Thinking, as usual, about food

The radio is on in the kitchen next door, and Anna Del Conte is on Woman’s Hour talking about her new cookery book. I only have one of her books, ‘Entertaining all’Italiana’ but it is a favourite. I doubt if I am unusual, in that I have lots of cookery books, most of which I use for browsing through and usually just use one or two recipes from each. Indeed, some books read really well, but somehow I just never cook from them.

Nigel Slater is one of those. He really makes food sound good, but his slathers of butter and cream just don’t accord with what most of us eat so I take his ideas and adapt. And I have two books by Annie Bell, which are lovely to read, her ‘A Feast of Flavours’ is one of the most appealing vegetarian books I have but, I don’t know why, I don’t use it much. The other book of hers, co-written, I own is ‘Living and Eating’ which is just so prescriptive. They tell you just what is ‘good taste’, to the extent that they choose your plates and cutlery, which is a bit off-putting.

I’ve had Josceline Dimbleby’s ‘Favourite Food’ for over 20 years – I bought it (reduced!) in hardback but, like many books of the 1980s it is falling apart because it was not bound properly but the spine was just stuck together. I used one of my favourite recipes from that book just the other night*, and it’s probably one of my most cooked-from books. However, although I have several other of her books I don’t often use them – sometimes, I suspect, a cookery writer starts to get a bit too anxious for new ideas to fill a book he or she is contracted to produce and aims for over-complicated recipes or a more outré combination of ingredients to fill the pages. This happened to Nigella Lawson; ‘How to Eat’ is not only a really useful and entertainly practical book to read but has excellent recipes too, but some of her later ‘TV personality’ books don’t have nearly as much to recommend them.

I borrowed the Australian restauranteur Bill Granger’s book ‘Bill’s open kitchen’ from the library and liked it enough to ask Ro for it for Christmas. Very simple, delicious recipes which encourage you to use your imagination.

Can’t miss out Delia. Is there anyone in this country who doesn’t have one of her books? I have several and they are so useful. I do know one person, actually, my friend Caroline Young. For decades, whenever she admitted to being a cookery writer, she was greeted by a brightening face “Ooh, do you know Delia?” and she developed a bit of a ‘thing’ about it (although not about the lady herself who is apparently charming). Caroline wrote some excellent books. One, written with Katie Stewart, ‘Simply Good Food’ has several quick standbys and many good things. One recipe, for chicken in a tomato, pesto and crème frâiche sauce (I’ve just given all the ingredients) is one of the most useful (ie quick and tastes as if it’s more trouble than it is) I’ve ever had, and her strawberry icecream takes 5 minutes to put together, 20 minutes to freeze, which means you have got home-made icecream ready for the table in the time it takes you to eat your first course.

I don’t think I should have started this – how can I leave out Elizabeth David (French Provincial Cooking is my favourite of hers), Jane Grigson and Sophie Grigson – I love Sophie Grigson’s puckish smile, dangly earrrings and sloping shoulders and the recipes are good too, and all the others whose books I appreciate, but I only sat down to write this on a brief whim and I think I’ve kept you long enough already.

*But this fabulous marinaded chicken is what we barbecued on Ro’s birthday this week.

1 small onion
Piece of fresh ginger, peeled
6-8 cloves of garlic
3 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground cardamon
half teaspoon ground cloves
half teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 teaspoon salt.
Put the lot (chopped a bit if appropriate) in the food processor, whizz, coat chicken pieces with the aromatic mess, leave for several hours, grill or barbecue until blackening. Don’t fry, somehow the flavours vanish. It’s aromatic, not hot and the garlic doesn’t overwhelm as its pungency is balanced by the other flavours so that none stands out.

6 comments on “Thinking, as usual, about food

  1. diamondweeza

    I don’t have a Delia book although I know she gives excellent memories. I was put off her back in the 90s when she only had to mention cranberries and every housewife in the UK started Cranberry Frenzy, supermarkets were going spare, it made the news… all a bit high-octane for me.

    My favourite to read is Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries. I’m green with envy at his garden and his freedom to shop at any time of day in the most lovely markets & whatnot, but it’s a pleasure to read and everything I’ve tried from it has been delicious.

    On a less gourmet note, I put slow-fried onions in the bottom of a macaroni cheese on Saturday and it was Gorgeous!

    Reply
  2. Z

    Hi dw – glad to see that a high-powered Londoner cooks simple macaroni cheese. I have put onion and such veggies in macaroni cheese too, tossed the pasta in the fried onion – it seems to lighten the pasta somewhat and make it less relentless.
    Which must mean, make it relent. Hm.

    Reply
  3. diamondweeza

    The Sainted Delia has a recipe for souffled macaroni cheese but I rather like the gloopy solidity of it! She was also advocating the use of gruyere. I like plain strong cheddar myself. St Delia of Norwich does know how to gild a lily eh?

    We also put little bits of Polish sausage and spring onion in the mix, but the onions at the bottom were the triumph, followed by the sausage.

    Happy childhood memories of peas in macaroni cheese spring to mind.

    Reply
  4. stitchwort

    And here’s another Delia-less cook.
    I have a decrepit (21st birthday present) copy of Good Housekeeping’s Look and Cook, something by Marguerite Patten, an Australian Women’s Weekly (?) book of cakes, and a couple of very old publications from Hampshire County W.I., plus assorted recipes from friends, magazines, packets, etc in a display folder. And don’t use about 90% of them!
    dw – we always used to have peas with macaroni cheese; I wonder why we stopped.

    Reply
  5. Z

    I have no idea why I regularly use just one recipe from a book, really like it, but never use anything else from that book.
    Or why I read a recipe, absorb the basic idea and then adapt away until it’s unrecognisable.
    Delia’s recipes work though, which is more than some posher cooks’ do. But I’m impressed to know she doesn’t hold sway everywhere.

    Reply

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