Cook book reviews for Autumn 2015

Picking your way through the forest of new cooking titles that pop up like mushrooms isn’t easy so we’ve taken a look and chosen some of our favourite releases for you. There’s something for all here from modern baking by a Californian transpant to Hackney to a book that shows us how to channel the spirit of the Swedish Fika. We also welcome new books by some favourites from the restaurant world too. Enjoy and let us know about your favourites too.
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The Paw-Paw is largest edible fruit native to the United States and tastes like a cross between a banana and a mango. Growing wild in twenty-six states, it has fed Native Americans and European explorers, presidents, and enslaved African Americans, inspiring folk songs, poetry, and scores of place names from Georgia to Illinois. Requiring no pesticides or herbicides to thrive, it is made for organic production methods and the fruit possesses compounds that are among the most potent anticancer agents yet discovered. There’s much to discover, clearly.  In Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, author Andrew Moore explores the past, present, and future of this unique fruit, traveling from the Ozarks to Monticello; canoeing the lower Mississippi in search of wild fruit; drinking pawpaw beer in Durham, North Carolina; tracking down lost cultivars in Appalachian hollers; and helping out during harvest season in a Maryland orchard. Along the way, he gathers pawpaw lore and knowledge not only from the plant breeders and horticulturists working to bring pawpaws into the mainstream (including Neal Peterson, known in pawpaw circles as the fruit’s own “Johnny Pawpawseed”), but also regular folks who remember eating them in the woods as kids, but haven’t had one in over fifty years. I’m a big fan of single-subject food writing and Moore has written a superb guide to this most unusual fruit which is also a reminder to all of us to engage deeper with our own foodways and eat those foods which perhaps we have taken for granted in the past.

 

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Lynn Hill established the Clandestine Cake Club in 2010 partly as a response to the recent rise in popularity of secret supper clubs. There are now over 200 clubs around the UK and overseas and this is her second cake book, containing 100 ‘celebratory’ recipes contributed by club members and by Lynn herself. The cake club meets tend to have a theme which members bake to and The Clandestine Cake Club: a year in cake structures its recipes around this with each cake paying homage to noteworthy events and occasions throughout the year, including a sea salted caramel cake which honours Nigel Slaters birthday and the time he paid a visit to the CCC to film an episode of his own show.

Ingredients and cakes range from the traditional (Victoria sponges, roulades, vanilla, coffee) to the less so (tres leches cake, opera cake, rosehip, masala chai) and include unusual combinations ( bacon and maple syrup, sweet potato and vanilla). Traditional cakes such as bara brith are reinvigorated with new ingredients like Welsh honey and camomile and seasons are reflected too (summery lemon and mint cake). The golden pineapple cream cake and caramel pecan brittle swiss roll take this mix of innovation to another level. Sumptuous but clear photographs by Kris Kirkham help less experienced bakers gain understanding as to how the cakes should look and, as you’d expect, the recipes are well written and therefore they work.

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Another year of good eating for Mr Slater is prefixed by some cautionary words about the current epidemic of imbuing foodstuffs with moral and characterful qualities and, as he says, “the need to divide the content of our plates into heroes and villains.” Slater has been cooking for five decades now which affords him the moral authority to overview the constant relay of food and eating fads. He is right, he has ALWAYS been right to warn us about the consequences of allowing guilt and shame to drive our eating. Yes, the methods of production do have an intrinsic moral value and we are right to shun factory farming, companies that do not pay a fair wage and excessive, indulgent food miles but essentially food should be about pleasurable fuel for the body and his recipes reflect that.

His latest book, Kitchen Diaries III- a year of good eating is a collection of recipes collated into a diary form from a few years worth of eating. There is evidence of Slater using ingredients new to him and fashionable to others but he incorporates them into meals which are more than a ‘for sake of’ use of todays buzz food. His New Years Day crispbreads contain trendy rye and spelt but having read and cooked from Kitchen Diaries I and II, I can see the evolution, how Slater arrived here as opposed to a phagocytic takeover of a trend or movement which was created by other people.

What do I really want to cook? There’s a lovely Raclette tart which cuts an eggy, buttery and creme fraiche richness with the acidulated tang of cornichons and the mild burn of a good salami. Pork bone soup is inspired by a hole-in-the-wall meal and a dog-eared laminated menu and his loganberry summer cake is Tove Jansson on a china plate. The date of writing this has me turning to the corresponding recipe for a marmalade of onion and collapsed fig tart and later on in October, he suggests a smoked mackerel and celeriac remoulade to use up the nobbly root in my larder.

There’s a useful new idea too- four seasonal sections devoted to easy cook, easy eating and a development of his previus cookbook, Eat, which riffed off the twitter format with 140 character recipes. These are the heart of our everyday eating, an answer to those days when you haven’t got a ziplock bag of lamb chops marinading in the fridge or a complex gratin with layers beautifully melded together. He’s understated is Mr Slater and his recipes are not predicated upon a perfection of finish and state of the art technique- Slater does not want to leave his readers breathlessly impressed at his skill and wondering if they can pull it off.  His food is a clever distillation of a lifetime’s adventures in food and you, dear reader, get to live this vicariously and achievably through those recipes.
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Claire Ptak owns a jewel box of a cake shop and cafe in East London. The Violet Bakery Cookbook is her fourth book and what a book! Focusing on decent quality ingredients and making an effort to explore alternatives for those of you who cannot eat gluten, it goes to say that Violet is a progressive and modern book that still pays its dues to the rules of patisserie. And because of this, the recipes work. Along with running her bakery-café, Ptak is also a food writer, food and prop stylist, recipe developer and consultant which explains its exquisite design, underpinned by real substance. An old school jacket and cheery yellow bookcloth contains recipes that read as a day in the life of her kitchen, covering savoury and sweet foods eaten for breakfast, merenda or elevenses, dinner, parties and lunches. Ptak isn’t a finish fascist either, her icing and decoration show the eye of an artist but are engagingly freeform in appearance. The amateur will feel able to have a go and feel content with their efforts.

