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Alastair I

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Do-ahead Dinners: how to feed friends and family without the frenzy
Do-ahead Dinners: how to feed friends and family without the frenzy
by James Ramsden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for the host who wants to serve delicious food AND to relax, 15 Aug. 2013
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This is a smashing book. It is perfect for anyone who wants to entertain friends with delicious food but WITHOUT any of the attendant stress that often goes with cooking.

The emphasis is - and the title might be a bit of a giveaway here - on food you can prepare mostly ahead of time. Meaning that you can neck a couple of cocktails with your guests and, dare I say it, enjoy your friends' company, rather than sweat over a pan on your own in the kitchen.

To help with the "Do-Ahead" aim, recipes are formatted a little differently. Instead of a sequential list of "do this, then do that, then move on to..." the author breaks each recipes up into "between 1 and 2 days beforehand; 2 hours beforehand; immediately before serving". For the novice cook this is a godsend that makes things super-easy and confidence inspiring; for the experienced cook it is just another bonus that makes life simpler.

The recipes in the book aren't about complicated cookery. They are more a question of taking ingredients (often robust ones, and economical cuts), treating them well and putting them with other ingredients to make them taste even better. I'd call it honest, delicious cooking. The recipes read as if the author has a knack for combining flavours really well. And my take is that this is pretty easy cookery; it requires a little work and planning (well d'uh, if you are going to do something ahead of time that's going to be the case, isn't it?), but nothing looks particularly difficult, tedious or onerous.

Sure, there are other prepare-ahead dinner party cookbooks out there - but this one has food that I'd actually want to eat. The lamb shoulder stuffed with cockles looks EPIC and the mackerel stuffed with chilli, garlic and herbs has just jumped up my list of recipes to cook soon. My copy only arrived yesterday so I haven't cooked from it yet but the grub looks superb: lots of big flavours, interesting ingredient combinations (not avant garde - just really tasty-sounding stuff like salmon cured with fennel, orange and juniper, for example) and dishes that look current instead of dated. I reckon I'll leave the other prepare-ahead books I've seen for when I'm hosting an 80s themed party.

What else? Beautiful photographs; very clearly written recipes; a handy selection of menu planning suggestions; a good, short section with cocktail recipes; and some interesting looking easy bread recipes. I think this book will be getting a LOT of use. And I think I'll probably be using it on a day-to-day basis too - this food looks too good to save for parties only.

Packed - The Food Entrepreneur's Guide: How to Get Noticed and How to be Loved
Packed - The Food Entrepreneur's Guide: How to Get Noticed and How to be Loved
by Tessa Stuart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.87

5.0 out of 5 stars Gold dust for the food entrepreneur, 22 April 2013
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If 37 Signals or the Beermat Entrepreneur were to write a book about how to launch a food brand, Packed is the sort of book I'd expect them to create.

Packed is a quick read, not because of a shortage of content but because all its points - and there are a lot - are presented in such a clear, down to earth way that the reader can whizz through the book. Tessa Stuart manages to take topics that others obfuscate about (branding, packaging design, commercial prioritisation) and distil them to their essence in such a way that, whilst reading, I found myself nodding in agreement with every point. In fact, she manages to make almost every suggestion seem like common sense (believe me, they aren't common sense - it is the trick of the writer to take smart ideas and present them so unambiguously and clearly that makes them seem so!).

Packed isn't a step-by-step manual for launching a food business (there's no "how to write your first business plan" here, for example) so don't buy it if you expect a microscopic guide with all the answers. What it DOES offer is two supremely valuable types of information that will give you a lot of food for thought (*boom boom*):

1) A broad-brush introduction to the big ideas which can be critical to the success of the new food business - things like ensuring the product is great, getting priorities right when developing the product or maintaining good relations with suppliers or vendors and many more. These are the sorts of big picture concept that the aspiring food entrepreneur should aim to master if they are to be successful.

2) An enormous number of much more granular suggestions which contribute to getting those big key areas of the business right. Packed consists of actionable strategy after actionable strategy for nurturing and growing an early stage food business - from economical ways to conduct effective market research to common pitfalls to avoid. And this is where the reader can benefit from the author's obviously considerable experience.

As much as those two groups of concrete suggestions, the value of the book is also in the attitude it encourages: can-do enthusiasm; a balanced, logical and rational approach; a sense that received wisdom is often not the best wisdom; and a mindset that a successful business can be built with hard work rather than necessary reliance on lots of money. Packed encourages the reader to believe that getting their product into production, into small independent shops and eventually possibly into supermarkets is not only possible, it is realistic too.

Is there anything to criticise about Packed? Well, really only very minor things. The main small criticism is that the book uses a few pieces of retail business lingo without necessarily explaining them. Anyone who has experience in food retail will know what a "multiple" is, for example, but the total novice might appreciate explanation of half a dozen or so words that feature.

This is small criticisms though. In case I haven't been clear: for the new or aspiring food entrepreneur, the suggestions and approaches contained in Packed are pure gold dust. It is the book I wish had been available when I started working in food business.

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