Book Review: Melt

Here’s another review that’s way overdue! Procrastination is the thief of time etc. etc. Or the thief of Tim, if you let autocorrect have its own way. It doesn’t help that I’ve developed gallstones, and I’m really not supposed to eat ice-cream anymore (starts weeping softly).

This is a book of fairly unusual ice-cream recipes, dreamt up by Claire Kelsey, who started selling her creations from an ice-cream van, called Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, in 2009. Well, here we go then!

Melt, by Claire Kelsey. Simon and Schuster, 2013.

Ice-cream sensations to make at home

So, why did you buy it?

I love ice-cream and inventing/trying new and interesting flavours. There’s a lot of those in the book, from olive oil to camel’s milk!

Judge a book by its cover…

Stylish, retro, with hints of a carefree alternative lifestyle. Right up my street.

Do you use it?

Ah! Not really. I’ve found I don’t get on with the recipes, especially the no-churn ones. I didn’t by a super-duper, all singing and dancing, extra fancy ice-cream maker, to do no- churn. I find the recipes very over sweet as well. Instead, I use the recipes as inspiration and a starting point for developing my own.

What did you make?

Um…definitely olive oil, which was probably our favourite out of all of them, coriander leaf (interesting, not unpleasant), fresh mint stracciatella (couldn’t taste the mint), and ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’. Named after a song by The Pixies, that one contains roasted banana, salted caramel and peanuts. It sounds great on paper, but the texture was a bit odd, wasn’t keen on the banana part, and it was very ugly and unappetising to look at. I daresay that’s my fault, though.

Is it still in print?

It doesn’t seem to be.

Is it worth buying?

If you’re adventurous, and experienced with making ice-cream, you’ll probably love it. I wouldn’t recommend to beginners.

Olive oil and sea salt

Book Review: A Cook’s Year

I’ve been putting off writing this review for so long! Honestly, it’s a beautiful book; gorgeous pictures, engaging prose that makes you want to ditch everything and move to a remote country farmhouse…but for some reason I just get a mental block when it comes to using it. It’s time to let it go and move on.

First I had to rule out recipes where awkward members of the family would refuse to eat it (goodbye everything with mushrooms), then the ones with hard to get or expensive ingredients (venison, squirrel, etc), then finally everything that my ADHD brain classified as too much bother. It didn’t leave much.

Another issue, fairly common with books written by “posh” people (yes, I’m looking at you, Nigella) is a lack of serving suggestions. It not always obvious what vegetables or carby side dishes will go well. I’m sure that white bean and foraged herb salad, for example, is delicious, but not by itself. Posh person food often seems to me to be a little unbalanced nutritionally.

But, it is a beautiful book, and worth keeping just for the recipe for Hedgerow Jelly – a wonderful mix of wild autumn fruits. Maybe one day I won’t have to worry about who I’m cooking for, and will be able to make the things that appeal to me?

A Cook’s Year in a Welsh Farmhouse by Elizabeth Luard. Bloomsbury, 2011.

Why did you buy it?

Good question. It’s pretty, and I’d been following the author in her articles in Country Living magazine, which is where I discovered the recipe for Hedgerow Jelly.

Judge a book by it’s cover…

I am supremely jealous of the author’s lifestyle.

Do you use it?

Next question please.

What did you make?

It’s been so long since starting this one that I can’t remember! Only apple bread and lemon liqueur spring to mind. They were nice enough, but not remarkable.

Is it still in print?

I don’t think so, but is easy to get second hand.

Is it worth buying?

That’s a tricky one. If you like reading cookbooks, or you have ready access to fancy ingredients (and plenty of cash), or you enjoy foraging, then yes. If you want simpler, easy to cook meals that won’t scare off picky eaters, then probably not.

Nice and slow

I never used to see the point in slow cookers. Occasionally someone would offer me one they didn’t want anymore, but I figured I’d rarely, if ever, remember to set it going in the morning. However, when I  was buying my super fancy all singing & dancing ice-cream machine it was on special offer; buy it and get a  nice shiny slow cooker for free! Not a bad bargain really.

It turns out that a slow cooker is great for those days when you know you’ll be too tired or busy to cook later, and is the best way for cooking cheaper cuts of meat to tender perfection.

I rarely, if ever, remember to put it on early enough.

