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Ok, so my headline was a little play on the words in the title, because a revolution usually implies something (or someone) revolting in some way and trust me there's nothing 'revolting' in this book, which is probably my most used cook book!
The book is based on several current issues surrounding household meal planning:
a) To save time (both in organisation, shopping and time spent in the kitchen).
b) To save money (through being organised; through buying seasonally fresh and therefore cheaper fruit and veg; through avoiding waste).
c) To avoid wasteful behaviour: both of the reputed third of food which is thrown away weekly by UK families, including wasting left-overs and of money / pollutants, by purchasing locally to avoid wasteful transport miles.
Discussions between three friends, Rosie Sykes, Polly Russell and Zoe Heron - a cook, a foodie and a documentary producer who hated time spent in the kitchen, to address these issues through trial-and-error recipes and menu planning resulted in the creation of this lesser-known but extremely worthy 'cook book' (I've used quote marks because to me the book is much more than your run-of-the-mill recipe book in many ways)!
There's a useful introduction at the front of the book, which is not only useful because it gives you lots of tips about the reasons for creating the book, following the structure of the book, organising a store-cupboard and shopping, but also because it isn't overly long! I found many books like this to have far too woolly an intro, or too many critic endorsements without enough the solid facts to help you get the most from the book. This book avoids that and, having such a back to basics approach in the intro to the book, I was certainly inspired to read on.
The rest of the book is laid out in monthly 'chapters' with each chapter including its own intro, menu plans and overview. This overview includes a time-guide for the meals to be cooked , followed by the weekly shopping list, laid out usefully in sections as you would find them in the supermarket - dairy, meat etc. Then the chapter is split into weekly sections, with all of the recipes (in order) for the month.
The weekly menu plan always includes the following:
* A big meal from scratch - takes longer to prepare / cook, but always generates enough 'left overs' to use for a meal later in the week, to save time then.
* Something for nothing meals - these work two ways: for one or two of the days each week you could be using up the left overs from that big meal in new recipes; or you could use something from the freezer, which is known as your 'Lazy Day Supper' but it isn't a freezer ready meal, it's your own homemade ....
* Two for one: where you make a meal that has double quantities and freezes well. The idea is that you eat half, then freeze half to use another time on the something for nothing slot.
* Larder feast: a quick and easy meal using cupboard supplies.
* Seasonal supper: a quick supper using fresh ingredients that are readily (and hopefully cheaply) in season.
At the end of the book there's a useful recipe list, which organises the recipes by very useful categories, eg: good for starters; for special occasions; good for children; vegetarian. For those of you who are interested in this book from the time-in-the-kitchen perspective, you might like to know that the biggest section in this list is for meals which take 25 mins or under - this list is over 9 pages long and does not include recipes which rely on leftovers from other meals, so you can see that it is really out to save some time for reluctant cooks. This section acts as a brilliant cross-reference if you want to adapt any of the menu plans, or for if you just want to use the book as an inspiration for recipe ideas.
Finally, at the very end of the book there's a recipe index so that you can pick out your recipes according to alphabet - ideal if you're also trying to grow-your-own and end up with a garden glut to use up as part of your meal planning or to find recipes for to use up then freeze all your extra (which also saves you time in the kitchen later on).
My thoughts on what really works in this book:
* Recipes are well thought out and it is indeed possible to go through a whole year without having the same meal twice (although it's hard to do this because you actually want to sneak back and enjoy some favourites from time to time)!
* This book does encourage you to be experimental with things that you might not otherwise have tried. As a vegetarian I thought I'd tried most ways with veg, but thanks to this book I've discovered root vegetable cakes instead of my repetitive rut of chickpea burgers!
* The monthly menus can be very flexibly adapted to suit your lifestyle, eg: shift working and time available for shopping / cooking and to suit dietary needs, eg: vegetarian, special diets etc. As a veggie with allergies I'm used to adapting recipes and because of both the layout of the book and the clarity of the menu plans and recipes, I found that the book supported me easily with this. I also liked the lack of repetition in ingredients (apart from regular store cupboard stuff) because a limited repertoire can cause difficulties for those with food intolerances - so the range offered supports avoidance of these kinds of issues.
* There is an emphasis on healthy eating which is not compromised by the need for quick-cook foods in recipes that is a clear requirement of a book which markets itself on saving you time in the kitchen. I really valued the lack of compromise on this in the book.
* The shopping list element is really helpful and, what's more, these are all available to print off from the book's website, so you don't even have to copy it out if you don't want to - just print, alter to accommodate any changes you've made to the menu and off you go! This facility also makes it easy to use for an online shop, particularly if you are using a supermarket cost comparison site at the same time - another edge to the time / money saving aspect of the book.
