The New English Kitchen by Rose Prince
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|The New English Kitchen by Rose Prince|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A new approach to cooking - or food facts for the feckless - it's probably a useful book for someone who'd like to get back to the old ways of preparing food or who would like to make stock.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: March 2005|
|Publisher: Fourth Estate|
It was the subtitle - "Changing the way you shop, cook and eat" - and Nigel Slater's recommendation - "At last a fresh voice in the kitchen" that tempted me to buy The New English Kitchen. I was expecting something quite revolutionary, something I'd never thought about before. What did I get? Well, here's what it says in the introduction:
"When you eat a langoustine, it gives you a present of its shell. Take that shell, toast it in a pan with some others, then boil in water - and you have a broth. That broth becomes one to pour over rice noodles with spices. You bought something good for a meal and it gave you two things good."
Now, it sounds impressive, because it's a langoustine, which isn't everyday food. But if you substituted "roasting chicken" and simmering the bones for stock, what you have is not a new idea but one that's as old as the hills. It's what I've always done and what my mother and grandmother did before me. I'm also concerned that the mathematics are a little bit disingenuous. You see, when you buy a langoustine you don't get two good things because one shell doesn't make a broth - you're going to need several. Unfortunately "one-and-a-little-bit things good" doesn't have the same ring to it and this type of flawed logic is repeated in other places in the book.
The book is also about buying economically, but still buying the best food in peak condition. Food can be bought more cheaply when there's a glut, or from market traders at the end of the day. Essentially, it's food facts for the feckless. In fairness though, the ideas might not be new, but they are ones which have fallen by the wayside for lots of reasons, not least being the easy availability of ready meals. There will be some people who have never thought along these lines.
There's also an attempt to reconcile two opposing views about food. The first is the trend of the celebrity chef who produces glorious food and delivers the message that it's all there for the taking. The other trend is more sinister: the food industry is in crisis. How is it dealing with the demand for cheaper and cheaper food? What about diseases caused by food in humans and animals? Why are food producers being treated unfairly by the major food retailers and how can we tackle obesity amongst the young. Have it all - but at what a price?
Rose Prince wants to help us to eat well, economically and with integrity. So, how does she go about it and does she achieve her aim?
The book concentrates on foods which Mrs Prince thinks suitable "to roll into several meals" and the first food she looks at is bread. She's obviously a fan of the best bread but I did like the fact that she doesn't dismiss out-of-hand the bread you can buy in the supermarket. All you need is the knowledge to be able to select the best. Her argument is that you might pay more for the bread, but you'll be able to use every last crumb to the point where it actually becomes more economical than the cheaper loaf.
There are some good recipes for breads of all types using a bread machine or using more traditional methods. On the first day the bread would be used as fresh bread is used - for sandwiches or as an accompaniment to other food. By day two when it's losing its freshness it can be toasted and there's a page of ideas for simple meals on toast. Any remaining bread can be used as breadcrumbs or in recipes. The recipes provided are simple, and if you're not used to using bread in this way, could well give you something to think about.
The next "food" is simply labelled "Store" which might appear to be a little bit of a cop-out as it covers virtually everything that might be in the cupboard, fridge, freezer, or even kept on the worktop. I did like, though, some of the ideas for using rice, particularly those for part-cooking or fully-cooking the rice and using it for other meals later in the week. Rice is not easy to store once it's cooked but there are some good hints on food safety.
One recipe in this section which we've enjoyed on several occasions is the Baked Chick Peas, Peppers and Potatoes with Yoghurt Sauce. It provides a substantial one-pot meal which can be prepared well in advance and re-heated and I've served the leftovers with sausages as a weekend lunch dish. Potatoes feature heavily in this section and they're well-covered. I was less-impressed with the recipes in the section on the freezer which I thought under-utilised. I make a lot of use of my freezer, not in terms of buying FOR the freezer or even of cooking food specifically to hold there, but it's most useful storing excess produce from the garden or making a double quantity of a recipe and having a night with only minimal cooking.
The chapter on Stock is probably the best in the book. To me stock is worth its weight in gold. I can make soups, casseroles and many other meals which have deep, savoury flavours which cannot be had by any other method. Bought stock or stock cubes usually contain much in the way of artificial ingredients which I'd rather not have in the house. Proper stock is often made from things that would otherwise be thrown away (the chicken carcase, vegetable peelings or fish trimmings), takes little in the way of effort and repays what you do put in handsomely. There are clear and simple instructions on how to make various stocks, good recipes to use it and clear instructions on storage. The book could well be worth buying for this chapter alone.
I had mixed feelings about the chapter on poultry. I agree whole-heartedly with her feelings about the dreadful conditions in which some chickens are reared and have for some years refused to buy any bird if I can't be sure of its provenance. I think it's worth paying more to be certain that the bird has had a reasonable life, has been fairly treated and its owner appropriately rewarded. Whilst the last might not affect the taste of the bird, the first two certainly do. I'm less-happy with the presentation of the economics of buying a more-expensive bird. A £14 bird, it's said, will produce sixteen helpings of food at an average price of 87p each. Ten of the helpings use the meat and this is fair enough, but another six use only stock from the carcase. The meat might well seem very cheap at 87p per helping, but would you make a creamed squash soup for four if the liquid was going to cost you £3.48 before you bought any of the other ingredients?
There's similar flawed logic in the chapter on Beef Pork and Lamb where the price of the meat is artificially reduced by assigning the same cost to the stock or leftovers as to the meat. Would you make mushroom risotto if the stock cost £4.56, or noodle soup if the liquid cost £5.96? Unfortunately this cooking of the financial books made me suspicious of other logic and it's all unnecessary. I'd have been far happier to think that the meat was more expensive and the stock a simple bonus.
I do like the fact that the food in the book is generally healthy, but not obsessively so. The balance is towards the wholesome and nutritious but not to the point where you'd become stir-crazy from eating it. There are treats and indulgences in there too and I did enjoy the thoughts about how to wean the "suspicious minds" of children away from junk food onto foods which will be better for them in the long run.
So, does Mrs Prince achieve her aims? There are good hints about buying food economically and with integrity but I think she did herself a disservice by the "price per helping" figures which she quotes and it left me suspicious of much of her other reasoning. On the other hand she does strike a balance between the recipes of the celebrity chef and a food industry in crisis, where she's realistic and forward-looking.
I'm glad to have read the book and I'd say that it's worth buying if you feel inclined to make stock and don't really know where to start. If not then I'd recommend borrowing it and seeing if you think it's a worth-while investment. If you're looking for a book to buy then The Bookbag would recommend either Jane Grigson's English Food or Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage Cookbook
You'll need sunglasses to look at the cover of this book though!
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You can read more book reviews or buy The New English Kitchen by Rose Prince at Amazon.com.
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