Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Takes me back… food and memory

Hot chocolate - horrible!
The chill is settling in… hot chocolate is on the menu, and it makes me wince. The power of the memory I associate with it is just too unpleasant. Suddenly I’m back in my seat at a long table in the primary school canteen. I take a sip from a plastic cup of hot chocolate, but there is a skin on it. It attaches itself to my upper lip and stays there. As I recoil, it hangs down over my chin. I’m covered in hot goo and embarrassment. This can never be allowed to happen again.

Food has a powerful ability to bring back memories, and when conversation flags, people often turn to reminiscences about foods from their childhoods. Butterscotch flavoured instant whip seems to have been a widespread favourite – but what memories are attached to it? I remember my beautiful aunty Audrey, in a black sweater with her fabulous auburn hair in a beehive. She had an excitingly modern electric whisk, and would lift me up while I used it to make instant whip – always butterscotch or chocolate mint. It also brings back the sadness and guilt I felt when I grabbed for her long amber necklace and broke it, sending the pretty beads bouncing over the floor. 

Even the most mundane foods have memories attached. As a challenge, I thought of biscuits, and remembered my mum's homemade fudgies (secret ingredient - Camp Coffee), and an American volcanologist who ate them by the score. And I remembered my very earliest days at infant school, when we used to bring snacks in little greaseproof paper bags. Sweetly, we all wanted to share the things we brought, but it wasn’t easy - one digestive biscuit between six or eight little kids doesn’t go. Our solution was to put everything that everybody had brought into one bag and crush it all into a delicious sweet and salty mix of biscuit and crisp crumbs. It was easy to share and fun to eat. I can taste it now.

Think of a person from your past - maybe a grandparent. What food springs to mind? For my husband, the memories were instantaneous – his grandmas were bread sauce and Battenburg. For me, Didcot nana is forever associated with the deliciously naughty sugar sandwiches she used to make for me - thin white bread, thickly spread with salty butter and sandwiched with a generous sprinkling of crunchy white granulated sugar. I knew she loved me. My earliest forays into the world of cookery took place when she invited me into her kitchen to 'make a mix'. I'd be helped onto a high stool or allowed to sit on the kitchen worktop from where I could reach to rummage in her cupboards. I'd find gravy browning, custard powder, cornflour, cocoa, perhaps a tiny bottle of peppermint essence or food colouring, and with great seriousness I would spoon these ingredients into her mixing bowl, add water and stir with a great big wooden spoon. Then I'd take it into the room where granddad was sitting beside the fire, and he would pretend to eat it. I loved it. 
Drayton nana is associated with Sunday dinner, and two-way Family Favourites on the radio, with crackly voices wishing each other well from far flung army and navy outposts. Later, Club biscuits (plain, orange or mint - never the horrible ones with the currants) and the wrestling or Golden Shot on the television. My brother and I would dare each other to take her extra strong mints - she teased us with them, offering them when she knew we would have to spit them out. 

If you remember eating with a person, chances are you’ll remember the food. Memories of old boyfriends include watching Chas demolish a pile of whitebait (so heartless!), Mark skimming the evil-smelling scum off a pot of mince in his mother’s chilly kitchen, and Dez’s soppy grin as he tucked in to one of his trademark doorstop watercress sandwiches. The woman who broke up my parents’ marriage responded to my vegetarianism by boiling up some carrots, and demonstrated her sense of culinary adventure by throwing in a bay leaf. Bay leaves make me gag.  


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Vote for The Adventurous Vegetarian!


The Adventurous Vegetarian has been shortlisted for a World Food Award - it's a public vote so all support really welcome, just follow the link above to vote - and tell your friends!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The tart chapter theory

'Meatless' is a collection of recipes 'from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living'. I expected a fairly random selection of material pressed into service to mop up some sales from a previously unconsidered market. I expected the photography to be first class. I expected the food to be fairly conservative. 

Let's take it apart. 

Beautiful cover, as you would expect. Over 200 recipes, and all of them photographed, mean that this is a nice chunky volume. There's a foreword where Martha herself says that her daugher renounced meat (but not fish) at an early age after having put two and together and come to the conclusion that the sudden disappearance of the family's pet sheep (which went by the name of Plantaganet Palliser) and the arrival of a small lamb chop on her dinner plate were not unrelated. Martha says 'Mother's age-old directive "Eat your vegetables" is still a very "Good Thing". Alanna Stang, the Editor-in-Chief (think I'll change my job title to that) at Whole Living, who possibly had more involvement with the recipes than Martha, follows up with an Introduction that says 'The plate is the place to celebrate plant foods' - not sure where else you would be inclined to put them. 

I know what they're doing is a good thing. Really I do. I want nice American ladies to share vegetarian recipes. But it all feels a bit bandwagon-jumpy so far.

The first section of recipes is 'small plates to mix and match'. OK, I like that style of eating. What do we have? Little stuffed peppers, chickpea salad, a classic tortilla, hummus, eggplant dip, more variations on hummus. It's a bit predictable and what's really missing is any kind of character. I'd like more than a recipe - and much more than a cheesy intro ('It's hard to resist the combination of melted cheese... etc). I really want something interesting to read, something to inspire me, whether it's a snippet of well-crafted prose about food, a fascinating fact or two, a novel idea for customising the dish, or a bit of an insight into the author's life, like a personal memory or a suggested music track. But this book doesn't really have an author. 

Pages are turning rapidly. I pause at the roasted sweet potato salsa - quite like the idea of adding some body to the usual mixture of chopped tomatoes and avocados with some chunks of roast sweet potato. Nice. Sensible. Moving on, slaw, raw pasta made out of courgettes, seen it before. A salad with edamame, but in the picture doesn't show the smooth bright green beans I know. Ah! They've been roasted! Now that's quite interesting. Not sure if roasting edamame would make it nicer, it might just take away the freshness and the lovely green, and make them leathery on the outside and floury on the inside. I'll try it. 

Down to earth with a bump on the next page, avocado halves filled with avocado salad. A nice potato galette that you can pop under a salad, and then sweet potatoes stuffed with coconut, pomegranate and lime - too silly. More stuffed things follow, plus an omelette and a page of variations on bruscetta which feels a bit patronising. Things to put on toast. 

My interest is flagging. Next chapter, stovetop suppers. Some more omelettes. Stir fries. Vegetables with rice, with quinoa, with eggs. Another galette, this time with beetroot and carrots which make it very pretty. Lurking under a salad at a table near me soon, I predict. The chapter climaxes with some risotto variations. 

