Category Archives: Cookery

Scandinavian Christmas

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Scandinavian Christmas
Over 80 Celebratory Recipes for the Festive Season
By Trine Hahnemann
Quadrille – £16.99

I love […] the way the world turns silent when covered in snow.

     ‘Christmas Baking’

There are many different ways to celebrate the four Advent Sundays in Scandinavia. Mainly it’s about getting together and celebrating the end of the year and…well…life!

     ‘Festive Brunch’

Celebrate one of the Advent Sundays outside. Play in the snow: remember there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Serve hot drinks, salmon sandwiches, and ‘nisse’ (elf) cake, make a stew and bake bread over the open fire; I’ll show you how […].

     ‘Advent: A Whole Month of Christmas’

More than anything else, Scandinavian Christmas – Over 80 Celebratory Recipes for the Festive Season is a veritable delight to both behold and partake in.

Not only does it lend an entirely different slant to that of the Festive Season – which, given that all these rather wonderful, mouth-watering recipes are anchored in Scandinavia, ought hardly be surprising – it’s also something of a quintessential inspiration. Prime reason being, Trine Hahnemann, fundamentally arrives at these festive meals by way of an entirely different route from that of which most of us are used to. Let alone consider.

Whether it’s Warm Chicory Salad, Roast Pork with Spices and Crisp crackling, or Rice Pudding with Cherry Sauce (‘The Christmas Eve Feast’); Salted Cod and Kale Pesto on Celeriac Brushetta or Mini Root Vegetable Cakes with Horseradish Cream (‘Christmas Party’).

There is indeed, an abundance of ‘newness’ involved here; and whenever things are new, they cannot help but thus invariably inspire.

That the authoress is an expert on, and an ambassador for modern-day Scandinavian food, has obviously helped to make these 140 pages (excluding Acknowledgements and Index) what they are: clear, concise, colour-coded and authentic; thereby making for a cool collection of Go Scandi recipes that even the most reticent of culinary festive tigers are able to embrace: ”It’s completely missing the point of Christmas to be totally stressed out! Select just those things from this book that you would like to cook, and have fun. Christmas is about celebrating life and ‘hygge,’ a Danish term that is almost untranslatable, but encompasses comfort, camaraderie, and good food and drink. So create your own celebrations on your own terms.”

As a result of Hahnemann going out of her way to substantiate the need to ”create your own celebrations on your own terms,” is precisely what accounts for Scandinavian Christmas being such an inviting and alternative template.

Divided into seven sections (‘Christmas Baking,’ ‘Gifts from the Kitchen,’ ‘Advent: A Whole Month of Christmas,’ ‘Festive Brunch,’ ‘Christmas Party,’ ‘The Christmas Eve Feast’ and ‘Christmas Day Smorgasbord’), this hardback celebrates a hybrid of traditional treats and the most sumptuous of modern-day, Scandinavian recipes.

Replete with more than evocative photography, I’d have to say that this book isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for many (potentially elongated) fun times in the kitchen – the coming together of the aforementioned ‘Nisse’ (elf) cake on page fifty-seven especially.

David Marx

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Italian Street Food

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Italian Street Food –
Recipes From Italy’s Bars and Hidden Laneways
By Paola Bacha
Smith Street Books – £25.00

Like most great eateries the length and breadth of many a foreign land, it’s always those off the beaten track which prove to be the most inexpensive and inviting. Not to mention usually the best. Only problem is – if such be the word – is actually locating them.

So far as Italy is concerned, this all round terrific book may well tick a number of surprisingly unconsidered, gastronomical purposes (and boxes). Namely, that you can learn to rustle-up an assortment of proper, delicious Italian street food of your own.

Something which, to all intents and cuisine induced purposes, ain’t no bad thing signor.

Who wouldn’t want to be in a position of being able to bring such regional delights as Pizzette con Gorgonzola e Fungi (Gorgonzola and Mushroom Pizette), Suppli al Telefono con Ragu (Suppli with Meat Ragu) or Pizza Bianca con Mortazza (Roman Mortadella Sandwich) to life – in the relative comfort of their own kitchen?

Being something of a foodie myself, I do have to say Italian Street Food – Recipes From Italy’s Bars and Hidden Laneways, is something of a true delight to both behold and fervently indulge in.

As let’s face it, ”food is central to the Italian way of life.”

