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One of my wife's obsessions passions is collecting cookery books and in particular ones by the likes of Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall and her favourite - Nigel Slater. Appetite was written by Nigel Slater and first published in 2000 by Fourth Estate. The paperback version which Sue owns was first published a year later. It is priced at £17.99 and is still available through Amazon for £10.64 plus shipping charges. Appetite is the winner of the prestigious Andre Simon Award in 2000 for food, and has an additional cover note saying "Nigel is a genius" by Jamie Oliver. The book contains 448 pages including 5 pages of index and a staggering amount of introduction and detailed breakdown of ingredients including herbs, oils, fats and butter of some 158 pages! These pages also detail how to cook (shallow fry, grill) and useful utensils. This is not like a standard cookery book, it is a "how to" encyclopaedia of everything cooking including how to make soups, bread, sauces, curries, fish suppers. For those expecting to see specific recipes they are few and far between, but what this book does do is give you the knowledge to create your own dishes This is a book designed to be read and not to purely pick a recipe and cook it, the book is designed to get you experimenting by use of "templates" and is meant to be uncomplicated. Certainly this is a very interesting book that gives you the basics to allow you make your own unique dishes. This is a great book for anyone that wants to learn how to cook.
I acquired this book from my mum when she was having a clearout mid house move and knowing my love for cooking decided to kindly donate some books to my ever-growing collection. I'm not a particularly big fan of Nigel Slater, having never gone out of my way to watch any of his TV series, but I'll try anything in the kitchen so I gratefully added this book to my recipe collection. The book is widely available online, although the price varies hugely from £8 to £74 (!) so I would recommend keeping your eye open in second hand bookshops and charity shops. Looking on the back of the book its RRP is £15, but I can see from the inside cover that my parents picked this up from a charity shop for £3.99. Bargain! The book is quite eye-catching with orange, red and brown stripes on the front and a picture of one of his meals. It makes some encouraging claims on the front and back cover, with many complimentary quotes including the following: "Nigel is a genius" - Jamie Oliver "Cookbook of the Year" - Andre Simon Award "This is Nigel's best book yet" - Antony Worrall Thompson This improved my optimism of this book, and I got quite excited that I'd been missing out on Nigel Slater's work. The introduction in most cookery books is very much identical and quite boring, telling us the importance of measuring properly and following the recipe. Nigel's introduction is a little different in that he tells us that there is no better pleasure in the kitchen than cooking without a recipe. He focuses on flavour and experimentation rather than following someone else's rules. His philosophy reminds me of Jamie Oliver, in that the emphasis is on great tasting food, without frowning upon shortcuts or quick cheats. He also talks about the fact that measuring your ingredients isn't really necessary for most dishes (unless you're baking), and that this puts people off if they are a little intimidated by following instructions. I do agree with this because I often start following instructions then realise I'm missing something and replace it with something similar, the results are usually as good as it would have been by following the recipe to the final word. The first third of the book doesn't really involve any recipes but instead gives you lots of information about cooking and experimenting, such as which flavours work well together and what food is in season for each month. This first part of the book does last a while but is definitely well worth a read, and will undoubtedly inspire you to want to try cooking and experimenting. I particularly like "The new cook's survival guide" which basically reassures us that cooking a meal from scratch every day is not necessary, and having a ready meal once a week makes life easy and you shouldn't feel guilty about it. This is slightly different to Jamie Oliver's approach in that Nigel doesn't expect you to make three course chef style meals every night of the week, but inspires you to try it once in a while without going to the ends of the earth to buy expensive ingredients. That's the theory anyway. Now onto the recipes.... The last two thirds of the book contains recipes which you are encouraged to experiment with. It begins with a chapter entitled "Some really useful stuff", which gives recipes for things like bread, tomato sauce, mayonnaise and gravy. Each recipe gives ideas on how to use these ideas in everyday cooking, so the recipes are versatile and he gives variations on flavours so once you've made a batch you can get different uses out of it. The following chapters are broken into food types, and include chapters on soup, pasta and noodles, rice, vegetables, fish, meat, fruit, pastry, puddings and cakes. Again, he gives lots of variations on dishes where possible, so if you don't have the exact ingredients you can use whatever's in your storecupboard. If nothing else, this gives you the confidence to experiment with flavours you like and flavours you think will work well together. There are some good photographs to show you what the dish should look like at different stages, and the instructions are well written with useful hints and tips such as getting the timing right, and how to make several meals out of one basic sauce. I have used this book on a few occasions, but I have to admit I have only ever really used it when I've needed a 'special' recipe if we're having people round or celebrating something. Although it's a very user friendly book in terms of instructions, I personally don't find it very useful for day-to-day use. Although most of the recipes aren't too bad with regards to needing specific ingredients, I find them a little time consuming and just wouldn't make them unless I had a special occasion or plenty of time on my hands. I think this book suffers the problem that it's great for inspiration if you have a chef's pantry on hand, and a kitchen full of fresh herbs, but for most of us we would have to go out on a special shopping trip to get the ingredients for these dishes. This is a good book full of different ideas, but personally I think it's best referred to when cooking for a special occasion. I don't know when chefs will learn that we just don't have their skill for whipping up amazing meals in an instant!
