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Time Out reviews the best recipe books for simple, satisfying meals

Food for Friends & Family

Sarah Raven, Bloomsbury, £30

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Sarah Raven’s latest book branches out from the vegetable plots and flower arrangements of her previous works. Best known for guest appearances on the BBC’s ‘Gardeners’ World’ and her regular contributions to the Telegraph’s gardening pages, Raven here tempts us into the kitchen with more than 400 informal and diverse recipes for vibrant, herby dishes acccompanied by Jonathan Buckley’s mouthwatering photographs.

Four seasonal chapters progress through a multi-course feast of menus, with a sizeable section in each recommending drinks, as well as sweet and savoury preserves. Recipes vary from simple, thrown-together salads to several-day affairs.

As you might  expect from a gardener, Raven is enthusiastic about cooking outdoors in the summer and hibernating through the colder months with warming comfort food. She plunges into cuisines and cookbooks from all over the world to find inspiration.

Quantities are generous, with most recipes feeding four to eight people. Clear detailed instructions and advice about how to prepare ahead of time make for hassle-free entertaining, though our recipe testing found that occasionally timings and particulars can be imprecise. Persian leg of lamb, tenderised by overnight marination in lemony yoghurt and mint, could have had options other than well done.

Crab cakes with chilli jam (which Raven admits being addicted to) were easy to put together, beautifully crunchy and flavourful enough for the tart jam to be a happy extra. We recommend cooking the jam with windows open wide during the lengthy mellowing simmer, to combat the potent pickling blast of thai fish sauce, chilli and vinegar.

Griddled scallops went well with a recipe (originally from Ottolenghi) for sweetcorn purée –  a take on fresh polenta with sharp feta cheese balancing the sweet and crisp fried prosciutto providing texture.

These are Raven’s personal recipes, garnered throughout a lifetime of providing for loved ones, considering how to mark an occasion and adapting to taste. Raven’s collection should keep hosts inspired and guests happy at every gathering.

Zoe Kamen, Time Out London Issue 2082: July 15-21 2010

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