Just as authoress Paola Bacchia makes exceedingly clear in this book’s fine Introduction: ”I have never met an Italian who did not mention food in almost every conversation. Describing what their last meal or spuntino (snack) was or what their next one will be, invariably with a strong opinion on the dish. And just like my father had repeated to me, for the average Italian, their mamma is the best cook, maybe only surpassed by nonna (grandmother) before she hands on the baton […] to the next generation. Region, provenance and seasonality always matters to them, so it stands to reason that street food in Italy combines all of these elements […].”

Just as, to a certain degree, do these 271 pages.

Replete with an array of (predominantly) colour photographs, it goes without saying that Italian Street Food essentially depicts that what it says on the tin/cover Although what fundamentally accounts for the quality and prime difference in Italian (street) food, is the vast variance in regionality: ”It is as much about geography as it is about tradition; what grows locally and is plentiful is more likely to be a key part of a particular dish. A traditional porchetta (roast pork) roll made by an artisan porchettaio (porchetta-maker) in Abruzzo will probably taste different from a porchetta roll eaten in Umbria. It might be made with different herbs (wild fennel in Umbria and rosemary in Abruzzo), the pig will have been raised on different land with different feed, and there will be some secret ingredient or cooking method handed down from mamma (or another family member equally qualified in the kitchen) that makes their porchetta better than everyone one else’s.”

It’s true.
My Italian mates are forever carping on about how their mother simply makes the best this, that or the other. And while there’s absolutely no debate to be had, let alone considered; amid these nine succulent chapters lie many an answer as to what may substantially qualify one Taralli al Limone (Lemon Taralli) being different or at least better from another.

Along with a helpful section entitled ‘Notes on Ingredients,’ this most mouth-watering of cookery books is altogether way too meraviglioso for words.

Not to mention a fine addition to any serious contender in the cucina.

David Marx

Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry

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Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry –
Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving
By Cathy Barrow
Norton & Company – £25.00

Author of the food blog Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen and a contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Garden and Gun and Southern Living, Cathy Barrow is something of an all-rounder when it comes to the kitchen and most things of a preservation persuasion.

Be it the core techniques of water-bath canning, advance techniques for pressure canning, salt-curing meats and fish, smoking or even air-curing pancetta(!), every application is herein laid forth by way of easy-to-digest, confidence building instructions.

Replete with Conversion Tables on the inside of each cover, this attractive and rather elegantly laid out book traverses a two-fold approach. The first is informative in the sense that one can learn (”The pages that follow offer an education in four types of preserving. This where we will begin together, but where you end up is your decision. While I have an extensive preserving plan, what you do needs to fit your lifestyle, the foods you love, and the way you eat”), while the second is more akin to that of most cookery books – wherein there are a number recipes with which to brighten up the pallet.

Sectioned into four distinct chapters: ‘The Basics of Water-Bath Canning: Answering the Siren Call of Seasonal Seasonal Abundance,’ ‘Canning Under Pressure: Groceries You’ll Never Have to Carry Home Again,’ ‘Salt, Water, Smoke, and Air: Alchemy in the Kitchen’ and ‘Curds and Whey: Why Buy the Cow;’ Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry – Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving is nicely augmented with a terrific selection of colour photographs.

The latter being a good thing, as they help break-up what can on occasion, seem like quite a dense, gastronomical journey.

In a way, this rather compact aspect, along with it being anchored in Americana, does – for English and European readers at least – take some getting used to. But once this has been achieved, these 404 pages (excluding Acknowledgements and Index) could well be construed as being an essential addition to that of most kitchens (far and wide).

As Marisa McClellan, author of Food in Jars, notes: ”Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry is THE functional handbook for anyone looking to put up their own food. Cathy Brown digs deep into jam making, pickling, pressure canning, charcuterie, and home cheese making, crafting a book that answers every question there is about how to preserve, transform, and enhance seasonal food.”

Meanwhile, if you want to really come to terms with ‘Marinated Roasted Red Peppers,’ ‘Le Peek-el: The Cornichon Imposter,’ ‘Dill Pickle Relish’ (one of my personal favourites), ‘Beef and Vegetable Borscht,’ ‘Maple-Bourbon Bacon’ (ace – trust me!), ‘Chai-Spiced Plum Preserves with Balsamic,’ ‘Duck Confit’ or any number of desserts (‘Cardamom Peach Pie Filling’ and ‘Peaches in Ginger Syrup’ among them), you could do a lot worse than invest in this superb, well-designed and altogether practical/preserving induced of cookbooks.

