Cookshelf: Hemsley & Hemsley The Art of Eating Well

In a treacherous world where so many columnists are throwing down their chopsticks to take up pitchforks against anyone who has ever suggested that food can be clean, I thought I’d say a few words about why I really like this book by the oh so photogenic Hemsley gals.

I’m not sure when clean eating became so dirty, as I have a vague understanding of nutrition and food science so I never really fell into the trap of believing that it is packaging or MSG alone that makes us fat or slow or spotty. Unfortunately the Clean Gimmick can be seen as guilt-inducing, and there is enough in this world to feel bad about without hating yourself for going with shop bought dips and a family sized bag of twiglets on a Friday night. But much like the Brexit bus, the Clean Lifestyle was over pitched with under-truths and now everyone who gave up sausages and beer is pissed off because the NHS is still ruined and they probably still could have lost a bit of weight by just cutting back to half-fat crisps and visiting a treadmill three times a week instead.

I’m pretty sure this doesn’t make the Hemsley & Hemsley the Farage of the foodie realm, however.

Yes, ok, so they bang on about wellness and pseudo grains and they won’t let you eat crumpets but the sudden backlash on clean eating seems to have thrown an unfair shadow on some really good cooking. I’m the first to admit that I believe there is space in most lifestyles to accommodate the odd Camembert binge and frequent slices of toast, coeliacs aside, but just because you don’t have to eat exotic and complicated home smashed hummus all the time it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t want to once in a while.

Get past the lifestyle trend that they are trying to sell here and you have a bloody gorgeous book about food and cookery with some very pretty pictures. It is a real browser- lovely to flip through to kill half an hour on a Sunday morning or leave casually on the coffee table when your judgey neighbours who work in marketing are coming over for an almond milk latte.

Yes, there are a lot of faff intensive and lengthy methods and you will learn all kinds of things about soaking that your brain didn’t really have the space for. Yes, you will doubt that you really need black bean brownies in your life when the James Martin ones take half the time and a third of the cost to knock up. You will seriously question what possible difference there could be between vegetable and olive oil. Aren’t olives vegetables?

But in all the irritation and googling of arantha stockists, you will find some cracking recipes. They probably wont all be your bag (if they are, you are lying) but I promise you will find at least two to cook and two dozen to modify into your more day to day repertoire. My go to favourite is an atypically simple braised fennel with garlic, lemon and rosemary which works perfectly as a side, salad or even pizza topping (don’t tell the twins if you do that though!). And of course we must mention the infamous Bone Broth, which yes is just bloody stock but it’s a really good staple stock recipe and any self respecting foodie needs one of these under their belt.

You can eat from every meal from this book, assuming you don’t have a full time job or anything like that, or you can stumble into it once in a while for a funny weekend granola attempt or some sweet treats for the gluten-free warriors in your life. Or you can just sit up in the sunny spot at the end of the sofa with a coffee and have a browse for a little inspiration about some ingredients I guarantee you never heard of before. It’s a lovely book. You don’t have to believe in candida over growth or give up chips to enjoy it.

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Cookshelf- Skinny Weeks & Weekend Feasts

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Skinny Weeks & Weekend Feasts

A couple of weeks ago I was banging on, as I do, on Instagram about my general eatings and in particular on a favourite Gizzi Erskine recipe when a cyber buddy asked me if I rated her book Skinny Weeks & Weekend Feasts as she was trying to level out her eating but didn’t get on with conventional plans. I sat up straight, smiled smugly to myself and went about sliding in a seamless link to my blog where she could read all about my gushingly embarrassing girl crush and all the reasons I love this book.

Oh, bugger.

I absolutely cannot believe that I have failed to write about SWWF until now.

I came into possession of this book 2 Christmases ago by way of the older male sibling and kez-in-law. I have to admit I had not heard much about her at the time other than masses of grumbling when we went to Meatopia that she was there and cooking but we weren’t important enough to go and see her. With retrospect this is a double blow as back then I might have been able to maintain an iota of cool about it where I can only apologise now for the horrific fangirl outpourings that will ensue if I bump in to her in the future.

She really did have me at Hello. Or more accurately, she had me at the intro passage of her book where she says:

“I need to eat good food regularly or I’m not the same person. And, like so many of us, every so often, I get carried away and eat too much. I find it hard to control what goes in my mouth because frankly, I want it all.”