Soups, stews and chili. I like the look of the opening pic - something tomatoey and beany with a big sprig of rosemary. Tasty. No real surprises here though. There are poached eggs in the soup. A curry made with curry paste. Lentil soup with dried cherries looks as if it came from the same developer as the sweet potatoes stuffed with coconut, pomegranate and lime - just an unnecessary mixture. Variations on chili offers suggestions which include varying the beans, adding seasonal veg, and adding more chillies. Are the readers really that short of imagination? 

Casseroles and other baked dishes starts out with macaroni cheese, which isn't a great sign. I'm starting to think this is all about covering things with cheese until I get to the stuffed poblano chilies, which are mainly of interest to me because I taught a 'Flavours of Mexico' course at the weekend. These have a pureed tomatillo sauce. Looks OK. But oh, no, pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and spinach! Loads of what are basically vegetable crumbles. Stuffed mushrooms! And just when you thought it was safe... variations on a lasagne. 

Substantial salads opens well, with a combination of farro (which is just taking up room in my cupboard) and roasted grapes. Sherry vinegar, more rosemary... sounds really good. I'll try this one. Subsequent combos look a bit predictable, although as Martha's foreword points out, caramelised celery root is interesting. I seriously doubt whether anybody would thank you for bringing the shaved parsnip salad to the Thanksgiving table, as suggested. And I'm sorry, but squares of raw tofu cannot be used to stand in for mozzarella in a caprese salad. Just don't do it. 

Sandwiches, burgers and salads, and frankly I'm beginning to wonder when the quiches will make an appearance. I predict a chapter on quiches and tarts. Probably quiches, pies and tarts, these things tend to come in threes. Anyway. Sandwiches. Oh - how peculiar - here's a 'pizza' made in a frying pan and topped with Brussels sprouts and slices of lemon. It might be ... what's the word. Not exactly 'fun'. Clever-looking but not as tasty as yer cheese and tomato. Burgers made of brown rice, and blow me down if there's not one of those tarts made of a sheet of puff pastry. So much for the tart chapter theory. Here's a pizza made with hazelnut dough! I like that. There's loads of pizza in this section, I wonder why. Is a pizza just a variation on an open sandwich, perhaps?

Pasta and other noodles. A cunning side-step away from the catch-all Italian section. Will there by any chance be a batch of variations on pesto at the end of this one? So, pasta with lots of other things. Ah - that's eye-catching: pinky-purple spaghetti which it turns out can be achieved by tossing wholegrain spaghetti with a puree of roasted beetroot and walnuts. Fancy. I was right about the pesto. 

Simple sides. Lord help us, I hope it doesn't get too simple. Interesting - asparagus mimosa is new to me, topped with a hard boiled egg that has been pressed through a seive. Looks pretty but my gut instinct is that this is not a nice thing to do to an egg. This chapter looks as if somebody has drawn up a list of vegetables and tried to dig out a recipe for each. Slightly disappointed when the roast grapes make a reappearance, it feels as if they are less special now. Again, I am not convinced that the dish with roasted Brussels sprouts and walnuts will sit comfortably on the thankgiving table, but I haven't eaten a lot of thanksgiving dinners, to be fair, so what do I know?

A collection of things you can mash, and that's it for the recipes. Now a lengthy section explaining what you might find in a vegetarian's cupboards. 'A cheeseboard is a lovely addition when entertaining.' How to boil an egg. Some suggested menus in really big type. Lovely bit of spot varnish on the inside back flap - now, that's class. 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Oats and wheats and barley

Oats and wheats and barley grow
Oats and wheats and barley grow
Do you or me or anyone know
How oats and wheats and barley grow?

This is how I remember a song that we used to sing at primary school - I've checked it out online and it turns out that my memory isn't spot on, but I like it this way.  I lived in a fairly rural area, surrounded by fields of grain and orchards of apple and cherry trees (which is why 'Cherry Pink and Apple Blosson White' is another favourite) and I remember being shown the different grains on the class nature table - pretty oats that danced when you shook them, bearded barley and stiff wheat with barbed hairs like a cat's tongue. We must have looked sweet doing all the actions, sowing the seeds and taking our ease, like the song said. Closest I'm likely to get to being a farmer!

I'm in the market for flour right now, and I don't mean wheat. I'm working on recipes for gluten-free baked goods and I'm looking at anything that hasn't got gluten: rice flour, corn flour, sorghum, tapioca - I guess it's back to the internet for that. I hate the frogspawn consistency of tapioca, but perhaps it's more acceptable milled into a flour...

I've been sent a copy of Whole Grain Vegan Baking (Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes) which is proving educational - they use amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, oats, rye, spelt... It seems you can make flour out of practically anything. I had a moment of excitement about getting a home flour mill as I can see why purists insist on freshly ground grains - the idea of using flour that has been sitting round for months suddenly seemed vile - but the price and the lack of space in my kitchen have detered me. Flour mill vendors, if you're watching, I'd be delighted to test and report on my findings... I was really peeved to miss a talk on this subject at VegFest in Brighton but it was scheduled to take place at the same time as I was doing a dem about getting to grips with tofu in another part of the building so I was out of luck.

The book has reminded me about the interesting new trend of pairing spices commonly used in Indian cookery with sweet dishes. Perhaps chilli in chocolate was the first evidence of this but garam masala seems to be cropping up all over the place right now. Witness the garam masala wheat and barley muffins in this book. The title is intriguing but reading on really roped me in (hope that's not an inappropriate cruel-to-cattle type of phrase) because I really liked the idea of using sweet potato puree - I bet these muffins are great. Where do I get a can of sweet potato puree? (I know, make it yourself, duh, but I have the same problem as I do when faffing around making apple sauce before I can get onto the first rung of the ladder with some vegan baked goods - it's impossible to know what sort of consistency it should have, and the impact of getting it wrong could be catastrophic. If I had only experienced what tinned sweet potato puree looks like I'd have some chance of getting it right...)