* The book's menu plan and recipes for the Big Meal from Scratch and the Two for One really fit in to the home economy ideas about batch cooking to save money and making ahead to save time, both very relevant issues for today's busy lifestyles. I already had elements of this in hand and was very happy to find a whole new stash of recipes to use for this. It's also great that the recipes are seasonal, so that you can freeze a seasonal meal and enjoy it later on as a change.
* Within the recipes, there are usually ideas for how to change things for if you are using a frozen instead of fresh ingredients and there's always a helpful time-frame for preparation, eg: 35 minutes before you want to eat .. etc.
* Although the book includes pudding recipes, there is just one specified for each weekly menu plan, meaning that emphasis can be given to healthier puddings such as yoghurt and fruit etc on the other days of the week. Because of the seasonal organisation of the book, the puddings are generally linked to seasonally available fruits or preserves that you might have made / be making.
* Although the book seems like a bit of a tome, the hard back and substantial spine means that it's quite easy to keep open at the page you want when you're working with it alongside you. Just press it firmly if it's new and 'bouncy' and it'll soon stay where you want it.
Ok, if you haven't guessed already, I actually love this book, but if I had to be forced, there's just one little comment on what's not to love ...
The only thing I've noted (and trust me this isn't really because I'm a vegetarian ...) it's just that some of the recipe ideas are just a little too much in terms of actual economy issues and include ingredients such as partridge, poussin, smoked mussels and venison. I suspect that for these items to be economically purchased, you'd need to make best friends with your local butcher (which is of course to be encouraged anyway in respect of supporting local commerce and cutting down your own carbon footprint) but where your lifestyle and hideous working hours demand that shopping's an on-line delivery or a quick pop into the supermarket on the way home from a 10 hour day at work, the 'adoption' of the local butcher is sadly not possible. Of course, the writers do recognise this and encourage the book to be used flexibly and not prescriptively, so don't let this put you off - just be ready to adapt your approach to the book (or of course adapt your approach to a local butcher ;-) )
So, all in, a great book which has stealthily helped us in all of the areas that it promised - even with our own variations to the plans. You can put a lot into it and let it revolutionise your life, or you can just dip in and out to suit - either way you'll get a lot out of it in terms of inspiration alone, let alone those other 'saving' areas of time, money and waste. Just be aware though, that if you're going at it seriously (even with your own flexibility) it's hard to do this effectively without a freezer: what we saved in money we did end up spending on a freezer (a reconditioned one from a local shop of course), which in turn has made our lives a lot easier and saved a huge amount of time!
Final handy hint: not so many people seem to be aware of just how useful this book is. It has RRP of up to £25 in some places, but I bought mine as someone else's 'unwanted gift' off a certain auction site for just 99p plus postage - a gift for me indeed! That said, I would have been happy to have paid the full price because to me it has been totally invaluable :-)
After yet another frustrating stroll round Tesco which, after much debate with husband, ended with us buying ingredients for a selection of the same boring pasta dishes that we seemed to eat again and again, I found myself drawn to an article in the newspaper about cookery books. It mentioned a book called "The Kitchen Revolution" which promises on its cover to "change the way you cook and eat forever - and save time, effort, money and food." I glanced at our shelf of recipe books by Nigella, Jamie and Delia which lay virtually unopened and gathering dust. Could this book be any different? Feeling flush (I'd just been paid) I decided it was worth a go...
The book is written by 3 friends who spotted a glaring hole in the cookery book market, namely that none is really designed to be used day in day out, yet real people have to cook every day. They also note in their introduction how "we're constantly being told about the health, economic and social benefits of fresh, home-cooked meals...[but] the trouble is many of us are stuck without the necessary knowledge - the old skill of housekeeping, managing a kitchen." So, with this as a starting point, and the useful quirk that only two of the three of them is really about to cook at the beginning of the project (and so the third is therefore an instant 'real' person to road test their recipes) they embarked on making a cookbook like no other: a cookbook that gives you a recipe for every day of the year.
How the kitchen revolution works
Essentially, for each week of the year there is a different section. The first part of the section lays out the menu for the week and gives you a shopping list of everything you need to buy that week. The recipes for the week then follow, generally taking up a page each. Although the recipes are different for all the weeks, the basic pattern remains the same: there is one 'big meal from scratch' which takes a bit longer to cook (usually 1.5 to 2 hours) which will have some 'leftovers' built into it (i.e. you've deliberately cooked a bit more than you need) that then form the basis for two 'something for nothing' meals which tend to take 30 to 40 minutes to prepare. There is then a 'larder feast' meal, which is supposed to be the kind of meal you could put together if people turned up unexpectedly from store cupboard ingredients, and a 'seasonal supper', which does what its name suggests and uses seasonal ingredients. Both of these meals also tend to take around 30 to 40 minutes. The final cooking of the week comes in the form of the '2 for 1' which is another big meal in which you make double quantities so you can freeze half and eat the same meal again as the 7th meal of the following week. This meal tends to take a similar length of time to the 'big meal from scratch'. There is also a pudding recipe every week for the sweet-toothed.
