Big Table, Busy Kitchen is written by Allegra McEvedy. Published by Quercus Editions Ltd., the book celebrates all that is wonderful about home, love and life.
Allegra McEvedy - About the Author
Allegra McEvedy is a well-respected chef, broadcaster and co-founder of the Leon healthy fast-food restaurant chain. She is author of numerous books including Bought, Borrowed & Stolen: Recipes and Knives from a Travelling Chef; Around the World in 120 Recipes and Leon: Ingredients & Recipes. Allegra McEvedy's Colour Cookbook, published in 2006, won the International Association of Culinary Professionals 2007 Cookbook award in the Chefs and Restaurants category. She is also co-author with Paul Merret of: Economy Gastronomy: Eat Better and Spend Less and Colouring the Seasons: A Cook's Guide, co-authored by Fred Dickieson.
The Background to the Book
After someone loses a loved one they often create a shrine to help them remember that special person. Some will leave entire rooms with their loved one's possessions completely untouched while others will keep just one or two mementos.
All of us have our cherished memories, keepsakes, letters, etc. In my case it is a tattered notebook in which my late mother used to write her notes and recipes. If that ever gets lost or destroyed I shall be heartbroken.
That's exactly what happened to the author of Big Table, Busy Kitchen. In this case it was a photo album containing hand-written notes and recipes as well as recipes cut out from magazines and newspapers. The ironic thing is that Allegra McEvedy had taken her mother's notebook to show a publisher with whom she was discussing a new cookbook. After reluctantly leaving the album with the publisher it went missing over night. Devastated, the author re-lived her mother's death, and went through all the stages of grief for a second time.
Coming to terms with the loss of the album, Ms McEvedy resolved to write down all her favourite recipes, and the memories they bring, as a legacy to her daughter. The result is this beautifully presented, fully illustrated, cookbook, Big Table, Busy Kitchen.
A Book for Life, About Life
It's more than just a cookbook. It's a book about life. McEvedy recalls all the stages of life: she tells us about her early memories of cooking with her mother. I think we all have these wonderful memories. I know I do. Baking is usually a safe activity for young children because there are so few dangerous factors associated with it: no hot pans or dishes until the goodies go into the oven.
The book progresses through the various stages of life with chapters, and appropriate advice and recipes, devoted to bored or broke students; new workers; how to impress your friends, and entertaining in general.
The chapters on entertaining contain complete menu plans. The beauty of these is that they look very impressive and much harder to prepare than they actually are. In reality, they are very easy and straight forward.
In her chapter called Bun in the Oven, the author describes how she got pregnant some twenty years after her mother died and how she pined for her mother's advice. All the recipes in this section were fashionable at the time of her pregnancy and said to be good for mums-to-be and their unborn babies.
Good Advice and Useful Tips
Big Table, Busy Kitchen contains so many useful tips. I particularly like the author's 'motherly advice' on how to get over a hangover. She advises taking a couple of painkillers and a pint of water before going to bed. If you can't sleep it off have a cup of strong coffee with plenty of sugar. She says ″put on clean clothes and brush your teeth twice: once for you, and once for anyone you might be talking to in the near future″.
I particularly liked McEvedy's advice on how to make buttermilk with milk and a lemon, and how to make baking powder with one part bicarbonate of soda to two parts cream of tartar. This might seem fairly basic, but for an inexperienced cook, this could be vital advice.
Never-fail Recipes - With a Little Bit of Help from Allegra
In the course of reviewing a cookbook, it is normal practise for me to test one or two of the recipes. On this occasion I tried Never-fail Victoria Sponge and Shepherd's Pie. I'm hopeless at baking cakes so I thought a sponge cake would be a real challenge. McEvedy describes her Victoria Sponge as ″impossible to screw up″. I followed her instructions to the letter and for the first time in many years made a very passable sponge. I couldn't taste it because I'm gluten intolerant, but my husband and some friends polished it off in a few seconds! I think the reason the recipe worked so well is that Ms McEvedy tells us to melt the butter rather than creaming it with the sugar like so many cookbooks advise.
The Shepherd's Pie turned out as the author describes it: ″slap-bang yummy″. I don't usually go for recipes with several different stages. I prefer to do things on the quick, in a hurry. If you follow the recipe step-by-step it's impossible to rush and impossible to screw up. I was very surprised to see chopped anchovies in the list of ingredients. The result is amazing and the Shepherd's Pie does not taste fishy.
One of the most useful tips in this book can be found in The New Worker. The author gives a selection of very easy, but absolutely delicious recipes that an exhausted worker can prepare quickly after a day's work. Each recipe deliberately over-estimates the ingredient volumes by about one third. The idea is that the leftovers are transformed, with very little additional work, into a tasty and nutritious lunch-box snack to be enjoyed at work the following day.