The trouble with cooking with whole grains is that vegetarian food has a bad reputation for being stodgy and brown. I was amazed (pardon my ignorance) to read that it is perfectly possible to create white whole grain flour - 'White whole wheat flour is milled from a hard white spring wheat, while traditional whole wheat flour is milled from red wheat'. Who knew? It feels as if vegetarian cooks have been running scared from brown stodge since the seventies, and the occasional appeal for us to use wholemeal flour in the recipes that appear in The Vegetarian magazine generally meets with barely concealed derision - heaven knows we don't want vegetarian food to ever, ever, look brown. I guess vegan cookery is new enough not to have this sort of baggage. Of course it's true that whole grains are better for you in many many ways. But it still feels as if anything made with brown flour is more about your bowels than about fun. Maybe this book can get us back on the straight and narrow.

There's only one thing in this book that made me blanch, and that was the 'Better With Beans Brownies'. Oh, sorry, nasty. Probably nice really but I've got baggage of my own to bring to this. Years and years ago I was caught out by a quiche - it looked as if it had cannellini beans in it but when I took a bite I realized I was looking at little prawn bodies, eeugh. Had to spit and rush to the Ladies to wash my mouth out. The title of this recipe brought back that memory with a vengeance, unfortunately. I had to steel myself to read it, and now I see that the beans are whizzed to a puree with sugar, maple syrup, salt and vanilla. Well, at least I wouldn't spot their little bodies when I bit into a brownie. I'm rather at a loss to think of how beans would improve a brownie, the intro to the recipe says they add fibre and structure. They would certainly add extra protein. Brownies wouldn't really be my first port of call for fibre and protein as a rule but I guess somebody might be jumping for joy...  

Monday, 27 May 2013

Our weekly bread

By coincidence, my copy of Knead To Know ('The introductory guide to success in baking Real Bread for your local community') arrived the day before I discovered that the town where I live, Prestwich, now has its very own Community Supported Bakery - or at least, the beginnings of one. I found them at a Sunday market which was labelled as 'artisan', just moments after having walked past the cheese shop and, as usual, bemoaned the fact that they are selling bread made at a bakery in Chorlton, which is the other side of the city centre, in the salubrious south. Why oh why, I moaned, are we relying on the Chorlton artisans? Surely there is a decent bakery closer to here? (For the record, I moved to Prestwich about twelve years ago having been assured that it was the new Chorlton. I think they saw me coming.)

Anyway, hurrah for PrestBake - I will do what I can to help. I realise that my vision of myself wrapped in a floury apron, feeding the masses with warm chewy loaves, is a mirage, because baking bread on a marketable scale involves a lot of commitment, time and elbow grease that I probably haven't got. Somebody out there knows what they're doing, anyway - the brown sourdough loaf I bought is dense, soft and malty. I believe I can taste the quality of the ingredients (although I might be getting above myself after the Great Taste judging days!). It made me feel happy, anyway, which is not a bad result from a mouthful of bread. Apparently you can subscribe, and get a loaf every week. I'll follow them on Twitter and see if I can be in the right place at the right time to get some more. 

The book I've been sent has come from Sustain 's Real Bread campaign, a moniker that provoked derision from G who contends that all bread is 'real'. He's missing the point, of course. Real bread is bread made with 'real' ingredients, by real people, and delivers real taste and real nourishment.

'Real' bread has become something of a benchmark for those seeking to get decent food into their localities. It's the most basic of foods, and paradoxically, it is one that most people never attempt to make for themselves. Perhaps this has its roots in history - in times gone by, most people didn't have ovens and they would routinely take their dough to be baked in a communal oven at the local bakery. I guess it made sense for the owners of the oven to go the extra mile, and make the dough as well as baking it... but at what point did we lose the ability to make it for ourselves? 

There's a lot of mystique around bread making and I think it's partly because our idea of what constitutes a decent loaf has  changed - somehow we have come to revere the sort of 'bread' which can only be made through an industrial process, using mechanical mixers and chemical processing aids. The upshot is that when we made our own bread, it's nothing like the bread in the shops, and we find that worrying. For every person in the UK who makes bread regularly, there must be a hundred who have tried it once, achieved a result that they didn't think hit the mark, and given it up as a bad job. We've ended up with a population that has never tasted 'real' bread and thinks there is something wrong with a loaf that doesn't look exactly the same as all the others in the batch, and doesn't have the texture of damp cotton wool. 

The way we have lost our confidence in making bread, and the way we now buy the industrially manufactured version without a murmur, mirrors the broader  way in which we view food of all kinds in this country. We have been so conned. A huge proportion of the population now believes that it can't cook, and that the insipid blandness and pulpy texture of food that comes in microwaveable plastic boxes is actually how proper food ought to be. No wonder people don't think they can cook - no amount of fresh ingredients, herbs and spices can easily mimic the taste of food that is untouched by human hand and comes out of sanitised factories on conveyor belts. You'd need some serious kit and some industrial food additives to achieve that calculatedly inoffensive taste and consistency, not to mention the shelf-life. I routinely meet youngish people who are actually afraid of eating real food, and whose palates have been numbed with fake 'natural' flavours, sugar and salt.

Last week, I saw a sign at a motorway service station about the doughnuts on sale there. The sign said that the doughnuts were 'made fresh daily'. Surely people must realise that anything that comes out of a factory 24/7 is by definition made daily, and that 'fresh' in this context just means 'new', and has no association with the length of time that has elapsed since the ingredients were in the ground, or hanging off a plant. By thatdefinition it is hard to mAke a ything that isn't 'fresh'. The sign went on to say that the doughnuts on sale in the service station had been delivered that day. Well, hurrah, just a matter of hours ago, they were wrapped in plastic and trundling along the motorway in a lorry. That's not a marketing message that works for me, but I guess if they've signed up for a daily delivery, it means they're selling a lot of doughnuts. 

Are people really conned by this sort of marketing? Do they genuinely think they're buying food that is either wholesome or nutritious? I think the sad fact is that most people know full well what they're buying, and they don't care. They are happy to hand over the responsibility for their health to food manufacturers who claim to care. Then, when they're too fat to walk straight, they can say that it's not their fault - those naughty manufacturers are to blame, for tricking them into buying food that makes them ill. 

I think there's a worrying tendency for people to opt out of real life, which admittedly can be hard work and sometimes scary, and to buy into a sugary fake version, knowing full well that if it doesn't work out well, they can complain and demand their rights, and a refund. Real life isn't like that - it can be unpleasant in many many ways, and most of the time, when things go wrong you've only yourself to blame, or else nobody is really responsible. That's life. Perhaps I'm a fool, I should be slumped in a comfy American style 'lounger' staring at a screen showing comfy, mind-numbing pap and eating soft, sweet rubbish without ever taking my eyes off the screen. I remember whenever my family was involved in any physically uncomfortable activity, like having to abandon a broken-down car and walk along a country lane in the dark, or getting drenched by a rogue wave on the seafront, my Dad would flash a thin grin and say, 'This is living!' 

