|Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A good basic reference book for any home, providing fool-proof recipes for any occasion, although some sections are a little dated. It won't provide inspiration or teach you how to adapt recipes to use seasonal foods though.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 664||Date: March 1992|
|Publisher: BBC Books|
|External links: Author's website|
I'm not a great fan of Delia Smith, but I owe her a debt of gratitude. My mother always told me that I couldn't cook and in my youth constantly derided my efforts to produce anything edible. It's the sort of thing that sticks. One day in the late seventies I was flicking through the Radio Times and I came across a recipe for Gratin Dauphinois - a mixture of potatoes, butter, cream, milk and garlic baked in a gentle oven - and I had two thoughts. The first was that it sounded delicious and the second was that it looked so simple that I thought I could do it. I did and it was delicious.
The recipe came from Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course Part 1 which was then being shown on BBC1. In those days television companies were good enough to let us have the full recipe for at least some of the dishes that were demonstrated in their programmes. They are less generous now and you are expected to buy the book. Fortunately I didn't have to until I'd watched a few programmes, tried a few recipes and decided that I just might be able to put decent food on the table.
I bought each of three individual volumes as they were published and these eventually started to become dog-eared. They found a good home with my daughter and I bought the 1990 hardback version which combined all three of the individual volumes into one 711 page book.
So, I've bought it twice, and I must be quite impressed? Yes, I am. It isn't what I would call an inspirational book such as those written by Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson or Nigel Slater but it is an excellent work of reference and it's one that I still use regularly as I never can remember oven temperatures or how much of what goes into certain recipes. It won't teach you to think beyond the recipes, to be able to change and substitute or adapt a recipe to make use of seasonal ingredients, but it will give you a reasonable repertoire of dishes for every occasion.
We begin with a chapter on the sort of equipment that you'll need in the kitchen. Few people equip a kitchen from scratch. They tend to grow. I still have one two things which date back to when my parents married more than seventy years ago. I'm always sceptical about these lists of equipment as you'll inevitably find something on them that you haven't got, never have had and can't see why you would ever need, but as such lists go this is less extravagant than most and to my mind more based on common sense than the equivalent lists in Delia's "How to Cook" books.
We then move to the main body of the book: a type of food is taken and we are given some basic details, such as how to choose it, how to store it or what to avoid, along with instruction on methods of cooking or particular techniques which might be needed. There are some basic recipes which use this particular food, followed by increasingly difficult ones. If this is starting to sound familiar to anyone who is remembering the more recent "How to Cook" television series and books then you have my sympathy - I have always believed that "How to Cook" was a reworking of the earlier "Cookery Course" idea.
The first chapter contains two recipes which I have used on a regular basis for more than twenty years. They have been adapted a little over time but their origins are still obvious. The first recipe in the book is Omelette Savoyard, made with eggs, onion, bacon, potatoes and cheese. It's ready, using only one ring on the cooker, in about 25 minutes. Serve it with salad and crusty bread and you have a very satisfying meal. The other recipe is one of my secrets and it's Delia's cheese soufflé. Most recipes for cheese soufflé serve at least four people. This recipe serves three and I've never known two hungry people have any difficulty in polishing it off. It's simplicity itself and when it rises in the dish like a champagne cork it is impressive - even more so if you have the presence of mind to say something like "I'm sorry, I couldn't be bothered to do anything more complicated than cheese soufflé".
The chapter on Bread and Yeast Cookery was written before Breadmakers became common. It is possible to adapt the recipes if you are so minded but I'm not certain it's worth the effort. There's one recipe in there though that's worth its weight in gold and that's for pizza dough. It takes only a few minutes to make, doesn't require specialist bread flour and tastes far better than anything you get outside of Italy.
The section on Patês and Starters I have never used much, as they do seem rather rich, but I've often used the next chapter on Stocks and Soups. There's a lot of unnecessary mystique surrounding stocks and if you follow Delia you will find it's quite simple to make a good quality stock which does produce a better soup. I'm fond of her Leek, onion and potato soup which we have cold in summer and hot in winter. If you're on a diet you might like to try the Chilled Beetroot Consommé as it's fat-free.