Favourite recipes? Banana buttermilk bread, butterscotch blondies, the very adult-sounding ginger molasses cake and the coconut-cream trifle cake.The savoury recipes are great but to be honest, the sweet stuff is what lured me in and kept me baking.

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An ingredient-led feel is what attracted us to Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne with over 80 recipes that reinvent classic sweets and introduce readers to the more unusual spices, used to infuse puddings. Veteran food editor and recipe developer Samantha Seneviratne invites readers to explore a bold new world of spice-centric desserts with chapter concentrating on a different spice–some familiar, like vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger; others less expected (especially in sweet preparations), such as peppercorns, chiles, and cardamom. There’s familiar recipes such as brownies except these are perfumed with salt and pepper. The cinnamon section (a spice massively popular in the USA and UK) has cinnamon, hazel and date buns, new love cake and ricotta cheesecake with bourbon raisin jam  whilst the nutmeg section has tales of the nutmeg trail and Dutch and British battles over this highly-prized spice.

These recipes are practical but by God, you get the romance too. Seneviratne is a storyteller, making the reader feel thoroughly at home in her life as the child of a first-generation Sri Lankan family, a history she interweaves with the history of the spices and herbs she cooks with and, interestingly, the consumption of sugar in the US and its attendant health issues. We read about her grandmother in Sri Lanka and her beloved brother, and meanr about Seneviratnes mother’s love of the ‘boxed mixes’ she grew up on. As the family adjusted to the USA, they developed a love for all things “American” which threatened to overshadow her grandmother’s love of Sri Lanka and eclipse the sensual wonders of the nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom that grew on her property amongst the coconut palms, teak trees and frangipani, avocado and bananas.

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The Appalachian region of the USA doesn’t spring to mind when one lists the great cuisines of the world but overlooking it altogether would mean we miss out on a fascinating story of geology, ecology, human migration and seasonality. Eating Appalachia by Darrin Nordahl kicks off with a lesson in how to pronounce the name of the region (think how ‘apple atcha’ sounds) which extends from the mountainous spine of Maine in the northernmost reaches of the contigious States right down to Georgia in the south.

From the intoxicatingly scented paw-paw and Appalachian spice bush, the foods of this region are explored, introducing us to the people responsible for the resurgence in popularity of them, competitions and festivals where they are celebrated and recipes developed by the many people the author encounters. We read of the problems foraging of plants such as the ramp and ginseng is causing too, a salutatory warning for the UK which is seeing an increase in this activity and restaurateurs start to take notice of what is on their door step. The recipes are lovely and easily achieved IF you can locate these ingredients, many of which are botanically specific to the region. However, improvisation is accommodated. There’s Pawpaw Panna Cotta, Pawpaw Whiskey Sour, Chianti-Braised Elk Stew, Pan-Fried Squirrel with Squirrel Gravy, Ramp Linguine, and Wild Ginger Poached Pears, among others.

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More food writing now with Simon Majumdar’s Fed, White and Blue: Finding America With My Fork who describes himself as not your typical idea of an immigrant. As he says, “I’m well rested, not particularly poor, and the only time I ever encounter ‘huddled masses’ is in line at Costco.” But immigrate he did, and thanks to a Homeland Security agent who asked if he planned to make it official, the journey chronicled in Fed, White, and Blue was born. In it, Simon sets off on a trek across the United States to find out what it really means to become an American, using what he knows best: food.

Stopping in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to learn about what the pilgrims ate (and that playing Wampanoag football with large men is to be avoided); a Shabbat dinner in Kansas; Wisconsin to make cheese (and get sprayed with hot whey); and LA to cook at a Filipino restaurant in the hope of making his in-laws proud, Simon writes wholeheartedly about the food cultures that make up America. He brews beer and works in farming; spends time helping out at a food bank, and even finds himself at a tailgate. This is a warm and humorous book that explores what it means to be American through a prism of food.

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Relae: A Book of Ideas by Chef Christian F Puglisi looks, at first, to be terribly worthy and earnest; a series of interconnected “idea essays,” which reveal the ingredients, practical techniques, and philosophies that inform Puglisi’s cooking. Each essay is connected to one (or many) of the dishes he serves, and readers are invited to flip through the book in whatever sequence inspires them—from idea to dish and back to idea again. However, the result is a deeply personal and unusual reading experience: a rare glimpse into the mind of a top chef, and the opportunity to learn the language of one of the world’s most pioneering and acclaimed restaurants. It is an interesting departure from the standard format of a recipe book by a working chef, Christian F. Puglisi who opened restaurant Relæ in 2010 on a rough, run-down stretch of one of Copenhagen’s most crime-ridden streets.

His goal was simple: to serve impeccable, intelligent, sustainable, and plant-centric food of the highest quality—in a setting that was devoid of the pretention and frills of conventional high-end restaurant dining. Relæ was an immediate hit, and Puglisi’s “to the bone” ethos—which emphasized innovative, substantive cooking over crisp white tablecloths or legions of water-pouring, napkin-folding waiters—became a rallying cry for chefs around the world.

