Hello Fresh

For the past few weeks I have been struggling with the idea of reviewing Hello Fresh. A large part of me wants to be concise to an extreme degree: “Hello Fresh? Yeah, nah.” Yet such brevity would I think hide the existence of a more interesting story.

Stepping back for a moment, allow me to introduce Hello Fresh. It is a meal kit delivery service. Meal kit delivery services, if you have had occasion to listen to a podcast in the past, oh let’s say year are having a moment. The basic structure of these services is that for a weekly fee one receives a box of pre-portioned ingredients and some recipe cards. One then combines a with b and hopefully enjoys the end results.

The draw of these services is apparent: convenience. Subscribers are free from the time spent coming up with recipe ideas, shopping and generally spending time thinking or worrying about their nighttime meal. Subscribers, aside from getting food each night, are also potentially exposed to new ingredients, techniques and cuisines.

The criticism of these services is extensive: they are expensive, the are generally not environmentally friendly, they consist of a limited variety of options, and they provoke a sense of generalised anxiety and unease, in the manner of any online company that tries to hide questionable practices behind a well polished app or website.

Why and How

Occasionally, the unthinkable machinery of modern corporations works in our favour. By completing a ‘step challenge,’ the cross-marketing department of an airline owned health insurance company sent us a code for a free box. Normally, we would have demurred, however an nonagenarian’s interstate birthday party required us to abandon our usual weekend rituals. We used our code to sign up for a four-people/five-meal box (to provide both for lunch leftovers but also it seemed wasteful to use the code on anything other than the most expensive box!)

The design of the available options on the website implies a five-meal vegetarian box is quite beyond Hello Fresh, so we went with the ‘classic’ box: which is Hello Fresh talk for a colon-load of meat. And, I have to say, calling it the ‘classic’ box is a nice way of suggesting anyone engaged in a non-meat diet is somehow on the bleeding edge and needs to be contained to only 3 meals a week lest they multiply and spread their unorthodox ways. Had we not had  the free box trial offer we would have had to pay AUD$189, a sum of money which seems quite extraordinary.

Luckily because we, as a society, are quite good are eliminating any last trace of dignity for workers, we were able to select a delivery window of 3am to 7am. The advantage of this window is that we could pretend our delivery was not being completed by someone forced into working awful hours, but by a chipper robot. This allowed us to at least pretend not to be as guilty as we felt. The box that appeared on our doorstep one morning was filled with the stuff to make our meals, protected by various bladders containing a gloriously squishy semi-frozen gel. I was pleased that by the time we unpacked the contents everything felt still cold.

I was also happy with the quality (with one exception, of which more later) of the food that arrived. Vegetables were fresh. The chicken was free range (as I write this I am afraid to google to see whether or not Lilydale chicken is truly free range, having once been burnt by believing the ‘free range’ branding on some Otway pork…). The remainder was either Hello Fresh branded (such as dumb little sachets of chilli flakes) or from brands that while not entirely familiar, at least did not fall into the Aldi supermarket brand name uncanny valley.

Our menu for the week was:

Obviously not anything too wild, but I allowed myself to be naively optimistic at first. Za’atar and chicken is an excellent combination. Who does not like a good carbonara, a dish that manages both mid-century Italian cinema sensuality and a certain en vogue tracksuit coziness? Korean beef tacos sounded like a fun of nod to the LA food truck scene, and perhaps a welcome break from some more bland dishes. And I like chilli. I tried to keep up my enthusiasm for chilli even as I read the full title of that dish: “Beef chilli con carne pie with cheddar & coriander sweet potato mash.”

My initial concern was that every night’s meal consisted of meat, meat, meat.  I understand that a lot of people do eat like this, and more power to them. We, on the other hand, have not eaten so much meat in such a short amount of time. Opening the fridge was a little like discovering a wee little abattoir.

The above shot taken from the rather cruelly named ‘Flavour Generator’ gives you an object lesson in how the Hello Fresh team approaches food. 

