Book Reviews Recipe Shed

Cookbooks? Prove yourselves worthy!

Every year since 2000, I’ve started by going on a massive diet.  Some years with more success than others, granted.  It’s a diet I think I’ve blogged about before.  Boils down to 3 simple rules:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more
  3. No alcohol until mid-February

Do all of the above and you’re golden.

I also find I spend more time reading about food and planning experimental cooking than I would otherwise.

Cookbooks on my shelves have to earn their place.  They’ve got to prove their worth in the kitchen otherwise they’re out.  I think I’ve got 4 on the shelves I’ve not done anything with yet – hopefully that’s just a matter of time.  Of course, there are some chefs who’s books are the equivalent of the next Blackmore’s Night album – they’ll be purchased without a thought and reviewed (and discarded) later.  Once such chef is Paul Prudhomme.

I’ve 4 of his books on the shelf right now.  Louisiana Kitchen, Fiery Foods, Seasoned America and, the latest addition, Louisiana Tastes.

I did have a 5th book, “A Fork in the Road”, but that was clearly written after he’d had a long reality-check conversation with his cardiologist and the recipes were substantially different!

Each of his books takes a slightly different approach to the recipes, giving you different snippets of information, history, back story, and so on.  This one gives you tasting notes as you go along, encouraging you to taste your food more and almost drawing back the curtain to show how the wizard works his magic.  Take this from “Bucktown soup”, the first recipe I cooked from this book:

An immediate saltiness rises above a very subdued middle taste, led by a sweet, boiled onion flavor. The final taste fades in the mouth.

This is what you should be tasting at the end of step 1.  And, by God, he’s right!  That sweet, boiled onion flavour wasn’t exactly what I was wanting the final thing to taste of, but trust me, this man knows what he’s talking about.  Moving on to the end of stage 2…

Now notice the very unusual taste produced by the combination of lime juice, cream and the natural sweetness of the vegetables. For a brief moment, the flavor suggests a lime dessert, then the taste changes to an herbal creaminess

And yes, there’s cream in this – a whole pint of double cream.  But man, it is good!  And then, 20 minutes later, you’re digging into a bowl of this Louisiana take on a smoked fish chowder, your tastebuds singing and dancing in joy.

So yeah, this book is seasoned liberally with tasting notes like this.  And it’s sprouted a veritable flock of post-it note sticky labels marking the page corners for the recipes we’re going to try this year.

My cookbooks are also living documents, each recipe we’ve done is scored, reviewed, and any alterations made are jotted down so we can either do the same next time or know what not to do!  Notes on the Bucktown soup recipe read “subbed paprika for half the cayenne, spice level about right for youngest.”  Notes on the next recipe, Harira, read “Soak your own chickpeas next time, don’t use tinned.  And remember the flour/water the night before.

I’ve a real love for street food.  Being a busy man, I know street food is going to be something that can either be cooked damn quickly or can be made well in advance and assembled on demand.  Harira is one of those “make well in advance” recipes.  It’s a rich, lightly spiced, Moroccan chicken soup from “Street Food From Around the World

If you’re coming to the Soup and Sweet Lunch at St John the Baptist Church, Baston, on February 2nd, this is what I’m making.

This book has been sat on my shelf, largely unread, for a few years now.  It was being given it’s last chance read-through when I came across Harira.  And now it’s firmly back on the shelf, festooned with page markers, all calling me to different countries for their street food delights.  It’s not the prettiest of books, only having a handful of colour plates, but the recipes are solid and the little snippets of back story to each of them are lovely.

Final cook book for this post isn’t available yet.  If you’ve ever been to The Curry Guy’s website, you’ll know his recipes are sound.  He’s finally managed to swing a publishing deal and I pre-ordered this as soon as I found out about it.

Go.  Buy his book.  Fund volume 2!

I wish all of you dieting good luck – you don’t have to change what you eat, you just have to eat less of it.

And please, recommend me cookbooks!

Stuff that doesn't fit in another category

What were you thinking?


This was going to be a long post about how I’ve been disappointed with some of the recent releases from bands and artists I’ve been following for years. But then, as a mind far greater than mine once said:

It is easy to criticise.  It is far harder to do better.

And as I’ve got the musical talent of a toddler, I’ll stop there.  Almost.  Ritchie Blackmore, what were you thinking when you covered “Moonlight Shadow”?

Instead, I’ve got some recommendations for bands I’ve discovered through these underwhelming releases.

