Manly Food

No, I have not gone all Ray Mears on you.  I am testing another cookery book, and it just happens to be called Manly Food by the aptly named Simon Cave.


Even the cover of the book is manly. It’s all brown wood and meat cleavers.

I chose to test this book because my husband is very manly when it comes to dietary choices.  Left to his own devices he would eat some variation on meat and potatoes every day of the week.

I wanted to see if this was indeed mostly what this cook book is about.

It is very much of the MEAT variety, less of the potatoes though.

There are about two hundred recipes in this book, 98% of which involve meat, so I would urge you to avoid it if you are a veggie.  There are a smattering of veggie recipes, all of which involve mushrooms.  I think that it’s because the mushroom is the nearest thing there is to meat in the vegetable world.

There are a handful of pudding recipes, which I shall test later, and quite a few manly cocktails, which I probably won’t be testing, particularly not the one that involves tequila and tabasco sauce.

Yes, I am a wimp.

As far as layout goes I think the book really isn’t laid out in the most intuitive of ways.  The author has kind of lumped things together in chapters called things like comfort food and TV dinners, so you don’t really get a great sense of what recipe might go where.  It’s all a bit arbitrary, touchy feely and based on the author’s own feelings about what might go where, which isn’t always useful if you don’t feel the same way.

This is made more confusing by the fact that there aren’t clearly defined markers between sections, just black edged strips at the edge of the page that starts a new section.  As all the pages are rather full of either text or pictures, it gives the impression that the whole book is in fact one humongous melee of recipes with nothing to differentiate them.

You will need to use the index a lot, which is a little fiddly. You will also need to know that, for example, the recipe for perfect bolognese, does not come under B for bolognese, or S for spaghetti, or even under the sub heading Beef. No, it comes under P, so unless you know it is called Proper Bolognese, you will have to flick through the book until you find it.

And it’s a big book.

So it could be simpler to navigate.

It does have a very useful section at the back of the book which lays out things like how to butcher various sorts of birds and animals, and what joints are what. It also gives you a glossary for some of the more unusual ingredients.  There are sections on salting and smoking foods too, and other Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall style endeavours, and some extreme offal recipes that I will probably be giving a miss, so it wins on the manly credentials front.

Like Gizzi Erskine’s book, that I reviewed a few weeks ago, there are the odd recipe which are clearly for the specialist, and which involve hard to source ingredients.  Having said that, it is only the odd one, and the majority of the recipes are easy to find ingredients for, and up to now all the instructions have been easy to follow.

A word of warning – He is a bit heavy handed with the chillis.  This is just my opinion, but every recipe I’ve used that has had chillis in, I’ve had to dial down to a less adventurous palette, as if I stuck to the quantities he advises all our heads would have blown off.

But that’s probably why we’re not manly men.

Down to the actual testing:

I have been playing with the book for the last four days, and everything I have cooked from it so far has been top notch.

We have had Thai Green Curry made with chicken. The recipe is simple and easy to follow and it was the nicest Thai green curry I’ve had outside a Thai restaurant. My only quibble with this particular recipe would be that it states you use 20 green bird eye chillis.  Even with the seeds out, this is a lot. I do wonder whether it’s a typo. I used three, with the seeds in, and it was plenty hot enough for us.

We have had the Proper Bolognese.  Bolognese is one of the staples of my cooking repertoire. It was the first savoury dish I learned to cook outside of a classroom and I can make it from scratch with my eyes closed. I was very curious to see what ‘proper’ meant.  What it means is adding pancetta, white wine and weirdly 250 ml of milk.  I duly did this and anxiously stared into the depths of the sauce.  Luckily it didn’t taste milky and it wasn’t weird. It just tasted like bolognese. He said the milk makes all the difference. I am not convinced. It was fine but not spectacular.

We have had chicken jalfrezi.  I like to cook recipes that I already know and cook so I have something to compare them with. There are all kinds of out there recipes in the book, some of which I will undoubtedly get around to, but as I don’t know how some of those should taste, I think a good marker when you’re testing a recipe book, is to start with things you do know about, so you can say whether they’re good, bad or indifferent.  The jalfrezi was good. Everyone liked it. He suggests four chillis and chilli flakes. I used three.

Today we had peppered beef stir fry.  This was a tremendous hit. Tilly and Oscar had two helpings, Jason had three. There wasn’t a scrap left at the end of the meal. He said to use five chillis. We used three, and it was very hot indeed.

Tomorrow I’m trying the jerk chicken. I love jerk chicken, but I’ve never actually made it from scratch before, so I shall give it a whirl.

I have a list as long as my arm of other things I’m going to try, so I won’t bore you with it here, but will keep popping up every now and again with the results of the manly food jury.

On the whole I am very pleased with it, quibbles about layout and chilli aside, the food is family friendly, easy to prepare and delicious. I recommend it.

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