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.

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…

Bread Head

There’s a rumour circulating the internet, that trendy “organising consultant”, Marie Kondo, is recommending cutting down the number of books in your home to around thirty, much to the horror of the worlds book lovers. There are over 100 books just on the shelf opposite me right now; there’s another bookcase in this room, another in the dining room, two upstairs, and the boys have one each. Sorry girl. Ain’t never gonna happen. Admittedly, not all of them bring me “joy”, I could happily get rid of some of the ones belonging to Mr Crumbs, though he might have something to say about that!

I daresay that there are a few I could bear to let go, which is kind of the purpose in testing and reviewing all of the cookbooks currently taking up valuable space on the shelves. So welcome to the first Buttered Crumbs book review!

The Bread Book by Sara Lewis. Bounty Books, 2003.

“The definitive guide to making bread by hand or machine”

So why did you buy it?

It was around the time that we aquired a bread maker. I think I got it on Ebay. We don’t have the bread maker anymore, I could never remember to set it up in time for when we actually needed bread, and I hated the hole in the bottom caused by the mixer blade.

Judge a book by it’s cover…

It’s a picture of bread. It’s a book about bread. So far so good.

Do you use it?

Yes, it’s a good reference point for basic bread recipes. The instructions are easy to follow, and the recipes usually turn out well. I recommend the lager batons and the carrot & mustard loaf.

Why don’t you use it more?

Many of the recipes contain powdered milk. Not something we usually buy: I didn’t want to buy a tin, use a tiny bit, then have it go to waste.

Just for this experiment we bought this huge tin. It cost over £6, and I used a tiny bit. Case closed.

What did you make?

Surprise Chocolate Loaves, a good excuse to use the mini loaf tins that have been in the cupboard for years, unused. Also spiced bubble bread, because it sounded nice. They were both dissapointing. The mini loaves were dry and tough, and the bubble bread, although fluffy, was just boring. Not sweet or spiced enough. So I’m not typing up the recipes.

Is the book still in print?

No, but is readily available online, secondhand.

Is it worth buying?

Probably not. Breadmaking has enjoyed a comeback in recent years, so there are hundreds of books on the subject; go to the library or browse your local book shop to find one you like.

“Bread” can refer to a British slang word for money.