Simply food


Market to Table: The Cookbook has been launched as an e-book. What a lot of lessons I’ve learned in bringing together five year’s worth of blog recipes and nine episodes of the eponymous television series.

First, the link to the e-book. Run, walk, or stroll, but do not hesitate to go to the Lulu Bookstore website and buy an easy to read online version of the complete and illustrated e-book. It is also available Apple’s iBooks, and soon on Barnes & Noble nook, amazon kindle, and kobo.

Like most self-taught cooks, and probably all cookbook writers, I’ve amassed a significant collection of cookbooks. I cull the unread ones from time to time, so the bookcase in the kitchen doesn’t overflow. Sometimes, there will be books I bought meaning to experiment with and after a couple of failures, just give up. From others, I make one dish and repeat it over and over, but don’t venture beyond. There’s no rhyme or reason for this. Partly inertia, partly a reluctance to commit to really experimental cooking. I like my comfort zone and I write about comfort food. Mostly, I adhere to my late father-in-law’s principle of ‘not eating anywhere I haven’t eaten before,’ which I translate as not cooking anything I haven’t eaten before. I get my ideas from eating food and if I like it I try to find out how best to cook it, through lots of research and experimentation. By the time you read about it, I will have made all my mistakes and I hope you will benefit from them.

I’ve been reading Man Booker Prize-winning author Julian Barnes brilliant and humorous little book, The Pedant in the Kitchen (Atlantic 2003), and feeling guilty that I might have misled some faithful readers of  this blog. Barnes has some choice criticisms for cookbook writers and in case I might fit his profile of villainy and since the offering below is the very last recipe to be included in the new e-book Market to Table: The Cookbook, I thought I would take a moment to make some pathetic excuses for the way the book has turned out.

The Pedant “just wants to cook tasty, nutritious food; he just wants not to poison his friends; he just wants to slowly expand his repertoire.” Me too. But then he goes into a litany of the faults of writers, who in trying to make their recipes approachable, serve only to confuse. I hope that in the book I have not committed this sin. I have tried to be consistent with measurements and temperatures. Unlike Nigel Slater, whose Kitchen Diaries I read like novels, I do not suggest “a handful of berries” as a sensible measure. How big is a hand? I have large hands. Does Slater?

The recipes published in my blogs include an estimated ‘preparation time,’ another of Barnes’ gripes. It never works. Everyone peels potatoes, chops onions or pulls the pin bones from salmon at a different speed, and gets better and quicker with practice. I have learnt from the error of my ways and excluded them in the e-book, although a rigorous formatting rule forces me to include them in the blog if I want to offer the printable option as an aid to readers.

I don’t cook from pictures as I know very well that most illustrations are the result of hours of patience and styling in a studio kitchen. Possibly even a little trickery. Just saying. Nothing the average reader cooks will look like that. Nothing I cook will end up like that.

It’s all about the picture

All the pictures in the book (and the blogs) have been taken in my kitchen or at the table, often while patient guests waited to dig in. “Please, don’t mind me. Do start. I’ll just be a moment,” I cry, fiddling with tabletop photofloods and complicated lenses. So, I’ve learned to set up the lighting and check the focus with an empty plate in advance and got the actual photo moment down to seconds. There’s no retouching, no styling, no fluffing, beyond what I can myself create when plating. Immediately after the lights are turned off and we return to the calm of candle light, I sit down and consume that which I have lovingly cooked and then photographed.

Slater, quotes Barnes, claims the same thing, saying his illustrations are “totally natural, not set up or contrived in the typical way of food photography.” But then Barnes complains that although “these pictures haven’t been fiddled with, yet the food they depict still suppurates with glamour compared to anything the average punter turns out.” You be the judge. I claim that you can turn out food exactly the same as my humble efforts, simply by following my instructions. Please enjoy.

All nine episodes of the television series are available on YouTube.

Featured image: Chicken pot pie. My favourite, and completely un-re-touched, photograph from Market to Table: The Cookbook, available now as an e-book.

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