Today the Jægersborggade—where Relæ and its more casual sister restaurant, Manfreds, are located—is one of Copenhagen’s most vibrant and exciting streets. And Puglisi continues to excite and surprise diners with his genre-defying, wildly inventive cooking.

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More American food writing now from Writings in The Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways by David A Davis and Tara Powell and, more specifically, writings with their roots deeply in the fertile soil of the Deep South. Aiming to go past tired old cliches yet cognizant of the fact that ignoring those well known tropes won’t make them go away, Writings in the Kitchen explores the relationship between food and literature and makes a major contribution to the study of both southern literature and of southern foodways and culture more widely.This collection examines food writing in a range of literary expressions, including cookbooks, agricultural journals, novels, stories, and poems. Contributors interpret how authors use food to explore the changing South, considering the ways race, ethnicity, class, gender, and region affect how and what people eat. They describe foods from specific southern places such as New Orleans and Appalachia, engage both the historical and contemporary South, and study the food traditions of ethnicities as they manifest through the written word..

Scarlett O’Hara munched on a radish and vowed never to go hungry again. Vardaman Bundren ate bananas in Faulkner’s Jefferson, and the Invisible Man dined on a sweet potato in Harlem. Although food and stories may be two of the most prominent cultural products associated with the South, the connections between them have not been thoroughly explored until now.

Southern food has become the subject of increasingly self-conscious intellectual consideration. The Southern Foodways Alliance, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, food-themed issues of Oxford American and Southern Cultures, and a spate of new scholarly and popular books demonstrate this interest. Writing in the Kitchen explores the relationship between food and literature and makes a major contribution to the study of both southern literature and of southern foodways and culture more widely.

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April Bloomfield is one of the new British young turks whose chef skills have won them huge accolades in New York City and in A Girl and her Greens: Hearty Meals From the Garden, Bloomfield allows colourful, tasty vegetables to take centre stage. Previously focusing on the glories of the pig, here we see a chef at the height of her powers of imagination and creativity, proving that vegetables are not an also ran. There’s roasted onion with sage pesto (a great nod to British stuffing flavours), Swiss chard cannelloni, fennel salad with blood orange (delicious) and braised peas with little gem lettuce, the latter paying homage to classical French cuisine. The ingredient lists aren’t exhausting either. Crushed spring peas with mint has just seven items and none of them expensive or hard to find. The ingredients do need to be fresh, seasonal and good quality though although she is flexible. Take foccacia with three toppings: each topping offers an opton for different times of the year and acts as jumping off point for your own ideas too. Fashions are referenced too with the ubiquitous kimchi recipe included.

With gorgeous photos by David Loftus and cute illustrations by Sun Young Park (the cabbage kimchi squat is a favourite), the recipes are organised by season, by vegetable type or by ingredient/dish; the structure is not hidebound by the way. Her restaurant, The Spotted Pig and previous book, A Girl and Her Pig are referenced with chapters called Top to Tail where all the vegetable is used up (carrot top pesto is an example) which is an approach I haven’t encountered so explicitly before although it is a philosophy many households follow by necessity. Other chapters are titled ‘My pal, the potato’ and ‘with a Little help from meats’- it isn’t a vegetarian book which needs to be made clear although there is much for non meat eaters here. Bloomfield is no aloof perfectionist either; she shares her less than successful results and uses a personal tone throughout.

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To another perfectly designed book now with Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats Hardcover by Anna Brones; one of my favourite book releases of the last year because it distils everything we find swoonsome about Scandinavia- its literature, food, design and way of living- down into one book. Fika pays homage to Sweden and its status as one of the world’s top coffee consuming nations. The twice-daily social coffee break known as fika is a cherished custom and can be partaken of alone or with others. It is as much a state of mind as it is of being.In this adorable illustrated cookbook, Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall share nearly fifty classic recipes from cinnamon buns, Swedish cinnamon and cardamom bread and ginger snaps to rhubarb cordial and rye bread and include information and anecdotes about Swedish coffee culture (why it was once a boys club), and the roots and modern incarnations of the custom. Explanations of traditions such as name days are accompanied by recipes for celebratory cakes like advent pepparkakor alongside charming illustrations about how to flip and roll Swedish pancakes and the traditional shaping techniques for baking such as Swedish saffron buns and Semlor, the latter served before Lent.

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The exquisiteness continues with another beautufully designed cookbook by a trained chef of national reknown. I have frequently had the pleasure of eating Skye Gyngells food when she was at the helm of the Petersham Nurseries kitchen in West London and now, thank goodness, she is back with the eponymous new place to hang her toque up on and a book. Published to celebrate this, Spring presents a collection of mouthwatering original recipes from the new restaurant’s menu -there’s beautiful bread and pasta dishes, seafood and meat dishes, colourful salads and vegetables, enticing ice cream and desserts, original preserves and refreshing non-alcoholic drinks. there’s crab salad with chilli, pumpkin, curry leaves and lime, pappardalle with oxtail ragu, guinea fowl with faro and parsley, kimchi and warm chocolate and espresso puddings.

But Spring also provides a fascinating insight into the creation of the restaurant itself, from Skye’s first visit to the space at Somerset House, through the design and development of the site to the opening of the restaurant. She describes how the menu evolved, from the early days testing recipes in her kitchen at home to the opening in October 2014. She also reveals details about the other aspects that give the restaurant its unique character: the decor, art, staff uniforms, table settings etc. We really welcome a book which gives such insight into a chefs life and in doing so, properly credits their hard work, skill and creative input. This embarrassment of riches culminates with Andy Sewell’s evocative photographs, which capture the essence of Skye’s inspirational food as well as the dazzling atmosphere of the restaurant.

