Fäviken

Fäviken – Magnus Nilsson
Phaidon Press – 2012
Photography: Erik Olssen

Fäviken narrates the journey of Magnus Nilsson’s food and the restaurant itself with very in depth explanations and some highly original recipes.

Nilsson grew up near to the restaurant that is fast becoming a buzz-word for foodies worldwide. This is a reinvention of old familial cookery where the produce, each ingredient comes first and the past is an inspiration rather than a set of rules. Location centric food means that it would be very difficult for most of us to get the ingredients that Nilsson uses; but the idea behind it, of noticing and connecting to nature is applicable everywhere.

Fäviken is a gorgeous book from the layout and font right through to the photography which is clean and well lit. The pictures are not bright and splashy but show the natural beauty of the food as well as Jämtland where it all comes from. It is a hugely original book but much harder to cook from than most. Nilsson’s philosophy however makes it work as you are being shown techniques and an approach to food rather than being given a list of instructions.

“If it tastes good, it is right, and if it doesn’t taste good, try again.”

There are few easy recipes but some would work in a home kitchen, most need plenty of time and would involve a lot of shopping and new techniques. There is a great deal of detail about the reason behind the techniques that Nilsson uses which is really helpful even if you don’t end up using it in a recipe from the cookbook. Puddings are a rare inclusion and it is almost all savoury but there is a good balance between the meat, fish and the vegetable parts with it all integrating well together to create a whole.

My favourite recipes included the Herb Vinegar, the Black Grouse in Hay, the Rakfisk and Sour Cream and the Vegetables cooked with Autumn Leaves.

There are extensive introductory notes to each broad section – you are encouraged to read straight through the book rather than just dipping into the recipes themselves so that the principles make more sense as a whole. It is all beautifully written. There is a complete write up of a day at Fäviken Magasinet including the full workings of the evening’s service which is a bit over the top. There are an awful lot of notes with everything talked through, not just the food that is being cooked.

Near the start of the book Nilsson has included a section on how to use the recipes, which includes the style of cooking. It won’t be for everyone as it is a very instinctive way of preparing food. Few of the ideas have times of temperatures attached because Nilsson wants people to have a personal recipe rather than trying to simply replicate his exactly – reflecting his move away from the rules of traditional French cooking that he learned while working in Paris. You are encouraged to follow the principles rather than a set of rules. The recipes include few ingredients used very well.

The book feels like a way to document the radical experimentation of a wandering mind. Dedicated but prone to bursts of genius that cause big diversions. Fäviken is the perfect antidote to the vast numbers of quick supper cookbooks; it makes you think more deeply about food. It is not a standard cookbook that you can use on a weekly basis but all the more beautiful for it.

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Out of the Pod

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Out of the Pod – Vicky Jones
Ryland Peters & Small – 2015
Photography: William Reavell

A whole book about legumes is a serious challenge, they are a tricky thing to cook and an even harder sell for people not already in love with them. However if you want to try cooking with more beans and pulses or you need some new recipes then this is the book to get. Out of the Pod starts with lots of preparatory information that’s useful but not crucial and a bit heavy all up front in one place. It includes a great round up of the most common legumes – everything from lentils to pinto beans.

The soups that start the recipes are my favourite section. There’s a wide range of food cultures included in the book, everything from Italy to Cuba. With such a specific theme to the recipes it’s kept interesting with the global nature of the cookbook.

The notes throughout the book are well worth reading but a little heavy, it feels in places like passages from a textbook, less connected to the recipes themelves.

The photography is bright and cheerful and on the whole appetising especially as it’s really hard to make stews and one pot meals look gourmet!

There’s a good mix of basics and more novel ideas combining ingredients that are likely to be in your cupboard with more unusual ones. The book on the whole was less adventurous than I was expecting but I love the ideas in it and there’s a great selection of recipes to use and re-use.

My favourite recipes were the Senate Bean Soup; the Georgian Bean Pies; the Bean Torta with Walnuts and Lemon and the Hungarian Red Bean Hotpot with Smoked Ham and Barley.

Naked Cakes

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Naked Cakes – Hannah Miles
Ryland, Peters & Small – 2015
Photography: Steve Painter

Cakes with simple decorations, colours or shapes free from fondant but full of flavour is a trend I can happily get behind.

The variety is a little limited. The majority of cakes are made from a standard basic sponge recipe with a little additional flavouring or an extra ingredient of fruit, nuts, sugars etc. While this does mean that there is less innovation it also makes the book very easy to follow, once you know the basic recipe it’s not at all daunting to try making these beautiful cakes.

Utterly gorgeous photographs are throughout Naked Cakes, with clean styling and lots to tempt you into baking. Each new chapter starts with a mosaic of thumbnails of the cakes that it features so that you can easily see what is in each one.

