Category Archives: Cookery

Tapas Revolution

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Tapas Revolution – 120 Simple Classic Spanish Recipes
By Omar Allibhoy
Ebury Press – £20.00

”What better pleasure is there in this world than to cook for others and then eat with them? Food, like life, is best shared with friends and loved ones, and tapas are the embodiment of that.”

Tapas are indeed, the embodiment of shared (f)ea(s)ting, and a whole lot more besides. Ever since having been to Barcelona, I have become a huge fan of tapas; having wholeheartedly succumbed to their veritable variety in both taste and size. Reason being, partaking in tapas is akin to eating several different meals all at once: ”Forget about the idea of courses that follow on from each other – just put together any combination of dishes that you like. This is particularly good when it comes to cooking for a group of friends[…].”

To be sure, choice is a never ending saga, whereby gastronomic conclusion is forever out of reach. Hence, my initial attraction in wanting to review Tapas Revolution by Omar Allibhoy, who (for whatever reason), Gordon Ramsay has referred to as ”the Antonio Banderas of cooking.”

An interesting combination if ever there was one.

That said, it’s only when one reads the small print – as in the second part of the books title: 120 Simple Classic Spanish Recipes – that one realises the book is not entirely anchored within the parameters of the tapa.

There are in fact, a menagerie of really mouth watering recipes, from every region of Spain, that, if nothing else, promotes Spanish cuisine (rather than just Catalan) beyond the quintessential norm of authenticity and expectation. As Allibhoy himself writes in the book’s Introduction: ”I would argue that there is no such thing as ‘authentic’ Spanish cooking. Spanish food is constantly evolving and every region, restaurant, chef and home cook has its own different interpretation of the same dish […]. For me taste and ease is sometimes more important than ‘authenticity.’ I want to show you that Spanish food is not complex or difficult and can be cooked every night. You won’t have to travel the country looking for obscure and expensive ingredients, and I’m a firm believer in in shortcuts – if you want to use a stock cube instead of fresh stock, go ahead!”

Sounds good to me, as not only is such a realistic approach in the kitchen to be embraced; it shies away from making one feel resoundingly inadequate or as if one’s cheating (that, if truth be known, an assortment of other cookery books are prone to do).

Tapas Revolution consists of nine sections: Apertivo, Fish, Eggs and Poultry, Meat, Vegetables, Soups and Stews, Rice and Pulses, Desserts and Sweet Things, concluding with The Chef’s Cut – the latter of which ”has slightly more unusual ingredients and more complex techniques. This is for the true revolutionary among you.”

So far as some the recipes themselves are concerned, revolutionary might be an appropriate term here. One such example being the exquisite ‘Empanada Gallega/Tuna and Pepper Filled Pastry’ on page 140, which, apart from being one of my favourite dishes in the entire book, is something of a preparatory eye opener.

It really is all about timing, temperature and taste.

This wonderful cookery book not only ensures that the revolution is in good hands, but that it’s already started.  And should we not want to be left behind, we ought to sign up pronto.

David Marx

Mary Berry’s Cookery Course

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Mary Berry’s Cookery Course
A step-by-step master class in home cooking
Dorling Kindersley – £25.00

This is the sort of cookery book that many a novice simply cannot afford to do without in the kitchen (or anywhere else come to that). Reason being, it throws a wide, succinct and yet comprehensive gambit amid the gastronomically induced needs of the everyday.

As it suggests in the title, Mary Berry’s Cookery Course – A step-by-step master class in home cooking is exactly that.

What’s more, it doesn’t talk down to the un-initiated, but rather, lends a friendly guiding hand throughout. As the authoress states in the book’s Introduction: ‘’This book is for all home cooks who want to perfect their kitchen skills and get the very best from their cooking. Whether you’re a completely new or more experienced cook, there is something for everyone. When selecting the recipes, I’ve gone back to basics – the classic recipes we all love, cooked simply. Some have an up-to-date twist or a short cut, as I know the modern cook has to balance the desire to make delicious meals with a busy life outside the kitchen.’’

It has to be said that the last sentiment is indeed very true; and (obviously) realising this, Berry has catered for the more realistic/modern needs, as opposed to the rather more ideal/flim-flam persuasion. That each chapter begins with what she has termed as a ‘Master Recipe,’ which is augmented with detailed description sand step-by-step photographs – highlights this point.

This layout alone – is more than helpful for a quick over the shoulder glance to say the least.

