COMPETITION WINNER: Hairy Bikers Mums Know Best Sunday, Sep 15 2013 

I know you’ve all been holding your breaths to find out who the winner of the Hairy Bikers competition is…

…and it’s EMMA WALTERS from STOKE-ON-TRENT!

Having been to Stoke a grand total of once to give a schools talk, it’s a pleasure to know that a little piece of me will be going back there in the form of Emma’s parcel.

Congratulations Emma! I’ll have it sent out this week to you 🙂

COMPETITION: Hairy Bikers Mums Know Best Friday, Aug 30 2013 

Everybody loves a competition, right? And you know Ferret Food and Wines loves you guys, right? So how about a little Hairy Bikers giveaway?

We have ONE copy of this to give away:

It’s that Hairy Bikers classic, Mums Know Best – the original cookbook from their well-loved series.

If you win, you’ll get it in the post with a paw-written note from Ferret.

To enter, please send your name and postal address to soprano_seraph[AT]hotmail[DOT]com before 11.59pm UK time on September 14th, 2013. That’s all it takes 🙂  Our lucky winner will be picked at random. Good luck! And don’t forget to retweet this on Twitter too so that we get as many entrants as possible 🙂

Food Book Review: Vegan Pizza (Julie Hasson) Thursday, Aug 22 2013 

–The blurb–

Vegan Pizza is filled with 50 modern recipes from easy-to-make pizza dough (including spelt, whole wheat, and gluten-free crusts), creamy dairy-free cheese sauces, vibrant-flavored pestos and spreads, and meatless and wheat-less burger crumbles. Also included are inventive toppings and pizzas that run the gamut from comfort food pizzas like Chili Mac Pizza, Barbeque Pizza and Eggplant Parmesan Pizza, to fresh vegetable-laden pizzas like Sweet Potato and Kale Pizza, Corn, Zucchini and Tomato Pizza and Asparagus, Tomato and Pesto Pizza. There is even a chapter dedicated to dessert pizzas too, from Babka Pizza, to Berry Pie Pizza and Coconut Caramel Dream Pizza. With helpful information and tips on equipment and techniques, Vegan Pizza shares the secrets to fabulous, easy-to-make, dairy-free, meat-free thin-crust artisan pizza that tastes like it came from your neighborhood pizzeria. Now home cooks everywhere can get baking and make fabulous vegan pizzas in their own kitchens.”

–The review–

As a mostly vegetarian consumer of food, pizza can be a tricky minefield to navigate. Sure, there’s the ever-classic margherita or quattro formaggi. Pizza bianca is another good option, dealing with mozzarella and ricotta. However, these are all quite heavy on the cheese and many cookbooks aren’t that imaginative when it comes to vegetarian pizza options. In her latest recipe book, due out on September 3rd 2013, Julie Hasson takes on the arguably even bigger challenge of vegan pizza. Not only does she have to find a range of tasty toppings that don’t rely so much on cheese, but she also has to make a convincing base. So does she manage it?

First, the toppings. One good way around the cheese (apart from vegan cheese, of course, which you can’t get in France) is to mix things up by using vegan pesto as a base (if you’re making your own pesto at home, this shouldn’t be too tricky to achieve). Thankfully, tomato bases also still feature strongly. However, anyone seeking a book based purely on vegetables will be disappointed: Hasson devotes a whole chapter to the creation and use of meat substitutes (mostly using TVP or soy as a base). Conversely, by addressing the ‘vegan cheese’ element, she passes on actual recipes, not just a list of vegan products to buy – for instance, she creates a creamy “cheese” sauce using tofu and soy milk as a base. Flavourings such as liquid smoke and tahini are also used to help conjure up varied and tasty sauces. Following this, she gets to the classics – but sadly, they all rely on vegan mozzarella-style cheese and some of them use vegan meat substitutes as well. This is definitely aimed at Americans – there’s no way you’d be able to find this stuff in France, even at health food stores (and even if you could, it would be very expensive).

