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3.9 out of 5 stars
Friends at My Table: A year of eating, drinking and making merry
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a cookery book, packed full of menus and recipes for almost any kind of gathering carefully divided by season.

It is beautifully presented, the photography is stylish, and there is a wealth of extra material that adds a certain charm.

Those recipes, those ideas, look lovely, and there are a few that I'll try, but there are rather more that I'll simply read and think how good they look.

You see a certain freedom, a certain lifestyle, a certain wealth, is presumed.

Some will find that irksome, but I can accept it. For me is a book to browse, a book to dream with, and maybe, on very particular occasions, a book to cook from.

One for the coffee table, I think ...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have very little experience of catering for more than about 4 or 5 people at once, but having managed to host 8 people for Christmas lunch last year and more importantly having survived and indeed enjoyed it, I thought that this book might give me ideas to inspire me for feeding larger numbers and it has.

There are some really delicious recipes in this book and you can cook them for large numbers, or you can cook and eat over a number of days. I cooked the Autumnal Panzanella, which is recommended as a contributory part of a picnic spread for 8-10, but I cooked it and served it alongside grilled pork chops and some extra mixed salad leaves for a meal for 4 and it was perfect (my friends instantly requested the recipe!)

I made the sticky date and ginger cake for a pudding night for a group of mums I meet regularly and alongside a scoop of good quality vanilla ice-cream (I used Kelly's), this was termed by all as "simply divine!" I loved the fact that I could make this the night before and then just warm through before my guests arrived, but it appeared to them that I had just finished baking it (when in reality I was busily using those valuable minutes between putting the children to bed and my guests arriving to tidy up the stray toys etc!)

Indeed there are plenty of recipes that allow you to prepare in advance, or which are deceptively easy to prepare/cook. Those that can be made in advance include a lovely pumpkin salsa, which can be made up to three days ahead; the baked white chocolate and rhubarb custards can be made a day or two before your event; the deep and chewy flapjacks to take "glamping" can be kept for up to a week. There are vodka infusion ideas - from rhubarb or pear and cinnamon to the more daring lavender and rosemary - these are great experiments and potential homemade Christmas gifts. I have a strawberry infused vodka, which only needs five day to make and I can't wait to try.

All of this is in keeping with some of the general rules of the book - which are laid out on pages 26 and 27, helping you to keep your head whilst cooking for a crowd - these are good principles and take the fear out of cooking for more people.

There are a number of drink recipes included for a variety of social gatherings (in addition to the previously mentioned vodka infusions) - I am most looking forward to making the boozy hot pear and rum punch for a winter warmer on a cool autumnal/winter's evening and then when the weather warms up again, the non-alcoholic pineapple and ginger fizz or the basil limeade!

Some ideas conveyed in the book are almost impossibly unlikely for me ever to consider, such as the Firepit, but should I ever meet anyone adventurous enough to help, then I have not only two pages of directions of how to build and cook with a firepit (on pages 140-141), but also the perfect stuffed venison recipe to crown it with! (By the way, there are directions to cook this on a Weber-style barbeque or even in a hot oven, which might be more accessible to most of us!)

This book is beautiful to look at, with beautiful photos, with muted colours, a lovely padded hardback book - this would make a wonderful gift for anyone who loves food and cooking it!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 13 May 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I already have Alice Hart's book of vegetarian cooking which is crammed full of recipes you want to cook. I was therefore looking forward to her latest offering. Sadly this follow up isn't nearly as appealing as the earlier book. It is undoubtedly pretty - nicely bound, with lots of nostalgic photos, although not necessarily of the finished recipe. There are arty photos of zinc watering cans, a small child eating a piece of watermelon, instructions on how to play beach cricket, a survival kit for camping, a page on rockpooling and, more bizarrely still, a page on clouds. I find this sort of thing rather irritating and rather pretentious.

In essence the book provides twelve menus for a series of what the author describes as 'occasions'. These occasions include a bridal shower, a holiday weekend away, a country wedding, glamping (glamorous camping), a beach cricket barbecue , a firepit night (with instructions on how to build your firepit although frankly I can't see myself ever doing this). Clearly the menus are just as applicable to other occasions or to no occasion at all, and you wouldn't have to use a complete menu.

Much as I like to cook, I really couldn't see myself cooking the weekend away menu. The author quite rightly points out holiday cottages aren't big on equipment such as good knives - but of course you bring your own, together with a decent frying pan, a whisk, a small mandolin, scales and assorted cake tins!! I was left speechless. I am a keen cook but draw the line at carting half the kitchen with me when I go away for the weekend. I read on, and then came across this little gem: "Plan to cook one big lunch and one casual supper. ..... Beyond that, my advice is this: don't get bogged down in shopping, cooking and clearing up for the entire weekend. There will be pubs serving food, chip shops or restaurants. .... Cook a few lovely things but, otherwise, .....get outside, explore, have fun." I am not sure which is worse - the fact that the author feels it necessary to tell her readers that there are pubs which serve food and restaurants, or the advice to have fun.

