Book reviews | The Cookbook Dilemma: Let’s Eat or Good Things to Eat?

Book reviews

The Cookbook Dilemma: Let’s Eat or Good Things to Eat?

I’ve been meaning for a while to review cookbooks in pairs which makes sense unless you’re a total obsessive like me. Most people compare a couple of recently published books and decide which to buy instead of buying them both. This series may help you to make up your mind.

It might sound a strange idea but in fact cookbooks, like buses, tend to arrive in twos and threes. It’s not unusual to find a couple on a similar theme. In fact if you’re into baking you’ve probably got about 20 to choose from currently, never mind two.

The common thread here is greedy authors who clearly like to eat as much as they like to cook. The culprits are Lucas Hollweg, cookery writer for the Sunday Times (Good Things to Eat) and Tom Parker-Bowles (Let’s Eat), both clearly charming fellows (actually I know Lucas is as I met him recently in France) and very good writers. It’s a tough call.

The recipes
Well, what’s what you buy a cookbook for, right? Well not entirely - most people apparently only cook one or two. Lucas’s are mainly divided up by ingredients and, occasionally, types of dish (figs, spaghetti, stews), Tom’s by themes (Quick Fixes, Slow and Low and From Far Flung Shores).

Lucas’s I would say are easier for the novice cook, Tom’s tor the more adventurous, blokey type. But having said that, it’s Lucas who puts 5 garlic cloves and 2 handfuls of coriander into his spaghetti with meatballs. Tom makes do with 2-5 hot chillies and a couple of Thai chillies in the sauce (he is a hard-core chilehead - even cottage pie comes with chillies).

aubergine and courgette gratin

LH - the chapters on gratins, risotto, ice cream and - surprisingly, as I don’t like them - chilled soups. The cucumber gazpacho (below) sounds blissful.

TPB - the slow and low chapter, the chilis, homemade salt beef, proper ribs, cochinita pibil (a Mexican pork stew. There is a lot of pork).

Recipes to try
Tom’s Greek-style roast lamb with macaroni, cochinita pibil (see above) Sisig (Filipino pork though I think I’ll only go for 6 chillies rather than the option of 20 . . . )

Lucas’s Baked sea bass with saffron potatoes, smoked haddock with spinach, mustard and cream, chocolate marmalade slump cake, plum and ginger flapjack crumble

greek style lamb with macaroni

Visual appeal
Both are handsome books. Tom’s has the more original cover covered with hand-written notes from his kitchen notebook (above). The pictures in Lucas’s (by Tara Fisher) are more enticing though I wish there were a few more of them.

In other words are they a good read? Yes, is the short answer. Lucas is possibly funnier but it’s a close-run thing.

Try this for size (from Lucas):

Funny how we think of pheasants as posh grub. Chaps with guns pay through the nose to take a pop at them so we assume the birds themselves must be somehow rarefied and expensive. In fact some bits of the countryside are positively overrun with the things and you can often buy four or less for the price of a good chicken. My parents’ garden in Somerset is regularly invaded by strutting escapees from the local shoot, so much so that my mum has taken to standing by the window and madly flapping her arms in an attempt to drive them away. The pheasants don’t seem to take much notice: they probably think she’s one of them.

Greed Factor
This is beginning to sound like Top Trumps. Will they satisfy the greediest reader? Again the answer is yes. Totally.

Value for money
Both are exactly the same size and number of pages and roughly, I would say, the same number of recipes - not that I think that matters if you have more than one cookbook. You already have more than you need. Lucas’s is £5 cheaper than Tom’s - and just £9.80 compared to £17.50 on Amazon at the time of writing, so quite significantly cheaper online.

cucumber gazpacho

The verdict
As I say, it’s tough. If I hadn’t been sent them I would buy them both. Rarely for cookbooks they both have a compelling voice. TPB’s is perhaps a bit posher, more classically British (apart from the Thai curries and other globetrotting recipes), Lucas’s a little lighter and healthier - apart from the puddings (he makes very good puds).

Tom is more of a carnivore and can get quite geeky - his recipe for ragu alla bolognese runs to 3 pages but much of that is an endearingly discursive essay on the origin of the dish and how he once spattered Anna del Conte with caponata. He also has a section on food for kids.

So if you are - or are buying it for - a young dad who’s an adventurous cook I’d go for Tom’s book. If your a fan of lighter and more feminine food and want some inventive ideas for desserts I’d go for Lucas’s which harks back to one of my favourite cookbooks ever, Nigella’s How to Eat (her best, by far).

If you like these books you’ll also love The Contented Cook: fuss-free food throughout the year by another greedy cook (I’m sure she won’t mind my saying) Xanthe Clay.


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