GoodFood Slow Cooker Favourites Edited by Sarah Cook. BBC  Books, 2011.

A collection of recipes first published in the BBC Good Food magazine, most of which seem to have been adapted for a slow cooker, rather than having been written for one.

Why did you buy it?

Because I had a brand new, shiny slow cooker. I also trust BBC Good Food recipes because they are thoroughly tested, unlike many other recipe books.

Do you use it?

Yes. A few of the recipes are family favourites, though to be fair I saw them in the magazine first.

Judge a book by its cover…

Meh, it’s fine.

So, what did you make?

I tried to do something from each section, starting with breakfast:

Honey crunch granola. Nice enough, but not wildly exciting. Certainly not worth the hassle of making in a slow cooker when it would have taken a fraction of the time done the usual way. It was taking forever to crisp up; eventually I got bored and finished it off in the oven.

Apple spice tea loaf. I like a nice tea loaf, spread with butter, yummy. You were supposed to put the loaf tin INSIDE the cooker. Nope, didn’t fit. Who has a slow cooker that big anyway? Decided to cook it in the main ‘bowl’ (?). To cut a long story short, it was not a tea loaf, it was a pudding. We ate it with custard.

Duck and pineapple red curry was very good, well suited to slow cooking, as was the sticky spiced lamb.

The easy kedgeree was horribly stodgy; that, and the haddock with chorizo (which was nice but not cooked properly) would both have been better off being cooked in a pan.

For dessert we had hot chocolate mousse and banana rice pudding. Rice pudding is fine done in the slow cooker, but you can’t walk off and leave it; there’s a very fine line between al dente and overcooked, you need to be there to support it during it’s transition.

Is it worth buying?

There are several excellent recipes in this book, but they tend to be the ones that cook slowly in the first place, rather than those that have been adapted. There are certainly worse books on the market.

Is it still in print?

It’s still available second hand or via kindle, though I believe the books were rebranded a while back so might be available under a different name.

Feeding Friends

Let me tell you the story of why the microwave permanently smells of burnt garlic. Once upon a time I thought it would be a good idea to test ALL of my recipe books…

How to feed your friends with relish aims to take the fear and stress out of cooking for friends; whether it’s a full on dinner party or helping out during a difficult time by popping round with something nice. There are plenty of helpful tips on what to cook, how to create the right atmosphere etc. Definitely one of those books that leaves you hankering after a particular lifestyle. However, I’m wondering how rigorously the recipes were tested.

A quick pea soup with ‘blasted’ garlic (perfect for feeding unexpected guests), asks you to microwave a bulb of garlic for 5 minutes until ‘soft and mellowed’. After 1.5 mins the kitchen was filled with acrid smoke as the papery outer skin did its best to burst into flames. The garlic itself was burnt and hard. And to this very day, the microwave stinks of burning garlic.

How to Feed Your Friends with Relish by Joanna Weinberg. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007.

A pea-souper

Why did you buy it?

Can’t remember. Probably because it has menus in it, I’m a sucker for menus.

Judge a book by its cover…

Classy. Nice size, nice illustrations, lovely thick paper. Very middle-class-younger-person-with-taste, which I’m assuming is the target audience.

Do you use it?

Not a great deal. The parts about entertaining are great, in reality the recipes often disregard her own advice and are more fussy and time consuming than necessary. A lot of the time there will be ingredients that at least one member of the family will veto, and after the fiasco with the microwaved garlic I’m treating other recipes with extreme caution.

What did you make?

Well. Pea soup… actually there were other issues with the recipe, there is no way that 500ml of stock is going to make enough soup for four. Other than that, it was nice. Then we tried a cottage pie, tarted up with the addition of chorizo. Not bad, but nothing special.

Sausage meat and cabbage casserole was really nice, but again there were issues with the amount of fluids, this time way too much. There were also some flapjacks, which were pretty good. Oh yeah! I forgot about the steak sandwiches, they were lovely.

Is it still in print?

Not sure, but copies are available in print or via Kindle.

Is it worth buying?

Hmm. It’s a nice book. I would recommend it to experienced cooks, who know when and where to make adjustments, and who want to entertain more; otherwise not really. I will be keeping my copy though.