Along with sections on Basic Equipment, Technique Finder and a Glossary of Cooking Methods and Techniques, Berry has herein delivered a compact book that fundamentally arms you to the hilt upon entering most kitchens. From Soups to First Courses, Vegetables and Side Dishes, Meat, Puddings and Cakes and Biscuits (and a whole lot more besides), the overall tone of the book is such that you really feel compelled to cook.

And so far as a cookery book is concerned, what more could you really ask for?

Scattered throughout each chapter, are little aside like headlines that jump out of the page that are invariably hard to ignore, and dare I say it, act as food for thought.

A few examples being: ‘’A swirl of cream and light sprinkling of herbs make a soup look so fresh and appetizing’’ (Soup), ‘’A simple omelette is my idea of the perfect mid-week lunch, being super-speedy to cook, light and nutritious’’ (Eggs), ‘’Bursting with flavour, goodness, and summer colour, roasted vegetables are welcome at any time of year’’ (Vegetable and Side Dishes), ‘’I’ve probably made over a thousand Victoria sponges, but I never tire of baking. It’s relaxing, fun, and so rewarding to create something to share with family and friends.’’ (Cakes).

As with many things in life, whether it’s music or writing or even trying to convey a political message, Berry’s final piece of advice is to ‘’keep it simple.’’ Which in a nutshell, works wonders every time – as does this overtly inviting cookery book.

David Marx

A Passion For Baking

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A Passion For Baking
By Jo Wheatley
Constable & Robinson – £18.99

Like ye olde adage, there are cookery books and there are cookery books.
Just ask Jamie Oliver.

Some are obviously more inviting than others, by which I mean, some will coax you into cooking – or in this case, baking – more than others. A lot of which depends on the prime information behind the book itself, the layout, the photography, the structure of the recipes, the cookery tips, the ingredients needed, and dare I say it, the actual menus themselves.

As Winner of BBC2’s Great British Bake Off, Jo Wheatley’s A Passion For Baking is more than aptly titled.

It simply drips with an enthusiasm that goes way beyond the norm of most cookery books, as the following quote hopefully shows: ‘’Baking is about memories, old ones and ones yet to be made: a favourite auntie’s bread pudding; a Nan’s apple pie; eating the most amazing croissant with a loved one; madeleines that remind you of the most romantic dinner; a birthday cake shaped like a fort for a special four-year-old… I could go on forever! I’d love to know all your baking memories and hope that A Passion for Baking will bring you lots more.’’

The authoress is absolutely right in that there’s a lot about cooking and baking that is essentially entwined with memories; especially among misty-eyed Italian men of a certain age. For how often have you not heard the winsome grumble: ‘’not like Mama used to make?’’

In some instances, this may be a good thing, as perhaps not all mothers were of a similar persuasion to that of Wheatley – who Nigella Lawson has admitted being ‘a huge fan of.’’ It’s easy to ascertain why.

Along with such sumptuous sections as ‘Family Baking,’ (which includes one of my favourites, the ‘Victoria Sandwich’), ‘Celebration Bakes’ (which goes some way in deciphering the variables behind the making of mincemeat – which I found really handy) and ‘Afternoon Tea’ (‘Mini Mississippi Mud Pies?’). There’s even a section on ‘Baking With Children,’ and if this doesn’t show conscientious foresight, then I don’t know what does: ‘’I think baking with children is such an important thing to do: not only is it a wonderful sharing experience but it’s also an invaluable lesson for the future; it gives independence. An ability to bake is a wonderful skill, one that I’m eternally grateful to my nana and aunties for.’’

Along with the rather reflective tonality of the book (‘’eternally grateful to my nan and aunties for’’), A Passion For Baking depicts exactly what it’s succinct tile suggests.

In other words, with this book in your midst, you won’t ever be lacking for ideas in the baking department.

David Marx

Master Chef – Cookery Course

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MasterChef – Cookery Course
Learn to love cooking
Dorling Kindersley – £26.00

On the inside of both the front and back covers of Master Chef – Cookery Course – Learn to love cooking; there are numerous culinary related quotes by numerous luminaries. Three of my favourite being:

‘’My wife, inviting me to sample her very first soufflé, accidentally dropped a spoonful of it on my foot, fracturing several small bones’’ (Woody Allen), ‘’After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives’’ (Oscar Wilde), ‘’One of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating’’ (Luciano Pavarotti).

As for the actual contents of the book itself, well where to begin?

