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Thomas Holt

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Modern Flavours of Arabia
Modern Flavours of Arabia
Price: £12.34

4.0 out of 5 stars A very good cookbook, with great food and good versions of classical recipes. Just a couple of "gotchas"., 5 Oct. 2017
This review is for the print version of the book. "Arabian" cooking covers a multitude of delights. There are over 400 million people with Arabic as their first language covering all North African countries, Sudan, countries on the Arabian peninsula, and most Middle Eastern countries. The cuisines of these countries vary enormously with Westerners probably most familiar with Moroccan and Lebanese cooking. This book presents 111 recipes sampling more or less the whole gamut of Arabic-speaking countries. Obviously, it can only be an introduction to this huge range of cuisines, but it is an excellent start. For example, I have a very comprehensive Lebanese cookbook, yet immediately saw geat value in adding this book to my collection. One of its great strengths is the accessibility of the ingredients - I have no problem getting most things from supermarkets and the author encourages substitutions. Another strength is the "modern" in the title - this gives the recipes immediate appeal to Western readers, even though many of the flavour and texture combinations will be completely new to most of them. I should also point out that the author writes extremely well, explains everything that needs explaining, yet is never wordy - an unfortunate self-indulgence from many modern cookery writers. The book is also extremely well illustrated.

Following Contents and Introduction, there are chapters on Breakfast, Mezze (I particularly love this section!), Lunch, Dinner, and Dessert. The book concludes with Conversion Charts, useful Cook's Notes, a few Basic Recipes, and a Glossary. Each recipe has some introductory text highlighting the features of the dish, how it might be used, and a bit of background info. Then follows serving size, the ingredients and concise but comprehensive instructions.

If the recipes are so wonderful, and I like the presentation and writing, why only four stars? There are two issues with this book. The most serious for me is the lack of any Index - probably the fault of the publisher rather than the author. So it is impossible to look up ingredients you have in store and choose dishes on that basis. It also means that you have to browse the book to create a shopping list from it. If these are serious limitations for you, you may like to buy the Kindle version. The final "gotcha" is that the recipes make extensive use of cup measurements where exact precision is not strictly necessary. Personally, I prefer measurements; using modern electronic scales it is so convenient and removes any uncertainty. However, I don't consider it a deal breaker, but you should be aware of it.

Grow Cook Nourish: A kitchen garden companion in 500 recipes
Grow Cook Nourish: A kitchen garden companion in 500 recipes
by Darina Allen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is an extremely valuable, interesting, and entertaining book - even if you think you have no space to grow things!, 20 Sept. 2017
Australia has Stephanie Alexander's wonderful Kitchen Garden Companion - a recipe and gardening book by a top class cookery writer with considerable experience in home-grown produce. Now, thanks to this volume by Darina Allen, Ireland and the UK have an equivalent that applies to their growing conditions (and to those of much of Europe and the USA). First I'll explain my rating. The book gets 4 rather than 5 stars for one reason alone. I have huge respect for medical science and little time for what we might call alternative or fringe medicine. Similarly, I think the merits of organic food are sometimes overblown, resting on little more than opinion, and have led to exploitation of consumers by most supermarkets and some producers. Darina often touts organic as best and sometimes gives recommendations for healthy eating that are not backed-up by medical research. So, I marked the book down on that; but you might disagree with me, in which case please see it as a 5 star publication.

Now, to the nitty gritty. Following an Introduction, the book is organised into five main chapters - Vegetables, Fruit. Herbs, Wild & Foraged, and Edible Flowers. These are followed by a brief but useful Appendix containing advice on things such as a basic tool kit, pests etc., then comes a useful Nutritional Glossary, and a comprehensive Index. There is a placemarker ribbon and the volume contains copious colour illustrations - all of which are produced in realistic colour and are non-reflective. The Introduction is generally useful and worth reading, particularly if you are new to growing your own food, or if you think you don't have enough room to do it. For some reason, the entries in the main chapters are not organised alphabetically, so a listing of the main entries would have been useful at the beginning of each chapter. As it is, you can skim through looking at the bottom right hand corner (which lists the item being discussed), or you can look items up in the Index.

