Monday, 24 November 2008

Nigella 1, Heston 0

Since our house contains an unfeasibly large number of recipe books, I feel I am sort-of qualified to comment on their relative usability. Many of them remain unused after a single disastrous experiment, others are cheerfully dog-eared and full of bookmarks, turned-down corners and scribbled pencil notes.

So here is a small selection of those we have found useful and those we haven't:

How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson.
It is only the barest of exaggerations to say that before acquiring this book I could not bake, and now I am infallible. Every single thing I've cooked/baked from this book has worked admirably first time of asking. Now I should stress that I grew up in a household where everyone was expected to cook, and did. I was non-negotiably assigned to helping in the kitchen from around the age of nine, and cooking has remained a pleasure rather than a chore all my life (one of the many varied things I have to thank my parents for). However, I wouldn't go so far as to claim to be an outstandingly good cook, and baking was always a stressful mystery. Nigella changed that for me - in her books I have at last found a cookery writer who explains things at my level, always giving easy-to-understand hints about judging whether things are ready or not. Her rhubarb grunt and baklava muffins in particular have been delightful revelations. The same principle goes for her other books too.

The Cranks Recipe Book/Entertaining with Cranks
My copies of these date back to the 1980s when my sister turned vegetarian and I then started going out with a vegetarian. This meant I needed reliable veggie recipes at my fingertips. My copies of these have been used so often, and had so many things spilt on them, that you could probably survive a week just by licking them. I still use them regularly, as my sister is still vegetarian.

The Covent Garden Soup Company recipe book
Like the ring-binder and wipe-clean pages; deplore the lack of an index. But the recipes are mostly fabulous anyway. Our copy has an interesting array of paper-clips/post-it notes sprouting from its upper edge.

The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner - Annabel Karmel
OK, we're into specialist territory here I admit; but for those struggling to feed a baby with healthy meals this is a goldmine.

Larousse Gastronomique - Prosper Montagne
The serious foody bible - great for browsing, but the recipes are often a bit hit and miss and require a clasical training to understand at times. They are also wildly extravagant, often turning on phrases like "three days before serving, make a stock out of 15lbs of wild venison and 30lbs or freshly picked vegetables..." or "take the yolks of 12 eggs..." Makes good reading outside the kitchen, though.

Anything by Heston Blumenthal
Probably magnificent if you're a brilliant cook to start with and can fathom what he's on about, but a path to dismal failure for the likes of me. I love his cooking - I've eaten once at the Hind's Head in Bray and it was one of the best meals I've ever had. It's just that his recipes are over my head - attempt them without being able to judge by eye when, for example, clarified butter is hot enough and you're sunk.

Gordon ****ing Ramsay.
Someone bought us a Gordon Ramsay book as a present. We tried one recipe. It was a disaster. As with Mr Blumenthal, this may be as much down to my native incompetence as Ramsay's impossibility, but the fact remains it was a mistake I won't be repeating.


scarlet-blue said...

My Mum wouldn't let me in the kitchen. I've grown fond of fish fingers over the years.
I tried Delia - but even she can't do it for me... I'll try Nigella... she seems like a sensible woman... And she's a Lyons lass.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Oh, timely! Mrs Dilo is already a Goddess but now I know what to put in her Christmas stocking this year. My mother encouraged me to cook too, but I never got round to baking. And it'll be pleasant to gaze on Nigella's face once again.

Pearl said...

Good to know. My husband has become quite a good little cook
:-) so may pick up one of these for Christmas.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to look up "Nigella".

savannah said...

i have julia child's "the way to cook" open right now, sugar. good cookbooks are like sweet lovers, they never really leave your heart. i have nigella's "how to eat" and it is as worn as julia's book. i find mr. ramsey funny to watch and i wouldn't decline an invite to one of his restos, but i can't imagine one of his cookbooks as being user friendly! xoxo

No Good Boyo said...

Thanks Gyppo. I'd just had a bath and then I read the word "Nigella" on your web blog. Now I have to start all over again.

I agree with you on La Lawson, and shall pick up the baby/toddler book - Arianrhod tires of game pie and truffles.

The best cookbook ever, and almost impossible to find as it's forty years out of print, is Len Deightons Action Cookbook. Yes, you read that right. I'll put up a review soon, but all the glorious details are here:

I can also recommend Esquire's Handbook for Hosts (1954).

WV: Sworks - as in "sworks for me!".

Word Verification Code said...


Gadjo Dilo said...

WordVer: "prudos", people who think Nigella Lawson is just a bit too blousy. (In the words of the late Humph Lyttelton: "bakewell, tart!")

Word Verification Code said...


Mrs Pouncer said...

In July I had to go to Heston's Fat Duck for dinner in the company of an unpopular Frenchman, a Malaysian money-launderer and the German CEO of a pharmaceutical company. I sat between the frog and the fascist. Their wives sat in a spiky huddle at the end of the table, drank tap water and talked about the gym. We had nitro-scrambled egg and bacon icecream, venison with a leather jus and fois gras

I am very stupid in the kitchen, and find it impossible not to drink. My fave rave is Lillian Langseth-Christensen's Old Vienna Cookbook, which belonged to my dear old grandmother, and which has been out of print for ever. I can make Wienersaft Gulgas, Kalbsbraten Othmar and Huhner mit Gurkensauce if it is propped up in front of me.

scarlet-blue said...

Where is Mr Gyppo? Have you poisoned yourself in the kitchen?

inkspot said...

What is this worship of La Lawson? Madhur Jaffrey, now yes, a thinking man understands, but Nigella's recipes, well, Gyppo, you understand I mean no criticism of you, but they're, well, boring. Really, what am I missing?

PS. Your cluster map is impressive. I had to take mine down; too embarrassing.

scarlet-blue said...

Fanny Craddock.

No Good Boyo said...

Mike Hammer

scarlet-blue said...

word v: undumelf

Gyppo Byard said...

Far from poisoning ourselves, we had friends over last night and cooked them some nyonya food (nyonya being the cuisine of the overseas Chinese community in the Malay-speaking areas of Southeas Asia).

This is Mrs Byard's 'native cuisine', so to speak, so we have some lovely family recipes like the pork sausage and quail eggs slow-cooked in sweet soy sauce, which are simply magnificent.

No - my absence from Blogworld this week has been down to a sequence of Things Happening in Real Life which ran the mind-mangling gamut of a children's concert, blowing up Wiltshire with plastic explosives and a visit to a spa, during which I managed not to embarrass either myself (a near impossibility) or Mrs Byard (a frighteningly easy task) by underpant-related indiscretion, unlike Wardy.

Wordver: grick - a Worcestershire dialect word for a small wooden knife used in sprout harvesting.