This rather hefty book of 429 pages, is the next best thing to having your own cooking soul mate, cum advice giver, cum all round guide, stood right by your side in the kitchen. It begins with a section called ‘The perfect store cupboard (which basically consists of ‘’non-perishable ingredients […] that ‘’add flavour to your cooking’’), immediately followed by several ‘choosing sections’’ (whether its fish and shellfish, meat and poultry, fruit or vegetables); which is in turn followed by the ‘Principles of Cooking’ (‘’The behaviour and direction of heat affects food in different ways, giving you several choices when cooking. Learn about the major cooking methods with this guide’’) and ‘5 Key Techniques’ – the latter of which I found particularly helpful. Reason being, although you may think you know ‘’the perfect technique,’’ there really is always something else, something new, something more to learn.

There’s a uniformity attached to the actual lay out and the design of the book, which works wonders in relation to homing in on exactly what it is you want to investigate and undertake.

For instance, each and every menu consists of a preparation time, a cooking time, a baking time (if applicable), as well as a standing time – the last of which, I do believe many people tend to forget about (myself included). Almost all the recipes are accompanied with mouth-watering, enticing photos – to give the budding chef an indication of what it is they’re actually heading/hoping for – as well as the amount of people it will serve and of course, cooking instructions.

The above framework is to be found throughout the book in its entirety, so it’s almost akin to using a dictionary. You always know exactly where you are and what to do. But more importantly, there’s absolutely nothing in the least daunting about MasterChef, which may partially explain for the success of the accompanying televised version.

To be sure, there have to date, been eight series of MasterChef, seven series of Celebrity MasterChef and two series of Junior MasterChef – all of which would appear to suggest the format works wonders.

Before concluding, I would like to add that there are a number of tongue-tingling cake recipes: from the simplicity of Scones (which for some reason, always photograph well) and fruit cake, to the more adventurous Brioche Nanterre, Sachertorte and Blinis (small buckwheat-based pancakes, which, as a small child, I always remember being a big hit in Holland, where they are referred to as Poffertjes).

This MasterChef – Cookery Course really is a veritable joy to behold and learn from. Not only does it take the burden out of having to cook regularly, it indeed adds to the enjoyment and actual sensation of eating. Or to quote Voltaire from the back of the book: ‘’Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking, if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.’’

David Marx

Brilliant Biscuits – Fun-to-decorate biscuits for all occasions

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Brilliant Biscuits
Fun-to-decorate biscuits for all occasions
By Pamela Giles
Right Way/Constable & Robinson – £8.99

Clearly and concisely written, this book is extremely user friendly, which accounts for it being relatively easy to follow, understand and enjoy.

In fact, Brilliant Biscuits – Fun-to-decorate biscuits for all occasions is set out in an inviting fashion and contains a menagerie of the most helpful tips and guides. The first and most important of which is an essential store cupboard/equipment list that draws on the past baking and decorating experience(s) of authoress Pamela Giles. As a result of its inclusion at the beginning of the book, it does much to instil the reader with a certain amount of confidence (as well as ideas) with which to investigate further. Although how many of us could be as equally artistic with their culinary designs as Giles, is, suffice to say, an altogether different matter.

That many of the book’s inspirational photos will have many of us scurrying off to the shops to stock up on edible glitter, fancy cutters and a rainbow of food colouring pastes and cocktail sticks, should come as no surprise – not that I’m a particularly dab hand in the oven department mind!

From simple heart shaped polka dot designs to elaborately decorated animals and Easter egg collections – this quaint book really does have something for everyone who fancies a turn at biscuit decorating.

David Marx

The Pie Book

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The Pie Book
By Caroline Bretherton
Dorling Kindersley Limited – £16.99

‘’It’s time that pies and tarts had their moment in the sun. For too long these versatile dishes have been neglected, thought by many to be old-fashioned and heavy. However, there are as many different types of pies and tarts as you have the imagination to create, from heart-warming winter dishes such as suet-crusted Steak and Kidney Pie to the delicate, multi-layered puff pastry confections that are Summer Fruit Millefeuilles.’’

So writes Caroline Bretherton, the lady responsible for The Pie Book, a deliciously fantastic gastronomic volume if ever there was one!

It is indeed true what she writes: when most people think of pies, they normally conjure up an image of a soggy pie and chips from a roadside stand or something your granny used to make several decades ago. But if you just tried one of these superb recipes, I guarantee it would feature most regularly in both your tummy and in your household.

To be sure, this household has now tried several of these recipes, and our absolute favourite has to be the Chicken and Sweet Corn Pie (page 83), for which we substituted the recommended puff pastry lid with a very naughty albeit uber tasty suet crust pastry lid. And I have to confess, it scored a colossal one hundred and eighty on the taste-o-meter. Admittedly, in so doing, we were reminded that a few calories would invariably evolve unto assorted forget-me-nots.