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Know what? I love Laurie Colwin, Elizabeth David and MFK Fisher and Jane Grigson needs to take up her place up on the podium alongside them. Her confiding warmth makes her one of my absolute favourite writers and I cannot understand why she is not championed as much as David et al. Now, 25 years after her untimely death and having been out of print for over a decade, Grub Street is republishing the ultimate compendium of Jane Grigson’s recipes as The Best of Jane Grigson. Following the success of her first book, Charcuterie and French Pork Cooking, Grigson’s research and flair for cooking speak for themselves within this tome. With a delightful introduction by her friend, Elizabeth David, this book is a staple for every cook. The book is organised into regional cuisines from across the globe including: the Americas, the Mediterranean, the Europeans, India and the Far East and contains sections entitled ‘At Home in England’ and ‘At Home in France’; both places close to Jane’s heart. There is also, of course, a detailed chapter on charcuterie.The recipes are introduced in English, with brief descriptions by Grigson, but are also simultaneously designated in the native language of their origin. There are graphs and pictorials for the accurate cooking of meat joints by weight and detailed instructions for picking the best ingredients and making the most of them when they are in season. The book concludes with a chapter on the enjoyment of food which encapsulates Grigson’s approach to cooking along with the experience of reading this book. The recipes are diverse and diligent to detail. There are recipes for the simple weekday dinner to the elaborate celebratory feast. This collection of her best and most-loved recipes, with her introductions, anecdotes, quotations and poems, is a fitting tribute, not only to her culinary and literary skills, but also to the warmth, wit and intelligence that shines through all her books.

Yay! Best Food Writing 2015 will be with us soon. #reviews

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“Anthony Bourdain, John T. Edge, Jonathan Gold, Francis Lam, Ruth Reichl, Calvin Trillin, Alice Waters. These are just some of the celebrated writers and foodies whose work has appeared in Best Food Writing over the past fifteen years. Whether written by an established journalist or an up-and-coming blogger, the essays offered in each edition represent the cream of that year’s crop in food writing. And 2015 promises to uphold the same high standards with a dynamic mix of writers offering provocative journalism, intriguing profiles, moving memoir, and more.”

I own every single one of the Best Food Writing series and have read each one countless times. Editor Holly Hughes proves there is still vigour in food writing with her annual collation of though provoking, quirky and intelligent pieces from food writers both well known and less so. I eagerly await the publication of each annual volume because although I consider myself a voracious consumer of the genre, even I will not be able to access the very best writing, scattered as it is across all manner of journals, newspapers, blogs, websites and magazines all over the globe. This really does bother me.

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My own collection.

Hughes provides a trustworthy food-wire service in book form. There’s always some standouts and in this collection, Tim Hanni’s ‘Maverick Wine Guru’ is one of them. Published by the Sacramento Bee (nope, me neither), he develops upon a phenomenon I first encountered via Jeffry Steingarten’s essay- the supertaster- and he applies this to the world of wine tasting, turning some popular pre-conceptions on their head as he does it. Ever wondered why Zinfandel, Asti and Moscato are the only wines you are able to palate? Well Hanni might be onto an explanation here.

Sara Deseran’s ‘Kidsnobs’ is another fresh angle on a food movement we see more and more and have (probably) our own private views upon- that of the super engaged child foodie. Relating her own experiences of children who are obsessively interested in food and the acquisition of food related experiences, she asks us to draw our own line and is honest in her appraisal of her own children and the fact that in their case, nurture is all and down to both parents working in the industry. Where does the education and empowerment stop and the over indulged, over privileged entitled show off-ness start?

This is a world where top chefs are both celebrated and self define as rock gods and this anthology is heavy on chef profiles. These always polarise readers and reviewers with some complaining that the focus of these anthologies has become too food nerdish. However if Hughes is to accurately reflect the culinary world, the cult of cheff-ly personality cannot be ignored. So we have Blue Hills’ leftover pop up dinners where fish skin, old noodles and veg peelings are fought over in a reservations war and charm food critic Pete Wells. Underpinning this is the very relevant and important subject of reducing food waste in the hospitality business and Blue Hill aims to redefine what is waste and what is not (clue: everything is and could be on the table). In an amusing addendum to the fragile chef ego, there’s a piece about Wylie Dufresne’s reaction to a comment he overheard in his restaurant which referred to chefs as pussies. and we revisit Leah Chase, queen of NOLA’s creole cuisine. Chase survived Katrina and rebuilt her restaurant in Treme (as in the popular TV series) and her place is top of my list when I visit New Orleans next Spring. She is the quietly confident antithesis of people like Dufresne, Ramsay and Batali.

We zoom in closer to the cultural effects of the hospitality business too with a very important essay by Todd Kliman on the informal colour bar which still operates in DC restaurants despite the beliefs of restaurateurs that they have addressed this. Seemingly it is not enough to paint a mural of black cultural heroes on your establishment’s wall unless you like reminding patrons of motivational decor pasted up on their high school halls. Consideration is given as to why sushi bars and other specialised cuisines might not immediately attract black customers historically (lack of familiarity, their own family dining history- in the all too recent past they simply weren’t able to eat in ‘genre’ restaurants because of Jim Crow), something that is a thorny subject and hasn’t been properly addressed before.

