Delia's How To Cheat At Cooking by Delia Smith

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Delia's How To Cheat At Cooking by Delia Smith

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Cookery for the 21st Century with modern tasty dishes but which require some exotic ingredients that you're unlikley to be able to source locally. It's a book for people who have the time to devote to shopping but lack the time or ability to cook. If you can and do cook from scratch you should avoid the book.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Ebury Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0091922290

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I don't often begin a review by saying who shouldn't read a book, but I think it's important with Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking if there are not to be a lot of disappointed readers. If you've ever sighed because you know that your home-made soup would have tasted so much better if you had gone to the trouble of making a decent stock, if you've ever made a quick soufflé for lunch with a friend then you shouldn't even look at this book as you will end up besmirching the name of St Delia and that would never do.

If you believe that supermarkets are the spawn of Satan, if you like to know exactly where your meat and fish came from, if you believe that there is better food to be had from small, independent retailers with a love of what they sell then you should approach this book with caution. You might know that your butcher, who is a champion sausage maker, makes the best bangers, but you'll find yourself queuing in the Co-op or ordering from a website if you follow Delia's advice.

If you do occasionally 'cheat' when you cook and were hoping that Delia might have a lot more hints as to how you might save time then I think you might be disappointed. I make chicken stock (well, I have the carcasses and I'm not going to let them go to waste) but I long ago gave up making beef stock in favour of Baxter's Beef Consommé. If that's your idea of cheating then I'm afraid that you've led a sheltered life. This book is about real cheating.

In short – if you can cook and have the time to do it on a regular basis then this is probably not the book for you.

So, who is the book aimed at? Well, Delia's offering a way forward from the television programmes which ridicule those people who can't cook and suggest that cooking skills are the prerogative of the privileged few. It's for those who are afraid to cook, and secondly, for those who are short of time. What you save on cooking, though, you're going to have to invest in the shopping – in this scheme of things loyalty to just one [supermarket] is out – because while there is a lot available collectively, they all have some special ingredients that the others don't. You're also going to need to monitor local shops and online retailers.

Embrace this book and you'll find yourself in the loving arms of another elderly lady, Aunt Bessie by name. You'll need a good stock of her frozen mashed potato which is used in a variety of dishes from the obvious luxury seafood pie (which does look very good) through to the less obvious chocolate cupcakes, which also require pink chocolate buttons. Interested as to where these would be sourced I tried to turn to page 248 for stockists – only page 248 isn't numbered and when I did find it the stockists were in alphabetical order rather than the products. But there it was, under 'J' for Jane Asher and with her website address – but I couldn't find pink chocolate buttons and the search facility wasn't working.

I've nothing against Aunt Bessie, or indeed any other provider of kitchen shortcuts, but I do like to know exactly what I'm eating and it's not always easy to establish this. Take Auntie's mashed potatoes, for instance. The packaging tells us that they're 75% potato, 15% milk, 5% butter and also contain salt and pepper. Does that mean that they contain 5% salt and pepper? This didn't tie up with the nutritional information so I rang the Aunt Bessie help line. Apparently the percentages are wrong, which didn't fill me with a great deal of confidence.

I know what you're thinking – it's the food that you want to know about and there are some very tasty meals there. I was tempted by the Mediterranean fish stew where the fish and seafood could be sourced from the freezer cabinet in most decent supermarkets, but was put off by the need for a jar of soup which is only available, so far as I could see, online. Creole prawns looked good and included a fresh green pepper and fresh spring onions – but needed a jar of Dress sauce which, once again, seems only to be available online.

One of my favourite food combinations is pears and walnuts. Add a little cheese and some salad and I'm in heaven, so a salad of pears with walnuts and Roquefort dressing looked perfect, but the pears are not the ones carefully picked in the shop and then left somewhere warm so that they come to perfect ripeness. They're pear quarters in grape juice from M&S – or indeed any tinned pears – and the dressing requires Delouis Fils fresh mayonnaise and Fattorie Giacobazzi vintage aged Balsamic vinegar from Sainsbury's. So my Sainsbury's Taste the Difference vintage balsamic vinegar of Modena won't cut the English mustard powder also included in the recipe then?

