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Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey - book review

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far_eastern_odyssey.jpgRick Stein's latest collection of recipes has taken him from sleepy Cornwall to the bustling streets, markets and waterways of Asia.

As usual, it's the companion volume to a major new BBC series featuring the usually fish-focused chef.

And, as ever, Auntie's high production values are plain to see, with the book's 150 recipes lavishly illustrated by mouthwatering and evocative accompanying images.

How his publishers missed the opportunity to entitle the book "From Padstow to Pad Thai" remains a mystery. Then again, "odyssey" neatly sums up Stein's approach to his work.

Whether he's traversing France by barge, touring the Med's culinary hot spots or travelling the highways and byways of his own country in search of Britain's food heroes, Stein embodies Tom Waits's belief that "the obsession's in the chasing and not the apprehending".

It's all very well knowing how to approximate the hot, sharp intensity of a laksa at home, but how much more satisfying is it to learn how to do so in a Georgetown laksa restaurant on Penang island?

Stein's latest epic voyage took him to "anywhere where outrageously spicy food was the norm", for which read South-east Asia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Unlike more scholarly works on the regions, like David Thompson's Thai Food and Sri Owen's Indonesian Food, Stein's book doesn't require you to arrange for pallets of unpronounceable ingredients to be FedEx-ed to your kitchen door from the wet markets of Saigon and Bangkok.

Nevertheless, Stein has compiled an authentic and representative cross-section of Asian dishes, encompassing all levels of eating, from snacking to feasting.

Asian food lovers will find much to enjoy here. Regional classics like fish head curry, Hainanese chicken rice, Thai mussaman curry and beef Rendang all merit inclusion. As do street-food staples like satay, Indonesian gado-gado, Thai crispy mussel pancakes with bean sprouts and Balinese nasi kuning, or fragrant yellow rice.

Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey
Rick Stein
BBC Books £25
ISBN 978-1-846-07716-6

Buy the book on Amazon here >>

Review by Mark Lewis

Book review: From nature to plate by Tom Kitchin

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tom kitchin book.jpgIn his first book, the youngest Michelin-starred chef-patron in Scotland, Tom Kitchin, shows us his background, influences, voice and individual approach to seasonal cooking.

After training with the likes of Pierre Koffmann, Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse, at the Kitchin he has found his own individual style which combines simplicity, freshness and seasonality, with more than a nod to his classical French training.

It's not just the recipes that are intriguing about this book. His intro, "sharing my world", may not be as graphic as Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, but it's a simple and compelling story for any aspiring chef to read.

Including anecdotes from throughout his career, Kitchin recalls his time at La Tante Claire to incidents when his mentor, and now friend, Koffmann, became the pot wash at his own Edinburgh restaurant for a night.

There's an endearing smattering of personal details thrown in, too, complete with pictures, including his wedding day to Michaela and Koffmann holding Kitchin's two-week-old son Kasper.

But back to the recipes. After introductions to each season, Kitchin proffers up a range of dishes from the simple and classic, such as gazpacho and globe artichokes with a vinaigrette dressing, to his "signature dish" of boned and rolled pig's head with langoustines and a crispy ear salad, stuffed squid with razor clams and pickled cucumber.

His passion for the seasons and Scottish produce leaps off the pages, with extra sections dedicated to key ingredients such as grouse, Orkney seafood, pork, girolles and asparagus.

Like his restaurant, very much a collaboration between Kitchin and his wife Michaela, this book certainly has a personal tone and it shines through. Kitchin's versions of classic French/European dishes all nestle alongside Michaela's scrambled eggs - something the family has at home on their day off.

There are tips aplenty, too, with Kitchin's closeness to his suppliers and extensive culinary knowledge leaving the reader with nuggets of advice on everything from hanging venison to which cuts of meat to use, possible substitutes for ingredients and how to freeze gnocchi.

