Readers of my Kitchenist blog will probably be able to guess at the outcome of this review; I’ve been harping on about Rachel Allen’s Home Cooking ever since I first found it under the Christmas tree. In fact, out of the four cookbooks I received this year (thanks honey), this one was the biggest, and best, surprise.
For those of you not familiar with Rachel Allen, this blonde-haired, blue-eyed lass is the heir apparent of the Irish culinary scene; she studied at the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School and ended up marrying the owners’ son. Now a celebrity chef in her own right, she’s written books, starred in TV series, and even released her own line of electrical appliances.
Home Cooking is her latest offering, a collection of recipes for comforting soul food and family-friendly fare. Its eight chapters include Breakfast, Lunch, Sunday lunch (more festive than the former), Dessert, Snacks, treats and sweets and even Baby purées (not useful for me, but charming nonetheless). This is the type of food that you’ll make day-to-day or for family celebrations: good ingredients, simple to prepare and downright delicious.
Rachel’s personal brand could be defined as “feminine country”, and her books reflect this. Home Cooking makes prolific use of cutesy typefaces, the colour pink, small-scale patterns and photos of her angelic troupe of blonde children. While normally this kind of in-your-face girliness irks me to no end, I barely notice it here; the design is well handled and supports the content, rather than distracting from it.
Recipe pages are clearly laid out, with servings, ingredients, equipment and variations noted. There’s also a particularly useful “Vegetarian” heading for any dishes not containing meat (and there are more than you’d think). I also appreciate that Rachel doesn’t waste loads of time talking; while there are food writers whose words I lap up as eagerly as their food, she is clearly in the “cook who writes” camp (rather than the inverse), and knows it.
So if it’s not the design or the writing that makes me love this book so, it’s gotta be the food. Rachel’s cooking is perfectly up my ally, and I can hardly flip through this book without bookmarking something new to try. It’s not the most experimental or creative cookbook you’ll find, but neither is this all traditional Lamb Stew or Soda Bread. As my lovely (and Irish) friend Dawn put it over at Kitchenist,
I also like that her cooking is a fairly accurate reflection of Irish cooking now- one part traditional Irish food, some Mediterranean influences, a hit of Indian and Chinese flavours, and more American influences as well.
Most everything I’ve made from Home Cooking has been delicious. Smoked Salmon, Leek and Potato Pie (pg. 114) and Dark and White Chocolate Fudge Pudding with Zesty Orange (pg. 229) made for a delicious New Year’s Eve dinner, and Spotted Dog bread (pg. 32) was wonderful the next morning. I’ve tried the Brussels Sprout Soup (pg. 50), Tagliatelle with Smoked Salmon, Watercress and Peas (pg. 84) and Squashed Fly Biscuits (pg. 277), all to triumphant success.
In fact, the only disappointment so far was the Pizza Dough (pg. 149). Rachel’s recipe contains butter, an anomaly which confused and intrigued me. But besides making my hands extra-soft during the kneading process, I saw no benefit; the resulting dough was bland and tasteless, with an bizarre soft texture.
Still, one disappointment isn’t bad, and I’m hopeful it’ll be the last from this book. Next on my to-try list is Kedgeree (pg. 36), Carrots with Nutty Buttered Crumbs (pg. 126), and Fluffy Lemon Pudding (pg. 245).
There isn’t much I can say against Home Cooking; it “does what it says on the tin”, as they say. The mix of recipes is good, though I would likely find it even more useful if I was omnivorous or had small children to feed. It’s probably too soon to say whether my love for it is the real thing or a passing infatuation, but either way I’ve been eating well in 2010 so far. A solid four stars.