Cookbook review: Valentine Warner’s What To Eat Next

For a man who can hardly be described as having courted controversy – he doesn’t swear obnoxiously a la Gordon,  have high-profile relationship dramas like John Burton-Race, or even campaign aggressively as Hugh does –  Valentine Warner seems to incite quite strong love/loathe feelings amongst cookbook readers. Personally I like his ethos (globetrotting but with British ingredient passion), but not so much the personality (bit of class war chippyness on my part). He’s certainly not a man I’d pull off a shelf for the love of his face, so I’m baffled by the choice of a cover with a picture of the man licking crabby fingers as if he’s the Y chromosome’s answer to Nigella, but I know a lot of women of a certain age who’d disagree with me.

5 things you should know about this book

  1. Men are from mars, women are from the photography studio. When it comes to cookbooks, men really don’t seem as visually led as women. Every woman I know complains about lack of pictures with recipes, but when given free rein my (artist) husband instantly picked a dish with no picture. Which really needed a picture. Everyone knows what a quiche looks like, can easily visualise a tomato and basil tart. It’s the things you haven’t seen before that really need photographic help.
  2. Teach yourself. Valentine’s not a cook who’s going to hold your hand and baby you through things – if a recipe needs a chicken thigh skin-on, deboned and butterflied he expects you to know how to do that. Or at least how to look it up on t’internet. Sheesh c’mon, he’s not your momma!
  3. 2 is the magic number. We don’t all live with spouse, rover and 2.4 children. It’s refreshing to have a cookbook where most recipes serve just a deuce.
  4. Lady Fwahfar told me….If waffling name, event and connection-dropping annoy you (as they do me), don’t read the intros. I’m not sure why authors feel we need to know that a recipe was inspired by a trip to the Algarve on a rainy Tuesday in 1964 with Tom Ford and his dog Bessy. It’s probably done to add ‘personality’.
  5. Flautas make a cracking breakfast, cold from the fridge with salsa and sour cream. In fact, thanks to the punchy flavours Valentine is so fond of, a huge number of the recipes from this book are just as fantastic cold the next day, or perhaps at midnight by the light of the fridge door. Maybe he is the male Nigella after all….

3 recipes I tried that you should too

Roast chicken, tomato and celeriac remoulade sandwichRoast chicken, tomato and celeriac remoulade sandwich
Crispy skin, tangy intense tomatoes, rich remoulade, all piled on thick sourdough – what’s not to love?

Finger-licking shrimpsFinger-licking shrimps
I’m not usually a fan of tomatoey sauces on prawns, but the smokey chipotle flavour of this was  real winner, and has a much milder flavour than my usual firecracker prawns so won’t scare the chilli-phobes.

Chorizo and potato flautasChorizo and potato flautas
Cooked potato and chorizo stuffed in a corn tortilla and fried. Move over faijita, it’s time for the flauta to take over, especially on cold, grey days.

The scores

Take to bed-ness: Is it gorgeous? Informative? Do you want to curl up in bed with it?
7/10

Marigold rating: Do the recipes create mountains of washing up? Do you suspect a team of sous chefs were behind this? Does a home cook, ultimately, stand a chance?
6/10

Mothball-ability: Is it, despite all appearances, going to sit on the shelf gathering dust?
8/10, it’s been in regular use in my kitchen ever since I got it, definitely not one for the back of the cupboard.

Other recipes that caught my eye

Spicy cracked crab claws; Weekend breakfast anchovy & parmesan baked eggs; Beetroot salad with blackcurrant; Asparagus cigars; Pommes aligot; Grilled quails with almond mayonnaise.

Real Food by Nigel Slater (and an Indian-spiced chicken baguette)

Nigel Slater's Real FoodMagazines, papers and blogs are currently drowning in Christmas recipes, but as it’s too late for me to tell you how to cook a succulent turkey or to perfectly flambé your pud, I thought I’d riffle through my cookbook collection and bring you a festive-free treat from one of my favourite writers. Back before he was in every newspaper and magazine each week, before he had written a stirring award-winning memoir, and long before said memoir was turned into a BBC drama, Nigel Slater wrote cookbooks, very good cookbooks. He was the first food writer I read that advocated a passionate and greedy approach to cooking rather than a formulaic and restrained attitude. Of course in the ‘Noughties’, every Nigel- (and Nigella-) wannabe on TV licks the spoon and says ‘if you want’ after every ingredient, but in the Nineties this approach was much rarer.

Although I love Nigel’s more recent offerings – The Kitchen Diaries, Tender I & II etc, his 1998 publication – Real Food – is by far my favourite of all his books. Its eight chapters each revolve around one of his most loved foodstuffs – sausages, chicken, garlic, bread, chocolate, ice-cream, potatoes and cheese. Every recipe leaps off the page and begs you to cook it: garlic-butter soaked giant mushrooms; roast duck with marsala and potato stuffing; and orecchiette with spicy sausage, basil and mustard are just a few of the most tempting. Nothing is tricksy or even particularly time-consuming, they’re all tasty, hearty recipes to satisfy hunger and greed. As it happens, Nigel’s favourite foods coincide with my own, so it was really hard to pick a standout ‘top recipe’, but I’ve chosen this Indian-spiced chicken baguette because it’s a recipe which I return to time and time again, and because it is something I have never seen duplicated by any other writer or chef. Taking a packet of chicken wings (cheap as chips, even if they’re organic, and some butchers give them for free if you ask nicely), and slowly frying them before pulling off the meat to fry again in a freshly-made spice paste before stuffing into a warm baguette may sound like a faff, but it really isn’t, and the results are so so worth it. I like a touch more pungency than Nigel, so the recipe below has been tweaked to my taste, but his whole food ethos is that recipes should inspire, rather than be followed slavishly, so I’m sure he won’t object…

(Incidentally, I know I said this was a Christmas-free zone, but this recipe would also work wonderfully with leftover turkey instead of chicken wings – particularly dark meat – just make sure you keep the pieces quite big so they don’t dry out too much)

Indian-spiced chicken baguette

Read on for the recipe……