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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 2 July 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was looking forward to receiving this book because I enjoy cooking and the idea of the "secret supper society" has always interested me.

I have been a member of a "secret supper club" for a number of years. A secret supper club is a good way of keeping in touch with old friends; people who you may lose contact with due to work or physical distance. So, any recipe suggestions are (usually) welcome.

The outer appearance of the book reminds me of an old notebook; the sort of notebook that my maternal Grandmother and great Aunts used to use to write down their favourite family recipes.

The first problem I encountered was with the dish titles which are in a script font (one similar to "mistral") which makes it difficult to read them at times.

There is an introduction to each of the recipes which, after a while, I started to skip. They came across as self-indulgent and on occasion irrelevant to the recipe that they had been attached to.

I as I was making the "belly pork with cider and lentils" recipe (p56) and I had a sense of de-ja-vu and went searching through our other recipe book and there it was, in an old farmhouse kitchen recipe book, "Pork and Cider Casserole". The differences were few but included, the quantity descriptions (the old recipe is given in imperial measure and this book is in metric), and the exchange of barley (old recipe) for lentils (this recipe), along with the addition of a small amount of tarragon.

As I compared the recipes I was a bit shocked and disappointed. Where the author has rashers of smoked streaky bacon finely chopped, the farmhouse recipe has bacon lardons, and the farmhouse recipe says finely chopped parsley where as this author says flat leaf parsley. The recipes were different only with the addition of lentils and tarragon - everything else was semantics.

It wasn't the only recipe where this was the case. In one recipe there was the addition of chilli which was the only difference (stuffed tomato - p104), and so on.

Then there are the recipes for (tinned) sardine sandwich with tartar sauce though it does have a recipe for tartar sauce if you like it (p72); or Soviet (tinned) salmon soup (p69);

There is "beetroot soup with goat's curd" (p99) though I prefer our old recipe for "borsht with floating cream islands". Goat's curd is an acquired taste that I don't have.

I realise that there are only so many recipes in the world, and it might only be coincidence, but it was a disappointment when I realised how many were similar to ones that we already have.

Then in the chapter entitled "Exploring Cheap Cuts" the author has recipes for pork ribs, duck and veal. I don't know where he shops but if he can get any part of a duck or cut of veal at a cheap price he's incredibly lucky.

There are also a number of specialist ingredients were the author says go down the road to your specialist supermarket or outlet, I live in a small village where specialist dealers are none existent. In fact the closest one would be in the city centre about 20 miles away, a long trip for one or two specialist ingredients. I take it that the author lives in the city were specialist dealers and markets are prevalent, unfortunately not everyone else does - not his fault, not my fault, just the way it is, but the assumption that all readers will have access to such facilities added a feeling of insult to injury.

In saying all that I must admit that some of the recipes are good, some are bad and some are ok-I-suppose, but that's a cook book for you. The problems are mainly mine, because I own so many of the families old and antiquated cook books there are usually one or two similarities in books (though this is the first time I have noticed so many similarities).

All I will say is: if you don't have any older recipes books to refer to, or you like lentils, spice and specialist ingredients then this book may be for you.
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VINE VOICEon 21 July 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have to admit to reading cookery books as some might read the latest thriller, sometimes I don't try the recipes instead savouring the descriptions instead. With this book I just had to try some out.

If you are looking for some new ideas, easily done so it doesn't frighten the horses, then this is a good way to branch out without making huge expensive purchases. Consider this stress free adventure cooking!

I do like the introductions, very personable, I tried the 5-minute sponge after reading about where he found the recipe. Adding little nuggets of information like that encourages the home cook to try things out. There is nothing here that will concern the reader, no lengthy list of odd ingredients, no weird ingredients as such - you will find everything in your local food shop/supermarket.

The author writes with an interest and a passion about food that is very contagious. The outlay of the book is retro, very now but I would imagine will be a welcome accompaniment to any cookery book collection. However handsome books do not necessarily translate within the pages - here it does. Anyone who wants to adapt their basic cooking skills, impress friends over for dinner, find new favourites with unfamiliar ingredients will enjoy trying out these recipes.

