Saturday, 15 September 2012

Choosing recipe books - views and reviews

For this post I'm going to do something a bit different in that I am going to review three recipe books from one publisher to show the range of books that are out there to buy, and to give a few clues about why you might want to think more carefully when choosing a recipe book to buy for yourself or as a gift.

I often see people buying recipe or what they call 'cookery books' in supermarkets or at work sometimes (from one of those book suppliers that leave books in offices, you know the type of thing), and quite often they are buying books for themselves or as gifts for friends or family. I have often wanted to stop people to ask them...
Why are you buying that particular book?
Who is it for?
Can you/they cook?
What is your/there level of skill in the kitchen?
Can you/they bake? How well?
What kind of cooking or baking do you/they like to do?
Do you/they like fish? (if its a fish related book)
Are you/they meat eaters? (if its a vegetarian inspired book)
Fair enough, you/they may watch that particular baking/cooking/foraging/make it in 3 minutes from 2 ingredients/green fingered inspired cookery programme on TV, but is that the extent of their interest in that cook or particular programme?

At this stage I must admit I can see peoples eyes glazing over...its not the questions that are stumping them its the fact a) they don't know the answers and b) they had never thought to think of the significance of those questions to choosing a recipe book.

So here is my top tip...and its a very simple one...think before you buy...think about the person you are buying the book for (even if that person happens to be you) and give some consideration to the things you or they might usually cook or bake...and the things you or they would like to learn to cook or bake...Think about what your or they like to eat and the level of skill in the kitchen.

When choosing a book, don't just skim the pictures and think wow! Don't get me wrong I love a nicely illustrated recipe book and it really pulls me in and can entice me to try a recipe. But one of the best (selling) and much coveted baking books of last year, had just a handful of pictures in it and it was an amazing book, that adorns the shelves of most if not all 'esteemed and well respected' food bloggers and home cooks. Pictures don't always make a good recipe book, though granted they do draw you in, and capture your imagination.

Here are three short reviews of books I have been kindly sent (over a period of several months I might add) to review by one particular publisher...Quadrille Publishing and MY views on what they contain, what I like about them and who I think they may suit...
Sophie Grigson's - SPICES.
I like Sophie Grigson, but most especially on TV and I have watched her programmes for years, she has an effortless style and makes cooking look really easy. Its probably my love of Sophie's style that would initially attract me to this book.

This is one of a number of recipes books she has written and had published over the years, but this one has a particular emphasis on spices, as the titles states. This book didn't teach me a lot I didn't know about the spices it covers. The chapters are divided by an overall spice flavour, like hot spices, nutty spices, anise spices etc, and then subdivided into type like, cardamom, ginger, turmeric etc with recipes in each chapter to cover the highlighted spice. The recipes are a mix of old and new recipes not particularly innovative but there is decent range across many cultures. Most of the recipes in this book are for savoury dishes only a small number are illustrated by photograph.

My verdict: This book won't make you an authority on spices as such, but it may give you some inspiration to try something new.
Buy this book: for someone who likes to cook with the 'basic' spices but is not trying to become an expert in their use; if you want an encylclopedia of spices this will not be for you.
I tried: A lovely strained yoghurt recipe laced with rosewater and with cardamom and saffron called 'shrikand'. I served it with sliced fresh mango and it made a delicious and light dessert. There was no skill involved other than finding a muslin cloth to strain the yoghurt in. It had a really good flavour (I love rosewater so this helps). I served my shrikand in twee china teacups; apologies I have no photograph to show you.

Peggy Porschen's - BOUTIQUE BAKING - delectable cakes, cupcakes and teatime treats.
If you don't know who Peggy Porschen is you are really missing out. She makes the most amazing cakes from her base in London. These are the cakes that dreams are made of, they really are, especially the wedding cakes made by Peggy and her team.
The sugar craft work is perfectly executed and just exquisite, whether its on a cupcake, a biscuit or a cake Peggy sets the standard.

Check out the photographs of her cakes on her Facebook page! to get more of an insight, they are just exquisite.

Peggy has written quite a few books and this last one contains lots of new inspiration for baking cakes and decorating cakes, this includes layer cakes and classical bakes. The range of skill needed varies as there are recipes here for beginners and for more experienced cake makers too. The book also includes recipes for beautiful biscuits, cupcakes, drinks and sweet treats. My favourite section is the luscious layer cakes chapter, these are mostly cakes you would bake for special occasions, with wonderful flavour combinations ranging from fruit flavours to chocolate, they look stunning.

