River Cottage: Great Salads
I received this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s out now.
So I’ve had this book in my kitchen for a few months now, and I just… keep not getting around to reviewing it. Obviously. And there are a few reasons for that. December and January were a hectic time for a variety of reasons, and although summer does mean salads I only used this a couple of times. Which leads into the other reason for why it’s taken me so long to review it: I haven’t been that inspired by it. That is, I like the idea of what this book is doing, but a lot of the specific recipes just… haven’t grabbed me. And I do think this is a me-thing, not the fault of the book.
Partly, I think it’s because this is a British book. There are ingredients in here that I either don’t know, that would be hard to get, or that I just don’t love. Buckwheat groats; gooseberries; chicory; kohlrabi… they’re not in everything, but I do find it off-putting when I browse through. So that’s one thing – a me-thing. I’m also not a massive fan of sweet things in salad, which is totally a me thing, and the idea of raspberries with tomato just seems appalling! Perhaps, too, I’ve just been a bit sluggish (heh) with salads lately. As I flick through, I am reminded that there really are salads in here that I would enjoy. So I should try them.
A few that I have tried, and really enjoyed:
- Zucchini, toasted buckwheat, goat’s cheese and dill: didn’t use the buckwheat… don’t remember what I used instead, actually. Hmm. Hmm. Maybe chopped almonds? It was good, anyway. Zucchini and goat’s cheese FTW.
- Fennel, celery and apple with creamy almond dressing. Delicious.
- Barbecued leeks, spelt and sunflower seeds: BBQ leeks! So good. Again, didn’t use spelt; think I used barley instead.
- Charred zucchini, broad beans, snow peas and fresh curds: the fresh curds made me impatient; I did it, but I wouldn’t do it again – didn’t think they lent anything much to the salad.
Yeh yeh, I just need to challenge myself, and actually try more of the recipes. If you’re interested in varied salad recipes, then I suspect this will be a good book for you; there’s definitely combinations I hadn’t thought of, and many of them really do intrigue me (cavolo nero with peach – hmm – and cashews and goat’s cheese… curried roots with pearled barley and parsley…).
Bake, from Paul Hollywood
I received this from the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s out now; $52.00 for the (very lovely) hardcover.
I’m not naturally a celebrity chef fan, and I was late to the Great British Bake-Off. But I do now love GBBO, and I enjoy Hollywood’s style within the show as a rule; I also own his bread book because it has a very good range of styles, and is accessible. So I was quite interested to receive this and see what it contains.
First, in terms of appearance: this is, unsurprisingly, a very pretty book. I love a hardcover – although I’m a bit sad this is lacking a ribbon. Just one of those things I like. Anyway! The recipe pages are entirely standard, so they’re perfectly easy to read and follow; the pictures are nice and appealing. There are a few recipes that have some step-by-step photos – croissants, for instance, and the meringue roulade, which didn’t seem to need it as far as I was concerned.
There are six chapters: Cakes, Biscuits and Cookies, Breads and Flatbreads, Pizzas and Doughnuts, Pastry and Pies, and Dessert. There’s nothing especially revolutionary or new in these sections. The subtitle is “My best ever recipes for the classics” and that’s exactly what this delivers. So if you want a surprising take on ginger nuts or a revolutionary way of making croissants, this is not the book for you. Instead, I would class this as your second baking book. It’s not the book for a novice; there are some assumptions about techniques and so on that would stump someone who’s never baked. But for a person who enjoys baking and wants a book with a good variety of recipes – ones to make all the time and ones for occasional adventures – this is pretty good.
What I’ve made:
- No cakes yet! Just haven’t had the inspiration. But I have my eye on the Chocolate Orange Banana Bread.
- Biscuits: Hazelnut and Apricot Cookies are excellent and will go into steady rotation. The Double Chocolate Chip Cookies were fine, but probably not better than others I already make. The ginger biscuits were exactly what they should be. I’m quite interested to try his scones, just to see how his method works.
- Bread: I made his baguettes! Which was time consuming although not a lot of work. I think I over-proved at one stage? They still tasted ok, just not a great shape. Excellent tip: I froze a couple, and then defrosted and ‘refreshed’ for a few minutes in the oven, and they were really good!
- Pizzas and Doughnuts: haven’t been making pizza recently (don’t ask; we haven’t found the required bits for the pizza oven…) and I cannot come at deep-frying doughnuts.
