Book Review: Home Cooked & Heart Warming

Ashleigh Levin

Struik LifeStyle

Penguin Random House

Review: Brian Joss

Author Ashleigh Levin says that her book is a sort of love letter to her beloved Oumie who spent a memorable evening baking  with her when she was just five years old, wearing her Oumie’s vintage wedding gown and every single piece of jewellery she owned, covered from head to foot in a light dusting of flour. It was at that moment Levin knew what she wanted to do with her life: bring people together through food and writing recipes. Levin has had no formal training as a chef; she learned to cook at her grandmother’s knee. “We don’t do pretty food, we do hearty food,” she writes. For her cooking is a process of feeling, and understanding how ingredients dance together.

And all the recipes in Home Cooked & Heart Warming are evidence of this. From Spencer’s Muffins to Good Ol’ Fashioned Pancakes for a breakfast treat. The book’s categories are Breakfast and Brunch Delights; Whip ‘Em Up, Well In Advance; Seriously Simple Starters; Home Comforts; Lovely, Lazy Lunches Are Made of This; Colour Me Fancy; Don’t Fall Fowl to Festive Stress; Something On The Side; A Bit Naughty, But Very, Very Nice; A Little Tipple; Butters and Sauces; Bother-free Breads and Sweet Baked Heaven. As well as an index and conversion tables.

The chapter headings are self-explanatory. But we’ll start near the end with a Little Tipple. There are recipes for a Bloody Good Mary and the ingredients include five tots of tequila or vodka and half teaspoon of horse radish to give it some extra bite. It’s ideal for the morning after the night before. The Mum And Daughter Margaritas, drunk instead of wine during summer, and Levin’s mother is convinced they don’t give her a hangover. You can also try your hand at making Limoncello at home or the Sunday Funday Martini, a la James Bond, will get your taste buds tingling.

Whip ‘Em Up, Well In Advance includes recipes for a Restorative Butternut and Ginger Soup; Crunchy Chickpea Sprinkle; Italian Fish Soup and assorted sauces like Roasted Red Pepper Pesto that you can well, whip up in advance.

Levin shows you how to make a Savoury Baked Camembert; Spicy Chicken Livers and Mezes-made Simple Platter in Seriously Simple Starters.

Dishes in Home Comforts feature the ubiquitous Oumie’s Bolognese Sauce; Chicken Cacciatore and Melanzane (aubergine), to name some. Her husband Grant and his friends usually take two to pop in the oven when they go for their traditional bush getaway once a year.

You can spin lunch out to last well into the afternoon with My Mother’s Sticky Chicken; Easy Roast Beef with Horse Radish Crème or an Asian Chicken Pie or The Perfect Burger, which you’ll find in Lovely, Lazy Lunches Are Made of This. Colour Me Fancy features Fillet Steak and Secret Sauce (the secret appears to be in the half bottle of wine and double cream and unsmoked paprika). Other dishes include Pulled Rump; Mighty Mussel Pot with Secret Sambuca or a Utterly Decadent Pork Belly.

Don’t Fall Fowl to Festive Season Stress features a Simple And Scrummy Sweet Chilli Sauce which you can add to stir-fries; fish or chicken. You can surprise your guests with Tear-And-Share Roast Duck with Asian Dipping Sauce.

Something On the Side has a selection of salads from Pub-style Minty, Mushy Peas to a Mayo-free Potato Salad.

If you have a sweet tooth then you’ll be itching to make Liz’s Frozen Cheesecake; Amarula Semifreddo or the Salted Caramel Panna Cotta which can be found in the chapter, A Bit Naughty, But Very, Very Nice. The recipes for Baklava Cheesecake; My ‘Ode to Condensed Milk” Cake and an Israeli Chocolate Cake, are in Sweet Baked Heaven, and will have guests clamouring for seconds and thirds.

Another section covers Butters and Sauces for every occasion including a Tequila Mayo that complements a Tex-Mex dish or as an accompaniment that will add zing to a meal of your choice.

There are also recipes for Bother-free Breads from a Quick ‘n Easy Yeast-Free Loaf to DJ’s Banana Bread and My Great, Great Grandmother’s Bread.

Each recipe is accompanied by a Levin anecdote; where it came from and why she makes it, written in a homely and heart-warming style. For the most part the dishes are uncomplicated and by following the step-by-step instructions you will amaze your guests with your new-found culinary skills. One thing though, Levin insists on using butter instead of margarine and believe me, butter does add something special to cake and biscuits. The secret in making the dishes a success are a love of eating, confidence and a few extra knobs of butter. And the courage to add a bit here and there.

Images are by Henk Hattingh.

Home Cooked & Heart Warming gets five stars.

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