Eating Three Courses for £7 at Books for Cooks, the Famous Notting Hill Cookbook Shop

I need to clarify to begin with that I didn’t in fact eat three courses for £7, I ate two courses for £5.  But I needed you to know that you COULD eat three courses for £7. This is such a deal!

My friend Lolita let me in on this hidden gem back in May.  Books for Cooks is a fantastic bookshop entirely dedicated to cookbooks and so it’s my idea of heaven.  And! Even better they have a daily test kitchen where they sample recipes from their cookbooks and serve them to the public at a meagre cost.  I was shown photographic evidence of the food Lolita had eaten and I knew I had to go as soon as possible.

My visit wasn’t entirely straight-forward.  I was accompanied by my friend Vic and her toddler Bella, both Vic and I accepting the challenge of entertaining a toddler during quite a fancy meal.  We could do this surely! Well Bella was certainly as enthusiastic as me about the cookbooks. She merrily pulled as many as she could off the shelves to have a good old look.  As the delicious starter (chilled minted pea soup) arrived, it became apparent we would need to eat in shifts.  One to walk Bella outside, one to eat and repeat!

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Chilled Minted Pea Soup

Chilled minted pea soup then?  Little did I know how much I would like a cold soup – it sounds a bit weird.  But it was thick, refreshing, sweet and delicious – it was a winner.

Next up was beef bourginon with crushed new potatoes.  What’s not to love about a beef bourginon? It was admittedly a small portion, but with pudding in mind and it only being midday, this did make sense.  And it really was a rich, tender bourginon and those great buttery crushed potatoes on top were a lovely touch.

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Beef Bourginon with Crushed New Potatoes

Unfortunately despite having plenty of room for a pud, Bella had reached her saturation point.  I jealously surveyed the three varieties of cake being doled out (guinness cake, apricot sponge and carrot and walnut cake).  I just about managed to be a grown up about it, promising myself that I would return one day and have the full three courses.

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The day’s menu and the delicious cakes I nearly ate
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Delightful Bella, momentarily distracted from pulling all the books off the shelves

I heartily recommend you visit the test kitchen at Books for Cooks whether you are interested in the cookbooks or not, you will be very interested in the delicious and bargain priced meal.  The staff were lively and welcoming and clearly loved having their bookshop crammed with greedy customers.  I will most definitely be back to browse the colourful bookshelves and eat more food.

Find out more about Books for Cooks here: https://www.booksforcooks.com/

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Cooking the Books: A Review of Anna Jones ‘A Modern Way to Cook’

I woke up to  what a fantastic range of neglected cookbooks I have during my 69-er cooking challenge. For those not in the know, my boyfriend Jamie and I cooked out of each and every one of the 69 cookbooks on my shelves in just 69 days. The challenge left me craving to return to my cookbooks and to get to know them better. And so a new project emerged: I would spend a week or two cooking recipes from a chosen cookbook then write up a review which I would call ‘Cooking The Books’.

For my birthday in May I received a beautiful looking book called a Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones.  The couple of recipes I had tried had been really delicious and healthy so it was time for a full immersion.

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Anna Jones trained as a chef with Jamie Oliver at Fifteen.  She’s a vegetarian and passionately believes that meatless cusine can be exciting.  And her book really delivers. I found her recipes simple to make but somehow exotic and surprising.

Here are my favourites:

  1. Salted Almond Butter Choc Bars.  These were basically like really fresh tasting bounty bars but better for you! Made of ground almonds and dessicated coconut and coated in dark chocolate (see the header picture of the blog). And I loved the salty after taste. These got scoffed down very quickly.
  2. Nordic Breakfast Bowl. A lovely slow cooked porridge with grated apple, almond butter, raisins, coconut yoghurt and all manner of nuts and seeds.  Don’t make this if you’re in a hurry to get to work. There are a lot of ingredients – having said that it probably in reality only took ten minutes to make – I just left a trail of destruction after me because of the various bags of nuts and seeds I used. A lovely gentle flavour party for the morning and a welcome change to my dull standard brekkie of weetabix.
  3. Curry Leaf and Smoky Celeriac Pilaf – this was like a vegetarian kedgeree – spicy, fragent and unusual, the celeriac adding an extra layer of interest to the dish.
  4. Lentils with roast tomatoes and horseradish – this was a plate of multi-flavoured, multi-textured delciousness!  Wholesome earthy lentils provided the base to sweet squelchy roast tomatoes with creamy horseradish for a kick and garlic and thyme breadcrumbs for crunch.
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Nordic Breakfast Bowl
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Curry Leaf and Smoky Celeriac Pilaf
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Lentils with Roast Tomatoes and Horseradish

Not my favourites but still pretty damn tasty

  1. Courgetti with Pistachios, Green herbs and Ricotta – a plate of light lemony loveliness. A great diet dish without any sacrifice on flavour.
  2. Saffron Polenta Bake – another wholesome, exciting flavour combo – saffrony polenta, chunks of feta, toasted pinenuts and cherry tomatoes.
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Courgetti with Pistachios, Green Herbs and Ricotta
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Saffron Polenta Bake

The dish that bombed!

