Appetite by Nigel Slater

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Appetite by Nigel Slater

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An inspirational book from the nation's favourite cookery writer. Free yourself from the constraints of recipes and learn to develop your own. Perhaps not a book for a beginner, but certainly one for a cook who has the basics under her belt.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: October 2001
Publisher: Fourth Estate
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1841154709

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Have you ever visited someone's house and they say "Oh, stay and have lunch. It's pot luck, but do stay". You do and it's delightful and you just KNOW that this is how they eat all the time. There's no child saying "Urgh, you know I don't eat joined-up meat" and no man muttering "Why are we having mucked-about food?"

"Can I have the recipe?" you ask. "Well, there isn't one, really. It's sort of Elizabeth David meets a restaurant we went to when we were on holiday and it's grown. If there ever was an original it's certainly nothing like it now."

Don't you just envy that confidence with food? Well this is what Nigel Slater wants to give you in "Appetite".

I first encountered Nigel Slater between the pages of the Observer magazine and he's what makes me stick with the Observer every Sunday. He's the food editor and does a weekly column which is always worth reading even if you've no intention of cooking the food he's discussing - or even if you've no interest in preparing food at all. He's unashamedly greedy and enthusiastic about food and he comes over better in the written word than he does on television, which is a pity, as I'd love him to reach a wider audience

Nigel's intention with this book is that we should all know the "sheer unbridled joy of cooking without a recipe". We are to be released from those chains which bind us to the printed word. Food has become too complicated and we are to return to the principle of good food, simply cooked.

Originally, you see, a recipe was the housewife's "receipt" to account for the money spent and food used. There would have been no method, simply a list of ingredients. The method would have been obvious. As dishes became more complex the aide-memoir became a rigid straightjacket and less experienced cooks lost the confidence and ability to move away from the written word and improvise.

The idea behind "Appetite" is simple. The book begins with some basic "what you ought to have in the way of equipment", "what sorts of foods go well together" and some instruction on how to do things. Now this isn't Delia Smith. You don't get the painstaking detail that renders a recipe or a method foolproof. You get hints as to the general direction in which you ought to be heading, but I wouldn't recommend this book to a complete novice. There's an assumption of basic knowledge and little in the way of precise timings. When you're used to preparing food you know that it doesn't always take the same length of time to cook, but if you lack experience and confidence this can be unnerving. The book's more for someone who has at least a little experience with basic techniques and now wants to expand.

Then we move on to the main part of the book and expand you do. Opening the book at random I've found a recipe for a simple supper of chicken, garlic and herbs. There's a recipe given that would provide supper for four people. Most recipe book stop at that point, but the idea is taken further. Why not make the sauce buttery? Or how about having a creamy sauce to go with the chicken? Then we do a little lateral thinking. You can apply the same method to lamb and have lamb with garlic and lemon for supper, or even have pork chops with apple and cream. You're encouraged to think about the way in which ingredients can be substituted, to think about the flavours rather than just the recipe.

I feel hungry looking at this book. The recipes are mouth-watering and there's nothing complex. This isn't a cook who likes to spend hours preparing food; it's from someone who comes in hungry and wants food quickly. You're encouraged to prepare food as you're cooking, rather than havi ng all the preparation done before you start. You're meant to enjoy what you're doing.

You'll find the recipes reassuringly simple in terms of the ingredients required. There are no long lists of difficul-to-find ingredients and you won't suddenly have to find a complicated and little-used piece of equipment. This is the ideal book for a cook with a little experience who's ready to broaden her horizons.

There's humour in the writing. "Nothing sticks to the floor quite like spaghetti with tomato sauce and Parmesan". It tries to make life as easy as possible for you. Why not buy the desert from a patisserie or serve a bought terrine as a starter? In fact, why bother with a starter at all? Serve crisps and olives with the drinks before a supper for friends and then slide straight into the main course. Reading the book again I have a feeling that, from a culinary point of view, all things are possible.

If you're familiar with the Nigel Slater articles in the Observer you'll know the work of photographer Jonathan Lovekin. They're beautiful, glossy photos, but not of carefully produced dishes. These are pictures of food as we produce it, of the pans we cook with and the dirty apron that we wore whilst doing it all. Somehow that makes me hungrier than all the pictures of plastic food that I've seen.

Four stars from me. I find it an excellent book and a great inspiration, but then I've had more years than I care to remember of cooking meals for varying numbers of people. I doubt that it would be quite so useful to someone needing to master the basics.

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