One of the first things I learned from the Knead to Know book was that there are additives you can use in bread that you don't have to put on the label. That was a revelation, but I guess it shouldn't have been, because it backs up my own personal experience. There are some foods, generally baked goods and things containing wheat (what doesn't?) that provoke a very noticeable and rapid physical reaction in me - my face goes bright red. The flushing starts around my mouth and spreads fast. As you might expect, I find this disturbing and I've been trying to work out what's behind it. It worries me - whatever is going on inside me if the results are so noticeable on the outside? It's also becoming a nuisance in social situations, as I can't eat in company without running the risk of suddenly looking as if I'm having a hot flush. It happened during one session at the Great Taste Awards judging - everybody assumed I was reacting in a weak girly way to a viscious chilli sauce but in fact I think it was the biscuit I sampled next that was to blame. Annoying, because I don't want people to think I can't handle my hot sauces. Anyway, every time it happens, I look at the ingredients of the thing I'm eating (if it came out of a packet to which I have access) and I've been continually stumped - as a rule, I don't go in for additive-laden rubbish anyway, and I can never find anything that appears consistently on the label of the things that make me go red. So it makes absolute sense to me that there are things I'm putting into my mouth that I'm not being told about. According to the book, these additives are marketed as 'label friendly'. I think we should be told. 

I don't think I am allergic or intolerant to wheat per se, because sometimes foods that contain wheat upset me and sometimes they don't. I do think it might be worth exploring gluten-free eating, partly because so many people seem to be moving in that direction and I'm curious. I also take on board Andrew Whitley's comments that wheat and flour have come a long way from their natural state, through centuries ofselective breeding to maximise yield. Wheat ain't what it used to be.

Knead To Know is a book unlike any other I have seen, because it's about setting out to make bread for a community and not just for your family. It draws on the experience of all kinds of bakers, from big names to the smallest and newest arrivals on the scene. They are having to reinvent the wheel, rediscovering ways to make bread without recourse to additives or industrial scale machinery, rediscovering the satisfaction that comes from a certain amount of physical labour but finding new ways to balance this against our demands for instant gratification and our over-riding inclination to sacrifice quality in favour of speed. They are having to find ways to explain why their bread is better than the spongey white sliced variety in order to reach past the people who buy into the delightful artisan nature of it all and get some support from people who want to fill a supermarket trolley for a tenner.

So, more power to the community breadmakers' elbows. I'm willing to believe that re-introducing 'real' bread and 'real' bakeries to our communities is a genuine and well-intentioned attempt to do a good thing, to make people well and happy, and to regain control of the food we eat, which in turn is essential to our wellbeing. I know there are more than a few people out there who would dismiss the whole movement as a middle-class do-gooder diletante activity pursued by people with plenty of spare time and money who think they know best. I choose to believe that it's the stirring of something bigger and something more important - a nationwide revolt against food that is made more for profit than to nourish people. When enough people have enough self-esteem to demand better, and enough self-belief to dare to question the motives of food manufacturers, then surely we will see improvements in the food we are offered, if not changes to the motivation behind it. 

Knead to Know is published by Grub Street ISBN 978-1-909166-17-2
Prestbake don't appear to have a website but are on Twitter as @prestbake
The Sustain Real Bread Campaign's website is www.realbreadcampaign.org and they tweet as @RealBread.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Great Taste Awards

The butcher at my table:
Judging the Great Taste Awards

I can't lie: it's great being a judge. It makes you feel big and clever. I judged at the Cordon Vert Vegetarian Chef of the Future competition last week and it was actually a bit weird. Everybody there had been watching the finals of Masterchef and as a judge I felt under pressure to behave like a scary person. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that that is actually what contestants want from judges - the prize is worthless unless the judges appear to be really hard to impress. It's all a game, of course. 

This week I'm judging for the Guild of Fine Foods Great Taste awards. Actually, I've trained as a 'judge co-ordinator' which means I am in charge of typing all the comments from a table of judges into a computer. It's my job to try to make all their comments into a reasonably coherent paragraph of useful feedback for the producers who expose their foods to our scrutiny. It's also my job to try to make sure that we don't get bogged down with bickering,  or bulldozed by bullies. Some people are pretty opinionated. 

Actually, I quite like having opinionated people on my team. It's a chance to learn something interesting, if for example one of the judges on your table is an expert in fruit liqueurs, or pie crusts or even, would you believe, the niceties of butchery. I'm perfectly happy to bow to somebody else's expertise, as long as they are genuinely knowledgeable and not just imposing their random views on the rest of us. 

I'm here all week (as the stand-up comedians say) and I guess it's inevitable that my fellow judge co-ordinators tend to share their views on the people they have worked with during the day. The organisers mix teams up for each new judging session so you never know who you'll be working with. I'm already hearing dire warnings about certain people who are overpoweringly assertive and rather rude, without actually having any outstanding expertise. At the other end of the scale, there are judges who have trouble expressing their opinions and seem to think that grimaces and shrugs can somehow be translated into sensible comments by the person tasked with the typing. Bit of a dead loss, really, it's no good saying things are 'nice' or 'disgusting'. 

This is especially the case when we are given bits of meat or fish to judge. Obviously, I duck out of these and that is considered to be OK, thankfully. To be frank, the first time I walked into the judging room, the smell of freshly cooked meat and fish almost made me gag. But I got over it. I can type up other people's opinions about meat but if they say that it looks 'nice' I have to ask them why. What is it that looks nice to them? It makes you feel like an alien. 

Occasionally, we get special 'vegetarian' foods - a pie, a quiche, some stuffed veg and a ratatouille. As the results of the judging are still under wraps, I've got to be a bit careful about what I say. Every time a vegetarian dish arrives at the table, I feel as if it's my duty to stand up for it. I'd like vegetarian dishes to get lots of stars, to show they're just as good as meat dishes - or better. Sadly, so far the veggie fare has been pretty embarassing. Today, we did have one quiche which was exceptionally good. The butcher on my table said he really liked it - and that I could quote him.  Not sure I'll make a convert of him though. 

