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River Cottage Every Day - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

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Author: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall / Hardcover / 416 Pages / Book is published 2009-10-05 by Bloomsbury Publishing

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      27.04.2012 12:06
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      One of my most used cookbooks (and I've got a lot!) that never fails me

      The River Cottage ethos trumpeted by Hugh Fearlessly-Eatsitall is very appealing to me. It combines many of my interests and loves - cooking, using fresh and seasonal produce and trying to grow/provide as much of that produce as possible yourself. Whilst I am not blessed with a kitchen garden such as the one seen in the television series of the same name, around which this book is based, and can't even begin to hope to be self-sufficient in meat, we do grow as much veg and fruit as we can and so, when it came time for birthday present ideas last year my brother-in-law and his wife didn't even need this to be suggested to them...it was a dead cert!

      The book itself is much like most other "celebrity" chef cookbooks nowadays, thick, glossy, hardbacked and with a very high quality feel to it. Which is just as well given the cover price of a whopping £25. I sincerely hope the in-laws didn't pay this much for it as I suspect it will be a book that you can find much cheaper if you shop around.

      River Cottage Everyday (RCE) is based around Hugh's backcover statement of "We all know that food can sometimes be wonderful. I think it should be wonderful every day". All very well when your job is cooking growing your own produce and experimenting with food ut how does that translate to the average Joe like you and me who have to cook dinner after being out at work all day and that can't just nip out into the garden and pull up half a dozen carrots and a head of celery at will?

      Well, the book is certainly attractive enough to entice you in and make you feel like you want to be able to cook wonderful food every day. It is full of beautifully fashioned photographs of delicious looking food, some in the process of being concocted, some of the finished dishes. It's laid out well and clearly, divided into sections;
      -Introduction
      -Making Breakfast
      -Daily Bread
      -Weekday lunch (box)
      -Fish Forever
      -Thrifty Meat
      -Vegetables Galore
      -The Whole Fruit
      -Treats

      The Introduction is quite lengthy, written by word-king Hugh encouraging is to adopt his way of cooking and to think for ourselves when it comes to food rather than being so influenced by media and the supermarkets. He also includes an extensive list of his "favourite things" or what other cookbooks would call kitchen cupboard staples...a few things that you should probably stock up on to make cooking from this book easier.

      The breakfast section is a very welcome addition as far as I'm concerned. On a weekend I always try to have something different for breakfast, I get tired of cereal or toast through the week, so the weekends tend to be more experimental. Whilst nothing will ever come close to our favourite (brioche french toast with blueberry compote and natural yoghurt from the GoodFood website!) there is a good selection of both sweet and savoury breakfasts in RCE. The honey-baked rhubarb is a particular favourite and very versatile. I tend to make a huge dish at a time as it keeps well and use it with yoghurt for breakfast, and also instead of the blueberry compote with our brioche french toast. I've also used it as a base for a crumble which was delicious and as a topping for plain old ice cream. Another popular one when my vegetarian mother-in-law comes to stay is the big mushrooms on toast. I was a bit wary of having garlic in a breakfast dish initially, but they are absolutely delicious and can also be used for a light summer lunch.

      I'd fancied trying to make my own bread for a while but it was the bread section of this that actually got me started with it. I've yet to try any of the more adventurous ones but so far have made the soda bread (how easy?!), the flatbreads and the focaccia. Each turned out absolutely beautifully and my friends couldn't believe I'd made the flatbreads myself when I did an Indian themed dinner party for them. I'd really like to try more breads but find them really quite messy to make so will probably leave that particular experiment until the hubby picks up on my ever-increasing hints and buys me a bread maker!

      I won't go through every chapter individually, but suffice it to say I've tried many many recipes from this book now and each and every one of them has been deemed an "againer" by the husband. Granted, when it comes to food he is generally very easily pleased, but he's quick enough to tell me if he doesn't want me to make something again, so Hugh should feel proud of himself with this one! He was slightly suspicious of the chocolate and beetroot brownies, but soon polished them off and his absolute favourite is the stewed venison with juniper and bay. My personal favourites tend more towards the vegetable side...the stuffed butternut squash, mushroom tart and french beans with tomatoes have all been enjoyed several times.

