Some more cookbooks for your shelves

We’ve had some lovely new cook books sent to us for perusal and these stood out the most, for content, design and brilliance of the recipes and writing. We hope you like them and order your copy from a local book seller. Where the book is yet to be published, we have indicated date of publication.

Home cooking by Laurie Colwin.

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Laurie Colwin died far too young in 1992, aged 48 and this re-packaged book, packed with recipes was the first of her food writing to be published in the USA where she is far better known, although her status among food writers and cooks is cemented- Nigella Lawson adores her. I first read it in my mid twenties when I had my own grown up kitchen and an American friend sent it to me as encouragement to cook. Suffused with love for her little daughter and a source of friendly advice with a familiar tone for the rest of us, this is, for me, the book to read when you feel in need of something other than a list of ingredients and what to do with them.

 “I love to eat out, but even more, I love to eat in.” said Colwin who published a few novels before beginning her (more) successful career in food writing that did not then have the status or respect it now does. Colwin excels in keeping the kitchen at the heart of the home whilst never slipping into a sub feminist subtext of ‘this is where you always belonged, you know’. An arch intelligence and wry, often self deprecating humour pervades her writing. You so want to be at her dinner parties whether they be plate on lap on a bed in a miniscule New York City apartment or something more formal. We can laugh at our culinary disasters because Colwin does at hers and lets us learn from them.

Never focused inwards, Colwin writes of the people she meets and the food they bring into her life- we meet her daughters babysitter from St Vincent who inducts her into the pleasures of Black Cake: “There was only a tiny scrap of the slice left and I was forced to share it with my child who said ‘More!’ in a loud voice” and also inducted me.  Her Black Cake has been our Christmas cake ever since. From dates and bosses to her husband and family, Colwin gives credit where credit is due and intersperses recipes and cooking tips with funny stories and winsome encounters against the backdrop of New York City.

Chapters are titled ‘How to fry Chicken’, ‘Bread Baking Without Agony’ and ‘Repulsive Dinners: a Memoir’. In the latter, Colwin talks of the triumph of a truly repellent meal and rejects her mothers advice that appalling cooks should live on filet mignon and have an excellent bakery on speed dial because “the rich complicated tapestry that is the human experience would be the poorer for it.” and she is right. She goes on to describe a casserole without fragrance as the lid is lifted to reveal partially cooked sausages, rice and pineapple rings in a sea of unidentifiable liquid. Beginner cooks are comforted by the fact that it is probably impossible to be that bad.

Yes the book is of its time and some of her advice shows that. We can now source good free range chickens and we don’t see the fondue as anything other than a retro delight. BUT the emotions that underpin her writing are timeless and universal. I love her.

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The Bloomsbury Cookbook

‘The Bloomsbury Cook Book- recipes for life, love and art’ by Jans Ondaatje Rolls

A book that is art, social history and cook book, feeding the mind alongside the body. With over 170 recipes from members of the Bloomsbury Group, including David and Angela Garnett, Helen Anrep and Frances Partridge and  illustrated with hundreds of paintings, sketches, quotations and photographs, it  is a window onto Bloomsbury via recipes, grocery lists, pantries, kitchens and, above all, its dining tables. We loved this book.

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The Bloomsbury Group fostered a fresh, creative and vital way of living that encouraged debate and communication (‘only connect’), as often as not across the dining table. Gathered at these tables were many of the most important figures in art, literature, politics and economics of the modern era: E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, among many others.

The author, Jans Ondaatje Rolls invites us to dine with these enduringly fascinating individuals, taking us into the very centre of their world through the meals around which they argued, debated, laughed and loved. From the gastronomically prosaic- Leonard Woolf’s banana and fruit cake sent to him upon the occasion of his birthday by his mother, and his own recipe for haddock based fried fish and chips to the Glyndebourne ham roasted with orange juice, honey and carrots that they prepared for their pre opera feast in the grounds of this most august of British events, the recipes will both surprise and confirm our carefully held assumptions. There are intimate and astonishingly detailed portrait of the group, conjuring up the scents, colours and textures of breakfasts at Monk’s House, lunches at Charleston, tea in Tidmarsh, evening parties in Gordon Square and dinners in the south of France.

Beautifully illustrated, including original artwork by Cressida Bell, this is both a source of inspiration for the modern chef and a unique celebration of life, love and art at the heart of Bloomsbury.