- Pastry and Pies: I love a pie, so I’m looking forward to making some of these; it just hasn’t happened yet. The recipes look excellent and fairly doable; I’ll probably even make the pastry, at least a couple of times, to see how that goes. I HAVE, though, made the danishes! Just to say that I have, and that I can. I wasn’t in love with the pastry – it seemed a bit too bready, and not flaky enough, so I’m not sure if that’s me or the recipe. It’s a long and drawn-out process, but not too hard. The one thing I was cranky about was making the creme patisserie. The recipe says mix ‘until thickened’. Now I’ve been making a lot of custard, so I assumed I was going to that consistency and it would thicken a bit more when rested. Nope. I ended up having to warm it again to thicken it further, because it went absolutely everywhere when I tried to put it on the pastry. This is one reason why I don’t think this is a novice’s book.
- Dessert: I made the meringue roulade (with berries, not mango). And it’s easy as, and very tasty, so this is going on the make-again list for sure..
The Year of Miracles (recipes about love + grief + growing things)
I was sent this book by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s out now; $44.99.
The memoir / cookbook genre is not one I knew I needed, but it turns out I do. When it’s done well, anyway. Looking over other food-type books I realise I do own a couple. I think I hope it accrues even more examples, and that they will be as well written as this.
Firstly, this book is gorgeous. The front cover there gives a sense of the illustrations – watercolours, I think? – that appear throughout the whole book. It’s a memoir of a year, and each month is a chapter and the first page of each gets a lovely, representative image; so do most of the recipes, and the headings for each get a band of colour. It’s the sort of book that’s a delight to literally flick through as pops of colour jump out.
Also: it has a ribbon. All cookbooks, and indeed every hardback, should come with a ribbon. It’s a fact; I don’t make the rules.
I haven’t read the first of Risbridger’s memoir/cookbooks (but watch me watch out for it now) so I don’t know about her life as described there, beyond what you glean from this one. But the prologue explains that her partner died a couple of years before, and at the start of 2020 (oh, what a phrase that is just resonant now) she has moved into a new house with one of her best friends to try and start anew. And then, you know. 2020 happens. But as we also know, life continues, and continued. Friends still exist and people still need to eat and plants can be planted, and love still exists. And this is really what the book is: a meditation on all those things. Risbridger reflects on grief and love, and coming to terms with the messy realities of how people affect us for good and ill – and how even when we love people we can resent doing things for or with them but simultaneously not resent it thanks to that love. Risbridger seems very honest in these pages. Memoirs are not my natural reading fodder but this one, I enjoyed.
The other aspect is the food, of course, and reading the recipes was also a delight. I am not the person who reads recipes for fun, as a rule, but these ones I did because Risbridger brings a chatty style even to her instructions. That won’t be to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but I enjoyed it a lot. On making pie pastry: “Try not to work it too hard, but honestly? You’re probably fine. You’re making your own pastry” (p10). [Note: I was not entirely fine, but that’s probably because I didn’t have enough Parmesan in the pastry. Also, I’ve never grated butter for pastry; it’s messy but also a whole lot easier than trying to cube it.] The recipes are a glorious range from three-ingredient brownies (hint: a LOT of Nutella) to chicken pie, with dumplings and several soups and various condiments along the way. I have made the pie – chicken and mushroom and miso (I have bought miso! I’ve never used miso!), and it’s fantastic; her sour cherry and chocolate chip biscuits, which are meant to have marzipan but a) I didn’t have any and b) the other person wouldn’t enjoy them (burnt butter! what an idea!); and “Theo’s chicken”, which also has miso, and ketchup and ginger and garlic and sesame oil. You cook it super hot at first and then a bit lower, and the marinade basically burns; I didn’t love that part quite so much but overall it tasted fantastic. There are definitely other recipes in here that I’ll be trying, too.
This is a delight of a book.
Breadsong: How Baking Changed Our Lives
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s out today (3 May 2022); $39.99.
I actually finished reading the memoir part of this book a couple of weeks ago – the day I received it in fact. But I had to wait until I had baked a couple of the recipes before I could do a legit review!