Much more promising is the “farmer’s market pizza” chapter, which offers up multiple mouthwatering options, including asparagus and pesto, corn and courgette, broccoli and sundried tomato, pineapple and jalapeno, and wild mushroom and potato. However, only the sweet potato and kale pizza, and the tomato, cucumber and caper pizza, don’t rely on processed ‘vegan’ cheese, which again is a little bit limiting. The ‘not the usual suspects’ chapter suffers from the same problems as previously, thanks to an overreliance on meat and cheese substitutes. The most promising recipe here is the muffuletta pizza, which uses a tomato, chilli and garlic base and toppings of olives, capers, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs. The global chapter is more complex than previous chapters in terms of both sheer number and variety of ingredients, meaning that whenever the dreaded ‘vegan mozzarella’ is mentioned, it can be left out. The Bibimbap pizza, inspired by the Korean rice dish, sounds excellent: who wouldn’t love a pizza that has a gochujang base, sesame seeds, garlic, spinach, shiitake mushrooms, scallions and beansprouts? The Thai peanut pizza is equally commendable thanks to its creative use of sriracha, peanuts and peanut butter, broccoli, scallions and agave nectar.

The dessert pizzas are also a wonderful idea that I never would have thought of – even if it isn’t strictly Italian and you’ll find me sneakily substituting the vegan margarine for butter. The berry pie pizza can also be made with no substitutions whatsoever thanks to its elegant ingredient list of berries, sugar, water, cornflour, pizza dough and icing sugar. In fact, most of the dessert recipes can be made by the average human with no interest in vegan margarine.

All of these pizzas are supported by the base. Hasson recognises that this is a classic recipe to not be messed with and sticks with the components of the base that you will find in Italy: flour, salt, olive oil, yeast, and warm water. She also explores other equally interesting options, though, such as wholewheat, spelt, and gluten-free bases, meaning there should be something to suit everyone. All of the recipes are easy to work through, too, and are accompanied by beautiful photographs.

Suffice it to say that this is probably not a recipe book for the beginning vegan, in the sense of far too many specialist products being required to pull these recipes off (the meat and cheese substitutes are one such example, but the tofu and the vegan margarine and the soy milk can prove equally obscure). However, the good news is that vegetarians and even meat-eaters can just adapt the recipes to suit their own needs – by using regular butter or cheese, for example. It’s worth noting that even putting slightly marginal ingredients aside, the book is packed with delicious ideas, and as a vegetarian sympathiser myself (even if apparently I can’t live without cheese), I feel that the message of vegetarianism and veganism is important: we don’t NEED to eat meat, so stand back, experiment with new vegetables or sauces or flavours, and just let the new taste experiences roll in.

other books by Julie Hasson

150 Best Cupcake Recipes (2012)

Vegan Diner (2011)

The Complete Book of Pies (2008)

300 Best Chocolate Recipes (2006)

cross-posted to Bianca’s Book Blog

Food book review: The Book Club Cookbook (Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp) Monday, Feb 20 2012 

–The blurb–

“Whether it’s Roman punch with The Age of Innocence, Sabzi Challow (spinach and rice) and lamb with The Kite Runner, or ambrosia with To Kill a Mockingbird, nothing spices up a book club meeting like great eats. Featuring recipes and discussion ideas for one hundred popular club selections, this cookbook guides readers in selecting and preparing culinary masterpieces that blend perfectly with the literary masterpieces their club is reading. This fully revised and updated edition includes a full-colour, sixteen-page photo insert, and new contributions from a host of today’s bestselling authors, offering recipes and commentary from: Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants (Oyster Brie Soup), Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (Demetrie’s Chocolate Pie and Caramel Cake), Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper (Brian Fitzgerald’s Firehouse Marinara Sauce), Annie Barrows’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Potato Peel Pie and Non-Occupied Potato Peel Pie) and Chris Cleave’s Little Bee (Post-Colonial Pie).”