There is a gem of a dish in Asparagus with no-panic Hollandaise. The Hollandaise isn't authentic but achieves a good result – I served it with poached salmon – without needing anything more unusual than a decent white wine vinegar or a white balsamic. If all the recipes were of this standard I would be insisting that everyone bought a copy.

The shepherd's pie recipe uses a tin of minced lamb from M&S, but I'm not even certain that this saves a great deal of time. When I make a shepherd's pie I cook off my onion and diced vegetables (as does this recipe) and then add the minced lamb (from the butcher who has the name of the farm where the lamb came from on a board for all to see). I then add herbs and seasoning to taste and some chopped tomatoes. Instead of adding raw lamb Delia adds the tinned lamb but no tomatoes. The saving in time cannot be more than a minute or two.

Another gem is the apple pie which uses Jus-Rol pastry products. I might quibble over the fact that the apples are not peeled, but that's a matter of personal taste as what's produced is a good, old-fashioned apple pie.

There's food here which will take you through the seasons and through cooking for the family and for friends. It's well-presented with a wipe-clean cover and the book opens and lies flat. That might sound obvious, but have you ever tried working from a recipe book which kept shutting?

I handed the book to my husband whose usual place in the food production line is as end user and explained what its purpose was. OK, he said I'll cook something. Patiently he worked his way through the book, stymied as he turned each page by the need for an ingredient not within easy reach. But it's miles to Asda! or so it would have to be ordered online? or I could have made that but there isn't a picture and I'd want to see what it should look like and finally if Delia's recommending it then it will be like those omelette pans – you won't be able to get hold of it for love or money. Then he smiled. Do you fancy fish and chips?

At the beginning of the book Delia said that it would be necessary to put aside prejudices and I'll confess that I've found that hard to do, but then I've been cooking for more years than I care to remember. I work from home and it's easy for me to fit food preparation into the course of my day. I know that not everyone is this lucky. It might be that this is the way forward – that every now and then I'll stock up online or with various ingredients from a variety of supermarkets, but I think that for the majority of people the organisation and time required to do this is as great as would be required to buy fresh ingredients and cook from scratch. Doing it Delia's way has a sexier buzz, but I really wonder if it's a better result. I'd far rather look for seasonal ingredients and cook from scratch because, being honest, it doesn't take me any longer than it would to have a store cupboard and freezer stocked with exotic ingredients.

It would be three personal stars from me but if you're a fan of Delia's or someone who could enjoy this way of cooking then it could well be four stars – we'll settle for 3½!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of this book to The Bookbag.

The book which first gave my cooking some order and structure was Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course and it's still the book that I refer to most regularly for temperatures, timings and for ideas. Someone who can't cook could do a lot worse than to get a copy. If time is your problem then we recommend The 30-Minute Cook by Nigel Slater who has a few cheats of his own to offer you.

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Magda said:

Well, not for me then.

I shop almost only online (but of supermarkets only Tesco deliver here) and the only real shop I go to is the Taste of Poland (where I buy packaged stuff anyway) and I do cheat, mostly by substituting ingredients for cheaper or ones that I happen to have available, but I very rarely buy ready made food, becasue as in your example, where it's acceptable it's either a bit pointless (the mince) or totally obvious (the ready made puff pastry) or, quite often, very expensive.

And here we go with another query, from what you are quoting? It all looks a bit time-poor cash-rich thing, no? It looks very expensive, essentially.

If I had all this extra money I'd much rather spend it on free range UK meat!

Sue replied:

The quotes are taken from the book, Magda.

I think you're right about the extra cost - this is not a cheap way of cooking and spending money on a sauce which I could make with little bother fills me with horror. BUT - and I guess it is a big BUT - we can do it. We were taught to do it. We do it almost without thought and I guess it could seem like quite a scary thing to do if you haven't been taught. I'm not quite so convinced about the time argument as I suspect that you could spend quite a lot of time sourcing these jars and packets of whatever, when a few minutes in the kitchen solves the problem far more cheaply. It's also an opportunity to make double quantity and pop some away in the freezer for when you really are short of time.