It’s not just about the high minded and highly intended either. There’s the down home reminder that home cooking can be an exhausting merry go round of WTF shall we cook ( Molly Watson and Tamar Haspel) and other writers take us on a gastro-reminder about why Taco Bell rules (John DeVore) and long standing foodie figures Jane & Michael Stern extoll the virtues of Nashville’s hot chicken. Seemingly this latter subject has not yet been done to death as they manage to squeeze further juicy copy from this topical bird. DeVore hits us with a startling and frankly ludicrous assertion: he declares that Taco Bell has the best Mexican food? After I had finished spluttering in horror, I carried on reading only to find a fairly convincing argument (albeit tongue in cheek). In a few pages we move from dude to a heartwarming conclusion. I’m not convinced though. We had less dude from Bourdain too as he writes about food traditions with an ode to the clams of his childhood which he is now handing down to his own young daughter. I like this Bourdain, who appears less preoccupied with getting into stupid dick swinging competitions with other chefs which can come across as bullying.

I can never read too much about coconut cream pie and thankfully Kim Severson cannot write enough about it either. A mothers cookbook shares more than just recipes and I imagine every American home has a coconut pie with a story attached. This is Kim’s.

Sarah Grey’s  essay, ‘Friday Night Meatballs: How to Change Your Life with Pasta,” was first published in Serious Eats and utterly deserves its inclusion here with vivid and homely touches where the scene is set for a family meal, conceived in a rush of toy tidying, napkins folded by her daughter and a table set with fourth generation china. It celebrates red sauce, reminds us that freelancing can add to loneliness – especially when you factor in the difficulties of maintaining a social life when you have small kids. Friday Night Meatballs transcend a lot of cultural barriers to communal eating, Grey discovered, and she offers up warmth in spades as she writes about her own solutions to all of these: “The house will be messy. There might be card and/or board games. There might be good Scotch. You might be asked to read picture books. You might make new friends. We’ll just have to find out. This is our little attempt to spend more time with our village. You’re invited.”

Long may Holly Hughes reign over the world of food writing anthologies. These, alongside the Cornbread Nation series, are my absolute favourite. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Best Food Writing, edited by Holly Hughes is published by Perseus Books Group, De Capo Press. 

Dr Seuss + me

downloadMost of us can name a Dr Seuss book but how many of you have read my particular favourite, The Eye Book? Written by one Theodor Geisel (who used Theo Lesieg as a pen name) or Dr Seuss, as you might commonly know him, he writes, “Our eyes see flies. Our eyes see ants. Sometimes they see pink underpants” and this utterly barking looking book (with its prescient nod to the modern popularity of Japanese kawaii) pays a hilarious tribute to our eyes, encouraging us to show appreciation for all the wonderful things to be seen and the amazing way they accomplish this.

Spending some of my childhood in Mexico close to the American border meant that I had better access to Dr Seuss than your average British school child in the sixties. He was read in England but not to the extent he was enjoyed across the Atlantic and when we emigrated back to England, our crates were stuffed with my battered collection of books which took a soul-destroying eight months to arrive. The Eye Book (along with One Fish Two Fish), was my favourite and so earned the right to return with us via plane.

My joy at meeting my new form teacher in Suffolk was immense when she started to read Dr Seuss out loud and her American accent rolled over the words. My teachers in Saltillo, the Northern Mexican city we lived near, would sometimes read aloud from the books in heavily accented English with a definite American inflection. Miss Thorne, with her silver hair in a tight bun and possessed of a lofty, aquiline profile, was slightly feared by the other children but not by me and on that first day I nervously offered my copy of Dr Seus knowing, just knowing, that this American teacher would share my most un-English preference for his books.

Miss Thorne was a warm home from home in this strange, land. From that moment on, she was my buddy, a treasured ally in a cold and snow-covered country where Janet & John reigned supreme. Those emotionally constipated post-war drips with their colourless parents were not for me, having been accustomed to the open and effusive warmth of the Mexicans and Americans I had lived among. Janet and John’s brown T-bar sandals, shit-coloured cardigans, pudding bowl haircuts and obsessive repetition of the most boring inanities about running, dogs and balls did not impress.

I suffered a fair bit when I moved back. Eight year old children are not reknowned for their willingness to embrace the new and different and this blonde ringletted girl who spoke in angry Spanish whenever she got emotional and forgot her English, who looked like them but didn’t sound like them, soon became alienated and the butt of jokes. Mrs Thorne helped as much as she could but having a teacher as an ally was more of a disadvantage and I veered from wild fantasies about her being unmasked as my real mother (I had pretty terrible parents too) and other less kindly ones where I vented my anger at her marking me out as teachers pet.

Dr Seuss would have understood. He knew what it was like to stand out and when he briefly broke off from children’s writing to become a political cartoonist, he made fun of isolationists and American isolationism. He mocked the leaders of the Axis powers and railed against the discrimination directed at Jews and African-Americans- all at a time when their estrangement was enshrined in legislation, socially approved of and commonplace.DSC_2683 Seuss’s sense of social justice also stemmed from his childhood; when he was asked about the source of his creativity and did it emanate from his youth, he responded tellingly, “I think I skipped my childhood,” but “I used my adolescence.” His own background as the grandson of a Bavarian German who had emigrated from Germany in the nineteenth century and, during the First World War and was teased for being a German-American, became the painful bedrock of a career built upon the capture of youthful minds, before they became distorted by prejudice. His route home from school was accompanied by a rain of brickbats and shouts of “kill the Kaiser.” His college years saw him shunned for being Jewish (he wasn’t) and went on to inspire The Sneetches (1961), a story in which star-bellied Sneetches discriminate against star-less Sneetches. At the story’s end, they learn that “Sneetches are Sneetches / And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.” He might not have been Jewish but he wasn’t going to stay quiet on the subject of anti semitism. download (3) “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” says Horton Hears a Who, a book in part inspired by his visit to a post atomic bomb ravaged Japan and an important allegory (although the message isn’t as hidden as your typical allegory). I am in no way aligning my own bullying with that of other groups of people whose marginalizations involve brutality and remorseless, killing punishment but I still saw my own misery and isolation represented in a small way by him. I was that ‘no matter how small and plain little turtle below in the stack‘ (Yertle the Turtle). Dr Seuss understood that a whole lot of ‘smalls,’ added together, would go on to form a whole lot of ‘big.’ He made me realise that I couldn’t avoid being a small, nor was I likely to get a chance to become big, but I could find commonality somewhere. I was not doomed to remain forever alone.