Ever see Velvet Goldmine? Remember the fantasy sequence of Christian Bale jumping up and down and pointing at the liberated snotty glam rockers on the TV going ‘That’s me!’? Well that was me on reading the opener blurb for SWWF- it is one of the most relatable and sense talking cook book openers I’ve ever read. SWWF is about eating healthily without gimmicks or deprivation and incorporating the 80/20 rule of being strict 80% of the time so that going slightly off the rails the other 20% of the time doesn’t lead to weight gain and health problems.

To be clear, SWWF is not a diet book, but a self proclaimed book of two halves with the intention of giving the reader a bank of tasty, nutritious recipes to call on without breaking the calorie bank because in this day and age girls don’t just want to have fun, we want to eat loads and not get fat. Boys too.

Skinny Weeks is the half of the book dedicated to your Monday-Friday, or your 80% with 100 pages of breakfasts, lunches and dinners including some light desserts and *fanfare* some really brilliant dips that you don’t have to feel bad about demolishing infront of your next Netflix binge. My first call of praise to this book is her Courgette Baba Ganoush- a really delicious tasty dip which is technically 57 calories a serving so it doesn’t matter when you eat the entire 4 serving recipe load of it in one go. It’s delicious, and you’d never know it was a skinny option.

Weekend Feasts brings you around to your 20%, your friday night blow out dinners, lazy brunches, epic sunday lunches and innocuously labelled ‘sweet treats’ where you will find the steamed puddings, gypsy tart and peanut butter cornflake brownies (I LOVE YOU GIZZI). Whereas all the skinny weeks recipes give you a handy calorie breakdown, in the weekend feast pages you simply get a ‘Wicked Rating’- a score of 1-10 which will indicate exactly how far into  indulgence wonderland you are going. I really like this as a menu planning strategy if I am cooking from this book as often it helps to skinny down a menu without getting too hung up on counting calories and a lot of the time something that looks utterly evil from the pictures and ingredients actually only scores a 5 so to hell with it, let’s have that. I should add this scoring doesn’t detract from your treat times as lets all face it there could be a score of a million and it doesn’t matter because sometimes you are going to have a big fat southern fried chicken dinner and that’s that.

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Easy and versatile base salad dressing from SWWF and subject of the instagram chat that has prompted me to finally write this review.

Although I love a big fat southern fried chicken dinner as much as the next person, I spend a lot more time in Skinny Weeks section and have to say this has seriously aided my more recent efforts at dieting as it really doesn’t feel like dieting. People say that about a lot of mainstream plans but in my experience that is BS. Slimming World feels like dieting. Ultra low carb potato counting methods feel like dieting. Spending 8 hours in the healthfood shop trying to find organic cracked arantha grains feels like dieting. Whacking together a mocha shake for breakfast every morning before I leave the house does not feel like dieting and yes, unless the Mr has finished all the whey again without telling me (I hate him) I have a Gizzi recipe shake every morning before I go to work. It’s quick to do and fuss free (other than remembering to order in your whey) and keeps me as full as many other breakfasts I have tried over the years at higher calorie, lower satisfaction levels. I also use her base dressing on my lunch salads probably 4 out of 5 days a week and I think it is the healthy fat content of this that makes these lunches seem to last a bit longer and help stave off the dreaded Kit Kat hour of the afternoon at my desk. Other notable favourites of this section are the fattoush salad and yoghurt chicken curry bowl- which I have to say is so good that it is often our Saturday treat dinner despite being in the saintly range of recipes.

It is  worth saying that SWWF is a beautiful book, with wonderfully shot food porn as well as some fun illustrations. I struggle with word heavy food tomes and SWWF is perfectly broken up with the pretty pictures for my millennial mind. A lot of said food porn is also easy to re-create without a load of fancy lights and a gastro stylist, making a lot of the dishes in this book appropriate for your competitive dinner parties/instafood hashtag.

So yes SWWF is delicious and nutritious and gloriously free of any kind of food associated guilt, and much of it is very simple. The ‘working lunches’ chapter in particular is great for fuss free plates. There are however some more techy and time consuming recipes in there and the selection of Asian themed dishes might require a tiny bit more shopping that you might be used to but it is all worth it. I remember seeing Gizzi comment recently that she has been accused of fussy recipes but she doesn’t apologise for this because she likes cooking- and this also sums up this book for me: it is a pleasure to cook from if you enjoy being in your kitchen to create. And it is a double pleasure to eat from regardless of your desire to lose or maintain your weight.

