an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Interlude number 2 – the cookbooks

Here I am with another break from cooking (don’t worry I haven’t stopped). As I said in my first ever blog, I have too many cookbooks. I really do love them though, and as far as addictions go, it isn’t exactly the end of the world. Yes it is much easier to look for a recipe on the internet, but there is something about their physical presence, squashed on the shelf, arranged according to food style (of course). I love books where the emphasis is on the prose, and the personal journey or nostalgia of the writer.  They inspire me with my cooking, with my foodie adventures and my writing.

Not all of the cookbooks on the shelf are mine, others include: a great book on food activism Soy not “Oi”; Vegan Cooking for One, possibly the most depressing cookbook on the planet; Claudia Roden’s wonderful epic The Book of Jewish Food; Aromas of Aleppo, a great book on a really specific and rich culture – sometimes I wish that my own cultural heritage was a bit more complex than potatoes, herring and beetroot. I do love chrayne though…

Here is a list of some of my favourite cookbooks, what they are like and how they inspire me. I have left out a few of my favourites as I have harped on about them enough for the time being (The Moosewood Cookbook, Apples for Jam, Ottolenghi, River Cottage Veg Everyday!). Most of my favourite books were given to me as gifts, and so much love and thanks to those wonderful people who gave them to me.

Spooning with Rosie – Rosie Lovell
I first heard about this book eavesdropping a colleague talking on the phone about what she was cooking for dinner (a colleague whose food judgement I trust). I heard the word ‘spooning’ and I knew that I had to look into it. Anything that includes spooning is ok by me. Rosie Lovell owns a trendy little deli in Brixton, and she is a little bit like the kind of person I want to be. Her writing is multi-sensory and evocative “another late night in Soho…Now as usual, my alarm is pounding at me, calling me to the deli. Showered and squeezed into trusty jeans, I dash out the door of my damp 1930s flat. Round the main road I pass Simon, one of the more amenable local down-and-outs. ‘All right, Ma’am.’ He’ll be in later for his hot chocolate with five sugars…Electric Avenue is particularly alive at this time of morning, with sex-workers, red snappers, pig’s tails and pulsing beats coming from every crevice…”

The book includes a range of recipes in different styles, with a fantastic breakfast section. I haven’t actually made anything from this book yet, but there is a lot on my hit-list, including some coconut cakes made almost entirely out of condensed milk, a smoked mackerel and chard bake with a crunchy top, and grated apple and cheese on toast – genius! My one criticism would be that there aren’t enough photographs of the dishes, and the spine is pretty solid, so the book doesn’t prop open as easily as I would like from a cookbook. There are however some incredible illustrations of food-maps, pairing traditional flavours, kitchenware and hygiene tips. There is also a little section on food ethics.

The Great British Bake Off – Linda Collister, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood
I loved this show so much. When it comes to competitions on TV, I’m not into sports, amateur singers make me cringe, and even potential next top models can’t hold my interest. Give me cake and an unrealistic amount of pressure and I’m there. Watching the contestants plead into the camera about how their kids won’t love them if they don’t win, or crying into their potatoes just makes me so happy.  From the looks of my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I think everyone else loved The Great British Bake Off too.

This book is just fantastic, it has all of the really good recipes from the show – both from the participants and the technical challenges, with incredibly detailed step-by-step instructions and beautiful photos. It is easy to follow and every chapter begins with an explanation of the practicalities and science behind baking. I haven’t cooked anything from this book yet but Hannah recently made the coffee and walnut traybake, and it was really delicious – she was really impressed with the book, and said that it explained the principles of cake in a way that most other books fail to convey. Recipes I want to try include Earl Grey cupcakes, Mary Berry’s Brandy snaps, filled with cream and dipped in chocolate and pistachios, and Jason’s (the really cute young one) salmon and pak choi quiche.

And Mary-Anne! Remember her? Remember her incredible patterned sponges? Truly one of the best things I have ever seen on a cake, and the recipe is in there! Makes me so happy. One day I am going to be organised and motivated enough to make someone a cake with ‘happy birthday’ or something written into the sponge.

I am unimpressed with the macaroons though, even the photos aren’t that good – mine (Ottolenghi’s) are better.

