Monday, October 11, 2010

A cookbook that won't rebuke you: Diana Henry's Food from Plenty

I have a strange relationships with cookbooks. Those moments when I flick through the pages of a new cookbook, earmarking the recipes I'll try first and fantasising about how good they will taste are some of my favourite moments of all. However, the moment I add a new cookbook to my already groaning kitchen shelves is an especially guilty one.

I can feel the other books rebuking me silently.
"You haven't finished cooking recipes from us," they scold. "We still have lots more to offer you. Why are you moving on to something new?"

I always listen to them and resolve not to buy any new cookbooks until I have experimented with the recipes in those I already have. Sadly for my ignored cookbooks, this resolve never lasts for very long. After a long day at work, I'll find myself browsing Amazon for the latest titles. If I happen upon a bookshop, I'll automatically head for their cookery section. And if I'm in TK Maxx - which I was on Friday - I always check out their book section.

This was where I found 'Food from Plenty' by Diana Henry. Diana is a food writer for The Sunday Telegraph and has written several other cookbooks such as 'Cook Simple' and 'Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons'.

I'd never heard of her before but I'm now a convert. The idea behind this book is a simple one: creating good food from what is plentiful, seasonal and left over from previous meals. It's a book that chimes with the times we now live in as more people try to avoid wastefulness and rein in their grocery bills while still eating healthy food.

Diana starts with an excellent section on Sunday roasts. As well as giving advice on the basics of roasting techniques, she also includes interesting riffs on roast chicken, pork and lamb. Cherry and goat's cheese stuffed chicken, anyone?

She also devotes a section to what to do with the leftovers. I usually make a chicken, ham and mushroom pie with the remains of my roast chicken but the next time I might try Diana's chicken noodle soup or chicken and parsely risotto.

The rest of the book is divided into sections on vegetables, pulses, grains, fish, meats, soups, food that can be foraged in the wild, desserts, eggs and recipes based on using up stale bread. There are also inserts on choosing cuts of meat for flavour and economy and the different uses of grains and pulses.

All of Diana's recipes are straightforward. She chooses meat and fish that is cheap and sustainable and she cooks it in a way that maximises its flavour, combining them with ingredients that you are likely to have in your storecupboard in any case.

This is one book that won't be sitting unused on my bookshelf, seething with resentment whenever I add something new. Since I bought it on Friday, I've already cooked a Persian herb chilau (an Iranian rice dish that has a crunchy crust and lots of mint, dill and parsley) and a Middle Eastern shepherd's pie with a spiced parsnip crust.

Earmarked recipes: orange and pistachio pilaf; barley, spinach and mushroom salad; mackerel with spiced rhubarb relish; and cauliflower with fried breadcrumbs, capers and anchovies.

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