But hey, ‘tis perhaps necessary to indulge every once in a while.

That said, some of the pies included in this book really aren’t of the solid mass one might imagine. There are delicious filo parcels such as ‘Spicy Butternut Squash and Feta parcels’ (page 191) or exceedingly satisfying ‘Spanish Chicken Pie’ (page 91), the latter of which simply oozes with smoked paprika and rosemary.

Layout wise, at the head of every page, there’s a brief description of the recipe to follow – along with suggestions as to either a vegetable, salad or potato dish to accompany it – which comes with both a simple, quick preparation and cooking time(s). What I found of particular interest was the rather compact section, ‘In Praise of Pastry.’ A step-by-step guide perhaps aimed at primarily novice chefs, which addresses not only the making of various types of pastry (such as puff-pastry, short-crust, suet-crust etc), but also how to assemble a pie replete with a professional, decorative finish.

Let it be said: it’s easier than you think!

With the obligatory ‘sweet’ section towards the back of the book, I have to confess that an entire new pie world does beckon. Okay, some are a bit more involved than others, utilising ingredients that are not generally found in the average persons larder; but none-the-less, many are moth-wateringly ambrosial: ‘Cardaman Custard Tartlets,’ ‘Double Chocolate Raspberry Tart’ and ‘Chocolate Walnut Truffle Tart’ to name but three.

Suffice to say, we like cooking in this household and we really like The Pie Book. Not only is it crammed with oodles of fantabulous ideas, it really is beautifully presented; which in this day and age of fly-by-night, cookbook saturation, makes for a more than welcoming change.

David Marx

The Slow Cooker Secret

The Slow Cooker Secret
By Annette Yates and Norma Miller
Constable & Robinson – £7.99

It’s easy to think of a slow cooker as a one-way ticket to some sort of culinary cul-de-sac, which, to all intents and non-imaginary purposes, it (almost) is. Merely fill said implement with a menagerie of sassy ingredients, press the ‘on’ switch and then piss off down the pub for several hours, only to eventually stagger home with a view to tucking into a trite concoction of bland bravado, only to find that the house has burnt down.

In which case, ones’ nutmeg soufflé is of little consequence.
What could be easier?
Gastronomically negligent?
Benign even?

Well according to The Slow Cooker Secret by Annette Yates and Norma Miller, there really ought to be a whole lotta culinary shakin’ goin’ on at the end of one’s slow cooker rainbow. This is immediately made clear on page 7 of the book’s Introduction: ‘’This economical and versatile machine can be trusted to produce wonderful, traditional and innovative meals, ready just when you want them, while you go out and about doing other things.’’

Almost sounds too good to be true, and perhaps it is.

After all, when one thinks of the slow cooking process, one usually thinks of stews and casseroles, but I have to say, this book really does endeavour to open up a plethora of unthinkable alternatives. Namely such recipes as Warm Figs with Orange, Honey and Walnuts on page 20, Rice and Smoked Haddock on page 22, Chilli Venison with Chocolate (!) on page 30, Spanish Style Rice with Chicken, Mussels and Prawns on page 66, Lamb Chops on Caramelised Squash on page 80, and my own personal favourite, Mustard Chicken with Whiskey and Wild Mushrooms on page 84. Having pursued this particular recipe with a vengeance, I have to confess that the flavours of Scotland did indeed permeate the succulent chicken joints; although this may have had something to do with said joints being smothered in a whiskey and marmalade sauce.

That said, I did find the Weekend Porridge recommendation on page 16 a tad superfluous, especially as porridge only takes a few minutes to make at the best of times. And I wasn’t that convinced about some of the Asian Dishes. For instance, I found myself turning the heat to medium instead of the recommended low midway through cooking the Chicken Dahl (page 132), but this may admittedly be down to my cooker.

All in all though, I found The Slow Cooker Secret more than helpful; especially the Quick Check Recipe Index (whereby all recipes are grouped together according to their cooking times), the Vegetarian Section (Spiced Beetroot, Red Cabbage and Tofu??) and the Clever Extras on page 183. Perhaps it really is as the authors write on the back cover: ‘’You can cook far more than traditional soups and casseroles in your slow cooker. You can enjoy delicious dishes at any time of the day, from lazy breakfasts to cool cakes. Whether you’re feeding the family, entertaining friends or planning a romantic meal for two, there’s a recipe to suit every occasion.’’

David Marx