And I was a bookish, owl-eyed child, living my life sequestered and partially protected behind a pile of books, a place of relative safety that nonetheless was regularly invaded by my parents and thus required rebuilding. Hard emotional work but the reward of fantasy lands, of other lives between those pages and the promise, one day, of a life that might be totally constructed by me was a powerful incentive to keep on rebuilding myself after being knocked down. And Dr Seuss invented the word that described me! He invented ‘nerd,’ or was the first person to use it in a book in If I Ran the Zoo. His ‘nerd’ was loving and approving, it was powerful medicine to the nerd word as chanted by the kids at school; a word that had more power to hurt in the seventies than it does now. We hadn’t reclaimed it then. I Wish I Had Duck Feet was a powerful lesson in conformity although I suspect Dr Seuss did not intend it that way. Being bullied (and I was relentlessly bullied all throughout my school years) was very lonely because like a lot of people who experience this, I had a sad and bad home life that the bullies somehow smelt on me. They detected it and homed in, knowing that I had no recourse to support, no angry parent waiting to deal with them at the school gates. My parents didn’t give a damn about it and in those days, most schools didn’t either. IMG_0029 In this book, the main character wishes for ducks feet, an elephant nose, a sprinkler on his head (!) and moose horns (among others). ‘If I had two big duck feet, I could laugh at big Bill Brown. I would say ‘YOU don’t have duck feet, these are all there are in town.’ Near the stories end, the character is imaginng the consequences of having all these useful features at once and how he’d actually end up locked up in a zoo, because society will not see the usefulness, only the freakiness. He decides he would rather just ‘be himself’ but this is not a happy settling as far as I am concerned- rather it is a sad accomodation and admission that to conform is to escape the cruel and beady eye of others. IMG_0032 How did I try to conform? I started by refusing to speak Spanish, refusing to keep up my bi-lingualism which so virulently marked me out as different to the other kids. On my first day in my English school, I turned to the little girls designated to show me around and asked them why there were tables lined up in the corridors (they were being put out for lunch). I asked in Spanish, was not understood and thus began my career as the strange girl- in those days, foreign speaking pupils were not common in Suffolk. My grandfather begged me to speak in Spanish, told me I would bitterly regret it if I forgot it all. I would not listen and I did, for a while, forget most of it, apart from that time when, in upper school Spanish class, my new schoolmaster told me I spoke Spanish like an ‘uneducated Mexican peasant.’ I replied coolly, “That’s because I grew up surrounded by them” (and they were worth ten of you, I thought). Now it is all coming back as age deconstructs the barriers in my mind and Hollywood starts to allow Latino actors to take on roles other than pool boy/nanny/waitress/slut. As they gain [a few] more speaking roles and gain representation in the arts, I am hearing what was (nearly) my mother tongue. And the memories flood back.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woodbridge Tide Mill and The Cake Shop Launch Collaborative Cookbook

Woodbridge’s iconic working Tide Mill has collaborated with the town’s much loved bakery, The Cake Shop, to create an informative book filled with delicious recipes and fascinating facts.

The book will launch at The Local Seasonal Food Market: What’s Tasty in Woodbridge on Market Hill in Woodbridge on Saturday 24th May from 10am.  The recipes have been created by Christine Wright from The Cake Shop and Anne Barratt from the Tide Mill – who will be signing copies of the book at the market between 12 noon and 1.00pm.

The book uses interesting recipes and facts to dispel the myths around wholemeal flour.   Not only does it explain why wholemeal flour is the healthiest option, but it also demonstrates the remarkable versatility of wholemeal flour through the variety of tasty recipes.

Nigel Barratt, Miller and Trustee of the Tide Mill Living Museum said; “Many people may think that that all you can really do with wholemeal flour is bake heavy, stodgy bread, but it’s far more versatile.

“Most flour produced in modern roller mills has all the bran and most of the nutrients in the wheat germ removed in the process.  Our stone ground wholemeal flour uses 100% of the whole grain. The slow and gentle milling process leaves all the goodness in the flour and makes it the healthiest and most natural of all wheat flours. It’s tasty too, with a characteristic nutty flavour that works really well in bread, cakes, pastry and biscuits!”

We have been able to see a sneak preview of the recipes and they appear accessible, family friendly and clearly explained. Tide Mill Wholemeal Onion & Herb Bread, Chapatti’s and Paratha’s are all accompanied by bakers tips to help you trouble shoot any problem areas and teach you some of the tricks of the trade too. In the meal section, Stuffed Mushrooms on Tide Mill Croutons offers what looks like a delicious and sensible way of using up any stale bread. Unlike supermarket bread which is stuffed with preservatives which tends to make it get soggy and mouldy as it ages, home baked bread merely dries out. This offers great scope for further cooking, an important consideration in these times of austerity and furthermore ingredients are in the main, accessible and affordable.

