The Kitchen Revolution by Rosie Sykes, Polly Russell and Zoe Heron

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The Kitchen Revolution by Rosie Sykes, Polly Russell and Zoe Heron

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A recipe for a main meal for every day of the year, complete with instructions and shopping lists. I couldn't follow it slavishly (although some might find it a relief to do so!) but there are some good ideas and excellent recipes for food that's full of flavour. Recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Ebury Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0091913731

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I've been cooking regular family meals for over forty years. For more than 95% of those nights I've prepared a meal from scratch and sometimes it's just plain drudgery. It's not just the cooking either – there's all the thinking, the planning and the buying to take into account too. Rosie Sykes, Polly Russell and Zoe Heller have come up with a solution.

The Kitchen Revolution aims to change the way you cook and eat forever – and save time, effort, money and food. In an age when about a third of the food produced in the UK goes into the bin uneaten this alone makes this book worth looking at. So, what's the plan?

Each week you're going to make various different meals. The main cooking will be the big meal from scratch. As the name suggests this is a filling meal for family and friends but it will also provide some of the ingredients for two other meals which you'll eat during the week. These are called the something for nothing meals although this is something of a misnomer as they don't provide the whole of the meal, or sometimes even a substantial part of it, but you will, say, have cooked potatoes ready to put in the watercress and potato frittata with tomato salad which you'll be eating later in the week.

The seasonal supper is a quick and easy meal made from seasonal ingredients. Generally this is fairly loosely interpreted as foods which are in season in one part of the UK are not necessarily in season in another. If you are determined to buy locally you might find that you prefer to follow menus for an earlier or later week than given in the book. The authors stress that the book is flexible and with a little practice and experience it should be possible to juggle the menus to your satisfaction. You don't have to stick to the seasonal foods though – one night in the week you'll be cooking what's called a larder feast – a complete meal from store cupboard ingredients. Every cook has been faced with having to produce a meal when the fridge is empty and whilst I might not want to make a meal like this every week the recipes are handy, even if it's just because the shopping is not going to be done until tomorrow.

The final major piece of cooking to be done is the 2 for 1 meal. Here you'll do all or most of the preparation for two meals – one to be eaten on the day and the other to be frozen for use on one of those nights when you don't want to, or can't cook. It's up to you to juggle which nights you want to do the work or have an easy time – and still manage to eat the food you buy whilst it's still in perfect condition.

When I opened this book I'll confess that I was sceptical, but then I've been cooking in much this way for forty years. I do a big meal on a Sunday and that provides the basis for one or two other meals. My freezer is always stocked with meals that I've made as a by-product of another meal and which can be brought out at a later date. I'm keen to use seasonal food (some of it grown in the garden) and I always have food in from which I could make a meal for unexpected guests. I thought this was how everyone cooked until I shopped with a friend who was buying various pieces of chicken for meals. I pointed out that it would be cheaper to buy a whole chicken – and there would be bonuses along the way in the form of chicken sandwiches, chicken stock and possibly even a chicken curry from the left-over meat. She looked aghast. When she cooked a whole chicken anything that wasn't eaten on the day was thrown away. Obviously there is a need for this book!

The most important point about the book is that the food is good. Using leftovers need not mean that there's any need to compromise on flavour or quality. There are some really robust recipes, such as oatmeal herrings with warm beetroot salad and they're all designed to be relatively simple to prepare. Your lack of a cordon bleu cookery qualification need not be a problem. There are one or two techniques which might be new to some cooks – such as steaming fish on a bed of vegetables – but they're all well explained and there's nothing daunting.

If you want to follow the recipes slavishly there's even a website where you can download or print shopping lists which you can take to the shops or use as the basis of your online shopping. There are few ingredients which might prove hard to source and where this might be the case an alternative is usually given. So, do I think the book is perfect? Well, not necessarily.

