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TOP 500 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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on 18 October 2011
I chose the book by looking through the index to see how many recipe titles interested me. With such good reviews, I never would have imagined that could be such a big mistake. I did not realize that this wasn't really a book of recipes, but more of a book on how to "cheat" at the recipes. I stopped being interested in that right around the time I stopped being a student. Maybe a student is the intended audience?)
Some examples:
Curry chicken recipe that is nothing but commercial curry paste and yogurt. Rub it on the chicken and bake! I could have got that from the label on curry paste jar.
A chapter called "corner shop capers" that uses tinned EVERYTHING: tinned aubergine, spinach, rice pudding, salmon, and more. I suppose this was my biggest disappointment. I was really looking forward to some of the recipes here-spinach and chickpea curry sounds lovely, but the idea of eating tinned spinach is completely unappealing. Rice pudding with apple and cardamom compote--yum! But again, this calls for tinned rice pudding, so it lost its appeal.
Even the recipes that thankfully do not call for tinned ingredients are oversimplified, unfortunately. I was looking forward to the Cod with Warm Russian Salad--but in an attempt to make it less intimidating to the inexperienced (I assume) he has reduced the Russian Salad to nothing more than beets, onions, and gherkins.
No matter how much we want it to, short-cut food does not taste as good. And I think his tips in the book are often trying to say that we should not be intimidated by cooking. However, instead of showing that it real cooking skills are easy to obtain, he made it so you don't even have to try.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Adventures in cooking? The blurb on the inside front cover tells you all you need to know about the intended audience for this book:

"[The author] James Ramsden is also one of a generation of 20- and 30-somethings, many of whom, despite being bang in step with current trends, are hesitant to cook anything more demanding than pasta". In other words, the recipes are for the inexperienced cook and are for the most part just one step above the aforementioned pasta, and often not even that.

Well alright, there are a very small number of more sophisticated recipes here which would tempt me, such as lemongrass and basil granita, but these are few in number amongst a background of such dishes as eggy bread and cheese on toast "with a twist", for heaven's sake.

The presentation style is irritating and has suffered from the attentions of self-indulgent designers, and has a pseudo-notebook look to it, including recipe titles in a nearly incomprehensible handwriting style font (chezzy jam? zizotto? courgette gibbons?) and naff fake underlining, circling, highlighting, asterisks and so on. The binding also prevents the book from being laid open flat, which would be a bit of a hindrance for the novice cook in particular I would have thought.

So it's fine for the relatively novice cook, but you'd probably be just as well off if not in fact better off with a Delia.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Don't let the really boring cover put you off this little gem, there are some surprisingly good recipes in it.

The recipes range from fairly simple dishes such as mushrooms on toast; the worlds laziest curry and Roast butternut squash with taleggio cheese, walnuts and honey. to entertaining with Pork Wellington and Spice roasted leg of lamb with cumin potatoes.

The author offers alternatives to his choice of ingredients such as using goats cheese or French Munster cheese instead of taleggio. Each recipe is followed by ideas for `tarting' and `tweaking' and what to do with any leftovers. There is a section about entertaining friends and one for making good use of cheaper cuts of meat.

The author doesn't' forget that there are people out there who are new to cooking and looking after themselves; there are hints and tips throughout the book on how to prepare ingredients such as chillies and tomatoes. He also explains how to make pastry and flatbreads for his lamb kebabs. The book includes sensible advice and a few shopping tips.

For students using the book, there are ideas for cocktails and a section on adding flavours to booze such as toffee ; chilli or rhubarb vodka (haven't tried them but they sound interesting).

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone but I think students will find it especially useful.
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on 6 July 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Well, what a brilliant surprise this cookbook was! I really loved reading it, have used it successfully already and will definitely be revisiting it often. It's actually pretty rare that I get this excited about a cookbook, so I will have to set the scene and explain why.

If I'm honest, I wasn't really expecting to enjoy this one so much - the cover has the kind of cardboardy, recycled 'do good' look of a small-time project. And it was by a blogger, and I keep picking up cookbooks by bloggers and finding them a bit ho-hum... I'm delighted to say that this one is genuinely well-written, and the recipes are pretty fab too. The writing style is chatty and genuinely funny without trying too hard. It's very readable. And this does matter - I mean, when somebody is trying to convince me to try tinned aubergines, they've got to sound convincing about it! (As an aside, WOW, I'm glad I listened to that unlikely sounding tip).

I particularly liked the extra hints and tips that came along with each recipe - 'tart', 'tweak', and 'tomorrow' - inspiration for making a dish different or more special, or for reusing the leftovers. A nice touch and the genuinely good extra ideas made me feel I was getting several recipes for the price of one!

The idea of dividing recipes into types of occasion also worked well - the kind of dishes you might want to cook for a big group of people are pretty different from ones you might want to cook for a special dinner for two, so this was a nice idea.

To give you a bit of background, I'm vegetarian, but a voracious reader/collector of cookbooks of all sorts - I tend to go through and think about how I could adapt the meaty recipes. This book is a pretty omnivorous offering has lots of recipes involving all sorts of different meat. There is a reasonable selection of vegetarian recipes too, especially starters.

And finally, the production quality and photos - both good. The photography here is unpretentious but alluring. Printed on matte paper rather than glossy. Easy to flip through and printed on relatively thick, durable paper.

All in all, a delightfully readable, inspiring and user-friendly cookbook. Highly recommended!
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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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on 20 October 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The 5 stars must go not to this book but to the review of E.L.Wisty which pretty much sums up everything I feel having read this book.

Chezzy Jam, Zizotto, or Courgette Gibbons indeed, this is a delightfully annoyingly laid out book, with an esoteric layout that is annoying as well as frustrating.

Although some recepies are relatively interesting, the one where you make curry chicken by adding curry paste to chicken is particularly gauling, I don't so much mind being gently reminded how to make eggy bread, but that was taking it a bit too far.

I think the layout of this book is by someone who works for a TV production company, its definately in that vein with its faux asterisks and other digital doodling. Oh and speaking of which, please don't bother to include modish things such as Twitter tags in books like this - most of them are inactive before the book was even printed!

Overall, an average book, I'd be interested in passing to see if we get a more grown up tome from this author in future though?
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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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