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.
Bread & Water
I received this book to review via NetGalley.
This is a set of essays, many published elsewhere previously, written by a woman who has been many things: a chef, a restaurant owner, a writer; mother, both married and single; a culinary student and a teacher; resident on farms and in cities and, as these essays are written, back on the farm that was originally set up by her grandparents. The essays are ruminations on life, reflections on choices both good and bad, an exploration of cause and consequence, and a meditation on – as the title suggests – food and water: the place of both in our lives, how they can impact on the way we live, the positives and negatives.
When I read a book like this I think, How can I find more books like this? What category do they come under? I’m not interested in reading just any essays on life; the focus on food and, I suspect, having a female author make these particularly appealing. I’m also not always interested in just reading about food for its own sake – the connection to life more generally, here, as well as the stories behind the growing and making of food, helps make these essays intensely readable and occasionally challenging.
Hobsbawn-Smith is writing these essays having moved back to the Canadian prairie. She reflects on many moments in her life, from horse riding as a teen to the area around her farm becoming a lake for seven years, with stories of her sons growing up in between. Sometimes she recounts stories for their own sake; more often she’s thinking about what they mean – how they reflect and connect to other moments in her life, what they show about the importance of family and feeding each other, how she has come to be the person she is today.
I didn’t always agree with the conclusions about life that Hobsbawn-Smith reaches; and I suspect that, given the differences between us (age, aspiration, location) she wouldn’t have a problem with that. But I do feel challenged – reminded, rather – to consider food more meaningfully, to remember the love that making and giving food can show; to try and take life just a little slower; and to be more aware of where food comes from. Trying to be intensely locavore is something that works if you’ve got the time and the money, which is something society as a whole needs to struggle with – and it’s not something that’s particularly doable for me right now. But I can, for example, be more mindful of seasonality.
These essays were deeply enjoyable to read, both on an intellectual-challenge and -stimulation level and also as prose in and of itself. Hobsbawn-Smith writes beautifully of food, and nature, and experience; she has an entire essay of her love for a temperamental oven, which is a delight. She made me remember that food is more than fuel, that life can be lived slowly, and that doing so is worthwhile.
A Table for Friends
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $49.99.
It feels an age since I reviewed a cookbook! And usually I like to actually cook from one before reviewing, but… well… look at the title. None of that is happening at the moment. And although of course I could cook from it for two, the one time I tried to get the ingredients recently it fell through because of Issues with Shops. So I figured I should just get on with telling people about the book, since it’s out now!
Firstly, this book is gorgeous. It’s hard cover, and it has a ribbon (as all cookbooks ought) and the pictures are lovely. I am indeed one of those people who loves flicking through a cookbook looking at the pretties, and this is one that rewards such actions.
Beyond the appearance, though, I am intrigued by the way it’s arranged – which is slightly different, at least in the naming. McAlpine says in her intro she wanted it to feel ‘intuitive’: so it opens with what she calls Stars – the centrepiece of a meal. But that’s not always a roast; she includes chilled almond soup, and burrata with preserved lemon, mint and chilli (bring on summer) in this section, as well as Pork Wellington and poached cold salmon. For every star, McAlpine suggests what might go alongside from the other sections – Sides and Sweets. Basically, she is doing all of the menu planning for you, if you choose to follow her ideas. She rhapsodises about the joys of throwing together dinner and lunch parties in her introduction, which is something I have never found easy – enjoyable, yes, but for me sometimes quite stressful since I’m not sure what works together and I can get flustered by organisation. McAlpine’s point, then, is to make those like me just chill out a bit.
So the other sections are Sides and Sweets, and Extras – truffle mayonnaise and cocktails and the like. But one of the great triumphs is found at the back. The section called How to Cook by Season sets out suggested meal plans by seasonal availability of produce: a Make-Ahead Weeknight Supper for Spring, Late Summer Lunch Al Fresco, a First Blush of Autumn Supper, Food for Celebration in Winter… and so on. Just the names make me really, really want an end to the Current Situation. And THEN, joy of joys, she has a section called How to Cook by Numbers, which is something that really stresses me out. Starting with Cooking for Four to Six, and going to Cooking for Twenty (or more), she suggests recipes that work most easily at those quantities. Which is just magnificent. I don’t ever want to properly cater for twenty, because that seems like way more trouble than I can face; but she suggests a lot of things that can scale. And finally, because she’s clearly a sensible and canny writer, McAlpine finishes with How to Cook by Timings: the things to do last-minutes, and the things you can prepare days ahead.
I am really, really looking forward to cooking from this book, both just for us when ingredient can be come by easily, and for larger groups of friends. I am also quite greedily happy just to have it on my shelf to look at.
The Missing Ingredient
I don’t remember how I came across this book – could have been through Gastropod? – but I thought it sounded like just my thing. Time as an ingredient makes a lot of sense, when you consider it! And overall, Linford does look at some interesting points in connecting food with time; I learned a few things and was encouraged in my love of cooking and food.
However, this book turned out to be not quite what I expected. On reflection, I think I was expecting something more like Michael Pollan’s Cooked, where he meditates on particular ways in which fire or air or whatever have an impact on cooking and food at length. This is not that. Instead, this is a long series of vignettes. Some of them do go over pages – there’s a good few pages on pickles, and on smoking, and the wonders of freezing., among others. But in general each topic within each timeframe (seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years) is relatively short, addressing the connection between the topic and time – the seconds between different stages of caramel, the time it takes to make true traditional Modena balsamic vinegar – and usually not going into the depth that my heart really wanted. (And sometimes the topics chosen in each chapter seem to be tangential to the concept of time as an ingredient, but maybe I missed the point.)
If what you’re interested in is a series of short stories about time and cooking, that you can easily dip into and out of, that are sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant and that remind you that cooking and good food are good things, then you will probably enjoy this book.
Cooked, by Michael Pollan
This book was recommended to me by the sourdough baker whose course I took. It turned out that I had already one of Pollan’s books – The Botany of Desire, which was awesome and looked at various plants in light of the general idea of desire. (My biggest take away message: the Agricultural Revolution was the grasses using humanity to destroy the trees. Also that all edible apples are clones.)
This book is Pollan’s attempt to learn more about cooking, having looked at the gardening and the eating side for a long time. He divides the book into four sections: Fire, Water, Air, Earth. Or, basically: barbecue, braise, bread, and fermenting. Continue reading →
I have baked my first sponge! You can click that link to read my hubristic recount of the deed. And see a fairly average photo.
Dear Reader, I am sorry, but I lied.
It wasn’t pannacotta, it was a sweet flan – I was mistaken. I do still indeed intend to try pannacotta, but this is what I was intending to make. There were some Issues… let’s just say that when I thought the muffin tray was going to fit in the big tray I had, so it could act as a water bath, I was mistaken. I discovered this when I had already put mixture into the muffin tray, but nonetheless – we progressed.
They were tasty, despite the fact that I cheated and used vanilla extract (fake, even, I think) rather than vanilla bean. I made a bit of a dark chocolate ganache with the rest of the cream I had, and some dark choc melts… it was very tasty. Just ask J!