Ideas like the naked fancies or Battenburg take the original idea but get rid of the excess decoration focusing instead on the cake itself. Several cakes use clotted cream rather than whipped or buttercream which is a lovely way of keeping the decadence without being overly sweet when paired with a rich sponge or jam. The balance of flavours and tastes throughout is very well thought out and carefully managed.

My favourite recipes (how to choose?) were the Pumpkin Cake; the Caramel Layer Cake; the Salty Honey Cake and the White Chocolate, Peppermint and Vanilla Layer Cake.

Icing can so often mask a lovely cake or trick you into thinking that a sub-standard cake is worth trying out. There is no hiding and no tricks with Hannah Miles’ recipes here, just lots of lovely ideas that are simple to execute and stunning to show off.

The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook

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The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook – Sarah Mayor
Quadrille – 2013
Photography: Andrew Montgomery

The introduction to The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook is a background to the Yeo Valley Farm, it’s not hugely related to recipes but beautifully written and lovely to read. There are also nice notes about the farm and the business at the front of each section as well.

The sections are in some parts too wide and in some too specific, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get in Pastures, or Farmhouse kitchen. However, the index is fantastic, easy to navigate and as well as the index there is a handy recipe list at the back of the book so that you can see which recipes are in which categories.

There are many simple ideas as well as the recipes that are dotted throughout the cookbook to help liven up or adapt food. The recipes themselves are well written with lots of detail and are organised to make it really easy to cook through. The majority of the meals take a while to prepare and not many of them are fast-food. The dishes often include tips about flavour variations and ways to try new ideas. The font is a little small but still readable and most recipes are fitted onto one page.

Both the photography and design is gorgeous, it suits the country style of cooking without being boring and it all looks appetising. My favourite dishes were the Celery and Stilton Soup, the Rhubarb, Orange and Hazelnut Cake, the Cheddar Farls and the Braised Rabbit with Cider, Mustard and Crème Fraîche. Mayor has managed to create a good balance between meat and vegetable savoury dishes, there are also lots of really lovely sweets included throughout the different sections. As a ‘farmhouse’ cookbook the ingredients are seasonal but readily available and the foraging section is great to see new ways of approaching food.

This is an inventive and exciting cookbook, although many of the ideas are traditional all of the ingredients are carefully chosen. The feel of The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook is very unhurried and natural, it is a joy to cook from and the recipes are sure to become favourites.

Organum

organum

Organum – Peter Gilmore
Murdoch Books – 2014
Photographer: Brett Stevens

Peter Gilmore’s basic introduction is that flavour, texture, technique, aroma, culture and innovation combine to create a harmonious dish.

Organum refers to the idea that multiple harmonies can create a new sound.

The layout and physical qualities of Organum magnificently reflect the idea in the book. Colour is used, or taken away, as necessary. Pages are textured. Some pages are sparse and some crowded. There are profiles throughout of the people involved, the ideas and the ingredients. The text is easy to read and simple. in short, this is a beautiful book, full of beautiful ideas.

Organum is not the first coffee table cookery book, I hope that it’s not the last, but it’s one of the best. Read it cover to cover and then flick through again. the detail is so exacting that it’s always a joy to pick up. Now, being honest, this isn’t something that I’ll cook from often. It’s an inspiration as much as a recipe book, but most of the recipes are certainly achievable. As with any top chefs cookbooks, there are a few dishes that are just out of reach of the home cook.

There is a lot of fish (it’s Aussie after all) but beyond that there is a very wide range of ingredients used. Veggie and meat, sweet and savoury. Quite a few of the things used will be unfamiliar, especially in the UK. A lot of the recipes involve a lot of time, and a lot of intricate steps. There is not a dish in Organum that I don’t want to eat, I’ve never said that before. A few I might not be bold enough to make but I do want to try them all.

Gilmore writes passionately, not just about food but about the whole process from seed (of plant or idea) right through to the final plated dish. Step by step we can see where all of the dishes came from.

My favourite dishes are the Walnut Floss, Bitter Chocolate Black Pudding, Fungi; the Jersey Cream, Prune, Salted Caramel, Milk & Sugar Crystals; and the Celery Heart, Aged Feta, Rare Herbs and Flowers.

This is an art book for food lovers – it’s sublime and shows so clearly the inherent beauty of Gilmore’s food, ideas, ingredients and environment. An absolute must read for anyone who loves food.

Oscar & Rosie’s

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Tyrannosaurus Veg half size pizza, Cheddar & Tomato lunch sized pizza with a small side of Mac & Cheese from Oscar & Rosie’s in Das Kino at 22 Fletcher Gate in Nottingham.

The food here was wonderful, I wanted to try both the pizza and also their Mac & Cheese (which comes in a variety of flavours as a main course as well as a regular side) so I had both! We followed up with a hot drink but skipped cakes. There was a plate of cupcakes on offer but they didn’t look hugely appealing and with so many great places to get cake in town I think I’d give them a miss for dessert.