My verdict: After reading this I would be inclined to buy more of Peggy's books (I'm saving up to go to one of her cake decorating classes, as that is my particular may take me a while to get there!). I loved the recipes, the design ideas for the cakes and flavour combinations from all the recipes look really good.
Buy this book: for someone who loves to bake at home, has basic cake baking knowledge and some baking skills; who likes to be inspired by new recipes and wants to test their cake baking skills further. A must buy for Peggy Porschen fans.
I tried: The chocolate banana loaf cake recipe, (my bake is pictured below...I didn't add the frosting which is on the cake depicted in the book) I wanted to deliberately try one of the simpler recipes, and one that you might make occasionally rather than for a special event. The cake was lovely and light, really easy to make and had a lovely flavour combination. I have made this cake again since.

Alice Hart - Friends at my Table - a year of eating, cooking and making merry.

This is a book about entertaining and holding parties and events. Even though I thought this book was quite quirky and a bit 'young' for me, I really liked the recipes (over 80 are depicted). Its clear that the person who wrote this loves good fresh well made food, packed with flavour and loves to share that food with friends and family. In fact, its almost as if the sharing element is as important as the food itself.

The book is divided by the seasons and within each season there is an event described, and within that event a number of recipes. For example, spring includes a 'holiday weekend away' and winter a 'mezze night'.

Some lovely drink recipes are also included to match the food for the event. In between the recipes are chapters on such things as hedgerow foraging, rock pool fishing and indoor party games. These fit in with the event or the time of year and add a lot to this books charm.

The photography paints a lovely and almost vintage picture of the recipes; some illustrations are also used in a journal like way to depict other aspects of the book.

There is a really gorgeous strawberry and vanilla cake on p78, that's been styled as a stacked tiered wedding cake, it looks very pretty. This is from the chapter on a 'laid back country wedding for 20', and from this I tried the simple recipe below for sausage rolls.

My verdict: Loved the recipes and the overall good seasonal food loving/friend sharing feel of this book, the additional chapters on foraging etc I could live without. But thats just me.
Buy this book: for someone who is young or young at heart, who loves to make and share good fresh food with friends, loves to entertain at home or away, wants new ideas, has decent food knowledge and has a love for the outdoors and adventures. 
I tried: The sweet pepper sausage rolls. We ate these both hot and also cold (the next day) and I preferred them cold, the flavours came through better. I thought they were a lovely change from a plain sausage rolls. An ideal picnic food type recipe, they were really popular in my household. My sausage rolls are shown below ( soggy bottoms here folks!).
My thanks to Quadrille Publishing for sending me these books to review...and for making me think a lot more about what I buy and why. 


  1. Great post ... I have to admit to being a cookbook addict, but Hubby encourages it so I figure I could be addicted to worse things in life ;0)
    I am a sucker for food photography too, so I am an easy sell.
    And the Peggy Porschen book has been on my wish list for Santa for a little while now, I can see from your review that there will be loads of baking to come from it. Can't wait!

    1. Thanks Chele, I would buy Peggy's book for sure it has some lovely recipes in it...enjoy! x

  2. Susan, this is such a great post. I spent several hours this morning trying to choose a book for my sister and ended up leaving with something completely different to my first choice! I hadn't heard of the Peggy Porshen or Alice Hart books so thank you for the recommendations. I think I want the Alice Hart one on the strength of those sausage rolls alone!

  3. Thanks for your comment, and whichever book you choose for your sister I hope she loves it. x

  4. There are only really two people I buy cookery books for, apart from myself, that's my Mum and my younger son. I usually get it spot on, because they both like the same kind of books as me! However, I am guilty of buying books because I like to look at the pictures and I also have many TV chef books which I hardly ever use. I will try to think more before I buy, but old habits die hard.

    Peggy Porschen is amazing, I won (yes, I won - ha ha)one of her books from Vanessa Kimbell's blog and it is just great to look at, never made a thing. I also like the look of those sausage rolls, great for parties.

  5. Great post Sue and I need to think more clearly about who I buy for and why......Karen

  6. They look interesting this books. When it comes to buy new cookery books I am an addict. Thank you for your post. Very interesting and helpful.
    PS: I have moved my blog, pls come and join me to my new address.

  7. Interesting reviews Sue, though you made me laugh when you said the last one was too young for you. I've only heard about PP on blogs, but it looks like this one might be for me. Mind you, I'm a big fan of Sophie.


Please leave a comment...if you have tried one of my recipes I'd love feedback, and thank you for taking time to pop by to read my blog.

Susan x