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Not very inspiring
on 10 June 2011
I was lucky in that I was able to borrow this book from the library - I have 350+ cook books and am now trying to filter new acquisitions to those I will get a good deal of use out of. Apparently the book is based on a TV programme which I have never seen, or indeed heard of, so my comments are based solely on the book.
The contributors are all the usual names in TV cookery, from Michael Roux to the Hairy Bikers. Each contributor gets a single ingredient which forms the basis for the recipes in each chapter. The aim is to explore the variety of British produce but this is not to say the recipes are traditional British dishes. There are, of course, some traditional dishes but there are recipes which originate in Italy, India, France, etc. - the link being the use of home-grown ingredients. The chapters are as follows:
Bread (Michel Roux)
Crab (Angela Hartnett)
Potato (Greg Wallace)
Pork (Clarissa Dickson-Wright)
Cauliflower (the Hairy Bikers)
Mutton (Matt Tebbutt)
Tomato (Gary Rhodes)
Apple (James Martin)
Honey (Ainsley Harriott)
Cheese (Glynn Purnell)
I have to say that I found the book title to be somewhat misleading. For example, I really couldn't see what was particularly British about bread-making either in terms of the source of ingredients or the recipes themselves. In this short chapter there is one recipe for bread (a perfectly decent sandwich loaf) followed by a few recipes which use bread as a central ingredient, such as Diplomat pudding (actually a French version of bread & butter pudding - although the recipe produced a very lovely dish) or which accompany bread (for example baked eggs, or anchovy toast). The chapter also includes a recipe for roast chicken with bread sauce, Tuscan bread soup, Irish soda bread and several pizza recipes and a final recipe for summer pudding.
The chapter covering crab includes an interesting spider crab gratin, although the recipe merely says "dismantle the spider crab" without any instructions as to how to do so, so won't be suitable for beginners. There was also a nice Madagascan curry but the rest of the recipes, for things like crab salad, crab cakes and crab & sweetcorn soup have been done to death in other cook books. The same applies to the potato recipes - I mean who needs another recipe for dauphinoise, or gnocchi, or shepherd's pie, or potato and leek soup, or patatas bravas, or pommes purée, or chips (even if they are cooked in duck fat)? In the cauliflower section, the most interesting recipe used scallops as a main ingredient with the cauli appearing only as a purée. The tomato chapter, again, was pretty dull (gazpacho, mozzarella & basil salad, roast tomato tart, pasta sauces, panzanella) although there is also a very nice almond tart served with white tomato sorbet. If you don't have many cookbooks you may not find the recipes to be commonplace, but for me there were too many things for which I already have recipes, and nothing particularly original about the versions presented here.
The most successful chapter, in terms of both British-ness and the quality of the recipes was Clarissa Dickson-Wright's: a wonderful stuffed shoulder of pork, the stuffing using walnuts, capers & sage; belly of pork with anchovy & chestnuts; Lincolnshire stuffed collar; pork terrine (a really simple recipe and, as these things go, quite quick); brawn; an oriental influenced braised pork; home-made pork pie; chorizo, monkfish & chickpea stew. There is even damson pie - there because it uses pork lard in the pastry. I also like the chapter on mutton, a favourite of my husband, and again more than a nod to British in terms of both ingredients & recipes: boiled leg of mutton with caper sauce; Lancashire hotpot; rack of mutton stewed with borlotti beans. Mutton tagine, mutton curry and home-made merguez sausages add a more exotic influence.
I found a few nice things in the apple chapter - apple charlotte with thyme custard; apple, custard & honey tart; braised pheasant with cider; crab-apple & rosehip jelly. There were a few more nice ideas in the honey chapter - honeyed duck breast with potato rosti; caramelised fig & honey tart; instructions for making honey roast ham; a few cakes & biscuits. The final chapter on cheese included a good baked cheddar custard (to be served with a beetroot salad which I didn't make - being forced to eat pickled beetroot as a child put me off the stuff for life!). There was also a fabulous vanilla baked cheesecake served with blackberries and black pepper honeycomb (which included the instructions on how to make all the components of the dish), tartiflette, along with the commonplace Welsh rarebit, fondue, soufflé, cheddar & caraway biscuits and an entirely pointless 'recipe' to make a cheese and chutney sandwich (astonishingly, you cut the cheese into slivers!).
I am glad I was able to get this from the library first. Perhaps the title gave me the wrong impression but even allowing for this, overall there just weren't enough interesting and new recipes to justify adding this book to the kitchen bookshelves. The idea behind the book seemed rather contrived to me. Whilst I agree that we should buy local produce, that doesn't mean that I need another cookbook to put this into effect - if a recipe specifies tomatoes I can use locally grown ones as I choose.