Typically, the items in each chapter are organised as follows - I use the example of Kale from the Vegetables chapter. The entry starts with a discussion of growing the item. This contains discussion on Varieties, How to Grow, Container Growing (if relevant), Pests and Diseases, Harvesting, Good for You (nutritional info.), What to do with a Glut, and In the Kitchen (preferred cooking methods). Note that the growing section is necessarily brief, but experienced growers and cooks will find it very useful. Less-experienced readers will find it useful also, but may need to augment the information from more specific books. There then follow 6 recipes (the number varies with the subject) featuring, in this case, Kale - which for me is more than adequate! I can't possibly list the contents of the chapters, but the coverage of this volume is remarkably comprehensive, including, for example, things like Kiwi Fruit - which in much of the UK can only be grown under protection, Sweet Potatoes, and Wasabi. The recipes need no further recommendation other than that I have never found a recipe of Darina's that didn't work. For those unfamiliar with Darina Allen's work, so far as I can see she treats every trip she takes as an opportunity to collect recipes and ideas. These are then tested and perfected at Ballymaloe House and collected into volumes like this.

On the Side: A sourcebook of inspiring side dishes
On the Side: A sourcebook of inspiring side dishes
by Ed Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.27

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Any cook, at any level of competence, will find this book eternally useful and great fun. Do yourself a favour, buy it!, 2 Sept. 2017
This review is for both the Kindle and hardcopy versions of this book. I bought the hardcopy version first, and then realised that, for the features I valued the most, the Kindle version was essential. I also had a bit of a problem with the score, I wish Amazon would allow half stars since I really rate this book 4.5 stars, but couldn't really go down to 4 since I'd happily forked out for two formats of it! I'll start my review by summarising the content and aesthetics of the hardback version. The book's introductory section starts with a review of various aspecfts of side dishes. This includes the following elements: On matching sides to the centerpiece, On the number of sides, On texture, On flavour, On colour, On the practicalities of cooking, On being realistic, On seasons. Although brief, the discussion is valuable in that many of these things are not usually on one's mind when considering accompaniments to a prized main dish. But, they are, of course, very important elements of a successful meal. Also, the discussion lays the groundwork for the really useful features of this book - of which more later. The second part of the Introduction deals with Using this Book, having the following elements: Serving size, Measurements, Timings and details, Ingredients, Kitchen tools, Serving side dishes alongside each other, and Choosing your side dish. As you can see, the author is thorough and thoughtful!

There now follow what, for most readers, will be the four main sections of the book, comprising a total of 140 recipes for sides grouped under the following descriptive headings: Greens, leaves & herbs, Vegetables, fruits, flowers & bulbs, Roots, squash & potatoes, and Grains, pulses, pasta, & rice. Each of the four sections starts with a discussion of the relevant content and a listing of the recipes. Each recipe begins with a listing of where it is prepared, e.g. in the oven, followed by the time needed to prepare the dish. This is followed by a couple of paragraphs discussing various aspects of the dish, and then the conventional serving size, ingredients, and method. The recipes are well-written and easy to follow. A slight deviation from the norm is a final section to each recipe entitled Alongside - this suggests extra recipes from the book that are appropriate additional sides if you need them.

The four recipe sections are followed by Recipe directories, containing the elements: What's your main dish?, Where is the side dish prepared?, and How long does it take to make? These are invaluable references to the information in the recipe sections. What's your main dish? contains a very comprehensive list of main dishes - each followed by sides that are appropriate for it. To give some idea of the value of this component, the entry for Chicken and Guinea fowl groups sides appropriate for the following aspects of cooking these fowl - Breast, Drumsticks, Roast, Stews, casseroles, tray-bakes, and pies. There is also a cross-reference to Stews, casseroles, and tagines. Where is the side dish prepared? lists recipes according to: On the counter, On the hob, In the oven, and On the hob then in the oven. Finally, How long does it take groups recipes under the following timings: Less than 15 minutes, 15 to 30 minutes, 30 minutes to an hour, and More than an hour.

