The Natural Cook – Review

Amazon Vine sent me a Quadrille recipe book called The Natural Cook by Tom Hunt to review last week.

I usually love Quadrille recipe books. They’re not all for the beginner in the kitchen, but they are usually beautifully produced with fabulous photographs. Owning one of their cookery books is a bit like an event. They champion new food writers, and it’s always good to get off the beaten track of the celebrity chef fest once in a while and find things that might be a bit more of a challenge, either in terms of new tastes, or new skills.

As you know, I like to test at least half a dozen of the recipes in each book I am sent. Just skimming through the book and commenting on the layout and shininess of the pictures isn’t really doing a cook book justice. You have to know if the technical side of things works too.

I’ve made three things from the book since yesterday. Here are my thoughts so far:

Generally it conforms to the standards I expect from Quadrille. It feels nice and chunky to handle. I love the matte finish to the cover. The photos are gorgeous and the end papers are beautiful.

The layout is a little bothersome. Layout is tricky in any cookery book because it depends how you use a book and how you like to cook as to whether it’s going to work for you or not. In this case it doesn’t really work for the way I like to cook. The author has split the book into sections based on the seasons, and then chosen a variety of fruit or veg to represent those seasons. Each main ingredient is then explored in a variety of recipes that show it off in various ways.

Asparagus, for example, features in the Spring section. The first recipe tells you how to char grill asparagus. Then you’re shown how to make a chick pea flour pizza with char grilled asparagus as a topping, etc.

This kind of layout means that in order to make the most of your experience with the book you have to be quite organised about what you’re going to cook, rather than be like me. I generally trawl through the cupboards to see what I can throw together to make a meal, or I buy a central ingredient and work round it. I tend to rarely focus on fruit or veg as something to build a menu around, so I am having to be more thoughtful about what we eat while I’m using this book. It’s no bad thing, to be honest. It is certainly making me be way more experimental with my veg.

I like the fact that there are a lot of vegetarian recipes in here. None of us are vegetarians, but we eat a diet quite rich in fruit and veg and it’s always nice to find something new to do with things. It’s surprising how many quite ordinary things can be transformed very easily into something super delicious in no time.

Yesterday I made pickled radish, and Pho Chay.

I love the idea of pickled radishes. I love pickled everything (except egg), and I’m really keen on Japanese and Korean pickles, like the ones you get at Wagamamas etc. I thought the pickled radishes might turn out like these.

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There were a few problems with the pickled radish recipe though, despite the fact that it was very easy to make. Firstly the recipe calls for a ‘quantity’ of radishes. This would be fine except that the measurements for the pickling liquid were very specific, so it wouldn’t do to get too many. It would have been much more helpful to have a slightly more quantifiable measurement, like an approximate number for instance, or ‘a good fistful’.

The other problem with the recipe was that once you have put your pickled radishes in the jar, the recipe ends. It doesn’t tell you how long they have to stay in the jar marinading before you can eat them.

The Pho Chay was from the section of the book on broccoli. The first recipe in the book tells you how to blanch broccoli. You then use the blanched broccoli to make the pho (a kind of Vietnamese broth). Again, there were problems.

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Firstly I really don’t get the point of having recipes for char grilling asparagus, or blanching broccoli. This is not a beginner’s recipe book, so most people who buy it will already know how to do these things.

The real problem with this recipe was the with the way it was written. You make your stock from scratch, and the recipe looks relatively simple with only a handful of ingredients. It’s only when you come to the main ingredients that you realise that you are also supposed to add the trimmings from all the veg you prepare to add to the stock to make the main broth. It would have been more helpful to put the stock ingredients first and indicate that you would also need the trimmings from the main recipe.

I also have problems with making stock by hand. It took over half an hour to make the stock, and when the Pho was finished the flavours were incredibly subtle, which is a polite way of saying weak kneed. If I were to make it again I would simply use a stock cube to be honest. This would make it possible to make the entire broth in about ten minutes, which is absolutely genius frankly.

The other problem was that the first line of the recipe asks you to set the oven to gas mark 5. I thought this was strange. I’ve made Pho in the past and never had to use an oven. I read the whole recipe through carefully twice and came to the conclusion that it is a massive typo.

Once I’d ironed out the wrinkles, the pho was very tasty. Fresh and delicious and made me feel healthy just eating it. I will definitely make it again, but probably put poached chicken in with it for my meat eating family members.

Today I made something called a Socca pizza with char grilled asparagus. The pizza base is made with a batter which is made from gram (chick pea) flour, mixed with oil, herbs and water, which you then fry like a pancake, load with your ingredients and stick under the grill.

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This recipe was much clearer and less ambiguous on the whole. The glory of it is that it is versatile and quick and if you are wheat intolerant it is perfect. Jason doesn’t eat cheese, but does like pizza. If we have them at home I always have to make them from scratch because of his cheese intolerance, so having something hugely easy I can whip up in minutes works for me. The texture of the dough is closer to a thick pancake than a pizza dough, but it is tasty and you can vary what you do with it to an amazing extent in terms of adding things to the batter and going wild with toppings.

There are a few more recipes I want to try before I deliver my final verdict. The jury is still out on this one.

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