Cookbooks are, as I think I have noted before, a form of pleasure, relaxation and happiness for me. I read cookbooks at night, before bed, and the ones I love the best are filled with the personality of the writer – their opinions, descriptions, passions. I love being drawn into a story about food – and I am forever fascinated by the minds of great cooks – how they think about food, what they choose to put together with what, and how they cook.
I treated myself to a few cookbooks recently that I have really been wanting to read. I share them with you here, in the hope that they might inspire some culinary pleasures of your own
Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado
Bullock-Prado once worked in the high flying world of Hollywood – as a producer for her famous sister’s company. She made movies, but all the while, she was dreaming of food … of baking in particular. Finally, she acknowledged her true self, and with her husband by her side, settled in Vermont, and opened her own bakery. This book is her story – intertwined with the stories of the powerful women in her life – her mother Helga (a famous German opera singer), her sister and her grandmother and aunts. Their European sensibilities about food and baking pervade her story. And after each chapter comes a recipe – for Helga’s Cake, Raspberry Meringues, Apfelkuchen, and Starry Starry Nights – a kind of baked truffle meringue cookie which is “black with chocolate.” Bullock-Prado’s advice for baking these cookies is wise and exemplary of a true cook:
Starry Starry Nights are as much careful process as they are high-quality ingredients. It’s easy to cut a corner and court disaster. Pay attention: to the chocolate, to the eggs, to the temperature and feel of your ingredients at every stage. Make sure to have extra chocolate on hand to nibble as you work; it calms the impatient baking beast beautifully.
I love the way Bullock-Prado writes, and how she thinks about food. Her blog is wonderful too! She shares her knowledge freely, and with a lot of precision and intelligence. Enjoy
New Complete Vegetarian by Rose Elliot
It seems I have always had a cookbook or two by Rose Elliot – probably Britain’s best known vegetarian cookbook author. She has written over 50 vegetarian cookbooks, and her chatty and intimate style of writing pulls you in and inspires. I like her recipes for being simple, straightforward, and tasty. I bought the New Complete Vegetarian because it reads as a wonderful reference to just about any vegetable that you can imagine. It also really makes me think about the myriad different ways of presenting vegetarian food. I cant wait to try her Vegetarian Paella, Stilton Pate with Walnuts and Port, and Croustade of Mushrooms, a gorgeous pie made from sauteed mushrooms and soured cream, on a baked base of breadcrumbs, almonds, garlic, herbs de Provence and garlic. Glorious!
Elliot’s voice is clear, confident and completely immersed in the wonders of vegetables. If you can think of it, she surely has a few suggestions on how to prepare it. And for a cook like me, Elliot’s recipes form a wonderful base from which I can let my mind and creativity wander… add a bit of goat’s cheese to that croustade may be … or possibly some oven dried tomatoes? Once you understand how to cook vegetables, and treat them with grace and respect, almost anything is possible. Elliot really provides that basic understanding, and passion.
From her introduction to Pulses:
Pulses – beans, peas and lentils – are one of our earliest-known foods. They are nutritious, health-giving and low in fat; an excellent source of protein, low-glycaemic carbohydrate and fibre; and packed full of valuable vitamins and minerals… I like them – love them, actually – for all of these health reasons but also because … I love all the gentle processes involved in cooking them: the serene soaking, the unhurried boiling, the transformation from hard, dry seed to plum, moist bean that is full of flavour.
Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
I had heard much about Yotam Ottolenghi – both my friends, Karo and JL (aka Goddess’ husband), had forwarded me fascinating recipes of his. A classically trained chef, Ottolenghi has a series of restaurants in London selling bright, fresh salads, cakes and prepared foods. They look amazing, and are on my list to visit the next time I am visiting.
Ottolenghi also writes a column for the Guardian newspaper called The New Vegetarian which is an innovative, passionate and inspiring series of recipes using an extraordinary fusion of international tastes and textures. What is fascinating about this column is that he is not a vegetarian, but his cooking features many vegetarian dishes …. the colour, textures and passion are evident in each dish!
Ottolenghi is daring and brilliant in how he combines different foods – and the freshness and beauty of his plates makes me always want to get down and dirty and cook! He reminds me a bit of Nigel Slater – rough and ready and yet intensely sophisticated. Influenced by his Middle Eastern heritage, Ottelenghi travels to eat, and brings many different styles and approaches into his food.
Plenty is a vegetarian cookbook – a collection of his Guardian articles along with many unpublished recipes. Its a rollercoaster ride of inspiration and passion – brilliant and exciting. He is so clever! A caramelised garlic tart! Caramelised onion tarts are an old stand-by, but garlic? Of course! And what a different taste, yet echoes of the familiar. Enlivened with cheese, made creamy and comforting with eggs and cream, this tart is a wondrous idea – something I cannot wait to make. There are others … Stuffed Portobello with Melting Taleggio, Figs with Basil, Goats Curd and Pomegranate Vinaigrette, Broccoli and Gorgonzola Pie. Each recipe is unique, challenging and beautiful. I love how he thinks, and how he writes.
In the introduction to his (savoury) Green Pancakes with Lime Butter:
I guess these pancakes are so comforting they somehow take you back to your childhood, when the joy of textures and flavours is still pure and unadulterated.
And in the Introduction to the book:
I’ll start with something as simple and unassuming as rice. When I try to think of all the uses for this grain, I immediately go dizzy with all the countless possibilities – within and between cultures, pairing with other ingredients, all the types of rice available, the methods of cooking and when you serve it, the consistency, degree of processing, home cooking, commercial uses. I think of paella, wild rice salad, and ho fan noodles. I visualise arancini with their golden breadcrumb crust, Iranian saffron rice with potatoes, Chinese fried rice, rice pudding. I recall plain steamed rice my mum used to prepare for me when I had a bad tummy, with only a little bit of butter stirred in at the end.
So these are my three new gifts to myself – my inspirations, my references, my pleasures. I hope they inspire you to may be pick one up to be inspired… but for now, I am going to bed, with a cup of warm milk with a dash of home made vanilla essence and some honey… to read, and to dream.