The Kitchin, Edinburgh 

From Nature to Plate
Tom Kitchin
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £30
ISBN 978-0-297-85593-4

Book review: Dessert by David Everitt-Matthias

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Dessert by David Everitt-MatthiasI always enjoy reading anything about David Everitt-Matthias, his restaurant and his food because it's always worth reading! He has created a restaurant which is well in tune with his character and soul - both of which are individual. So too is his cooking. It is no surprise then to thumb through Dessert and find a multitude of recipes and ideas both original and inspiring.

Everitt-Matthias's obsession with all things wild has given his savoury cooking a particularly feral overtone and his desserts follow a similar idiom. His marrying of unusual combinations of flavours, or unusual ingredients, is not a display of novelty style fare but more a result of progressive cooking with a natural interest and appreciation of wild ingredients.

The book is simply laid out. There is guidance on how to get the best out of it and notes on key and particular ingredients. There is a very useful section on suppliers and given the nature of his cooking, an all-important glossary at the back.

The recipes are in six categories, chocolate and nuts; fruits; vegetables; roots, pods, seeds and bark; wild and petit fours. All recipes are broken down into constituent parts to enable the user to reduce the workload or leave out or add components with ease. Each recipe has an introduction stating the origin of the dish or the idea behind it, some useful guidance on its execution and possibilities for trying other ingredients or flavours.

Following the recipes will give rise to desserts such as "Salted chicory parfait with vanilla rice pudding and bitter chocolate sorbet", "Star anise and Muscovado parfait with bergamot cream and parkin purée" or "Swiss chard and confit melon tart". These are desserts with complex yet harmonious flavours that require careful hands to ensure successful results. Everitt-Matthias enjoys not only unusual flavours but strong flavours too and these recipes require a level of focus and understanding to produce pleasing and satisfying results.

These desserts are special occasion masterpieces that have quite rightly played a part in earning him a reputation as one of the finest cooks in this country.

Reviewed by Phil Howard, The Square, London
David Everitt-Matthias
Sauvage £25
ISBN 978-1-906650-03-2

The Modern Vegetarian coverAfter ten years of unsung work heading up the Delfina Studio Café in London, Maria Elia is slowly moving centre stage. As well as regular forays into television, the daughter of a Greek Cypriot restaurant owner was named as one of ten female chefs to watch by the Independent last year. After stints writing for food magazines, Elia has turned her attention to a cookbook. The result is the Modern Vegetarian - a creative, vivacious look at vegetarian dishes.

Bravely - and somewhat obviously due to the book's name - Elia has focussed squarely on vegetarian meals. Nowhere in her bio does it suggest that Elia has ever turned her back on meat, while her restaurant at the Delfina studios is far from an expressly vegetarian operation. However, by targeting this market Elia has geared her lively, pan-global cuisine to an oft-ignored area of cooking, and has given the book a creditable raison d'etre among the piles of cookbooks published each year.

Elia's CV is littered with worthy names, from stints at El Bulli and Arzak in Spain to spells in Italy, America and Australia. Her motives for writing a vegetarian cookbook, cited in the introduction, is the feeling that vegetarians are treated with contempt in many modern restaurants. "As much as I love a mushroom risotto or a mozzarella, tomato and basil salad, I am always amused to see how many restaurants only offer these dishes as their vegetarian choice," she says.

With not a nut loaf in sight, Elia unleashes her lively style on meatless and fishless dishes. Grilled radicchio and strawberry risotto, lemongrass and sweetcorn soup with crème fraiche, sumac spiced aubergine schnitzel with tabbouleh exhibit a vibrant and cosmopolitan approach to vegetarian cuisine reminiscent of the Ottolenghi chain of restaurants. Mediterranean and middle Eastern influences are scattered throughout - rosemary porcini on toast for example, or carrot pancakes with houmous and feta salad as well as dishes of a more fine-dining lilt like textures of peas.

For chefs unwilling or uninspired to jazz up their vegetarian option this book could be the catalyst to finally consign that goats cheese tart to the annals of your restaurant's history.

