it’s been hard work and dedication to turn things around. “When I inherited the Star of India from my father, I had no clue about cooking. I picked up a few recipes from my mother and improvised on the restaurant's existing menu. My mantra is to go easy on oil and make food appear as appetising as possible.”
Now The Star of India is one of London’s most successful and prestigious restaurants and Reza is both head chef and proprietor. Today you are likely to be rubbing shoulders with media types and “faces” from TV and film (Daniel Day Lewis, Hugh Grant and Art Malik are regulars) and it’s said that Reza drapes himself across tables and sings arias from time to time, but that could just be a rumour! “The years spent managing The Star of India established the restaurant as an institution and enabled me to explode onto the restaurant and food scene.”
Those media types come in handy sometimes! One of the regulars was a TV director who came up with the idea of Madhur Jaffrey (the original Cooking Star of India) and Reza collaborating on a cookery series that became A Taste of India.
Reza has become a familiar face on TV with UKTV Food Channel's Delhi Belly with Sanjeev Bhaskar, the star of Goodness Gracious Me/The Kumars. Reza’s irrepressible and often camp persona was allowed full rein which resulted in an exotic travelogue filled with authentic food, colour and pazazz. The success of Delhi Belly and the popularity of Reza led on to further series of Coconut Coast, and United States of Reza.
Reza Mahammad has penned his first book, Rice, Spice and All Things Nice; it’s a mixture of dishes from his restaurant, travels, and family recipes handed down through the generations. “It’s an attempt to demystify Indian cooking,” says Reza. “More and more people know how Indian food should taste because they've been travelling, but they don't know how to cook it.”
Rice, Spice and All Things Nice is a dream of a cookbook. It has that blend of food and travel that I, for one, find so appealing. The photography of both food and Reza is mouthwatering and the text is amusing but also encouraging. The man obviously wants you to cook his food and you won’t be disappointed if you do.
The recipes are marvellously well chosen and offer something for every taste and skill. There are plenty of classics (Indian Rice Pudding to die for, Cucumber Raita, Chicken Dhansak) but lots of others which might be less familiar.
Afghan Aubergine Casserole has surprisingly few ingredients, is simple to make and delicious. Dak Bungalow Chicken has a longish list of ingredients but don’t be put off. This is another easy dish to make and it’s a stunner. Meatballs in a Green Sauce (Koftas Hara Masala) also has a good number of ingredients but the preparation is easy and you’ll just need to serve some rice alongside. A good recipe for a large dinner party.
Rice, Spice and All Things Nice is amongst my top 10 cookbooks. It is a thoroughly entertaining read, the food is gorgeous, I can make every dish without tears, and it’s a book I’ll actually use. I’ll need another copy as this one will soon be sauce-spattered and dog-eared. The sign of a well-loved cookbook.
Asian cookbook review: Rice, Spice and All Things Nice
Author: Reza Mahammad
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Food and Cooking of Africa and the Middle East offers 170 or so recipes for starters, soups and mezze, fish, meat and vegetarian dishes as well as sweets and breads, but the Snacks and Street Food section is a good place to start. These are stand-alone dishes so, for the novice, there is no worry about the composition of an authentic meal. Make an array of these small savouries and you have an exotic buffet. Would make a change from sausage rolls and ham sandwiches.
Tunisian Chicken Wings and Oranges are tempting and simple to make. West African Akkras are made of black-eyed peas and are similar to Falafel which is ubiquitous all over the Middle East. Grilled Keftas are skewered meatballs served with a yoghurt and mint dressing. These are not hot with chilli but rather aromatic with mixed spice, the sort you use for Christmas cakes.
Vegetarians will find plenty in this book to hold their attention. Classic Casablancan Couscous with Roasted Summer Vegetables would be an ideal dish for a BBQ. Okra and Tomato Tagine would be a good alternative. The meat-eaters can have some grilled lamb along with either of these dishes so you should have no complaints.
Spiced Nutty Bananas from Central Africa make an exotic dessert. There is a delightful texture contrast between the soft fruit and the crunchy nut crust - an economic dessert to finish a southern African, North African or Middle Eastern meal. A lighter alternative would be the ever-popular Oranges in Syrup with orange flower water. Chill before serving for a hot-weather dessert. Ghoriba are Moroccan almond biscuits. They have the texture of crumbly shortbread and are a traditional accompaniment to a nice cup of mint tea or some thick sweet coffee.
Food and Cooking of Africa and the Middle East makes truly different dishes accessible to the home cook. You don’t need to be confident in the kitchen to attempt these simple recipes. A taste for culinary adventure will allow you to enjoy lesser-known kitchen traditions.
Lorenz Books have, once again, given cooking enthusiasts food for thought. It’s another amazingly good value, attractive and informative book stuffed full of tempting dishes.
Cookbook review:The Complete Illustrated Food & Cooking of Africa & the Middle East
Edited by: Josephine Bacon and Jenni Fleetwood
Published by: Lorenz Books – Anness Publishing
Corinne Trang is an international chef and food authority. Her heritage is Asian and European, and she is one of the few who are truly at home with both genres; but more importantly she loves food. Might sound a strange and rather obvious statement but there are many chefs and food-industry gurus who are just doing a job, but Corinne is a chef, a food professional, and a foodie with all the passionate enthusiasm that word implies.
I am not a lover of Fusion food as it is so often a compromise. Some chefs have built reputations on marrying ingredients which should never even have been introduced. Corinne’s food is easily described as good food with Asian flavour. There is nothing here that will bring the cry of horror, nothing that jars, but plenty that looks good on paper and even better on a plate.
The Asian Grill will gently lead you away (you can return from time to time) from ketchup, mustard and liquid smoke and will playfully nudge you in the direction of soy sauce, sesame oil and mirin. All the ingredients are available in a supermarket near you or via mail order. The cooking techniques don’t require a training course and you probably already have the equipment, so you are ready to dazzle.
Back-yard grilling isn’t famed for having a sophisticated meal as its end-product. It’s more often burgers like hockey pucks and flavourless chicken. It’s rarely the food that is the centre of attention but rather the grilling process that encourages conviviality. We marvel at the “skill” of (mostly) men who only don an apron when the smell of lighter fuel is in the air. Grilling is simple and was the first cooking method. Cavemen didn’t say “I’ll rustle up a nice soufflé for lunch” or “How about a delicately toasted English muffin with passion-fruit jelly?” No, dear reader, it would likely be “Pass me the pinny, Unk, I’m grilling tonight.”
Corinne has a flair for flavour, not only for the dishes that are grilled, but for all the associated breads, rices, noodles, and even sweets and drinks. There is everything you will need in this one vibrant and attractive volume. You will be able to compose meals around the grill that will be elegant but still fun both to cook and to eat.
I love lamb and The Asian Grill has a recipe that is a joy. Lamb Marinated in Yellow Spice Paste is flavoured with a pungent mix which elevates these kebabs into something mouthwatering. Corinne suggests serving these with Scallion Flat Bread from this same book. Pork Patties could be an alternative filling for that bread, and this recipe has a distinct Vietnamese flavour with fish sauce and lemon grass. BBQ Pork is Corinne’s version of the Cantonese classic, Char Siu, often seen hanging in windows in Chinatowns the world over. This will always be a crowd-pleaser.
Perhaps my favourite recipe is that for Spicy Sweet Soy Sauce Marinated Chicken. It couldn’t be easier to prepare but the resulting bird is a long way from the usual lack-lustre poultry of by-gone BBQs ...or I might choose Spicy Squid Salad ...but Asian Clambake is impressive ...although...
The Asian Grill is a book stuffed with tempting and flavourful food. You don’t need to know anything about cooking Asian food, and even a novice griller should be confident of a lot of compliments; everything you need to know is here. Corinne Trang has once again produced a book that will soon be stained through much use, and that’s a fine accolade for any cookbook.
Asian cookbook review: The Asian Grill
Author: Corinne Trang
Published by: Chronicle Books
Baking is different from cooking. Yes, it still involves you in a close relationship with your oven but there is an additional indispensible element: a good recipe book. Most of us can make a casserole from bits found lingering at the back of the fridge married with some meat from that forgotten corner of the freezer, but cake-making involves a bit of culinary alchemy.
Don’t be alarmed, dear reader, there is nothing too difficult to baking. Follow the recipe and pay attention to weights, or in the case of this book, measures, and size of cake tin and all will be well. Once you have mastered the basics then you can introduce your own innovations in the guise of different fillings and icing.
Cakes offers 250 tempting creations including festive cakes, coffee cakes (these are cakes made to be consumed alongside a nice cup of coffee), fruit cakes and even frozen cakes for the warmer weather. These frosty desserts are great entertaining puds as they are made ahead. Stress-busters.
I am sure you have noticed posh cafes with arrays of extravagantly decorated cupcakes. These are delicious but often a shocking price. Make your own for little money. There are more than 25 alternatives here to suit any occasion. Espresso Swirl Cupcakes really are coffee cakes in every sense of the word. Have these with a strong espresso and think of weekends in Rome. They take 20 minutes to prepare and you won’t need a degree in catering.
The Breakfast and Brunch chapter holds many delights. Cake for breakfast is a thoroughly civilised American tradition that should be embraced by all. These cakes are not over-decorated and sugary but are filled with good things like fruit and nuts. Think of these cakes as huge power-bars, originally made by farmers’ wives for families who started their day while the chickens were still dreaming. You wouldn’t want to eat huge slices every day but they are ideal for slow weekends. How’s about Apple and Cranberry Crumble Cake for early on Christmas morning. Make the night before.
Upside-Down Citrus Polenta Cake is a tangy take on the more common pineapple version, although that is also included in the fruit and vegetable cake section. The polenta gives a different texture. There are several versions of Carrot Cake with a selection of interchangeable toppings. I love the traditional cream cheese frosting.
An old-fashioned teatime cake is Date and Walnut Cake. This book has a version with a caramel frosting. I am not normally one for tinkering with old favourites but I am persuaded that this icing really is worthy of inclusion. Lamington Cake draws on Australian afternoon tea tradition. The original Lamingtons were small square cakes but this volume presents the same style of confection in the form of a whole cake. More practical to make than the usual.
Cakes is a stunner of a book. The photographs are magnificent and there are plenty of options for those of us who have specific dietary needs. Gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free and even sugar-free recipes are all noted. You don’t need to be an expert baker to enjoy Cakes. Another winner from the stable of Apple Press. A lot of book for the money.
Cookbook review: Cakes
Authors: Rachel Lane Carla Bardi
Published by: Apple Press
Corinne Trang is a US based author, radio and TV broadcaster on the subject of Asian food. She is a well respected authority on foods from China and Southeast Asia and has been described as the “Julia Child of Asian Cuisine” by the Washington Post and me. Corinne has penned numerous books and has won a raft of awards - her very first won Best Asian Cuisine Book in the World at the World Cookbook Fair. Not too shabby!
Corinne has a passion for food and not just Asian food (a casual conversation with this lady about anything from bread to breakfast will have you drooling). Her background, a combination of French and Chinese, equips her very well to take her place in the culinary arena of both East and West.
Noodles Every Day is an attractive volume with marvellous photographs by Maura McEvoy. It’s more than a cookbook – this is an encyclopaedia of all things noodley. Every possible variety of noodle is considered and a wealth of recipes is offered. This is the original fast food and it’s both healthy and sustaining which is more than can be said for most of the popular western alternatives.
Every noodle type has its recipes but you can mix and match to suit your own taste. The five noodle categories are Wheat, Egg, Buckwheat, Rice and Cellophane but there is an additional chapter which covers Buns, Dumplings, and Spring Rolls. Although these are not noodles they do fall under the “snack” umbrella as do some of the noodle dishes.
Corinne introduces you to stock making and some typical Asian condiments, as well as basic ingredients. You will have all you need to be ever ready, with the addition of a few fresh items, for a quick but impressive meal... and fast!
Wheat Noodles with Spicy Ground Pork is a Szechuan classic. Dishes from this region are prized for their robust flavours and this one is no exception although the stir-fried Napa cabbage (Chinese Leaves) adds sweetness. Stir-fried Egg Noodles with Beef and Broccoli is another meat and vegetable recipe and a worldwide restaurant favourite but it’s easy to make at home. It’s flavourful, rich and comforting.
One of the most striking recipes in Noodles Every Day is that for Egg Noodle Soup with Five-spice Duck. This would make a smart dinner party dish with its succulent, aromatic meat and the soup served on the side. For sheer luxury though, Crab-flavoured Noodles with Velvety Crab Sauce and Green Peas takes some beating. It’s a simple recipe but has a cheffy quality about it. The crab-flavoured noodles can be found in larger Chinese food stores but if you can’t get hold of them you can substitute regular thin egg noodles.
Noodles Every Day is an instructive and inspiring book. It’s thoughtfully written with the western cook in mind but Corinne Trang is never pedestrian in her choice of recipes. This isn’t just another Asian cookbook but rather a vehicle which will help you to appreciate all the subtle flavours and textures that Asian food has to offer. Noodles Every Day will surely be another award winner.
Asian cookbook review: Noodles Every Day
Author: Corinne Trang
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: $22.95 US, £12.99
It’s been reassuring to cook cookbook food with someone who has cooked that style of food professionally. Like every Italian, it seems, she sets very exacting culinary standards, and she has proclaimed this book to be one of the best outside Italy. I’m in no position to make that proclamation myself, but I will say that it’s an interesting book for any English-speaking cook outside Italy.
Aldo Zilli is a man frequently seen on British TV, where he has presented his food in a witty and accessible manner. This current book, Zilli Light, has a focus on healthy Italian-biased fare with suggestions on how adopting a different eating strategy could help you to eat less. Have five small meals each day rather than the usual three more substantial ones.
This hasn’t the feel of a “cooking for health” book. The recipes present dishes that are family-friendly so you’ll not be accused of child cruelty and the husband won’t be telling his mates that he is off for a burger ‘cos the wife’s on a diet. This is crowd-pleasing food and good for you when, to quote the ads, used in conjunction with exercise.
Lamb stuffed with Couscous and Pinenuts is the recipe my Italian friend chose for us to cook together. It isn’t traditionally Italian. Aldo found this on a Greek island. He encourages you to change the recipe to suit your own taste but his original takes some beating. It’s a simple dish to make with the most complicated element being the tying with string after stuffing. The finished result of our efforts was tender flavourful meat which was served with just a couple of fresh vegetables and additional stuffing.
A classic Italian dish and a favourite of mine is Fettuccine Vongole. This clam and pasta recipe is usually made with wine but Aldo leaves that out preferring to rely on the freshness of ingredients for flavour. A clean-tasting dish and ready in minutes. Clams are not expensive these days but they still somehow seem luxurious.
My favourite recipe from this collection is Baked Honey and Ricotta Cheesecake. Yes, OK, so it’s a treat and you wouldn’t want to eat this every day (oh, yes you would) but it’s a cheesecake with character. The addition of chopped candied fruit is a departure from the more usual New York Cheesecake and adds rather a festive note.
Zilli Light isn’t your stereotypical health-food book. There is nothing over-worthy. No self-sacrifice but no tears either. It’s about eating good food in a responsible manner. It’s about portion control and common sense. You might not eat only from this book but it’s well worth reading and the advice is good. A great book for those with gaining a healthy lifestyle as a New Year’s resolution.
Cookbook review: Zilli Light
Author: Aldo Zilli
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Michal Haines has had a warm relationship with spices for all of her life. Her Chinese grandfather, Stan (you know that any Chinese grandfather called Stan would be a positive influence) left her with memories of fine food and a treasured meat cleaver. Michal has worked extensively in the New Zealand food industry, running gourmet food stores around Auckland.
Scent of the Monsoon Winds is a multi-ethnic cookbook with great shelf appeal. Michal offers an introduction to spices and their uses in the five main spice-dependant cuisines, and she suggests a list of spices that will allow you to prepare those dishes. There is nothing much that will demand a vacation to the Spice Islands (although it’s a good excuse). You’ll find it all in your regular supermarket, or mail order if you live on a remote hilltop.
The chapter headings are intriguing: Portable Feasts, Spiced Nights, Winter Blues and Kingly Condiments. The recipes are also a unique bunch, encompassing some celebrated dishes such as Indonesian Chicken Rampah and Cheese Sticks, but there is a lot here that will be new to many readers. Even an impressive book collection would not provide you with Michal’s own family recipes, which she shares here.
Scent of the Monsoon Winds offers modern versions of some classic dishes such as Drunken Chicken. This is a tangy but light dish with a kick from ginger, Szechwan peppercorns, star anise and cassia. Arabian White Coffee Cream will transport you to the souk: this is a sophisticated but simple dessert and truly a bit different.
Hot Mezze Hummus is a speciality of the mountains of Eastern Turkey and is a radical departure from the ubiquitous tepid hummus that we recognise from deli counters and Middle Eastern restaurants. This recipe has additional flavours and textures and is altogether more complex, although very simple to prepare.
If you are looking for a quick meal with impact then you could be turning to Vietnamese Dinner Noodles. There are quite a few ingredients but don’t be put off - this is cooking at its basic best. Pirate Chicken has plenty of punchy panache with Jerk Paste supplying the heat. It’s another fast meal but impressive nevertheless.
If Scent of the Monsoon Winds has a signature dish then it is, for me at least, Honey Tamarind Roast Duck. This is a flavourful and succulent recipe which avoids the perennial problem of dry meat. It all has to do with the cooking method, and this roast duck isn’t roasted but rather simmered. This is going to be a new classic.
Scent of the Monsoon Winds is an attractive volume of charm and innovation. It will be enjoyed by spice lovers who don’t have endless time to spend in the kitchen. We will, I hope, hear more from Michal Haines.
Asian cookbook review: Scent of the Monsoon Winds
Author: Michal Haines
Published by: New Holland
Thank goodness for the new trend in vegetarian food. We can now eat well and not notice the absence of meat. Beige has been replaced by vibrant colour. The sense of “this must be doing me good” has been replaced by exclamations of “this is so good that it CAN’T be doing me good”. Terre A Terre – The Vegetarian Cookbook is a stunning example of what the best vegetarian cookbook should be. The kind of book that graces the shelves of those of us who are still tempted by a bacon sandwich.
This is a volume gorgeously illustrated by the photographs of Lisa Barber. The food styling is stunning but consider it merely serving suggestions, just as they say of the pictures on those packets of frozen cod. You are not expected to become a chef. Look at the recipes and consider how you would like to eat these dishes... but do eat these dishes.
It’s a rollicking good read. The authors, Amanda Powley and Philip Taylor (they have a restaurant in Brighton of the same name), have written a cookbook full of wit and passion. The food is enticing and truly original. There are exotic flavours and fresh tastes. There are amusing departures from traditional dishes and a good few culinary revelations. The section headings bring a smile and have encouraged me to take up cartooning. Black Bean and Cellophane Frisbee sounds almost Simpson-esque.
It’s a Quacker is a cheering composition of soda bread, celeriac soup with boiled duck eggs perched on wilted spinach. Each of the components could be presented with many other dishes. Here they are assembled to make a light lunch but the eggs could be served with any bread, the soup could be a starter for a more substantial meal and the soda bread goes with everything but dessert.
And talking of desserts, these are amazing. I see many cookbooks that are filled with nothing but afters and there has been much to tempt me, but the puds here are in a class of their own. These have provoked outbursts of “oooh, have a look at this” and “damn the diet”.