The book ends with a comprehensive cross-referenced Index and examples of Suppliers - the latter inevitably London-centric. Regarding the presentation of the hardback book, I can only say that it is very attractive, strong, and easy to read in the kitchen environment. For those liking illustrations, each recipe has a full page colour photograph of well-above average quality.

I hope you can see now why I bought the Kindle version of this book as well as the hard back. I would go so far as to say that this is the most comprehensively cross-referenced and linked Kindle cookbook I have ever seen. I could not find any element of information deserving a link that did not have one. This makes the Recipe directories section the most valuable to me because you can instantly locate any recipe after easily finding an appropriate one for your main dish and switch back and forth at will. No need to use Search - all cookery ebooks should be made this way! The recipes seem fine, but I doubt that I will use many of them as they are. The way I will use this book is as a rich source of ideas - what range of sides goes with a main dish, how to cook them in the most appropriate way for the main dish, and with what sauces. I will be using this book for a very long time. Will I keep the hardback having bought the invaluable Kindle version? Oh yes! It's a lovely book and I have always thought it much easier to assimilate information from a printed page than from a screen - even though I've been using the latter for about 40 years!

Home Cook: Over 300 delicious fuss-free recipes
Home Cook: Over 300 delicious fuss-free recipes
by Thomasina Miers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.94

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very difficult book to review, generally the bads outweigh the goods for me. Possibly worthwhile waiting for another edition?, 11 Aug. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a review of the hardback version of this book, I returned the Kindle version because it is essentially unuseable (see the reviews awarding 1 star to see why). Having had time to try a few recipes, and had a close look at the book - and if I didn't have to post it from Australia - I would probably return the hardback version as well! Although superficially an attractive book with stacks of exciting-looking recipes, plus invaluable tips - there are several things fundamentally wrong with the book that make it extremely difficult to use. There are also errors in the advice on cooking and some bizarre recommendations for "best-ever" etc. - poached egg cooked in water containing white wine vinegar, for example. A waste of an expensive vineagar if you buy the decent stuff, and arguablly a waste of a good egg too. I won't go into the problems I had with recipes, it's largely a matter of taste - what goes with what etc. Dodgy advice and methods - the best ever roast chicken is cooked throughout breast side down. It will be pretty flat by the time its done, the breast bone is not designed to support all the chicken's weight - that's what legs are for - and it doesn't! Roast for half an hour upside down, and then turn over for the remaining time is my recommendation.

But my main gripe about the book is the stupid organisation of the material; it's not clear if this is the author's fault or the publisher. Although, given the terminal mess they made of the Kindle version, I suspect the publisher is to blame. The book is unhelpfully arranged under the following less than informative chapters - after the Introduction: Get Going, A Comforting Bowl, Small Bites & Salads, Weekend, Feeding the Troops, Date Nights, Everyday Express, Kid's Food (You'll Love Too), Sweet Tooth, followed by Store Cupboard, Index and Acknowledgements. These chapters, listed only by title in the Table of Contents, after a less than useful double-page photograh, jump straight in to the first recipe. So how do you know what's in the chapter, other than by reading through it every time you use it? The Index, you cry. You must be joking, that would be too easy! The Index doesn't itemise the chapter contents either. How about using the Index to look up your main ingredient, let's try Fish. There are lots of pages with Fish recipes but only five are in the Index under Fish - followed by an invitation to search for items under particular types of fish - Great! Another useful organisational howler is that there are several pages with useful sub-recipes. In the Index, these are itemised by the page title - usually with no list of the recipes on that page. However, and this is stunning, If you know the contents of the page beforehand, you can then look them up in the Index! Now, I use an index to find information I don't know is there, the idea of looking up something I already know hadn't occurred to me.

