I have been meaning to write about Rose Prince's Kitchenella for a while. I bought it soon after it came out in September, and have used it a fair bit, but seeing as my 'productive' days are in reality about as productive as Homer Simpson's Sunday mornings, it never happened.
You may suspect I have made a pathetic New Year's resolution (do we need to cap 'New Year' up as a rule? It does seem better that way) to blog more. Or rather to blog at all. You are right!! We'll see how long it lasts. It's thirsty work reading and cooking and eating, y'know. And I've forsworn the booze for all of January.
Kitchenella's subtitle is "The Secrets of Women: Heroic, Simple, Nurturing Cookery - for Everyone". Which is a bit of a mouthful. Like every other cookbook at the moment, it has a message. Because it has to. Cookbooks can't just be collections of recipes any longer. Or grouped simply around a season or a cuisine. No sirree - they have to be political, with a shouty, right on message, to differentiate themselves from all the thousands of other books, which contain recipes to make food with.
Except they don't, do they? Because all cookbooks have a bleeding message these days. Every single one of them. I'm a girl who likes a message, but let's face it, most people can't be bolloxed with one.
That's not to say I don't like Kitchenella. I really, really do. Although Prince's conceit of bringing cookery back to the home, the hearth and the kitchen sink, away from all those nasty boy bullies in big name professional kitchens, is not new in itself, she sidesteps associating women only with baking, over-frosted cupcakes and overeating.
Instead, she gives us a pleasing home cooking manual, split into 'Cheap', 'Kids', 'Fast', 'Slow', 'Bake', 'Special', 'Rehash' and 'Ahead'. The food is never complicated, but it is often quite special. And it is astutely contemporary - while Prince eulogizes her idyllic childhood and food experiences, and litters her recipes with many classic French skills, Mediterranean influences and a la mode cheap cuts, they're woven into modern recipes which most people will want to eat.
Prince has also written a proper book here, which looks at women's relationship with food and her own discovery of food and cookery through, in large part, her mother. Some of it does sound a little twee, but it also sounds honest. She references the cooks who have helped her learn her trade, and explains the whys and wherefores of getting the meat temperatures just right.
The most surprising thing about the book is that THERE ARE VERY FEW PICTURES but I STILL LIKE IT.
I mean, it's a bloody bold move to put a few images at the front of the book and then type and type alone over the following three hundred-odd pages. I suspect with more pictures I might have cooked more things from here, but I got over the initial disappointment after a few minutes of reading.
I learnt a lot from this book. Prince says to search out unexpectedly interesting finds in your local corner shop, which I already do in my great Turkish supermarket, but she points out these finds can be the centrepiece of a meal, not only a hurried snack.
The chapter on stews explains why meat has to be old enough to be stewed and why this can be hard to find these days, and so brings in the ethics of fast farming, which is good. Too many books, I think, focus solely on do-goodery type eating, which just makes people head straight for the nearest KFC.
She also gives a few lessons in stocks, braising, risottos, scrambled eggs and other everyday meal staples which we won't all have learnt at mother's knee.
What did I make? Chickpea and tomato ten-minute soup, Spiced butter and yellow split peas, Warm tomatoes with oregano and feta and Coconut spiced soup with chicken. I'm aware these all sound quite like variations on a comfort eating theme a theme, but they're exactly the sort of easy lunch or dinner I want when I'm eating alone.
They also sound quite perfect healthy-but-not-miserable January eating, so I might make them again. No pics from me I'm afraid, as the camera was at the (bloody expensive) menders.
Perhaps the nicest thing about the book is that it is entirely multicultural, but seemingly without thinking about it. Prince jumps from Stifado to a Pot-cooked spring chicken, Moules frites, Gnocchi and a Pheasant curry. Lentils, spices, polenta....Eastern, American and English country garden influences mingle throughout the book, with a linguine here, a remoulade there, and lemongrass and chili all over the place. This is its real triumph.
I am making another resolution now, to try three new recipes from here this month. They might be:
Braised chicken rice with allspice
Nothing fancy pants.