David Marx

More Mexican Everyday

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More Mexican Everyday
By Rick Bayless
Norton & Company – £22.00

What I found most appealing about Rick Bayles’ More Mexican Everyday, was its seemingly suave and overtly sensible approach; especially with regards the second part of the book’s title: Simple, Seasonal, Celebratory.

After all, most cuisines of the world, with the possible exception of French, could just as easily be considered simple, seasonal and celebratory. Although, for some unbeknown reason (probably music, colour and a tempestuous history) said three words do sound resoundingly pertinent to that of yer Mexican design.

Whether or not this is due to much of Mexico’s approach to life in general being somewhat celebratory, or due to a large part of its gastronomy being relatively simple and of an obviously seasonal persuasion, is open to debate.

Moreover, what isn’t open to debate: is the vibrancy and acute, alluring zest of Mexican cooking – of which these 364 pages are a perfect example.

Broken into three prime sections (Part One: Simple Ways to Create Dynamic Flavour; Part Two: Vegetables at the Heart of the Mexican Kitchen; Part Three: Daily Inspirations for Busy Cooks), More Mexican Everyday really does traverse all areas of what one essentially needs to know in order to serve up a great tasting, Mexican meal. From rice dishes to skillet tacos to appetising soups (such as ‘Mustard Greens Soup with Poblanos & Almonds’ and ‘Creamy Rice Soup with Poblano & Spinach’), to surely two of the country’s most renowned and rewarding of meals: Carna Asada (Cena Completa de Carne Asada) and Pan-Roasted Summer Squash with Garlic Mojo and Guero Chile (Calabacitas Rostizadas al Mojo de Ajo con Chile Guero), there is herein, a grand variety from which to pick and chose.

And while the book itself is nicely laid out with simple to follow instructions, its ethos resolutely bows down to that of the author’s initial thoughts as elaborated upon in the book’s Introduction: ”I want you to cook more. It’s good for you […]. It allows you to feel the natural rhythms of life in a way that microwaved frozen dinners never can. And cooking often draws people to the table, encouraging dialogue and providing a moment to appreciate the good (and truly tasty) things in life.”

Here. Here.

That More Mexican Everyday is clearly aimed at the American market, is evident from the outset, which, although some might construe as being a little awkward on occasion, I personally found was more than made up for amid the early chapter ‘Four Secret Weapons I Always Have in My Refrigerator.’

It covers a simplistic kitchen terrain of thought which at first, might not appear terribly important – but invariably will as time goes on.

For instance, of Green Chile Adobo (adobo de Chile Verde), Bayless writes: ”You’ll find this to be one of the most useful seasonings, because it offers a way to preserve fresh herb flavour […]. Think of it as a kind of Mexican pesto.,” while of Quick Red Chile Adobo (Adobo Rapido de Chiles Secos) he enthuses: ”In my opinion, dried chile sauces, whether simple or elaborated into complex moles, are the crown jewel of Mexican cuisine.” Finally, of Sweet-Sour Dark Chipotle Seasoning (Salsa Negra) the author readily admits: ”Don’t think of this Veracruz speciality as a typical salsa, in spite of its Spanish name; it’s more of a seasoning paste, with deep, dark richness and smouldering heat – just right for adding depth and complexity to the simplest of dishes.”

I always find such brief nuggets of culinary info to be more than helpful; because even though they’re not elaborated upon, they’re somewhat intrinsic when it comes to knowing what you’re doing: ”My wish for More Mexican Everyday is that it will be more than just a cookbook you turn to regularly for great tasting dishes. I want it to be your guide to becoming a more confident and less recipe-dependent cook. That confidence will enable you to approach the stove with greater ease, more creativity and playfulness, and, yes, more frequency. That’ll be your tastiest reward of all.”

Can’t argue with that.

David Marx

The Great British Bake Off Winter Kitchen

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The Great British Bake Off Winter Kitchen
By Lizzie Kamenetzky
BBC Books – £20.00

It is often said that bakers are givers, but it’s not just bakers; anyone who
throws a meal together for someone else is doing something generous.

As it’s summer, I thought it might be thoroughly appropriate to review The Great British Bake Off Winter Kitchen – a book that goes some way in inspiring one to generally shake, rattle and role in the kitchen.

Other than some of the mouth-watering photography that reigneth supreme amid these 297 pages, there really is something to be said for both seasonal cooking and generally being magnanimous thereof: ”Winter isn’t something to grumble about. Instead it should be something that is welcomed and celebrated. One of the wonderful things about Britain is our distinct seasons […]. We should revel in these changes, and more particularly in eating in sympathy with the seasons.”