Because of the occasional misstatements, sometimes flawed advice, and organisational problems this is definitely not a book for beginners to the joys of cooking, nor is it any use for compiling shopping lists or finding recipes to use up a store cupboard ingredient. However, some of the ideas are very good and inventive, also the recipes themselves are well written and reasonably concise. Have a really good look at it before you buy. At Amazon's current knockdown price, it may be a bargain.

The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating
The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating
by Anthony Warner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.14

10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars There is an urgent need for a readable book to address these issues. Unfortunately, this book does so very badly., 10 Aug. 2017
I was fortunate enough to have bought the Kindle version of this book, so was able to return it for a refund. You see, although I agree with one of the purposes of the book - to expose the lies and misconceptions behind what might be termed the diet industry - I think it goes about it in a hamfisted and disorganised way. Moreover, the author is a chef with a first degree in a science, which no more qualifies him to write this book than I - a scientist who cooks - would be qualified to write a reference manual for chefs. I found the attitude of the author to his readers very patronising, we are repeatedly told how sensible we are for reading the book, and are promised that we will learn something. But will what we learn be any more honest and informed than the diet books? I ploughed my way through several pages of turgid self-congratulatory prose until I found the perfect excuse to give up. I can't remember the exact wording, but it was something like "The fact that correlation does not prove causation is clearly the most important thing we can learn from science". Apart from there being thousands of more important things we can learn from science, I would say this is the realm of the statistician/mathematician rather than the scientist. Correlation is also a strange statistical tool - it is very useful in an explorative capacity, pointing the way to useful avenues of research. But at the same time, the only thing you can prove with correlation is if the correlation coefficient is zero. Then you know that the variables you are looking at are not related. The reason correlation is used so often to falsely demonstrate cause and effect is because it is simple and most people are not statisticians - either those writing such articles or those reading them. So, when I read the above nonsensical statement - which I have probably misrepresented - I gave up on this book. I was learning nothing, and had lost faith in the author's capability to argue his case. Which is a shame, there is an urgent need for this topic to be addressed - people are being made ill by quacks, presumably some have died.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 4, 2017 4:54 PM BST

A Handful of Flour: Recipes from Shipton Mill
A Handful of Flour: Recipes from Shipton Mill
by Tess Lister
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.65

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Has quickly become my most valued baking book, 18 April 2017
This review is for the Kindle edition. I bought this book after downloading and trying three of the recipes on Darina Allen's treasure house of an archive. What appealed about the recipes was not just that they worked brilliantly - even though I'm in Australia and had to make do with readily-available flours rather than the real thing - but also the economical, but extremely thorough, style of writing and the efficient yet attractive ordering of information. This is a beautifully-produced book that you can easily read for pleasure, yet use quickly and effectively in the kitchen. Moreover, my rating of 5 stars is no exaggeration, for at first glance the book appeared to contain two of my pet hates - frequent pandering to the current fad for gluten-free food, and a glowing reference to biodynamic methodology. On more detailed reading I discovered that this a rare book; catering for those genuinely suffering from coeliac disease, yet pointing out that most people on a gluten-free diet have absolutely no need for it. As a professional scientist with a thorough grounding in environmental matters, brought up on a farm and employed in the industry for 5 years, I take the claims of biodynamics with a pinch of salt. Still, the rest of the book deserves its 5 stars!