A real winner is Boiled Eggs and Chubby Soldiers. Doesn’t sound like a dessert although the word Chubby gives a clue. Think cream. Think passion fruit curd. Think pineapple soldiers. (For non-British readers I should explain that soldiers in this context are batons of fruit for dipping.) Assemble so that the curd represents the egg yolk, the cream the dome of the egg and the pineapple acts as your morning toast. Sophisticated enough for the most culinarily discerning adult but the kids will love it as well.
Terre A Terre – The Vegetarian Cookbook is a thoroughly engaging book. It’s full of surprises. It offers delightful recipes and will change attitudes to non-meat cooking. One of the best of this year’s crop of cookbooks.
Cookbook review: Terre A Terre – The Vegetarian Cookbook
Authors: Amanda Powley and Philip Taylor
Published by: Absolute Press
OK, so you have contributed to a noble cause but then you are stuck with the book. Is it going to be left on the coffee table as a conversation piece? Will it replace the missing foot of your grannie’s old sideboard or will it be a cookbook that will hold your attention? You, dear reader, will be pleased to know that it’s the latter.
There are relatively few cookbooks about the food of Vietnam. The country has had many problems over many decades including a war that you might have heard about. Promotion of the national cuisine has been towards the bottom of the agenda. These days however, there are many visitors to the country and there is more interest in the culture, art and cooking.
Koto is an attractive cookbook but it is also a charming introduction to Vietnam. The photographs by Michael Fountoulakis show tempting food, and faces that in themselves tell stories. There are 80 or so recipes that will still further add to your armchair adventure.
The authors, Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl, take us on a journey through the regions of Vietnam. They introduce us to the people, we glimpse their lives and we enjoy the food. The dishes are traditional and they have endured for a reason: they are delicious. The Spring Rolls of Hue are light and refreshing with the flavour of aromatic herbs. Braised Oxtail with Five Spice is rich and warming for these cold winter days. The ingredients are all easily found in every supermarket and the cooking techniques are simple.
My favourite recipe is perhaps Squid filled with Pork and Noodles. This is not a spicy dish but rather relies on the freshness of the meat, seafood and herbs. Serve with the classic dipping sauce (recipe in this book) for a taste of authentic but accessible food from this little-known food haven.
Koto is a book for the would-be traveller, the recently-returned trekker and those who have a passion for good food. It’s a marvellous invitation to visit this new long-haul destination.
Cookbook review: Koto - A culinary journey through Vietnam
Authors: Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl
Published by: Hardie Grant Books
The Bazaars of Istanbul marvellously captures these narrow shopping streets in both photograph (300 colour illustrations) and vivid description. Its 200 or so pages hold a wealth of images of both past and present and show why the bazaars are still, to this day, so captivating.
The authors Isabel Bocking, Laura Salm-Reifferscheidt and Moritz Stipsiez bring history to life as they chart the changing fortunes of the bazaars. They weave a colourful tapestry of turmoil, intrigue, craftsmanship and industry.
Istanbul straddles East and West. It has held strategic importance in many a war and revolution and has lost much of its exotic charm over the centuries, but it still has lots to offer those who are looking for disappearing vestiges of former glory. It’s still there to be discovered and relished.
The city has many bazaars, the most celebrated being the Grand Bazaar. This has been the venue for buying and selling goods from the far reaches of the world for more than 550 years. For those of us who are more used to seeing shop signs boasting “established in 1991” that’s quite impressive!
The bazaar is called Grand because that is exactly what it is. It contains nearly 3500 individual shops, 40 warehouses and has 61 streets and alleys. You’ll be advised to take a map with you (one thoughtfully provided in this book) or, if lost, ask directions from one of the 25,000 (yes, 25,000) people who work there. It’s likely you’ll find a shop assistant when you need one.
The Bazaar has evolved over the centuries. It has been ravaged by fire and earthquake. Many of its original features have been lost but there have also been moves to protect those which remain, and to ensure that the Grand Bazaar does not represent just an extremely big Mall selling designer fakes (they are here in abundance) from neon-garnished boutiques.
There is still plenty to delight the discerning shopper who wants to have a truly Turkish experience. There are rugs to admire. This volume has a page dedicated to the symbols found on authentic Turkish rugs. Take a cup of coffee or tea with the shopkeeper and ask questions. He will undoubtedly want to sell you a carpet but he will likely be equally enthusiastic about telling you of the history of his business.
This book will have you drooling at the objects on sale. Yes, there are tacky tee-shirts but there are lots of handicrafts still to be found. Leather work, ceramics, intricate metal work, jewellery and prayer beads all compete for the buyer’s attention. Visit a Turkish bath, smoke a traditional water pipe, a hookah, and have a genuinely Turkish meal. The authors even give a selection of recipes for you to replicate the experience in your own home.
The Egyptian Bazaar (only 350 years old!) is the place that will draw you like a magnet if you are a consummate foodie. Here you will find those evocative piles of spices that we so associate with eastern emporia. There are dried fruits and more importantly, tea and coffee. There are many sayings woven around each of these drinks. Of tea it is said, ‘A conversation without tea is like a night without a moon.’ A somewhat less romantic saying about coffee runs ‘Coffee should be as hot as a girl’s first kisses, as sweet as a night in her arms, and as black as the curses of the mother when she finds out.’
The Bazaars of Istanbul is a sumptuous volume which gives a real flavour of the most fascinating part of one of the world’s most fascinating cities. A must for anyone who has already visited or who plans to visit Istanbul.
Book review: The Bazaars of Istanbul
Authors: Isabel Bocking, Laura Salm-Reifferscheidt and Moritz Stipsiez
Published by: Thames and Hudson
Kentaro Kobayashi is a young man with a passion for food and not just Japanese food. He started his working life as an illustrator but soon displayed his flair for the culinary arts. His mantra is “easy yet delicious, stylish yet realistic”. He has featured in magazines and has appeared on television where he showed his skill for making delicious food with little effort.
I like this man’s style. Kentaro continues to present us with delightful food with a twist. Veggie Haven has Japanese elements but it isn’t a traditional Japanese cookbook. I suspect this might be the way modern Japanese eat at home: we in the West have embraced Chinese and Indian food, and it’s certain that a Tokyo housewife might similarly enjoy, as Kentaro suggests, a hearty potato gratin or a deliciously-garnished pizza. Take the aforementioned pizza and top it with garlic and anchovies. Use a bought pizza base and you’ll have a classy lunch, light dinner or nibbles with apero in no time at all.
Some liken tofu to a tasteless bath sponge. Consider it a vehicle for robust flavours. Sweet and Spicy Fried Tofu is a simple recipe which offers a tapestry of tang that will convert even a die-hard carnivore. This is the healthy face of fast food.
The cold weather is here in the northern hemisphere so warming dishes are the order of the day. The original Chop Suey is said to have originated in America; Kentaro offers Vegetable Chop Suey. This is a tasty pot of vegetables and the addition of quail eggs helps to elevate this dish to something luxurious.
Veggie Haven is an ideal cookbook for novices who want to try something a bit out of the ordinary. The recipes are clearly written and allow the cook to arrange things in steps. There might be a collection of 3 ingredients for a sauce that can be mixed before cooking starts. Perhaps the thickener can be made in advance. For simplicity these are noted in the ingredient list rather than in the method. No need to be overwhelmed: the dishes are easy.
In the US Japanese ingredients are readily available - America has had a closer relationship with Nippon than has Europe. Here, most larger Asian supermarkets stock Japanese ingredients and there are many internet sites that will be more than happy to supply you with the goods.
Kentaro Kobyashi introduces us to his Veggie Haven. This will be a ‘must read’ not only for Japanese food lovers but for those who want to present vegetables with a difference. This might be described as fusion food but it works for me.
Asian cookbook review: Veggie Haven – Easy Japanese Cooking
Author: Kentaro Kobayashi
Published by: Vertical, Inc
Price: $14.95US, £10.99
This amazing little book contains, as it says, 200 Christmas recipes. Many are what you would expect from a Christmas cookbook but there are lots of innovations. It starts off with Christmas Fare which includes roast meats, accompanying vegetables, Christmas puddings and desserts. There is a real international flavour to enable you to have a traditional Christmas meal but drawing on traditions other than your own. Melanzane Parmigiana is a delicious aubergine and cheese dish with a tomato sauce that would be a marvellous side dish with classic roast turkey.
The Centrepiece Cakes chapter offers a rich Christmas cake but there are people who hate fruit cake with a will known to few. For those unfortunates there are such delights as the very French Buche de Noël, Italian Panforte di Siena and a Christmas stocking made from Madeira cake.
If small cakes are more appealing then there is a chapter of festive ideas. Baby Panettones baked in ex-baked-bean tins are a charming twist on the original large loaf. Making edible tree decorations will keep the kids amused for ages. They can help to make the cookies and then ice them. It’s doubtful that many will get as far as garnishing your tree but you’ll have marvellous memories.
The Edible Gifts chapter has some marvellous and unique ideas. Lime and Passion Fruit Curd is an exotic treat and too good to give away. The passion fruit gives an interesting texture to this spread. There is also a recipe for the regular lemon curd and a mixed citrus curd. These last up to a month in the fridge.
Perhaps the most valuable chapter for the over-indulged turkey lovers is Leftover Turkey Ideas. These birds do seem to last. Christmas is the only time of year that most of us eat turkey and we don’t want to waste any, but there are only so many turkey sandwiches one can eat. Try Rigatoni with Turkey and Pesto. Turkey and Green Pepper Stir-fry is flavourful, quick and easy but Turkey Tetrazzini has my vote. It’s a pasta dish for 4 which uses only 12oz of meat.
200 Christmas Recipes is just about the best value Christmas cookbook around. 200 simple recipes with 200 pictures for less than a fiver. This would make a great gift, although my copy will be staying with me.
Cookbook review: 200 Christmas Recipes
Published by: Hamlyn – Octopus
Those from outside America should know that Martin Yan is a talented and charming chef. He is fun-loving and full of humour. His cheeky smile and easy manner have encouraged millions of American Public Television viewers to have a go at Chinese cooking. He is a passionate food professional and teacher who is proud of the land of his birth and its culinary heritage.
Martin Yan’s China is a combination of travelogue and recipe book. Martin’s usual affable manner shines through the text which is witty and conversational. This chef wants you to cook his food and gives you every support and encouragement. He offers an index of ingredients and basic recipes before introducing you to his tempting dishes.
A Chinese cooking debutant might be anxious about the exotic ingredients. All are available in larger supermarkets, at your nearest Asian store or online. I know you are internet savvy as you are reading this review so you have no excuse to not try these dishes.
For the most part the cooking techniques are not taxing and there are a few tricks that you could use in future cooking adventures. A pasta or noodle nest makes a great presentation for Chinese but also for other cuisines. Martin gives instructions for making noodle baskets in Double Happiness Pasta. A delicious and simple dish which looks spectacular. I’d consider making these baskets and filling them with an Asian salad as a light starter.
I am impressed by Martin’s recipe for Preserved Duck Legs. Think French Confit and add the aroma of Chinese five-spice. It’s another easy dish but rather smart. Use the meat in stir-fries, stuffing for spring rolls, in place of Peking Duck, and also in Special Fried Rice. Martin suggests Preserved Duck with Clay Pot Rice. Buy a traditional clay casserole from Chinatown for an authentic centrepiece.
Grilled Spiced Pork Chops is an adaptable recipe. Martin uses asparagus but you can use green beans. Chicken or even turkey could be substituted for the pork. This is an ideal, quick week-day meal. Just add a bowl of rice or some noodles and contentment will be assured. A comforting and warming dish.
Steamed Ginger Sponge Cake is another Martin Yan recipe with a very European-sounding name. Steamed sponges are always light and this one is also exotic. It contains not only the aforementioned ginger but coconut milk as well. That’s a marriage made in heaven.
Martin Yan’s China is bound to be popular with those who have enjoyed his amusing shows. Entertaining though this man may be, he is also skilled at selecting recipes. This is a book of balance and charm. The dishes are designed to be accessible to the home cook. It’s an attractive volume full of innovation. Lots here that I will enjoy.
Asian cookbook review: Martin Yan’s China
Author: Martin Yan
Published by: Chronicle
Price: $24.95US, £15.99
The Soup Book features over 250 soup recipes and it’s true that there are some designed to be served chilled. The majority, however, are those traditionally served piping hot and are ideal for either a starter or as a meal in themselves. These are, for the most part, economic recipes that will make the best of seasonal ingredients or home grown produce.
If you have a patch of land reserved for growing food then you will have often been confronted by a glut of something or other, a surfeit of something else, and a hill of something soon to be compost. Everything ripens at the same time. A good tomato season for you will doubtless mean the same for everyone, so there is little chance of giving many away. Soup comes to the rescue.
Money is tight these days. We need to cut out the waste and buy fresh veggies and fruit when they are at their best and cheapest. Soup allows you to transform a bag of Brussels sprouts into a meal that the kids really will eat (don’t tell them what’s in it). Yes, you can eat that Halloween pumpkin, and tomato soup does not have to come out of a tin.
Editor-in-chief Sophie Grigson has penned over 20 cookbooks and has made numerous appearances on British TV. She has marshalled the culinary forces of a good number of worthies of the food industry to compile this collection of soup recipes. Darina Allen, Raymond Blanc, Monty Don, Thane Prince and Alice Waters are among the illustrious list of contributors. They all know a bit about cookin’ so you are assured of a good read.
This is a proper cookbook. That is to say, it’s one you’ll use. It’s attractive and bright with a wealth of striking photographs by William Reavell. The recipes are simple. It is, after all, soup. Lots for summer veggies, winter veggies, pulses and nuts, fish and shellfish as well as poultry, game and meat. There is even a chart to show you exactly when British vegetables are in season. There is a recipe chooser to point you in the direction of specific soup groups: vegetarian, chilled, hearty, healthy, spicy, main meal and quick soups are all listed.
Roopa Gulati has contributed several recipes to this collection and Kichidi is one of my favourites. It’s a spicy butternut squash and lentil soup with warming and aromatic flavours. Only 15 minutes preparation time. This can be frozen for up to 3 months so make lots to store away.
The second of Roopa’s recipes that deserves a mention is Mussels in a Ginger and Chilli Broth. These molluscs are good value but classy. They always seem somehow luxurious and this recipe adds ‘exotic’ to the description. A real winter winner.
Marie-Pierre Moine offers a French classic in the guise of Pot au Feu. It takes a bit of time to prepare but it’s a substantial meal rather than a snack. This version uses braising steak so it won’t break the bank. Serve it with the traditional accompaniments of coarse-grained mustard, gherkins and horseradish.
The Soup Book offers every imaginable recipe. There are those everyday standards, but also lots with an international flavour. Plenty for spice lovers as well as those who want light fresh tastes. This book is packed with ideas for dishes that are delicious but easy on the purse. A great gift for anyone who grows their own food. A book for the kitchen rather than the bookshelf. Outstanding value for money.
Cookbook review: The Soup Book
Published by: Dorling Kindersley
Most of us would only have encountered a bento box via our TV screens. They are the stylish packages that are found on Japanese railway stations. No self-respecting documentary about the land of Nippon is complete without the western presenter opening his lunch to discover a savoury and attractive array of rice and accompanying dishes. All very exotic and exciting, but on analysis we are talking food on the go, which needs to be delicious and sustaining.
Kentaro has fond memories of the lunch boxes prepared by his mum. As a growing lad he craved flavourful meat. He was sometimes lucky but whatever the contents of his bento box he was always excited by it, and well fed. He has taken the opportunity with Bento Love to indulge his dream of meat-laden lunch to present some fine recipes, but he has also included dishes that would be craved by both vegetarians and those who prefer fish.
This chef has a knack for recipe selection. He has, once again, chosen dishes that will be tempting for the Japanese reader but equally for those of us who are not so familiar with Japanese food. There is nothing here that is bizarre, no ingredient thought delectable only by the Japanese. This is an accessible and delightful twist on a packed lunch which is a million miles away from a boiled egg sandwich and a bag of salt and vinegar crisps (chips).
The first recipe is that for Deluxe Steak Bento with Simmered Shiitake Mushrooms and Sautéed Watercress. That’s no surprise considering Kentaro's love of protein. The Pork Steak Bento with Sautéed Snap Peas and Shimeji Mushrooms is served with Shiba-style Pickles. Use your favourite European mushroom if you can’t find the shimeji variety, but you will likely find all traditional ingredients in your nearest Asian supermarket or online.
Cashew Chicken Stir-fry is a Chinese classic but is included here because this is a book about contemporary Japanese cooking. It’s a dish that works well for the lunch box, as does Japanese-style Chicken and Potato Curry, and there is even Fish and Chips Bento which includes some broccoli and rice balls.
My favourite recipe is Simmered Croquette Bento. This is a dish made from leftovers but I think it’s worth the effort of cooking from scratch especially for lunch. It’s a moist and flavourful dish and real comfort food. It’s hearty and would be welcome as a substantial lunch on a grey winter’s day.
We all need to eat and we should want to eat well. The credit crunch has forced many to consider a packed lunch from home. It’s a great notion and would save you cash but if that aforementioned lunch is unappetizing then you’ll soon be back to a curly, dry sandwich or a pie and a pint at the nearest pub. Consider some Japanese-inspired bento and be the envy of your colleagues. But don’t forget that you can eat all these dishes at home. They work just as well on a plate as in a box.
Bento Love - Easy Japanese Cooking is another Kentaro Kobayashi success. Well-written recipes, stunning photography by Hideo Sawai and great value for money. This volume is to be admired but also used. Hope we have many more books from this chef.
Asian cookbook review: Bento Love - Easy Japanese Cooking
Author: Kentaro Kobayashi
Published by: Vertical, Inc.
Price $14.95US, £10.99
OK, you have read the first paragraph so just stick with me and be introduced to the true story of Game. There are tales of horror aplenty but these are mostly myth and prejudice rather than fact.
Broadly, game can be considered animals and fish that are not farmed. They include animals which are hunted for their meat, and fish which are caught to eat. They are, by their very nature, free-range and should therefore have a high culinary profile.
A number of game animals or birds have a bit of a bad press. The prospect of eating a pigeon will have much of the British population reeling in repulsion. We are not encouraging you to eat those scraggy misfits with nasty habits who loiter around inner-city bins. No, rather the chubby and delightfully flavoured inhabitants of leafy countryside.
Rabbit has long been a ticklish subject. It was more popular decades ago but the combination of myxomatosis and Watership Down rather put paid to that. It’s still a meat found in chill counters all over Europe, where people prefer flavour rather than cartoons.
At last a book with some recipes for squirrels! Yes, they also live in town but they have a healthy diet of nuts and berries and my bulbs. They might look cute but consider them as vermin with good PR. Shave that fluffy tail and what have you got? A rat! Whilst I wouldn’t eat a rat, a squirrel with a nice life-style would definitely have an invitation to dinner.
Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington-Davies have written an amazing book on all elements of game and the cooking thereof. It’s written with humour and passion and also common sense. It encourages the reader to appreciate the finest meat on offer. Game of all kinds can be found at reasonable prices or free if you know the right people. The recipes don’t contain lengthy lists of ingredients and the cooking techniques will hold no terrors.
