Rachel’s Food For Living

Sunday, March 29, 2009 8:45 | Filed in Books, Reviews

Rachel Allen's Food for Living (Amazon)

Rachel’s Food For Living is another book I was given a review copy of, in exchange for, well, a review. I was intrigued by this, as I’d never attempted to review a cookery book before. I wasn’t entirely sure how you’d go about it — there’s no main “character”, there isn’t a “plot” as such, and if we waited for me to try out every recipe in the book, we’d still be here in a year or two.

So what I decided to do — ably assisted by the GLW, who also liked this idea — was to pick three different recipes from the book, and give them a go, and make any other comments about the book that I thought appropriate. There are large colour pictures of the food throughout the book, looking delicious and exquisitely presented, and here the difficulty is in remembering not to salivate over the pages. Selecting the dishes, and looking through the recipe book, was of course, part of the fun.

The book is structured differently to many cookery books I have encountered before — rather than having sections for ‘cakes’, ‘fish’, ‘beef’, and the like, it has sections which are broken down into questions about why you are cooking and what you are cooking for. You have ‘making memories’ (stuff to cook with the kids), ‘the lazy sunday’, ‘food for romance’ and so on.

In the end we went for three different things that we could work together into one meal (or one meal plus dessert). These were the Greek Lamb, Onion and Butterbean Stew, the Cheesy Soda Bread and of course the Chocolate Biscuit Cake (from ‘Food for the Soul’, ‘Making Memories’ and ‘For the love of Chocolate’ respectively).

Greek Lamb, Onion and Butter Bean Stew  - Ingredients (flickr)

So we began by a special trip to the supermarket to ensure that we had all the ingredients, and then we were off…

For the Greek Lamb, Onion and Butter Bean Stew, you need lamb, onions and butter beans — although you could probably work that out from the title — as well as some lamb stock, some garlic and, of course, your copy of the Rachel Allen book.

Greek Lamb, Onion and Butter Bean Stew - Frying Tonight (flickr)

It was at this stage in the process that I became aware of a slight potential problem. The GLW said that she didn’t like butter beans, only she hadn’t wanted to mention it earlier because I had been so enthusiastic about the idea of this particular recipe. So I wasn’t entirely sure how this would pan out, but she was prepared to give them a go.

For a recipe which produces — well, let’s not jump ahead — the recipe is remarkably simple and easy to follow, with only three steps actually being involved in the process. And once you’d done the preparation, it was something that you could leave for a little while.

Cheesy Soda Bread - Prep (flickr)

…which gave us the opportunity to start on the Cheesy Soda Bread which we had planned as an accompaniment for the meal. This was one we’d specifically chosen for two reasons: firstly, my wife likes making bready things, and secondly, it would provide an opportunity for the kids to get involved. However, in some cases there’s no accounting for the inertia children-type objects have at rest (particularly when watching something on telly they like) and so we ended up doing the Cheesy Soda Bread entirely by ourselves.

Aside: the recipe makes you quite a lot of Cheesy Soda Bread, and so we had quite a bit left over after the meal. I’m not sure whether you are supposed to do this, but we found that the remaining soda bread, lightly toasted and served with butter the following morning, was delicious. Having said that, I think with cooking there’s no “supposed to”: as long as it works, that’s the main thing.

Greek Lamb, Onion and Butter Bean Stew - Served (flickr)

I am afraid that my ‘recipe photography’ is not up to the standard in Rachel Allen’s book. My culinary skills are not so high when it comes to presentation (note also the soda bread alongside!). However, I am pleased to report that the taste of the thing worked out just fine.

Also, upon checking the back of the book, the photography was credited to Georgia Glynn Smith, who I presume is a professional photographer, so I don’t feel quite so bad about this, although I do also feel it’s appropriate to give her some credit in this review, as the photos in the book are very good indeed, and were as instrumental in my selection of the dishes as anything else…

The recipe serves 4-6, or in our case two adults and two children, when enough ‘second helpings’ are required. The flavour was just gorgeous; the lovely lamb flavour permeating the butter beans, and what had sounded like a lot of garlic amounting to a subtle hint in the final dish. How impressed we were with the flavour can be best summed up by the fact that the GLW kept pinching extra butter beans (you know, those things she had said she didn’t like) because they had absorbed the flavour so well.

If you do decide to get the book, make sure you give this one a try.

Chocolate Biscuit Cake - Mixing Up (flickr)

And finally, we come to the Chocolate Biscuit Cake. If I thought the instructions for the stew were simple, this couldn’t really have been simpler.

Basically, you get your ingredients, melt the chocolate, and mix them together.

Then you need to get the biscuit cake to set, and while you are waiting for that to happen, you can set about cleaning up. Now for some reason — I’m not entirely sure but it may have been something to do with the word chocolate — the kids were much more willing to help and be involved with this dish.

Chocolate Biscuit Cake - Cleaning Up (flickr)

So here is the obligatory photo of our three year old ‘helping’ with the cleaning up. Well, obviously the best way to clean out any bowl which has had chocolate in it is to try and place your entire head inside the bowl and lick all the chocolate out … isn’t it?

Of course, the tricky bit is working out how — once you’ve got chocolate all over your nose — you can stick your tongue out far enough to lick it off again. If nothing else, this will at least keep your kids occupied while you finish the cooking (and in our case, then begin to serve the lamb stew with the soda bread).

Chocolate Biscuit Cake - Served (flickr)

The tray we ended up using for the chocolate biscuit cake was a bit too large, so our chocolate biscuit cake ended up being a little thin as it had been spread out too much, but this didn’t put anyone off and the pile of chocolate biscuit cake biscuits (if you know what I mean) rapidly decreased in size.

Rachel Allen notes that they will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge, but I would also agree with her comment that while in theory they might last this long, in practice you will find they have been eaten long before then…

We very much enjoyed our experience of choosing, and cooking, and eating the recipes from Rachel’s book and I’ve already begun planning our next dishes. I think the Spanish Chorizo and Chickpea soup (which I’ve had recommended to me), the Pork and Mushroom Pie with Gentle Spices, and either the Polka-dot or the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies will be the likely candidates…

Rachel’s Food For Living is published in paperback on the 2nd of April. Of course, if you can’t wait that long, it is available in hardback too.

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14 Comments to Rachel’s Food For Living

  1. Jack's Mam says:

    March 29th, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Yummy!!!Where’s my invite?

  2. chartroose says:

    March 31st, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Damn! It makes me wish I weren’t dieting!

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  14. Same says:

    October 7th, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Just finished mikang a batch of scones using this recipe (I added 1 tbsp of sugar, subtracted one tbsp of butter and used chili-infused chocolate bits). The finished product was SUBLIME–perfectly tender and moist, with great flavor. Thanks for the recipe!

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