Book review

The Shropshire Cook Book

I have been sent a review copy of the latest cook book to feature Shropshire restaurants, cafes and producers, The Shropshire Cook Book.

Shropshire Cook Book

I love Shropshire. I was born and raised here and although I have tried to move away a couple of times (Cardiff for Uni and Broadstairs for love) Shropshire has always called me home (thankfully the man I moved to Broadstairs for is also Shropshire born and bred so I met with no argument). It’s an unassuming county, and there have been many times when people have asked me where I live and my response has been met with blank stares. It’s a county that hides its light under a bushel. The countryside is breathtaking, with its valleys, hills, meadows and farmland. It has some wonderful market towns with thriving independent shops and restaurants and the facilities on offer in Telford to growing families are second to none.  I doubt you will ever get me to move from Shropshire again.

This cook book is a treasure trove of local restaurants and producers, some of which I am familiar with and have tried and some which are now on my list of things to do. The book showcases the people behind the business, their background and ambitions and then gives one of their recipes, so that you can get a taste for their cooking style at home.  This book is more than a recipe book, (although there are 35 recipes within its pages) it’s also about encouraging you to venture away from your own kitchen and to try some of the restaurants on your doorstep or to incorporate some of the local produce available from the farm shops and the producers that are making the county proud.

What this has highlighted for me is how wonderful the food scene is in Shropshire. You can sometimes take these things for granted, but when you see all of these wonderful chefs and producers gathered together in one book it really proves that Shropshire has a wonderfully vibrant food culture that we can be very proud of and I know that there are many more out there that haven’t been included here. A comprehensive directory would run to many, many pages.

This is a great book for those that are planning a visit to the county as much as for the local that wants to explore more of the wonderful eating opportunities that are abound in this beautiful county of ours.

There are other books in the series too, covering other counties and cities, so it might be worth a look to see if your region has a similar book available to introduce you to some restaurants and producers that you aren’t yet familiar with.

The Shropshire Cook Book is available for £14.95 from the restaurants and producers featured in the book as well as selected gift shops and book shops. You can also get it direct from the publisher.

I was sent a review copy for the purposes of this blog post. All opinions are my own and are honest. 


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Make it Easy Cookbook

Make it easy cookbook

I was kindly sent a copy of Jane Lovett’s Make it Easy Cookbook to review. The introduction to Jane’s book leaves you in no doubt that this is a woman that you can trust to deliver recipes that will work for you. Having been classically trained at Cordon Bleu she has worked at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, run her own catering company and has tested and developed recipes for cookery books, magazines and TV. She runs regular cookery demonstrations from what looks like a beautiful home and garden in Northumberland.

The book is designed to help you plan ahead with your cooking, and will give confidence to any unconfident cook. It is brimming with top tips, hints and do’s and don’ts to help you cook a dinner party from scratch without fuss and ending up frazzled. Every one of the recipes has a tip on how to get ahead, perhaps by preparing it a day ahead,  and most recipes have a hint or tip which helps guide the novice cook, or the more experienced, towards success.

Jane Lovett Cookbook

The recipes that struck me as must-makes included her stuffed marrow recipe, a great way to use up that glut for the veg grower. Her recipe for slow cooked Chinese duck legs sounds delicious and easy and can be made two days in advance and happily sit in the fridge developing a richer flavour.

For dessert I would be hard pushed to choose between the stem ginger ice cream or the ginger creams with pistachio brittle. I have a thing for ginger.

Jane’s book is full of wise advice and would make a great Christmas gift for the keen cook in your household and would prove endlessly useful for those times when you need to plan a meal ahead.

Jane Lovett’s Make it Easy Cookbook is published by IMM Lifestyle books and is available at all good high street and online retailers priced at £12.99.

Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of the book for the purposes of this review. All of the opinions are my own and are honest. 


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My Family Kitchen – Book Review

Sophie Thompson Family Cookbook

I was kindly sent an advance copy of Celebrity Masterchef 2014 winner and actor  Sophie Thompson’s new cookbook ‘My Family Kitchen’ to review. Released today, the book shares recipes from four generations of Sophie’s family. Every recipe has an introduction written in a friendly style explaining where or who the recipe comes from. She makes her Uncle James’s remote Scottish cafe sound very appealing with the paddles of the mixer forever beating chocolate or orange cake. I have an image of a steamy room filled with the scent of baking cakes and a comforting cups of tea on tap. Lovely.