Also, this book is by Gizzi Erskine. Hello!!!!! Talk about lifestyle goals, she is bloody fabulous and although I’ve said all of this level and food relevant stuff about her cookery book just look at her! She’s fantastic and together and has a brilliant wardrobe and lovely hair and she can do that sexy flicky eyeliner thing I can never manage and all of my shallow materialistic wantings are reflected in her as well as her kick ass kitchen style. Her social media accounts are worth following for her attitude and humour as well as all the foodie goodness. Gizzi is an all round good egg and you should listen to her. Girlcrush rant over.

Gizzi does have other, and newer, offerings available and although I am very excited to get my hands on her next release due in September (Season’s Eatings)  SWWF comes with my highest and more urgent recommendation it really should be on your Amazon Wish List if you like modern, tasty and healthy food that isn’t depressing.

10/10, topnotch, brilliant.

Love you Gizzi.

 

 

Cookshelf- Sweet Tooth from Lily Vanilli

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It’s a funny thing being a girl sometimes. Even in our apparently modern age there is some serious definition flying around about who girls are and what they should do. Pink stuff, fluffy stuff, nurture and babies and smiling. Awwww. Now don’t get me wrong, I love cuddling a newborn whilst wearing a frothy fuscia frock in my immaculately clean kitchen as much as the next XX chromosome holder. And I’m lucky to have generation upon generation of tips and knowledge on such things from women who went that way before and I acknowledge that. But what about the rest? Yeah, girls stuff, love it but how about zombies? How about noisy car engines and massive steaks and Bruce Willis films? Because plenty of girls like that kind of thing too and they stray into a dangerous grey area of The Tom-Boy. That sweetly patronising term to safely box away all of your not strictly girlie tendencies under an insidiously ‘not a proper girl’ label. Tom Boy. We shouldn’t really be into all that but as long as it’s only playing, that’s ok. But it isn’t ok because it makes certain traits out of reach or undesirable. Because it makes us think girls shouldn’t be loud or assertive or dirty or up at the front, leading the stick-swords battle against invading alien hoards. Because this then spills into life scoring big, ugly lines through the gender roles in our minds as well as our boardrooms and yes, this is a problem today. If you don’t think it is I suspect you are either a boy or a princess.

Do I digress? Maybe slightly yes, I’m not going to start going on about why you should go and read ‘Lean In’ (although you should). There is no such thing as a feminist cake. There is, however, a large world of Chefs. Food is an industry now that goes way beyond basic cultivation and consumption- just look at your BBC Saturday morning line up for this. Check your Twitter trends and your youtube channels and we’re all mad for the Chefs. The James Martin, The Gordon Ramsay. Jason Atherton, Sat Baines, Hair Metal Chef, The Galvins, Jean Georges, Dan-Duck-and-Waffle-Doherty. If you’re into cooking, and eating, there are whole load of men out there in the front line to tell you how to do it. And they are all brilliant and talented and no doubt deserve to be listened to but there is something of a block when it comes to being truly inspired by, to wishing to aspire to a member of the opposite gender. I don’t want to talk about this being right or wrong or whether little boys should be allowed to wear skirts because I don’t care about that- the simple fact is that It Is. I love James Martin, I would give my left ovary to have him cook me dinner. Would I like to be him? Well, no, he’s a boy……..

So what exactly is my point in this waffle that is supposed to be a book review? Lily Vanilli. Lily Vanilli is my point. Yes all power to the boys but you have to look a little bit harder for a lot fewer high profile women in food unless of course you are seeking a new diet and don’t us girls get all the press about being fat? Don’t get me started.
In times of old, who did we have? Saint Delia? Who thought it might be nice to instruct the masses in the ridiculously simple or rechurned classic? Nah, not so much. Nigella then? Fuck. Off. Way to get yourself to the forefront of a male dominated industry and media in general by sticking your tits out and pushing the innuendo envelope. Genius. Yes sure she can cook and she’s had her share of all the rubbish parts of being a celeb and infact being a girl and all that but just, no. Silvena Rowe is bonkers yet worth your attention, but I’ll wager less than half the people who read this have any idea who she is. More digression.