The sponge was a huge hit with my 9 year old twins, they make the food critic in Ratatouille look impassive. We've also tried a few others and I do appreciate the *tart, *tweak, *tomorrow tips on the pages.
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on 19 July 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I enjoyed this book much more than the Steve Parle book in the same series. The layout and photography were very pleasing and the size of the book was good to hold (not an unwieldy A4 thumper)and read in bed. The recipes for the main were very simple and there was a useful section near the back that sought to demystify techniques that can put off novice cooks - such as making hollandaise. The writer is the doyenne of the pop up supper clubs but is no amateur as he trained at the Ballymaloe cookery school.

I had some of my usual bugbears with cookery books once again reinforced by this book - some of the the fake real hand writing font was difficult to read, there were not enough photos of the actual dishes, some recipes were just too simple to merit a whole page - for example the easy chicken curry "recipe" was some chicken pieces baked in an oven with a spoon of shop bought jar paste and a spoon of yoghurt and there was a recipe for scrambled egg. there was also as ection on cooking with cheap cuts of meat (and offal) which for me was not very useful. As a mainly vegetarian household I found teh book light on good veggie dishes - the suggested rice pilaf to be served at a more "formal" dinner was very weak and would need lots of side dishes or a sauce to make it interesting enough to be a veggie main for a dinner party. However - I liked the idea of the recipes being easy to cook and I liked Ramsden's chatty tone ( a la Nigel Slater). I thought the section on preserves and chutneys was excellently explained and he made it all seem very simple , good straight forward recipes and not too large a quantity- I have always been wary of preserve bottling as most recipes I have in other books seem to make enough to feed an army.
If you are a meat eater and not too experienced in cooking I think this is a very good book
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VINE VOICEon 6 July 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
James Ramsden is one of the new kids on the food writing block although his pedigree (Ballymaloe cookery school, working in Italy and France, writing for, among others, The Guardian and The Independent) gives assurance that he is going to be around for a very long time. His approach to cooking is so relaxed and spontaneous that to introduce his skills in a cookery book at first seems a little incongruous. However the quality that leaps from virtually every page of this delightful book is Ramsden's sheer, unbridled enthusiasm for food and the many wonderful things he (and we) can do to it to make it even better!
Divided into such self-evident sections as 'Formal Forays', 'Morning Missions' and 'Exploring the Cheap Cuts' the author guides us effortlessly through his own takes on kedgeree, pork wellington and osso buco as well as some of his more idiosyncratic dishes such as Soviet salmon soup, 7 hour pork belly buns with apple sauce and, perhaps my favourite, lamb neck fillets with harissa and chickpea salad. Virtually every recipe has a 'tart', 'tweak' or 'tomorrow' post script which suggests ways of improving, changing or using any leftover the following day. Quite uniquely each recipe also has a hashtag to enable the real enthusiast to share his/her thoughts with others on Twitter. Ramsden's is certainly a voice that we will hear a lot more of. It can only be hoped that his future offerings are as unique and exciting as the ones gathered in this book.
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VINE VOICEon 22 July 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A very appropriately titled cookbook: Mr. Ramsden has created here a range of interesting dishes that are nevertheless accessible by inexperienced cooks. There are no huge lists of unobtainable ingredients or obscure methods and equipment used, and he writes in a bright, chatty style. No recipe is so complex that it takes more than a page to explain, and the book is fully illustrated so one knows what one is aiming for.

I think most cooks would find this a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf, but it's probably most useful for young or novice cooks who still want to put something a bit special on the table. It would make an excellent gift for someone going away to university come Autumn.
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VINE VOICEon 21 July 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What a breath of fresh air - the introduction starts with the phrase "I believe in fuss-free food" - and the recipes reflect that simplicity - no vast lists of ingredients and complicated kit. Easy to follow but always interesting - my first effort was rabbit with mustard and cream. Quite delicious, not difficult. A very encouraging cookbook and I really love the "Tart, Tweak and Tomorrow" footnotes with ideas on how to adapt, etc and use the leftovers with the simplest suggestions. I shall try lots more from this book, though I am not too sure about the Toffee Vodka!!!
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'Small Adventures in Cooking' has rather aptly been produced in an A5 sized book and from the exterior has the appearance of a recipe collection that you might have inherited from your Gran.

It has been bound so as to prevent easy referral on the work surface without using various implements (such as my trusted bags of flour and sugar) to hold the pages open at the required recipe. I tend towards the messy end of the spectrum when it comes to cooking and have actually found it beneficial to photocopy the recipes to ensure the source material is kept in pristine condition and thus avoid the balancing act.