The Good Life

This book review has been a long time coming because I’ve been busy doing studenty things at university; now it’s lockdown/holiday, let’s see if we can catch up a bit. Actually lockdown has been a good opportunity to catch up on the recipes in this book, because there are like, a lot…

In the early 1930’s Florence White was concerned that the English way of life was going down the drain; people couldn’t cook properly anymore and were eating too much fancy foreign muck. I wonder if she read the Daily Mail too?

Before our precious traditions were “crushed out of existence” she endeavoured to compile a book of traditional and regional recipes. Some came from older books, others were sent in by the man (or woman) on the street. Strangely enough these traditional recipes include various curry and pillau dishes, and lump in Stotch, Irish and Welsh dishes under the general banner of “England” but we’ll gloss over that.

The methods aren’t always clear, some ingredients are nigh on impossible to find, some recipes are just gross; but it was interesting to see how, and indeed how little, English food has changed over the centuries. So here goes..

Good Things in England by Florence White. First published 1932

Why did you buy the book?

I think it’s mentioned as one of the all time classic cookbooks in Nicola Humble’s marvellous book Culinary Pleasures, an excellent reference for beginner collectors.

Judge a book by it’s cover…

It’s naff, but it was the seventies so we’ll let them off. You’ve never seen a less appetizing salmon roll in your life.

Do you use it?

Not necessarily to cook from, but as a useful reference when researching vintage recipes.

What did you make?

A bunch of stuff. There are a lot of sections, so I tried to cover a bit of everything, which is probably why it’s taken me six months. Ok, we tried mock turtle soup (but without the calf’s head) which was nice, could be used a an interesting starter for a themed dinner party; baked fish with bacon and peas, mock hare – basically a fillet of beef seasoned like game – then ‘Hindle Wakes’ a slow cooked chicken flavoured with lemon and prunes, then coated with streaky bacon and finished in the oven, I recall that one being pretty good. For pudding we had apple pie scented with rosewater, Ripon ginger cake, Shrewsbury cakes (actually biscuits), Gypsy bread and Yorkshire mint pasties (more on those later). I wanted to make the older version of Bath buns but you just can’t get caraway comfits anymore!

Image
Hindle Wakes

Is it still in print?

Surprisingly, yes. It must really be a classic then.

Is it worth buying?

That’s a tough question. You won’t find it much good for everyday cooking. Modern tastes and reliable supplies of food mean we’re unlikely to be making brain sauce or rook pie anytime soon; we don’t need seven ways to cure meat or sixteen varieties of gingerbread. However, it is interesting from a historical or research point of view, or if you like collecting vintage books.

Henry I died from a “surfeit of lampreys”, a gross slimey fish.

Sweet Thing

Do you like sweets? I love sweets. And chocolate. Have you noticed that your favourite brands just don’t taste the same as they used to? That the confectionery you loved disappeared, to be replaced by cheaper alternatives (coffee creams, rose and violet, fondant mice). A box of Roses, when I was a child, had a coffee cream AND a black cherry fondant. Now, and it seems to be the same for all brands, you just get a variety of cheap caramel fillings covered in a chocolate flavoured layer of sweet fat. I also remember when you could get two sweets for a penny (sigh).

If you enjoy quality confectionery, these days you need to be prepared to pay large sums of money. If the sugar tax proponents get their way, even more money; worryingly, some sweets (Palma Violets for example) could disappear altogether, and life as we know it will cease to be. I like sweets.Fear not, sweet making isn’t just for a certain type of ‘yummy mummy’, who insists on giving everyone homemade gifts for Christmas (sorry for the stereotype). In fact, making truffles at home, with supermarket brand chocolate, tastes every bit as good as the expensive stuff, which was a bit of a surprise to this chocolate snob.

Let’s get on with it then…

Sweet Things by Annie Rigg. Kyle Books, 2013

“chocolates, candies, caramels & marshmallows – to make & give”

So why did you buy it?

Did I mention liking sweets?

Judge a book by it’s cover…

Very chic colour scheme, attractive and stylish.

Do you use it?

Yes. Not all the time, but that’s because I’m fully capable of eating an entire batch of truffles.

What did you make?

I usually make truffles and marshmallows, so I wanted to try something a bit different. I chose fruit jellies, chocolate salami and candied almonds. All turned out well, tastewise at any rate. I love Rococo’s Burnt Almonds, the candied almonds tasted just the same, but weren’t quite as pretty! www.rococochocolates.com

Is it still in print?

