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21 October 2009

Books (and a newspaper) to put a smile on your face

I can't get enough of having a good time at the moment.  That could be because things are a bit crappy and I'm built to have a good time, so like some crazed compass needle, I'm seeking my due north.

It could also be simply that having fun is so much more enjoyable than being a miserable sod.

I never cease to be amazed at how many people who 'enjoy their food' are thoroughly miserable when it comes to food.  They treat food as a mountain they must conquer.  Their faces are stern, their chins set.  They tend towards argument and introspection.  Not enjoying a damn good meal.

The untimely death of Keith Floyd has resulted in the loss of a man with an obvious love of what he did.  Simon Hopkinson is clearly cut from similar cloth.  It was therefore a delight that in this rather rubbish week Simon's new book The Vegetarian Option and a re-print of Floyd's Food should land on my mat courtesy of their respective publishers.

Reading their books in bed the other night I was reminded that I love food because I love it, by that I mean I get great enjoyment from cooking it, eating it, shopping for it, talking about it, even washing it up.  It's fun.

Sometimes it's not though.  As someone who keeps kosher I'm all too often relegated to the vegetarian section of the menu - and it is a relegation - it's a place you really don't want to explore.  Hopkinson makes me hopeful that others will get as excited by veggies as he clearly is. 

I challenge you not to swoon at Boiled onions with poached egg & Lancashire cheese.  If for a moment you dare think it sounds anything less than sublime, go to your local bookshop and take a look at the photo on page 73.  It's only a matter of days until I'll be feeding the family Cheese-crusted fried parsnip strips with romesco sauce and if this chilly weather is here to last the only pumpkin carving I'll be doing is to make Pumpkin soup 'Paul Bocuse'.  I might not have been tempted by Gratin of chicory with mustard sauce had it not been for Simon's closing words on the recipe "Rich, I believe, might be the word, here."

Don't be fooled that this is just a book about what to do with the bits of the veg box you get flummoxed by - try the Riverford book for that - it is a book that will make you cook better and in many ways is very classic.  His analysis of how to use agar-agar is one example of that, as his reminder of what a real Caesar salad is.

Cookbooks don't get much more classic than Floyd's Food.  Yes Absolute did do a quick print job following his death, but let's not be cynical.  It's a very good book.  It may lack the slick production and photos of The Vegetarian Option but it is the antithesis of the big cookbook.

Floyd like Hopkinson is not one to mince his words.  His instructions for Salade Nicoise are limited to "Whack the lot into a salad bowl and eat it."  His helpful tips for chip making include "You can do this hours before you intend to use them, that way avoiding the panic while you are making the bearnaise and everybody is getting sozzled in the garden."  I was rather surprised to see one ingredient in Watercress Express is instant potato mix, but because it's Floyd and was first printed in 1981, I'll let him off.  (Yes you're right, I will never forgive Delia for similar shortcuts, but this is my blog and I'll be as hypocritical as I like.)

Despite this aberration, I can't recommend either book highly enough.  They're great reminders about the sheer pleasure of food.  They may not be the best if you like to follow recipes like a religion.  If you're happy with the ebb and flow of the kitchen then purchase them in the knowledge you'll be in for a good time.

Speaking of good times, I had an all too brief drink last night at Mark's Bar for the launch of Galley Slave.  It's a freesheet edited by Joe Warwick, formerly of Restaurant magazine and briefly The Napkin Sniffer

It's very much focused at the London restaurant scene and is intended for those in the business.  But with a tag line of "Putting the wind up the London restaurant scene" and columns entitled  'Blog Standards' and 'Galley Chumps' a restaurant critic version of Top Trumps - genius - it is likely to become required reading for us obsessives as well.


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Tremendous read. Sorry to hear things are a bit crappy. Looking forward to catching up with you soon.

Thanks Jonathan. Fear not, life is actually pretty good, but you know what it's like, there are ups and downs.

Do you remember that Web site you wrote about ages ago by the industry insider? That didn't last long. Oh I'm being so pessimistic...

So true about the vegetarian option often being relegation... and try adding just one other variable into the mix (like, say, gluten-free) and you are comprehensively screwed. The recipes you describe sound utterly divine though...

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