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This book is, on the face of it, a pretty standard cookbook, focussing on traditional classics. The element or 'gimmick' that makes this stand out is how to achieve absolute perfection with these dishes.
The book itself is in hardback which makes it sturdy and the spine easy to bend back and cook from. The pages are quite glossy and convenient to clean should you catch any splashes and stains quickly enough. It has 80 recipes over 220 pages.
The recipes themselves are presented over two or more pages with lots of photographs. The recipes themselves are in the normal format . The part that makes this book special however is that each recipe has a 'key to perfection' - a method or an idea that is meant to take the dish from good to something very special indeed. These 'keys' are separated out from the recipe, almost as an optional extra, and really detailed over a few steps, often with very good photographs. The keys in general refer to a particular special technique or preparation which takes an already popular dish one step beyond that!
The book starts with an introduction in the form of a 'charter for successful cooking' - some simple tips for everyday cooking. To be honest, there is not a lot here which cannot be just equally put down to common sense eg 'keep a good storecupboard', 'tidy and clean as you go'.....etc.
The first section is on soups and stocks and includes such recipes as Chinese noodle soup, French Onion soup (fantastic!), pumpkin soup, and mushroom. There are also recipes for chicken, beef and vegetable stocks to help with this.
Next up is fish and shellfish which features amongst others; seared tuna, griddled salmon, pan-fried scallops and fish pie.
Following this is the meat section which includes: roast chicken, roast belly of pork, beef hotpot and pork chops.
Then we come to the vegetables section including: spiced aubergines, mash (!), roast potatoes, sauté potatoes, one pot roast vegetables ( a keeper!),
Next up is pasta, pulses and grains; eg baked penne with Bolognese, linguine with pesto, egg fried rice, risotto, couscous with candied lemon (a really great allrounder), chilli beans
The next section relates to eggs eg: scrambled eggs, French omelette, poached eggs, scotch pancakes
Desserts eg: custard tart, treacle tart, deep dish apple pie (incredible), New York cheesecake, treacle sponge
The final section (and probably my favourite) is baking: banana bread, shortbread, chocolate cake, sultana scones, petit brownies.
I have to admit that this is not a book I get out all of the time. Most of my cooking during the week is focussed on the simple and delicious with minimum of time in preparation. Where this book really comes into its own is when you particularly want to cook something familiar and classic but in a really impressive way. For example, when you have dinner guests with very traditional tastes but you want to step that up a notch.
The recipes I have tried have been straightforward to follow and definitely impressive. I find that the keys for perfection do really add something but some are better than others. For the most part, I have found that the 'keys' for sweet products are the best and tend to make them a bit fail-safe as we all know that a lot of baking can go spectacularly wrong even with the best intentions.
I think that it is a interesting addition to a good cookbook collection rather than a essential part. The 'keys' do require a little more attention and patience than a straightforward recipe, but I suppose the hope is that after a bit of time and experience you will be able to develop your own 'keys' with other recipes that you do other than those which are in this book.