      The things I like best about this cookbook are:
      -the well thought out layout of it. Each recipe has a double page spread to itself with a beautiful photograph showing what your finished dish could look like. Each recipe is clearly laid out with a list of ingredients, easy to follow method and suggestions for variations.
      -a lot of the recipes are twists on more traditional dishes such as a lentil and squash pasty, broad bean hummus and parsley, walnut and blue cheese pesto. Because they're all familiar just with a twist to them it encourages you to try new things that you might not have thought of yourself.
      -the personal input from Hugh about the history of some dishes/how his family like them. Personally I like the little interjections like this in cookbooks, it gives them a more personal feel, espcecially when you already feel like you kind of know Hugh and his family from watching him on TV!
      -without exception the recipes have all worked and turned out wonderfully. I would consider myself to be quite a good and adventurous cook but by no means anything special. I like to experiment with new things and am determined not to turn into one of those people that cook the same 10 or 12 dishes week after week after week. The meat section is particularly good for that, using more economical cuts rather than the traditional ones. I would never have cooked oxtail before reading this book, ditto venison, but have been pleasantly surprised by both.

      The things I don't like about this book:
      -there is no timings given with the information about the recipe so when I'm looking for something to cook I have to read through the whole method to see if I can guestimate how long it will take to make and if it's suitable for the occasion I'll be making it for. If, for example, we have people coming for dinner but I've been at work all day I don't want something that's going to take hours to prepare.
      -there's also no nutritional information which isn't really a huge problem, but some of the treats and creamy fruit dishes seem like they really pile on the calories so it would be nice to know just how naughty you're being!
      -the book is called River Cottage Everyday and extols the virtues of eating wonderful food every day but I suspect for most people, and for myself most definitely, the aim of cooking food like this every day is just a distant dream and I use this book more for inspiration for weekends and when we have friends/family round. Don't get me wrong, some of the dishes are suitable for after work, quick fix meals; the burgers, the frittatas and the many of the veg dishes, but some of the more meaty/fishy/bready ones are definitely only ones I would attempt with time on my hands.
      -my book is now almost double the original thickness as there are so many recipes I still want to try that nearly every other page corner is turned down!

      In conclusion, however, even with all those little niggle things I don't like about the book, I can still only knock one star off for them. Overall I LOVE this book. It has provided us with countless delicious dishes over the last year and a half and I still haven't attempted even a quarter of the ones I want to try. Each recipe is easy to follow and whilst some may take longer to prepare than others, they're still not difficult to make, just slightly more time consuming. This book has given me new ideas and inspiration for simple things like packed lunches and breakfasts which are so easy to get stuck in a rut with and the variety of different vegetable dishes really helped me use up my gluts of green beans, courgettes and tomatoes last summer.

      All in all I can't rave too much about this book! If you want simple, nutritional and hearty homecooked inspiration then this is the book for you, just make sure you know what you're letting yourself into, timewise, before you start cooking! I can't mention those disadvantages without taking off a star, but I really don't want to and would rather be able to give it 4.5!

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      • More +
        11.08.2011 14:22
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        A well laid out, ethical, frugal adventure into cooking, a must have for River Cottage followers!

        I think I am a bit of a late-comer to the River Cottage revolution, but after watching this series on Channel 4 I must have made enough noises about it to be bought the cookbook as a present. I love the idea behind River Cottage, being as self-sufficient as possible and not wasting food, if only I didn't live in a first floor flat!

        There is a lot of non-recipe text in this book, explaining the rationale behind the sections, which I like but I can see some people finding it useless waffle. The book is set out like the series was, so there is a section about breakfast, bread, lunch, vegetables, fish, meat, fruit and sweet treats. It's got just over 400 pages and there are lots of glossy pictures, which I really like, mainly so I can compare how terrible my food looks against what it's supposed to.

        I've cooked quite a few of the recipes now, I particularly like the fritattas and the three different humus recipes...who would have thought broadbean humus could be so delicious? Another recipe that I won't be without is the chicken and mushroom casserole with cider. The herby barbecued chicken is also to die for. I really can't rave about this book enough, I love the way it has been written, the pictures and illustrations and above all else the recipes. If you enjoyed any of the River Cottage programs or books, you will love this one too.

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