Each week you will find recipes for six main courses, with the seventh day being provided from the freezer. Each month also has four recipes for puddings. Now, I'm married to a man who would assure you that he doesn’t have a sweet tooth, but who equally feels that any meal which doesn't end with a pudding is somehow incomplete. Most of the time I provide fresh fruit or a slightly tweaked version of fresh fruit but two or three night a week we a have what I call a proper pudding. I've had a look at the June puddings and I'd gleefully eat every one of them, but even a note of which fresh fruit was in season would expand the puddings available.

The book does assume that you eat anything and everything. Vegetarians, vegans and indeed anyone else who follows a non-mainstream diet, need not apply. Occasionally the balance of the menus would not have suited me. For instance in the first week in June, haddock is served twice, herrings and salmon once each, but meat only appears in the form of sausage. That's not so much a criticism of the book as a personal preference.

The book is mercifully free from pictures – from my point of view, although someone with less experience might appreciate some guidance on how the finished dish should look. In buying this book you're getting a lot of recipes and a lot of information. There is absolutely no padding and nothing just to make it look pretty. So where does it fit into the great scheme of cookery books?

There have been a few books lately aiming to make our cooking lives easier or in some way better. Perhaps the most notorious of these is How To Cheat At Cooking which has sold well but which I doubt will encourage many people to become better cooks. This book is better and considerably better value. The idea of using food for more than one meal is not new, but recently was aired in The New English Kitchen which let itself down with some cooking of the financial books. So, all in all, I'd say that this book is a valuable step forward although it doesn't quite reach the heights of The Kitchen Diaries for me.

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

Booklists.jpg The Kitchen Revolution by Rosie Sykes, Polly Russell and Zoe Heron is in the Top Ten Cookery Books.

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Magda said:

I quite like the premise but I am not sure if there is much need for such a book in this house (as I honestly think that the only food that's chucked away it's the one that's left uneaten on the plates of the children, and even that often gets shared between Alex (the good non-revolting bits) and me (the sloppy mess)).

On the other hand I have fallen back on the at-home-ready-meals thing mostly because the freezer seems to be full of raw stuff I buy (which inludes more than half of meat, some milk and bread as we get a fortnightly shop).

However, there is a question I would have: I'm married to a man who feels that any meal which doesn't include some form of animal body (ideally lamb or beef or BIG piece of chicken) is somehow inferior. Thus, anything that has completely vegetarian days would be unworkable, while fish more often than once a week is neither workable of affordable unless it comes in a tin (strangely, the one expensive meal we had on our last holiday WAS fish, and a wonderful one it was, but somehow I can't imagine making habit of anything like that - I can just about strecth to frozen alaskan salmon when it's oh half price offer with Tesco). So, do you think it would be worth looking at for me? Maybe not buying, but browsing at least? (BTW I like no pictures too).


Sue replied:

You could use this book strictly - this is the second week of June so we will follow these recipes and here is the shopping list. Some people will do that and no doubt be very grateful for it. I would think though that most people who have been cooking for any time are more likely to use it for inspiration and guidance. You wouldn't need to have a vegetarian day - you could always use suggestions from elsewhere.

The book isn't just about using up left-overs - it really is far more than that. It's a book that's definitely worth having a look at - it is packed full of information and it's all good, sound common sense. There's nothing frilly or superfluous there.

Emma asked:

Does it only make meals for a family of 4 as mine is a family of 6 with very large appetites.

Sue replied:

The meals are for four but they’re all designed so that you can multiply up or divide down as necessary. You’d just make one and a half of the quantities given.

Dominic said:

You cannot believe how angry I am writing this..

The London Peculiar. Page557.

I have been cooking this dish as per instructions,

2 hours later, dried peas still hard. I should have known this.

Given the kids some rubbish at 8pm , whilst dried split peas stay bulletproof.

A simple dish for a starter cook, totally ruined by not pre soaking the peas.

A cheese sandwich beckons.