The appeal of K Mortimer’s Beginners Cookbook lies in its brutal simplicity. And I do mean brutal – this is the ideal gift for the child who just won’t leave home, the friend who burns water and the parent who can’t cook.
The language is curt and to the point – the gift that keeps on giving. Now, I’m no chef, but I was concerned that perhaps my skills would completely outstrip the concept of ‘beginner’. I was wrong – there is plenty to learn and the recipes are good foundations from which to experiment, which is very important to me.
My disclaimer here, is that I am coeliac and modified all of the recipes in some way in order for it to be safely consumable. I am pleased to report that nothing ended in disaster and overall, the recipes are simplistic enough for any budding chef who wishes to swap and experiment with different flavours or methods.
As Mortimer promises, ‘It will only be the quick and easiest way to make something edible.’ The entire book is short, sharp and sweet. My criticisms with the cookbook lie mostly in the way Mortimer laid out the information and chose not to break the information down to aid an inexperienced chef. Another problem lies in the way Mortimer designed the breakfast section (the book is devoted to breakfast, main, snack and dessert – which is fantastic for someone designing a 3-course meal for guests for the first time). Breakfast is the only section I dislike, set out in chunks of text as an unimaginative page without illustration. It is also important to note that this cookbook is not for dieters or the health food crazed. Mortimer suggests only traditional cooking staples such as butter, eggs and sugar instead of suggesting possible alternatives such as dairy-free or almond milk.
Ultimately though, my experience was a satisfactorily simple and exciting adventure into foods I had never made. Whilst simplistic, the eBook is laid out in a visually appealing way overall, managing to keep the information to a single page. The text is minimal and everything took less than 45 minutes to cook. I managed to pull off the fabled 3-course dinner in under one and a half hours thanks to some intensive dish-washing and doubling up in the oven.
I enjoyed the experience immensely and will be delving back into the dessert pages for more inspiration at a later date.
Sausage Rolls (page 66)
I began with a simple snack option, the trusty sausage roll. My biggest problem was locating gluten-free puff pastry in the supermarket, which took longer than it took me to prepare and eat the batch I prepared. The ingredients list included optional cayenne pepper and egg, which I chose to opt out of, due to my disinterest in spicy food and not wanting to waste my time with an egg given I have previously had great success with just water and pastry. That said, it took only ten minutes from rolling the pastry to oven and the end result was decidedly delicious. I may be biased though – I haven’t had gluten-free pastry since I was diagnosed five years ago and it was an utter delight to revel in the texture once again.
Shepherds Pie (page 38)
I had very high expectations for my main, given my family’s love of this dish and its staple status in my childhood home. I was not disappointed. I opted out of the mint sauce and used a beef stock cube instead of the suggested gravy powder, as that was all I had in the cupboard. I also sprinkled some cheese on the potato mash to add a bit of flavour (though in hindsight it was probably unnecessary). My only complaint with this recipe is that Mortimer suggests it will serve 2 to 4 people but it definitely sits closer to 2 people. The lack of steps in this recipe also make it unclear if you should be conducting tasks simultaneously or one at a time, which can be intimidating for the new chef.
Apple and Blackberry Crumble (page 83)
To conclude my foray into Mortimer’s work, I explored the crumble. Whilst this recipe ended up looking the least appetising (and disappointingly flat in my serving dish), it was still delightful to eat given the basic ingredients were flour (gluten-free in this situation – which may have been partly to blame for the lack of depth), sugar and butter. I served it warm with ice cream and enjoyed the buttery, creamy goodness. I will definitely be looking at ways to improve the crumble component but this is a fantastic recipe for those who haven’t cooked desserts outside of the traditional baking of cookies, brownies and cakes.
Reviewed by Zoe Butler
Rating out of 10: 6