Sunday, 2 December 2012

Living Over the Shop by Steven Doherty

Given that I am nothing more than an amateur cook some would say that my obsession for cookery books is getting a little out of hand, especially as my collection is growing week by week. I just love reading recipes. I drool over the pictures, work through the methods, preparing each dish in my mind to the point that I can almost taste the finished dish. So when I was offered a free copy of Living Over the Shop by Steven Doherty on the basis that I would review it, I knew that I didn't need another volume on my shelves, but I greedily jumped at the chance all the same..

Steven Doherty and his wife, Marj, manage the First Floor Cafe at Lakeland in Windermere. Of course, I'd heard of Lakeland; it's a Mecca for those with a kitchen twice the size of mine, although I can appreciate the appeal of all those gadgets and tableware. As for Steven Doherty, I'm sorry, but I didn't know who he was and on reading the brief outline of his life story in the book, I realised that I should have done. He's worked at both The Savoy and La Gavroche. In 1985, he became the first British person to become head chef of a three Michelin star establishment and he later made Group Executive Chef for Roux Restaurants. The book itself is forwarded by Albert Roux which shows just how much respect he holds for Steven.

After such heady heights it's difficult to see why Steven would then settle for a life in a cafe in the Lakes, but Steven explains how they fell in love with the views, the walks and the healthier approach to life. It's also clear that Steven appreciates the quality ingredients that are now on his doorstep and a whole section of the book is dedicated to his suppliers, including his favourite bakeries, brewery and game supplier. To be fair, this section isn't of much use to me as I don't live in the Lakes, but I'd like to think that I would try and hunt some of them out when I next visit.

Moving on to the recipes, we are told that they will focus more on the down to earth side of cooking and this may be a little disappointing to some, especially given Steven's background. That said, this does mean that the dishes are relatively easy to replicate at home. Indeed the number of 'easy' dishes in the book is quite surprising. Think fishcakes, goats cheese salad, salmon en papillote and even bangers and mash! What is also quite striking is the number of salmon dishes in here.

Recipes are not split into sections but the book does take readers from starters to mains and finally to desserts. And talking of desserts, there's a decent variety of recipes including some rather fine honey Madeleines and homely cakes including a firm favourite of mine; carrot cake. There's lots of colourful pictures and I especially like how each recipe features a picture of the finished dish; I'm not very good at cooking recipes that don't have pictures!

As I had a couple of friends coming round for dinner one Sunday, I had the perfect opportunity to put the book to the test. I was in the mood for showing off a bit so I went for a full three courser of salmon rillettes to start followed by slow cooked lamb shoulder with petit pois a la Francaise for main and finally the lemon drizzle cake.

The salmon is a perfect dish for making ahead as it needs time to set in the fridge. Essentially slices of a sausage made of up of poached salmon, butter and roasted red peppers (amongst a few other items), the dish tasted great and looked impressive served up as a starter with a few water biscuits. The taste was quite creamy and rich thanks to the butter, but the peppers, green peppercorns and lemon juice gave a fresh and zesty flavour to the plate.

The recipe was easy to follow, although being a bit OCD, I didn't really get on with the word 'pinch' being used as measurement, but that's my problem, not Steven's! It's a recipe I will return to, mainly because it is so easy; in fact I'll be making it on Christmas Eve to take through to my parents for that starter on Christmas Day.

Instructions for the lamb main was also pretty simple to follow and I loved how the meat was cooked in stock and wine which meant that i didn't need to worry about any gravy. The peas were a bit faffy considering I normally just serve up some steamed veg as sides to my roasts, but they were also easy to prepare (although the recipe called for frozen button onions which I have never seen before - I just used shallots) and thanks to the nature of the recipes both dishes sat cooking away happily whilst we ate our starters.

What's more, as there was a lot of sauce, mash was called for rather than roasties and due to the way I prepare mash, this also helped keep the meal easy to prepare on the day. I bake potatoes, scoop out the flesh, mash with butter and reheat later in the microwave. If you haven't tried mash this way, do it. It's so much better than the sloppy and wet stuff. Everything was perfectly tasty and I will be doing the lamb again, maybe the peas too if I feel like doing something a bit more exciting than steamed broccoli.

Lemon drizzle cake is one of my favourite cakes and this recipe included a butter icing topping, so it offered something different to those I have used in the past. Embarrassingly I did manage to burn the cake. My excuse is that I followed the recipe to the letter and left the cake in the oven for the full 45 minutes as instructed when I should have checked it at about 35 minutes. However, disaster was quickly averted and I just sliced off the sides before topping with the icing. It went down a treat and although there were only four of us, we cleared the lot!

Aside from returning to these recipes in the future, I think there are a few others I'd also like to give a go. Backed jacket potato with a smoked haddock and creamy leek sauce sounds homely and comforting whilst shallot & goat's cheese 'tarte tatin' sounds like a must do for me, as does the belly pork with black pudding and mashed potato so I'm sure that I'll be returning to the book in the future.

The only real negative I have is that the link to the Lakeland shop is pushed a bit too much for me. A few of the recipes carry tips of related products you can buy (along with the product reference) which I just don't like. For instance if you want to make apple and cinnamon feuillete, Lakeland point you in the direction of their heavy-duty baking tray and flat spatula! Having said that, I gather that surviving the world of publishing ain't as easy as it used to be and Steven probably needed the backing from Lakeland to get the book published.

I recommend this book to anyone who lives in the Lakes and anyone who likes simple and comforting food, but quite likes to push the boat out a bit once in a while.

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