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I love cooking, but often find myself getting stuck in a rut, and making the same old, tried and tested repertoire of dishes time and again. So I was really happy when a friend bought me this book for my birthday. It's a compilation of some of the best recipes published in the food magazine 'delicious' over the last 5 years. I'd never heard of the magazine before, but the recipes in it certainly looked delicious, and the back cover was full of praise from renowned chefs, so it sounded good to me.
This hardback book is very well presented, and it's multicoloured, stripy spine looks great on my cookbook shelf! I'm a firm believer in the use of pictures in cookery books- even if the finished product never quite matches up to the glossy image, having that tantalising photo in front of you is quite inspiring and helps you to work up a healthy appetite! And this book has pictures galore- each of the 150 recipes comes with its own photograph, taking up at least half a large page, and usually a whole page. While this does mean that there are fewer recipes than you might expect in a 256 page book, it's not cramped at all, and each recipe is clearly spaced out, making it easier to follow. Despite all this space, there's no nutritional information given for any of the recipes, which is a shame- while I don't want to be calorie counting all the time, it can come in handy to know what you're letting yourself in for!
Charmed though I was by the glossy gorgeousness of the pages, the real proof would be in the recipes themselves. The book is divided up into categories, with 5 recipes in each category (hence the name '5 of the best'). There are 30 categories in total- I won't list them all, but to give you a flavour, the list includes cold starters, eggs, pizzas, rice, chicken, white fish, vegetarian mains, stir-fries, curries, cheesecake, hot puddings, cold desserts and big cakes. There's something for every occasion in here, and breaking it down into categories like this makes it easy to find fresh ideas for the basic meal you want. The 5 recipes within each category are quite diverse- for instance, you see how versatile a meal like stir-fry can become with the 5 recipes given:
Stir-fried noodles with beef and greens
Spicy stir-fried aubergine
Stir-fried rice with chilli tuna
Thai-style pork and hokkien noodle stir-fry
Stir-fry chicken with pesto
Each of these dishes presents the same concept in a completely different way, resulting in 5 very different meals.
The recipes in this book range from simple (most of the pizzas, some of the soups, casseroles etc) to complicated (glazed salmon with lime beurre blanc and tomato, ginger and basil sauce, for instance!). Whilst the instructions for many recipes are simple, often in just 4 or 5 steps, the ingredients that many of them require are not, and this is the main downside of the book in my opinion. The 'quail salad with chinese marbled eggs', for instance, includes quail eggs, lapsang souchong tea leaves, palm sugar and quail, amongst a long list of other, more common ingredients. To get all these things for a one-off salad would prove very expensive, and the long recipe sounds extremely complicated. Unfortunately, this isn't the only recipe like that in the book- most of them require ingredients that I'd never usually have in, and a lot of recipes have 3 or 4 very pricey ingredients in them. This means that there aren't many recipes suitable for everyday use, when you just want to rustle something up quickly with ingredients from the cupboard.
Of course, there are exceptions to this- the perfect herb omelette, for instance, or the easy lamb pilaf. But they are few and far between. The other thing you can do is replace the expensive ingredients with cheaper alternatives, or miss them out all together, in order to adapt them to everyday meals.
As for the more complicated meals, they are great for serving to friends, and make very impressive dinners. I always think it's worth making an extra effort for guests, and am happy to pay out more for specialised ingredients when I've got people coming over. This is where the book comes into its own- I've served several of the meals to friends now, and everyone's made all the right noises so far, so I think they've gone down well! I've also been asked where I got the recipes from, which is always a good sign.
So far, I've found a few real gems in this book- the stir-fry chicken with pesto is very simple to make, and the sauce is just pesto and cream, so it's really easy to make. The combination of red pepper, portobello mushrooms, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and basil is delicious, but could easily be adapted too. The salmon roulade with crab sauce is a bit more complicated, but is also very tasty. There are some desserts that sound absolutely amazing, which I can't wait to try, like banoffee cheesecake or the malted chocolate pudding with mars bar custard. Which reminds me, figure friendly these recipes are not! Even the stir fries tend to have cream in them! So this book probably isn't for dieters- you'd have to search long and hard to find a weight watchers friendly recipe in here.
All in all, this is a good book to have in, if only for impressing your friends with your culinary skills! I've not come across a dud recipe in here yet- they've all worked well, and produced some very tasty results. For day to day use, this book isn't so good, but if you're a reasonably confident cook, you can use it for inspiration and adapt the recipes according to what you want. I'd like to give this book 3.5 stars, but I've rounded it up to 4.
RRP £25, but you can get it on Amazon for just over £13.