For those of you who’ve been watching Lorraine Pascale’s latest cookery series on BBC2, How to be a Better Cook, this new cookbook will come as no surprise. Whether you’ve seen the series or not, Lorraine’s easy style makes this an accessible book for both beginners and those wanting to expand their range of techniques; the more advanced cook may also find it useful for inspiration. She carries us through the recipes with characteristic grace and modesty. The cover states, “100 quick and easy recipes”, a statement that grabbed my attention. Time is at a premium for most of us these days, so any help we can get to enable us to produce tasty and nutritious food that also looks good and is simple to prepare has got to be a good thing.
Published by HarperCollins, with a cover price of £25, this hardback edition of How to be a Better Cook is very similar in style to her last one A Lighter Way to Bake. The recipes are for simple every day food and are not too excessive when it comes to the use of fats and other such “naughty” ingredients. Chocolate tart I hear you cry? Well yes, there is a chapter on desserts, cakes and treats, what cookbook is really complete without one? But even the tart is made with more milk than cream. Similarly her recipes for panna cotta, ice-cream and Bircher muesli use yogurt to replace some or all of the cream associated with these dishes.
This is not a book aimed at vegans and vegetarians and I could wish there was a little more in it for me. However, despite the three chapters devoted to meat and fish, a few recipes caught my eye. Many of the meat dishes can easily be adapted to include vegetarian alternatives and there are chapters for canapés & cocktails, starters, snacks & soups, salads, vegetables & sides which also contain many vegetable dishes. It’s been a long time since I tried making harissa but Lorraine’s recipe has me inspired once again. She is a self-confessed harissa junky and uses it in all sorts of ways. I keep meaning to unearth my slow cooker from the back of the cupboard, but it’s a bit of a faff, so tends to stay put. However, this is about to change as I’m now really keen to make slow cooker lentil, sweet potato and cumin soup with ginger and coriander – I can just imagine how good that tastes.
As a fan of incorporating vegetables into sweet bakes, thus trying to make them a little more nutritious, I was pleased to see a recipe for pumpkin, brown sugar and pecan cake with cream cheese icing and very nice it looked too. Lorraine also incorporates wholemeal flour in some stem ginger and apricot biscotti, an addition which I obviously heartily approve of.
With Halloween and Bonfire Night just a few days away, it’s useful to find that Lorraine has these covered. Ghostly black-eyed meringues, lighter chocolate muffin spiders, s’mores pops and toffee apple slice pops are great fun to make, with or without the children.
The pages are shiny which makes them a little difficult to read in certain light. I also found the photographs to be rather hard and a bit stark. There are plenty of them in the book and many of them are of Lorraine. As a former model, this is perhaps not surprising, but much as I like Lorraine, I prefer my recipe books to show pictures of the food rather than the author. However, I liked the stylish use of colour running through the book, a picture of something on a green plate for example would be matched by green text on the opposite page. A recipe for chargrilled green bean, sugar snap and courgette salad with poppy seed dressing printed in pink, had pink forks shown in the accompanying photo. You can see what I mean from the recipe excerpt below.
Lorraine gives tips and tricks throughout the book, but also includes a few pages at the end detailing her store cupboard essentials, kitchen equipment essentials, how to look after knives and how best to store food.
As soon as I saw the recipe for Ridiculously Rich Chocolate Tart, I knew that was the one I was going to make for this review. As per usual, I changed things around a little. I had some goat’s butter from St Helen’s Farm that I was keen to try out in the pastry and some goat’s milk in need of using up. I also wanted to give the tart a bit of a salted caramel edge. To do this, I used a pinch of salt and 100g of Cacao Barry caramel milk chocolate and 165g of 72% dark chocolate, which included one of the Seed and Bean bars I reviewed a while back. I also made the pastry with half wholemeal flour and half white.
Apart from faffing around with pastry, which is never my most fun activity in the kitchen, this tart was a breeze to make. If you are in a rush, Lorraine allows for a nice easy get out clause for this stage – buy the pastry. But that’s not my way. The only problem I experienced, other than trying not to eat it before it set, was getting the tart into the oven without spilling the filling. Needless to say, I didn’t achieve this. Lorraine suggests pouring the filling into the tart case once it’s actually on the oven shelf. My oven and kitchen preclude this, so I didn’t quite get the nice clean edges I’d have liked. I also found, I had more pastry and filling than I needed, so I made three 10cm tartlets as well.
The Tarts were sublime. They had a crisp, buttery, flaky pastry which melted in the mouth – not a soggy bottom in sight. The filling was rich and creamy and had the hint of salted caramel I was looking for. It also had a subtle goaty tang which did a good job of reinforcing the robust flavour of the chocolate and added another welcome dimension.
I’m sending the tarts over to Lucy at SuperGolden Bakes for her weekly event #CookBlogShare.
In case you would like to try Lorraine’s recipe out rather than my slightly adapted version, I am taking the unusual step of including an exact copy here for you with kind permission of HarperCollins.
|Photography © Maja Smend|
Recipe taken from How to be a Better Cook by Lorraine Pascale (HarperCollins, £25).