Finally, a word about the real value of this book. There is the interesting story of the saving and development of Shipton Mill - well worth a read. The nitty gritty starts with a comprehensive chapter on Flours, with 14 sections. This is followed by a chapter on equipment and ingredients. And then come the recipes, organised into Breakfast and brunch, Breads, Tarts and pies, Stale bread, batters and breadcrumbs, Pasta and pizza, Afternoon tea, Cakes, and Pudding. There are about 120 recipes, very carefully chosen to illustrate the use of more flours than I knew existed and to demonstrate the techniques for the many different aspects of baking. The breads section is comprehensive enough for most - cakes, for example, seemingly less so. But I have a cakes book with 400 recipes that doesn't tell me half the technical stuff that the Shipton Mill book does. Anybody can accumulate recipes that work, but understanding why they work, or fail, is much more valuable information. Using and understanding the methods covered in this book will encourage and enable you to become a creative baker - or at least one adept at modifying a recipe to work well with what you have rather than having to dash out to the shops. It is hard to imagine a more satisfying culinary prospect! The book concludes with a valuable Glossary, and a list of Recipes organised by flour type,

660 Curries
660 Curries
by Raghavan Iyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.72

5.0 out of 5 stars At last, an electronic cookbook that makes comprehensive use of links and cross-referencing. The food's great too!, 6 April 2017
This review is from: 660 Curries (Paperback)
This review is for the Kindle edition. This is a terrific cookbook, probably one of the best Kindle cookbooks I have seen. Just for once, someone has taken the trouble to provide a Kindle version of a cookbook that takes full advantage of the unique search and link facilities that can make an ebook better than a print version. There is a comprehensive, fully-linked index, lots of links in situ that take you to an item referred to in the text, and a linked Table of Contents. What's more I haven't found an error in the links yet. Whoever proof-read this deserves a medal and should give compulsory courses in how to prepare reference ebooks properly. Having said that, it isn't perfect, but it comes close.

Further kudos is due for the content. This is one of the best curry books around, it is comprehensive, easy to use, and provides information on any aspect of preparing and serving curries in a sure, informative manner that oozes confidence and experience. Before going into detail, there are few general points that should be made clear. There are no illustrations of the product of the recipes. Personally, I welcome this, generally thinking these are a waste of space. This is particularly so with curries - what use is a picture of a stew? If you've followed the recipe properly it will look much like anyone else's. On the other hand, there are several scene-setting photographs, presumably from the author's expeditions to India gathering the contents of this book, plus several pretty line drawings. Then, the book appeals particularly to those not new to curry-making, you can cut straight to a recipe that appeals and get started. Newcomers to the craft would be wise to read some of the background material first - any fool can make an acceptable curry, it takes knowledge, understanding, and taste to make a great one. Finally, it's an American book with American spelling and cup measures. Normally, I don't like imprecise measures, but with a curry it doesn't really matter - just get the proportions about right and taste, taste, taste. How many Indians do you think use digital scales?

The introduction to the book "the curry quest", reviews the work that went in to compiling the recipes, discusses "what is a curry", introduces "the elements of a curry" grouped into 8 taste categories. The chapter concludes with a review of oils, liquids, thickeners, and stabilisers.

After the introduction comes a chapter on "spice blends and pastes". This includes sections on buying and storing spices, grinding spices, and then goes into the nitty gritty of making several fundamental pastes, sauces, and numerous spice blends. This chapter is stuffed with essential basics that you will use over and over again. They are the building blocks of successful curries.

There now follow 9 chapters containing recipes for curries, grouped as follows: "appetiser curries", "poultry, game & egg curries", "beef, lamb, & pork curries", "fish & seafood curries", "paneer curries", "legume curries", "vegetable curries", "contemporary curries", and "biryani curries". These are followed by recipes for accompaniments to curries. Typically each group of recipes begins with a page of introductory text, followed by the recipes. The recipe format is introductory text, number of servings, ingredients, method, and helpful Tips. The recipes usually include serving suggestions with links to recipes as appropriate, and links in situ to relevant supplementary material elsewhere in the book.

The book concludes with "Metric conversions" and a "glossary of ingredient".

I've only tried half a dozen or so recipes so far. All have worked very well.

I said it was a good book!