–The review–

Books and food are possibly more intrinsically linked than most people realise, and it goes further than just enjoying a few snacks while discussing a good book with friends. Even when my sister and I were children, one of our favourite games was to pile up all of the living room pouffes on the sofa so that they almost touched the ceiling, sit on them, and munch on snozzcumber (=cucumber) and sup on frobscottle (read: lemonade) while watching Roald Dahl’s The BFG on the small screen. Call us strange children if you will – but naturally this meant that when I was contacted by Penguin asking if I wanted to review this book (which unites two of my major loves of food and books), I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

In truth, the list of new books and recipes that appears on this second edition’s cover didn’t actually appeal to me much. I hadn’t heard of half of the books, and of the half I did know of, I hadn’t read them. So for a moment I did wonder how far I would be able to relate to the selection of recipes and books chosen. However, I need not have worried: upon opening the pages, I stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove of books and recipes I recognised, as well as books and recipes that I’d never seen before but really wanted to try and to read.

I started off with an old English classic: Toad-in-the-Hole, from the novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I came away thinking that their Yorkshire pudding mix needed more milk to make it go further, but at the same time I still finished the recipe with a full tummy and a desire to read the book. Other recipes I sampled included a sour cherry pie from The Dive From Clausen’s Pier (which I suspect did not benefit from my cheat shortcut modifications; just follow the damn recipe, people), a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato pizza from The Devil Wears Prada (a genius pizza topping that I couldn’t believe I’d never tried before, and from a hilarious-sounding book, too), eggplant caponata from Bel Canto (not my favourite book or foodstuff, but my husband loved the dish), and spicy pork, orange, and hoisin wanton cups from Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (which I enjoyed, but would perhaps prefer to make with beef. Now there’s an experiment for the future…or not, as the case may be, if my advice on the cherry pie is anything to go by. Listening to my own advice has never been one of my strong points!).

While all of the books mentioned above are modern, the cookbook still contains plenty of recipes from classic novels for the traditional reader, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Age of Innocence, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Jane Eyre – all of which I look forward to exploring. The selection, then, and the way it’s set up, definitely doesn’t disappoint. While the stunning colour photographs could be more spread out throughout the book, rather than just being stuck all together in the middle, this is really my only quibble. I love the input from authors and book groups alike, as well as from the compilers of this book themselves, who are clearly keen readers, and think the idea of an online community that lovers of the cookbook can also enjoy is an inspired idea too.

I truly believe that this collection offers something unique in the world of cookbooks – unless I’ve been living under a rock for some time, I don’t recall seeing any other cookbook like this. As well as being inspired to get the authors’ book club cookbook for kids (I’m hoping for some REAL Roald Dahl recipes!), I’ve also been inspired to do what I suspect was the authors’ aim all along: to cook, and to read, and to do both at the same time. Cheers, ladies.

Other works by Judy Gelman & Vicki Levy Krupp

The Kids’ Book Club Book (2007)

Table Of Contents (2011)

–cross-posted to Bianca’s Book Blog

Cupcakes! Tuesday, Apr 20 2010 

For my birthday, my sister bought me the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and I have thus spent many a happy hour drooling over it. My first attempt was the basic vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting:

(I know, the photo’s quite dark. I’m sorry 😦   My paws get in the way sometimes 😦  )

They tasted gooooooood. But they were extremely sweet and almost more frosting than cake. This was a shame really as I tasted a little bit of the cake when slicing off the tops so that they would be flat when I iced them, and the cake on its own was lush, but couldn’t be tasted in its full glory once the truckload of icing had been added.

The cake recipes, as far as I can tell if this one is anything to go by, are fairly idiotproof. The cake itself was light and fluffy and the instructions to get there were extremely straightforward. While a reduction in icing could be beneficial, these are a delicious, indulgent treat.

Going back to the book itself, it’s full of high-quality photos and a range of dishes – the bakery cookbook doesn’t just tell you how to make cupcakes, but also muffins, pies and brownies…and cookies…which I’ll be trying out later on today. I’m also much looking forward to my visit to the original Hummingbird Bakery in London next Thursday (the 29th). Bring it.