Every sort of game has its recipes. Wild boar, venison, small game birds like quail, various fish, and hare are all represented, and Wild Duck Ham is one of the many must-trys from this tome. This couldn’t be easier to prepare but it is stunning, festive and unique. This will be gracing the Christmas evening supper table chez nous, and will probably make another appearance at New Year.
Pigeon b’stilla is a traditional Moroccan pie. It’s either a savoury dish that contains sugar and almonds or a sweet dish garnished with meat, depending on your viewpoint. It sounds bizarre but it works and is well worth making. It’s rich and exotic and will be a change from your usual lamb tagine.
Game – A Cookbook should become a classic. It contains not only recipes for all manner of game but also recipes for the trimmings and condiments. The book has more than 150 recipes so there’s not much the authors have overlooked. You’ll be able to cook and present game with confidence. The flavours are not overpowering but you will, perhaps for the first time, taste real meat. Flavours that have almost been forgotten. I am enjoying this book immensely. It would make a fine Christmas gift for any enthusiastic cook. A good-value stunner.
Cookbook review: Game – A Cookbook
Authors: Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington-Davies
Published by: Absolute Press
I have always admired women in saris. It’s not just the fabric that holds one’s attention but rather the form, the drape, the movement of the material. It’s an ancient dress but one that is by the same token timeless. It hints at exotic sexuality while simultaneously conveying an impression of modesty.
The Sari is about the wearers of saris and their relationship to it. It’s complex and varied but one that has impact. The diverse strands of feminine Indian society have a common denominator and that is the sari, with all its myriad styles and significance: it is not just an item of clothing like, for example, a western tee-shirt - a sari plays a role in much of Indian social interaction.
The Sari has a collection of personal stories from women who wear or have worn the sari on a regular basis. For some it’s reserved for smart evening wear, with western attire being the choice for the majority of the time. Others are full-time sari wearers who might even wear a sari to bed to ensure that they are covered from prying eyes at all times. The sari in many of these cases is used as an expression of religious and familial conformity.
Indian school girls don’t wear saris and the first time one is worn heralds the start of adult life. It was interesting to read that Indian women do, in fact, have sari accidents and anxieties. Yes, there have been occasions when a sari has become unwound, a careless foot causing embarrassment. I have tried a sari and I’ll not feel safe in one without the use of several 4-inch nails and a weightlifter’s belt. Sari-wearing is an art.
The Sari is a book that has introduced me to an aspect of Indian society that is seldom discussed. One looks at attractive ladies in beautiful clothes and one takes the sari at face value, but this amazing book shows a fascinating aspect of the lives of so many women of and from the subcontinent. It’s a worthwhile and compelling read and encourages one to consider the wearer rather than the worn.
Asian book review: The Sari
Authors: Mukulika Banerjee, Daniel Miller
Published by: Berg
Somehow the holiday season brings out the Martha Stewart or Delia Smith in so many of us. We might shy away from a rolling pin for much of the year but I guess it’s the warm cosiness of the winter kitchen that encourages us to have a go.
Cookies are biscuits. That’s to say a biscuit is to the British what a cookie is to an American and an American biscuit is a British scone. The word Cookie is derived from the Dutch word Koekja meaning small cake. Cookie-making was taken to America by European emigrants and took off in a big way. Perhaps the pioneers found it more practical to make thin, quickly-baked cookies than more elaborate cakes as they travelled across the uncharted wilderness.
The Golden Book of Cookies is just about the most magical cookbook I have seen since the last Golden cookbook by Apple Press. Last time it was The Golden Book of Chocolate and this new volume is just as gorgeous. It’s a mammoth 700-page work which shimmers with gold edges and belly jacket. It oozes old-fashioned quality and charm but it isn’t an ornament. This is a book to be used.
The chapters are divided by type of cookie, starting with Cut Out Cookies, finishing with Tartlets and Tea Cakes, and considering every other conceivable cookie in-between. There are 330 recipes so there can be few that have been overlooked.
This book is impressive and engaging. Each cookie has a page for its recipe and another full page picture. I love this format. It gives confidence to the novice baker and plenty of new ideas to the practised cook. The recipes are clear and the level of difficulty is indicated (none of these are difficult to make – they are just cookies).
My favourite Cut Out cookies from this collection (to be honest I have a few) are Cardamom Stars. These are ideal at the end of an Asian meal. Just serve with a cup of tea for a light but exotic finish. Cookies are made in advance so they are dinner-party stress-busters. The version here is star-shaped but the authors won’t know if you use any other shape. A glass tumbler is a good stand-by cutter.
Cranberry and Pecan Squares are very festive but simple to make. A box of these would make a lovely gift for a foodie. Find a decorative tin or box and get the kids to give you a hand in the kitchen. Gingerbread People (they were only ever gingerbread men when I was small but let’s be PC) will be enjoyed by the little ones. They can do the icing.
If you are a lover of a Macaroon then The Golden Book of Cookies is for you. There are more than a dozen recipes here including chocolate-glazed, Sicilian, with nuts, with fruit, and with spice. Be cautious when eating macaroons. It’s easy to over-indulge and you’ll want to leave room for some brownies.
The Golden Book of Cookies is a sumptuous tome of gift quality. This would be well received by any food lover, enthusiastic baker or cookbook collector. It’s a joy to read and to use. A real stunner!
Cookbook review: The Golden Book of Cookies
Published by: Apple Press
The author, Young Jin-Song, is the owner of several Korean restaurants in Asia as well as Shed in London. His first book, Korean Cooking, won the Best Asian Cuisine Cookbook at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2006. The photography (800 step-by-step pictures) is supplied by the celebrated food photographer Martin Brigdale. He is a prize winner who has contributed to more than 50 cookbooks.
The Complete Book of Korean Cooking does not assume you know anything about Korea, its culture or its cooking. It offers an introduction to Korea, its geography, people, festivals and religion, and gives an overview to help put food into context. It’s evident that Koreans take their food seriously and enjoy not only formal and family meals but also take advantage of snacking opportunities.
There are 150 or so recipes here and, no, dear reader, they are not all mouth-numbingly spicy. Kimchi is well spiced but you can choose from several different varieties, from the classic cabbage Kimchi to Spring Onion Kimchi which is not as fiery, although it is still packed with flavour. If the cabbage Kimchi proves a bit too strong then use less chilli next time or make the ever-popular Pan-fried Kimchi Fritters. These are small cakes of kimchi and tofu and are served with a soy dipping sauce. They work well as either a light lunch, a starter for any Asian meal or a snack with drinks.
Stuffed Squid with Soy Dipping Sauce is traditional market food and a world away from dubious hot dogs that are ubiquitous in the West. This is surprisingly simple to make but it looks amazing and very chic. Very little work for maximum impact. Seafood Salad in Mustard Dressing is another dish that is simple, flavourful and smart and, at last, I find a decent recipe that includes whelks. A must-try dish along with Spicy Whelk Salad.
Braised Tofu might be the dish to persuade carnivorous westerners that tofu is something more than white, flavourless jelly. Consider it a healthy vehicle for flavour. The cubes of tofu are cooked in a sauce which gradually reduces to a thick glaze. It’s rich and delicious.
The Complete Book of Korean Cooking has a good selection of seafood, noodles, vegetables and rice but meat is also popular in Korea. Grilled Beef in Sweet Soy Marinade is not at all spicy but uses garlic and sesame seeds to add flavour. Sweet and Spicy Chicken is a dish appreciated by those who love some heat. This recipe has garlic, chillies and chilli paste to provide spice and colour to the chicken. The resulting dish is red and impressive, and could be served with some plain rice for a quick meal.
This book is a visual stunner. Its step-by-step photographs show every element of preparation but that preparation is, for the most part, simple. Buy a couple of jars of chilli paste and you’ll be cooking authentic Korean food in no time. A lovely book and great value for money. I thoroughly recommend it.
Asian cookbook review: The Complete Book of Korean Cooking
Author: Young Jin Song
Published by: Lorenz Books
Price: $35.00US, £16.99
The author, Barry Véra, is a British-born transplant to Australia. He was trained as a chef in France and has worked for some of the best in the UK. He now has his own restaurant in Brighton, Melbourne, as well as a popular TV series called Feast. This book is a paper representation of Barry’s culinary adventure for the series.
Feast Bazaar considers the food of Morocco, India and Syria. These disparate countries have many historic links and also culinary similarities. All of them have a rich culinary heritage and the food is delicious. The book arrived and I could not wait to start leafing through the recipes and involve myself in the adventure.
The food of India draws me like a magnet. The recipes here include so many of the classic standards. This book would be a good introduction to Indian cooking with its easy-to-follow recipes. Simple staples such as Masala Chai (spiced Indian tea) give a sample of the warming spices so typical of dishes of the subcontinent. A delicious drink, and making it yourself is a lot cheaper than buying a commercial instant mix from the supermarket.
Bondas are a popular snack in Kerala (and in this home in West London). It’s a preparation of seasoned mashed potato which is then coated in a chickpea flour batter and deep fried. Barry proposes these for breakfast, but make small ones and you’ll find they also work well as a starter for an Indian meal.
Tchoutchouka Salad is Algerian, but food migrates in North Africa just as it does in Europe. It’s a salad of roasted peppers with garlic and spices. Use red, green and yellow peppers for sweetness and colour. It’s good with grilled fish or chicken or as part of a selection of salads at the start of a Moroccan meal.
Gazelles Horns are crescent-shaped pastries that are served as a dessert or a snack with tea or coffee. They are one of the most popular Moroccan cakes and are found in every North African tea shop... even in France. They are quite expensive to buy so save some money and make your own.
The cuisine of Syria isn’t as well known as that of Morocco but it shares many ingredients. Hummus with Fried Lamb and Sumac is a good illustration of the similarities. This is a substantial dish which only needs a green salad and some bread alongside.
Cinnamon Lamb Pizza with Oregano is a typically delicious Syrian snack. Yes, a snack if you only have a slice, but this is a meal in itself. This recipe calls for mozzarella although I have seen it without cheese.
Feast Bazaar is a fascinating cookbook and travelogue. It contains many recipes that are traditional national dishes. They are iconic but accessible to the home cook. Vibrant ingredients will entice any food lover to look beyond their habitual culinary horizons.
Cookbook review: Feast Bazaar
Author: Barry Véra
Published by: Murdoch Books
Koreans love Korean food, that’s evident, but it’s a cuisine that travels well. It should hold no terrors for the European home cook as the techniques are simple and the ingredients (apart from a few spice mixes) can be found in your regular supermarkets. The end result of your efforts will be, however, a dish that is uniquely Korean, with all that it implies.
So what does that imply? Flavour. It’s been rumoured that Korean food can bring tears of chilli-induced pain to the eyes of seasoned spice eaters but that’s an exaggeration. Yes, there are robust flavours aplenty but you can season to taste.
Quick and Easy Korean Cooking is written by Celia Hae-Jin Lee who is a first-generation Korean American. Her first cookbook, Eating Korean, was selected as one of the Best of the Best by Food and Wine Magazine. She writes extensively for American papers and periodicals.
All the recipes here are easy to follow. There are lots of photographs by Julie Toy to give you a bit of confidence and the book gives an overall impression of style. Pages have been thoughtfully designed to give a hint of Korean culture and taste without being overtly themed.
This volume boasts 70 or so recipes that are truly quick. They should take you 30 minutes or less to prepare. It could be a popular book for that fact alone. If you are embarking on a new culinary escapade then you won’t want to be spending a good part of your day waiting to try your creations. We are talking fast family meals that you don’t have to reserve for special occasions.
Family recipes they might be but this list includes lots of celebrated dishes. Bibimbap (a bowl of rice with various toppings) is ubiquitous in Korean restaurants. Kimchi (traditional pickled vegetables) is the dish that has made grown men cry but you can choose your heat level. Boolgogi is seasoned slices of beef and typically Korean.
The charm of Korean food is that there are so many authentic dishes that are quick to prepare with inexpensive vegetables and spices. Add some fish or meat and you have a feast. Celia has provided several menus to enable the novice to combine dishes for various meals. You can start with the Tummy Warmer Breakfast (Black Sesame Porridge and Hot Ginger Tea) and finish with the Elegant Dinner Party (Soju Cocktail, Skewered Beef, Spicy Sashimi Rice, and Poached Asian Pear).
Quick and Easy Korean Cooking is a lovely and gentle introduction to Korean food. It’s an attractive book that will encourage you to try for yourself this marvellous but overlooked cuisine. Delicious!
Asian cookbook review: Quick and Easy Korean Cooking
Author: Celia Hae-Jin Lee
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: $22.95US, £11.99
Be warned, this is not a glossy coffee-table tome full of appealing shots of delicious food. No moody or romantic stills of mist-enveloped valleys nor toothless natives in national costume doing something ethnic with a sheep’s bladder. This is cover-to-cover writing of the finest sort.
Yes, European Festival Food is a cookbook, but Elisabeth Luard has worked her usual magic. Winner of the Glenfiddich Award for Best Cookery Writer and Winner of the Glenfiddich Trophy, she has long been respected for attention to detail but also for her style. This is literature, with food as its vehicle. It’s not a dry and worthy textbook but a thoroughly accessible good read. A book for bedtime as well as the kitchen.
Elisabeth is well placed to write of the food of Europe. She has lived in a lot of it, and has learnt to cook traditional dishes in the kitchens where those dishes have always always been cooked, from the (mostly) women who have always cooked them. This book is a veritable archive of culinary history but it’s also a social history describing festivals that are less often celebrated.
The pages are awash with charming stories and legends that help to put the foods into context. Christmas Eve offers Mince Pies if you are in England. Records of these go back to the 16th century so it’s likely they existed before that date. The mincemeat really did contain meat in those days, but now only suet remains to remind us of the original ingredients.
European Festival Food does not only catalogue religious feast days but also other annual celebrations. The Glorious Twelfth is noted throughout Britain as not only my father’s birthday but the first day of the grouse season. No surprise that there is a recipe here for the aforementioned bird, roasted, and with its accompanying bread sauce and fried breadcrumbs. There is a cod festival in Lofoten, an island off the coast of Norway, and pig-killing festivals seem to be popular in every country that ever owned a pig. Whenever man has celebrated or commemorated an event then food has played a major part.
This is another terrific book from Grub Street, one of my favourite publishers. It’s a gem of a volume that offers seasonal recipes which have stood the test of time. They are a marvellous collection, presenting dishes from the cold wind-swept north of Europe with its Viking heritage to the soft warmth of the south with its more exotic influences. A masterwork.
Cookbook review: European Festival Food
Author: Elisabeth Luard
Published by: Grub Street
We have more overweight people and the weight by which they are “over” has also increased. The reasons for the rise in weight-related disease are simple: modern lifestyle and eating habits. We drive more and walk less. Our jobs often require little movement apart from fingers sprinting across computer keys. We don’t think we have time to cook healthy foods and we choose more and more fatty, pre-prepared foods or takeaways (takeouts).
Sanjeev Kapoor presents us with recipes that are both oil-free (that is to say no added oil) and are still delicious and satisfying. He is India’s most celebrated chef and food industry guru. Sanjeev is increasingly recognised by a discerning overseas audience as an authority on Indian food and his books and TV series Khana Khazana have long been popular. No-Oil Cooking has his touch of exotica and common sense which will be appealing to every nationality of reader.
Cooking with no added oil isn’t difficult... but it’s important to have recipes that have that taste and mouth-feel that at the end of the meal give us the sensation of having had “proper” food. It’s no good eating an oil-free meal and then tucking into a huge box of chocolates because you feel empty.
The chapters cover everything from drinks to main courses to sweets and everything in between. The recipes listed don’t read like worthy, noble and boring healthfood dishes. This is tasty food that just happens to be good for you. The whole family will enjoy these offerings so you won’t be confronted with the perennial problem of cooking one meal for the health-conscious folk and a different one for those who just live to eat. One meal fits all!
Garlic-Flavoured Rasam is my choice from the Beverages, Soups and Salads chapter. This is comfort food that is, thankfully, good for you. It is easy to prepare and that preparation only takes 10 minutes. The cooking time is just 30 minutes, without constant attention.
Corn Bhel couldn’t be simpler and is the ultimate healthy snack. Sanjeev uses Green Coriander Chutney and Date and Tamarind Chutney for this delight and he gives both recipes so you’ll have no excuse not to make it.
Vegetable Seekh Kebabs would be a great addition to any barbeque. They would be welcomed by vegetarians who are so often overlooked on these occasions but it’s also no-guilt munching for those who are looking for a healthy option. These are so tempting that you’ll need to make enough for the meat eaters as well.
No-Oil Cooking offers fast, no-fuss food that is full of flavour, colour and texture. Your body will thank you and so will your family.
Cookbook review: No-Oil Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs 295
I had already some idea about Pondicherry as my father had spent time there in the 1940s (his friend, Taffy, being “deported” to India for having a liaison with the daughter of a civil servant) but I had no idea that the French food connection had lasted so long. It’s subtle but unmistakable.
There are in fact deux Portes des Indes restaurants, one in London and the other in Brussels, where it originated. Not probably the city with the closest of Indian connections but evidently one which was open to new culinary trends. La Porte des Indes is part of the Blue Elephant empire and has the same sumptuous decor, that has become the trademark of both restaurants.
The vibrant driving forces behind both the restaurant and the cookbook are Mehernosh and Sherin Mody. The book has also benefited from the skills of food and travel writer John Hellon and we have the gorgeous results of their collaboration. It’s contemporary, bright and full of amazing close-up shots by celebrated photographer Tony le Duc.
But the food is the star. There are familiar dishes but even these have been given the La Porte twist. I hadn’t expected to see Chicken Tikka Masala, which has become a cliché of Anglicised Indianish food. This dish, however, is something a bit smart and has a sauce of turmeric yellow. A cut above the original.
A signature dish of La Porte des Indes is Poulet Rouge (Chicken in a Creamy Red Sauce) but it is easy for a home cook to make this dish. It’s rich and stunning and just what you’ll cook if you want to impress on a budget. Chicken thighs are economic and the other ingredients are readily available in your local supermarket.
Duck is one of those archetypical French ingredients so here we have Magret de Canard Pulivaar (Roasted Duck Breasts in a Spicy Tamarind Sauce). The meat might make you think of romantic bistro meals in Paris but the marinade and sauce are all Indian. Madame Lourdes Swamy of Pondicherry is the originator of this recipe.
This is a restaurant cookbook so it has a chapter devoted to cocktails, and just the names will transport you to the subcontinent. Monsoon (Midori, melon vodka and champagne), Tamarind Martini (gin, limoncello and tamarind puree) are just a couple and there are also some lovely desserts.
Indian restaurant desserts are often a disappointing bunch but La Porte des Indes Cookbook has some unique and classy ones. Payasam (green lentils and tender coconut pudding) is a stunner but it would demand a visit to an Asian supermarket. Chocolate and Chikki Kulfi is Belgian Chocolate and Praline Ice Cream and a true liaison of two of the world’s classic culinary cultures.
La Porte des Indes Cookbook is something a bit special. It’s modern and full of innovation but it cherishes its French/Indian roots which have combined to create a cuisine with touches of both. A joy to read and to cook from.