The Modern Vegetarian
Maria Elia
Kyle Cathie Ltd £16.99
ISBN 978-1-85626-820-2

Recipes from the National Cookbook by Oliver Peyton

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Rhubarb tartRhubarb tart

Serves eight

For the filling

1kg rhubarb (forced or new season's)
200g caster sugar
250ml crème fraîche
125ml double cream
3 egg yolks

Rhubarb tart
Here, the quintessential English pairing of rhubarb and custard is cooked in a pastry case that looks like a sweet quiche. Instead of cooking the rhubarb beforehand, which would turn it to a pulp, it's macerated in sugar. This leaves the rhubarb with its natural colour, a little bit of crunch and an intense flavour.

1. Trim the rhubarb, then cut the stalks across into thin slices (this helps break down any stringy fibres). Mix the rhubarb with 150g of the sugar in a bowl. Leave at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, make the tart case. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to about 5mm thick. Use to line a 25cm flan ring placed on a baking sheet covered with greaseproof paper (or use a fluted loose-bottomed tart tin). Let the surplus pastry hang over the edge of the ring, and do not stretch it or it will shrink during baking. Prick the bottom all over with a fork, then leave the case to rest in the fridge for about half an hour before baking.

3. Set the oven at 170°C. Line the bottom and sides of the pastry case with a disc of greaseproof paper. Fill with baking beans or uncooked pulses or rice and bake for 20 minutes. Slide the baking sheet out of the oven and lift out the paper and beans. Brush the pastry with beaten egg and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

4. Tip the macerated rhubarb into a sieve and let the liquid drain through, pressing and squeezing the rhubarb tightly with your hands to extract as much liquid as possible - the pieces should be compact and dry.

5. Increase the oven to 180°C. Trim off the surplus pastry from the edge of the tart case with a sharp knife. Mix the remaining filling ingredients with the remaining sugar. Pile the rhubarb in the tart case and slowly pour in the filling. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is lightly coloured. The filling should be just set, with a slight quiver in the centre when you gently shake the tart.



Dessert by David Everitt-MatthiasIt's been three years in the making but David Everitt-Matthias's second book - the follow-up to 2006's Essence - is due out in April. Featuring Dessert recipes from the two Michelin starred Le Champignon Sauvage it promises to be box-office stuff. Here's a sneaky peak at one of the recipes:

Chocolate yoghurt with prune purée

The sweet and sour taste of the prune purée makes it a perfect partner for chocolate, while the lactic acid in the yoghurt helps cut the richness, creating a lighter dessert. If you want something a little richer, simply double the amount of chocolate. You could replace the prune purée with a banana one and the chocolate with thick caramel. You could also consider flavouring the yoghurt with different spices, but I do like to use cardamom in this dessert.
If you have problems finding the grue de cacoa, just grate a little of the bitterest chocolate you can find on top. It won't have the same crunch but it will taste fine.

Serves 8 as a pre-dessert

For the chocolate yoghurt

100g bitter chocolate (64 per cent cocoa solids), chopped
1 quantity of Cardamom Yoghurt

For the prune purée
250g Marinated Prunes in Armagnac plus 75ml of their liquid to serve
50g grue de cacao, roughly ground

Chocolate yoghurt
Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl and melt over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave. Divide the cardamom yoghurt in half and pour one portion on to the warm melted chocolate, whisking all the time. Set aside at room temperature until needed. Keep the remaining cardamom yoghurt in the fridge.

For the prune purée

Remove the stones from the prunes. Place the prunes in a liquidiser with the liquid and blend until smooth.

To serve

Layer some of the chocolate yoghurt, prune purée and cardamom yoghurt in 8 glasses.
Repeat until the glasses are almost full. Sprinkle over the grue de cacao. You can, if you wish, keep them in the fridge at this stage until needed. Just remove from the fridge 20 minutes before serving.

Book info: Published by Absolute Press, £25, ISBN 9781906650032