Let’s end the great gender discussion to cut to a Halloween some years ago when a work friend bought in some ridiculously intricate and creepy cupcakes. How the hell did you come up with that?

A Zombie Ate My Cupcake.

Sorry, what?

A Zombie Ate My Cupcake. I found google, I found Twitter and I found Lily Vanilli and her baking creations and I found the first woman in food I had ever found wholly inspiring and wondrous and just bloody brilliant and I wanted to know everything she had to say about anything. I fell into that spellbound tingly obsessive state that is The Girl Crush. I found the most useful and comprehensive cookery book I own: Sweet Tooth (though AZAMC is a great buy for the extra creative amoung us). As books go it is nothing short of a revelation and to quote Saint Gizzie of Erskine (who we may discuss in similar terms one day) it is ‘the only baking book you will ever need’.

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I can’t say it enough times or with enough gravity- this is an excellent book. The recipes cover a massive range from cakes to pastries to ice creams in a truly fail safe manner. If you do as you are told, you will get a brilliant thing to eat  because of concise and easy to follow methods from someone who really, really knows what she is talking about. The technical sections explaining the science of ingredients and their different types is brilliantly useful for any cook of cakes or otherwise. Ah, the cakes.  And so much more than just the cakes and sweets and pastries and scones and bears, oh my! The photography is spectacular and would make a book of it’s own without the recipes but it is the personality that comes with this book that is truly inspirational. The introduction telling of cash short days leading to a determined young woman taking control and doing what she loved and building an amazing career out of it was the inspiration I needed to open my own food business. Yes, fine, my nowhere near as successful and laughable in comparison business but it pays for my holidays each year, and I did it because of Lily Vanilli and this book. Because she doesn’t preach, she doesn’t lecture, she just spells it all out in a way that means you can do it too. In a way that makes you to want to do it too, which is the real trick. I have many beautiful cook books with wonderful recipes that I like reading then putting back on the shelf. I avoid opening Sweet Tooth unless I know I have time to bake immediately afterwards. I am force issuing a copy of this book to everyone I can think of who might not have it this Christmas and I urge you to do the same.

There are a lot of high impact projects and fancy bakes in this book, plenty of simple comforts and basics too including the only buttercream icing I will ever, ever make again. Ever. Other favourites are the the Apple & Rosemary Olive Oil Cake on p61 for a rustic and terribly grown up treat and the Zebra Cake from p52 which is great fun to make even though I can’t quite get it as pretty as she does. Then on trend superfood bakes like chocolate and avocado cake and an amazing beetroot cake. Pages of decorative items and eyegasm visual display eats like meringue bones, nut brittle, candyfloss meringues and the bleeding heart cupcakes that first bought me into this fandom in the first place. Not to forget out and out indulgence in the form of absinthe hot chocolate and whisky salt caramel popcorn. Not in to all the showcasing? Try the spelt scones, which are doing the rounds weekly in my house at the moment.

Here endeth the fangirl rant. Buy this book if you bake, it is obscenely cheap on Amazon at the moment or available in the majority of your actual real life high street shops. Follow her @lilyvanillicake on twitter too and you can squee yourself as I do when she gives you a like or a reply. I’m off for a late scone breakfast.

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Cookshelf- James Martin’s Desserts

Desserts, by the lovely James Martin. Nice shirt, too.

I could do bad things to James Martin. And not in a thinly veiled innuendo kind of way. He has stolen my Saturday mornings and made me obsessed with cake. He made me give up any concept of cooking with margarine. I hold him personally responsible for at least four and a quarter excess pounds of flub on frame. Bastard!

In other news, I love James Martin! And not just because he’s tall and Northern and makes good cakes. Yes he’s classically trained and all that and yes he can make some very fluffy and complex food but he’s honest about it. And he makes good cakes. No Saturday morning feels quite right to me unless it starts with a huge mug of coffee and Saturday Kitchen on the beeb for some weekend cookery inspiration. He’s amusing, and likeable and not pretentious. Did I mention the cake?