Cookbook review: La Porte des Indes Cookbook
Authors: Mehernosh Mody, Sherin Mody and John Hellon
Published by: Pavilion
Dal and Kadhi presents regional comfort food at its best and the book is as delightful as the food. Each recipe is accompanied by a photograph by Bharat Bhirangi who has a talent for showing these dishes in a mouth-watering fashion. You’ll be planning your next meal before you leave the bookshop.
What could be better than a flavourful dal or kadhi to eat with rice or roti? Your meal might be humble or you could add a dal to an array of other dishes to make a sumptuous and satisfying spread. They range in texture from the rich and substantial to the light and refreshing to suit the season or the occasion. These are the dishes that people miss when they leave home and crave when they are in far-off countries.
This book offers 45 recipes that you will want to add to your culinary repertoire no matter what your home region. They are a broad-based selection of recipes so there is sure to be something to please every palate. Dal Makhni is perhaps the most celebrated both in India and overseas where it has become a restaurant speciality, although seldom cooked in an authentic style. Maharashtrian Kadhi is a traditional dish and represents India’s culinary diversity in a most delicious way.
All these dals and kadhis are tempting but as with life in general there are firsts among equals and I have picked a few that are particularly tempting. Rajasthani Baati ki Dal is made with split green gram (dhuli moong dal) and Bengal gram (chana dal) and the resulting dal is served with traditional baked balls of dough.
Bhindi ni Kadhi is bound to be on my list as I love ladies’ fingers (bhinda/ bhindi). This is a soupy combination of yogurt and gram flour (besan) flavoured with spices. The vegetables remain a little crisp giving the kadhi an interesting texture.
Dal Hari Bhari contains spinach and fenugreek leaves, onions and spices, and Sanjeev uses it to tempt those who would not normally enjoy green vegetables. This would be an easy meal when served just with rice.
Dal and Kadhi is an Aladdin’s cave of ideas for quick, tasty and healthy dishes. One expects lovely books from Sanjeev Kapoor and this is another in that collection that never disappoints. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy good food. This book will show you the way in fine flavourful fashion.
Cookbook review: Dal and Kadhi
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
The Blue Elephant has a fine reputation wherever you might find it. and the cookbook now allows its followers to replicate its dishes in their home kitchens. Those who have never had the pleasure of visiting a Blue Elephant will soon appreciate the attraction.
Thai food in general has gained worldwide popularity over the past decade. More of us have the opportunity to travel to Thailand and also to visit Thai restaurants in our home countries, and we want to try those dishes for ourselves. The Blue Elephant Cookbook will offer you a marvelous array of recipes that represent the very essence of Thai food with all its vibrant flavours.
Blue Elephant recipes are authentic, attractive and tempting. They are not over-taxing for the competent home cook, and the ingredients are all availiable either from your favourite supermarket’s Asian food aisle, from a specialist Thai food store or by mail order via the internet. You’ll not only learn how to make soups, starters, salads, main dishes and desserts but also curry pastes and sauces.
Thai Fish Cakes will be instantly recognised by travellers returning from sun-kissed Thai resorts. They are delicately soft with a crunch supplied by a garnish of peanuts and refreshing lettuce. Serve this with Cucumber Sauce (recipe in this book) and you have a delicious snack or light lunch, or combine with other dishes as part of a Thai buffet.
Stir-Fried Seafood with Garlic and Peppercorns (Seafood Krathiam Prik Thai) is elegant and flavourful and would be an ideal “special” meal. OK, the prawns, scallops and crab are not cheap but this recipe makes the best of that seafood, and the finished result is stunning. The base is Blue Elephant Special Sauce which you can easily make and freeze for future use.
Tuk’s Duck Salad (Laab Ped) is a dish devised by the aforementioned Tuk who is a chef at the Blue Elephant in London. The duck is grilled and flavoured with a spice paste and garnished with fried shallots, chillies, fresh coriander and salad. A simple dish to prepare but it has great impact.
The Blue Elephant Cookbook is a jewel of a volume and definitely among my favourite Thai cookbooks. It will be snapped up by lovers of classic Thai food as well as those who are regular diners at The Blue Elephant restaurants. A lovely book.
Cookbook review: The Blue Elephant Cookbook
Author: Chefs of Blue Elephant.
Published by: Pavilion – Anova
But what is Hyderabadi cooking? It will be a mystery to most Westerners, who are very unlikely to have encountered it, and it is revered by Indians, who might also have trouble tracking down authentic dishes. It’s truly courtly, special and grand but at least this volume makes those dishes more accessible to the home cook... and what home cooking that would be!
Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is an elegantly presented volume with stylish photography by Bharat Bhirangi illustrating every recipe. The book has a modern feel with the food being the rich focus in a minimalist setting. Although the ingredients look a lengthy list for some dishes, it’s mostly spices that are commonly found in the domestic larder.
Apart from being a striking cookbook, Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is also something of an archive for a style of food preparation that is disappearing. The authors have been lucky enough to recruit the indispensible aid of two national culinary treasures who have lifetimes of expertise. Begum Mumtaz Khan is considered a living legend and is a member of the Jagirdhar families of the last Nizam, and has actually tasted the food from the Royal kitchens. She has conducted cooking classes and hosted Hyderabadi food festivals.
Ustad Habib Pasha has a passion for Hyderabadi food and a wealth of experience. He has worked in Hyderabad’s most famous restaurants and has been generous to our authors with his knowledge, revealing the secrets of aromatic blends of herbs that help to give this cuisine its distinctive flavour.
There are so many striking recipes to discover here but I have a few favourites. Murtabuk is a layered stack of chapattis with a filling of minced chicken, eggs and spices and is served in wedges as you would a savoury birthday cake. It was Begum Mumtaz Khan who taught the authors how to cook this to perfection.
Thikri Ki Dal is a delicious and comforting dal which contains amongst the spices, onions and ghee... 2 three-inch pieces of earthenware! The thikri are heated till red hot and then plunged into the food. They are removed before serving to avoid damage to either guest or crockery. This method is said to impart a distinctive and earthy flavour. Truly unique.
Double Ka Meetha is a sweet and syrupy dessert that would be a fitting end to a Royal Hyderabadi meal. It’s a confection of bread, nuts, cream and saffron and simple to make. I wouldn’t reserve this for just Hyderabadi meals, this would be welcomed anytime by those with a sweet tooth.
The title suggests something sumptuous and rich and that is just what this food is all about. Royal Hyderabadi Cooking presents recipes that are regal and festive but accessible to the home cook. Amazing!
Cookbook review: Royal Hyderabadi Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor and Harpal Singh Sokhi
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Sanjeev is probably the most celebrated of Indian chefs, presenting Khana Khazana on India’s Zee TV. It’s been airing since 1993 and its 600th episode is now just a memory. He has won several awards such as the Best Executive Chef of India Award and the Mercury Gold Award at Geneva, which has earned this man international as well as home-grown respect.
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is just one of many cookbooks from this charming, handsome and charismatic man. Each book is welcomed by an adoring audience who have been impressed by the author’s skill on the small screen. It’s said that Sanjeev never repeats a recipe and will not need to for several decades; such is his volume of work.
Low calorie carnivorous and low calorie vegetarian recipes have often seemed to fall into one of two categories: boring or boring with vegetables. But Sanjeev’s book will strike the right chord with many readers who want a low calorie diet that offers food with taste and texture. If you don’t enjoy the food that does you good then you will fall back into the same old unhealthy eating habits which got you into your chubby mess to start with.
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is about flavour, and Sanjeev has a collection of recipes that will tempt even those with no health or weight issues. This is good food with intriguing combinations of spices and fresh ingredients. There are Nutrition Information charts with each recipe to enable the home cook to make the best choices to achieve a balanced diet.
The recipes are broad-based and you don’t have to be a lover of traditional Indian food to appreciate the dishes. Sanjeev has French onion soup but his version raises the bar with French Onion and Garlic Soup. Spicy Pineapple Boat is light and refreshing but with a little kick from green chillies. For those who want a cool and summery salad then Minted Mushrooms should fit the bill. This is a dish of mushrooms, tomato, cucumber, mint leaves and a dressing of low fat yogurt, and the addition of lemon juice provides a tang.
However delicious the European-inspired dishes might be, most of us will be looking for that unmistakable taste of the subcontinent and it’s here in glorious profusion. Spinach and Cabbage Parantha is a flatbread with aromatic cardamom and spicy red chilli powder to complement the vegetables incorporated into the dough.
Desserts are not forgotten. Kesari Phirni is a lovely dessert of Pistachio nuts perfumed with saffron and cardamom. The sweetness comes from a sugar substitute such as Equal or Splenda so you can indulge with no guilt.
Do I have a favourite recipe? Well, you know I do and its Mushroom Dum Biryani. This is a rice dish made with the traditional method but have no fear, it’s not difficult and the results will impress both Western and Asian friends. I’ll make this dish often, not because I have a low calorie diet (although perhaps I should) but because it’s delicious and simple.
A Western cook will have no problem finding the spices in local supermarkets or from one of the many online Asian stores. The cooking techniques are not taxing and you don’t have to take a trip to Mumbai to kit out your new Asian kitchen. This is a fascinating book with recipes that will encourage you to make, eat and enjoy flavourful and healthful meals.
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is the first of Sanjeev Kapoor's books that I have had the pleasure to review, and there are more to follow. This volume is bound to be a success with readers from every continent.
Cookbook review: Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs.250.00, £11.69, $25.00US
Caribbean Food Made EasyLevi Roots (his real name is Keith Graham) was brought up till the age of eleven by his grandparents in Jamaica. He lived in a house full of extended family where cooking was a continual process. He moved to London to live with his parents and eventually had a successful career as a musician, and was indeed nominated for a prestigious MOBO award in 1998. He has performed with James Brown and Maxi Priest. He has his own range of Caribbean foods, a Caribbean cafe and takeaway, and every summer runs his popular stall at the celebrated Notting Hill Carnival.
Although we have a sizable Caribbean population in Britain we don’t have many Caribbean restaurants. You’ll find some in the largest cities but almost never in smaller towns. If you live in an area with an Afro-Caribbean community then you’ll probably have access to supermarkets that sell pre-prepared patties and Jerk Sauces but Caribbean Food Made Easy shows that you don’t need too many specialist ingredients to make authentic dishes.
I am a Londoner so have had a little experience of Caribbean food. I have been known to make quite a reasonable breakfast with fried plantains (cooking bananas). This book, however, offers a raft of authentic and adapted recipes made from high street ingredients that won’t break the bank. These are all-year-round dishes that will introduce some tropical pizzazz to summer alfresco dining as well as to cold and wet winter nights when some warming spice is in order. The chapters include One Pot Suppers, Fish and Seafood, Roasts and Grills, Street Food, as well as Desserts.
Levi draws upon his Scottish ancestry with his Mctumplings. These are traditional fried “tumplings” flavoured with vegetarian haggis. Serve these with Caribbean Salsa Verde (recipe in this book). Another version is the Banana Tumpling with a hint of cinnamon. Serve these as a side dish for fried chicken (remember fried bananas with Chicken Maryland? Very retro.), or as a dessert spread with butter and jam.
A must-try from this book is Honey, Grenadine and Ginger Roasted Lamb with Pomegranate and Mint Salad. This is no more difficult than making your regular Sunday roast but the addition of an exotic marinade elevates this dish into something a bit special. Have some roast sweet potatoes along with this for a taste of warmer climes.
If you are looking for a truly special first course then you wouldn’t go far wrong with Devilled Crab Gratin. If you can make a white sauce then you can make this. Levi suggests serving this in individual crab shells but gratin dishes or ramekins work just as well. A simple but smart start to any dinner party. If Levi ever owns a posh restaurant with crystal and linen then this would be his signature dish. None of us would be able to afford it so take the opportunity to make it at home yourself.
Caribbean Food Made Easy is an attractive book with easy to follow recipes... and I like these recipes. Each one has something to commend it. Full-on flavour or decadent sweetness or light freshness... it’s all here. A great companion to the BBC TV series of the same name... So when is the Notting Hill Carnival, then...?
Cookbook review: Caribbean Food Made Easy
Author: Levi Roots
Published by: Mitchell Beazley - Octopus
Food Network FavouritesAhhh, those were the days when I could sit and watch American TV all day long. Hundreds of channels and about a dozen that any thinking person would want to watch. Harsh words, them, but true. My habitual viewing was the US Food Network. I drank in the programmes which introduced me to new recipes and a new style of cooking. It’s a shame that I now find so little to inspire me on the UK food channel. I am almost word-perfect for all of Rick Stein’s series, good though they are, and Market Kitchen lacks the warm and human charm of Jeni Barnett’s Good Food Live. Here is a book, however, that reminds me of my days of enthusiastic viewing.
Food Network Favourites has recipes from some of my preferred American TV chefs. A few of the celebs seem a bit chubbier than I remember but the style of food is the same. Paula Deen is new to me but I love her Southern cuisine. You’ll need access to some American packaged mixes to make some of the recipes but you’ll have no problem finding the ingredients for Paula Deen's Scallops with Crème Fraiche Mash. Classy but simple. Tomato Pie takes little effort but the result would make a lovely light lunch or a starter for a more formal meal. Artful use of mayo for the topping.
Alton Brown was my big Food Network find. He has the approach of a scientist... or at least a mad professor. Think Heston Blumenthal with laughs. Red Snapper en Papillote is a smart dish although you can use any firm-fleshed, non-oily fish. Your fish will cook inside a parchment paper envelope. This is probably a good dish for a novice cook as the fish is almost guaranteed to be moist. Alton also has a recipe for English Muffins which we in England would call a crumpet or a pikelet. These are traditional yeast batter fried breads with convenient holes designed to hold melted butter.
Emeril Lagasse is a real character. He is passionate about food and is as popular as Gordon Ramsay is in the UK... only nicer. He has his own range of food products but offers you his Emeril’s Essence Creole Seasoning recipe here. Duck Pastrami is a unique concept. Think marinated salmon and you’ll have the idea. The duck is coated with the seasoning mix and soaks up the flavour for 48 hours then is slow roasted, and matured in the fridge for a week. Slice thin and serve as hors d’oeuvres.
Food Network Favourites will be welcomed by my American readers who will enjoy the printed version of their cooking channel heros, but it’s also a book that showcases modern American food. It’s not all fast burgers, pizzas and hot dogs. Bobby Flay, Dave Lieberman, Giada de Laurentiis, Mario Batali, Michael Chiarello, Rachael Ray, Tyler Florence and Wolfgang Puck offer some inspiring recipes.
Cookbook review: Food Network Favourites
Published by: Meredith Books
500 Red Wines and 500 White WinesLife was easier back then. A bottle of sherry for Christmas or when the vicar was coming to tea, some brown ale for dad on Saturday night and a bottle of Hirondelle wine to drink in the kitchen at parties. Now we have choices and viticultural aspirations...but what to buy?
I offer you two reviews rolled into one. Apple Press continue with their marvellously practical 500 series, now considering red wines and white wines. Christine Austin has penned 500 Red Wines. She has an established career as a wine writer and also as an international wine competition judge. Natasha Hughes and Patricia Langton are those responsible for 500 White Wines. Natasha is a UK-based food and wine writer and lecturer on wine appreciation. Patricia is also a food and wine writer with special interest in Spain, Chile and Argentina. She is based in London.
Each of these chunky volumes is packed with information you’ll need to boldly go into the wine merchants and to return home with something delicious, appropriate for your meal and the right colour. These books are compact enough to take with you on your bottle-hunting raids so you won’t have to commit everything to memory before you hit the high street. Good wines are to be found at reasonable prices but you need to know which are good value and which are just cheap. Each wine listed in these books has a price guide, on a scale from economic to astronomic.
There are useful chapters on grape varieties, growing grapes, making wine, regional specialities, keeping and storing wine, and even those colourful tasting words. You’ll soon be able to recognise a cheeky little floral nose and wax lyrical about the chocolatey spiciness.
Many of us like a glass of wine with a meal. Red wine is said (this week) to be good for us in moderation but food and wine pairing is a mystery to most of the population. These books give you ample advice about wines to choose and this will be particularly welcome if you want to have a bottle of something special from the restaurant cellar. You know you’ll be paying an arm and a leg for your glassful so a bit of fore-planning could save both fiscal and emotional embarrassment.
500 Red Wines and 500 White Wines are a couple of the best wine books for the beginner. Pick a wine and taste. Read the description and you’ll find that there is more to your bottle of Vin de Pays de l’Aude than you had realised. You’ll become a discerning drinker and avoid expensive mistakes. Great value for money and a must for anyone who would like to learn more about wine.
500 Red Wines
Author: Christine Austin
500 White Wines
Authors: Natasha Hughes and Patricia Langton
Published by: Apple Press
500 White Wines ISBN 978-1-84543-330-7
500 Red Wines ISBN 978-1-84543-331-4
When we were small we might have been enticed into the kitchen when an adult was baking. It’s hard to get kids enthused about making a casserole, but the prospect of a bowl to scrape, a wooden spoon to lick and a cupcake as the final product is often the first step to a love of baking.
Easy Baking - Australian Women’s Weekly presents 110 or so pages of bright and attractive baked goods, with additional pages of baking tips, advice on cake pans (yes, size does matter) and a glossary of ingredients. This would be a marvellous book for a novice cook as it doesn’t assume you already have the keen and practised eye of a professional baker. The recipes are clearly written and supportive. The more experienced cook will find lots of sweet treats and a couple of savoury ones to add to their repertoire.
The chapter titles hint at the style of this informal cookbook: Baking for the cake stall, for kids’ lunchboxes, for morning tea, with the kids, for afternoon tea, for celebrations. Everything is child-friendly, being either just the sort of baked goods that kids like to eat or that they would enjoy making. There are lots of small individual cakes as well as biscuits, muffins and slices. The larger cakes just cry out for little hands to drizzle, sprinkle or frost them.
I have several quick and easy favourites from this book. Pear Frangipane Galette takes only 45 minutes for both the preparation and the cooking time. It uses bought shortcrust pastry so this is a great standby dessert. Keep some pastry in the freezer for emergencies. I do and I don’t know why I feel guilty about doing it. Find a good quality pastry, though.
Chocolate Caramel Slice is a must-try. It’s a simple recipe in three stages. It needs refrigeration before eating so this is no instant snack. The recipe suggests that it serves 16 but I think that’s just the number of squares when cut. These won’t stay in the tin very long even in a household of 2.
Easy Baking - Australian Women’s Weekly is a good solid cookbook with recipes that you know you can trust. A couple of ingredients might be unfamiliar to cooks not hailing from the Antipodes but substitutions will be obvious. Terrific value for money.
Cookbook review: Easy Baking - Australian Women’s Weekly
Author: Australian Women’s Weekly
Published by: ACP Books
Bake me I’m Yours – ChocolateYou have gotta love a book with a title like that. It’s an attention-grabber but it’s what’s between the covers that will intrigue you.
Tracey Mann must be one of the UK’s most respected cake makers and decorators. She has had her work featured on covers of numerous magazines and has made wedding cakes for such “worthies” as Tom Parker-Bowles. It’s evident that Tracey has both skill and imagination.
It’s all about style. Tracey gives tips that elevate your sweet creations into something stunning. Surprisingly simple when you know how: a matter of using the aids that professional cake decorators have known about for years. The things that make the difference between the rustic homemade and something that would not shame a wedding reception at a five-star hotel. Yes, you can do it.