Sitting by a blazing fire in the pub this evening (can't believe the weather is this grim in Dorset in mid-May),  with two fellow judges, we fell into conversation with a couple who were interested in what we were doing. They said that it must be great fun. Hmm. Well all right, it is quite good fun, but there are downsides. The sore throat from shouting ('I've written Attractive presentation, no detectible ginger, one judge felt the nuts were too soft, do you agree?'). Exhaustion from the general full-on-ness of it all, and having to be scintillating during lunch breaks whilst holding a paper plate. And, whilst happily (and unlike some of my colleagues) I have not experienced out and out nausea, I can report slight heartburn, acid stomach, serious loss of appetite, motion sickness in an overcrowded taxi and rather demanding bowels. Not surprising when you realise that today I have tasted in the region of eighty utterly random foods - cakes, pies, icecreams, pasta sauces, salad dressings, mustards, granolas, cheeses, chocolates... actually it's making my stomach churn to think about what I've prized between my lips today. Not a lot of award winners, and that's a good thing, because there are 9,800ish entries this year and it would devalue the awards if everybody got a star. You have to earn these babies. They've given me a very nice badge. 

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Getting to grips with tofu

Tofu can be nasty. I remember one of the first times we met. It was disguised as a strawberry cheesecake. What a horrible masquerade. How does a food that's supposed to be 'natural' turn out tasting like well-chewed paper? (I do know what that tastes like, as it happens, and I can tell you that it has more texture than tofu.)

I actually blame that cheesecake for creating a psychological barrier between me and veganism that took decades to sort out. The hang-up it created in me lasted a lot longer than the restaurant that served it up. 

Tofu is offensively bland. I can't imagine why the person who first created thought it was worth keeping. It has no colour, no texture, no smell and no taste. It disappoints every sense you apply to it. It's unpleasant to even get it out of the packet - you're bound to end up drenched in cold, cloudy water. It's as if by popping a knife through the celophane cover you've inadvertently 'broken the waters' - I suppose I could continue the analogy and describe the process of 'delivering' a dripping new tofu block into the world, patting it dry, weighing it, cutting it up... let's not push that one any further.

I'm about to do a cookery demo at Brighton VegFest entitled 'Getting to grips with tofu'. I hope people will appreciate the subtext there - tofu is a slithery, slimy beast. It puts me in mind of a 'toy' that was once passed around in a classroom (it was an RE lesson, we were bored, the teacher was past caring) - it was a kind of rubbery tube filled with water that had the ability to leap out of your hands as if it had a life of its own. We all thought it was outrageously rude. You'll know what I mean if you've ever encountered one. Anyway, tofu is a bit like that, but much less interesting.

The point I'm hoping to make is that you've got to show tofu who's boss. And if you want any taste or any texture from it, you're going to have to put it there yourself. 

I'm going to explain to the pulsating crowd that will gather around me tomorrow that there are essentially two ways of imposing flavour on tofu - you can put flavour on it, or in it. Putting flavour on it is pretty straightforward, you just slice it, fry it and douse it with something tasty, like chilli sauce or teryaki marinade. And then cook it a bit more. Or cube it, paste some barbecue sauce onto it, stick it onto a skewer and barbecue it. Or pour a sauce over it. 

That method looks fairly effective if you're working with smallish bits of tofu, or thinish slices. It falls down when you try doing it on something bigger - as soon as you cut into the finished dish you'll encounter virgin white tofu flesh. It's wearing a tasty coat but nothing much has changed in the inside. Very disappointing.

There's a kind of mantra that has attached itself to tofu: Tofu Absorbs Flavours. Well, no, it doesn't, not necessarily. Granted, tofu is like a sponge, but when it comes out of the packet, it's saturated with water. It can't suck. You have to get some of the water out, by pressing it between layers of kitchen paper as firmly as you dare, or even leaving it under a weighted plate to squash the amniotic fluid out. Now you can start to make use of the spongey quality, because now it has the capacity to soak up something flavourful. 

I've had surprisingly good results from soaking tofu slices in a mixture of vegetable stock, soy sauce, onion powder (at last, a use for it!) and a lot of nutritional yeast flakes. The yeast flakes are weird. They have a taste that many consider cheese-like. Presumably, the longer the amount of time that has passed since you ate any cheese, the more likely you are to be of this opinion. The texture reminds me of flakey dry wallpaper paste. They're a bit like cheesey fishfood. I would never, ever have anticipated the effect that this marinade would have on tofu. The taste that results is like southern fried chicken. OK, it has been a long time since I tasted southern friend chicken. (In fact, I don't think I've ever eaten it. I only know what it tastes like because I once pulled off a bit of the crispy stuff and tried that. It turned out that underneath the crispy stuff was a chicken's leg, with skin on, and the idea was to take a hefty bite and chew on not only the tasty crispy stuff, but also a mouthful of chicken flesh and skin. As a child I was frequently admonished for just eating the tasty bits of dishes, but I still think I was the sensible one. Is it not OK to just want the nice bits? Yes, I was the little girl who didn't run the sport's day race but instead, when they said 'Ready, steady, go' ran straight up to the teacher who handed out the lollipop prizes. And yes, the apocryphal old lady who sucks all the chocolate off the nuts and then offers the nuts round did exist, that's my nana you're talking about, and when I get old I hope I have the nerve to do the same.)

Soaking tofu in a marinade with nutritional yeast flakes makes it taste a bit chickeny. Soaking tofu in a mixture of stock, soy sauce, lemon juice and seaweed flakes makes it taste a bit fishy. (But refer to previous aside, it has been a long time since I tasted fish...) There are extra bits to learn here. Press the tofu first. Slice it before you marinate it, not afterwards. Put the marinade onto the tofu hot. It seems to help. Leave it a long time. Overnight is best. Then, fish the tofu out and lock the taste in by baking it for 30 minutes in a medium oven. Turn it over half way through. This is the very best way to get taste inside tofu. 

The next job is to sort out the texture, because even after you've pressed it, marinated and baked it, it'll still be a floppy thing when you put it into your mouth. Nobody wants that. 