I've always liked Delia's approach to fish. For some reason people are reluctant to prepare it from scratch and in this chapter there are clear instructions on how to prepare fish and cook it. The Fisherman's Pie recipe is the basis for the pie that I make on a regular basis. I once did the Trout with Caper Sauce but my husband and daughter refused to eat anything that looked at them. I thought it was delicious! If you want to cook a piece of whole salmon you can do no better than follow the simple instructions given in the Foil-baked Fresh Salmon recipe.
There are two chapters on meat covering roasting and casseroles. You'll be able to do a Sunday roast with no problems and there's a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding too. In the Casserole section I love the Sausages in Red Wine and I've regularly done the Irish Stew with Parsley Dumplings. The recipes are all for good, everyday meals.
If you want to joint a chicken then there are excellent instructions in the chapter on Poultry. I had to laugh at one of the out-takes from the "How to Cook" series which showed Delia about to joint a chicken on camera looking up the method in the "Cookery Course" book. I've never done it myself - I have an obliging butcher. There's a recipe for Cold Chicken Pie which I serve with a salad in summer if we're having a picnic and a delightful coq au vin.
If you're still buying boil-in-the-bag rice the next chapter on Rice and Other Grains could save you a lot of money as preparing rice is made easy. I can recommend the recipe for kedgeree (smoked haddock, onion, rice, curry powder and hard-boiled eggs) heartily - we had it for breakfast this weekend! refuse to contemplate anything from the chapter on Offal, but if you're into Faggots and Peas, then this is for you. Much more tempting is the chapter on Vegetables. Fried Cabbage and Bacon should make you forget all that awful cabbage we ate at school. There are some good ideas to liven up the old favourites such as creamed potatoes with soured cream and chives and, of course, the dish that started me off, Gratin Dauphinois.
The chapter on vegetarian cooking is a little uninspired to my way of thinking as it relies on the curried nut roast school of cookery. Having had a glance at Delia's latest book on vegetarian cookery I suspect that she's moved on from these early days. I can recommend the Provençal Vegetable Stew - even if it is best served with some sausages! The next chapter is on pulses and many of these recipes would have been better substitutes for those in the vegetarian chapter. I did once do the Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie but I won't for the sake of decency repeat what my husband said of it.
"Pastas and Pancakes" gives a good basic tomato sauce recipe - read this and you'll soon give up buying those over-priced jars of sauce on which the supermarkets make such a huge profit. You'll also find a fool-proof recipe for pancake batter. I've made this up and let children get on with making them. It only needs minimal supervision and a willingness to completely spring-clean the kitchen afterwards.
Delia was definitely ahead of the game when she wrote the chapter on herbs and included a pesto sauce many years before it became fashionable, but my favourite dish from this chapter has got to be Pork Chops with Sage and Apples. Unfortunately my husband doesn't like the taste of pork, so I don't get to eat it anywhere near as often as I'd like. The fact that this recipe is in the chapter on herbs highlights a minor gripe I have with this book: if I was surfing through and looking for inspiration for a meat-based meal I might not look in the chapter on herbs and I would miss this
The chapter on Spices and Flavourings is looking a little dated now. There's the mandatory beef curry and some kebabs, but I think modern tastes would want to go a little further than Chicken Paprika and Moussaka. On the other hand the chapter on sauces which follows is one to which I refer on a regular basis. There's the full range of sauces from the basic white sauce through to a proper custard sauce and old-fashioned gravy. The spiced green tomato sauce is excellent with sausages and it helps to use up the tomatoes which don't ripen at the end of the summer.
I regularly make the Welsh rarebit soufflé from the chapter on cheese for our lunch at the weekend and I have used her recipe for cheese and herb sausages which are good cold in lunch boxes. Looking back over this chapter more than twenty years after it was written I can't help but feel that it's a little limited and doesn't really reflect the extensive choices of cheeses which are available in any supermarket today.