‘Frites’ by Anna De La Forest

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The middle classes like to ‘slum it’, eating what they see as ‘working class foodstuffs’- chips, bacon sandwiches, cheese on toast and stews but cannot help meddling with them, ramping them up with high value ingredients, artisan this, foraged that until they are but a faint shadow of themselves. Is this book on chips (Frites) by Anna De La Forest yet another example of that?  We profess to a guilty love of fast food, the hot dogs and burgers, the chips and kebabs but wouldn’t want to to be caught at the roadside burger van unless it is parked under the arches at Waterloo serving haute dogs at ten quid a throw next to a sandwich board naming the farmer who supplied the pork. Unlike the Right Honourable John Gummer, we don’t feed mechanically recovered meat products to our children.

Chips are a universal indicator of Britishness despite their origins being most definitely not British one bit. Stories abound –  a 1781 family manuscript recounting the deep frying of potatoes prior to 1680 in what was then theSpanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium), in the Meuse valley or the enduring belief that french fries were invented by street vendors on the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris in 1789, just before the outbreak of the French revolution. What is clear is that  deep-fried fish was first introduced into Britain during the 16th century by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain and is derived from pescado frito. In 1860, the first fish and chip shop was opened in London by Joseph Malin.

Still, we digress-  all manner of people enjoy frites/chips but where they start to distinguish themselves is in the manner of their preparation and source of ingredients. No longer happy to eat them from newspaper or trays, from cardboard boxes supplied with tongue drying wooden forks to hunt and peck, we are triple frying, thick and super skinny-ing them, experimenting with frying a myriad of other vegetables and fruits and even coating the frites in all manner of odd ingredients. Much of this is driven by the new breed of celebrity cooks and chefs, all driven by a desperate need to stand out from the herd and develop that one signature dish that will give them a fast track to a feature in David Chang’s gastro magazine ‘Lucky Peach‘ and queues of bearded hipsters out the door.

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Very posh and skinny frites

Anne de la Forest, a French cook and food journalist has written a book that heralds and celebrates a trend for frites of many colours. Her book is divided into sections and starts with a handy guide to potatoes (the best types), how to prepare them via peeling, soaking and even the ways in which one might cut them. Seguing into recipe sections which were beautifully illustrated- Trendy Frites, including skinny chips; Creative Frites: made with assorted veg such as sweet potato; and Sweet Frites: desserts made from apples, bananas and pears, sliced into oblongs and deep-fried, we ended up liking the black radish and oregano and caramel and honey glazed variations the best. We were intrigued by the fried feta frites that were thickly coated in breadcrumbs although we cannot imagine what the state of the oil would be afterwards.

‘Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding: Recipes from Britain’s Best Baker’ by Justin Gellatly

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We’re not clear who decided that Gellatly is Britain’s best baker.  After twelve years as Head Baker and Pastry Chef at London foodie institution St John- alma mater of every architect, hipster and would be’s of the same, he found his new home in Borough Market, as co-founder of the Bread Ahead bakery and cookery school. Food fiends go on pilgrimage to Bread Ahead for artisan bread, cakes and Justin’s doughnuts, which sell out as fast as he can make them.

Justin shares his doughnut recipe, along with over 100 others, in his brand new recipe book,Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding. A useful new guide for bakers, traditional recipes and techniques including madeleines, croquembouche and sourdough bread – and the inventive. including Justin’s signature salted caramel custard doughnuts and fennel blossom ice cream make harmonious bedfellows  all in one volume. Like all chefs, Justin cannot resist reinventing the wheel and his versions are not necessarily better; they are just different and add a modern edge that is intriguing and an alternative to the original recipes, not replacements. From the trad Poor Knights of Windsor to a even trad-er Syllabub made with the less usual Cider we found the instructions had clarity and the twists made sense- none of the ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’ nonsense that has turned great chefs like Heston Blumnethal into parodies of themselves. We particularly liked the Apple and Calvados Cake with ‘Mist’, so named because before taking to table, Gellatly would spray it with Calvados. This version is a serve alongside sauce although there’s nothing to stop you spraying it too and we suspect bearded earnest hipster cooks will be doing just that in the hope that some of that Gellatly magic rubs off on them.