Bread can also make great puddings and it won’t be long before we are into the fruit season and able to make the delicious sounding Blueberry & Nectarine Crumble with its lime spiked fruit base and almond enriched crumble topping. Cakes also celebrate fruit from the recipe for Christines fruit cake through all manner of banana breads, Date Slices and the Tide Mill Carrot Cake. Sections for recipes suitable for children- pizza bases for one and even a dog biscuit recipe round off this useful and local cook book.

The Little Norfolk Book of Baking

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The Little Norfolk Book of Baking has been born! Originally conceived as a competition entry by ten girls from the Norwich High School for Girls for ‘Young Enterprise’ a competition designed to give young people an insight into running their own business, the book fills a gap in the market for a Norfolk baking book that celebrates both local talent and our rich culinary heritage. We contacted  Katie Bates, a member of their fledgling business ‘The Saffron Enterprise Company’ who wrote,

 “The popularity of home baking in Britain has seen a huge surge in this decade thanks to programmes such as the Great British Bake Off, and today the British baking industry is worth an estimated £3.4 billion. It was this huge evolving market combined with a shared passion for all things baking that led us to create our cookbook”

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Keeping it regional meant approaching Norfolk’s stellar culinary talent and the students received a highly positive response from all those they got in touch with, quickly acquiring enough recipes to fill the 44-page book. Contributors include 2010 MasterChef finalist Tim Kinnaird, and celebrity chefs Galton Blackiston and Mary Berry. We at Mumsnet Norfolk & Suffolk are particular fans of Dr Kinnaird’s macarons and other delicacies having sampled them in the past. Interspersed with these are the girls own favourite recipes, resulting in a cook book that appeals to young adults – those starting out as cooks who might be intimidated by some of the more complicated and less realistic baking tomes out there. 

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The students have recently won the Norfolk county finals, and since then have been trying to sell as many books as possible before the regional finals in Cambridge in June. The book retails for £5.99, and can be found in Jarrolds’ book department and at Blickling Hall, as well in restaurants and cafes in Norfolk, such as The Box Tree Cafe. They recently appeared on the new local station, Mustard TV to promote the book, and have also previously featured in The Norfolk Magazine. We at Mumsnet wish them the very best of luck and will most certainly be using this gorgeous little book. 

The Little Norfolk Book of Baking can also be brought from the school– http://goo.gl/0gJLXu

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Little Oliver, our local cook book writer!

Oliver’s Kitchen’ and ‘Oliver’s Kitchen -Seconds’

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Both of these lovely books feature the cooking adventures of Oliver and his sister Mia and in doing so, raise vital funds for the Neonatal Unit at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds and the Stroke Association.

Oliver experienced a neonatal stroke and the first book tells the story of his progress alongside recipes and photographs. Oliver’s Kitchen-Seconds is 150 pages of recipes and cooking fun. Simple, child and family friendly meals that you will all enjoy. 

There is also a website packed with more features. 

www.olivers-kitchen.co.uk/

 

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Cook Books- World Cuisines

 

‘Essential Cuisines of Mexico’ by Diana Kennedy

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Three classic books about Mexican cooking in one volume, you will find the purest distillation of regional and national cuisine in here with an updated ingredient, technique and terminology glossary. Diana Kennedy is an American who went to live in Mexico and like Julia Childs, sought to understand her adopted country through its food. Don’t expect Tex-Mex (as delicious as this is) but instead, an authentic journey through the complex regional specialities to be found in this much misunderstood land. 

There is a glorious Pico De Gallo made with peaches that justifies the purchase price alone and by home cooking, you can eliminate the more fattening oils that characterise some of the dishes. Drinks are covered too but there are no glossy food porn photos- this is a cooks book.

‘The Little Paris Kitchen’ by Rachel Khoo

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Written by a ‘Le Cordon Bleu’ trained chef (with all the guarantees this offers regarding recipe construction and accuracy), this is a beautifully designed book backed up by a TV show. It was one recipe from this show – Croque Madam Muffins- that sent us out to buy this. Money well spent. Giving lie to the idea that you need a dramatically large kitchen and John Lewis stock levels of equipment, Khoo cooks up a storm in a kitchen the size of an under stair cupboard and her recipes reflect this economy of space in their simplicity married with classical French underpinnings. 

Fig & chicken liver salad uses an inexpensive meat with fruit that isn’t expensive when in season. The sweet tart of figs cuts the soft fattiness of the liver. Balanced and elegant. Warm potato and apple salad with black pudding crumbs is similarly rustic, inexpensive (Black Puddings are 99p each our my local butchers) and has that same sweet/salty motif. 

We have made the Shepherd Pie with three colour mash countless times. The pumpkin, parsley and potato topping is an excellent method of getting vegetables into yourself (and kids) and it is fun too. Recipes such as this help less confident cooks to experiment too with different toppings and Khoo doesn’t leave you stranded should you not have access to every ingredient. 

We’d definitely buy this for beginners. And for those Croque Madam Muffins which are the bomb.

‘Curry Easy’ by Madhur Jaffrey

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Everything that some cooks find intimidating about Indian cookery- long lists of ingredients, unfamiliar ingredients- is ironed out in this easy to follow and accessible book by an undeniably great cook and food writer. Over 175 recipes, regional specialities both lesser and well known make this THE book to buy as an introduction and fundamental guide to this eclectic cuisine. 

How can anybody resist the romance of a recipe called Perfumed Almonds? Just three ingredients- Cardomom, Sugar and Almonds. Love it.