The Food

The dishes ranged from fine to horrendous. The fine dishes were fine in the way that legacy airline carrier economy food is fine. Fine in the way the food at a college or army barracks is fine. Not bold or exciting but not bad. I was struck with an overwhelming sense of the dish being proximate to legitimately delicious, if only for a small for tweaks or additions. They could have been so easily improved and made something special but sometimes food that is fine is, well, fine. The two chicken dishes fall into this category.

The other dishes—three out five—were decidedly not fine. The addition of pine nuts gave nothing to the carbonara, other than the fear of pine (nut) mouth. The accompanying salad of baby spinach tossed in balsamic vinegar AND HONEY was gross. No one has ever thought that balsamic vinegar was of insufficient sweetness. It was very nearly edible.

The two beef dishes were just bad. The supplied beef (in packets variously labelled ‘mince’ and ‘stir fry’) was the consistency of finely diced cartilage and gristle. It was so wet it refused to do anything more than boil in its own eldritch juices. Eating it was a source of such distinct discomfort that even know, months later, I struggle not to break out in a cold sweat.

The resulting dishes made from this wet, horror beef (tacos/pie) were fling-the-plates-away-from-you terrifying. The pie—a mass as bland as it was deeply offensive to all those with working palettes—haunts my memory. Eating it was to be reminded of how lucky one had hitherto been in life. The tacos were more palatable, in the same way that the outer parts of the sun are technically cooler than the inner parts. The ‘soy, honey, garlic’ marinade imparted as much Korean taste as you would expect. The aioli—sorry “garlic aioli”—one was instructed to add to the tacos was a great addition in that it added another thing to deeply regret in your life and therefore will make for a much richer autobiography.

Goodbye, Hello Fresh

Of course, Hello Fresh was never going to be for us, we who have the time, money, and motivation to eat in a more pleasing and honest way. I imagine, from my meringue tower, that these services could be of benefit to some people.

But not Hello Fresh. You see, the real problem of Hello Fresh is that the people who make it sincerely hate food. Every part of the experience is soulless and awful. Whether or not this is because of the commercial reality of trying to get Hello Fresh to make a profit, or through the creators seeming inherent hate of food, I cannot say.

Please do not think that this service will help you learn how to cook. It will not. The recipes are appallingly written. Every minor step that could have allowed for the introduction of better flavours has been stripped away. The chicken and leek dish has chicken breasts thrown in the oven when the quickest sear in a hot pan beforehand would have given a richer flavour. The timings and suggested sequence of recipes occasionally leads to the conclusion that no one has previously cooked these recipes before.

There are thousands of cookbooks out there that will teach you how to cook (please allow me to suggest the fantastic books by English writer Jane Hornby) or how to become a better cook or how to cook quick food. The business model of Hello Fresh is predicated on people not discovering the simple fact that Hello Fresh charges a massive premium and offers no unique value.

The recipes, even at their best, are bland and unexciting. Cynically, one can make an argument that the best way to keep people subscribed to the service is by giving them very bland and ‘safe’ food. Were they to up the flavours it is easy to imagine people more quickly coming to the realisation of how awful the experience is. I have no insight, of course, but the churn rate of Hello Fresh must be substantial. Like a few other things in life, it is an experience best avoided, or at the very worst, tried once and then turned into dinner party conversation fodder.

I am not convinced that this service is as convenient as it may seem. Recipes frequently require at least two or three ‘pantry’ items (that is, an ingredient like eggs (!), soy sauce or rice vinegar that is not supplied but is nonetheless required by the recipe). In many cases you will still have to make a grocery trip to cook from the box. And because everything is prepackaged, you have absolutely no ability to cater for unexpected guests or vary according to your own tastes (other than in a subtractive, I just won’t put that in, way).