The Vegetarian Italian Kitchen
The Vegetarian Italian Kitchen
by Veronica Lavenia
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.65

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars At last, a relatively new author who is worth reading, 11 Mar. 2017
I need new cookbooks like a hole in the head, particularly since the prevailing trend is towards mediocrity. However, I picked this up for much less than half price in an Australian bookshop, simply because it looked very useful and I could afford to just chuck it away if it wasn't. The thing that appealed to me was that it didn't bang on about vegetarianism with religious zeal and every savoury recipe could be used as an accompaniment to meat if you so wished. And the baking! Italian baking is up with the best of them and, even though it is a relatively minor contributor to this book, I can see myself trying a couple of the cakes before progressing towards the books on Italian bread by the same author. To me the salads alone are easily worth the price of the book. Well worth a punt - in my view this author merits much more attention than she is getting.

Logitech K120 Business Keyboard for Windows and Linux - QWERTY, UK Layout
Logitech K120 Business Keyboard for Windows and Linux - QWERTY, UK Layout
Price: £8.98

1.0 out of 5 stars Fatally flawed., 13 Feb. 2017
After a year I'm changing my original 4 star assessment of this keyboard to 2 star. There is a fundamental flaw with the Enter key. It is properly supported and sprung so long as you press on the left. However, if you use the numerical keypad and then use the main Enter key, you tend to hit it on the right. After a while the key gets stuck because of the unbalanced support and springing. This can be extremely annoying it you press Enter in the middle of a document and go away to make a coffee. When you return the document is full of blank lines!
A fine keyboard in every other way but for this deal-breaking flaw.

River Cottage A to Z: Our Favourite Ingredients, & How to Cook Them
River Cottage A to Z: Our Favourite Ingredients, & How to Cook Them
by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £23.24

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Big Book, but is it too big?, 4 Feb. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a massive book - over 700 very big pages, mostly covered in text, but there are an adequate number of good quality colour illustrations - photos and some good drawings - that, as usual in a cookbook, are mainly decorative rather than useful. I found the text generally worth reading and enjoyable, but if you don't, try lifting the book above your head 10 times in succession with each hand. That will not only make you immensely strong, but should also stimulate hunger and make the read more relevant to your immediate needs.

As the title suggests, this is a highly personal selection of ingredients, listed alphabetically. It is not, for example, a challenge to Alan Davidson's comprehensive and brilliant book along the same lines. On the other hand, it has more practical value than Davidson since it includes recipes and suggestions for all the ingredients listed. Nor is its subjectivity too limiting since it is a team effort co-authored by many of the knowledgeable team at River Cottage. I'll illustrate the potential value of this book, using a singe random example - the entry for Rice. The subject is covered in three pages, one of which is a full page illustration of rice that has poured onto the floor from a cut in its bag! The first page is a general introduction to rice, followed by a concise review of several variants including three risotto rices. There are also references to five more rice recipes in other sections of the book. The third, and last, page includes sections on using rice flour, methods of cooking rice, and how to store cooked rice. Finally, there is the single recipe allowed by the book for each ingredient - Spiced brown rice and broccoli - with suggested accompaniments and variations on the recipe. This recipe looks considerably more appetising than it sounds, and I will be trying it soon. I should add here, that although limiting ingredients to one recipe might sound a bit mean, the ingredients are not usually so generic as Rice. The next ingredient with its single recipe, for example, is Ricotta.

I gave the book four stars because I do think it is too big and heavy to be used regularly in the kitchen - yet that is one of its purposes. On the other hand it is beautifully produced, very well organised and designed, and supplies no less than three marker ribbons! There's not a lot here that the experienced cook won't already have in their cookbook collection. But here you have all you need to know about the ingredients covered, in a single authoritative book - together with examples of use. I don't know how many ingredients are covered, but judging by the number of pages, and a guess at the mix of generic and specific ingredients, I would have thought there are descriptions of between 550-600 ingredients. That's good value for any cook!

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