This is the fourth volume in the Leon series, but it isn’t a traditional restaurant book. The clue is in the name, and then in the recipes.
Leon – Family & Friends offers a diverse and eclectic collection of recipes in a book that has that old-fashioned feel of a Christmas Annual. You remember that bumper bump in your stocking (most likely a pillowcase) at the bottom of the bed? It’s the book that you started to read while surrounded by wrapping paper and you didn’t put down till the day after Boxing Day, apart from surfacing for meals.
Yes, those much-loved Annuals are a thing of the past, but Leon – Family & Friends is the adult, food-lover version. Light-hearted graphics, plenty of short stories and instead of washing-up-liquid-bottle projects there are recipes that will remain with you far longer than that something-like-a-rocket ever did. Or perhaps it’s more of a food family album with all those old pictures of parents and far-away places. Our strongest memories are around food, after all.
Leon is an 8-year-old chain of restaurants. It’s not your archetypal fast food concept but it’s about rather good and healthy food rather quickly. These 200 or so recipes are from friends and family of the co-founder, John Vincent and of food consultant and cookbook author, Kay Plunkett-Hogge, although the duo also have their own dishes and food memories.
Kay has a culinary heritage that would be the envy of any food writer. She is steeped in traditional English food simplicity because her parents were British. Her dad now lives in Malta, introducing a sprinkle of Mediterranean seasoning, and she is perfectly at ease with vibrant Thai spices as she was born and brought up in Thailand; and there is a hint of delicious Americana as Kay lived in the US for a number of years. Her husband, Fred, adds to the mix with his own Caribbean connections. Yes, this couple can cook a bit, and meals chez eux are always exciting. You won’t know what to expect but you can guarantee it will be a delight, and if it’s Friday dinner there is sure to be a Martini as garnish.
There are a host of Thai recipes here but Kay has ensured that they are all simple to prepare and these days the ingredients are readily available. Pad Krapow Neua is a flexible recipe which can take advantage of prawns, duck, tofu, chicken, or beef. The finished dish is topped by a deep-fried egg. That might sound a little eccentric but eggs cooked this way are, in my humble Western opinion, superior in texture to the European single-side fry with a bit of a baste.
If you are in the mood for less exotic fare but with flavour then Oven-fried Chicken with Collard Greens might have your name on it. This isn’t an apologetic poultry preparation but the sort that makes a statement, and it could easily become a favourite. The coating is what makes this an outstanding meal, but it’s economic and ideal for hectic weekends when you have a house full. Collard Greens are the side dish (a classic Soul Food vegetable staple) but if you are a stranger to a collard, and most of us are in the UK, then use baby spring greens.
Perhaps my favourite dish from the book is Lamb Boulangère. It takes its name from the baker who would cook roasts in his oven for the local folks. Popping over to your nearest Greggs and asking if they have a corner to spare might not be practical so just use your domestic oven. The secret is to roast the meat directly on the oven shelf, allowing the drippings to anoint the spuds below. Nothing needed with this apart from a bottle of red and some crusty French bread. This could be the easiest Sunday lunch you have ever made.
‘Has something for everyone’ is one of those sugary phrases that’s right up there with ‘what a lovely baby’ and ‘you don’t look a day older’ but Leon – Family & Friends truly has that mass appeal. Its recipes are accessible and tempting and the family anecdotes bring the subject to life. Cooking isn’t just about processing ingredients. It’s personal and a reflection of who we are. You might find that some of these recipes become your own culinary heirlooms, with this well-thumbed book giving memories of its own after another half-century.
Leon – Family & Friends
Authors: Kay Plunkett-Hogge and John Vincent
Published by: Conran Octopus Ltd
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018