Have you ever visited someone's house and they say "Oh, stay and have lunch. It's pot luck, but do stay". You do and it's delightful and you just KNOW that this is how they eat all the time. There's no child saying "Urgh, you know I don't eat joined-up meat" and no man muttering "Why are we having mucked-about food?" "Can I have the recipe?" you ask. "Well, there isn't one, really. It's sort of Elizabeth David meets a restaurant we went to when we were on holiday and it's grown. If there ever was an original it's certainly nothing like it now." Don't you just envy that confidence with food? Well this is what Nigel Slater wants to give you in "Appetite". I first encountered Nigel Slater between the pages of the Observer magazine and he's what makes me stick with the Observer every Sunday. He's the food editor and does a weekly column which is always worth reading even if you've no intention of cooking the food he's discussing - or even if you've no interest in preparing food at all. He's unashamedly greedy and enthusiastic about food and he comes over better in the written word than he does on television, which is a pity, as I'd love him to reach a wider audience Nigel's intention with this book is that we should all know the "sheer unbridled joy of cooking without a recipe". We are to be released from those chains which bind us to the printed word. Food has become too complicated and we are to return to the principle of good food, simply cooked. Originally, you see, a recipe was the housewife's "receipt" to account for the money spent and food used. There would have been no method, simply a list of ingredients. The method would have been obvious. As dishes became more complex the aide-memoir became a rigid straightjacket and less experienced cooks lost th e confidence and ability to move away from the written word and improvise. The idea behind "Appetite" is simple. The book begins with some basic "what you ought to have in the way of equipment", "what sorts of foods go well together" and some instruction on how to do things. Now this isn't Delia Smith. You don't get the painstaking detail that renders a recipe or a method foolproof. You get hints as to the general direction in which you ought to be heading, but I wouldn't recommend this book to a complete novice. There's an assumption of basic knowledge and little in the way of precise timings. When you're used to preparing food you know that it doesn't always take the same length of time to cook, but if you lack experience and confidence this can be unnerving. The book's more for someone who has at least a little experience with basic techniques and now wants to expand. Then we move on to the main part of the book and expand you do. Opening the book at random I've found a recipe for a simple supper of chicken, garlic and herbs. There's a recipe given that would provide supper for four people. Most recipe book stop at that point, but the idea is taken further. Why not make the sauce buttery? Or how about having a creamy sauce to go with the chicken? Then we do a little lateral thinking. You can apply the same method to lamb and have lamb with garlic and lemon for supper, or even have pork chops with apple and cream. You're encouraged to think about the way in which ingredients can be substituted, to think about the flavours rather than just the recipe. I feel hungry looking at this book. The recipes are mouth-watering and there's nothing complex. This isn't a cook who likes to spend hours preparing food; it's from someone who comes in hungry and wants food quickly. You're encouraged to prepare food as you're cooking, rather than havi ng all the preparation done before you start. You're meant to enjoy what you're doing. There's humour in the writing. "Nothing sticks to the floor quite like spaghetti with tomato sauce and Parmesan". It tries to make life as easy as possible for you. Why not buy the desert from a patisserie or serve a bought terrine as a starter? In fact, why bother with a starter at all? Serve crisps and olives with the drinks before a supper for friends and then slide straight into the main course. Reading the book again I have a feeling that, from a culinary point of view, all things are possible. If you're familiar with the Nigel Slater articles in the Observer you'll know the work of photographer Jonathan Lovekin. They're beautiful, glossy photos, but not of carefully produced dishes. These are pictures of food as we produce it, of the pans we cook with and the dirty apron that we wore whilst doing it all. Somehow that makes me hungrier than all the pictures of plastic food that I've seen. Four stars from me. I find it an excellent book, but then I've had more years than I care to remember of cooking meals for varying numbers of people. I doubt that it would be quite so useful to someone needing to master the basics.
I am a big fan of Nigel Slater- I have faithfully read his Observer food columns and bought his last cookery book, "Real Cooking." However, I truly believe that "Appetite" has blown all of his wonderful past work out of the water. It is truly a must-have in the kitchen. Unlike many staunchly strict recipe books, this book offers a lot of really good and easy variations on each recipe. He might do a recipe on pasta with cheese using a penne pasta and a blue cheese and include the recipe and directions to make this meal. However, he also includes at least 6 different variations on that theme. Perhaps with a different type of pasta or cheese or by including added bits like spinach to the mix. It's all very improvisational and good fun so you don't feel that you need to include every ingredient in a recipe in order for it to be good. The range of recipes are also very good- as a vegetarian, he provides enough very tasty non-meat recipes as well as meat recipes. There's a section on cooking with kids (making it fun for them in the kitchen) and some pretty amazing dessert recipes. All in all, I think he's created a master tome -satisfying enough to put you off feeling the need to buy another cookery book again.