The most damning part of the experience was looking at the ingredients for that god awful chilli con carne: it included “mild Mexican spice blend.” If you’re comfortable with eating, and indeed living in a world where such a thing is possible, then please proceed with that Hello Fresh order. If you think life should be a little bit more interesting and vivid than “mild Mexican spice blend” please run away from this service, even if you have both a free trial code and a morbid curiosity.

I unequivocally believe that eating well is the main part of living well. Food is not just fuel, but it is a source of joy and of nourishment for both body and mind. To eat well is a profound act of self-belief and affirmation. To buy into the vision that Hello Fresh represents is almost to engage in self-abnegation. Please allow me to suggest you are more valuable and worth more than the experience of Hello Fresh.

I sincerely implore the time poor or those who do not quite know their way around the kitchen to explore any other option (and there are so many!) before resorting to this experience.

Cornersmith — Alex Elliott-Howery

Confession time: I shy away from cookbooks associated with a particular place, be it a restaurant or cafe.

Most of the time they are intended more as coffee table books—things to drool over—rather than practical manuals for cooking. The design of these books recalls the art gallery gift store book: glossy and oversized. Something to admire rather than something to bring into the kitchen.

Some of these place inspired cookbooks do have a practical bent. Even so, their recipes are often complex and unwieldy, famously requiring pages and pages of sub-recipes. Yes, you can replicate a dish, but you’ll wish you had a sous chef and access to a commercial kitchen. They are more culinary reference materials than anything you might turn to for a weeknight dinner.

But every once in awhile, a place inspired cookbook pulls off a magic trick: they contain practical recipes that do not require days of kitchen labour and they invoke the spirit of the place. It is a fiendishly tough balancing act. Few books manage to pull it off.

Cornersmith is a delightful cafe in Marrickville, a Sydney inner-suburb. It is famous for its seasonal, low-fi approach to food. The food makes good use of a wide variety of in-house made pickles, condiments, and preserves.

The cafe (since expanded to include a picklery and another cafe a few suburbs over) is always busy, and the food is always delicious: fresh, vibrant, hearty and deeply satisfying. Cornersmith rose to popularity without the gimmicks that some cafes use to build buzz. It’s one of the Sydney food places that I miss most.

It was then with great excitement when I got word that a Cornersmith cookbook was in the works. A few months later I went to a book demonstration at cookbook heaven, Books for Cooks. I picked up my copy on the night and met one of the authors, Alex Elliott-Howery.

The food in the book is arranged around two main themes: food from the cafe and recipes from the picklery (that is things in jars).

While I always loved pickles, and had dabbled in the vinegary arts previously, it was not until this book that I started making pickles at home. And not just quick fridge pickles (quickles), but full on canned pickles (and chutneys and salsas and so on).

Structure and Design

Hardback. No ribbon.

271 pages split across the following chapters:

  1. Spring
  2. Summer
  3. Autumn
  4. Chocolate (just kidding—it’s Winter)
  5. Preserving
  6. Recipe basics, About Cornersmith and Index

The design of the book is very much Murdoch_Books_Cookbook.indesign. This isn’t a bad thing, per se. It is, however, an unavoidable observation that all Murdoch Books cookbooks look identical.

So, we have full page photos with a sizeable white border, sans serif fonts, generous use of white space, and the occasional double page spread of photos to break up the format. It is a design that feels a little static and staid: both qualities that Cornersmith itself effortlessly avoids.

The recipe format is workable: headnote, ingredients, and then chunky paragraph steps. Elliott-Howery avoids a lot of repetition by putting certain technical instructions relating to canning (how to sterilise your jars, packing techniques, waterbath instructions and so on) at the back of the book.

The photography is generous and inviting yet at the sametime feels a little generic. Again, I wish it managed to capture more of the feeling and personality of Cornersmith.

As for the writing, it shows a thoughtfulness and hints at the personality that has made Cornersmith so popular and engaging. That said, the writing is largely kept clear and practical in tone and language. This was the right decision and makes the book and its recipes more accessible. Readers get more of a sense of the people behind Cornersmith in a series of small essays scattered throughout the book.