Tracey has a battery of basic cake recipes, although she won’t know if you use your own favourite ones. It’s the decorating techniques that’s the reason you’ll buy this book. They are amazing but accessible to the home cook. Transfer sheets are the key to several of Tracey’s sophisticated productions. These sheets enable you to create multi-coloured finishes or ornaments which are striking and edible.
Chocolate paste is a combination of chocolate, glucose and water. This is the culinary equivalent of Play Dough and can be formed into flowers or modelled into pleats or ribbons. To get a regular beaded effect then use a Beadmaker. This is a mould which creates a string of perfect beads from chocolate paste. There are any number of moulds to enable you to add three-dimensional decorations to your cakes.
Christmas is fast approaching and Tracey has a novel idea for easy but beautiful tree decorations. Use tempered chocolate (instructions in this book) to cover a festive patterned transfer sheet. Tracey suggests using white chocolate and a holly or red gingham transfer, but there are many transfer sheet designs so you could consider a holly-shaped decoration with perhaps a contemporary transfer, or a traditional snowflake transfer with a geometric cutter.
Bake me I’m Yours – Chocolate is a small-format book with 25 different chocolate projects. This would be an ideal stocking-filler for a chocoholic who loves to cook. It’s good value for money for such a smart little book. Decadent and delicious ideas.
Cookbook review: Bake me I’m Yours – Chocolate
Author: Tracey Mann
Published by: David and Charles
Price: £9.99, $14.99US
Diabetes Recipes from Around the WorldApproximately 200 million people worldwide suffer with diabetes and there are millions more who have diabetes but are not yet aware of it. It’s an increasing problem, with more younger people than ever being victims. It’s a serious disease but it is still possible to enjoy life and good food even when diagnosed with the condition.
Managing diet is key to minimising damage and limiting drug use. But if your meals are dull and boring then you won’t stick to your regime. Diabetes Recipes from Around the World offers over 100 recipes for dishes that will help you manage diabetes, and they are dishes that will be enjoyed by the whole family. Food should be fun as well as being healthful.
Jane Frank is a nutritional therapist and has penned two other books: The Basic Basics Diabetes Handbook and Eat Smart Beat the Menopause, both published by Grub Street. She would seem well placed to give advice about eating properly but advice about healthy food is not the same as showing you how to cook the tastiest of dishes. Diabetes Recipes from Around the World is a tool you’ll enjoy using.
This book has some lovely recipes. Nothing beige and sacrificed to the god of bland here. They are a truly international bunch with the occasional adaption to make for a diabetic-friendly dish. You family will not notice that these are healthy foods. They might notice that your repertoire has improved, though.
Thai food is exotic and different. It has rich mouth-filling flavours and it’s a bit posh. Thai Fish Cakes are a traditional classic and here they are served with a Sweet and Sour Cucumber Sauce. You can use any white fish and even coley which is so often overlooked and underrated. This is 18% carbohydrate and low GL. Each recipe has a nutritional breakdown and a GL level - handy for diabetics but also for others who have specific dietary needs.
Seared Salmon Fillets with Spicy Soba Noodles hails from Japan and is an easy dish to make but good enough to present to your guests. Serve with a garnish of Wasabi and pickled ginger for authenticity. It’s worth getting Soba Noodles for their unique taste and texture. They work particularly well with the salmon or even in a clear broth for a quick winter lunch.
Diabetes Recipes from Around the World has, in my opinion, some of the most tempting dishes for those who must keep an eye on their food intake. They are vibrant, flavourful and well-balanced. Good for all the family. Good value for money.
Cookbook review: Diabetes Recipes from Around the World
Author: Jane Frank
Published by: Grub Street
LA’s Original Farmers Market CookbookThis is one of those cookbooks that gives a warm glow. You don’t have to be from LA. You don’t even have to be American to be able to appreciate a book about a spot that just oozes food-related delight. LA’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook is a picture-book with recipes. A cookbook and travelogue. An invitation to temptation.
JoAnn Cianciulli is a successful food writer and producer of food-related television programmes. She is a New Yorker now living in Los Angeles who has been enjoying the charms of the Farmers Market for over 10 years. It has inspired her to capture the best of dishes on offer and to tell something of the warm and colourful history of a popular LA institution. It’s been around since 1934 so it’s doing something right.
When we in Britain think of farmers markets we conjure visions of a few stalls selling mud-garnished carrots, small punnets of soft fruits, and over-priced designer lettuce, with perhaps a hot-dog stall and a tea urn for refreshments (although the number and quality of UK farmers markets is fast improving). The farmers market at 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles is more generously proportioned than most of its UK cousins and also sports a wealth of casual eateries which have supplied the recipes for this book.
The food is an ethnically diverse mix that reflects the makeup of the visitors to the market, be they locals or tourists. There is something for every taste and I find the collection of recipes quite appealing. If you are a lover of pizza then you will want to try Patsy’s Special. The crust is a soft New York style with a bunch of my favourite toppings which includes anchovies, an addition that I know is not always popular but which does introduce a saltiness to cut the fat of lots of cheese. This pie was a regular snack for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Jo DiMaggio so you’ll be munching a slice of history.
Another slice, or should I say ladleful, of Americana comes in the guise of Seafood Gumbo with Cornbread Muffins. This is provided by The Gumbo Pot which specialises in Cajun cuisine from New Orleans. This is, in my humble opinion, some of the best original American food around. A fusion of African and New World flavours – a combination of shrimps and okra. This is a surprisingly easy dish to make at home. It’s delicious and looks amazing.
LA’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook presents the best of real American food. That’s not to be found in the swanky yet anonymous restaurants mushrooming in every large city. This is food that reminds us of Hollywood movies, of mom-and-pop diners and the multitude of ethnic origins of twenty-first century Americans. I’ll be spending my next US vacation at 3rd and Fairfax.
Cookbook review: LA’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook
Author: JoAnn Cianciulli
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: $22.95US, £15.99
Paul Gayler’s Little Book of SaladsIn the Summer we eat lighter and fresher. Gone are the hearty casseroles and rib-sticking pasta bakes, to be replaced by salads. Yeah, but it’s boring, I hear you cry. But it doesn’t have to be. There is no excuse for bland, limp and lifeless salad. Think vibrant! Think zesty! Think of what Paul Gayler might do at a time like this!
Most of you will be familiar with the smart Lanesborough Hotel chef, who has oft graced these internet site pages. You will probably have also seen him on British food TV where he has promoted his original and exciting cuisine. In Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Salads he turns his attention to, unsurprisingly, salad. Not the iceberg, tomato and cucumber of yesteryear but more complex and all-year-round-tempting dishes that are nevertheless simple to make.
Salads are healthy and quick. They are welcomed in warmer weather but there is a whole raft of salads that are ideal for winter meals. Roast Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon uses Jersey Royal potatoes, has some bite in the guise of gherkins, and richness from the fish. Keeping with that theme Truffled Potato Salad is a visual stunner. No, the potatoes are not covered in chocolate nor are they garnished with expensive fungi. Truffle potatoes are a variety of purple potato which helps to create a dish that is not only delicious but attractive.
Perhaps my favourite from the Winter Warmers chapter is Warm Lentil Salad with Goat’s Cheese and Anchovy Toasts. Anchovies give a salty tang without overt fishiness. Combined with the goat’s cheese they offer a taste of warmer climes when the wind is whistling and you want to spend an evening tucked up with holiday brochures.
Exotic salads work whatever the temperature. Spiced Chicken and Mango Salad nods to the Subcontinent for inspiration. The mango (Alphonso for preference) adds a light perfume and the green chilli offers a hint of heat. This would be wonderful served as part of an Eastern barbecue with perhaps lamb kebabs or chops.
Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Salads offers recipes that are accessible to home cooks and which have a touch of this chef’s usual innovation. Nothing is difficult. It’s salad for goodness sake! A great little book with plenty for the vegetarian and meat-eater alike.
Cookbook review: Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Salads
Author: Paul Gayler
Published by: Kyle Cathie
One Pot of Jam from Your Microwave – Quick and EasyFoulsham & Co. might not be the largest cookbook publisher around but they present some of the best small one-topic books. I have reviewed several other of their Quick and Easy series and they have all been clearly written and informative. One Pot of Jam from Your Microwave is another to join the ranks of worthwhile cookbooks.
A few years ago your average microwave cookbook was something to be shunned. They were full of recipes that gave inferior results and used strange and nasty plastic articles that would cook bacon or make crisps (that never did work). My microwave has been used little apart from heating drinks, thawing frozen goods and warming up leftovers. Whilst I am grateful for the facility it has seemed a rather under-utilised kitchen gadget.
One Pot of Jam from Your Microwave is quite a revelation. You can make preserves in the aforementioned coffee-heater! Note that I say preserves rather than jam because this volume contains recipes for a raft of chutneys, pickles, butters and the like. The selection of bottled delights is far wider-ranging than the predictable strawberry jam. OK, so the cooking method involves the microwave but the recipes are inspiring. This stands up well in comparison to any other book on preserves.
Regular supermarket jam isn’t expensive but if you can put your hands on some free fruit then even the common blackberry jam is worth making yourself. I promise you will taste the difference. Check out the price of the more exotic shop-bought confections and you are looking at remortgaging the house or selling the kids. We are all periodically tempted by those beautiful jars, as a thank-you gift or to look smart on the breakfast table when the in-laws are staying. One Pot of Jam from Your Microwave offers some suggestions for preserves that will make you look like you have won the lottery, and how proud you’ll be to proclaim that it’s really ‘fait maison’.
There are quite a few preserves here that deserve a mention. Bird of Paradise Pineapple Jam in reality contains no wildlife and is safe for vegetarians. It’s a tropical mix of pineapple, apple and persimmon. Mango Jam with Orange is another option if you love flavours of the Orient. My tip would be to buy your mangoes from an Asian grocer. Much better value.
My favourite recipe for gift-giving is Dried Apricots in Amaretto. This has all the hallmarks of a holiday season success. It’s simple to make and good enough to keep. Dried Figs with Vanilla in Calvados also falls into that category.
One Pot of Jam from Your Microwave – Quick and Easy is a book for anyone who has ever wanted to try their hand at making jam, pickle, chutney and flavoured vinegars. I am impressed by the recipes, that are some of the most imaginative around. Good value for money.
Cookbook review: One Pot of Jam from Your Microwave – Quick and Easy
Author: Sonia Allison
Published by: Foulsham
What’s for Dinner?I try and be a polite considerate reviewer, ever mindful of the needs of my discerning reader. I tend to avoid authors from non-catering backgrounds with small publishers. I would hate to say something negative about someone’s life’s work, their passion, their literary baby... so I don’t publish the review.
Here I was, once again, with the prospect of a culinary non-starter and I knew this one had some 650 pages. So the bad news might be that it’s another no-review, the good news might be that there was a lot of it!
Well, dear reader, you will have your review of What’s for Dinner? because I think it’s quite marvellous. This falls into the ‘sensible’ category of cookbooks, those that are practical and usable. You might think that every cookbook would have those aforementioned prerequisites: no, they don’t.
The author, Romilla Arber, is a hard-working mum of 4 children. She found that she was wasting time on numerous shopping trips because she was always missing that key ingredient to make a dinner for the family. She could browse numerous cookbooks but that would also take too much time so she wrote her own book that would give both her and others the tool to shop and cook in a timely fashion and avoid wasting time and ingredients. You can visit Romilla's site and download shopping lists for each week’s recipes. (http://www.whatsfordinner.org.uk/shoppinglists) Tuck the list into your purse/wallet and all your troubles will be little ones - you still have to do the washing up.
This is the most amazing work for a first-time writer. To be honest, it would be an amazing work from even a veteran writer. What’s for Dinner? is a weighty tome but devoid of padding. Its text is clear, recipes to the point and the photographs attractive, but it’s the format that is appealing. Each day of the year has its recipe and those dishes represent the way most of us eat these days... or at least the way we should eat if we could cook. Hold that thought - more of that later.
The most difficult part of providing meals is just deciding what to cook. You can learn to cook and those techniques will serve you well, but you need to have an idea of what to cook for dinner. Your array of lavish and celeb-endorsed cookbooks are great bedtime reading but let’s be real, you need a battery of good recipes and someone to tell you that tonight’s the night for Smoked Haddock Pie ...or they would be telling you that if this was the first week in April. Romilla Arber is the lady who will take the stress out of decision-making.
It’s no good having a cookbook that gives you a recipe for each day if you just don’t like the food. You won’t use the book and therefore it’s a waste of money. What’s for Dinner? has recipes that cover the whole spectrum of British taste. There is a liberal sprinkling of curries, recipes adapted from existing cookbooks and Romilla’s own family recipes. OK, so I wouldn’t eat the Liver and Sausage Burger (mental note: Don’t accept invitation to dinner on first Monday in January) but that’s all - one out of 365 recipes (plus extra recipes for treats each week) is pretty good going. All other dishes are delicious, quick, economical and I’d be happy to cook and eat all of them. There are few cookbooks that I would say that about, and to say it about such a large one is no faint praise.
Romilla has founded the Food Education Trust, a charity dedicated to educating adults and children in the basic skills of cooking. All proceeds from the sale of “What’s for Dinner?” will go to the Food Education Trust and will provide home economics-style classes to both adults and children as well as supplying necessary cooking equipment to schools. You are reading this review so you are obviously interested in cooking. Glance around any supermarket and you will see, usually, young women with perhaps a couple of kids and a shopping trolley piled high with high-fat, high-sugar pre-prepared foods. If this lady knew how to cook then she could save money and feed her family better. Cooking is a life skill and one of the most important ones. Yes, it’s a skill that anyone can learn. You don’t need chef’s whites and an Aga to turn out good meals. I wholeheartedly support anything that promotes cooking at any level.
What’s for Dinner? is a book you’ll buy for yourself because it’s a good, solid cookbook. But consider it as a gift for anyone you know who would like to eat better but professes to not having enough time. This is outstanding value for money.
Cookbook review: What’s for Dinner?
Author: Romilla Arber
Published by: St. Christopher’s Publishing
World WhiskyWho knew? There are many hundreds of whiskies. I had suspected that there might be perhaps a hundred from small distilleries in Scotland and Ireland and a few in the US. World Whisky lists over 700 whiskies from as far afield as Japan (the Japanese have a reputation as whisky “enthusiasts”) and Australia.
I am not a Scotch drinker and when questioned I’ll deny that I like whisky at all, but it’s a lie. I do quite like Irish whiskey which has a different palate of flavours from Scottish whisky. There are those who would let nothing but Mellow Corn Whiskey across the cabin threshold so I guess it’s all a matter of taste, or lack thereof; Corn Whiskey said to be best when consumed young but others say it’s just as good if you keep it for a week or so.
World Whisky is a book to be savoured by the connoisseur but will be equally welcomed by those who would like to be. Whisky is a drink to be sipped, lingered over and appreciated. Although not a lover of The Water of Life (uisge beatha in the Celtic tongue), I can understand the attraction. Whisky is collected like fine wine, and anyone interested in such a hobby would do well to invest in this book. There are ample Tasting Note pages for you to create your own list of memorable bottles.
Each of the 700-odd whiskies has a history and taste profile. Old Hokonui from New Zealand has a colourful past. It sports a skull-and-crossbones on the bottle, giving it the air of the illicit which I am sure has added to its popularity.
Yes, this volume presents the quaint and iconic spirits, but it is a serious work and equips the reader with all he or she needs to choose whiskies that will bring comfort to long winter evenings. You’ll learn about the manufacture and evolution of the wee dram but, more importantly, you’ll understand why each glassful tastes the way it does. There is even information about which glasses to use, although some folks say that whisky would taste good even drunk from an envelope; but that’s the voice of desperation.
World Whisky is a hefty 350-page comprehensive guide to whisky: its various classes, its paraphernalia, its past and its future. It’s a fascinating story and illustrates the reason why whisky has remained the beverage of choice for so many discerning drinkers. Great value for money and an ideal Christmas gift.
Editor: Charles Maclean
Published by: Dorling Kindersley
Tea and CrumpetsWell, the name is tempting but add a subtitle of Recipes and Rituals from European Tearooms and Cafés, and my attention is captured!
Tea is a drink (or beverage if you hail from North American shores), yes, that’s true, but it’s also an institution, an event, a ceremony. A mug of tea, a doorstep sandwich and a doughnut (don’t write in – I do love them) does not amount to Afternoon Tea... even if you are drinking and eating the aforementioned items during those hours after lunch (that’s dinner if you are from some parts of England) and before dinner (supper if you are from those same parts of England).
Afternoon Tea is a rather formal pause. The table will be heaving with a selection of sandwiches and other small savouries, a cake to slice as well as small individual cakes, perhaps also some biscuits (those flat, crunchy things - cookies). This is somewhat different from High Tea which included a cooked dish and salads and was usually consumed late afternoon or early evening.
The author of Tea and Crumpets, Margaret M. Johnson, presents us with recipes for the best and most classic of Afternoon Tea delights. These are baked goods familiar to European teatime enthusiasts and include many traditional favourites from some of the finest venues in Britain, Ireland and France.
Cucumber sandwiches are a famed afternoon tea staple. Margaret offers Claridge’s Hotel’s version. The classic sandwich has the crusts removed and can best be described as delicate. These dainties would not fill a rugby player but work perfectly with all the other morsels on a three-tier stand. Perhaps crusts were as offensive as piano legs to genteel ladies of centuries past.
Crumpets are the stuff of many a Victorian childhood dream. They come equipped with holes that beg to be filled with soon-to-be-melted butter. Not perhaps a healthy option but if you are going to have a tea party then you should do it well. Crumpets are made with a yeast batter poured into crumpet rings on a skillet (griddle). You could use egg rings or plain cookie (biscuit) cutters. It’s a simple recipe with a unique result.
Traditional scones (a bit like American biscuits – not cookies) are equally “evil”, being, if you are a purist, loaded with clotted cream and strawberry jam. They are perhaps the most celebrated of the teatime array as they also hold centre stage in another British institution, the Cream Tea, which consists of just scones with their garnishes, and cups of tea of course. Most British or Irish tea drinkers will take their regular beverage with a little milk but never cream. Or have those flavoured and aromatic teas without milk, but perhaps add a slice of lemon.
Queen Victoria loved Shortbread. It’s another of those iconic afternoon tea items. They are buttery and rich and come in a range of shapes and sizes. They are not difficult to make but they should never be overcooked. Just done with next to no colour is the secret.
Dundee Cake is another contribution from North of the Border. This is a hearty cake that is a must for those cold afternoons when rib-sticking fare and a roaring log fire (look, this is my review so I can conjure up a log fire if I want one) are in order. Spicy Marmalade Loaf is a lovely alternative and has Dundee orange marmalade as a key ingredient. Oranges don’t grow in Scotland but that country does make some of the most delicious marmalade.
Tea and Crumpets is a travelogue of smart tearooms. It’s a book that will be welcomed by those who would like to participate in the revival of a tasteful tradition. Tea taken at a posh hotel is a marvellous experience, but a real tea party in one’s own home is a pleasure. Get out your grandmother’s bone china service and charm your friends with an artful display of culinary elegance. It’s easier than you might think.