Yes.

Is it worth buying?

If you like making sweets or want to give it a go, then yes, this is the book for you. The recipes are clear and understandable and ingredients easy to source. You can make sweets without a sugar thermometer, but its much easier if you have one; they don’t cost that much. I would also recommend buying an electronic probe thermometer for tempering chocolate. Definitely try the salted caramel truffles!

Coffee creams are the best, true story.

Korean Food? Yes please!

It’s no secret that I’m slightly obsessed with Korean food, but recipe books aimed at the European Market are few and far between. Yes I could use American ones, but I really don’t get on with cup measurements or directions such as “a scant stick of butter”; surely it’s easier to take away the uncertainty by weighing it? Also why not give the weight as well, like British recipe books do metric and imperial?

I was happy to find this book by Korean American, Judy Joo, who now works as a top chef in London. A lot of the recipes are fusion food, or have “cheffy” touches, so perhaps aren’t quite that simple, but there are still plenty of authentic and traditional dishes to try out.

Korean Food Made Simple – Judy Joo. Jaqui Small LLP, 2016

“Easy and delicious Korean recipes to prepare at home”

So why did you buy it?

Are you kidding? Korean food is awesome, that’s why.

Judge a book by it’s cover…

Actually, I’m not keen on the cover, it’s a bit brash and swirly. I’d prefer something more subtle or more obviously based on Korean art.

Do you use it?

It’s a fairly recent acquisition, so this was a good chance to thoroughly test the book.

What did you make?

Quite a lot! I also made the effort to source some of the more exotic ingredients such as dried anchovies and salted shrimp.

Starting with kimchi, which is the backbone of Korean cuisine, we also tried crispy tteokbokki, Royal tteokbokki, Rappoki (we like tteokbokki)…

Rappoki, a combination of tteokbokki and ramen.

Crispy tteokbokki, a snack to die for!

Royal Tteokbokki.

… Galbi jjim (beef short ribs), sweet and sour beef, and for desert, doenjang salted caramel ice cream. Yep, we love Korean food alright.

Koreans love Chinese food too.

This ice-cream is intense!

Is it still in print?

I’m not sure. New copies are still for sale from some sellers, but it’s mostly used copies at the moment.

Is it worth buying?

I would definitely recommend this book to experienced cooks who want to try something different, or who already have a basic knowledge of Korean food. If you are a beginner then you might find some of the recipes a bit daunting, some are very labour intensive and complex, but then again some are very simple. For me, it’s a keeper.

Brownies and Beans?

Brownies – gooey, chocolatey, squidgy, wonderfully indulgent, but not terribly good for you. Does that really matter? After all, all cakes and biscuits should be eaten in moderation. However, recent months have seen all manner of “healthy” brownies parading virtuously around Internet Land. Gluten free, sugar free, grain free, made with beetroot, beans, courgettes, mayonnaise, mashed avocado, mashed banana, and my personal least favourite – cauliflower (that person was quickly unfollowed on pinterest).

Call me crazy, but isn’t the whole point of brownies that they are just a bit naughty and decadent? So I was looking forward to reviewing the next book on the shelf. I even bought this one twice; the first one was lent to a friend and never found it’s way home again. Was it worth it?

Blissful Brownies Love Food. Paragon books Ltd, 2007

“Delicious and luxurious recipes for mouthwatering brownies”

So why did you buy it?

I love brownies, and the recipes sounded really exciting. The deciding factor was a recipe for chocolate peppermint squares, a much loved staple of school dinners.

Judge a book by it’s cover…

Fairly ordinary, close up of brownies and the kind of graphics typical of the noughties.

Do you use it?

I seem to recall using it a lot at first, then it went on holiday to a friends house and was never seen again. Since then I’ve been using a different recipe.

What did you make?

Although I had big plans, in the end I just made Rocky Road Brownies (too sickly) and Cinnamon Squares (too greasy). Both were fairly uninspiring so i decided to quit while I was ahead.

Is it still in print?

No, but can be bought second hand on Amazon for 1p.

So is it worth buying?

