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On the books

Sometimes it pays to cook by the book
A friend once remarked that a cook book was worth buying, even if you discovered only one good recipe in it. I agreed, then went on to ask her what she would do if there were two good ones? Oh, burn it at once, she retorted.

But is it true that a profound sense of discovery is felt when a great recipe is unearthed? It could be one you had always wanted to know how to do really well - a dish that has been especially well thought-out and painstakingly researched - or, perhaps, one from the writings of an admirable chef, whose oeuvre you deeply admire.

Rose Gray, who with Ruthie Rogers wrote the River Cafe Cookbook, granted many a wish when she published the recipe for the astonishingly good Chocolate Nemesis they serve daily at their London riverside restaurant. It has proved to be a bit of a bete noire with me, this chocolate thing,

I have talked to Rose (or, more likely, bored her) on this subject a few times, but still cannot get it right. She says I must go into their kitchen and jolly well learn it! And I will.

Double Orange Pudding, `Great Value Gourmet' by Paul Gayler, Weidenfield and Nicolson, pounds 12.99

I am always on the look-out for a good steamed pudding, and the Double Orange Pudding recipe from this eclectic collection sorts out the thrown- together school of steamed puddings from this one, which has been carefully thought through. With much regard for essence of flavour, together with a texture that turns out very much lighter and more sophisticated than one might imagine, this magic pud is a recipe to treasure. (Recipe on page 96.)

Rich Chocolate Souffle, Bread Pudding and Castle Puddings, `The Baking Book' by Linda Collister and Anthony Blake, Conran Octopus, pounds 20

There are three recipes here! But choosing between them was impossible, so a trio it is. Anthony Blake photographs beautifully, with a masterly understanding of both his own and the subjective craft of cookery (Great Chefs of France remains, to this day, my spiritual vade mecum when I wish to think of - or, rather, remember - the best of fine French cooking). Each chocolatey photograph is seductive, which made me choose them, and the recipes themselves are precise and informed. (Recipes, respectively, on pages 60, 53, 45.)

Scallop and Artichoke Soup, `Four Seasons Cookery Book' by Margaret Costa, Grub Street, pounds 17.99

After much public pressure from cookery enthusiasts (myself included), Grub Street finally republished this master work. It is 26 years since Four Seasons first saw the light of day, but the recipes are as fresh as a daisy. These are real recipes, compiled by a true cook. Many - the soup given here among them - also appeared on the menu of her then husband's (the late Bill Lacy) eponymously named London restaurant. So it would have been partly a chef's book of the time, but compiled by someone who understood how to cook at home (unlike, perhaps, some chef's books one sees today). (Recipe on page 19.) Another fine example of an admirably compiled collection of chef's recipes - and a great one at that - was Michel Guerard's Cuisine Gourmande, translated by Caroline Conran, published by Macmillan in 1978. It also became a bible for many.

South Indian Tomato Rasam, `Savouring the East' by David Burton, Faber and Faber, pounds 15.99

A broth is possibly my favourite style of soup: limpid, semi-clear and generous of flavour, extracted from flesh, bone and fibre. And limpid certainly describes this southern Indian broth - sometimes called "pepper water". The complex yet clean flavours of this recipe, however, come directly from the ingredients themselves when cooked. (Recipe on page 6.)

Classic Rich Bechamel, `Sauces' by Michel Roux, Quadrille, pounds 18.99

It is lovely in these days of sloshes of balsamic vinegar and rivers of olive oil to see classic sauce recipes given an exhaustive treatment by someone who truly knows. One in particular is very close to my heart, and that is a properly made bechamel. What I did not know, however, is that the classic rich version includes the addition of a little chopped veal. As one can imagine, this gives the sauce a wonderful savoury note, adding depth and, naturally, richness to an already voluptuous lotion. (Recipe on page 128.)

Oeufs en Gelee and Callie's Quiche, `Roald Dahl's Cookbook' by Felicity and Roald Dahl, Penguin, pounds 12.50

There was only supposed to be the singular recipe here, until I turned over the page to follow the recipe for the eggs, and there was this gorgeous slice of impossibly fluffy quiche. So I felt impelled to include it, too. Both recipes are based on originals and, furthermore, typical of this collection of very personal favourites, tried and tested over many meals at Gypsy House, the home of the late Roald Dahl and his wife, Liccy. The original publication was, in fact, entitled Memories with Food at Gypsy House, but has been renamed by his widow for this paperback edition. A wonderful reader, as well as a good cooker. (Recipes, respectively, on pages 54 & 56.).