Cookbook review: Tea and Crumpets
Author: Margaret M. Johnson
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: $19.95US, £12.99
Backroads of the California CoastIt’s a change to write a travel book review about a place to which I have been. California held much promise and did not disappoint. It is a state that deserves to be explored at a slow pace. You’ll get the best from this trip if you take time to venture off the beaten path.
Perhaps, dear reader, I should say that you don’t need to venture off the beaten path. Rather you want a path that has already been beaten by adventurers, prospectors and settlers, and leads you to spots that hold charm, beauty and historic elegance. Karen Misuraca has written Backroads of the California Coast in order to assist you in your quest to find that ideal and overlooked spot.
A travel book would be sorely lacking if it didn’t have a few nice snaps. Garry Crabbe has done a stirling job with the photography for this volume and there are more than just a few pictures – every page has striking views, amazing seascapes, quaint buildings or glimpses of wildlife.
Backroads are a series of books that offer scenic vacation routes for those who want to know more about a particular state or region. Backroads of the California Coast has that same format with the book divided into three parts: The North Coast, The Central Coast and The South Coast. Each of those sections covers the highlights and the must-sees but equally includes those fascinating points of interest that might easily be missed by the untutored traveller.
The North Coast leads you to, amongst others, Muir Woods and the Golden Gate. The Central Coast suggests a visit to Hurst’s Castle which is the once-seen-never-forgotten home of William Randolph Hurst. The Neptune swimming pool is a piece of ancient Rome transported to the Californian hills. There is a dining room of magnificent splendour with crystal goblets and a ketchup bottle.
If you only have time to visit one section of the Californian coast then take the South Coast. This has a real feel of Spanish California with its missions and ranchos. Old San Diego is a place you’ll not want to miss. Yes, there are the inevitable tourist shops but also so much that is truly historic and worthwhile.
Backroads of the California Coast is an attractive guide for the independent traveller. If you are even a little tempted by a trip to California then take my advice and read this book before you go. It’s a journey planner full of inspiration.
Backroads of the California Coast
Author: Karen Misuraca
Published by: Voyageur Press
Price: $21.99US, £13.99
The Cook’s Guide to MeatThis is the second book in the new Apple Press series of Cooks Guides, which it has been my pleasure to review, the first being The Cook’s Guide to Fish. The Cook’s Guide to Meat has the same hand-book-size and leatherette finish as the fish guide and also enjoys the benefits of the same illustrator, Jane Laurie. I feel she deserves as much acclaim as the writer, as her work is so much a part of the success of the book.
The author, Jennie Milsom, was trained in French Culinary Arts and Wines and Spirits, and has been a chef as well as a writer of features and recipes for several magazines. In 2004 she became deputy cookery editor of Good Housekeeping Magazine. This is her first book.
If you are at all interested in food, and meat in particular, then I would recommend this book. It’s rare to find a book of such beauty and detail, and containing so much practical advice. Meat is expensive and few of us have money to burn, undercook, ruin or waste. You want to present meals that are tasty and tender and to do that in the most cost-effective way.
There have been a host of health scares over the last decade or two. Many of us are concerned about animal welfare and we need to know that the meat on the plate came from healthy and content animals which were dispatched with the minimum of stress. Best advice is to find yourself a good butcher and ask questions. The Cook’s Guide to Meat shepherds you (this book considers sheep, cows and pigs) through choosing the best meat and enables you to talk to the nice man behind the counter in a fashion that will convince him of your knowledge of the subject.
There are hundreds of cookbooks which will offer recipes for meat dishes and list “diced pork” or “slices of beef”. If you know the cooking method to be employed then you will be able to buy the most appropriate cuts of meat for the dish. You wouldn’t want to use silverside for a stir-fry as it demands long slow cooking. Fillet on the other hand is tender but will cost more. It’s horses (a rich, lean meat prized by the French) for courses!
The Cook’s Guide to Meat offers advice on cooking each cut, describes its flavour and where on the carcass the meat might be found. If the particular cut has aliases then these too are noted – one person’s tenderloin might be another’s pork fillet. There is a list of useful utensils for cooking meat. I’d say a meat thermometer is indispensible if you intend to prepare joints of meat. Such a gadget gives a novice cook a bit of confidence and has saved this experienced cook from more than one disaster. Buy one that has a probe that is inserted into the meat before it reaches the oven. Set the temperature and then the alarm will tell you when your joint has reached juicy perfection.
The Cook’s Guide to Meat is part of a soon-to-be classic series. A book that is lovely to look at and packed with information that will save you money. A marvellous gift.
Cookbook review: The Cook’s Guide to Meat
Author: Jennie Milsom
Published by: Apple Press
The Farmer’s Wife Cookie CookbookIf you are a regular visitor to Mostly Food and Travel Journal (and why wouldn’t you be?) then you will be familiar with the series of Farmer’s Wife cookbooks. They are compiled from original recipes found in the magazine of the same name, published between 1893 and 1939 in Minnesota.
Cookie baking is an ideal introduction to kitchen pursuits. The virgin cook has no fear with regard to baking biscuits (British term for cookies). One might worry that a pastry case is a bit too crunchy. One could have second thoughts about launching into soufflé production lest they not rise. Well, with cookies the worst has already happened. For the most part, you want the aforementioned crunch and something flattish.
The Farmer’s Wife Cookie Cookbook concerns itself with sweet confections, some of which might be considered as cake or dessert. Bars and Squares have long been popular in the US and have taken hold world-wide. Lemon Bars are my favourite from this chapter. It’s a rather curious recipe demanding a first baking and then the addition of beaten eggs, sugar, lemon juice and baking powder. The end result is a tangy bar with a soft top. Just right with a nice cuppa tea.
Crullers are included in this book. It’s not a word commonly heard in Britain. Although a cruller sounds like it should be a wild seabird it is in fact a variety of doughnut: a deep-fried sweet pastry dusted with sugar. These are usually made in strips or braids rather than rounds. Funnel Cakes are also a glimpse of pure Americana. These comprise a cake batter run through a funnel directly into hot oil. Think of a thin delicate version of churros. A favourite at State fairs and such gatherings.
Maple Syrup Cookies have my vote as a must-try. When it comes to that rich liquid Maple syrup, to know it is to love it. It has, unlike most sweet syrups, a real flavour. Don’t substitute corn syrup or Golden Syrup or the end result of your labours will be entirely different from that intended. Delicious perhaps, but a shadow of a real Maple Syrup Cookie.
The Farmer’s Wife Cookie Cookbook is a book to be used. The measurements are by volume as one would expect from an American cookbook. This should hold no terrors for the European cook. It’s a practical method and simple. The recipes have probably been tested by generations of cooks who would not have had the luxury of modern kitchen equipment. This is a charming book offering delicious goodies.
Cookbook review: The Farmer’s Wife Cookie Cookbook
Edited by: Lela Nargi
Published by: Voyager Press
Price: $15.99US, £10.99 UK
Cook ExpressThis is another from the presses of Dorling Kindersley that offers great value for money. Here we are again with a cookbook for those who have neither the room nor inclination to own a whole raft of cookbooks. If you have next to no time to cook then chances are you will have even less time to leaf through a shelf or two of recipe books, however gorgeous they might be.
Cook Express is designed with the strapped-for-time in mind. The recipes are quick to make but also quick to find. There are handy recipe choosers to allow you to find just the right dish for your purposes. Fish starter in less than 15 minutes, Meat main meal under 30 minutes, etc. Each entry has a photograph, preparation time and cooking time. Healthy options and suitability for freezing are also indicated.
The Everyday section of the book offers fast food without the need to interrogate the takeaway (take out) flyers. You’ll not need to resort to pre-packaged or frozen ready meals, and you’ll be eating healthy fresh foods that won’t break the bank.
Pasta has long been prized as the instant home-cooked meal so it’s no surprise to find lots of examples in this volume. You’ll not be restricted to eating spaghetti with a bottle of tomato sauce and a black olive for garnish. How’s about Pasta with Crab and Lemon? Only 5 minutes preparation and 10 minutes cooking. Macaroni Cheese with Red Onion has the same 5 minutes for preparation and 20 minutes for cooking, and you’ll be pouring a nice glass of red while it’s reaching bubbling, golden perfection.
It’s often difficult to entertain when time is short so Cook Express devotes about half its space to cooking for friends. Most dishes here can be prepared in 10 minutes or so and the maximum would be 30 minutes. There are some suggestions for feeding a crowd in the Big-Pot Gatherings chapter, with recipes for 8 servings still with only 30 minutes preparation for the most time-consuming.
Desserts can so often be fiddly and long-winded, and to present a semi-frozen Arctic Roll from the box is such an anti-climax. Cook Express has great ideas for cook-and-freeze-ahead desserts for those who are attached to the icebox. Just defrost and reheat. OK, so there might be 30 or 40 minutes of cooking time but you’ll be eating your main course and not watching the crumble brown.
I have been inexorably drawn towards the end of the book where lurks a list of Indulgent Puddings. Chocolate Amaretti Roulade will take half an hour of your time to make and only 20 minutes to cook. The No-Cook Desserts chapter offers Dark Chocolate and White Chocolate Mousse, and Banoffee Pie which only takes 15 minutes to assemble.
Cook Express is a complete one-stop extravaganza for those in a hurry. The 700 recipes in this 500-odd page tome will save you sufficient time for you to reinforce your bookshelf, although this volume is liable to spend more time on your kitchen counter than amongst your personal library. Lots of practical and delicious dishes to suit every taste and budget.
Cookbook review: Cook Express
Published by: Dorling Kindersley
World Cheese BookIt’s days like this when I think that being a cookbook reviewer is the most marvellous occupation. I have been presented with 350 or so pages of unadulterated and odorous delight. Every page I view increases taste-bud activity to the point where a triangle of something in silver foil will just not cut the mustard.
This is the most comprehensive encyclopaedia of cheese that this reviewer has thus far examined. The author, Juliet Harbutt, has done an excellent job of seeking out fine and fascinating cheese from every corner of the world. This is a volume that does not just concentrate on the obvious cheese-producing regions but also takes the path less trodden to Eastern Europe, Israel, Japan and even Brazil.
It should come as no surprise that cheese is a popular foodstuff for the majority of the world. If there is an animal giving milk then there is sure to be a cheese producer nearby. The range of texture and taste is amazing and this versatile product is used for both sweet and savoury courses.
You don’t have to be a cheese connoisseur to appreciate this volume. We all notice cheeses in even the regular supermarket. What do they taste like? What do you do with them? Any good for cooking? World Cheese Book lists cheeses by country. It gives a short description, tasting notes and how to enjoy. There is also an at-a-glance information box which gives location, age, weight and shape, size, milk, classification (soft white, for example) and producer.
It’s the photographs which are striking. Each cheese has a shot showing the whole cheese or wedge of cheese but there are also close-up shots showing the texture and marbling. If you are searching for a pretty cheese then go for Monet made in California and described as “a true artist’s palate that reflects the beautiful gardens that surround this coastal California Dairy.” It’s like a fine piece of porcelain decorated with marigold and viola flowers: not a classic cheese but a visual stunner. A soft, fresh cheese available all year round.
For a cheese that is best described as different then try Norway’s Gjetost. This is a caramel-coloured cheese that tastes ...well, of caramel. It is the dairy equivalent of Marmite: you either love it or hate it. It’s very much an acquired taste but worth trying if you get the chance. I probably wouldn’t include this as part of an international cheese board, though. Savour its “delights” alone or with a slice of spice cake.
World Cheese Book is an absolute “must have” for any cheese lover or those who would like to know more. There is plenty of information about cheese making as well as indispensible advice on selecting cheeses for the perfect cheeseboard, and its accompanying wine. This would make a marvellous Christmas gift but I would consider presenting it to your loved one at the start of the festive season rather than on Christmas morning. Allow them the benefit of this book’s wisdom before they do the shopping. They will thank you for it. This is amazing value for money!
Cookbook review: World Cheese Book
Author: Juliet Harbutt
Published by: Dorling Kindersley
Sicilian FoodOriginally published in 1989 it was out of print for ten years or so. This new edition reminds us why Sicilian Food has been considered a classic.
Mary Taylor Simeti arrived in Sicily fresh from college in America. She worked as a volunteer at a centre for community development for $75 a month. Her interest in cooking came through necessity rather than love of the subject. Mary came from a well-heeled family in Virginia where they enjoyed the services of a cook. This was probably a marvellous environment to sample well-cooked food but hardly one that was going to prepare anyone for doing the job themselves. Marriage to a Sicilian eventually gave Mary the inspiration to look into the culinary history and delightful confections of her adopted home.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and the largest region of the modern state of Italy, but its relationship with the mainland has been tempestuous. Italy had once been a group of separate states ruled by France, Spain, Austria and other foreign countries, until Guiseppe Garibaldi unified Italy and drove out the foreigners. But Sicily was renowned for its delicious food before Italy was even a twinkle in the eye of Garibaldi.
Sicily enjoys marvellous produce that has been noted and coveted since the time of Homer. This volume considers the food heritage and presents recipes from cooks, books and monasteries. There is much that is recognisable as Italian but which might well have originated in Sicily. Pasta is first seen in Italy at the time of the Arab occupation, not on the mainland but in Sicily.
So let’s look at a pasta dish. Pasta Paolina Style (pasta alla Paolina) was invented by the friars of the Monastery of San Francesco di Paola in Palermo. It has both cinnamon and cloves along with anchovies and tomato sauce. Quite an exotic departure from the more ubiquitous pasta garnish of the tomato and herb-flavoured sauces of Italy.
The monasteries have played quite a part in the culinary tapestry of Sicilian food. They have preserved ancient recipes that reflect good taste and some quaint humour. Minni di Virgini (Virgins Breasts) are much-prized small cakes – sometimes with a cheeky cherry on the top. Sfinci Ammilati (Honey Puffs) are light balls of fried dough steeped in honey. These were also filled with an egg custard or ricotta to celebrate saints’ days.
Not everyone in Sicily was a nun or a monk. The island would be empty by now if that had been the case. Ordinary folks would enjoy Roasted Sweet Peppers (Pepperoni Arrostiti), Potato Croquettes (Croche di Patate) and Chickpea Fritters (Panelle) which were all popular street foods, and they would make lovely light lunches with just some green salad and a dressing of fruity olive oil.
A classic this book might be, but it’s readable and witty. The recipes are broad-based, covering peasant fare as well as elevated and noble dishes. It’s a social history as well as a cookbook and would be a great addition to any serious cookbook collection.
Cookbook review: Sicilian Food
Author: Mary Taylor Simeti
Published by: Grubb Street
Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Ice Creams and SorbetsPaul is the chef at the Lanesborough Hotel in London. It’s considered a “Destination” hotel and has a restaurant to match that status. This man is a familiar face on British food TV and is also an accomplished cookbook author.
All of Paul Gayler’s books (I have reviewed several to date) have been innovative but I have been at pains to point out that they have not been “chefy”. That’s a term that smacks of criticism and usually indicates that the recipes are over-complicated and fussy. I am, however, persuaded to use just that word for Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Ice Creams and Sorbets.
No, dear reader, this writer has not changed her style of review. I have not turned overnight into the Gordon Ramsay of the cookbook review world. This time I use “chefy” as a compliment. These recipes are not at all long-winded or fiddly but the chef has presented his culinary credentials in the form of amazing combinations of ingredients and textures that would have been difficult for a civilian to invent.
Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Ice Creams and Sorbets is an adult dessert cookbook. The first few recipes are standards and one would expect to find them here, but once settling you into a warm (or cold in this case) sense of familiar security, Paul takes a detour.
The Ice Cream chapter starts innocently with a simple Vanilla Ice Cream, but on closer inspection even this has a few exciting variations. Paul suggests the addition of some lavender, Earl Grey tea, lemon curd, dried breadcrumbs and rice pudding. You might be tempted to linger, but turn a page or two and you’ll find more soon-to-become-favourites.
Eggnog and Orange Peel Ice Cream could take the place of Christmas Pudding chez nous. Dark rum in almost anything is good in my book and it always reminds me of the holiday season. Keeping with the Christmas theme Paul offers a Christmas Bombe. This looks like a mint-green Christmas pudding but it’s a confection of ice cream and candied fruit.
Goats Cheese Ice Cream is rich and tangy. Paul uses regular milk in his recipe but that could be replaced by goat’s milk to make this an ideal dessert for those who are intolerant of cow’s milk. An alternative frozen treat would be Coconut Milk, Yogurt and Red Chilli Sorbet. Sophisticated and exotic.
How’s about Balsamic Butter Ice Cream? Paul serves this with Citrus Fruit Salad and Passion Fruit Jelly (recipe in this book). Sweetcorn Ice Cream would be quite a conversation piece. Black Pepper Ice Cream is another show-stopper. I think this might go well with strawberries - a different take on the traditional strawberries and cream.
Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Ice Creams and Sorbets packs a punch. It might be a little book but it’s well worth the equally small price. Paul once again showcases his skills and ability to think successfully outside the box.
Cookbook review: Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Ice Creams and Sorbets
Author: Paul Gayler
Published by: Kyle Cathie
Price: £ 7.99
GuinnessPaul Hartley has penned several brand cookbooks including the Lyles Golden Syrup Cookbook and the HP Sauce Cookbook (both reviewed on this site), Marmite Cookbook and Heinz Tomato Ketchup Cookbook. It’s probably safe to say that Paul has an eye for iconic and popular products.
Guinness – An Official Celebration of 250 Remarkable Years offers us firstly the history of “the black stuff”, “Girder”, “Liffey Water”, and it is indeed a story worth telling. Any product that has lasted two and a half centuries deserves a volume celebrating its longevity. There can surely be only a handful of brands that have endured while the world has changed so much.
Sake is synonymous with Japan, Whisky with Scotland and tea with England, but Ireland has Guinness. It’s available around the globe and is recognised even when poured. The distinctive dark brew with the clerical collar has decorated bars on every continent and has tickled the taste buds of almost every nationality.
This beer is in fact porter. No, dear reader, it doesn’t contain Port. It’s named after the men who hauled vegetables and other foodstuffs in London’s many markets. From 1799 the Guinness that we know today was the only beer brewed by the company. Its association with food might have started in Covent Garden Market and the like but it continues with recipes using Guinness, and there are 18 or so fine and traditional ones in this volume.
Steak pie with ale has been tempting diners for many a year. This has become a classic dish because it works, so it’s no surprise to find Beef and Guinness Puff Pastry Pie. Paul has added dried figs to this version which helps as a foil for the slightly bitter beer.
A must-try from Paul Hartley’s collection is Guinness Honeycomb Ice Cream. This recipe doesn’t need an ice-cream maker so there is no excuse not to make it. It’s a simple dessert using Guinness and those familiar chocolate-covered honeycomb bars. You know, the ones that are a bit crunchy.
The section in Guinness that charts various advertising campaigns is fascinating. We no longer consider Guinness as Good For You although that was used as a persuasive slogan for a while. The Guinness for Strength poster proved so popular that frequenters of “the local” would ask for a pint of “girder”, making reference to the iron-beam-carrying chap on the ad.
Guinness is a book full of evocative images and a story of vision. It would be a great gift for anyone who enjoys the drink, who enjoys cooking or who has an interest in advertising.
Cookbook review: Guinness
Author: Paul Hartley
Published by: Hamlyn-Octopus
The Cook’s Guide to Fish and SeafoodI see many cookbooks every week and hundreds every year. Most are very nice, some are inspiring, there are a few that would be better left as trees, and then there are the gems.
