Delia's How To Cook - Book 2 by Delia Smith

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Delia's How To Cook - Book 2 by Delia Smith

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The middle book in the three-book series gives some excellent advice on basic cooking techniques but the recipes which supplement the instructions are more complicated than a beginner would need. The best chapter in the book is that on fish and might be worth buying for that alone.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 264 Date: December 1999
Publisher: BBC Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 056338431X

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I'm not an easy person to buy presents for. I don't like cut flowers. My ample girth suggests that I don't need any more chocolates and as for the more girly things, well, if someone says "Lush" in my hearing I tend to think they're suggesting I drink too much. So, it's pretty much inevitable that when there's a new Delia Smith out, someone will buy it for me.

It's a good job that I don't take offence easily, because a book entitled "Delia's How to Cook: Book 2" could imply that I can't cook and I can. The trouble is that you get stuck in a bit of a rut ("Sausages? Good Heavens, is it Wednesday already?") and I always like to use Delia Smith for ideas, even if I don't slavishly follow her recipes. I first encountered her back in 1980 when I was leafing through The Radio Times and found a recipe for Gratin Dauphinois, a concoction of potatoes, garlic and cream with a sprinkling of nutmeg on the top. It was delightful and it was a tempter for "Delia Smith's Cookery Course" which was currently doing extremely well on BBC1.

We've come full-circle because Delia's back again, not with the Cookery Course this time, but with "How to Cook". She credits her priest with the inspiration for this series; he lamented the move away from preparing good food at home and towards ready-prepared convenience food. Delia set about trying to remedy this and it is to her credit that she was prepared to take on a mammoth task.

The format is not dissimilar to that of "Complete Cookery Course". A subject is taken, some instruction is given and then recipes are provided. For me the drawback is that it reminds me vividly of my school days and I feel as though the recipes are exams that I have to take to prove my competence.

Each of the three books in the "How to Cook" series begins with a general chapter. This time it's about what the serious cook has in her store cupboard. I found this slightly intimidating, particularly when Delia implies that unless you have these ingredients then you're not a serious cook - you're only flirting with it. Well, I'm afraid I'm only flirting, because I've never had nam pla fish sauce in my store cupboard, I've never felt the need of gravy browning or kaffir lime leaves and we don't like the flavour of anchovies or cornichons. You might and you might well have all of these in your store cupboard, but I do dislike being made to feel inferior because something is not to our taste. The chapter naturally has its own recipes. Amazingly I find that one of the recipes that someone learning to cook will try is Marinated Pork with Jerk Seasoning and Grilled Pineapple Salsa for six.

So, Ms Smith and I did not get off to a good start. By the end of chapter one I'm feeling resentful, but then I brighten when I see that the next chapter is about fish. To me fish is just about the easiest food to prepare and I've never been able to understand why people will buy some dreadful frozen fish concoctions when they could, for a fraction of the price and little more effort make food that is worth eating. In fairness Delia does a wonderful job of debunking some of the myths that have surrounded fish preparation. There are excellent guide-lines for fish preparation and cooking and at least some of the recipes would seem to be within the skill of a relative beginner.

Meat comes next and there's some good, reassuring instruction on the basic techniques required. I can vouch for the Shepherd's Pie with Cheese-Crusted Leeks; it's a good wholesome meal. I'm quibbling now about the other recipes, because I feel that they're all a bit, well, glorified. When I was learning to cook I was cooking for my family and we didn't live on such things as Entrecote Hongroise or indeed Entrecote Marchand de Vin - well, not on a regular basis.

Ah, now I'm beginning to spot a trend. If you look on the cover of the book it boasts that there are 120 new recipes. Now the joy of "Complete Cookery Course" was that you learnt a technique and then you had the simple recipes that are the staples of our lives, the meals that we eat every day, but you see, Delia's done them already and to sell the books to those of us who have her other books she needs new recipes. The instruction is there for the beginner but the recipes are there to get those of us who've been buying her books for years to go on buying. Whoever buys it is really only getting half a book.

Now I've spotted it I flick through the rest of the book with a jaundiced eye. The Chicken and Other Birds chapter restores my belief in St. Delia a little - once again we've got the excellent instruction but some of the recipes are a little more basic, such as the 'how to cook a whole chicken quickly' which I've used on several occasions. The vegetables chapter is good too, with the recipes reflecting the greater emphasis on consumption of vegetables which has come about over the last twenty years. Do try the Oven-roasted Winter Vegetables - if nothing else it's a wonderfully simple way of preparing all the vegetables to accompany a meal and cooking them together.

Delia's "Complete Cookery Course" gave me the confidence to cook. I won't say that it taught me to cook, because I owe that accolade to Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson and more recently to Nigel Slater, all of whom have taught me to respect and understand the ingredients and get the best from them. Delia, you see, teaches techniques and provides fool-proof recipes, but she does little to foster a love of good food or a willingness to experiment. You won't go far wrong with this book. There's good instruction on techniques and some very tasty recipes. If you read it and follow the recipes you will certainly be able to prepare a meal. Whether you'll be able to cook is another matter.

But then, who am I to say? I'm only flirting with it.

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