Friday, April 15, 2011

Penguin Great Food: a fatally collectable series

As if I didn't have enough cookbooks already along comes Penguin with 20 that I want to buy. They've reissued 20 classic food books from writers over the centuries from Gervase Markham in 1615 to Alice Waters in a new series called Great Food. And even though I've got books by Waters, Claudia Roden and Elizabeth David - also included in the series - I know I'm going to want them too.

That won't be cheap. At £6.99 a pop I shall fork out £139.80 over the coming months (well actually I won't thanks to the fact that I've managed to inveigle Penguin into sending me four to review and I shall probably weaken and end up buying others on Amazon). But the handbag-sized volumes are so neat (perfect for whipping out on the train/bus/tube) and the embossed and, in some instances, gilded covers so glorious that it would be a shame not to own them all. Wouldn't it?

Penguin knows all about collectability of course having created the magnificent King Penguin series which I wish I owned but would probably cost a fortune to acquire now. So I'm actually saving money by buying them when they're first published. Aren't I?

How else would I know how to make oyster ketchup (from Isabella Beeton's The Campaign for Domestic Happiness) or what to pay my Under Butler? Or how to Make a Medicine for a Disorder of the Bowels (Hannah Glasse)? The invaluable skill of making aqua composita (Gervase Markham's The Well Kept Kitchen - nice to see that in modern print) or to make Eliza Acton's salmon pudding (from The Elegant Economist)? That sounds nice, actually.

Interestingly historic cookbook authors seem to be all the rage. Quadrille has also brought out a version of Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery in its new series Classic Voices in Food but has taken a different approach by producing a 636 page much clunkier volume. How do I know it's clunky? Because I bought it, of course. Just to compare with the Penguin series, you understand . . .

* Incidentally Penguin's publicist Pen Vogler, who describes herself as "an enthusiastic but not very good cook" is cooking her way through the series on this tumblr blog. With admirable honesty about any recipe's failings

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blogs of the month - April 2011

I don’t know quite how it happened but I failed to post my blogs of the month last month. Which has meant that Closet Cooking, Crumbs, Paris by Mouth and The Wine Detective have all had a good run. (Fortunately they’re assiduous updaters so you won’t, I trust, have got bored. And nor have I but it’s time to move on . . .

This month’s quartet are:

Fort on Food
Matthew Fort used to be my editor on The Guardian so I suppose I’m biased but I do think he’s a terrific writer which makes it slightly ironic he’s now better known as a TV pundit. Anyway this new blog gives free range to his erudite and witty musings on ingredients such as asparagus, restaurants and pubs. He’s also a fine cook and writes a good simple recipe.

They Draw and Cook
I owe a fair number of my best blog finds to Twitter and this, which was flagged up by MiMi of Meemalee's Kitchen (a pretty good blog in itself), is an absolutely charming site* which features recipes illustrated by different artists. It was set up by brother and sister Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell who are both illustrators. They come from all over the world from the UK (see this lovely recipe for marmalade flapjacks) to Russia. A great way to encourage kids and teenagers to cook.
(* can't get it to update on my blogroll because I think it's technically a site rather than a blog. But do check it out.)

The Way we Ate
Another offbeat blog this time from photographers Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz who make, shoot and post recipes from old issues of Gourmet Magazine, mixed in with ads from the period. I love this Gourmet cover from April 1951. It really underlines what an act of vandalism it was pulling the plug on such a great institution.

Cumbriafoodie came to my attention for managing to recreate Heston’s iconic new dish ‘meat fruit’ (a chicken liver parfait encased in what appears to be a mandarin but is actually a mandarin flavoured jelly made to look like mandarin peel) Anyway he obviously knows his molecular gastronomy and eats out in all the top places. I’m sure I read at one stage that he was a nuclear scientist but that may have been my imagination. Pretty clever anyway.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stappj - the perfect aperitivo

Even wine writers have booze-free days. Correct that. All wine writers should have booze-free days but the dilemma is what to drink at Picpoul (or whatever) o'clock. Which in my case is usually about 7pm when I wind down and think about cooking.

Up to now my favourite drink has been a tonic made in the same style as a G & T - i.e. with loads of ice and a good slice of lemon or lime but tonic always seems slightly sickly without the balancing bitterness of gin. (You can - and I do - add a dash of Angostura bitters but it's not the same)

Anyway the other day my friend Elly, patron of the wonderful Pear Café and underground restaurateur extraordinaire brought along this cute little six pack of a an alcohol-free Italian aperitivo called Stappj Bitter which admittedly sounds more Eastern European than Italian but which is a marvel.

It's a lurid vermilion red which probably owes more to E numbers than nature and tastes remarkably like Campari. Serve it cold in a chilled martini glass with a twist of orange peel and you've got yourself a hell of a cool drink.

It's available in Bristol from Licata in Picton Street and Gloucester Road at the knockdown price of £2.50 for six.