The last sentence (”in eating in sympathy with the seasons”) ought to be especially pertinent when traversing betwixt supermarket and kitchen. Reason being, so many budding chefs – those with a penchant for gastronomic fecundity at least – appear to take such cuisine induced common sense for granted.

This is where the importance of this book comes in – as it’s one-hundred and thirty (relatively) new recipes entice one into venturing much further so far as the palette of ye never ending winter months are concerned.

From comforting and hearty soups (”You can make a soup out of almost anything, so try to be imaginative in your kitchen, using what you have to hand […]. Lentils and pulses make great soups, giving substance and texture […]. Leftovers are another good starting point for a soup. Don’t throw away those few roasties or scoops of cauliflower cheese from Sunday lunch”) such as Spiced Potato and Coconut or Lemony Chicken Broth with Orzo Pasta and Chard. Or literally, the very first recipe of this book, White Bean, Smoky Bacon and Savoy Cabbage, which is relentlessly fab.

To an abundance of weeknight comfort meals (”It is all too easy to let mid-week cooking become predictable, thinking that there isn’t enough time to be creative, especially in the cold winter months when the food we crave seems to require a lot of effort to make. We need to break out of that rut and realise that mid-week meals, even in the depths of winter, can be simple, easy and – very often – quick to make, while still being warming and sustaining”), such as Pork Chops cooked in Cider, Sage and Mustard; Spanish Cod Stew with Chickpeas or a particular favourite of mine, Beetroot Risotto with Thyme and Pecorino: ”Beetroot transforms this dish from a humble risotto into a work of art, colouring the rice a deep, vivid pink and giving it a nutty, earthy flavour. Pecorino has a lovely tang that offsets the sweetness of the beetroot, although if Parmesan is what you have in your fridge this would do nicely. Risotto may seem like a labour of love, with all the stirring, but you need to do this in order to release the starch from the rice.”

Along with sections on Slow Cooking and One Pots, Pies and Tarts, Puddings, Breads and Bakes and of course, Seasonal Occasions, I can honestly say that The Great British Bake Off Winter Kitchen is an all round splendid book. The recipes are clearly laid out, most, if not all of the ingredients are easily attained, while many of the dishes are themselves, not overtly obvious – an aspect of the book I found most appealing.

So there you go, before the autumnal months are upon us, have a delve into this here book. You won’t in the least be disappointed.

David Marx

Gok’s Wok

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Gok’s Wok
Fast, Fresh, healthy Asian Recipes
By Gok Wan
Ebury Press – £20.00

Absolutely fabulous. Did I say fabulous? Indeed I did. Gok’s Wok – Fast, Fresh Healthy Asian Recipes is a joy of a book to behold, embrace and partake in.

That it perfectly reflects Gok Wan’s personality – these 223 pages are unsurprisingly colourful, exciting and friendly – ought hardly be surprising. Reason being, it was always going to be a given that were the fashion expert and award-winning televison presenter to publish another cookery book (the first being his Gok Cooks Chinese), then this would probably be the outstanding result.

It’s ten chapters are, as already mentioned, colourful, exciting and friendly.

Colourful, because much of the exquisite photography lures you into wanting to try out nearly all the recipes immediately. Exciting, because the recipes are a little different from your lazy staple of meat and two veg/pasta dishes that find themselves on the average family table on a weekly basis. And friendly, because the cooking itself really is simple while the ingredients are more than readily accessible. There’s none of this poached partridge drizzled in truffle oil nonsense, which can so easily turn just the shopping aspect alone, into a grind of a nightmare.

So yeah, my partner and I tried the Filipino Pork and Mango Curry, which, apart being super sensational, was something of a simple and non-time consuming dish to make. It has to be said that once we’ve worked our way through the many other splendiferous offerings, it will most certainly be added to our menu on a regular basis.

Moreover, what makes Gok’s Wok so exciting, is that it looks so great. As such, photographer Romas Foord and food stylist Robert Allison warrant full credit for having undertaken and delivered a most meticulous and marvellous result. So much so, that I really would have liked a photo for every recipe, but then this is perhaps sheer indulgence.

I just adore the wonderful artwork too much I guess.

