My husband and I both love to cook. In addition to Ainsley Harriott's Low Fat Meals in Minutes (which I have previously reviewed) we have another well worn, frequently used cookbook by of Harriott in our kitchen library. Ainsley Harriott's Feel-Good Cookbook has 150 recipes "for body and soul." Indeed, this book contains many wonderful quick and easy dishes, lots of "comfort food" and some absolutely mouthwatering tasty treats for special occasions.
My copy is a large, hardback book slightly shorter and slightly wider than an A4 sheet of paper. It is about 2.75cm thick. The cover has the title in green and wine coloured lettering and a picture of Harriott pouring something (olive oil?) into a frying pan.
The layout of the book is slightly confusing. The recipes are separated into 10 chapters. Some chapters represent a time of day or week for the dish to be served (breakfast food, midweek meals, etc). Others are grouped according to the type of dish (salads, puddings, etc). This mix sometimes makes it hard to locate the dish you want. However, the excellent index and the vibrant pictures do help in this regard.
Each recipe includes a nice, clear ingredients list in bold print, the number of people the dish serves, the preparation time, and the cooking time. I have found the prep time to be quite accurate (if not occasionally generous). These are the times it will take an average person to prepare the meal- not a master chef. The instructions are given in easy to follow bullet points. You do not need a great deal of cooking experience/knowledge to understand the instructions. They are clear and easy to follow. Most, but not all, recipes have an accompanying full page picture (some pages have 2 recipes but only picture 1).
Start the day the right way: breakfast and brunch boosters
13 recipes that could be served for breakfast (although several look nice for other times of the day). Dishes include several muffins, breakfast bars, pancakes, and more substantial options such as smoked salmon omelettes and corned beef hash. I must admit that although I do eat breakfast, I tend toward something quite simple such as toast or porridge. I have not made anything from this section so cannot recommend any favourites.
Portable food: imaginative food to take to school, work or a picnic
11 recipes that travel well ranging from sandwiches and wraps to chocolate fridge cake. This section includes a few house favourites. The Lamb Kofta wraps are an extremely fast and easy dish perfect for busy weeknights. My husband loves to take them to work for lunch and on long walks. They are excellent hot or cold. The chocolate fruit and nut fridge cake is also a gem. Several people have recommended packaging it up for gifts at Christmas. It is always a quick seller at bake sales and the like. Hubby also loves to take this on long walks.
Light bites: soups, snacks and other starters
15 recipes that are mostly suitable for a light meal or as an accompaniment to other dishes. I would however warn that some of the soups, such as the Curried sweet potato soup with chicken and spinach make a very hardy meal all by themselves. I would not call that one a "light bite." I do however love this dish when cooking for both vegetarians and meat eaters, because the chicken is added at the last minute. It is easy to dish any vegetarians first then add the chicken for those desiring it.
Substantial salads: main course salads
12 filling salads. I really am not a salad person and will very rarely eat one as a main meal. I must admit that I have tried only a few of these dishes, although several look quite good. I can say the Vietnamese-style crispy pork and little gem salad is quite tasty (if you like the Vietnamese flavours, which can be quite strong and a bit unusual to our Western tongues).
Quick and easy suppers: very simple ideas for a food fix
20 meals perfect for when you are pressed for time ranging from stir fry to an easy curry to sausages and Yorkshire pudding. I can particularly recommend the oven-baked harissa chicken with cumin sweet potatoes and the marinated lamb steaks. I also found Harriott's instructions on making Yorkshire puddings quite helpful (something everyone here seems to know how to do without instructions but which I had never eaten let alone made before moving to the UK).
Midweek meals: balanced meals that you can prepare beforehand
20 dishes that heat up well including fishcakes, roast chicken, and lamb meatballs. To be honest, I am a bit confused by some of the choices in this section. For example, Crisp salmon fillets with braised red peppers takes 55 minutes to prepare and cook- hardly a quick midweek option, but I wouldn't consider salmon as a particularly good "leftover" food to be made in advance and then reheated.
Pushing the boat out: recipes for impressing, entertaining and splashing out
15 recipes for slightly special occasions (although some are really quite easy to make). These dishes are indeed impressive, but several probably carry a hefty price tag with ingredients including things like leg of lamb, whole sea bass, duck, crab, and beef fillet. However, others such as the slow-roast pork with jerk seasoning do not cost too much and are still wonderful food for special meals.
Side orders: tasty extras
21 recipes that help enhance your meals. These include a number of vegetable side dishes, sauces, salads and homemade ketchup and pesto. I prefer my vegetables steamed (plain) and don't use a lot of sauces so I haven't used this section much.
Puddings: a range of treats for that little something special
Well, I'll admit that I have a real sweet tooth and there are 15 recipes in this section to tempt me. I really must try the berry brandy-snap baskets one day because the picture is amazing. The Apple, pear and blackberry crumble is amazing (particularly when the fruit is in season and I can get most of it for free from nearby fields and neighbors).
Cakes and bakes: sweet, savoury and fun
I really don't know why they made this a separate chapter as these are also "puddings," but this section contains a further 10 recipes to tempt you into breaking that new years resolution to loose weight. It contains the best homemade brownie recipe I have found to date and believe me that is saying something as I have tried quite a few (although I use 2 eggs, not 3 as the recipe states since I like dense, moist brownies over cakey brownies). The chocolate heaven cake is also a really nice, easy chocolate cake recipe.
I am giving this cookbook 4 out of 5 stars. The food is 5/5 stars, but I am knocking off one star due to a number of small complaints: the grouping is a bit confusing (I always start in the sweets chapters when looking for the chocolate fridge cake- but it is in the portable foods section). I also think several of the light bites are quite hardy and many of the midweek meals are a bit time consuming to make after school/work. Roughly every one in three recipes do not have an accompanying picture. I always like to see the dishes completed (to help me pick what I want to make and to guide me as to what it should look like when finished). Many of the full page pictures would be just as effective smaller, leaving room to show the other dishes. In addition, many of the pictures are very close up and only show one aspect of the dish. For example, the hot-smoked salmon with avocado and pink grapefruit salad only shows a very close up picture of a peeled grapefruit- it doesn't really showcase the dish. But all in all, I highly recommend adding this cookbook to your kitchen library. It is a fantastic addition both for the novice just learning to cook and the experienced cook looking for a few more ideas that wont disappoint.
Aineley Harriott's Feel-Good Cookbook is available from Amazon for £13 (with free shipping). It is also available used for considerably less.