This is two books in one. The second part is a cookbook – all bread or bread-adjacent (a couple of biscuits and cakes). So far I have made the Miracle Overnight White Loaf, which is a marvellous no-knead, overnight (duh) bread that you cook in casserole dish; and today I made the focaccia, which uses the same dough but you press it out to make focaccia. Both of these are AMAZING and will definitely be in high rotation. A large section of the recipes is sourdough, and… I’ve done the sourdough thing, and I’m just not sure I can face going back to the world of the starter. I’ll have to give it some more thought. There are definitely other recipes I want to try – bialys, and their mini panettone buns. Each of the recipes is laid out beautifully – I love that there is a different font for the chat at the start, and the ingredients, and the recipe itself. It’s also got delightful photos and in general the cookbook aspect is just fabulous.
But the recipes are only half the book. The first half of the book is a memoir. This book is written by Kitty and her father, Al – they tell the story together and they each have a distinct font. It’s the story of how they ended up running a bakery together, and while that sounds all heartwarming – and it is, absolutely – but it starts because baking a loaf of bread is one thing that Al tries to help Kitty with her crippling anxiety. Like, anxiety that made going to school impossible, getting out of bed barely feasible, nothing in the world seeming worthwhile. I deeply appreciated the honesty that Al in particular presents here – that he and his wife did not see what was happening at the start, that they were bewildered by the change in their youngest daughter, and that they struggled to figure out what to do. Kitty, of course, is also very honest: she didn’t know why it happened, either, and makes no excuses for it, or for feeling the way she did. It just was.
The book explores the slow movement from Kitty deciding she wanted to bake a loaf of bread – to wanting to make more, and therefore being allowed to use neighbouring ovens – to giving bread away because she was making so much, leading to a subscription service, then a pop-up, and then an actual real bakery and high street shop. Well, I say slow, but it all happened over about 2 years and that’s just incredible.
It’s the sort of book that makes me think “maybe I could be a baker and make bread all the time and bring joy to people!” and then you keep reading and you realise just how much stress the whole thing is, and how early you have to get up (unless you’re the Margaret River bakers who sell their bread from 3pm onwards, LIFE GOALS) and… yeh. I’ll just stick with making bread for people in my house, thanks.
As a memoir, the book is a delight. It’s honest and thoughtful and funny (when appropriate). It’s got enough context of other things going on that you know bread isn’t absolutely everything, but it’s also very clear that the focus is the story of Kitty not being able to go to school —> opening the bakery; it’s not a complete autobiography. The different fonts make the dual authorship work really well, there’s lovely pictures and photos throughout, and I really did sit and read the 150-odd pages in one day, because I started and then I had to keep going. I didn’t really need another bread book in my life but I definitely needed this book.
Green Chili and Other Impostors
I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
Part travel memoir, part personal memoir, and part food history; it’s an intriguing combination. Furstenau discusses her own history – born of Bengali parents, in Thailand, and then growing up in the US. Throughout the book are comments about how hard it was to demonstrate that her visa to India ought to reflect that heritage, but given a lack of paperwork for her parents, it wasn’t to be. This sense of questioning where she belongs is woven through her discussion of “Indian” food, as she looks into the histories of both ingredients and dishes. “Indian” because some of what is discussed is about how now-common ingredients in Indian food actually came to India (green peas, chillis, potato… cheese…); and also some things you might think of as Indian are not, and some things appropriated by others are, of course, from India.
The author travels around India, sometimes visiting relatives and sometimes finding food-connected people, who talk about history and share recipes and teach her to cook some of the dishes. And these recipes are included, of course – Sandesh and Nolen Gur Cheesecake; Kedgeree (which is Indian, not Scottish, and the story of it becoming a breakfast staple is fascinating and I have never eaten it!); Koraishutir Kochuri (puffed bread with green pea filling, and goodness I really want to make this)… and so many others.
This book is very readable; it’s enjoyable to journey around India, it’s varied in what ingredients and ideas it discusses, and the recipes seem easy to follow.
Sicilia: A love letter to the food of Sicily
I received this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury Absolute, at no cost. RRP $52.99; it’s out now.
Firstly, LOOK at that cover. This is a beautiful book just to look at, from the cover through to the internal images. So if you’re a person who buys cookbooks to ogle – and more power to you – this is a good one.
Secondly, the text: it’s engagingly written. The intro gives a very potted history of the island, focusing on what different cultures brought with them; then also an overview of the geography, including what I didn’t know which is that ‘Sicily’ also includes all the little islands around it. The stories at the start of each recipe – I know there’s a proper name, but I can’t remember it – aren’t too long, are generally relevant, and (if you’re in a hurry) can be safely ignored with regard to the actual cooking.