Not really. While there a couple of gems in the book, most of the brownies are very un brownie-like. Eldest son even came out of his lair to exclaim “These aren’t brownies, they’re cakes!” Better recipies abound, I always use the Hummingbird bakery one now. Another big problem with this book is the quantities, which are often way out. The rocky road brownies were so thin I had to double them up layer cake style to get a decent sized square. So yeah, don’t bother, I’m glad I only spent a penny (plus p+p) to buy it again.

The gooeyness of brownies is down to their high sugar to flour ratio.

Mediocre Macarons

Macarons were all the rage a few years ago, and are still a firm favourite with the Instagram baking crowd. And why not? They’re pretty, versatile, delicious, and gluten free. So it is with sadness that I pronounce this book a big “nope” and consign it to the charity shop.

Admittedly macarons are not for beginners. It’s not that they’re hard per se, but you need to be familiar with the techniques. But then again, I’m not exactly a beginner having made successful macarons a couple of times in the past (from a different book).

Macarons By Annie Rigg. Ryland, Peters and Small, 2011.

“Chic and delicious French treats”

One of my biggest gripes about some cookbooks is the assumption on the writers part that you already know what they’re talking about, without any explanation. For example: the first instruction is to mix the ground almonds and icing sugar in a blender. I don’t actually have a blender, so I mixed it with a spoon. The macarons failed spectacularly, one of the reasons being that the ground almonds are not fine enough and need to be chopped even finer or your macaron mixture will not work. Did the book point this out? Nope. There were several other points at which I made small mistakes that led to ultimate failure, and which I wouldn’t have made if the author had gone to the effort of explaining. So here is a shortened review

Judge a book by it’s cover.

It’s beautiful! And a cute size.

Why did you buy it?

To replace my previous macaron book, which had some bizarre flavour combinations and wasn’t nearly as classy looking. Also I am theoretically a fan of the author.

Is it worth buying?

I dunno. If you’re a macaron fanatic and are 100% familiar with all the techniques then it might be worth having. Otherwise use an Internet tutorial which will guide you through each step. Or better still, leave the macron making to that one friend who is good at it. I’m certainly never making them again.

Yes, it is still in print.

Want to see my macarons? Cheeky!

Oh, and the tray will be joining the book at the charity shop.

But what happened to the macarons? Wait for the next post…

The most important meal of the day.

I often look back with nostagia to the days when nobody worried about the sugar content of breakfast cereals. Saturday mornings were the best. I was a child during the ‘Golden Age’ of British Saturday morning children’s television; and would happily eat three bowls of Ricicles while watching ‘Going Live!’. Alas! It turns out that Ricicles were the worst offender, and are no longer available in Britain (though you can buy unopened packets on the internet for ridiculous sums of money). Other cereals have avoided a similar fate by seriously reducing their sugar content. Obviously this is a good thing, but it means they now taste rather dull. In fact, most cereals seem rather dull these days, more worried about their sugar and protein content than actual flavour. If you are prepared to make your own, this next book is a blessing.

Muesli & Granola by Rachel Khoo. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2013.

“Delicious breakfast and snack ideas from our favourite Parisian cook”

So why did you buy it?

I had enjoyed watching Ms Khoo’s television series “Little Paris Kitchen” and was considering getting the book. I saw this book while browsing on Amazon, but actually borrowed it from the local library before buying. I like the idea of saving money by making my own breakfast cereals. Have you seen the price of Alpen these days?

Judge a book by it’s cover…

It has a pleasant shabby chic colour scheme and a wholesome looking picture, the kind that appeals to women after a certain lifestyle.

Do you use it?

Not on a regular basis, but I have tried a few of the recipes with varying degrees of sucess. The flavoured granolas are amazing!

Why don’t you use it more?

Because I’m not very good at getting it together to actually make my own cereals. Especially when they come in such convenient boxes at the supermarket.

What did you make?

I made the basic muesli recipe, and a couple of variations. Also chicken congee, a nod towards Ms Khoo’s Chinese-Malaysian heritage. The congee was really, really good, but takes about an hour to make; so if you’re the kind of person who is barely sentient in the morning, it might be better as a light meal.

Is the book still in print?

Yes. Ms Khoo is still enjoying a fair amount of popularity.

Is it worth buying?

Definitely. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a healthy breakfast but is bored stiff with the commercial breakfast cereals on offer. There are also recipes for porridge, various cereal bars and other cereal based items.

Looking for “adventure” Rachel Khoo quit her job in public relations and moved to France to train as a pastry chef.