The Miller Howe Cookbook by John Tovey

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The Miller Howe Cookbook by John Tovey
Buy The Miller Howe Cookbook from Amazon.co.uk

Buy The Miller Howe Cookbook from Amazon.com

Genre: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: One of the better "books of the television series" giving excellent recipes and advice if you're planning on doing any entertaining.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: March 1992
Publisher: Ebury Press
ISBN: 0091770610

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If you like a certain type of cooking then this book is a gem. If you're on a diet then it would be best avoided.

Back in the late nineteen eighties and early nineties there was a television series featuring John Tovey and the Miller Howe Restaurant in the Lake District. The setting on the banks of Lake Windermere was idyllic and the food produced on the programmes was very much in the style of the country-house weekend with the aim being to teach people to produce this type of food without the army of staff normally thought to be necessary. Most "books of the television series" are worth little once the series has faded from the memory but this one has stood the test of time better than most.

John Tovey didn't train as a chef but rather came to it by accident, driven by his love of good food. His ways, therefore, are not necessarily those of the trained cook. He's less precious than most about doing things "the right way" and generally sees the end as justifying the means. What he delivers are some wonderful shortcuts to producing food when you're entertaining.

As far as equipment is concerned he's more demanding than most television chefs, suggesting that a decent food processor is necessary, even essential. He's even quite specific about which brand you should buy, and which cooker you should own. These have perhaps now been overtaken by new technology and his choices are certainly not ones that I would even consider these days.

Forget the recommendations though; it's the food you've come for! When I've the time I do enjoy a good breakfast and there are some excellent suggestions ranging from the simple scrambled eggs through to my own personal favourite - the Hearty Lakeland Platter. This is essentially a mixed grill, but it's cooked in the oven so that the cook needn't be hanging over the cooker all the time. Timings are given for each item of food and if you follow these everything comes out of the oven perfectly cooked. I've used this method more times than I care to remember and even for an evening meal.

Tovey is excellent about making pastry. I love this comment:

"A light heart and hands certainly helps too. I can formally say here and now, in no way is it any use attempting to make pastry when you have slept in, burnt the toast, spilt the milk, shut the cat's tail in the door or given your spouse a piece of your mind. To make good pastry, you simply have to be really relaxed and in a lighthearted mood."

He's right you know! There are some excellent recipes for pastry and many of them you can make in advance and store in the freezer for when the need arises. I've also found very useful his table of ingredients for a wide variety of quiches. If you buy the book for nothing else though, the recipe for rough puff pastry will save you hours as well as money.

Mr Tovey is more into presentation than I could ever be, even for a dinner party. He does give instructions for how he wants dishes to be presented and the instructions are clear and not overly long. My own experience suggests that they can also be ignored if you wish. The presentation mirrors what is done in the restaurant. On a visit there our butter was presented in the form of tiny swans and I couldn't bear to break them up. He's got a chapter on garnishes too.

If you are of a mind to serve canapés then you'll find a very useful chapter giving details of how to make the bases and some twenty five or so different toppings. We part company on the trouble that he takes to pipe the toppings onto the bases, but agree wholeheartedly on the flavours.

The basic cream of vegetable soup is the one that I've used with variations for about fifteen years. It's simplicity itself and I've even used it for invalids. My father-in-law credited it for keeping him going when there was little else that he could digest. I've put it in a flask and taken it on long walks and it's been a weekend lunch standby. It's one of those recipes that I wouldn't be without. You're given the basic recipe and the fifty-five, yes, fifty-five, variations. There's truly a soup for every taste and occasion in there.

The chapter on fish is, for me, the weakest in the book, but that's because Miller Howe serve fish as a small course rather than a main course. Although there are some good recipes, such as the fish in paper packages there is an emphasis on recipes which would feed fifteen to twenty people and with the best will in the world that's not something I'm likely to be doing.

"Sauces and Dressings" lacks the depth of some of the classic cookery books, but will give a good repertoire to the aspiring cook. The range is good and the instructions clear and simple. If you really want to be sinful, John Tovey quotes a recipe for butterscotch sauce given to him by Delia Smith. Unfortunately (for my waistline) it makes two 1lb jars - and they'll keep in the fridge.

One of the most-smudged pages in the book is the one with the recipe for breast of chicken in Calvados cream. I've made it for guests on countless occasions and it always looks good and tastes wonderful. Unfortunately it's also pretty high in calories. At the other end of the scale is a dish I've regularly done for those summer evening meals when we all sit in the garden and that's a whole fillet of beef poached in consommé. It's indulgent, but the beef will happily feed six people, can be made the day before and is excellent with a salad and some new potatoes. You'll find some good ideas for salads in the following chapter.

I expected the chapter on deserts to be more about presentation than taste by I was completely wrong. There are wonderful ideas for fruit pies, mousses and cheesecakes along with various other tarts. What I've always found useful are the quantities given for the various pies, as I so often end up with a glut of fruit and then wonder what I'm going to do with it. For those who lack confidence about using gelatine there are some very reassuring instructions - and they do work.

When I judge a cookery book that I've had for a while I look at how many of the recipes have passed into my repertoire and I was pleasantly surprised when I looked through this book again to realise that quite a few of my regular dishes either came from here or have been adapted from recipes in the book. It's also one of those books that are always good for inspiration.

I was so impressed, back in the early nineties, with the television series and the book that I badgered my husband until he agreed that we could have a weekend at Miller Howe. It was disappointing. The building itself was slightly down-at-heel and the food uninspiring. It was a real disappointment!

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Stan Williams said:

INTERESTING READING THE COMMENTS ON JOHN TOVEY AND MILLER HOWE BUT BEING A RELATIVE OF JOHN (NOT DIRECT) I THOUGHT MOST OF HIS RECIPES WAS BASED ON HIS GRAND MOTHERS COOKING AMI WRONG?


Sue replied:

I'm not certain about the origin of the recipes, Stan, but the food reminds me of country house cooking and, yes, there might well be influences from a time gone by. It's not dated, by any means and it's still a book that I refer to on a regular basis.


John Tovey said:

I THINK I sold Miller Howe in 1992 but am, these days, so blissfully HAPPY living in a small village called McGregor in the Western Cape and these last two years have been undoubtedly the happiest in my life having before lived in Cape Town for twenty !! It was only today at our Tapestry Class a lady told me she had read all about me on your column and she helped me to find it on my computer which I basically use solely as a typewriter ! It brought back so many memories and what you said about Miller Howe in 1990 was absolutely true. But then I had had a heart replacement, two new hips, one knee - which causes me such pain, agony and frustration on a daily basis – but if that is all I have to complain about I consider myself the luckiest bod on earth !

Quite a few of my old, long standing staff (when I sold fourteen had been with me in our three establishment for over twenty two years) still keep in touch and many have done so well in this profession successfully running their own businesses and I presume now near retirement dates themselves !! I still love cooking and have an ever extending file of new dishes I have created in my retirement ... but far too lazy to write yet another book with all the entailed pressures. Regards JOHN TOVEY