The real test of a cook book is whether you will actually use it to cook from. In this regard, I just don't see me using the book much, if at all. There are a few recipes that I would probably use, but most of them are for drinks (I can highly recommend the pineapple and ginger fizz from the bridal shower chapter!). The leek, mascarpone & smoked garlic tart is lovely, the black grape jelly with Muscat sabayon is one to try, the autumn panzanella is nice and the blueberry, almond and vanilla choux buns are straightforward and more-ish. There are other recipes that appeal but they call for ingredients which are not readily available to those of us who live out in the sticks and who don't have access to an ethnic shop or Greek deli for example. Normally one of the two Waitrose branches nearest to me will have what I need but not in this case.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Alice Hart is a young (just 28 at the time of writing this) food editor, chef, food stylist...and now author of three of her own cookbooks. 'Friends At My Table' is Hart's third book, aimed at providing the reader with ideas, suggestions and recipes for throwing parties and hosting an array of different gatherings.

The book is principally arranged into the four seasons of the year. The choices of which recipes go where etc are set by the type of occasions during the time of the year - and not by the typically seasonal recipes themselves. Although Hart does try to use fruits, herbs and vegetables whilst they are 'in season' and therefore at their absolute best. Indeed, the book begins with a very easy to use and incredibly helpful 'Seasonality Chart' at the which details what fruit, veg & herbs are 'in season'. This simple two page spread is a delightful little reference guide for those that try their best to use and plan dishes using local produce.

The book has twelve separate menus, which is broken down into three for each season. In these menus you have the recipes for a number of dishes and drinks as well as suggestions and directions for activities, arrangements and organising the event as a whole. This all sounds great, but then when you see the types of occasions the book covers, it does feel a bit too tied to a specific type of event?! Starting off with 'Vietnamese Bridal Shower For 8' and moving on to a 'Laid-Back Country Wedding For 20'. Okay, so much of menus can be applied to your own event/occasion, but the whole way the book is laid out and packaged seems to direct the reader into the ins and outs of these very specific events rather than a more general seasonal occasion (which would probably have been of more help).

The book deals with cooking for, and looking after, large-ish numbers of people. The smallest number of people catered for in the book is for six, whereas the majority are between the eight and twenty range. However, the book does contain some good solid handy tips for cooking in general for such numbers - which can be applied to pretty much any event.

But the book is not just about the food. It also contains a good wealth of information on related activities, such as how to build a Home Smoker for home smoking trout, advice on hedgerow foraging and wild water swimming. Honestly, it's quite an eclectic mix of subjects and ideas all thrust into one book.

Much of the preparation for the occasions and recipes detailed in the book require a hefty investment of time and energy. So be warned, this isn't a 'How-To-Quickly-Pull-Together-A-Banquet' kind of book. Each menu really is a plan, organise, prepare and then execute type of strategy. It's really for those who love to get things prepared and just right.

The book includes a healthy array of drinks suggestions, with two whole pages dedicated to vodka infusions. Alongside this there are some handy, more close to home, family ideas such as for picnics (sweet pepper sausage rolls and picnic potato salad).

The book has a very County Cottage look, and makes for a lovely coffee table read. However, recipe wise, the book isn't that useful on the whole for everyday life (unless you put on loads of quite specific occasions). It's certainly not a book that we will find ourselves reaching for very often, and perhaps a use-once-and-then-forget-about kind of book.

But it really all depends on what your lifestyle is like - particularly in respect of arranging social gatherings.

The book runs for a total of 192 pages.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I hadn't read any of Alice Hart's books before and half-expected this cookbook to be another impress-your-friends handbook aimed at the Home Counties hausfrau, thankfully it's a lot more stylish and fun than that. Overall the book, the suggested occasions and the recipes have a relaxed and informal feel although they're built around some unusual flavours, some slightly esoteric ingredients and, as usual, a fair amount of work for the cook. Predictably, creating informal alfresco dining experiences doesn't mean the chef can take the night off and some dishes have quite significant prep' times. If you're a country dweller then also be prepared to go a-hunting and a-gathering in town at your local deli or ethnic food-store as a few of the suggested ingredients might take a bit of sourcing.

The recipes are gathered into complete menus themed for specific, usually seasonal, events - like a Vegetarian Garden Brunch in Spring through to a Firepit Night in late Autumn. Along the way there are various single or double paged sidebars on associated subjects - like different species of apple, cloud formations, wild swimming and building your own firepit. I'm not a big fan of 'personality' cookbooks where the author feels compelled to share uninteresting tidbits about their lives (real or imagined) with you but I actually enjoyed these small diversions. They're all nicely presented and illustrated and add to the overall character of the book without crowding out the actual recipes.

The food itself is nicely photographed and mostly mouth-watering with a good range of tastes catered for - personally I would have liked a few more vegetarian recipes but that's a different book I guess. Mostly the quantities given are designed for groups of 8/10 so you can half the amounts for a family meal quite easily. You could criticise the book for being a bit 'Posh-Rustic' but that's unfair, really it's about delighting your friends and family with superb food in an informal style - even if that informality sometimes belies the effort involved in the kitchen.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book contains 12 full meal menus, 3 for each season and covers a varied range of events, although I am unsure who would necessarily buy a book specifically to create a Vietnamese bridal shower or a beach cricket barbecue event.