Apple Press have done it again! This publisher never seems to put a foot wrong. They present books that are marvellously practical but also attractive, but they might just have surpassed themselves. The Cook’s Guide to Fish and Seafood is one in a new series of books that will become heirlooms.
Strong words, them. I am going to stick my reviewer’s neck out and say that these small books, described as handbook-sized in leatherette, are a must for any serious cook but also for any serious cookbook collector. The author, Wendy Sweetser, trained at the Cordon Bleu cookery schools in both London and Paris. She has penned fifteen other food- and drink-related books as well as being food editor and feature writer for OK, The London Magazine, and Period Living.
Most of us love the glossy, celeb chef cookbooks. What’s not to love... mostly. But The Cook’s Guide books offer an in-depth look at culinary subjects. They are well written but it’s the illustrations that are striking. Food photography has reached amazing degrees of perfection but no camera can present its subject in such charming detail as can brush, watercolour and pen. The artist, Jane Laurie, has skills that add character and elevate this volume to gift quality.
Elevated though these books surely are, they are far from simple coffee-table dust-magnets. These are food manuals to read, learn from, and to delve into. The Cook’s Guide to Fish and Seafood considers... well, fish and seafood. Each fish has its illustration, and its characteristics are described; its habitat, availability, cooking method and substitution suggestions are all mentioned.
We know that fish is good for us but there is often the underlying question, Are the stocks sustainable? The Cook’s Guide to Fish and Seafood includes farmed fish where available, and notes when wild varieties are in season. This helps the shopper to make informed choices.
The Cook’s Guide to Fish and Seafood offers advice on choosing fresh fish, equipment, storage, trimming, scaling and gutting, filleting and skinning. It’s a marvel of a book that will be appreciated by cooks and cookbook collectors as well as fishermen. Great Christmas gift and good value for money.
Cookbook review:The Cook’s Guide to Fish and Seafood
Author: Wendy Sweetser
Illustrator: Jane Laurie
Published by: Apple Press
500 Casseroles and StewsYou must by now, assuming you are a regular reader, know how much I enjoy this 500 series from Apple Press. These chunky little volumes are packed with recipes and photographs. They offer a wealth of information and support for the novice and a raft of ideas for the more experienced home cook.
Rebecca Baugniet, the author, has written two others in the 500 series: 500 Pies and Tarts, and 500 Pizzas and Flatbreads, and was food consultant on two more. She is a freelance writer living on Canada’s West Coast. She has penned a book which offers both traditional and contemporary dishes and with 500 recipes to document it’s safe to say that nothing much has been overlooked.
The colder weather will soon be with us... unless you live south of the equator in which case I wish you a wonderful summer. We are drawn to the fireside or the chair nearest the radiator and we yearn for warm and hearty fare. Casseroles and stews are some of the most practical and the least labour-intensive dishes around. That should be music to the ears of those who are either strapped for time or long to be a stranger to the inside of a kitchen.
These dishes are quick to prepare. They might take a bit of time to cook but you don’t have to sit with the food. They use, mostly, one dish and they often improve with keeping overnight. Entertaining couldn’t be easier: make your main dish the day before. Feeding a crowd can be economic as casseroles can take advantage of cheaper cuts of meat.
Risotto isn’t a dish that one might immediately consider as a candidate for a book entitled 500 Casseroles and Stews, but on reflection it’s reasonable to include it. The International Favourites chapter offers Italian Risotto with Scallops. This is a one-pot (with 5 minutes use of a frying pan) meal and very stylish. It only takes 20 minutes or so to cook and the preparation can be done in advance.
Quick and Easy Casseroles lists the traditional Cottage Pie. This is Shepherd's Pie but made with minced beef rather than lamb. Hamburger Stroganoff is another recipe which has good-value minced beef as its key ingredient. Nothing wrong with that but get the best meat you can afford. An alternative would be Minced Turkey Stroganoff.
My favourite from this book is Chilaquile Casserole. This is vibrant and zesty and a Mexican-inspired layered dish which, although vegetarian, is gutsy enough for carnivores to appreciate. Makes a change from the ubiquitous tortillas or tacos. It’s comfort food with a difference.
500 Casseroles and Stews is a book for cooks. Yes, it’s attractive but it’s a book to use. The recipes are well written and consider vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. The dishes are tempting and simple with options for posh dinners with friends as well as family meals. This is a lot of book for under a tenner.
Cookbook review: 500 Casseroles and Stews
Author: Rebecca Baugniet
Published by: Apple Press
The Cuisines of SpainIt’s the third largest country in Europe and has strong historic links to North Africa. It faces both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, has mountain ranges, deserts and fertile plains. Madrid, its capital, is the highest in Europe and Spanish style is respected world-wide. It’s a land of diversity and richness.
The landscape of Spain has helped it maintain a multitude of cultural and culinary traditions. Each village might have a typical celebration dish entirely different from that of its neighbour. Each family will have its own interpretation but all will have common threads – quality of ingredients and flavour.
Spain has offered so much to the dining tables of the world. Tapas are a universal favourite, paella is now found in every Mediterranean town or village, and who would want to live without Spanish olive oil? They produce more in Spain than any other country.
The author of The Cuisines of Spain, Teresa Barrenechea, was born and brought up in the Spanish Basque region in the north west of Spain. She moved to New York City as press attaché to the Spanish delegation of the United Nations. In 1991 she opened Marichu which was considered as New York’s finest traditional Spanish restaurant. Her previous book, Basque Table, was awarded the National Gastronomy Prize in 1998.
If you have visited Spain then you would have tasted fine restaurant food but perhaps, and this is probably true of every nation, you would have eaten better and more authentic food in private homes. You might not get that chance unless you kidnap a taxi driver or befriend your hotel concierge so a good cookbook will be your next-best option. The Cuisines of Spain could be that very book.
There are certainly dishes here that will be familiar to you - paella, for example. But Teresa offers four varieties all hailing from the Valencia region. Fideua is a seafood paella made with pasta. It has similar ingredients to the more common rice-based seafood paella but that rice is replaced with macaroni or angel-hair pasta.
Empanada Gallega (Bread Pie from Galicia) has a number of alternative fillings and all of them are enticing. Empanada de Berberechos has cockles and peppers, and Empanada de Sardinas has sardines and onions. The pie I’d choose for a cold winter night with the TV (or log fire if you are lucky) would be Empanada de Lomo. This has a rich and warming stuffing of pork and chorizo with a sprinkle of extra paprika and tomato sauce for good measure.
If you are a fan of the French Crème Caramel then you are sure to love Crema Catalana. Whilst the traditional French version is turned out on a plate and has caramel incorporated into the custard, the Spanish version remains in its dish, has a hint of cinnamon and a crust of caramel. The Cuisines of Spain offers a simple method for achieving a good result.
This is one of my favourite books on Spanish cooking. The photography by Christopher Hirsheimer and Jeffrey Koehler is marvellous. The recipes are tempting and there is plenty of history and anecdote for each one. The Cuisines of Spain will be sought after by lovers of real Spanish food.
Cookbook review: The Cuisines of Spain
Author: Teresa Barrenechea
Published by: Ten Speed Press
Price: $40.00US, £38.00
What to Eat Now – More PleaseOK, so I confess that I have not seen Valentine Warner in his TV series of What to Eat Now. But that does rather give me an edge when it comes to reviewing the cookbook. No preconceptions, no prejudices, just an independent look. I wasn’t expecting much - there are, dear reader, those recipe books that rest on the laurels of TV shows. When they are good they are very very good, but when they are bad they are horrid.
Reviewing What to Eat Now – More Please has been a truly pleasant experience. It’s a many-faceted delight. A good read, a laugh, lovely artwork from our hero, and some of the best food photography around from Howard Sooley, but also food stylist Sarah O’Keefe should get a mention. There are lots of pictures that are imaginative and full of humour.
Yes, I do appreciate good food photography and sketches, but the food will be the reason you’ll buy the book. It’s a first-rate collection of spring and summer dishes that will tempt you away from your casserole-garnished winter and into the lighter fare of the warmer (we hope) months. There is plenty here for both meat-eaters and vegetarians.
Orangey Honey Buns are syrup-drenched desserts made from a yeast-based sponge. Valentine says they are ideal for afternoon tea but also as a pudding at 3 o’clock in the morning!
I had always thought that a Greek Breakfast was five cigarettes, two cups of thick coffee and a swing or two of some worry-beads, but here Valentine offers home-made Greek yoghurt with fennel seeds, thyme and oregano, served with a juicy peach. What could be nicer on a bright summer morning!
Potted Crab is one of the most appealing dishes in the book. Yes it is, without doubt, a fiddle. There is no way that I will describe it as done in a flash, easy as falling off a lobster pot... or whatever they catch crabs in. It is equally true to say that there is nothing like the taste of real crab from the shell. It’s worth the effort.
The book’s signature dish is, for me at least, Prawn Tangiers. This is a marvellous concoction of prawns, spinach and tomatoes, perfumed with cumin seeds and garlic. Serve this with some fresh bread and a big spoon.
What to Eat Now – More Please has been a joy and I’ll continue dipping into its pages. I’ve already chosen the next recipe to try: looks like the Green Bean Chutney!
Cookbook review: What to Eat Now – More Please
Author: Valentine Warner
Published by Mitchell Beazley
Sicily – Culinary CrossroadsThis is one of a series of books on Italy’s food culture by Oronzo Editions. They are a publisher that specialises in translations of Italian cookbooks and they certainly seem to have filled a gap in the market with this volume. This is the second in the series and takes a look at a cuisine that is rather unique.
Sicily is not only at a culinary crossroads but a crossroads in every sense. It has been invaded by those who chose to settle, it has been invaded by others who passed through at speed, being pursued by the next wave of invaders who might linger longer. Those lingerers left their mark on language and tradition, and have played a part in providing Sicily with its diverse nature.
Its geographic position ensured that it was never going to be overlooked by its more powerful neighbours. In fact anyone with a boat has made for Sicily. Greeks praised it, Romans coveted it, Arabs settled it, even Armenians and Spaniards stayed for a while or stayed for good. Each added to the food culture to a greater or lesser extent.
This book has its focus on old family recipes. It considers dishes that are possibly in danger of being lost. Globalization has tended to put at risk anything that is regional and different, and paints everything with the banality of International food. Don’t look here for Italian food. Yes, there are meatballs but they are Sicilian. Pasta is present but served with a Sicilian sauce.
Sicily – Culinary Crossroads is divided into four provinces and each of those has chapters covering first courses, fish dishes, meat dishes, vegetables, cheese, fruits and sweets. Each section starts with an overview of geography, history and food anecdotes. Don’t feel tempted to skip these preambles, they add much to the charm of the book.
I marvel at the simplicity of the recipes - very few with lengthy lists of ingredients. Pasta a la Norma only has eight ingredients and one of those is salt. It’s a celebrated dish named after an opera by Bellini, who came from Catania. This is pasta dressed with a tomato sauce and garnished with aubergine (eggplant) and salted ricotta (salata ricotta). Not a fussy dish and all the better for it.
Pasta Siracusa-Style is the last word in easy, flavourful and traditional cooking. Few ingredients but each of those being essential to the success of the dish. Anchovies and olive oil are not new companions, but add some toasted bread and it’s comfort on a plate.
There are delightful pastries, many of which trace their origins to convents. St. Clair’s Big Face hails from the convent of St. Claire at Noto. It’s an amusing name for a delicious confection of sponge, lime marmalade, almond paste, chocolate frosting and an angel. A paper angel can be used if a real one is unavailable.
This island isn’t so much a borrower, it’s more a borrowed from. It’s been famed for its fine food and expert cooks since classic Greek times. Sicilians have had a wealth of delicious ingredients at their disposal and they have known how to use them to best advantage. Sicily – Culinary Crossroads charts the history of these people and helps to safeguard their extraordinary culinary heritage. A great addition to any serious cookbook collection. An archive and masterwork.
Cookbook review: Sicily – Culinary Crossroads
Author: Giuseppe Coria, Translated by: Gaetano Cipolla
Published by: Oronzo Editions
Britain’s Best DishThis book takes its name from the ITV series. It showcases those recipes that have been successful in three series from 2007 to 2009. The competitions were judged by three of the British food industry’s most celebrated worthies in the guise of Ed Baines (chef and author), John Burton Race (chef and “star” of French Leave) and the effervescent Jilly Goolden who expertly fronted the liquid element of BBC Food and Drink.
This is quite a bumper volume and an eclectic mix of dishes which truly reflect British food tastes, and admirably reinforces the fact that British food is no longer dull and boring and to be shunned at any cost. British ingredients are top quality and they are put to good use in this selection of over 130 recipes.
We are talking British food rather than “traditional” British food. Yes, there are some good old-fashioned favourites like Trifle and Yorkshire Ginger Parkin and it’s appropriate that they are included, but this book takes a broad look at what Britain in general eats.
What you eat depends on where in Britain you live and your ethnic background. The subcontinent is well represented as one would expect. Lamb Biryani, Red Lentil Soup with Lentil Vadai and Lamb Tikka Masala are all listed but also several Caribbean dishes that are worthwhile: Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas and Caribbean Curried Goat. The Dumplings served with this are real comfort food.
We in Britain do smoked fish better than most and Craster Smoked Fish Pie uses both natural smoked haddock (that’s not the luminous yellow one) and smoked salmon. A cheese sauce and mashed potatoes top the pie which is served with spinach, watercress and rocket salad.
There’s a delicious choice of desserts here. Summer Pudding is a well-loved classic and this one is made even more special by the addition of crème de cassis. OK, so that’s not British but it travels well. And keeping with that theme of cross-channel exchange there is Orange Liqueur Tart with Chocolate Sauce. This has a chilli-spiked pastry which sounds amazing. A definite must-try.
Of all the sweet things Toffee Bakewell Tarts have my vote. The original has just a pastry base, some jam and a frangipane sponge. This new version has a toffee filling and a lemon syrup along with the sponge and is presented with a Champagne Lemon Martini. A great end to a dinner party.
Britain’s Best Dish is one of my Desert Island cookbooks... assuming the desert island has a good butchers and a fishmonger. This is a good solid book with delightful recipes which are written by home cooks for home cooks. I am happy to own this one.
Cookbook review: Britain’s Best Dish
Authors: British Cooks
Published by: Dorling Kindersley
Cooking with KidsDon’t get alarmed, dear reader, Cooking with Kids isn’t suggesting that you have children as the main or even incidental ingredient. No, this is about encouraging your youngsters into the kitchen and teaching them skills that will serve them well through life.
Many of us rue the day when cookery lessons were abolished. Pupils were instead given Home Economics lessons and learned the nutritional value of all kinds of foods that they would never know how to cook. They would understand the principles of healthy eating but would buy from the freezer counter because, well, what do you do with mange-tout?
Kids love helping mum and dad and they naturally view cooking as fun. It has all the elements of play: mixing, rolling, filling, painting and decorating; add the prospect of actually eating the end result of a good time, and happiness is assured.
Erin Quon is an award-winning, San Francisco food stylist. Her co-author and 5 year old daughter, Tatum, evidently gave invaluable advice about child-friendly recipes. Not only is the food delicious but the process of making all these dishes will delight your young chefs and leave them with a love of a variety of good things to eat. Anyone who cooks is less likely to be a fussy eater.
There are four recipe chapters starting with Rise and Shine, then Snack Timse, Dinnertime and Sweets. Each recipe has clearly-marked activities for kids. A chef’s hat and orange text will show the tasks that are easy for small hands. Any help needed from adults will be in the form of handling any hot pans, lighting ovens and hobs, filling blenders, etc. It’s all about cooking WITH your children.
Although the dishes are designed to be tempting to children they will be equally welcomed by the whole family. Chicken Chow Mein is quite sophisticated and your youngster will proudly announce that he made the sauce. Adults need not fear that this is baby food. These are dishes that you might even consider making when the kids are not around. OK, your icing on cookies might not be so thick nor as colourful as when made by small hands, but the recipe will be the same.
There are some delightful recipes here. Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies are bound to please the whole family. Creamy Sweetcorn Chowder has, as you would expect, sweetcorn but also potatoes, celery, carrot and onion. Your children are bound to enjoy eating food that they have helped prepare, so take advantage of that attitude and get them to cook with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Yoghurt Sundaes are stunners. Packed with fruit and topped with granola (muesli), these would make a healthful and smart breakfast or dessert.
Cooking with Kids has recipes that are fun to make and delicious. This isn’t a toy. You can’t just hand the book to your 6 year old and expect dinner in an hour. The point is that you spend time together but it has the added bonus, and a big one, of teaching youngsters to love good food. A worthwhile volume and a great gift for those with children.
Cookbook review: Cooking with Kids
Author: Erin and Tatum Quon
Published by: Apple Press
Seriously Good Gluten-Free CookingI am sure the title will encourage many a cookbook-shelf scanner to move right on by this book. Gluten-Free! That’s got something to do with being ill, hasn’t it? I’ve never felt better. Not interested. Well, OK, all that having been said, let’s actually have a look.
You might have heard the word coeliac. Sounds like a type of small pterodactyl but it is, in fact, an autoimmune disease affecting the gut. It can sometimes be mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome and has symptoms as diverse as skin rash, defective tooth enamel, nausea and abdominal pain. These symptoms are triggered by gluten found in wheat, barley and rye and sometimes oats.
Phil Vickery is a well-acclaimed chef in the UK who oft graces our TV screens. He noticed a gap in the market for gluten-free products and this book is a continuation of that interest. It doesn’t, however, read like a Red Cross manual. It’s not about avoiding food, it’s rather about good food that the whole family can eat together.
There are a surprising number of foods that include gluten. I would not have expected fizzy drinks to be a problem but they often contain barley flour. Coffee from vending machines and beer, lager, stout and ale all contain gluten. This volume has recipes that avoid those products that would be upsetting for a coeliac.
One might expect that a waffle would be out of the question but Phil has Salt and Pepper Eggs on Rice Waffles. It contains rice flour and gluten-free baking powder, and those same ingredients are seen again in Flat Mushrooms with Basil Pancakes.
The food here isn’t bland and beige. Crispy Pork Salad with Lemon Dressing is a riot of colour and taste. Marinated Smoked Salmon with Pickled Ginger is exotic but simple to make and contains tamari, a Japanese gluten-free soy sauce. Quick Tofu Miso Soup stays with the Japanese theme.
Cakes and pastries are rare in the diet of anyone avoiding gluten. They are all heavy on flour but this book has quite an array of goodies that will cause no problems. Soft Lemon and Lime Bar Cakes uses chestnut flour. Orange and Lime Shortbread has cornflour and rice flour.
There are several outstanding recipes here. They are noteworthy because they are delicious and just happen to be gluten-free. Rich Chocolate Brownies with Caramel Sauce uses chickpea flour, Fudgy Almond Cake with Mint Syrup and Frosting has ground almonds instead of regular flour. But the pick of this book is Tangy Lime Mousse with Mint Muddle. Phil made this on the Paul O’Grady TV show and has had lots of requests for it. This is rich and comforting and a visual stunner.
Seriously Good Gluten-Free Cooking will be sought after and appreciated by coeliac sufferers but it’s a book with great healthy ideas for all of us. It’s an attractive book with simple recipes that use ingredients that might be new to you, but that’s the charm of cooking - exploring something deliciously different.
