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As my desire to cook more has grown, so has my collection of cookbooks to aid me in my quest of making interesting dishes. One of the first books I bought was the Hairy Bikers Food Tour of Britain after watching the TV series on BBC 2. I liked the look of a couple of the dishes featured on the show and thought that the book would have many more recipes that I could try and add to my repertoire. The series itself had been entertaining in the usual Hairy Bikers way and the book, which I paid £10 for from Tesco, has been quite useful, although perhaps not quite as much as I'd envisaged when I bought it.
The series took in 30 Counties around the country and from each of these Counties the book contains a number of regional recipes. These vary from the Bikers own recipes to those belonging to the local chef they featured on the show. Whilst there is on average 3 recipes for each county a lot of them are particular specialities to that area and not something youd fancy cooking in your own kitchen, a perfect example of this is a Cawl from Monmothshire. A Cawl is a Welsh Stew made from the neck of lamb and not something I've really got any enthusiasm to try cooking at home. This is the biggest problem with the book as a number of the recipes are of a similar nature.
It's Not All Bad Though
Even though I've started by focussing on the negatives it isn't all bad with the book. There are a number of recipes that make it a worthwhile purchase. One of our favourite dishes when we have people over comes from this book so it certainly has something to offer. The problem is that a large portion of the dishes are very specialist or require a certain taste and really are dishes you'd try in a pub or restaurant whilst visiting the various regions, rather than cooking them up for yourself in your own Kitchen.
Whilst I may appear to be quite critical of the contents of the book it does have some very good recipes that taste fantastic. We've now tried about 10 dishes from the book and each of them has tasted far better than we were expecting. My favourite to cook is the Somerset Chicken, which once cooked in the oven has a beautiful blend of tender chicken topped in cider infused sauce. My other personal favourite from this book is the Wild Salmon on a Bed of Lentils from Morayshire. If you get the right piece of Salmon the lentils really compliment it well, whilst the side salad suggested adds a nice accompaniment to a very nicely cooked piece of Salmon.
Now I'm sure if I was to try out some of the more unusual recipes in the book they would come out equally as delicious. Perhaps it's a lack of adventure that's putting me off trying them, but I just feel that there are too many specialist recipes, however really that's what this book is about. It highlights and brings to a much larger audience some of the most delicious offerings from Counties around the United Kingdom. Despite starting this review in a rather negative fashion I do really like this book for the recipes I use and I'm sure some of those I don't really fancy will appeal to many others.
Nice and Easy
As with all of the Hairy Bikers cook books the recipes are very easy to follow. They make the process quite easy to follow and this really helps to build your confidence to try different things. A lot of the recipes are quoted as using local ingredients to that area, however I've found that the supermarket alternatives work out just as well. Each of the recipes allow a little deviation and are suitable for families on most budgets, depending on the ingredients you wish to use.
A Decent Book
Overall I do find that this book is good for those recipes we use. It's not my favourite cookbook due to the high level of specialisation required on some of the recipes but everything we've made from it so far has been delicious. If you're quite adventurous in your eating habits then you'll really enjoy this book. It does have something for everyone. I am determined to branch out and try a few more recipes from the book, just to try a few new dishes and I think when we do I'll be able to up my rating from 4 stars to 5, but for now it's just a little too specialist for me to give it a full 5 star recommendation, despite how good the dishes we've tried have been.
The Hairy Bikers Food Tour of Britain is the book to accompany the BBC series of the same name (also repeated on the Good Food channel).
The book is in hardback format with a removable loose-leaf cover. The pages themselves are nice and glossy with a superior quality spine so you can fold it back comfortably to cook from without risk of it closing or being damaged.
The concept of the book is that the duo are travelling around the UK visiting producers and chefs from a variety of different regions, writing about them and producing a recipe from local produce and traditions. Each area section details a selected county chef and their restaurant, followed by some sample dishes from the region. There are also a number of photographs of both the areas and the dishes.
The book is separated into 29 different areas covering the breadth of Britain for example; Aberdeenshire, Carmarthenshire, Essex, Cornwall, Lancshire, Shropshire, Sussex and Oxfordshire.
Example recipes from all of the regions are as follows; Aberdeen Butteries, The Ulster Fry, Cockles, Laverbread and Welsh Bacon, Welsh Black Beef Wellington with goats cheese, garlic and chervil mash and beer gravy, Cheshire Soup with fried Cheshire cheese sarnies, spiced hogget with swede and Cheshire cheese gateau, The People's Cornish pasty, raspberry bakewell pudding, oysters mornay, Gloucestershire squab pie, trio of Welsh lamb with three-root vegetable mash and buttered kale, roast belly of pork with wild boar and mushroom tortellini, Melton Mowbray Pork Pie, Beef and Stilton Pie with celeriac mash and honey-raosted beetroot, Patridge with violet dumpings, roast chicken and sage and onion stuffing with chips, gooseberry sauce and sausage meatballs, scallops and black pudding with sparkling wine sauce and apple rings.
At the back of book are the contacts for the suppliers and restaurants indicated within the separate chapters.
This is the second book of the Hairy Bikers books which I have after 'Mums Knows Best' (and which I have reviewed previously.) That book featured variations on traditional and hand-me-down recipes from around Britain on a multi-cultural basis and was extremely accessible. This is a different kettle of fish entirely.
As you can see from the list of example recipes, this is not necessarily the most accessible book fro your standard home cook (and despite my vast array of cookbooks, I still only consider myself a standard home cook!). My favourite recipes from the book are those which are on the simpler, more traditional side. The restaurant inspired recipes in each section are to my mind really a bit too fancy for home cooking, even when it comes to the type of meals that you would cook expressly to impress others.
Therefore I do have somewhat mixed feelings about it. A lot of the ingredients are a little tricky to come by and are expensive and the recipes themselves require a certain element of time and skill.
Having previously associated the Hairy Bikers with more rustic food I have found this to be something of a disappointment. However, I think it would work quite well if you wanted inspiration for a dinner party where you wanted to do something a bit more fancy.
In all fairness however, the recipes are explained in a sparse-and easy to follow way . The photographs for the dishes are highly appetising, but if you are put off by fancy presentation then some of these dishes may not be for you.
I like the ethos of the book and the fact that it celebrates regional cooking, but I do not think that this is necessarily the best way to get people to experiment with local ingredients, in fact it might actually be quite prohibitive.
In conclusion, this book is a bit of a disappointment when compared to the far more accessible and down-to-earth 'Hairy Bikers' 'Mum Knows Best' which I still feel is their best book. However, if you are looking for a book which encourages you to experiment with regional ingredients and present them in a fancy and impressive way - you may find something in this for you.