The veggie pizza was full of flavour with loads of toppings, it was a great variety of veg and unlike a lot of roasted vegetable pizzas, not at all dry. The ricotta was a lovely change from goats cheese and even a half-size pizza was a good portion and decent value at £7. The base of both pizzas was what set them apart, thin and flavourful they reminded me of pizzas from Southern Italy.

Service was kind, if a little absent-minded at times, and there is plenty of room for a weekday lunch although I’ll bet that evenings and weekends are packed out. There’s also a ping-pong section at the back which looked like a lot of fun, certainly a more soothing noise than pool/snooker! They have free wifi, plenty of plugs for recharging, cheap and tasty tea/coffee and large tables for meetings. We’ll definitely be heading back here again soon.

Adventures with Chocolate

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Adventures With Chocolate – Paul A. Young
Kyle Books – 2012
Photography: Anders Schønnemann

The introduction to ‘Adventures with Chocolate’ starts with a section on how to taste chocolate and a base recipe for ganache and turning that into truffles. There’s lots of information for people who know nothing at all about chocolate – the basics of regional differences, cocoa levels, spice and flavour balances.

The writing is outstanding, both in terms of ease to read and also entertainment. It is a well balanced mix of a chocolate textbook and a work of passion. The hints dotted throughout and the notes that begin each recipe offer insight and endless variations. It is very impressive to see so many recipes all based around one ingredient.

If you do like chocolate then it is highly likely that you will find at least one recipes that will become a firm favourite, and probably far more than that. There is a good range of flavours to try for all tastes. The savoury section will take a little more getting used to although it is clearly not simply added for the sake of novelty. The Honey-cured Bacon, Stilton and Chocolate Sandwich is going to become a brunch staple in my house. There are far more dessert style recipes than main meals but that is rather to be expected here.

Flicking through this cookbook the real highlight becomes quite obvious, there are recipes that you want to eat right then and there, largely due to the stunning photography, and many of them are simple enough to do just that. A fair few of the ideas need a lot of time, preparation or special ingredients but there are plenty of recipes that really can be made quickly. There is no snobbery in here and beginners are very welcome.

The only real downside to this book is that to get the best from the recipes you need to use very specific chocolates which are pretty hard to get hold of most of the time. This is also going to push up the costs of making any of these, it really does make you appreciate why you pay so much for high quality chocolate.

Some ideas, even some of the more outlandish ones, most people will have heard about now (the hardback of this book came out in 2009) but the recipes themselves are very unique and have great combinations of original flavours.

My favourite recipes are the Chocolate Water Biscuits, the Bing Cherry & Coconut Brownies, the Sea-Salted Chocolate & Pecan Tart and the Saffron & Greek Thyme Honey Ganache.

This is a book full of unique ideas whether you are looking for a quick recipe to satisfy chocolate cravings or if you want a starting place for making your own chocolates. Young has made even the more complicated techniques seem less daunting and there are no recipes that seem too complex to try. It’s easy to read and use, utterly addictive.

Sepia

sepia

Sepia – The Cuisine of Martin Benn
Murdoch Books – 2014
Photography: Gary Heery & Jennifer Soo

In the introduction, Benn sets up the basic ideas of Sepia, the restaurant and the ethos. Benn explains that it’s meant to lend ideas as much as be a strict roadmap. And indeed, the recipes are amazing and inspiring. There are concepts and flavour combinations that you’ll want to try – techniques and tastes that beg to be tested.

The writing in Sepia is a little heavy. There are very long biographical sections which are interesting, if a little long. Alongside the recipes there is a lot of food writing following Benn’s way into food and the restaurant business through to the restaurant and it is full of anecdote and personality. I love reading about food and the whole industry but I know (people often tell me when I talk about cookbooks) that it’s not for everyone.

Recipes in Sepia are arranged in Menus and they are designed for servings of eight so there’s a bit of maths involved in scaling them down. All of the dishes have wine pairings and each separate aspect is broken down and worked through in detail so that you can see each part clearly.

The images and styling is beyond beautiful. Sepia has a sense of art running through the whole book. The dishes are gorgeous and aspirational and the portraits of chefs and restaurant are full of life.

My favourite recipes are the Mango and Vanilla with Sesame Brittle, Yuzu Sherbet and Nasturtiums; the Goat’s Milk Chevre with Beetroot Butter, Rhubarb, Beetroot Rye and Dried Goat’s Milk; and the Saint Agur and Mascarpone Cheese with Crystallised Macadamias, Celery Cress and Roasted Endive Granita.

Sepia is a book full of ideas, like Benn and the restaurant. It’s a book about food more than a cookery book, and would work just as well on a coffee table to keep dipping into and reading as on the kitchen counter to cook from.

It made me think about food. More than anything it made me want to visit Sepia!