Thirdly, of course, the recipes. Chapters include Bread, Fritti (fried things), Pasta and rice, Vegetables, Fish, Meat, Sweets, Granita and ice creams, and Sauces and Basics. I’ve cooked a few things…
- I started with some things I was already familiar with, because it’s pandemic time – in fact I think I cooked some during a lockdown – and my emotional energy for adventure was low. So:
- Grilled Bavette (I think I used rump steak) with braised courgettes, mint, chilli and gremolata – a delicious way to do zucchini, and a tasty sauce for the meat;
- Whole Roast Chicken with fennel [I don’t think Australia has the wild variety he specifies], lemon leaves, garlic and bay – the chicken is placed on top of fennel and shallots, which was delicious;
- Sfincione – that is, Sicilian-style pizza – which in my lexicon is more like focaccia, being more like bread (quite thick and fluffy) rather than thin and crusty. We didn’t follow the instructions for the toppings. The base itself was very tasty; I can imagine serving it more like bread than like pizza;
- Pork, Chilli and Marjoram Polpette cooked with lemon and lemon leaves – they’re meatballs. After the meatballs are browned they’re braised in the oven with stock and lemon leaves, and it was totally delicious;
- Strawberry, Almond and Rosewater Cake – I replaced the strawberries with cherries, because I had some in the freezer from summer. Also an absolutely delicious outcome.
- AND THEN I decided to do something ridiculous, which was: Spiced Lamb Arancini with peas, broad beans and mint. This was ridiculous because I’ve never done anything deep-fried, and the number of steps in the process (make the risotto, cook the lamb, mix it together, flour / egg / bread crumbs and THEN fry). They were delicious. Just wonderful. And I don’t think I’ll ever make them again because I’m just not convinced it’s worth my time.
There are heaps more recipes here that I can imagine cooking, so I am very happy to have this in my life. The only potential issue for Australian cooks – and this is a problem with us, not the author – is the fish section. The recipes call for specific fish (cod, mackerel, sardines) and I don’t know whether they’re all a) easily available here, b) have the same names (I know those ones do), or c) whether other fish can be easily substituted. Still, highly recommended.
Simply: Sabrina Ghayour
I received this as a review copy from the Australian publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s available now; RRP $39.99.
I own all of Sabrina Ghayour’s cookbooks. Her first, Persiana, is one of my favourite cookbooks ever. Every book has been produced beautifully, and every recipe I have tried has been great. This new book is no exception.
Ghayour is Persian by background, and having grown up in Britain she brings a (ugh, buzz word) fusion to cuisines that really works. I recently started following her Instagram account, and the enthusiasm that appears in her descriptions of the recipes comes through there, too. She’s a delight.
The idea of a ‘simple’ cookbook is a perennial one; it’s come around again recently, it seems to me. I was a little surprised that Ghayour got into it – not that her other recipes have ever been that hard, but that it seemed an odd genre for her to get into. But actually, this does fit: she’s into encouraging everyone that they can cook, that doing so doesn’t need brand new, hard to get, and fresh-or-lose-it ingredients every time. She’s a big fan (from her Insta account) of using pantry essentials really well. Of course, her pantry isn’t necessarily mine; but once you’ve bought sumac or tahini (which, let’s be honest, actually are always in my pantry), you’ve got them and you can keep using them.
Anyway! The recipes are once again easy to follow, and every recipe I’ve tried has been a hit. Baked sweet potato chips with za’atar were great; beans with tahini and preserved lemon is inspired and I want to do beans like this forever. Carrot with pistachio, dill, and lime; baked butternut that’s then mashed with yoghurt and chilli and dill… and absolutely fantastic felafel. And that’s just the vegetables! Variations on chicken kebabs, and kofte, and the solution when my veg box has a full celery: lamb, celery and parsley stew (yes, when I ask for 100g of parsley, I meant it. It didn’t even make a dent in the parsley thicket). I haven’t had a chance to cook any dessert yet, but: white chocolate, pistachio, and raspberry tiramisu. Nuff said.
The book is divided into Effortless Eating; Traditions with a Twist; The Melting Pot; Something Special (sticky peach and halloumi skewers!!) and Cakes, Bakes, and Sweet Treats. I am keeping this book out on the counter to keep cooking from over the next … I dunno, six months?
Highly recommended. An excellent introduction to Ghayour’s style of cooking and recipe writing.