Blue Plate Special by Kate Christansen

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A literary memoir by novelist Kate Christensen in which food, (eating, cooking, thinking about it) is used as a vehicle to drive the story of her life. In the classic manner of a Laurie Colwin or M.F.K Fisher, the authors narrative becomes a way of re-examining and telling a life, starting with her unconventional childhood as the daughter of a Berkeley legal activist who ruled the house with “an iron fist” through diets, the world of men, travel and adult life writing books.

Beautifully designed with a hipster- in-mind cover, the writing is easy, intelligent and rammed with gastronomic jumping off points for readers- we were sent into reveries of our our foodie pasts on nearly every page.

Rosewater and Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood

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Growing up a Lebanese-American means Maureen Abood gets to take the lush and exotic flavours of her Lebanese past and meld them with the stories of her adult life in Harbor Springs, Michigan in first a blog and now this book. The list of ingredients in her recipes alone will make your head swoon- pomegranates and sweetly scented sherberts, pistachios, flower waters, citrus sharp spices infusing meat, fish and vegetables. They are incorporated into mouthwatering meals:  thick yogurt in olive oil, lamb with spices and herbs, warm dates, pomegranate and rose sorbet…

Maureen takes us through the recipes and meals she was brought up with, paying tribute to the generations of her family through the retelling of their stories. That focus on ingredients means readers are gently encouraged to take a seasonal approach and to use what is local when possible. There is nothing provincial here though and Maureens culinary school training will ensure that you remain grounded in technique whilst your imagination and taste buds soar.

1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die by Mimi Sheraton

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Mimi Sheraton—award-winning cookbook author, grande dame of food journalism, and former restaurant critic for The New York Times jumps on the perennially popular theme of the book of lists and whilst this breaks no new ground, it is an amusing enough and swift read for those who like to aggregate themselves against other food lovers.

1,000 Foods selects some of the best cuisines around the world (French, Italian, Chinese, Senegalese, Lebanese, Mongolian, Peruvian) and from there homes in on rhe tastes, ingredients, dishes, and restaurants that every reader should experience and dream about, whether it’s dinner at Chicago’s Alinea or the perfect empanada. In more than 1,000 pages and over 550 full-color photographs, it celebrates haute and snack, comforting and exotic, hyper-local and the universally enjoyed: a Tuscan plate of Fritto Misto. Saffron Buns for breakfast in downtown Stockholm. Bird’s Nest Soup. A frozen Milky Way. Black truffles from Le Périgord.

Mimi Sheraton has an opinion and no fear of sharing it, reinforced by her 6 decade pedigree of professional gustatory critiquing and her book ranges from continent to continent identifying dishes, restaurants and experiences in each place- those considered by her to be seminal. She is no snob though.Bon Appetempts by Amelia Morris Take the Canadian and American section with their everywoman focus landing on frozen Milky Ways, southern Ambrosia and MoonPies (also from the Deep South), the former “an ecstatic rush of contrasts’ from the childhood memories of this New Yorker and the latter from trips away from the frozen north. Mimi does icons and nostalgia the best and they come together in a glorious paen to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station: “The famed oyster stew (oysters poached in cream and butter) is a thin, milky, slurp-worthy delight. The oyster pan roast is thicker, the aforementioned ingredients spiked with hot paprika and chile sauce and lovingly ladled, usually by a hassled yet generous waiter, over a slice of good toast. They’re dishes that work thanks to the juxtaposition of the oysters’ sharp sea saltiness with the milk’s neutrality.”

Bon Appetempts by Amelia Morris

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When Amelia Morris found a beautiful chocolate cake in Bon Appétit and took the recipe home to recreate it for a Christmas day brunch she was hosting, it collapsed into a terrible (but delicious) mess that had to be served in an oversized bowl. It also paralleled the interesting and never-quite-predictable, situations she’s gotten herself into throughout her life, from her one-day career as a six-year-old lady wrestler to her ill-fated job at the School of Rock in Los Angeles. As she gets older, the kitchen is where she finds that even if some of her attempts fall short of the standard set by a food magazine, they can still bring satisfaction to her and her family and friends. Full of witty and snarky observations about food, family, unemployment, romance, and the excesses of modern L.A., and incorporating recipes as basic as Toasted Cheerios and as advanced as gâteau de crêpe, Amelia’s book is sure to ring bells with those of us who try really hard and do not always succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Some more cookbooks for your shelves

    1. I know- I have a compulsion bordering upon the pathological, to buy food writing and cook books. Terrible.

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