It’s a fairly new concept and it makes a fairly huge amount of sense – a top food blogger with thousands visiting her site every month publishes her first cookbook: win-win for both publisher and food writer. Niamh Shields, otherwise known as @eatlikeagirl to her 10,000 plus Twitter followers has written Comfort & Spice, published this autumn by the New Voices In Food series, courtesy of Quadrille Publishing.
Behind the clever retro informal styling of the book, bound in pliant cardboard, made to look like a trendsetter’s notebook with feminine adornments, is some serious commitment to food. Never before has a writer had the audacity to suggest that I should make my own butter, yoghurt, bread, ricotta even. Not even the Italians do that! But I admire her all the more for it. Her reasoning? It tastes better and it’s easy. There is no retort to such a truism.
I was almost convinced until I realised that it was 6pm on a Friday and that if I wanted to make the blueberry and lemon cheesecake and the Turkish eggs, the ricotta and yoghurt would both have to come out of a pot. I felt I had let our Irish self-taught cook down in some way, that I would have to do the recipes again, properly.
First recipe: Turkish eggs, page 28. What are they?
Cooking method? Dead easy although I’m still not confident about dropping eggs into deep pan of simmering water, I prefer a shallow frying pan. Poach two eggs and meanwhile put 25g butter in a small pan with 5 or 6 leaves of sage (until the sage crisps up). Put 100g of plain yoghurt in the bottom of a bowl, then place the eggs on top, followed by a pouring of sage butter.
Taste? Unexpectedly delicious and a dish that will absolutely feature on my post-run weekend breakfast menus in future. I was sceptical about the sage crisping in the melted butter but it did, beautifully, adding a nice aromatic crisp to the ‘pillow’ of yoghurt beneath the egg.
Advice? As Niamh recommends: get the best freshest eggs possible.
Second recipe: page 183, lemon and blueberry ricotta cheesecake
Cooking method? Beguilingly simple: whisk up 4 eggs with 180g caster sugar and 500g ricotta (preferably homemade), add in 50g plain flour and the juice of 2 lemons, then gently add 100g blueberies and pour into a buttered tin. Cook for 30 minutes at 150°.
Taste? Sweet, fruity and fresh – at last a viable ‘cake’ alternative! The ricotta and lemon juice balance the sugar, texture is firm and satisfying, good with a cup of coffee for mid-morning relief. However, mine took one hour, not the recommended half hour, at 150° to brown a little and set properly, so make your own judgement on when the centre has set.
Advice? My 20cm tin was just big enough to contain the mix, a slightly bigger size is advisable if you have one. Best eaten refridgerated. For breakfast if you dare (I did).
Loves? What I love about Comfort and Spice is that it has all things nice in it: Niamh takes us on her own food journey, which is personalised and full of passion. From more detailed evening menus which give options for using leftovers to Speedy Suppers, Brunch and Long Weekend sections, the approach is laid-back and informal: a narrative driven by curiosity and a genuine love of food. I can’t wait to try the 6-hour pork belly or the overnight shoulder of lamb. Go to bed, wake up and your dinner is ready? It’s genius and a sort of magic that I only thought happened in Aga-land.
Shortcomings? Not much cake porn but as Niamh confesses, she is a fruitie, as the selection of curds and fools demonstrates.
Surprises? Rose petal butter, ‘gutsy’ ragu with marrow bone and chorizo in cider.
Conclusion? Lovely present or treat to self. For the true foodie, the semi-foodie who is on the cusp of making their own marmalade and anyone who buys cookbooks for food porn purposes: this one looks great. It delivers too.
Get the book from Amazon or your local bookstore. Full price £14.99
Read about Niamh’s secret life in The Independent