I think I rather like James Ramsden's style of cooking, except that he advocates washing up as you go to avoid having to cook in a couple of inches of work space - surely that is half of the fun? His recipes are easy on the whole and include cheese or mushrooms on toast with no great surprises in either dish, as well as how to basically cook eggs. There is even a chicken curry made using curry paste bought readymade with the explanation that it offers a fast solution to hunger and an alternative to takeaways - it is simple but tasty. I can relate to the feeling of wanting a quick fix after a hard day at work.

Overall, whilst I found several recipes in the book appealing, the slant really was towards basic cookery. It is something I would probably consider popping in the suitcase for a student that will have to cater for themselves for the first time rather than a highly accomplished cook. I am neither but this book offers sufficient new content for me to be happy to give it a space on my bookshelf.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 July 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It was only after seeing the other good reviews that I decided to choose this book, and I'm glad I did. "Small Adventures in Cooking" is a pleasing book encouraging a relaxed and thoughtful approach to cooking.

Ramsden comes across as intelligent and likeable, writing in a chatty way, which, depending on the reader, may either seem charming or annoyingly informal. As for the food itself, as well as recipes the book includes general notes on, for example, prepping or tasting and seasoning, which, while always readable may be more or less useful depending on how confident and experienced a cook one already is.

There are several original and intriguing recipes for things such as toffee vodka, elderflower icecream (which doesn't need constant stirring), skate cheeks with pea shoots and pea puree, rhubarb gin and tonic with egg whites, and fennel seed brownies. I've already made mushrooms on toast, adapted as a pasta sauce, and chicken noodle soup, both of which had easy to follow recipes, were not stressful to make, and resulted in delicious meals.

The recipes are not meant to be set in stone, and all are accompanied by a section ('tart', 'tweak', 'tomorrow') on how to add things to make the dish a bit more special, substitutions which can be made, and how to use the leftovers.

As with any cookbook, all the recipes won't appeal to everyone, and some did look rather unappealing, for example Soviet salmon soup (which to be fair Ramsden introduces with 'This probably sounds disgusting'). I also agree with the other reviewers who commented on the overtight binding and sometimes unreadable font. Overall, however, this is a good cookbook and a good read.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Overall impressions: some very good, interesting recipes, many of which I think would be reasonably accessible to newbie and experienced chefs alike (with the caveat that the newbie chef would have to have at least an interest in food, otherwise they might be a bit intimidated by some of the ingredients lists).

I'm not a big one for formulaic cookbooks, except in cases where precision is critical to outcome. So that is one big advantage of this book - nothing is prescriptive, and the author gives you a bit of guidance in terms of exploring when you can vary an ingredient and when one might be critical. There are some interesting flavour combinations proposed, which got me wanting to try them out. Some of the ingredients might seem a bit exotic, but I think this really is a cookbook for people who love food and cooking, rather than a "how to" manual for those who feel compelled to cook.

I'd rate this far above a Jamie Oliver or Nigella type cookbook - it's probably most successfully aimed at the reasonably confident cook who likes to play about a bit, and likes to think about new combinations of ingredients. it's not wildly innovative, but it's got enough new ideas in there to feel like a satisfying read. At the same time, there is nothing really that complicated - no Heston-style blow torches or dry ice required (although that kind of cooking intrigues me too).

So, I think, if you like interesting flavour combinations and you like reading about food in general, this is a reasonably good cookbook, and a cut above the typical TV chef type far.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I adore cooking but have always been one not to follow recipes if they are too complex. I prefer simplicity, taste and texture of the cooking process and finished dishes rather than a monumental battle to get something right from a complex set of instructions. This book fits right into my niche of cookbooks I really like.

It is set out in 8 chapters looking at virtually all aspects of cooking, from morning breakfast to dinner parties to deserts. There are lots of recipes all with colour illustrations and simple instructions. I would not say the recipes are idiot proof but they as dam near fool proof as you can get. Many of the recipes take a normal food, such as baked beans and add some zest to it, to make it just that little bit better. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes and meat dishes to delight all types of taste buds.

This is more than a cookbook as in many chapters he goes into the history of a certain dish or genre. There are pages of interesting facts about the dish you are preparing, which if someone were to ask at a dinner party, makes you look as if you know what you are talking about.

For me this books' charm is in the simplicity of the recipes, the taste of the finished dish and the quality of the book, its descriptions and pictures. I would not use every recipe in this book, but overall I think this is a great book for a novice to medium skilled cook who wants simplicity yet quality.

I highly recommend it.
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