World Vegetarian – Madhur Jaffrey
This book had more little paper bookmarks in than any other book I own. It is an opus – over 600 recipes listed alphabetically according to vegetable (first artichoke, then asparagus), each with an introduction, place of origin and easy to follow recipe. There is also a section on dried beans, lentils and nuts. The book is well-researched and exotic: while there is a focus on Indian food, there are recipes from places such as Trinidad, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Afghanistan and Korea. Makes an incredible index and research tool, useful for how to prepare veggies, and aspects of food culture and history. One of the recipes which I have made many times is the poached aubergines with a Korean hot sauce – the recipe says that the kochu jang can be substituted with a mixture of miso and cayenne pepper. And its very tasty. Recipes I want to try include Papas a la huancaina – Peruvian potatoes with a spicy cheese sauce; Goan style black-eyed beans flavoured with anise, coconut and ginger; Nigerian red kidney bean stew with a peanut sauce – it’s a recipe that has peanut butter in it, so of course I am there.

The Flavour Thesaurus – Niki Segnit
Emma bought me this book as a present for my 25th birthday. From what I can recall she gave it to me on the train, and I then spent the rest of the entire journey jumping up and down in my seat and reading bits of it out loud to her, like an over-excited 7 year old. An opus of 99 different flavours and their best, and worst combinations. The concept of the book is “Pairings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook” – it’s a book for those who know how to cook, so the actual recipes are stripped back and presume a large amount of knowledge. I like this because it makes me feel a little bit smug every time I understand what she is talking about. As well as recipes there are tips, bad ideas, history, pop-culture and nostalgia.

I keep a bookmark in the book covered in my notes- recipes and ideas I want to try. I bought the novel Like water for chocolate after she referred to it a few times amongst various flavour combinations, and of her other advice was as good as that, this book is my new bible. Her writing is evocative and resonant – in terms of writing styles, hers has influenced me the most. Check out this tip about aubergines: “ideally an aubergine should be as tight and shiny as dolphin skin. Similarly they should squeak when you pinch them.” Recipes on my list to try so far include a chocolate cardamom tart and fennel seed crackers to serve with Stinking Bishop or a similar washed-rind cheese.

The Vintage Tea Party Book – Angel Adoree
“A complete guide to hosting your perfect tea party.” This is a really lovely book.  Angel Adoree runs the Vintage Patisserie and has perfectly set flame-red hair, and an enviable cleavage. As well as recipes the book has cute little crafting sections (invitations, painting on china, fascinators) as well as all the other tips you may need to become a super-hip vintage chic. Her tips for styling the perfect victory curls have been very useful. Some of the recipes are really interesting – the cakes, eggy things and chocolates especially. On one page, Angel arranges open triangular sandwiches with ribbons like bunting – SANDWICH BUNTING!!! Can you think of anything more brilliant? Perfect for the jubilee weekend I think. I haven’t made anything from this book either, but there is a very interesting recipe for an Earl Grey chocolate truffle which I am very keen to try. There is one recipe which is so incredibly complex, simple and sensual that my thighs tremble a little bit just thinking about it – I’m going to keep it under wraps for the time being, but I will let you know if I make it!

Moro, The Cookbook – Sam and Sam Clark
I think the main reason for buying this book was because Moro is so damn trendy. I was once walking down a street and ACTUALLY WALKED PAST MORO! I have never felt cooler by association.  It is actually a lovely book, and the paper just feels so nice. And Sam and Sam really know what they are talking about. This is probably one of the best-researched books I have (Claudia Roden’s doesn’t count because I don’t technically own it). Spanish/ Muslim Mediterranean in style, the recipes are spicy, exotic and warming. As I don’t eat pork, there are actually a lot of recipes in this book that I can’t eat – but they sound so good I have been known to try and convince others to make them, and describe it to me (yes I know, I’m a dork). It also requires ingredients like proper Spanish sherry and sherry vinegar – like Ajo Blanco, a very delicious white gazpacho – a vehicle for legitimately eating copious amounts of garlic. The fish tagines look incredible too, and the cauliflower with saffron, pinenuts and raisins. And the bitter chocolate, coffee and cardamom truffle cake – oh my.

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