Yes cake, desserts of all kinds in fact to be found in his book, the not desperately imaginatively titled ‘Desserts’. I have to thank an unknown well wisher who bought this for a friend of mine some handful of Christmases ago. She ‘doesn’t really make desserts’ and offered me a secondary gift of this tome of puddingy goodness. I took it. It is without doubt in the top five favourites of my over stuffed cook book shelves and the undisputed champion of the ‘most frequently opened’ title. It is such a user friendly book with plenty of bare basics covered for those of us who don’t have a normal sponge recipe or aren’t that confident at just knocking out some spun sugar spirals. It’s all there, and it’s easy to follow. From shortcrust pastry to a ridiculously beautiful Fire & Ice Cake Mr Martin guides you through with some wonderfully chatty asides and introductions to generally easy to follow recipes. Puddings, tarts, pastries, pavlova. There really is something for everyone in fact I out and out defy you to buy this book and fail to find at least five desserts you want to make regularly. They aren’t all ten minute blender jobs by any means but even triple thumbed cooks such as myself can happily attempt anything in this book and if my efforts are anything to go by, make a pretty decent job of it.

Immediate favourites from ‘Desserts’ are a painfully simple ginger cheesecake which my Mr and I ran up as a last minute option for late notice dinner guests not long ago and utterly fantastic chocolate brownies which have never lasted more than 24 hours after baking- even when I didn’t have anyone to share them with! But my number one, flagship recipe for this book can be found on page 159- the Chocolate Cola Cake (way before that dodgy bint Nigella made the concept popular). This page in my book is now missing various lumps of text due to such heavy usage and the resulting splats of molten butter and beaten egg which have made the text run and in a couple of places stuck the pages together. No matter, I’ve made it enough times to bluff through now. It’s fantastic. The whole book is fantastic,  a one stop shop for afters of all sorts. If you cook, you should own this. Even if you ‘don’t really do desserts’.

Cookshelf- Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook

If you only buy one fantasy themed cook book this year……

A long time ago, in a galaxy about three and a half miles away, a young girl was in the running up team in the local school’s debate contest, and she took home a ten pound book token (remember those!) as reward for her general argumentativeness.
Based on the recommendations of a then considered hot boy, this token wound it’s way to Red Lion Books in merry Colchester, and was exchanged for not one but two Terry Pratchett novels.
‘Mort’ to this day remains one of my favourite books in the history of ever and I have it in paperback, hardback, pocket size and graphic versions. It’s a laugh out loud funny and ever so slightly ridiculous story telling the story of Death (you know tall chap, carries a scythe) taking on an unlikely apprentice in order to have a little bit of downtime with the finer things in life. It’s wonderful, and it introduced me to the addictivley brilliant Discworld series by Mr Pratchett. I shan’t harp on too much, this blog is about edibles not readables, but one of my favourite things about the Pratchett novels is that despite the involvement of dragons, wizards, six foot dwarves and were-police ladies- it’s is all so recognisable. You can really realate to it. Perhaps because the most basic of human features issue in all characters and stories (especially the un-human ones) or more likely because Discworld is so complete in it’s creation- down to the cuisines of the various districts of this flattened fictional realm. Fans will be all too familiar with the ‘red hot ice cube’ consistency of a Klatchian Curry, or the dubious greasiness of some of Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler’s dodgy street food which is almost always served innabun.
No great surprise that someone made a cook book from it really, and as shameless merchandising goes, it’s bloody well done. Any Pratchett reader will love the little editor’s notes and communications with your marvellously naughty author, Nanny Ogg. You could happily read this from cover to cover with no intention of ever cooking or eating any of it, it’s a fun read. Similarly if all the in jokes and references mean nothing to you, there are some really cracking recipes hidden away in all this genre geek compendium.

It goes from the stupidly simple Special Nibbles to the day long saga of preparing Wow Wow Sauce, something for any level of cook and plenty of clever jokes in between. And there’s variety- hot stuff, sweet stuff, bakes and even a hangover draught, it’s a lovely little book. If I have to choose one favourite, it must be Lord Downey’s Mint Humbugs, a shockingly easy recipe for making your own hard boiled sweets which are really good fun to put together. As long as you leave out the arsenic. Ok you’ll get that joke when you buy the book, which you should. A must have for Pratchett superfans, and a really interesting and different addition to the kitchen arsenal of serious and recreational cooks alike.

Check it out.