Cookbook ‘haul’

I’m excited to have in my possession three glossy new cookbooks: Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite by Gizzi Erskine, The Art of Eating Well by Hemsley and Hemsley, and Everyday Superfood by Jamie Oliver. Now that I’m back at uni, I want to cook meals which aren’t solely just throw-together, what-do-I-have-in-the-fridge affairs; to learn how to cook a bit better, I thought that investing in some good cookbooks would be an ideal place to start.

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The first of these acquisitions was Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite. For those who don’t know her, Gizzi Erskine is a British chef currently writing for The Sunday Times (amongst plenty of other things), which is how I came across her. She’s always impressed me with her style and her level of skill, and the scope of flavours she works with – everything from Italian to Korean. She’s also worth a follow on Instagram (@gizzierskine), if you’re a fan of pretty cats.

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It was with this book that I made a bit of a mistake, and one which I will bear in mind whenever I next buy a cookery book: make sure you flick through it before you make the decision to get it. Excited by her constant Instagram posts highlighting all its rave reviews (she wasn’t exactly going to include negative ones), I went ahead and placed my order without wondering whether I could put the book to good use. And, unfortunately, on the whole I’m quite disappointed with it.

In the book’s defense, there are some absolutely fantastic recipes – harissa prawns with cauliflower couscous and roasted vegetables; baked porridge; nachos with refried beans – which I definitely would like to give a try, when cooking for more people than just myself. The Asian flavours in the book are unfamiliar to me – take, for example, ‘pork belly bo ssam with souped ssam jam’ – but it’s good to be introduced to tastes you’d otherwise only come across in restaurants.

But then there are many recipes here beyond the feasible scope of my budget, and just impractical in terms of feeding a family: take, for example, braised veal tail with saffron risotto and bone marrow gremolata. And the black velvet cake, which looks oh-so mouthwateringly delicious, almost pushed me to tears with its extravagance; to soften the impact of asking for a bottle of champagne for the icing, Gizzi remarks casually that “It’s indulgent reducing a bottle of champagne down to syrup, so feel free to use Cava or prosecco.” But as simmering down a bottle of bubbly would never, ever, feel ‘free’ to me, it’s clear that perhaps I’m not the target audience of this book.

So, overall, I’d say that Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite is an ambitious cookbook. It’s perfect if you’re looking to put together a posh dinner party, and have the money and resources available to obtain pricier cuts of meat and hard-to-find ingredients. This is restaurant food, and the styling and photography in the book would not be out of place on an up-market restaurant menu. But if, like me, you’re looking for recipes which are practical and affordable as well as tasty and nutritious, then give this is a miss. With my limited student budget, there is little in here that I could attempt, and not much more that I could cook at home for my family. I would love to give the recipes a try, but I’d have to consider whether it would be worth investing in some of the more niche ingredients in the long term – would I be using rice vinegar regularly? Cupboards cluttered with ageing bottles and jars is never going to be a good thing.

Moving on to the next book, Hemsley and Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well. They’re two sisters who, according to the inside cover, have been the ‘behind-the-scenes go-to food service for celebrities and those in the health, beauty and wellness industry since 2010.’ Which explains the general style of the book – fashionable ‘superfood’ ingredients and healthier alternatives. There’s a lot of quinoa, buckwheat, and courgetti, and not a single pasta recipe to be found. But that is by no means a bad thing: I’d like to try out different things in contrast to the basics of pasta, rice, oats etc, although I wouldn’t completely phase out the latter for the former unless I had good reason to; bread is perfectly fine with me.

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This book is full of interesting breakfasts, mains, sides and treats you can dip in and out of. The Malaysian lentil curry looks great, as does the smoky baked beans and the kale ceasar salad. There are fresh ideas and old favourites, and a wide variety to try. If you like smoothies, there’s a great chapter on them. And the book features lots of information on how to eat healthily, and a useful guide to ‘superfoods’ and the like. A good buy if you’re creative and enjoy healthy cooking.

Last but certainly not least, I bought Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Superfood – and I am quite in love with it. I was attracted to the whole ethos behind it: cooking nutritionally balanced meals 80% of the time, and giving yourself some leeway for the remaining 20%. The book focuses on enjoying and celebrating food, and developing a better overall approach to eating well.

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It’s absolutely packed full of recipes which are nutritious, healthy, and doable. You can fit these in to a busy lifestyle. The book’s split into breakfasts, lunch, dinner, and snacks & drinks; for example, you can find a spinach, tomato, and parmesan omelette for breakfast, a grilled corn and quinoa salad for lunch, golden salmon steaks for dinner, and homemade nut butters in sides. The back of the book is very informative, containing all sorts of info on the basics of food and more: including why we need protein, carbs, fats etc, and how our sleep patterns work. It opened my eyes to the fact that I know little about the science behind what I eat, and has inspired me to start reading up on it a little more.

On a brief tangent – the clashes between the nutrition advice Hemsley and Hemsley gave, and that given by Jamie Oliver, threw me into fits of confusion. H+H extol the virtues of coconut oil; Jamie Oliver questions all this, pointing out that it’s the most highly saturated fat on the planet. Who am I supposed to believe?! I’m more inclined to Oliver – all of his recipes have been broken down into calories, fat etc, and there is a note from a nutritionalist at the end. But it just made me consider whether consumers are perhaps occasionally misled; we sometimes believe what we’re told about food quite blindly, as the majority of us don’t have background training in the science of nutrition.

To sum up this excessively long blog post; do buy Everyday Superfood if you want good, tasty, healthy food! Even if just want to improve how you cook a little, it’s worth its price tag. I can personally vouch for the protein porridge. Hemlsey and Hemsley’s book is in no doubt fashionable, and there’s plenty of use to be had of it; and Gizzi Erskine’s looks and sounds great, but is sadly out of my reach.

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