‘Creole’ by Babette De Rozieres (Translated by Nicola Young)

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Creole is a lively cookbook featuring food from the Caribbean, where influences from Asia, Africa, India, France and Spain blend in a refined and colourful cuisine. It includes 163 recipes by Babette De Rozieres who learned the complexities of Creole cooking from her Grandmother and from there began her love affair with West Indian cuisine. Now a celebrity TV chef in France, she is the owner of the famous restaurant Le Table de Babette in Paris, where she offers her customers the delights of Creole cooking.

The recipes look complicated but they are not and are characterised by the big flavours, bright colours and seasonality of Caribbean food. However many of the ingredients are not easily found outside of large towns and cities with groceries that cater to Caribbean cooks. So it might require a cook with some understanding s to how best to substitute the more obscure ingredients.

Books for Cooks from the USA

I am a particular fan of American food writing and here are some of my favourite books by authors from the U.S, some well-known, some less so.

 But Mama Always Put Vodka In The Sangria by Julia Reed

 

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Mississippi born, New Orleans resident and often writer for US Vogue, Julia Reed has written several books all soaked in Southern charm yet cognizant of its underbelly of oft-unpleasant history and torpid heat soaked Summers that can make people act a little crazy. 

Julia Reed takes the reader on culinary adventures in places as far flung as Kabul, Afghanistan alongside her native Mississippi Delta and the Gulf Coast. Along the way, Reed discovers the perfect Pimm’s Royale at the Paris Ritz, devours delicious chuletons in Madrid, and picks up tips from accomplished hostesses ranging from Pat Buckley to Pearl Bailey and, of course, her own mother. Reed writes about the bounty – and the burden – of a Southern garden in high summer, tosses salads in the English countryside, and shares C.Z. Guest’s recipe for an especially zingy bullshot. She understands the necessity of a potent holiday punch and serves it up by the silver bowl full, but she is not immune to the slightly less refined charms of a blender full of frozen peach daiquiris or a garbage can full of Yucca Flats. And then there are the parties: shindigs ranging from sultry summer suppers and raucous dinners at home to a Plymouth-like Thanksgiving feast and an upscale St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

LA Son- My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi

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From twice cooked duck fat fries and Chile Spaghetti in Koreatown; Horchata in Grove St through to Carne Asada and fried ribs in South Central and the Borrego Springs Desert, Roy Choi takes us on an autobiographical wild trip on the food side through culinary Los Angeles. 

This is the story of Choi’s love of food and his evolution from LA Low Rider to chef. Choi returns to his childhood afternoons at his parents’ Korean restaurant, his nights in L.A.’s illegal gambling halls, and his pizza-fueled studying at the Culinary Institute of America before making his way into some of the best restaurants in America. These recipes punctuate his life story and symbolise the great cultural melting pot that is modern USA at its best.

The Glory Of Southern Cooking by James Villas

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One of our favourite ever Southern food writers is James Villas who has had a long and esteemed career ranked equivalent to his peers- James Beard, Craig Clairborne and MFK Fisher (who were all his friends). This is THE definitive guide to Southern cooking by a Tarheel (Northern Carolinian) who is bursting with pride over his roots and heritage and whose writings teem with Southern vernacular, history and traditions. It includes traditional favorites, delicious regional specialties, and new recipes from some of the South′s most famous and innovative chefs, like Louis Osteen and Paul Prudhomme. Comprehensive and authoritative, the book features favorites like buttermilk biscuits, fried chicken, grits, cornbread, and pecan pie. Carolinian Low Country seafood are strengths as are his knowledge of Kentucky Burgoos and the regional ‘debates’ surrounding what a true Brunswick Stew is comprised of. And like all good Southern boys, James loves his Mama whose culinary legacy grounds his often amazing life experiences (crossing the Atlantic with Dali and his pet Ocelot on the Queen Mary) with a dose of down home. 

‘Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi and David Chang and Momofuku by David Chang

The phenomenon that is Momofuku and the Milk Bar in New York City comes to your home in the form of these two amazing books. In Momofuku, David Chang (who is behind the steamed pork bun resurrection) makes sexy recipes out of much berated and neglected ingredients. Roasted Brussel Sprouts? David Chang. New wave Korean quick dishes? David Chang. You will need to have access to some Korean ingredients so unless you either live near a city or are happy to shop for them online, some of the recipes may not be for you. But confident cooks can use his techniques and adapt his recipes or substitute other ingredients.

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The Milk Bar features Tossi’s insanely good and mindblowing sweet confections- cakes and patisserie, drinks and ice creams. Tosi is at the vanguard of new Wave Patissieres resurrecting what was considered to be an expensive and Cinderella speciality and combining low brow with high end turning out fresh interpretations of old diner favourites. 

Recipes combine Pretzels, potato crisps, cereal flavoured milk, marshmallows, apple crumble- you name it, in towering Southern style layer cakes, plate pies and giant cookies. Ice creams made from cereal milk are both nostalgic and fresh. Sweetcorn or crack pie anyone?

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth by Jill O’Connor 

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We bought this book quite a few years ago and it is quite the most indulgent orgy of chocolate, sweet and unctuous you will ever read. When the most minimal recipe you can find is called Giant Coconut Cream Puffs you know you are in for a blood sugar Roller Coaster ride. The author is a skilled Patissiere and cook (although her assertion that us Brits traditionally eat Sticky Toffee Pudding on Christmas Day is a bit way off the mark) meaning the text is sprinkled with how-to’s on classic techniques such as Ganache making. Your Chocolate Caramel-Pecan Souffle Cake should turn out perfectly under her guidance. Just make sure you have a good dentist.