Doing the shopping...
The Kitchen Revolution simplifies shopping in as much as it provides a list of what you need to buy. You can even download the list weekly from the internet and print it out to save having to write a list if you want to, which is a nice touch. However, The Kitchen Revolution does complicate shopping in that it requests ingredients you may never have heard of, or if you have heard of you still aren't entirely sure what they look like. This is where we found 'iphone saves the day' (put in inverted commas as that has become a catchphrase since we started using this book) and googling ingredients while in the supermarket has become at least a monthly occurrence. Having said this, we shop in an average-sized Tesco and in 6 months of using the book we have only once not been able to find something we needed.
All the recipes are for 4 people and so the weights in the ingredient lists are for 4, but it is easy enough to half everything if you are cooking for 2.
Overall it definitely makes shopping more straightforward as it removes the weekly dilemma of 'what do I want to buy?'
Following the recipes
Each recipe has an introduction to what you are cooking at the top of the page which usually also includes some useful tips. The ingredients required for the recipe then follow in blue print, then the print returns to a conventional black for the cooking instructions. To the left of the cooking instructions in italic is an estimate of how long before you want to eat you need to start the recipe. Frustratingly my husband always cooks the dishes in exactly the time estimated, while I usually need to increase the time guessed by 50% to account for my lack of culinary talent.
The recipes are straightforward and avoid any technical terms, but in their obvious quest for brevity it can occasionally not be entirely clear what is meant and you definitely need to read them all the way through before you start to make sure you are interpreting the odd ambiguous point correctly. I would say they aren't really recipes for complete beginners but if you are currently able to make a tomato pasta sauce rather than just heating it up from a jar you'd probably be fine with them.
The best point of this book is definitely that the food is, almost without exception, delicious. The most surprising thing is that its often the recipes that sound the least appetizing (braised summer vegetables with pancetta and sherry anyone? Or cabbage in ham mustard potatoes?) which actually turn out to absolutely mouth-wateringly good. We now have a rule that we will try all of the recipes once, even if we don't like the sound of them, as we are so often surprised. The majority of the meals look and taste so good that its like eating in a restaurant continuously (albeit an establishment in which you have to do your own cooking and washing up) and it also means that if you have friends round you can just carry on with your usual day-to-day cooking safe in the knowledge it is good enough to serve to friends without needing to make additional effort.
Obviously there are some foods that you just know you hate (mackerel or beetroot in my husbands case) so if recipes rely heavily on something one of us hates we make it a 'pizza night' instead and just alter what we buy.
A good point to put in here would be regarding vegetarians. The book is not really geared towards vegetarians, but it has at least one meat free meal every week so can be used to cook for vegetarians, but is not suitable to be used in its intended every day form by a vegetarian. Another point would be that Muslims may find the book includes a fair amount of cooking involving alcohol and/or pork/bacon. However, one of my Muslim friends is still a convert to this book and tells me she just leaves bacon and alcohol out of recipes that need them and ignores the entirely pork-based recipes and is still finding the book a revolution.
My final point regarding the food would be that fish features throughout the book so it you really hate seafood again this book might not be for you.
So does the book live up to its claims?
The Kitchen Revolution stated it would save you time, effort, money and food. I think overall it achieves two of those aims. It definitely saves food as you waste very little, which makes sense from an economic and environmental viewpoint. I think it does in the end also save you money, as if you were eating a comparable standard of food in the ready-meal style it would cost a fortune. Be warned however that for the first couple of months that you use it it will cost far more as you will be building up your stock cupboard of different spices, oils and vinegars which initially push up your shopping bill.
The two claims I'm less convinced by are saving time and effort. I guess again it meets those aims if you were going to cook from scratch every night without this book, which would take comparably more time and effort, but the reality is that very few people would and cooking from scratch even with this excellent book takes more time than just popping some chicken nuggets and frozen chips in the oven.
This book truely has revolutionized the way my husband and I eat. It has made shopping far easier, and as we both have busy jobs it has meant that whoever gets home first can go to the book and start cooking the next recipe without having to figure out what can be concocted from the food left in the fridge. I guess the only problem is that ready meals taste so artificial in comparison now that I'm committed to having to continue cooking properly! In general we use the book for 5 days of the week and have one day a week pizza and one day we usually are not at home, and the book works well for us like this. We've also started writing scores next to the recipes so next year we can avoid the few we haven't liked.
Overall I cannot recommend this book highly enough.