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Delia's How to Cook Book One - Delia Smith
Member Name: SueMagee
Delia's How to Cook Book One - Delia Smith
Date: 10/11/01, updated on 10/11/01 (299 review reads)
Advantages: Clear explanations of basic techniques, tried and tested recipes
Disadvantages: Of limited use for the experienced cook
I've got a confession to make. I can't boil an egg. I don't mean that I can't cook, because I can. I mean that I can't boil an egg. I was born just after the end of the Second World War when food was not particularly plentiful and some of it was still rationed. My father reached an agreement with someone who kept hens that there would be an exchange of surplus eggs for my father's surplus home-grown vegetables. Unfortunately the only feed that the hen-keeper could obtain was fish-meal with the result that the eggs tasted of fish. I was made to eat one of these every day as my breakfast.
They were truly revolting and to this day I have never willingly eaten a boiled egg. If we have visitors who like a boiled egg for breakfast I always lead them to the kitchen with the explanation that boiled eggs are so individual that I feel it's best that people prepare their own. The truth is that I wouldn't have had the first idea where to start were it not for books like "Delia's How to Cook".
Picture the scene if you will. Delia is deep in conversation with her priest. They muse upon the fact that young people have been seduced away from the delights of cooking with fresh ingredients by the easy availability of convenience foods. What was needed, it was agreed was a book (and naturally a television series and then another book and a television series) which would teach people the basics of how to cook and particularly how to cook with fresh ingredients. An idea is born.
Well, reborn actually. You see Delia has used this formula once before. It was her "Complete Cookery Course" (or rather the television series of the same name) which first brought her to fame. I owe a great deal to the "Complete Cookery Course". I'd always been told that I couldn't cook and it was this book which first convinced me that I could prepare food that people would find enjo
yable. I phrased that very carefully because Delia teaches techniques and recipes but she does nothing to encourage a love of good food or to give the confidence to experiment which is what makes food joyful rather than merely sustaining.
The basic idea of the book is a simple one, but none the worse for that. A topic is taken. I've just opened the book at random and I've found "First steps in pastry". There's some history given. Pastry started as inedible paste which was used to seal in the juices during cooking but people soon decided that it was a bit of a waste to do it that way. We then move on to consider the different types of pastry and the best ingredients to use for each. Then there's the all-important "how to make it without leaving an awful mess in the kitchen and producing something you could use to sole shoes", which is done simply and clearly. You're left with the feeling that you can do this and that it would be silly not to try.
After that we're let loose on some recipes, starting with fairly basic quiches (I keep meaning to try the Leek and Goats' Cheese Tart and I can vouch for the Old-Fashioned English Custard Tart). Puff pastry is made to seem like something of the utmost simplicity, but I must confess to using frozen puff pastry as the basis for some of the recipes. If you want something really impressive you could try the Wild Mushroom Tartlets with Poached Quails' Eggs. By the end of the chapter you're producing food which could well be served at a dinner party. We've been moved painlessly from complete ignorance to reasonable competence and each chapter follows much the same format, doing the same for eggs, bread, cakes and biscuits, sauces, potatoes, rice and finally pasta. No one is going to go hungry.
So, does it work? For the complete beginner it will be good value. If the basic instruction is absorbed and the recipes followed it's d
ifficult to see where failure could creep in. For the more experienced cook there are 120 new recipes. Some you will find are a reworking of old favourites, such as the recipe for custard tart (you will find a similar recipe in any basic cookery book covering this type of food) and only a few are of the type that grab you by the taste buds and whisk you off to the shops to get the ingredients.
When the book was published some big-name TV chefs condemned it as an insult to the British public and one even commented that he didn't need to be told how to boil an egg or how to spot when water is boiling. That's good to know, isn't it? This does rather miss the point of the book, though. It isn't aimed at big-name TV chefs. Delia herself isn't a chef and has never pretended to be; she is simply someone who has an unusual combination of abilities. She can produce good food and she can explain to other people in language that they can understand how to do the same thing. I'd give this book to someone setting up home for the first time although given the choice I think the "Complete Cookery Course" would be better long-term value. I probably wouldn't give it to my friend who is a wonderful cook, but on the other hand, even an experienced cook might not be able to boil and egg!
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