Cookbook Review: Seriously Good Gluten-Free Cooking
Author: Phil Vickery
Published by: Kyle Cathie
The Eagle CookbookIf you are not from London then perhaps you might not know about the Eagle Cookbook. No, dear reader, it’s not a right-wing American recipe book subtitled Tasty Meals from Our National Emblem. This is the book of the first Gastropub. That’s a pub that serves (or is supposed to) great food along with your pint.
A few years ago British pub food was nothing to write home about. Or perhaps it was too frequently written home about: “Dear Abner, Martha will soon be out of plaster after the accident with the Scottish egg.” Toasted sandwiches were a main-stay and you would never be far from a pork scratching (pork rind).There has been a general trend towards better food in many pubs but a Gastropub has food at the centre of the enterprise.
The Eagle was an unprepossessing hostelry (OK, so it was a dump) till two enterprising chaps (David Eyre and Mike Belben) took charge. They transformed it into a pub with tempting and inspiring grub. I shrink from saying “Fine” because that conjures images of crisp table cloths, crisp waiters and an embarrassing array of cutlery and glasses.
The Eagle is an old-fashioned pub and is the venue for comforting and hearty fare. The Eagle Cookbook not only reflects the pub’s menu but also the way we eat in Britain today. There is, instead of bangers and mash, Grilled Fennel Sausages, Lentils and Green Sauce. If you want some mash then consider Smoked Haddock with Horseradish Mash and Poached Egg (one of the best dishes in this book.) Banished are the luminous, breadcrumbed nuggets of scampi, to be replaced by Grilled Squid Piri-Piri.
All the recipes have the feel of home cooking. Some of those homes might be a long way from British shores but they all have that real food quality about them. There is nothing here that is fiddled with. It’s all straightforward and flavourful, and accessible to the home cook.
Octopus Stew with Spices from Goa, from chef Tom Norrington-Davies, is outstanding. The amazing flavour comes from a spice paste that’s easy to make with ingredients that you’ll doubtless already have in your larder. It’s a vindaloo-esque paste that is also good with pan-fried squid and will be a good base for any quick spicy stir-fry.
Another favourite is Jensson’s Temptation, a side dish and a Swedish classic. This version is from chef/author Trish Hilferty. It’s a delicious concoction of potatoes, onions, garlic and, most importantly, anchovies. Also try Peas with Chorizo and Poached Egg, from David Eyre. This is a Portuguese recipe for a dish that makes a perfect light winter lunch or late supper. It has sweetness from the vegetables, heat from the sausage, and creamy comfort from the egg yolk.
The Eagle Cookbook is full of food that I like to eat. The recipes have broad appeal and they are simple to make. It’s Gastropub cooking at its best but also proper home cooking. This is bound to be a best seller.
Cookbook review: The Eagle Cookbook
Author: David Eyre and The Eagle chefs
Published by: Absolute Press
The Ultimate Garden DesignerThe “ultimate” anything has got to be good. What would this Garden Designer variety have to offer? It needed to be a comprehensive tome covering every aspect of the subject. Needless to say I had visions of a book the size of a small garden shed or at least a rabbit hutch.
This is a surprisingly trim volume for the information it holds: 250 or so pages with over 500 photographs, plans and illustrations. The secret of success for this book is its variations on a theme. The chapter concerning A Small Sheltered Garden, for instance, has a design, planting, features but includes four alternative plans for a long narrow plot, a corner plot, a triangular plot and a rotated aspect. Consider this a horticultural take on 500 Cookies, with the basic recipe and then some options.
There are a full fifteen garden types considered by the author, Tim Newbury. Part One of the book looks at those gardens: cottage gardens and formal gardens, front gardens and roof gardens, enclosed gardens and gardens for special needs. Then Part Two takes an in-depth view of garden features, starting with water and finishing with pots and containers. Part Three has a plant directory that has all the information you’ll need on the plants proposed in any and all of the garden designs. It’s the mixing and matching of ideas and possibilities that has enabled Tim to cram so much between the covers.
The Ultimate Garden Designer has just about everything that a novice gardener would need to transform an existing garden or to plan a garden around a totally empty space. Tim doesn’t assume that you are familiar with plants nor that you have a plot the size of a working farm. He even presents a tiny, low maintenance garden that is 7metres by 7 metres. For lovers of TV garden design programmes Tim has a split-level garden with decking and water feature!
If you are embarking on garden design or redesign then this might well be the book for you. The Ultimate Garden Designer is packed with advice and ideas and is very reasonably priced. This would make a lovely house-warming gift.
The Ultimate Garden Designer
Author: Tim Newbury
Published by: Octopus
Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Pasta and NoodlesIf you are a regular visitor then you will already be familiar with Paul Gayler's cookbooks. For those others who are visiting for the first time I’ll introduce you. Paul is the chef of The Lanesborough, one of the smartest spots in London. He has written a collection of cookbooks which act as showcase for his unarguable skills and a source of pleasure for his readers.
This book has the same quality of recipes, the same conversational style but it’s little. The clue is in the title, Paul Gayler’s Little Book. It’s a condensed volume that has a single focus, in this case of Pasta and Noodles. There are 50 or so recipes here for meals that are easy and fast. A baked dish might take 20 minutes but you’ll not be talking to it through the oven door for the duration - you’ll be finishing The Times crossword or watching the Simpsons. And the majority of dishes take half that time.
Paul has, as always, found recipes that offer something a bit different. These dishes never seem contrived or chefy. They are written with the home cook in mind and range from traditional to innovative with a bit of fusion for good measure.
Pasta making isn’t as frightening as you might think. If this writer can do it then you’ll have no problem. Paul supplies a basic recipe but if you don’t feel confident then use the commercial pasta, but do make the sauces.
Pasta Carbonara is a dish oft-found on Italian restaurant menus. It has few ingredients but those ingredients produce a rich and comforting sauce. Paul also suggests Funghi Carbonara which is a vegetarian version of the original and should become a classic. This dish takes only as long as the pasta takes to cook - 8 minutes or so for dried pasta and even less than that for fresh.
I am a lover of a good baked pasta. They are hearty and comforting dishes and take no more preparation than a regular bowl of pasta. Baked Smoked Haddock Pasta has my vote. This isn’t a vegetarian option as it has a little bacon but that bacon does add to the flavourful result.
Spicy Vegetable and Cashew Ramen is a colourful and tasty dish that you’ll be eating in ten minutes. Paul uses sugar-snap peas, red peppers, aubergine and shiitake mushrooms, although the dressing would work well with almost any combination of vegetables.
Paul Gayler tempts the reader into the kitchen. He is neither intimidating nor patronising. You will use his books because the food is delicious. It’s an attractive volume but Paul will be very pleased if it’s covered with tomato sauce, flour and a flake or two of pecorino.
Cookbook review: Paul Gayler’s Little Book of Pasta and Noodles
Author: Paul Gayler
Published by Kyle Cathie
Backroads of ArizonaI have reviewed another book by author Jim Hinckley and photographer Kerrick James (about Route 66), so I knew what to expect. A high-quality picture travelogue with images of the past and the present. Images that charm and mystify and eloquently tell the story of the state of Arizona.
The state might be the epitome of the historic Wild West but the young Jim Hinkley was less than impressed when he arrived with his parents in 1966. He says it was a place warned about in Sunday school. Well, that’s a notion that might attract as many people as it would deter.
The author came to love the space and majestic beauty of Arizona and has been sufficiently enamoured by it to remain there, marry and bring up his son. It has everything that either an American or overseas tourist could wish for. Rocks, deserts, oases, ghost towns, London Bridge, cowboy cemeteries... What was that about a bridge? Surely you jest? No, dear reader, I do not. London Bridge was sold to America, was dismantled and rebuilt at Lake Havasu City. There is a rumour back in London that the buyers thought they were purchasing Tower Bridge. Ooops!
There is a deal of rustic humour here. The author has a picture of a grave in Boot Hill. It reads: “Here Lies Lester Moore, Four Slugs From a 44 No Les No More.” And a nice view of the gallows at the courtyard. Perhaps the shots (if you pardon the pun) are connected. Those who missed the drop could contemplate their misdemeanours in the comfort (here I do jest) of Yuma Territorial Prison.
Backroads of Arizona offers four routes, each one with its own attraction and charm. There are maps and plenty of historic background information. The photographs give a real and striking impression of this time-capsule of a state. There are horses, trading posts, Indian ruins, cactus and everything you would have seen in a John Ford Western. This isn’t, however, a film set. This is a view of your next vacation.
Backroads of Arizona
Author: Jim Hinckley
Published by: Voyageur Press
Price: $21.99, £12.99
The Hairy Bikers Ride AgainIf you watch British TV then you would know of the Hairy Bikers, but there are those who have not, thus far, been fortunate enough to get to know these boys. You are missing a treat.
Dave Myers and Si King are two northern lads with passions for travel, bikes and food. Their books are paper versions of their TV series, being part travelogue and part cookbook. You have no need to feel alienated if you don’t give a spark plug about a Harley something or other. This isn’t a biker’s survival manual just a rather good cookbook derived from the Hairy Bikers’ road trips.
It is a diverse and fascinating recipe book. How many other authors would have the nerve to present recipes from India, Argentina, Belgium and Morocco in the same volume? There is, however, a common thread: delicious and accessible food. Each chapter is liberally laced with wry northern wit and dishes that are appetising and traditional.
The Indian chapter offers Lamb Chop Pakoras. I confess that I had not come across these before but what a great idea. There can be nothing wrong with deep-fried anything, in my estimation (everything in moderation) and anything coated in a batter can only add to the joy. The chops are poached in a milk and spice mixture before being fried in a batter spiced with mustard seed and cayenne pepper.
Masala Iced Coffee is far more delicious than the regular iced coffee of Costabucks in your high street. This version is spiced with vanilla, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. It’s just as nice hot, but if we get a summer then a long cool coffee with merry ice a-chinking will be welcome.
Argentina is famed for its beef, tango and crying, but Dulche de Leche Cheesecake is quite a marvel. The key ingredient is a tin of boiled condensed milk (the same as that used for Gypsy Tart). This is rich, flavourful and a bit different from your more usual New York-style cheesecake.
What do you think of when you think of Belgium? Nothing (unfair!). Truth to tell, Belgium has as bad a reputation for food as Britain has, and with just as little reason. They have lovely mussels, chips (fries) with mayonnaise, waffles, fish of all kinds... and chocolate. The Hairy Bikers have a dark Chocolate Mousse from Bruges garnished with some double cream. It looks like a thick Irish coffee. The secret is to use good-quality chocolate.
Salad Zaalouk is a Moroccan Aubergine salad. It’s not a puree although it is mashed. It has a bit of body and plenty of flavour from garlic, cumin, paprika and preserved lemons. Don’t leave these out as they add some necessary bite. Serve this as part of a Moroccan salad selection or as a starter for a North African meal.
There are 100 or so dishes in The Hairy Bikers Ride Again. They are all very fine and I’d not turn my nose up at any of them. Both Dave and Si can cook a bit and that, combined with their way with words, makes this another winner. It’s a great read with funny anecdotes but also humanity and charm. Love it.
Cookbook review: The Hairy Bikers Ride Again
Authors: Dave Myers and Si King
Published by: Michael Joseph – Penguin
Duchy Originals CookbookIf ever there was a cookbook review I wanted to get right it’s this one. Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler are two very witty and talented cookbook authors. Although elevated to something approaching stardom on this site (perhaps that’s a bit much but their Preserved book was very nice), those two chaps bow to the one who wrote the foreword to Duchy Originals Cookbook, HRH Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall.
Most of us would have seen Duchy Originals products on our supermarket shelves. The packaging is tasteful and understated but with a little crest that does carry a bit of authority (the biscuits also sport the crest). It’s a mark of quality which can be trusted. How many products have such a royal stamp of approval? The more often-seen coat of arms with By Appointment to Her Majesty only indicates that a product has been used by the royal household. Duchy Originals have a much closer connection: it’s a brand personally devised by Prince Charles to promote good food thoughtfully produced.
Johnny and Nick have compiled a selection of recipes that either use Duchy Originals-labelled goods or organic or sustainable produce. The emphasis is on quality. It isn’t, however, a book of vegetarian or over-worthy dishes. It’s more a reflection of how we eat today... or how we should eat: seasonal, fresh, low air miles and healthy.
The photography by Jonathan Gregson is stunning. He has captured a wealth of images of baby pigs and lambs that almost encourages me to give up eating meat... almost. There are pictures of animals, food and fishermen, cattle breeders and a cooper (barrel-maker, who looks like Mel Gibson) which give the book a sumptuous quality.
A recipe book should have food at centre-stage and this one does. There is plenty of innovation – I expect that from these authors. They use the products to create dishes that are delicious, not over-chefy, and visually striking. The chapters are divided by season and each one is packed with information about producers and their lives and food passions.
There is a very British bias to the recipes as one might expect but this isn’t the bland fare of legend. This is more a reflection of good British food as it once was and of how it can be. Flat Bake with Streaky Bacon and Vintage Cheddar is a British pizza. Johnny and Nick offer Cannelloni but here it is stuffed with smoked ham and cheddar. The ever-popular French Profiteroles are listed but in this case with a filling of whipped cream laced with Duchy Originals Lemon Curd, and the pastries then drizzled with a tangy lemon syrup.
Marmalade Cake with Honeycomb Filling has the delicate flavour of oranges but the crunch and sweetness of honeycomb, made with Duchy honey. I have made this with sugar before but this version is much more appealing. If you don’t have time to make the cake then just make the honeycomb. Dip in chocolate and give as Christmas gifts. It won’t last till the end of the year!
My pick of this book is Apple Crumble with Highland Shortbread. The fruit base is perfumed with both honey and calvados, with a suspicion of cinnamon. The topping is a bit of a break with tradition as it uses Duchy Originals Shortbread (those with the posh coat of arms stamped on each biscuit), crumbled with a bit more butter. This elevates the traditional crumble into adult dinner party dessert.
Duchy Originals Cookbook is a book that tempts, educates and charms. His Royal Highness chose the best authors for the job. This could have been a serious and academic tome but the lads have worked their usual magic and have presented us with a book of fab food and a wry smile.
Cookbook review: Duchy Originals Cookbook
Authors: Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler
Published by: Kyle Cathie
Gorgeous GreensWell, it sounds like an oxymoron (ok, look it up). Gorgeous Greens. It’s an expression used by my parents and many others as a term for all vegetables, just like the word greengrocer refers to a shop that sells every kind of vegetable and not just those of a greener hue. This isn’t a vegetarian cookbook but it has veggies at centre-stage rather than as a garnish to meat or fish.
Annie Bell is without a doubt one of my favourite cookbook authors. I have had the pleasure to review a couple of her other books (Gorgeous Cakes and Gorgeous Desserts), and Gorgeous Greens has not disappointed. It has the same wit, easy-to-follow recipes and gorgeous (that word again) pictures by Chris Alack who is one of the best food photographers around.
Greens, gorgeous or otherwise, have had a bad press down the ages. There was not a wide range of vegetables to tempt the palate of most northern Europeans till relatively recently. As late as the 1960s little could be found in greengrocers other than a selection of potatoes (white or red, madam?) some onions (spring or Spanish, darlin’?), cabbage (the big one at the back?) and tomatoes (salad or squashed, love?). But, thank goodness, things have changed and we all have access to an amazing array of produce, and we know that we should all eat more vegetables – five a day of fruit and veg – so let’s not allow it to become a chore.
There is nothing bland about this book. It’s vibrant in both colour and taste. There are no insipid, over-boiled crimes against vegdom here. There are fresh tastes and fresh concepts that keep one turning the pages. There are cooked and raw dishes that will encourage even the most dedicated carnivore off the meat wagon. They range from delicate dips and side dishes to hearty bakes and tarts, with sometimes just a hint of smoky bacon or a glimpse of the pink of a prawn.
There are several dips that are traditional but with a Bell twist, like Aubergine puree but with pomegranate and almond. This looks bejewelled and attractive and a bit more appetizing than the original, which although delicious looked beige and uninteresting. Crushed Goats Cheese and Anchoiade is, as the name suggests, two dips that can be served separately or together to give a real taste of the south of France.
I am a pie lover so Bubble and Squeak Pie was bound to be one of my picks. Bubble and squeak refers to the noise made by leftover potatoes and cabbage as they were fried the next day. Annie presents this in the form of a puff pastry pie. It transforms the tasty vegetables into a main meal that could become a vegetarian classic. I’d cook vegetables especially to make this dish.
Courgette, Smoky Bacon and Rosemary Clafoutis is probably my favourite recipe from this collection. This is simple to make, smart and versatile. It’s a savoury version of the French dessert made with plums or cherries. The combination of courgette and bacon is a winner but once you have mastered the batter then the world is your oyster... or perhaps onion, or maybe goat’s cheese...
Gorgeous Greens is as good as I expected it to be. The recipes are easy and Annie Bell has a style of writing that is accessible and engaging. Great value for money, and inspiring.
Cookbook review: Gorgeous Greens
Author: Annie Bell
Published by: Kyle Cathie
The Press ClubSounds like a haunt for elderly, heavy-smoking, heavy-drinking journalists. The Press Club is, in fact, a highly-acclaimed restaurant in Melbourne, Australia and it’s all about modern Greek cookery. The author, George Calombaris, is the head chef at the Press Club and the talent behind this marvellous array of contemporary dishes.
The prospect of modern this or contemporary that tends to send shivers of horror down my spine. Those words often herald plates of artistically-arranged nothing much, or a perfect traditional dish ruined by the use of toenails of virgin seahorses or some other inappropriate ingredient. These are all signs of a chef who is just trying to be different rather than the best. The Press Club, however, has food that is truly different and amusing but also holds to its roots.
The Press Club is a sumptuous book. It reflects the style and quality of the restaurant. No hint of the Greek-themed eateries of amphora and Greek flags over a model of a blue-and-white painted fishing boat. The book is thoughtfully designed and masterfully executed with the help of photographer Dean Cambray. It’s a vision of sepia tones and text, with marvellously contrasting photographs of the food.
Yes, the recipes are a little cheffy but not difficult. So much of the success has to do with presentation. Cyprian Pork Pies are nothing like the indestructible, pastry-rich British examples. These are more on the lines of a Lebanese stuffed Kibbe (usually made with lamb). George serves them with his Pine Nut Hoummos (recipe in this book) and a salad of shaved fennel and onion. This gives a clean fresh taste as a counterpoint to the pies.
Feta is not just reserved for Greek salad. George offers Feta Soufflé. This dish isn’t difficult to make and would be an interesting Greek-themed lunch, or a starter followed by some lamb or pork. Scallop Loukoumades are George’s take on tempura (although his grandmother is horrified). The batter is that usually reserved for a traditional dessert.
Lime and Yoghurt Sorbet is simple to make and has few ingredients but would be the most apt and delicious end to a Greek meal... or any other meal. Light and refreshing, it’s a real palate cleanser. Milk sorbet is another summer treat and only has 3 ingredients.
George Calombaris has done a fine job of demonstrating why he is an internationally celebrated chef. We might not all be able to take a trip Down Under but we can all have a little taste of The Press Club.
Cookbook review: The Press Club
Author: George Calombaris
Published by: New Holland