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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Books For Cooks

I often turn to cookbooks to improve upon the meals that I cook or to gain inspiration for new dishes, sometimes because I will have seen a chef in action or eaten their food.
At the recent Abergavenny Food Festival I was able to see two of the rising stars of British food, Niamh Sheilds and James Ramsden in action. Both were cooking from their recent books, Comfort and Spice and Small Adventures in Cooking respectively. Both books are part of Quadrille’s New Voices in Food series. I had already purchased both and was pleased to see that the recipes were as straightforward as they seemed from the books.

Niamh is virtually entirely self-taught, well apart from school home economics lessons, and her mother did not cook so what is in the book is entirely from Naimh’s own experience.
Each recipe has an introduction explaining the background to the dish, where it was first tasted and often why it has significance to Niamh. Some interesting facts are also included such as Pansies are a good source of vitamins A and C.
Divided into sections such as Brunch, Long Weekends, Lunch and Sugar and Spice the book offers a comprehensive range of dishes that most cooks could manage. Punctuated throughout are Passion recipes. These are Niamh’s favourites and, having cooked a few myself, I see why. My absolute favourite –to date- is the Overnight Roasted Pork Shoulder with a Spiced Apple Relish. Combine this with Blaas, the rolls made only in Niamh’s home town of Waterford and you have an amazing lunch.

Niamh’s passion for food has led to her being listed as in the top 10 food bloggers in the UK, she writes as Eatlikeagirl, and just this week the Observer Food Monthly Awards saw her crowned as Food Blogger of the Year.

James Ramsden attended Ballymaloe Cookery School (as did Rachel Allen, Thomasina Miers and many other key figures in modern cooking) and he now runs successful Secret Supper Clubs – pop up restaurants to you.
His book contains as many Speedy Supper dishes as longer slower ones and what comes through them all is simplicity, they are manageable and not excessively technical.

Again there is a lot of information given about each recipe, my favourite being about the cook book that was so desirable that it was used as a form of currency, or as a bribe! (But you’ll have to buy the book and find it yourself. With sections such as Preserves for the Pantry, Exploring the Cheap Cuts and Corner Shop Capers, and advice on Prepping, Sharp Knives and On Making Mistakes, this is not just a book of recipes but an introduction into James’ small world of cooking.

Most recipes have helpful addenda at the end Tart, Tweak and Tomorrow offering ways to improve, alter or reuse them, and helpful advice on technique - de-seeding Pomegranates, peeling Tomatoes and Making Goat’s Curd cheese.
Both books are currently well high on my “turn to” list and in use most days for inspiration or just a damn fine read.

Another little Gem from Quadrille is Keep Calm and Cook On by Lewis Esson.

This is one of those handy little books that combines both really useful tips:
“To sterilise your kitchen cloths and sponges – microwave them on high for a minute”, or “Don’t just season your salad dressings, season the salad itself before dressing it”
and lovely little quotes:
“The only time to eat diet food is while you are waiting for the steak to cook” (Julia Child), “Cauliflower is nothing but a Cabbage with a college education” (Mark Twain)
Notebook sized, but with just under 200 pages, this will appeal to most cooks, from the beginner to the most experienced. Wit and Wisdom are served up in bite sized pieces and are easily digested. At just £4.99 this is THE Christmas Stocking Filler for the cook or foodie in your life.
Comfort and Spice and Small adventures in Cooking are £14.99 each and widely available Keep Calm and Cook On is released in November.

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