Mary Berry with Lucy Young
This is the first Mary Berry book I have reviewed. Given her exalted position in the Royal Family of Cooking, it felt a bit cheeky to attempt to pass any judgement whatsoever and I steered clear. However, I recently bought this one and couldn’t not review it when I realised how excellent it is.
It’s not a new book, it was first published twelve years ago, and that shows a bit here and there, mainly because of the absence of ingredients and trends that we find in more recent books. In my view, it suffers not a jot for this, and if you’re desperate to add some ‘nduja, kimchi or Baharat, fire away.
Look and Feel
I have become so accustomed to cookbooks that are also family memoirs, travelogues, food histories or some kind of personal ‘journey’ that it was almost startling to pick up a book that has recipes, pictures and advice. Nothing else.
Most recipes include an image from Georgia Glynn Smith, and they are the sort of images that make you think ‘hey, if I make this it might actually look like that’. Not that they’re anything other than professional and beautifully styled, just that they are actual pictures of delicious plated food. The esoteric vibe of some cookbooks is definitely dialled down in the images here.
This book is specifically about entertaining so optional quantities are given for 6 and for 12 servings. Genius! In the advice in the front of the book there is guidance on how to go about scaling up or down for different numbers. Each recipe also gives a ‘how to prepare ahead’ call out, including freezing instructions. Extra genius!
Chapters include party bites; starters (or First Courses as they’re poshly called); mains are split into poultry and game, meat, and fish; vegetables and veggie mains; puddings; and a section covering tea for a crowd. The recipes themselves are laid out in numbered steps – much easier to follow than the strangely popular ‘narrative approach’ to the recipe method that seems to be universal these days.
What sort of food is it.
Tasty, uncomplicated, achievable dishes. You’re not going to find yourself having to also make a sauce or spice mix on another page of the book – everything you need is on the page. There are options that suggest homemade if possible for things like pesto, but it doesn’t feel terribly pressurised.
I cooked a number of mains and some biscuits so far. The Chicken with Pesto, Taleggio and Roasted Tomatoes (pg 111) was absolutely fantastic, the Shepherd’s Pie Dauphinois (pg 163) felt like real comfort food. The Paprika Pork Fillet (pg 166) was less memorable, although still lovely. Almond Biscuits (pg 319), pictured, were excellent, although I didn’t achieve anything like the number the recipe indicates, despite following the instructions to a tee and using every last bit of the dough.
Ingredients easily available?
Totally. Usual store cupboard advice from me applies here too (let’s face it, if you don’t have a basic selection of spices, dried goods and tins, you won’t love any cookbook you own). Having said that, the recipes flavour fresh food so you will need to shop at least once.
Obscure equipment needed?
No. There’s a note at the top of recipes telling you if you’ll need anything out of the ordinary, but even then a reasonably well equipped kitchen will have almost everything in the notes.
Who is it for?
If you want to entertain at home, but don’t know where to start or don’t want to get bogged down with two days shopping for obscure ingredients, then this is definitely the book for you. I’d go so far as to say it could be ‘the one’ for someone who doesn’t own any other cookbook.
For me this will be a go-to when pals are coming around – low slow casseroles if we are repairing to ours after a match or other outing, starter (sorry, First Course!) and more impressive effort for proper dinner parties. Even if I’m planning a dinner party menu that includes something fancier than this book offers, I won’t want every course to be a faff. So it could be starter and dessert from Mary and the main from someone with foodie notions.
I absolutely oved the potential time saving of the ‘freeze ahead’ instructions that come with many of the recipes. There are only 2 of us to feed most days so instead of cutting down the recipes, I made the full quantity and froze portions for future use – win win!
Published by Penguin Random House