In terms of writing a cookery book that is accessible and open to all, I think 'Appetite' represents a total, abject faliure. For all the culinary pornography that has swept the nation in the past couple of years (and by that, I mean stuff you look at, but have no intention of doing in the real world), I think a lot of people still prefer the Delia approach - simple, rigid and most importantly, reliable. Let loose in a kitchen without a clear plan of attack, I think that many people would feel out of their depth. So, yes, 'Appetite is the antithesis of inclusion, it's an exclusive book, it's desperate burning urge to make people experiment (the Not-Delia approach) appealling to a narrower slice of the population than previous Slater books. Indeed, unlike 'The Naked Chef' and 'How To Eat', books which I plundered for weeks after buying (we pretty much have Nigella night every week now, cooking something from her book very regularly), I don't know how much use I'll get out of this book. Of course, it's not like the book doesn't have recipes, it has loads, it just attempts to break them down and make them more fluid. But this isn't to say that it's a bad book - far from it, I loved reading it, and I expect to keep going back to it. Though flawed as a cookery book, it is a magnificent piece of food writing, and the best expression of Slater's both-feet-first, sensuous approach to food. It is worth immersing yourself in the ideas contained here, even if you're going to retreat to a more reassuring world where you don't need to think as much about what you're doing.
Appetite - Nigel Slater I've been a big fan of Nigel Slater for many years, avidly reading his weekly columns in the Observer, and was delighted when I was given this a belated birthday pressie. It's taken me a few weeks to work out why then, in so many ways, this much-anticipated new title is a disappointment. The answer, I think, is that he's just tried too hard, almost to the point of desperation, to avoid producing 'another recipe book'. The result is a tome which rams its philosphy down your throat and then gets a big rolling pin to push it in a bit further - instead of making it incidental to what could be a very useful addition to anyone's cookery collection. For those unfamiliar with Slater, he has a very warm, often even sensual, approach to writing about food. It's plain this guy really loves the stuff and revels in buying it, preparing it and, most of all, eating it. A key tenet of his cookery philosophy is that we shouldn't be slaves to recipes and should have fun with them and adapt them to our own tatses and what we have in the fridge. Now that's all well and good with some types of recipes and for the more experienced cook. But what Slater totally fails to make clear, so wrapped up is he in expounding his message, that while there's nothing at all wrong with, for example, substituting lamb for beef in a casserole, or playing around with the spicing of a chilli; if you start breaking the 'rules' on proportions in cakes and pastry, for example, you are going to end up with an inedible mess. Slater says this is a cookery book for all levels of expertise - and none. But because he fails to point out so many basics this is, in fat, really, for the most part, a book only for those who know what they are doing. My main other gripe with this book is that the vast majority of the recipes feature obscure ingredients - obscure, that is, unless you live in a big multicultural city and have ready access to things like lemongrass, fontina and fresh coriander. Ironically it's these ingredients for which he doesn't often suggest alternatives - and stipulates, for example, that the parsley in a particular receipe must be of the flat-leaved variety. Why flat-leaved? Absolutely no good reason (apart from it looks how he wants it to). He just hasn't thought this through. The overall effect is that this book is nowhere near as accessible as I'm sure he would like it to be. The actual recipes? A few ideas I've pencilled in to try sometime, but nothing that's sent me dashing to the kitchen with an urge to make this immediately. The book, however, is not without redeeming features. Unlike most recipe books this is one that you can actually sit down and read and enjoy - there is as much prose as instruction. Some of the recipes are undoubtedly good and despite the shortcomings of the way in which he has expounded his philosophy, the main ideas remain sound and valid - this is, indeed, a book which will encourage experimentation. Most recipes are followed by at least two or three 'variations' on the theme, often many more. And unlike many books where it's obvious these alternatives haven't been fully tested and are very much an afterthought, you can be sure Slater has ensured each and every one of them will work. There is also a marked lack of snobbery in Slater's kitchen and writing. There's not exhorting you to make your own puff pastry here (a tedious task if ever there was one) - go and buy it from the shops, he says, it's just as good. Overall, this is an 'interesting' rather than enormously useful book, and probably not the best advert for his inimitable style. The price below is the retail hardback price; it's a fiver cheaper at Amazon and the Observer is also offerin g a discount (with cheaper postage than Amazon's) Publisher: Fourth Estate ISBN: 1841152889
Cooking by instinct, not by recipe, is the message in this latest from the Observer columnist.