You can put flavourful tofu into a big bowl with some peanut butter and fresh breadcrumbs and scrunch it all up together between your fingers until it's all mixed up, then shape it into balls and fry it. That's one in the eye for the tofu masters who define the texture of tofu and think you should like it that way. I like doing this at demos, lots of people seem quite shocked that you can take matters into your own hands and do what you please with the structure of tofu. Lots of people seem quite shocked that cooking might involve actually touching the ingredients. (I once saw a woman attempt to deseed a chilli pepper without touching it at all. She had quite a clever technique with a fork... but what worried me was how very scared somebody had made her of touching food.) Once you've made the tofu balls, flatten them out a little and shallow fry them. Don't worry them around in the pan, let them sit and form a crust, then turn them. Good in pitta breads or on top of spaghetti. (Not all covered in vegan cheese.)

If you're prepared to accept the basic structure of the tofu as it stands, the best option is to coat it with something that lends some texture. Beer-battered tofu is nice, and really easy. A cup of beer, a cup of flour, whisk together, tah dah! Dip the tofu slices in flour before you batter them, otherwise the batter doesn't stick. Shallow fry, but be a bit generous with the oil. I know vegan bistros aren't thick on the ground but this is what they all sell. Sometimes on a stick. 

I've also had good results from coating tofu in a mixture of dried breadcrumbs and polenta, to make something resembling a fish finger, and using a mixture of flour and black sesame seeds. I got very excited about the black sesame seeds. I have no idea whether they're nutritious like their pale beige relatives, but they're... funky! I don't know anything else that delivers the same combination of dramatic colour and satisfying crunch. Love them. 

Before we wash our hands of tofu, a couple of notes. Generally speaking, tofu is either 'firm' (the sort of thing you can slice) or 'silken', which is more like blancmange and isn't all that useful unless you're in the business of sneaking some serious protein into a sauce, or something. See note on cheesecake above. The 'firm' tofu we get in supermarkets in the UK is not especially firm - try 'artisan' varieties for firmer texture or see what you can find in Chinatown. The Chinese make all sorts of variations on the theme including a kind of tofu skin which I haven't been mentally prepared to eat yet. (I'm still shuddering from the day we had hot chocolate at school and mine formed a skin which attached itself to my upper lip and hung down over my chin.) There's also a tinned 'marinated' tofu which some say makes a reasonable stand-in for tuna, but again, the texture is like skin torn from a marinated cadaver. If you're the kind of person who thinks that the skin on a rice pudding is the best bit, then you're welcome to it. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

The book of the restaurant

You’ve eaten the food, now buy the book…

I think I’ve spotted a trend. Every owner of every restaurant or café in the country is looking for ways to increase revenue – offering take-away boxes, deliveries, home catering, event catering and, my personal  favourite, on-site cookery courses. Combine this with the nation’s peculiarly undiminishing appetite for cookbooks, and the fact that self-publishing via on-line packages has never been easier, and what do you get? The book of the restaurant.

They’re like souvenirs – if you had a nice meal, why not take the memory home in the form of a book? Who knows, you might be able to create an approximation of what you ate in your own kitchen… although frankly, very few of the recipes in very few of the cookbooks that the British public so eagerly snaps up ever get made.

Vegetarian and vegan restaurants may have more reason than most for dipping a toe into the world of publishing. Lots of their customers are not vegetarians, and do not cook meat-free meals regularly at home. Vegetarian cookery (and especially vegan cookery) seems to be a rather specialist area, and one which enthusiastic home cooks might enjoy dabbling with, in much the same way as we might decide to have a bash at creating an Indian or Mexican or Thai feast. In this case, the book of the restaurant is a bit special – not just a souvenir, but also a challenge, a portal into a strange new world of food.

But the book of the restaurant is not just about getting people to recreate restaurant food at home. Of course it isn’t – if people could do that, why would they bother trekking out to the restaurant? It’s about marketing, obviously, and about brand loyalty. Also, the idea that people who are capable of cooking well don’t ‘need’ to go to restaurants is a fallacy – we all keep on doing it, even though the décor is grotty, the service is grumpy and the food isn’t a patch on what we could have made ourselves – and we keep willingly paying for the experience. We must, subconsciously, be looking for more than food from a restaurant: perhaps I’ve already said it. Decor – we want to be in an attractive place. And service – we want to be waited on. And obviously, we want somebody else to do the hard work of cooking.

I’ve been reading about the concept of ‘agape’ restaurants. It’s the standard communal restaurant idea – which never, ever works in Britain – strangers share tables and they’re supposed to enjoy it. But there’s a brilliant twist – little instruction books on the tables, telling you exactly what to do. What to talk about, and how long to talk about it. And the topics up for discussion aren’t the usual cocktail party gambits – What do you do? What do you drive? Where do you holiday? Stuff like that erects barriers between people and encourages us to show off (or get our coats). The conversation in agape restaurants is supposed to be based around questions like ‘what are you afraid of’, ‘what makes you happy’… that sort of thing. I hated the idea until I heard about the rule book – now I love it. I think it would be great fun to sit around a table, sharing a big pot of stew and some crusty bread with people who were prepared to share their innermost dreams and convictions, and listen to mine. Obviously the stew would have to be a vegan one, so we could all enjoy it…

Incidentally, I’ll be doing something not dissimilar to this tomorrow evening, when I’ll be sitting down to share a meal with six people I haven’t met yet. They’ll have spent the day with me, on a vegetarian cookery course, so we should have at least one experience in common. What comes out, when we are all told to relax, told we can take whatever we like from a massive buffet of food, and handed a glass of wine, after a fairly stressful and physically demanding day in a strange kitchen surrounded by strangers, is often fascinating – I hear about why people are (or are not) vegetarian (or vegan), why they cook (or why kitchens scare them), who they have met and where they have been, self-help challenges and diets they have tried, their religion (or ideas about spirituality, or atheism), and how it felt to watch their parents die. Blimey. Then I go back into the kitchen and mop the floor. It’s very grounding.

I’ve recently been sent three ‘books of restaurants’ which take three very different approaches to design and content. They’re from tibits, a well-known and stylish vegetarian buffet and bar just off Oxford Street in London; El Piano, a vegan café on a cobbled lane in the centre of York which specializes in Spanish-style food, all gluten and nut free; and The Star Anise Art Café, an ‘artisan’ café in a courtyard in Stroud, surrounded by craft workshops, a bakery and a theatre company.