Thoughts

It is fair to consider the two thematic halves of the book: the food and the pickles.

The food first. For a place inspired cookbook to succeed it needs to succeed in two regards:

  1. Is the food delicious on its own merits? That is, does the recipe stand on its own merits?
  2. Does the food capture the essence of food from that particular place?

In looking at the first question: yes, the food is often quite good. Hooray! The recipies sit within the context of what you would expect from modern progressive inner-city cafes in Australia. It is pleasingly vegetable and fruit driven, with meat being used sparingly or as the occasional accent.

The enjoyment of the food from the book is not contingent on knowledge of Cornersmith. There’s enough original and interesting ideas in the book for it to stand on its own feet. The book does a tremendous job at creating a snapshot of Sydney food in the 2010s. This is a real achievement.

It is harder to answer the second question of ‘Does the food capture the Cornersmith spirit?’ To some degree, yes: the recipes clearly reflect the tastes and preferences of those who work at the cafe. Recipes often feature bright, clean flavours and make heavy use of pickles, vinegar and citrus juice. It is confident and honest food.

But the Cornersmith cafes are not successful just because their recipes are creative and fresh. They are successful because of their commitment to outstanding fruit and vegetables (often sourced from the amateur farmers in the community via their trade system) and excellent meat and cheese from top-notch providers.

And this is where place inspired cookbooks fall down. Restaurants can simply get better (read fresher or higher quality) produce and supplies than all but the most motivated (and the most financially well resourced) home cook.

I guarantee that despite my very best efforts, I was not cooking Cornersmith’s recipes with the same calibre of ingredients. And this begins to explain the disconnect that I experience in cooking from place inspired cookbooks.

As a result, the recipes sometimes lack that Cornersmith feel. They are good recipes, but they do not always summon the spirit of Cornersmith. Certainly, cooking from the book has not helped me miss the cafe any less.

And this is one of the main reasons why so many place inspired cookbooks fall flat. They cannot recreate the complex web of reasons that drive our affectation for our favourite cafes and restaurants. Without those factors (the location, the ambience or design, the friends behind the counter and so on), you’re left with just some food in a bowl. In the very best place inspired cookbooks this might be enough to trigger those memories. Yet the Cornersmith book does not quite get there.

So, on to the second part of the book: the pickles and other things for jars. Here, the book really shines. I’ve made quite a few of the different pickles, chutneys, and relishes. The results have all been singularly impressive.

If your mental image of pickles is the solitary coin on a fast food cheeseburger, then there’s a whole world waiting for you. The pickles from the Cornersmith cookbook are impressive, delicious and much easier to make than you might think.

It’s easy to get smug in the world of cooking. Take it from me! But, I tell you, I have never felt more on top of my life then I do when I have a pantry filled with the jars containing delicious pickles and so on.

Pickles are less dependent on having exceptional quality produce to start off with. That’s not to say garbage in, gold out. A garbage cucumber will give you a garbage pickle and there’s no turning back a rotten tomato. However a mediocre cucumber can become pretty special through the magic of pickling. The food recipies on Cornersmith, however, cannot shine with anything less than exceptional produce.

I was excited to see that production has finished on a second cookbook. My hope is that it will focus more on pickles, and perhaps have another crack at finding a way of allowing people to recreate that signature Cornersmith magic.