The book is full of pictures of Sophie’s family and photos of passed down hand- written recipes. It is a comforting book, making for a good read on a rainy day. The recipes are all easy to follow and there are lots that appeal. My youngest was really taken with the book and read through it on the first day making selections for us to get cooking. We made the brandy snaps that very day.

Brandy snapsAnd we have made them again since.

We made the courgette fritters too, using yellow pattypans, a very good way of using up the glut.

courgette fritters

Another recipe that appealed to the youngest is the one for Coconut Boobie Cakes ( I have no idea why!). We haven’t made them yet, but I am sure we will.

coconut boobie cakes
Coconut Boobie Cakes

Sophie’s book is one which I am sure we will dip into again and again when we are cooking together as a family.

I was sent a free copy of the book for review purposes. All opinions are my own and are honest. 

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Community Potluck Cookbook

Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook by Nancy Vienneau
Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook by Nancy Vienneau

I started this blog back in 2009 when the job I had back then came to an end. I had a choice – I could get a job in a city about an hour away from home and take the same journey my husband makes every working day or I could take a career break.  Our girls were little then, aged 4 and 2 and I didn’t see how we could both leave home before 7 am in the morning.  It was  a difficult choice and one that I have wrestled with ever since. I was on the cusp of having a proper career. I had finished my PhD in 2005 and had worked as a research consultant in the same field ever since. I loved my job and knew a lot about finance mechanisms for early-stage businesses.  But I love my girls more and the notion of leaving them in full-time childcare made me wince. We made the decision to manage on my husband’s income. (We are very lucky that we can.)  But I knew I needed to do something that was mine, outside of caring for the girls.  Something that I could focus on. My original idea was to publish a recipe book, but I hadn’t a clue how to go about it. I did some research on the net and found food blogs. It seemed like an ideal solution. It would be like keeping a ‘hand in’ whilst I took a career break to look after my girls. It has proved to be a great way to gain some skills in website building and as a way of getting my recipes to an audience.

What I hadn’t realised back then was that I would become part of a community. You begin to read someone else’s blog, make a comment and then another. You read about their lives as well as their baking and after a while you think of them as friends. These are people that you will probably never meet face to face but with whom you feel a connection.  I had no idea when I started all of this back in 2009 that I would get to know people from all over the UK and, in fact, from all over the world. For all the bad press that the internet gets, it also opens doors to some marvellous opportunities.

I found Nancy’s blog in the early days and it was this post  that sealed it for me. Nancy’s story of the waffle iron rang so many bells for me in terms of what I want for my own daughters. I have been a fan of Nancy’s ever since. She is an amazing woman doing so much good work in her campaigns for healthy and affordable food for everyone. I was really pleased when she announced that she was publishing a book based on her Third Thursday Community Potlucks. I love the concept. Nancy and her friend Gigi met after Nancy had admired a community farm plot run by Gigi. Together they decided that each third thursday of the month they would invite like-minded friends and acquaintances to a gathering at alternatively Nancy’s or Gigi’s house. If you could make it, great – just bring along a seasonal dish and beverage to share with everyone else. I love that they didn’t really ever know how many people would join them on any given potluck evening and that out of these potluck suppers have come weddings and babies.

The book is beautiful, filled with stunning seasonal recipes and gorgeous photos. Nancy encourages you to start your own potluck as a way of bringing people together who wouldn’t normally have met as a way of strengthening your local community. I am very tempted to make the informal bring and share evenings that our book-club* enjoys into something more regular and introducing new faces.

Nancy’s book works through a year, month by month, of Potluck recipes and include the likes of Buttermilk Peach Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Sauce, “Mango Tango” White Butter Cake and Brown Butter Honey Cake and that’s just some of the desserts.

But what is probably the most exciting thing ever is what appears on page 144 of Nancy’s lovely book:

Nancy Vienneau

LOOK AT THAT! My name in print thanks to a lovely person living in Nashville whom if I hadn’t started this blogging lark I would never have come across and come to admire. That is the miracle of the internet right there.

I urge you to get yourself a copy of Nancy’s gorgeous book, and obviously not just because it’s got my name in it. I bought mine on Amazon in the UK, but take a look at Nancy’s site Good Food Matters for options if you live elsewhere and maybe start your own potluck gathering and meet some new people face to face.

*What started out as a book club has now become the wine club as we now rarely read books as part of the group but we do our fair share of drinking wine.

Just to let you know, I wasn’t asked to review this book. I did it because it’s a book well worth having. I bought my own copy. 


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Book Review-All About Roasting

I have not received any payment for this review.  I did receive a free review copy of the book and was asked by the publishers to review this item on this blog. This review represents my considered and honest opinion of the book. 