At tibits (yes, small t), food and style come as a package. The enormous buffet is presented in a ‘salad boat’ – an ergonomic curve of polished wood that is pleasing to the eye and tends to discourage the dead-eyed queuing you get at motorway service stations. There are hot and cold dishes, and desserts, all carefully monitored by almost invisible staff who whisk away anything that starts to look a bit tired. The array of salads is a real treat, with refreshingly unusual (but not mad) combinations of fresh, colourful veg, beans, nuts, grains and dressings. You slightly wish that the owners had more control over the clientele, who do their best to destroy the ambience of the place by dawdling and gawping, gabbling into mobile phones and piling up shopping bags everywhere. (Consumerism is so naff. Must you really haul yourself up and down Oxford Street in designer shoes toting designer carrier bags when you could just quietly order online and get things delivered? Silly.) The first time I went there, I looked for the cookbook, because I wanted to have some of the salad recipes nailed down for future reference. Especially the thing with the horseradish. No book. I was moved to tweet about the lack of a book of the restaurant.

Now ‘tibits at home’ has arrived. Some books make me excited before I’ve even opened them – in fact, sometimes I’m almost afraid to open them, as it might be a disappointment! This was like that.

Like the restaurant, this is a stylish piece of work. It’s a translated edition of a cookbook first published in Switzerland (the home of Hiltl, which claims to have been the first vegetarian restaurant in the world, and is tibits’ great-granddaddy and mentor). It’s divided seasonally, with nice, fairly minimal, fresh, clean food photography interspersed with Swiss interior décor and ‘lifestyle’ shots which do a fair job of making me jealous. (I live in Manchester. I suppose I could put pink glass bottles in my windows, but the sun wouldn’t shine through them. My potted herbs take one look at the sleet and go limp.)

There were some disappointments, though. Firstly: not enough recipes. I really wanted a book of salads. Maybe everybody else wanted a book of salads, soups, sandwiches, fritters, puddings and directions for making stock. I didn’t expect tibits to get bogged down in standard stuff – carrot, apple and ginger juice, pea and mint soup, veg with red Thai curry paste, tiramisu, vegetable quiche, samosas, berry crumble, coleslaw, dal, spinach and feta lasagne. Although, to be fair, the carrot, apple and ginger juice also contains fennel, the Thai curry calls for cocoa beans, the tiramisu has been reinvented in coconut and pineapple, and the quiche has a spelt base filled with blanc battu – fancy. The coleslaw has peach and passionfruit syrup. Cor. There’s nothing like an ingredient that’s impossible for me to get to snare my interest. Cocoa beans! In pods! Imagine!

Stand-out ideas for me: dragon tea, a chilled mixture of oolong, mint, grapefruit juice and elderflower syrup; poppy seed cake that looks like amazingly dense Swiss roll (do they have Swiss roll in Switzerland? Arctic roll in the Arctic?); soybeans with lemon dressing (simple, elegant, good use for frozen edamame). The room with the white shag pile carpet and full length windows shot from overhead on page 58.

But only a handful of salads. Boo. I was ready to learn. A book of salads next?

The tibits book is a very professional-looking product. The El Piano book, by contrast, is a bit of a riot.

I’ve got ‘The Final Touch/El Toque Final’, which is the fourth in a set which started to appear in 2002. I’ve eaten at El Piano several times, but never bought a book as a souvenir. I’m afraid to say that that is probably because the design of their publications is not to my taste. I don’t really like saying anything critical about book design – out and out mistakes or uninspired content are fair game, but design is very much a matter of taste. So: this book’s design is not my cup of tea. The food photos don’t do the food any favours – the styling isn’t to my taste, the photography itself is amateur. The typography and layout are muddled and confusing, with Spanish and English text all over the place. The colours are garish and the colour used for the text switches about so fast that it makes me queasy. The typeface is just plain ugly. It took me a while to get past this. But I did.

And it turns out that this is a little gem. It was written in response to customer requests for a book of desserts, but the author has taken the opportunity to pop in a few other bits and pieces – new savouries that didn’t make it into the earlier books, info about bread and tofu making, and recipes for sauces, chutneys and condiments. And soups. It’s a quirky combination.

As soon as I applied myself to reading the text, I was pleasantly surprised. The author explains that sauces are the cook’s solution to the old adage that you can’t please all the people, all the time. Offering a plate of food with a variety of options for saucing makes it more likely that more of the people around the table will be pleased. Cunning.

The big selling point with this book, I think, is that not only is everything in it vegan, but it’s also all gluten-free and nut free (apart from coconut and sesame). It’s really interesting to see how the team in the kitchen at El Piano have applied themselves to working with gluten-free flours to make breads, cakes and sauces – it’s as if a team of researchers have been carrying out culinary experiments so that the rest of us don’t have to. These recipes are all tried and tested – the food has been served up to paying customers, and they liked it. The recipes can be difficult to follow, but look on the positive side – having the Spanish text alongside the English is a perfect aid to learning another language!

I do appreciate the way that the recipes are written – to make a chutney, you’ll need two units of chopped fruit or vegetable, one unit of chopped onions, one unit of sugar and a quarter of a unit of vinegar. And whatever spices you like. That’s how real kitchens work: you need a basic understanding of the mechanics, why the recipe works, and then you can use whatever you have to hand – a recipe for creativity.

For the adventurous home cook, it’s worth getting this book for pages 46-47 alone – a photo story about making tofu at home. It’s like being taken by the hand, led into a working kitchen and shown the surprisingly simple ingredients and apparatus. If I was being picky I’d ask whether there was any scope for making soya milk first, rather than making tofu out of purchased soya milk – but this is the real world. I wonder how the economics work – is it really cheaper to make tofu from soya milk than just to buy it? Would it be cheaper still to start from scratch with the beans? Are there reasons, connected with ethics or additives or control over the texture, that make it better to make your own?

The Spanish text may be distracting but the Spanish influence on the recipes is very interesting. There are lots of nice nibbly things that look as if they have Spanish origins: calitas, tinas, pestolitos… and there are dishes from other countries too – a useful vegan French onion tart, a Peruvian pie made with mashed potatoes, sushi, noodles… and I hadn’t considered cooking rice in fruit juice (the book suggests orange juice with ginger and tamari, or pineapple juice with wasabi).

The section on sweets doesn’t start until page 61, but it is a revelation, as not only are they all vegan, nut free and gluten free – lots of them are sugar-free too. It’s not easy to make something you can class as a treat with restrictions like that. But here are recipes for a sugar free apple cake, a ginger cake with quinoa, a Spanish moon cake, an Indonesian banana and coconut tart… plus others that do use sugar. The photos and styling aren’t great but they do offer a very genuine idea of what the real thing looks like – and suggest that you can achieve good results at home too.