Here’s some of what I’ve made (and pickled) from this book:

  • Red cabbage, pickled corn, chilli and coriander slaw (A smart slaw. The pickled corn adds some interest and I think shows the smart Cornersmith approach to food: when in doubt, add a pickled element.) 
  • Green bean, baby cos, nashi pear salad with miso dressing (A perfect summer salad: an excellent combination of tastes and textures with a knock out miso dressing. Also, nashi pears are fantastic.)
  • Tomato and eggplant chutney (I have made this recently, so it is currently maturing in my pickle cupboard. The small amount that was leftover after I packed the rest into jars was quite tasty and recalled a nice kasundi.)
  • Bread and butter cucumber pickles (After weeks of waiting, I cracked the first jar of these open. Potentially the best pickle I have eaten. Sweet, savoury, sour, crispy, tangy. The perfect compliment to your meal. Or nice just gobbled up, standing by the fridge.)
  • Fermented pineapple and chilli sambal (This was the first ferment I made. It’s a little frightening and without the comforts of boiling the heck out of something for 10 minutes, as you do with other pickles. Despite my slight fear, the results were spectacular: an intense salty/sour pineapple taste goes well with anything that needs a punch.)
  • Dilly beans (The very first thing I made from this book: I loved these guys. Crispy, sour, garlicky pickles just are perfect and a great addition to many meals.) 
  • Potato salad (Just like the slaw above, the signature Cornersmith approach of adding pickled elements elevates a familiar classic to something more remarkable. I do think this recipe is not written as carefully as it could be. My salad was almost soaking wet with the dressing.) 
  • Corn salsa (This jarred salsa strikes me as a fancy version of the corn relish you might find in a supermarket. That is to say, super delicious, surprisingly versatile and cheerfully yellow.)
  • Roasted spiced cauliflower salad (A little work, but the results are worth it. If you ever need to show off everything a cauliflower is capable of then this is the dish.)

Why this book?

  • You have been to Cornersmith and want to recreate some of the magic
  • You love pickles and want to make some at home
  • You want good recipes inspired by a popular Sydney cafe  (even if those recipes do not fully capture the magic of the place itself)

Score

Nigella ░░░ Donna Hay Attractive, evocative writing versus simple and direct?
Ottolenghi ░░░ Barefoot Contessa Elaborate or involved recipes versus quick and easy?
Mark Bittman ░░░░ Ferran Adrià Can you cook the food every night or is it more specialist or obscure?
Gwyneth Paltrow ░░ Nigel Slater Do you see photos of the author or photos of the food?
#KonMarie ░░░░ Green capsicums And does it just spark joy?

If you love pickling you should buy this book. If you want a snapshot of Sydney cafe culture, likewise. If you are looking for a general cookbook, and you have never visited Cornersmith, I would look for something else.

The Zen Kitchen — Adam Liaw

Cookbooks have always struck me as being very personal things to write. With any one recipe there is a whole web of decisions and preferences and value judgements.

For instance, if you’re writing a recipe with chicken will you mention that the chicken should be free range? Or organic? Or hand reared on a diet of the finest whatever-it-is chickens eat? Will you even feature chicken, knowing that the bulk of poultry is raised in conditions of abject horror and market research suggests people prefer the affordable over the ethical?

Alright, so let’s write a vegetarian recipe instead. Much safer. How about a quinoa burger with a zingy yoghurt sauce? Of course there was that sensationalist article claiming that due to the popularity of quinoa, Peruvians, for whom the grain is an essential staple, could no longer afford to eat it. And that thick, rich greek yoghurt we all crave? Well, its manufacture produces immense amounts of acidic whey. And it has become like the new nuclear waste: no one knows quite what to do with it.

Aside from the ethics, will people find your aggressive seasonings to reflect a course and unsatisfied palette? Or will people find your approach boring and lacking any life?

And broader, are your recipes guilty of cultural appropriation? Do you take from other cuisines without understanding or respect? How do you feel about the undeniable privilege about chiding your readers to buy and use the very best olive oil.

I could probably never write a cookbook, given my neurotic tendency of overthinking things. Nonetheless, I cannot help but think about the person behind the cookbook, and the choices that went into making a particular cookbook.

One such person I occasionally wonder about is Adam Liaw, an omnipresent Australian food celebrity. He has written a small handful of cookbooks. They are consistently solid and reliable cookbooks which usually play around with that broad category of pan-Asian food.