I was pleased to receive a review copy of this book in the post a few weeks ago. As regular readers of this blog will know the Sunday roast dinner is a tradition that we like to uphold in this household.  I have picked this book up lots of times in the last couple of weeks – sometimes just for a read whilst I have a cup of tea or eat my breakfast ( I am not one for doing just the one thing at a time); sometimes to get inspiration and twice to follow a recipe.  As regular readers will also know I am virtually incapable of following a recipe word for word, so there are no pictures of the recipes that I (sort of) followed. However, I used the recipe for Tandoori-style roasted chicken legs (except I used diced lamb shoulder and didn’t have the pot of yoghurt in the fridge that I thought was there and so marinated the lamb in the spices first and then added the yoghurt later after returning from the shops.  This resulted in the paprika having already disappeared into the meat and the finished dish being more white than red) and the resulting dish, with its small changes, was very good indeed.  I also sort of followed the porchetta recipe for sunday dinner, with a few short cuts and dabbling with the ingredients (what did I tell you about being incapable of following recipes?) and that was very good too.

The recipes in this book take you from the basics (Straight-up Roast Beef) to the more complex (Pork Tenderloin Roulade with Fig-Cherry Stuffing and Port Wine Sauce). Each recipe has at least three or four pages of text which gives an indication of the technical detail this book goes into.  For example for the porchetta there are seven pages dedicated to this one recipe.  It begins with a mouth-watering photo of the end result then an introduction of the inspiration behind the recipe (New York’s Porchetta).  A description of the number of people the recipe will serve, how long it takes, how to plan ahead, and which wine you should serve with it. Then two pages listing the ingredients and thorough instructions.  A page with detailed photographs showing you how to season and tie the porchetta.  A page about shopping for the porchetta and finally a page with another photo of the finished roast made into sandwiches. It is the attention to detail for each recipe which makes this book a worthwhile buy.  Even if you are, like me, incapable of following a recipe word for word each recipe provides enough detail to make you think about experimenting with the way you cook your roast.

Whilst this book would particularly suit a meat-eater with chapters devoted to beef and lamb; pork; chicken and poultry; fish and shellfish, it does also have 100 pages devoted to the roasting of vegetables and fruit. Roasted brussel sprouts with capers and lemony browned butter and slow roasted grapes are two recipes in particular which are calling out to me.

The main reason to buy this weighty tome is for the technical knowledge contained within it.  I admit to have never having heard of Molly Stevens before I received the email from the publishers asking me to review this book but I have been digging around the internet to find out more about her.  She is a classically trained chef, cookery writer and teacher based in the US and it is this last skill that shines through in the book. She provides lots of detailed instructions and tips and I like the concept of providing shopping tips with each recipes. However, as this is an American cook book the shopping tips are rarely useful for the UK based reader.

And this is perhaps the one reason I wouldn’t spend £25.00 on this book.  It is written for the American market and has not been adapted for the UK market. As a result I now understand even more how some of my own recipes on this site may well be confusing for my American readers.  Apart from the measurements (cups and sticks), and this book does provide comprehensive conversion tables in the introduction, Americans also use different terms for cuts of meat, particularly it seems for beef.  The terms strip loin, top round, tri-tip roast and flank steak are unfamiliar to the British reader and it is difficult to understand which cut we should be buying. A note about this in the Conversion Tables chapter would be very welcome as a means of decoding the book.

Having said that, for me, the best bit of this book is the introduction in which Stevens covers the principles of roasting and where her technical knowledge and skills really shine.  The chapter is very illuminating on the actual techniques of roasting and whether something should be fast roasted in the highest heat or slow roasted at low heat, or indeed roasted at a moderate temperature.  It gives detail of what constitutes roasting and how it differs from baking, the history of roasting and the science behind roasting. She also details how to test for doneness and the importance of basting, using fat and resting the meat.  But quite the most interesting thing is her use of presalting the meat hours in advance to produce the juiciest of roasts and it is this that will probably have the biggest impact on any future roasting that I will do.

In conclusion then, would I buy this book?  Well, it’s an interesting read with some interesting recipes and it is a good technical instruction manual on how to roast food.  It is a shame, however, that it has not been adapted for the UK market and so perhaps with its current price at £25.00 I might be more tempted by a homegrown book over this one if I was just looking for a recipe book. However, if you are keen to develop your technical cooking skills and knowledge then this book would be a very good buy.

The book will be available to buy in November and is published by W.W.Norton & Company (ISBN978 0 393 06526 8).

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