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This is my second review of a book in the "Classic 1000" series of cookbooks published by Foulsham Press. My copy of this book is even more battered and well-used than my "1000 cakes" edition. This is quite an achievement considering how much I like to make sweet recipes! I have both the original 1997 edition of this book as well as the 2002 reprint. The recipes themselves are the same in both editions, the only difference between the two is in the amount of illustrations. [See below.] So this review will cover both editions.
Carolyn Humphries is the author of several titles within the "Classic 1000" series, as well as other cookbooks. The success I have had using her recipes in general means that I will always be willing to give one of her books a try.
GENERAL INFORMATION INCLUDED
The book starts off with a brief overview of healthy eating. There isn't a detailed breakdown of every vitamin or mineral you need or where you can find a good source of them. I think that if you are especially interested in vegetarian or general nutrition you would need to consult another book. Following that are a couple of pages of general tips. I don't think there is anything here that you won't find in other cookbooks for example, you are advised to wash fresh vegetables before you use them.
More useful to me is a guide to cooking and preparing pulses. [These often require soaking or boiling before use in a recipe.] Even so, the boiling times given are quite loose - "1-3 hours". You can of course always use tinned pulses which are probably more generally available than they were when the book was first written.
HOW EASY ARE THE RECIPES? IS THE BOOK SIMPLE TO USE?
Having a choice of 1000 recipes seemed a bit overwhelming to me at first. The recipes are arranged by type e.g starters or mains. Within each section, recipes that use the same core ingredient follow one another -so all the mushroom recipes that are main meals are next to each other, and so on. I do find this helps to find what you are looking for but there is also a thorough index.
The preparation method for each dish is presented in a single paragraph. I do find recipes that use bullet points or numbered steps in the method are easier to follow in general. That is because it is easier to keep your place as you go along. However, I do understand that covering 1000 recipes in 400 pages or so is not an easy task, and that some compromises have to be made in order to prevent the book becoming an unwieldy size. One tweak that I would like to see would not take up too much space. I think it would have been really useful if the time taken to prepare/cook the dish could have been highlighted somewhere, perhaps at the start of the recipe. It would then be easier to browse the book and shortlist the dishes you could make with the time you had available. I did not realise how many of the meal ideas were really quick to make [30 minutes or even less], until I had the book some time.
Apart from the small niggles above, the recipes are well written and to the point. I have found the cooking times accurate and that the recipe instructions make sense. Most serve 4 which seems a sensible choice. I do find it annoying in other books when one dish is designed to serve 2, the next 4, then 12..
I think the majority of recipes would be fine for beginners. I was far from an experienced cook when I first bought this years ago and I still found plenty of meals to make! For the more experienced, the books strength is probably in suggesting new flavour combinations or unusual twists on everyday dishes.
RANGE OF RECIPES INCLUDED
The book contains ideas for main courses, sides and starters, soups, salads, snacks, desserts both hot and cold, cakes, biscuits and drinks. I use this book so often because of the range of dishes and occasions it covers. I am confident that I can find a recipe to suit whoever I am am cooking for, such as those who like spicy foods and those who do not. It is also good for all the year round cooking. In the winter I enjoy using the recipes for hearty soups and filling roasts while in the summer I turn to the fresh salads and the lovely ice cream ideas.
The chapter that I found most useful at first was the one dealing with Quorn and tofu based dishes. When I first became a vegetarian most of my meal ideas were based around either pasta dishes or meat free variations of dishes that I already knew such as spaghetti bolognese. Quorn mince and pieces were obviously useful to me then. This book told me how to make my spaghetti, but it also gave me more imaginative ideas for my Quorn. I have never been converted to tofu so those dishes remain untried!
Nowadays, the two chapters that I find the most useful are those dealing with side dishes and sauces/spreads. I have someitimes found it difficult to know what to serve as a side to a dish that is in itself vegetable based. I have always found plenty of inspiration here. There are recipes for onion rings, baked parsnip cream, and fragrant okra to name just a few. The sauces are handy for using with leftovers so you don't get the feel of having the same thing twice. Despite the fact that I now have a library of vegetarian cookbooks, I have found that most of the recipes in these two chapters are unique to this book. That is quite an achievement!
Overall, I feel that the range of recipes here is impressive. The main courses cover not just pasta or vegetable based dishes for example, but also those centred on rice, pulses, cheese, roasts, eggs and Quorn. None of the chapterss feel like a token effort to make the book seem comprehensive eg the soup chapter contains 50 recipes, not just one or two. There is also plenty of variety in the vegetables used. I have rarely seen a recipe for a marrow dish in a modern cookbook but this has 7. I always hated marrow as a child, but I love the melting marrow [prepared with cheese and herbs] and fragrant marrow [with tarragon, chilli and lemon] included here.
The original edition of this book contained only generic monochrome drawings - a bunch of celery or a couple of onions here and there. The second 2002 edition has in addition, some colour photographs gathered together at intervals throughout the book. Having both editions, I can not really say that the inclusion of the photos has really added much to my enjoyment of the book. They are professional enough but there isn't enough of them to make much of an impact. If most of the recipes had been photographed then the book would probably be more attractive to browse through. It would also be much larger and probably more expensive. If you really want a copiously illustrated book then I would not recommend either edition to you.
WOULD I RECOMMEND IT?
I would recommend the book to vegetarians as well as those who are not and are looking for creative ways to "eat their greens". It is fantastic value at £6.99, a cover price that has not changed for years. You can of course get it for a slight further discount on Amazon. Looking through this book for the purposes of writing this review has made me realise how many of my favourite recipes come from this source. A moist and fruity "teacup loaf", grapefruit marmalade crumble cake, a super quick and easy pinto stew...I could go on and on. I hope one day to have made all of the recipes in this book, or at least those that don't involve tofu, so it is assured a place on my bookshelf for a long time to come!
ISBN 978 057 202 8084 [2002 edition]
Paperback, about the size of a paperback novel but wider.
PRICE: £6.99. New copies on Amazon were £6.29 at the time of writing.
[This review also appears on Ciao, under my user name.]