Frying Pan Squash and Cavolo Nero Pie.  I suspect we might have been the culprits as to why this dish went wrong and not Anna Jones. It was a filo pie that you started in a frying pan and finished in the oven.  We were told we could use kale instead of cavolo nero.  Well our resulting pie was just a disintegrated  pastry mess with big chunky hard to eat lumps of kale.  It was not a success. To be fair it tasted ok though.

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Frying Pan Squash and Cavolo Nero Pie

I’d highly recommend Anna’s book – her healthy, colourful veggie recipes show real imagination and flair. Ingredients are thrown together in a way I’ve not experienced before. The food is stylish, subtle, fragrant and beautiful to look at.  And bonus, it’s all really good for you. It was the perfect pre-holiday food for us to get us ready for baring flesh by the pool!

 

It’s damn well bloody over! 69-er is COMPLETE.

And it ends with mixed feelings (and an expanded waistline!).  I’m sorry that there’s no longer going to be anything pushing us out of our comfort zone of routine dinners.  That there won’t be anything that motivates me to whip up a cake or some scones after dinner when I normally couldn’t be arsed.  That it may not occur to me any more to sling together a casual salad or soup for a saturday lunch instead of a sandwich.  However I am relieved that I stand a chance now to lose the weight I’ve put on in the last 9 weeks.  And that I can do other things in life other than cook and pick recipes!

So what have been the wins?

Engaging with cookbooks I normally can’t be bothered to open has been a wonderful discovery.  Who’d have thought that cookbooks without photos actually work?  I love a visual demonstration of a dish to inspire me but a number of my cookbooks didn’t help me out with that. And guess what? The food tasted just as good without the photo.

If a cookbook is old it doesn’t stop it from being excellent – Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef (1999) helped me to make the best beer bread in the world and Nigella’s How To Eat (1998) provided the recipe to an exquisite mushroom ragu.

Even if I don’t particularly like a chef on tv (Rick Stein – I find him very whingey) doesn’t mean that they can’t write an amazing cookery book. I was literally blown away by Rick’s creamy leak cannelloni.

It’s forced me to try different sorts of cooking – I often avoid my Asian/Indian/Chinese cookbooks because the ingredients can be difficult to source.  But we managed and the dishes were a joy.

Conquering bread was a HUGE deal for me.  I’ve talked about making bread for YEARS and with this challenge I made pitta bread, beer bread and potato bread.  My fear of breadmaking has gone.

It’s confirmed to me that some of my favourites will remain favourites.  I refer to them again, but Nigella and Jamie never failed to deliver amazing food throughout the challenge.

And what will I be taking with me going forward?

I’m going to be more curious about my cookery books and not stick to my comfort zone of my three favourite healthy cook books. Different styles of cooking have different merits and it’s fun to mix it up.  I hope to make an attempt to return to as many of those 69 books as possible.

Finally let me talk you through the last eleven recipes of the challenge. They were all pretty lovely – apart from the Basil and Mango Smoothie (Innocent Smoothie Recipe Book) which was a bit bland.  You can look at all the dishes on the collage below, but I’ll pick out my top 3 faves.

  1. Beetroot and Feta and Mint Salad – Fabulous Baker Brothers.  A bit faffy to make as you had to roast the beetroots then de-skin them with rubber gloves.  Messy work I can tell you. But this was a beauty of a dish – fresh and wholesome and deliciously oniony.
  2. Leek Cannelloni – Rick Stein.  This took ages to make and involved four pans on the go at once.  Every element required steeping and simmering and several stages (eg infuse the milk for the cheese sauce for 20 mins with bay leaves, onions & garlic before you even make the cheese sauce!).  And the lasagne sheets we had to boil in a pot ended up stuck together so we had to chuck them out and have a pasta-less cheese bake. However this didn’t matter and the effort was worth it.  It was out of this world.  The tomato sauce was rich, the leeks with ricotta were a great combination and the cheese sauce was so  flavourful and creamy – it was the icing on the cake.
  3. Baked Cheesecake – James Martin.  I went through a phase about six years ago when I’d have people over for dinner and I’d ALWAYS make a cheesecake.  I was obsessed – I must have tried ten different varieties of cheesecake.  So since that overkill, I don’t make cheesecakes, until the challenge that is.  As it turns out I think it’s the best cheesecake I’ve ever made – the lemon zest and whisky soaked sultanas added a subtle and sophisticated twist to a traditional recipe.

So now 69-er is over, what next? Well certainly for the next two weeks before my holiday I’m going to be doing a lot of healthy eating recipes to lose those extra pounds I’ve gained. So expect a post about that.  And for the next challenge – I’m not quite sure yet, but it would be nice to start another juicy challenge in September.  A food waste challenge or mastering a cuisine are appealing ideas.  Do comment and let me know if you have any suggestions for me!

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