However I do like the layout of the book and the handy information section at the beginning of the book - there is a fantastic section entitled seasonality chat - which details when fruits, herbs and vegetables are at their best in the UK and Northern Europe. There is also a double page spread on Equipment and techniques needed to cook for crowds.

The receipes are clearly laid out and easy to follow. There are also beautiful photographs accompanying the recipes but I think that the recipes will not be everyone's cup of tea and I therefore think it will be a recipe book which gathers dust on the kitchen/book shelf.

There are pages within each section with useful hints and tips on how to make your meal even more special: for example in the Vietnamese bridal shower section is a guide of how to use chop.
sticks; in the chic, easy picnic there is a page on cloud types; and in the new years eve supper a page on vodka infusions.

In summary, I would say that the book is a good idea, has nice ideas inside but I can't see myself using it to make any of the recipe/meal ideas included any time soon.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a lovely looking book about cooking for parties and celebrations. It gives menus for 12 different gatherings, some pointers and some whimsical asides - for instance a cloud spotting guide in the picnic section. Alice Hart is also a food stylist so the photos are lovely, depicting relaxed care-free laid back gatherings.

However I feel the book is more aspirational than realistic. For instance the "Holiday Weekend away for 8" which is geared around a group of friends renting a country cottage suggests a frozen yogurt recipe which entails taking the dish out of the freezer and giving it a good whisk every 30 mins for several hours, not very laid back. This section also gives a handy "essential kit for weekends away" which includes a mortar and pestle, mandolin, hand held blender and cake tins, but misses out on tin opener and corkscrew.

The "Chic, Easy Picnic for 10" includes a recipe for griddled aubergines and summer squash, which has you griddling enough aubergine for 10 in small batches the night before, then transporting it to the picnic in a container. Along with this you need a separate container for the dressing, the mozzarella that is torn over the salad at the last moment, and another one for the torn bunch of mint to sprinkle on top when serving. 4 containers for just the salad. This is not my definition of easy picnic food.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 5 July 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have given this 3 stars as the presentation of the book is good - nice photos and reasonable printing which makes it easy to read (it does however have a great mixture of typefaces for the headings which is a bit bizarre). The cover is soft to feel and makes the book nice to hold.

However the content is not as good.

The book is very "middle class" with lunch parties which involve making a fire pit in the garden etc and I doubt if I would make any of the recipes - many of them have several odd ingredients that will be hard to source.

The only ones that have appealed and I would try are:

The cream cheese icing on the celebration cake - might even make a small version of the cake.
Elderflower vodka
Sticky date and ginger cake.

There are some ideas for catering for larger number but many of them to me seem very obvious - such as planning ahead.
She does suggest making a time plan for a big event - I have always done this as it does help - so I agree with that one. I thought there would be more tips and how to cook for large numbers.

I have lots of cookery books - some I think of as my "bibles" for various recipes and techniques. I thought this book would be better and that I could use/adapt some of the recipes but they are just not the sort of things I would make.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Think The Good Life and you'll understand why I ask.
This book is so laughably "Margo" that you will read the recipes in Penelope Keith's voice. Frankly the book itself is almost impossible to take seriously because of the elevated status and bank balance you would need to indulge in anything

Dont get me wrong, I consider myself very Margo at times and even I cant take this book seriously. You see, it isnt just the recipes, Ms Hart tries to incoporate you into her "year" of dining fabulously, so when she and her jolly hockey sticks friends go "glamping" (dear God even the word makes you shudder) she includes a page of what you should take for the perfect 'Glamp' - strangely she doesn't mention a tent

During the summer she invites you stare into rockpools and provides a helpful list of what you might find...

Its as if Enid Blyton wrote a recipe book, except this one doesn't have the humour needed.

The recipes are for the most part ok - I have made the lemon and cardamon chicken thighs and very nice they were too, I feel bad that I wasn't actually on my weekend break with 7 friends when I attempted this, but hey I have a vivid imagination (as must she if she seriously thinks anyone is going to bother building a home smoker)

I was going to keep this for novelty factor if nothing else, but frankly the more I looked at it, the more I read it, the more I wanted to build my own home smoker and throw this pretentious and unrealistic trash onto it as fuel
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 20 December 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was so pleased to get this book. It looks great, is a good size, padded cover - so far, so good. However, once I opened the book, I'm afraid I was completely let down by it. As other reviewers have mentioned, the different fonts and type sizes just makes the book look messy, and makes it harder to follow.

I have LOTS of cookery books, and I would say this one isn't one that will end up staying on my bookshelves. There aren't many (if any, if I'm being brutally honest) recipes that jumped out of the book and demanded I make them! I found it all rather snooty and full of recipes that would be fine for certain groups of people - alas, I don't belong in those groups!

A pretty book with lovely photos, but not one I have room for in my kitchen!!!
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