Die Geyers & Faun

Turns out that Germany has a far better folk-rock scene than England does.  Die Geyers worked with Ritchie Blackmore on occasion, particularly the song linked above.  They sing in a mix of English and German, and their rendition of “What shall we do with the drunken minstrels” has filled the car on more than one occasion.  Faun are a slightly different beast, only slightly, discovered when I searched online to find bands running an amped-up hurdy-gurdy.


One of those occasions where “You might like…” on Facebook came up with a winner.  British progressive folk group.  Wonderful choice of instruments.  I’m always wary when I read the word “Progressive” in a band description.  If it goes too far down the prog road, you’re in to 15 minute keyboard solos and stuff far stranger than I’d ever care to listen to.  But these guys strike the right balance.

An Assortment of others.

Names for you to Google and, hopefully, catch in concert:

  • Pennyless (Play at all sorts of venues and festivals around Peterborough/Stamford/Bourne/Lincoln) – ever so slightly trippy 3 (and occasionally more) piece folk band.
  • The String Contingent (Saw perform in Broadstairs, absolutely loved ’em)
  • Nate Mainland (thank you Twitter)
  • The Demon Barbers.  These guys and girls take folk and run with it.  Saw them perform in Spalding last year, can’t wait to see them in Broadstairs for the Lock In this year.

Who’s been your best musical discovery recently?

Stuff that doesn't fit in another category

Battleborn – A Review after ~30 minutes play 0.5/5


First person multi-player shooter from Gearbox, the makers of the Borderlands series of games and now, along with Sony, the proud owners of £60 of my cash for a game I’m never going to play.

TL:DR – It’s not another Borderlands and it sucks royally for casual play.

The Good

For there are good things about Battleborn.  There’s a wide range of playable characters, even if how you get to them is just a tad arcane.  The graphics are excellent, top-notch Borderlands-esque stuff. And the comedy is still there.

And I’m out.  ‘Fraid it’s all downhill from here, folks.

The Bad

So…  The prologue, where you learn how to do stuff in-game, is entirely single-player.  And the only way for any given player to unlock specific characters to play in the game is to complete the prologue.  So everyone in the group has to go through the same prologue separately.

Split screen!  Ouch!  Think you need glasses?  You will if you want to read the in-game text in split screen mode.  Makes upgrading your character almost entirely random unless you get up and stand inches from the screen.  Oh, and the map’s on-screen the whole time in split-screen mode.

Infinite respawns!  Just like Borderlands, you get to respawn as often as you die in Battleborn, making it frustrating but ultimately do-able.  Oh, no, sorry.  Strike that, I meant the opposite.  You’ve a finite number of respawns in Battleborn before you’re dead and out of the game.  And if all of you die, you fail the mission and have to start again from scratch.  From. Scratch.  And this is even in the private story mode where no-one else can see what you’re doing.

Time restrictions.  Ah, the joy of pausing Borderlands mid boss-battle in order to take a breather, get a fresh cup of tea, go collect the kids from school, hang out the washing…  Leave the game paused long enough and the characters start making sarcastic comments.  Battleborn reckons it knows better.  Each connection to the game servers – because, yes, it has to be continually connected to the network to work – is only kept open for a finite amount of time.  So you can imagine just how much fun it is to race through to a final boss battle only to get timed out.  Well, I can only imagine as I’ve given up playing this PoS, and we died before getting anywhere near a boss battle.

Levelling up.  Ah, the thrill of deciding where to put that hard-earned skill point.  Which ability will make your character better at doing what you want it to do.  We all like doing that, so in Battleborn they’ve decided that every time you play, you get to level your character up from scratch!  Oh, and it’s an either/or choice as each time there’s only 2 choices.  Not that I can read what they are…  So yeah, you work hard on a mission, spend your points wisely, pick up some badass gear and then…  You get to lose it all and start again from scratch next time!  Hooray!

The cartoons…  Which you are forced to watch because they’re unskippable…  Hideous anime-style shite that has clearly been chosen because someone liked Battle of the Planets.

The story mode.  Doesn’t really exist.  It’s just missions strung together.  As far as I can tell from Prologue plus maybe 5 minutes of Mission 1.

To Sum Up

Battleborn is not a game for the casual gamer.  It is a game for people who have dedicated, ring-fenced, gaming time, 70″ or better TVs and lots of friends who also have dedicated, ring-fenced, gaming time and massive TVs.

And the worst part is Sony won’t refund a digital purchase once you’ve downloaded it.