“I’m never fucking doing Cook the Books again,” I shouted at my boyfriend, before storming into the bedroom. “I’ve had e-fucking-nough,” I added, yanking off my tie and throwing it on the floor for effect. It was the night before I was due to be cooking from Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables, a paean to plants and produce from asparagus to zucchini. I’d chosen the book because it seemed gentle, calming, easy, and began with the following inscription:
Thank you so much for picking up this book and reading it. I have many cookbooks and not one person has thanked me for buying, reading or using them – so thank you. I hope that as you read it, you will be inspired by the same love of good food that inspires my every day.
As sweet as puppies, lambs, and that moment in Top Model when Tyra tells the contestant she’s just booted off that they just have to believe in themselves and they’ll be able to smize their way to the top or whatever, how could anyone’s heart not be melted by that? It’s printed on gorgeous paper stock, full of sun-drenched photographs, and has a dedication which includes the author’s dog. This was meant to be a sure fire success.
It had started easily enough. I’d ordered the ingredients off Tesco.com and was at my Book Group the night before delivery and eventual cooking. We had all been tasked with reading Fifty Shades of Grey, so obviously had to get wasted to get past the horror of 500 pages of Anastasia Steele and her incapacity to do anything without biting her lip. “Can I borrow your computer to change something on my Tesco order? I’ve just remembered I need to add washing powder and it’ll be too close to the delivery time to add it when I get home,” I asked the host, flipping between the sordidness of Christian’s Red Room of Pain and the banality of domestic life as casually and unskillfully as EL James does all the way through the novel. “No,” everyone cried, as dominating as our fictional hero. “You can’t do something so dull in the middle of Book Group – Book Group is for talking about boys and booze and, in this case, sado masochism.”
By the time I got home, it was too late to amend the order, but I logged on blearily, just in case. “Fucking hell,” I hissed at my poor boyfriend, who was quietly watching television. “I’ve only gone and set it to the wrong address, to be delivered to that place I organised the hen party at two years ago. Fuck! And now I’m going to have to actually go to the shops myself tomorrow, and traipse all the way up the aisles, and carry all these shitty vegetables home, and then cook them, and fucking entertain people, whilst you do nothing to help.” And then for emphasis, the line so angstily dramatic, so over the top, so pointless, that it had Fifty Shades written all over it: “I’m never fucking doing Cook the Books again.”
I’d calmed down once my hangover had cleared and the guests arrived the next night. I’d forgone trekking to the big supermarket and bought everything from the Tesco Metro on the corner. I’d had to compromise a couple of times, which was technically against the rules, but it’s not like I’d signed a contract with Christian Grey and anyone was going to insert beads in me for going against my own dogma.
Our guests seemed disappointed. “Have you had your drunken meltdown yet?” Camilla asked, almost the second she was through the door. “I’ve read the blog, I know there’s always at least one.” “Well, Will’s still at work, and I’ve been by myself all afternoon, so there’s been no one to shout at,” I admitted. “Strops are no fun if there’s no one there to indulge them.”
Mr Wilkinson’s Salad of Cauliflower, Smoked Salmon and Strawberry
Three drinks down and the Salad of Cauliflower, Smoked Salmon and Strawberry was a hit. It had literally involved nothing more than chopping a couple of vegetables, sticking them in a big bowl, and letting a slosh of lemon juice do the talking.
My version. Tesco Metro didn’t have pea shoots either
“The only thing I would say,” said Andy thoughtfully, “is that perhaps the recipe should have included shallots instead of onions. It would have been sweeter, less overpowering.” Seeing as each dish is technically an experiment for a blog I’ve got used to swallowing as much carefully judged criticism as I do Riesling, but this one particularly stung. I didn’t have the guts to admit that the recipe had actually called for shallots, and my local Tesco had been out of them. “Yeah, I’ll bear that in mind,” I mumbled, topping up my glass.
Mr Wilkinson’s Smoked Baked Garlic With A Simple Good Old Roast Chook
The local shop had let me down on the main course, too. Smoked Baked Garlic With A Simple Good Old Roast Chook had seemed easy enough, and when I couldn’t find Smoking Chips in my “convenience” outlet I thought I could fudge it somehow and that you, the reader, would never find out. (Soz and all, but I tried two places and could still taste last night’s Prosecco on the back of my furry tongue, there was no way I was hiking into town.) Back at home I realised the smoking chips were the main ingredient – used to give the garlic a delicious, well, smokiness, and make it the star turn of the dish. Unsurprisingly, in a book about veg, the chicken was just dressing, cooked as simply as banging it in the oven with a little oil. “Fuck,” I didn’t bother screaming allowed, as there was no one around to hear it, and just reached for Maria Elia’s Full of Flavour off the shelf. Her Slow Roast Paprika chicken, which had been so ace in my first ever Cook the Books, would come to the rescue once again.
My bastardised version of Maria Elia’s Slow Roast Paprika Chicken. Bloody hell, it’s a good recipe
Much as Mr Wilkinson’s book is a lovely feast for the eyes and soul, the very essence of its being means that it doesn’t do desserts. I still had some rhubarb in the freezer so I made that into a fool, thinking that at least I’d have reviewed two of Wilkinson’s recipes and been able to pass judgement.
My made-up rhubarb fool - the weird brown bits on the top are crystallised ginger. They were good.
We drank through the disappointment of not having done a proper three course Cook the Books. At one point the Port came out, and I declared the book a success anyway. “We’ve had a lovely evening, and it contains lots of lovely pictures – what more does any book need?” I cried. Had Anastacia Steele been at the table, she’d have definitely rolled her eyes.
Cost of ingredients: £28.76 (not including items already in store cupboard, or not bought because Tesco Metro didn’t stock them)
First course: * * * * * I have to give it the benefit of the doubt, seeing as I didn’t use shallots and it still tasted all fresh and summery
Main course: * * * * * Maria’s chicken came through for me once again. I’m sure Matt Wilkinson’s would have done the same. He thanks the reader for buying the book. Who cares if the recipes actually work?
Pudding: * * * * * My own-recipe rhubarb fool was a triumph, thanks for asking. I can just about remember it through the Port…
Overall: 8/10 The paper feels divine Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables by Matt Wilkinson (£20, Murdoch). Original photography by Jacqui Melville