The introduction to the book says that it will suit creative chefs more than out and out beginners. Nowhere is that more evident than on page 62 when the author radically suggests that anything that is milled can be used like a flour… it’s all about experimentation. I love this approach.

And it would be very wrong of me not to applaud El Piano for their green cred and their genuine involvement in the local community. I’m sorry I don’t like the book design but I’ve got to be honest – the reviews on this blog are my genuine personal opinions, not just gushy stuff. And it’s not the end of the world.

I’d absolutely love somebody to give El Piano the same treatment that Prashad, a family-owned Indian restaurant in Bradford, was given after Gordon Ramsey took it under his wing. I know it's a bit odd for a veggie to be saying that. But look at them now: a nice cookbook in pride of place in Waterstones, nice website, very able PR, all providing back up to the same family of cooks, who are still doing what they do best. Somebody needs to arrive on the doorstep at El Piano and say, oh my god, what’s going on here? Who knew that you were creating vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free food with all these international flavours in a back street in York? Material like this needs to be translated into a really attractive book – then it will start to get some proper attention. But perhaps, these days, nobody gets that unless good old Gordon (or a TV celeb-chef of your choice) rocks up and wants to make friends.

Well, failing the arrival of a TV personality with god-like powers, self-publishing isn’t a bad option, as long as you’re mainly publishing books to sell to people in your restaurant, and don’t expect to shift a garage-full of paperbacks through WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon (or even your very own website, even if it is super).

I’ve already said that design is a matter of taste. Enter the third book in this set, The Star Anise Café Cook Book. Self-published, but it’s immediately obvious that this is the work of a decent designer who is up to speed with the current vogue for letterpress styling – it’s an accomplished combination of professional book design with a ‘home-made’ feel – nice little hand-drawn illustrations, very occasional understated photography, loads of white space, and thoughtful, functional typography. If I’m the person it’s aimed at (and I think I’m just the type) then it’s working.

However – though I hate to admit it, I would have delved into the book sooner if it had had some food photos in it. I hate to be so shallow, but without pics, you really have to find at least half an hour to sit on the sofa and work through the book, and actually read it, to find out what’s in it. I have now done that.

Gratifyingly, the first sentence on page 1 made me punch the air and yell ‘yes!’. (OK, I didn’t actually do it. I may have nodded or perhaps grunted a bit.) It says: ‘Choosing good ingredients and cooking our own food is one of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves.’ I’ve written variations on that sentiment hundreds of times. Para 2 explained exactly what this book is about:

‘It is important to keep things interesting and feel engaged with what we are doing. This doesn’t always mean searching for new recipes and coming up with new dishes to make. More often than not, it just means giving over a little more of our time and energy to the kinds of things that we make anyway. Sometimes, it makes all the difference to cook something from scratch, rather than take the usual shortcuts. There is a lot of pleasure to be had from making something familiar and making it well.’

Well, I do like the sentiment, even though (as I mentioned above) I do tend to get excited by new ingredients, and heaven knows, I now see new recipes and culinary inventions practically daily.

The authors of this book are classically trained chefs, and it shows. It’s especially noticeable in the techniques that they use – they know a thing or two about getting the best flavour out of simple ingredients. The tip about soaking nuts and seeds before toasting them, to keep the internals from going dry and brittle, and the technique of covering vegetables in a pan with a lid that goes right down inside the pan while they cook slowly in their own juices… this is the sort of insider knowledge you get from real professionals. I liked the explanation of the ‘soda cake’ method of creating vegan, sugar-free cakes, and the fact that readers were encouraged to experiment. I also liked the fact that these authors included a fabulous coffee and walnut cake that’s covered with a truly luxurious icing made from butter, maple syrup and espresso – they called it ‘the exception that proves the rule’.  I think it shows that they enjoy food and they’re not too po-faced to enjoy something a bit naughty. Overall, I really admire the way the recipe methods are written – the authors are generously teaching people not just to cook but to cook well. Because they understand not just what to do, but why to do it, they can share the knowledge.  It’s not just ‘do this, do that’, or ‘1,2,3… tah dah!’ – following well-explained traditional methods like this is a valuable learning experience that will educate readers and make them better cooks in the future. That makes me very happy.

The authors are interested in macrobiotic principles, and this informs their cooking. There’s an interesting passage on page 14 about the ubiquity of tomatoes in modern vegetarian cookery, which argues that tomatoes are hard to digest and should not necessarily be hurled into every stew without a little forethought.

‘We use ingredients such as miso, yeast extract, dried mushrooms, as well as fresh herbs like thyme, to give our dishes that strong, sweet-savoury quality, which tomatoes are able to give. And as for colour, if tomato red isn’t the overriding colour of a dish, other ingredients get a chance to shine and the dish often looks more complex and interesting.’

Food for thought. I also very much enjoyed their take on the ‘five elements’ of a vegetarian dish – and I may well start to say something similar to the professionals I teach at the Cordon Vert Cookery School. The five elements they identify are grains (or carbohydrates – they include potatoes here), protein (which is just one of the five elements and not necessarily the most important one), root vegetables and gourds (sweet, starchy veg), leafy greens and a sauce (or gravy, salsa, relish or pickle) which brings everything together. Not a bad blueprint, I reckon.

The recipes amount to a very manageable collection of classic vegetarian dishes – the simple bean stews reminded me of early offerings from Rose Elliot or Sarah Brown. I thought I detected a nod to Ed Brown, too, on page 111:

‘Beautiful shards of yellow courgette, fine shavings of red cabbage or radish and chunky, oversized pieces of squash, perfectly cooked, can enrich the experience of a dish…’

The authors have made a conscious decision not to use a wild assortment of ingredients – the effect is to make this collection extremely accessible but somehow not samey. I enjoyed the fact that, wherever possible, ingredients aren’t weighed or measured – one of these, two of those and a handful of the other. I did notice that most of the recipes are enough to feed 4-6 – more generous than most cookbooks, but I think it’s a sensible way to cook – cook once, eat twice.

I’m very glad I took the time to read the book and, if I had to buy a book as a present for anybody just starting out in vegetarian cookery, especially for somebody bright enough to ‘do the reading’ and appreciate the text, then I think this might be the one. A collection like this provides a foundation of dishes and techniques that could inform the work of an intelligent vegetarian or vegan cook for a lifetime. And better no pictures than bad ones.