A brief synopsis of how this book needs to be approached and appreciated, is essentially shared by the author himself, when, in the Introduction he writes: ”Food is at the core of every Asian family and life begins and ends at the dinner table. Every occasion – whether it’s a wedding or a funeral – centres around a massive sharing table where you’re given your foundation of rice and then you choose your meat, fish and veggie dishes to go with it. You often share anywhere between 8 and 20 dishes around the table, with your chopsticks touching those next to you, almost as though you’re holding hands. But sharing a meal doesn’t need to be an elaborate feast of lobster, suckling pig an duck; it can be as simple as a bowl of broth. I think taking the time to sit down and eat a meal together is one of the most basic principles of living, and cooking for your loved ones lets them know how much you appreciate them. Learning to share a meal is the biggest gift I’ve ever been given and now I want to pass it on to you.”

Well I for one, am most pleased Gok Wan has decided to pass it on. For as mentioned at the outset, this really is a joy of a book to behold, embrace and partake in.

David Marx

Rick Stein’s India – In Search of the Perfect Curry

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Rick Stein’s India – In Search of the Perfect Curry
Recipes From My Indian Odyssey
By Rick Stein
BBC Books – £25.00

I have to confess, Rick Stein’s India – In Search of the Perfect Curry, is as much a lavish photography book as it is a cookery book. Indeed, James Murphy’s spectacularly taken photographs do just as much to trigger the gastronomic taste buds into doing the rumba (quick time), as do numerous recipes herein.

That the book is anchored to the idiosyncratic cuisine of India, might marginally explain some of the background behind said photographic reasoning. As countless regal reds, garish greens, brash blues and yielding yellows – like much of the tantalizing food itself – simply drips off the page…

What’s more, the sub-title of this cookery book, In Search of the Perfect Curry, is highly indicative of the author. Having already reviewed a number of Stein’s books – who I once met at a party in Cornwall, and who I have to say, is one of the most unassuming of people I have ever met – it does appear that he is something of a perfectionist.

After all, is there such a thing as ‘the perfect curry’? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. Which ever way, I do know what he means.

The author’s quest to either stumble upon the perfect curry, or devise it by way of his own design, is partially touched upon in the book’s Introduction, wherein he writes: My greatest dilemma in my journey and in writing this book has been that I just don’t know enough about Indian cooking, and the more I learn, the more I realise I need to know. So at this stage I’m holding my hands up and saying to any Indian readers, I know there are things in here you won’t agree with […]. I’m no expert, but this is my book and I’ve done my best to understand a cuisine I love.”

Such honesty is just one of the traits that is endearing about Stein. Not only does it allow him a certain gastronomic leeway, but it suggests that he, like many a novice in the kitchen, is fully prepared to learn.

And I have to say, all lovers of a good curry, let alone a perfect curry, will find lots to learn about amid this thoroughly well presented and, glorious book. I’ve already learned something from the headings of the six chapters alone: Dhaba (”…are street snacks the most irresistable food in India?”), Sabzi (”…succulent vegetable dishes, transformed by spice”), Macchi (…the incomparable taste of fish and shellfish, coconut, tomato, tamarind and spice”), Murgh (…spicy and creamy chicken curries, fragrant rice dishes and a little roast duck”), Gosht (”…deep and dark meat curries, kormas, pulaos and biryanis”) and Meetha (…kulfi, nimish and some other indulgent Indian sweets”).

Is this cookery book mouth watering?

Well where to begin? From ‘Hot Smoked Salmon Kedgeree,’ to ‘Black Dal,’ from ‘Green Chilli and Turmeric Dhokla with Prawns, Curry Leaves and Mustard Seeds,’ to ‘Coconut Prawn Curry (Chingri malai),’ from ‘Chicken and Apricot Curry with Potato Straws (Sali murghi)’ to ‘Lamb Pulao (Idris yakhni pulao);’ curry is herein delivered and explained in such ways that I didn’t know existed. For instance, with regards the latter dish ‘Lamb Pulao’ – which is one of my favourites – Stein writes: ”I know this is only an academic point, but I’m blowed if I can see how this pulao isn’t a biryani. As I see it, the main difference between a biryani and pilao is that in a biryani the rice is precooked and in a pilao it isn’t – yet the rice in this pulao is precooked. And a certain amount of layering of rice and lamb takes place. But who am I to say? It’s lovely, and don’t be put off by the large amount of rice in it relative to the lamb and masala – biryanis and pulaos are all about the rice.”

Rick Stein’s India is all about learning how to make the most out of what still has to be one of the most tantalizingly alluring dishes in the world. So if you like curry, buy this book. It’ll transport you unto curry induced places (and dishes) you never knew existed…

David Marx