The Zen Kitchen, his latest, takes a slightly different track and focuses exclusively on one cuisine: Japanese. And more so than other books, it delves into the broader philosophy of Japanese food. Liaw writes authoritatively and with real love on the subject. In fact, he has been recognised as an official Goodwill Ambassador for Japanese Cuisine.

It is a topic of real passion for Liaw. The best choices for cookbook are from authors with the most passion in a particular topic. And yet sometimes passion without proper and thoughtful application can come across as unrefined.

Structure and Design

Hardback.

240 pages split across the following chapters:

  1. Pickles stocks and seasonings
  2. Japanese breakfasts
  3. Rice and noodles
  4. Soup and nabemono
  5. Japanese salads
  6. Fish
  7. Meat
  8. Mainly vegetables
  9. Semi Sweets

Firstly, I have to talk about that title: The Zen Kitchen. It suggests either a certain outdated orientalism (you could almost imagine it typeset in Wonton font) or reference and adherence to the principles of zen buddhism. The book, thankfully in the case of the former and perhaps sadly in the case of the latter, does not live up to either of these images. It is a particularly bad title for a book that is modern in approach and execution.

There’s a certain by-the-numbers, commercial approach to the design of the book. It looks likes the publisher allocated exactly a certain budget for the design and that was it. This is not to say the book is poorly designed, but rather it has a disappointing feel of being just good enough. It’s the Mazda of book designs when Liaw is clearly more of a Volkswagen man.

One of the main examples of this is the chapter introduction pages. Featuring text superimposed over a full bleed photograph, it comes off as busy, hard to read and inelegant. The chapter numbers are mixed in with the chapter titles in a way that is hard to parse. One example reads, at first glance, chapter japanese / two breakfasts.

There are also these mini-essays scattered throughout the book that do a fine job of showing Liaw’s approach and appreciation for Japanese food. And yet these are again text set on a visually distracting photo background. The text in both these mini-essays and the chapter introductions is fully justified which I cannot help but find unpleasant to read in anything other than a newspaper.

While Liaw is not Japanese, he has an abiding respect for the Japanese legendary sense of attention to detail. This makes some of the decisions around the design of the book to be puzzling.

Things improve when you consider the recipe format itself. He has gone for something that is simple and usable. But for one minor quibble, it is my favourite recipe format in a while: a title, followed by minimal but useful headnote, and then a two column approach: a neat, orderly list of ingredients on the left and a numbered paragraph method on the right. Finally, a little note at the bottom of the method gives a serving suggestion or provides another useful titbit of information.

The quible mentioned above? The vast majority of recipes have exactly two steps in their method. There seems to be little logic behind the delineation of what is a step one step and what gets pushed over into step two (although the approach seems to be step one is ‘cook the dish’ and step two is ‘serve the dish’). It is puzzling.

The photography is monotonous in approach. While it does justice, by and large, to both the food and Liaw’s stunning collection of ceramics, the constant 45 degree angle induces an existential weariness. The weathered wooden board that makes a frequent appearance as a backdrop is straight out of food styling from a few years ago.

Really, it’s not a book that you’ll love because of the design. At best, the design fades in the background and allows you to focus on the strengths of this book: Liaw’s knowledge and passion for Japanese food. At worst, though, it goes against the love of Japanese food  that is otherwise on display.

Thoughts

Japan, and Japanese food, is amongst the chief pleasures that this life has to offer. Despite this, I struggle to find good Japanese cookbooks. The books I try are either too technical and strive for unachievable authenticity or they are dumbed down and produce boring food. Japanese food can—and should—often be subtle but never boring.

This book is one of the more successful in the genre of approachable Japanese food. The food is deeply enjoyable. It is very smart to position the recipes inside the context of the average Australian kitchen (although, doubtlessly the book would work as well in US, UK or kitchens elsewhere.)

