Friday, 30 September 2011

Books that changed my life

My cookbook collection goes back some 300 years, and I love every book. I started off with Perfect Cooking by Marguerite Patten, and then moved on to the Penguin book of  Cordon Bleu Cooking, along with other assorted Penguin books. Then I bought Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon, which introduced me to food and ingredients from all over Asia. I still use that one quite regularly: it was recently re-published thanks to Clarissa Dickson-Wright, and I recommend it without reservation. Purely as a result of book acquisitions, my early cooking efforts were mostly guided by French and Asian influences, so I made an effort to buy books that covered new countries and cuisines, starting with Italian and Spanish and then moving further afield through the Middle East on to places like Alaska and Tibet. I also began to follow particular authors including Elizabeth David, Marcella Hazan, Arto der Haroutunian, Escoffier, Keith Floyd, Jane Grigson, Edouard de Pomiane,  and I plan to discuss their influences on my cooking in blog posts very soon.

Then I discovered Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes I and II, by Julia Child et al. This massive work changed my cooking life completely, and I still make reference to them on a regular basis (in fact I have two copies of each book, one pair in reserve for when the originals fall to pieces). In my opinion, these books are the finest work of literature in the English language. I give them as presents for birthdays, weddings, Christmas, anniversaries, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Whilst they are primarily focussed on French ingredients and recipes, the flavours, techniques, tools and utensils are generally applicable to any style of cooking, and I urge you to buy them now. In passing, I'll mention that these books were the inspiration for the recent film 'Julie and Julia', which was the film of a blog of the books, so I suppose this is a blog about the film of the blog of the books.

Here's another of my recipes:


Small aubergines (about 10 cm. long: get them from Asian stores), cut in half from top to bottom
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, very finely chopped
1 can white crab meat, drained (prefer fresh crab if you can get it!)


Preheat oven to 180.

Put the halved aubergines on a baking tray, cut side up. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and roast to soften for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the onion and chilli gently in olive oil until soft. Allow to cool. Remove the aubergines from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Scoop out the flesh from the aubergines, being careful to leave the skins whole. Mix the aubergine pulp, mayonnaise and crabmeat to form a stiff mixture. Spoon this mixture over the aubergines. Sprinkle the onion/chilli mixture over the crab mixture and heat the lot under a hot grill for a minute or two.

I can eat 10 of these in one sitting.


  1. I look forward to reading many more posts like this one. Congratulations on "branching out".

  2. Thanks, Emma. I hope this blog gives you as much pleasure as my wildlife one.

    While I'm posting a comment, does anyone else see the 'flames' as the page background or just a border?

  3. Hi Stuart - great to see your new venture - recipe looks delicious and will give it a go - third time typing this as i try to post the comment! will copy it now to cut and paste if necessary - On IE8 and flames look are borders and look fine. best regards Matthew - Larne

  4. Matthew: great to hear from you again. Any interesting fungi up your way?