Just as I had to declare an interest in Signe Johansen’s book last month so I have to confess that I’m a bit partial to James Ramsden’s Small Adventures in Cooking. James, like Sig, was one of the students who gravitated my way through my Beyond Baked Beans cooking project and became one of the co-authors of The Ultimate Student Cookbook. And now he too has his first book.
What I’ve always admired about James is that he’s a writer first and a cook second which is not to say that he isn’t a good cook just that he’s a very, very good writer with an enviable lightness of touch and deft turn of phrase that has already established him as one of Britain’s best young food writers. (He’s already written for The Times, Guardian and the FT.) So Small Adventures in Cooking - the title is intended to convey going just slightly off the beaten track - is not just a useful collection of recipes but a companion in bed and a friend in the kitchen.
It only arrived yesterday so I haven’t got round to cooking from it but this is what I plan to make. (All the recipes have Twitter hashtags so you can compare notes with fellow tweeters that have made them.)
Beetroot soup and goats curd p99
It was a bit of a standing joke when we were working on BBB that James would always come up with a beetroot recipe so here you have one. I’ve actually tasted it at his supper club and it’s delicious.
Lamb neck fillets with harissa and chickpea salad p24
James’s cooking takes full account of the fact that people (especially blokes of his age) don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen and this is one of those bish, bash, bosh recipes that conjures up a deliciously big-flavoured plateful of food in minutes #lambneck
Grilled aubergine with tahini and pomegranate p100
I never think of James as a veggie but, as he argues, starters are a vital course. “Diving into the main sometimes feels just wrong like going into the cinema just as the film starts”. Easy, tasty colourful - what more do you want? #grilledauberginesalad
Rabbit with mustard and cream p110
“When frost kisses the windowpanes and your breath hangs on the air this is the time to stuff yourself to the gullet with robust food” So speaks a lad who was brought up in deepest Yorkshire. A classic French bistro dish made with cider rather than wine. Simon Hopkinsonesque comfort food of a high order #mustardrabbit
Cardamom, rum and banana ice cream topping p36
Anything with cardamom rocks my boat and this sounds a fantastic topping for chocolate ice cream, as James suggests. Definitely trying this one. #icecreamtoppings
And in the same vein, Breakfast Raita p83 - bananas, cardamom, yoghurt, honey and raisins which doesn’t have a hashtag so I’m giving it one #breakfastraita. Love it.
There are also some useful pages with tips on, for instance, prepping, tasting and seasoning and on making mistakes. "Things will go awry" says James, reassuringly. “We all do it. The best thing to do is to laugh and get on with it. Eat some toast. Drink more wine. Ultimately this is just food”
Amen to that. A great first book, perfect for the student generation James was first writing for when they leave uni and start to want to make more impressive and flashy food. And for James, surely a stepping stone to higher things? A household name in 5 years I bet you.
You can also follow James on his blog and even eat his food at his underground supper club The Secret Larder.