There are a few moments where the indicated timings did not quite work. A poached chicken breast at the suggested ten minute mark was still dangerously raw. The miso-cured pork belly was still flabby and no where near as burnished after following the recipe.

Similarly, the recipe for onigirazu does not really give you instructions on the technique for folding these addictive rice and nori sandwiches. A video on Liaw’s youtube channel helps slightly, but if you have to go to youtube to get advice that should be in a book then you have already lost the war.

The inevitable judgement from this is that this book is not intended for either kitchen or Japanese-food beginners. Perhaps this was the result of an effort to condense recipes down to two step levels.

Here is what we have cooked so far:

  • Summer Ramen (despite the inaccurate chicken cooking instructions, the finished product is a perfect meal: a lot of textural variation, the intrinsic delight of a noodle dish and a punchy dressing. For poached chicken, please avail yourself of the instructions from Serious Eats)
  • Sushi Sandwiches (while the craze around these may not have reached Australia, they are delicious and fun. The method, as noted, is inadequate for someone who likely has not heard of or seen these before.) 
  • Japanese Garden Salad (I think one of the best recipes from the book. A picture perfect combination of simple ingredients dressed up with a powerful and assertive vinaigrette. However the recipe tells you to blanch the broccoli before the corn, something that would result in corn speckled with broccoli flecks)
  • Onion and Garlic Vinaigrette (While potentially divisive in how assertive and pungent the combination of raw garlic and onion is, I could have sipped this like whisky. Would be great on steamed rice.) 
  • Sukiyaki of beef and Asian greens (again, a very nice dish that is let down by a recipe that lacks clarity and precision. The shirataki noodles, which I had never tried, were incredibly satisfying to eat and soaked up the flavourful sauce.)
  • Miso cured pork (I enjoyed the accompanying shaved cabbage more than I enjoyed this. It needed to be cooked for much longer than the recipe suggests. And even though I cooked it for another 10-15 minutes, it was still rather unsatisfying. I would be inclined to try again with fish.) 
  • Chicken and Tofu Meatballs (ding ding we have a winner! These little balls were perfect. This was one of the last recipes I cooked from the book so by this time I had learnt to assume the recipe was a starting point rather than something to be reliably followed. I would encourage anyone who makes this—and everyone should—to whizz the tofu in a food processor and then drain and to bake the balls instead. Life is too short for somethings.) 
  • Beans in black sesame (a simple vegetable dish that while unmemorable was at least pretty on the plate.)
  • Agedashi tofu (there is a perfect contrast between a crispy thin exterior and a soft, wobbly creamy interior. It’s not the easiest dish to make, but the end product is as delicious as you could hope for.)
  • Tantan chicken nabe (I liked this because it gave me licence for a bit of shopping: I bought both a wee little gas stove and a Muji donabe. It was also a decent recipe that resulted in a fun and interactive meal. The broth was sophisticated and quite impressive.) 
  • Barbarian fish (the recipie specifies salmon but I am a big baby so we subtituted in some firm white fish. Opinons were split as to the delicousness of the dish. It’s sort of like a cold sweet and sour fish. It’s very Japanese to deep fry something and then bath it in a delicious sauce. It is worth trying, if nothing else.) 

Why this book?

  • You like Japanese food and are confident in the kitchen
  • You are a fan of the irrepressible Mr Liaw
  • You love Japan and a cookbook is a little cheaper than a flight

Score

Nigella ░░░░ Donna Hay Attractive, evocative writing versus simple and direct?
Ottolenghi ░░░ Barefoot Contessa Elaborate or involved recipes versus quick and easy?
Mark Bittman ░░░ Ferran Adrià Can you cook the food every night or is it more specialist or obscure?
Gwyneth Paltrow ░░░ Nigel Slater Do you see photos of the author or photos of the food?
#KonMarie ░░░ Rain on your wedding day And does it just spark joy?

 

You should probably buy this book.