I've found the salads chapter useful mainly for the dressings. The vinaigrette is of the "never offends" variety without being exciting and I have used the quick mayonnaise recipe when I've been short of time. It can be made in a minute or two but the result is not quite as thick as the classical mayonnaise. The salads would see you through a full year and I do enjoy the red cabbage and coriander salad in the winter.
I've never been fond of barbecues, much preferring to eat inside without the flies, but the next chapter does give some excellent recipes. I have made up the recipe for American hamburgers and done with a good quality mince it does show up the burgers that you buy in fast food chains for what they are. They can be cooked under the grill as well as on a BBQ. I have made the bacon and egg pie (it's not a quiche, by the way) for a picnic and it's good warm or cold.
The chapter on cream, ice cream and yoghurt contains one of my favourite autumn recipes: plum and soured cream flan. There's also a very clear set of instructions on how to make your own yoghurt which I have used on several occasions when I've had a glut of milk. I've never been able to understand why I either have enough milk to bathe in or insufficient to offer someone a cup of tea, but this recipe helps at one end of the scale! The chapter was written before the advent of crème fraiche, but is nevertheless good.
My mother always made good pastry but I've always had a mental block about it. Delia's instructions are good and if you follow them you'll be able to make all the basic pastries. There's some excellent recipes here (don't tell anyone, but my Lemon Meringue Pie is from Delia's recipe) and it's worth considering that you can cheat and use frozen or chilled pastry if you don't want to go to the trouble of making your own. When you read the next chapter, on cakes, you'll realise that it's worth making your own though. I regularly use the all-in-one sponge recipe (or one of the numerous variations) and the Dundee cake has the merit of keeping well - if it lasts that long! I've even used that as a Christmas cake gift and it's always appreciated.
I try and avoid the chapter on scones and biscuits because I know that I WILL make them and that I WILL eat them and the same goes for the next chapter on fruits and puddings. The summer pudding freezes well and it's delicious warm in the winter months or chilled in the summer. The Pavlova I found too sickly sweet, but it did look impressive and whilst you might think that the rich chocolate mousse would be sickly I can assure you that it isn't. In the hot puddings there's a recipe for a crumble topping which I've been using for more than twenty years. I make a double quantity in a food processor and freeze the excess. It can be used from frozen if you want a quick pudding.
The chapter on preserving is a good introduction. I make up the green tomato chutney when I strip the unripe tomatoes out of the greenhouse in the autumn. It takes effort but the result is worthwhile. If you pick wild brambles each September as I do you might like to try the recipe for bramble jelly. Be warned though - once you've tried these preserves you'll realise just how poor the shop-bought stuff really is.
The final chapter is about left-overs. Actually some of the recipes are good enough to ensure that you have the ingredients in whether or not they're left-overs. The fish cakes are easy and far tastier than anything Captain Birds Eye produces and Bubble and Squeak is a favourite in this house. I sometimes do one of my own variations, called Bubble and Leak.
So there you have it - instructions and recipes to cover any occasion and all, I reckon, are just about fool-proof. It might not give you any great inspiration about food in general, but you'll always be able to put good nutritious food onto the table. I'd recommend it for someone who's learning how to cook - it certainly got my daughter started on the right lines!
Further reading: An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David and Real Food by Nigel Slater.
Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith is in the Top Ten Cookery Books.
Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith is in the Most Read Reviews On Bookbag.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith at Amazon.com.
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Your review struck a real chord with me! When I got married 24 years ago I had never cooked and immediately moved into an environment where I had to give dinner parties. Delia's Complete Cookery Course got me through! The recipes are very robust - so much so that now I can change even the cake recipes radically for my son who is allergic to gluten, milk and egg. Admittedly the sponges are not fluffy like they used to be - but they are still delicious cakes! They are a great starting point if you need to make substitutions!