Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Book Review: The Art of Eating Well by Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley

Hi friends, thanks for joining me again. I have decided to stop apologising for the infrequency of my posting of late. Life happens, and it's mostly due to mental exhaustion that I haven't written a post for a couple of weeks. I realise that sounds rather extreme, so let me assure you that it's just the norm for a mother of two very active little Tonjus. This is a post I've been wanting to write for months and months though, and I must admit it's been intimidating me a little as the last book review I wrote took two evenings to complete and was pretty comprehensive. If you follow my Facebook page or follow me on Instagram, you'll know how much this book has inspired me. I have never, ever cooked so many recipes from one book which have been consistently so absolutely delicious, exciting and which everyone in the family have loved. The book in question is, of course, The Art of Eating well by Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, or Hemsley and Hemsley, as it says on the cover, and by which I believe the sisters are collectively known.

I actually bought this book unintentionally, whilst looking for another cookbook. The one I wanted wasn't in stock but this caught my eye. I turned to the first page and was immediately hooked by the sisters' story, how they began to look at food from a new point of view with regard to how different foods affect the body, and the foods they avoid and why. This may shock many people, but the foods they avoid are not those traditionally viewed as high in fat, or sweet tasting. They look at food from the point of view of how it can benefit the body; whether something you eat will have a positive or negative effect on your body as a whole, both inside and out. To quote from the sisters themselves,

"The H+H way is to keep it simple and as close to nature as possible. In essence, this means we eat meat and vegetables, taking the best ingredients and foods from the plant and animal kingdoms as humans have always done. 

H+H food is free from gluten, grains and refined sugars, and focuses on nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods, good fats and bone broth. 

We enjoy high quality dairy, and a whole range of natural fats, including butter, unrefined oils and animal fat. We avoid processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar, and chemical sweeteners. Instead we stick to pseudocereals such as quinoa and amaranth, seasonal fruit and naturally sweet ingredients such as raw honey and maple syrup that have nutritional value."

In all my years of loving food and cooking, I'd never, unbelievably, looked at food in this way. Obviously I had a basic knowedge of what is good and bad for the body and what will make someone put on weight an give them health problems, and I've always enjoyed savoury food as much as sweet, but this book really set me thinking about something which is actually incredibly important and which I can't believe I hadn't, and others don't seem to, properly consider.

Now don't get me wrong, I haven't changed my diet to become gluten free, but I have started to consider how much bread and other wheat-based foods I eat (as well as my free use of olive oil as a cooking fat, amongst other things). As an aside, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall also considers this in River Cottage: Light and Easy, in which all the recipes are gluten free. In neither book is this decision taken on a whim, but through careful consideration of what an inherent ingredient of many natural foodstuffs can do to the body through constant and frequent consumption. I am a great believer in moderation, and although I have not taken a decision to become gluten free, I have been greatly influenced to consider the things I eat and whether they have any nourishing benefit to my body or not. In fact, it's started to make my stomach feel rather uncomfortable when I eat something particularly rich and un-nourishing because I've been eating so much "good stuff" lately.

But I don't want to terrify you as a prospective reader of the book if all that information doesn't sound up your street, because you'd be depriving yourself of some of the most delicious meals I've ever tasted! H+H introduced me to cooking with coconut oil, which I would not now be without, as well as new and exciting uses for vegetables which may fall on the dull side, such as cauliflower. Their cauliflower pilaf is fantastic, and an exceptional rice replacement for serving with curry. Much less filling and much more nourishing.

They have a recipe for simple cauliflower rice as well, without the additional ingredients to make it into a pilaf, but I love the sweet nuttiness of the pilaf so always go for that version when I make the incredible Malaysian Squash and Lentil Curry. In fact, I think the curry was the first H+H recipe I made, and I could not believe the explosion of taste in my mouth on the first forkfull. Absolutely incredible! And of course, I had all the spices on my spice shelf already, my spice collecton being rather extensive...

As you know, I really enjoy meat-free meals, and this has become somewhat of my go-to curry recipe, since we do like to have a curry of some description in our family reasonably regularly (read, I choose to cook one rather regularly) and this is just perfect. Coconut oil is really the most incredible ingredient, bringing out the flavours of the other ingredients whist imbuing them with a subtle sweetness and richness which intensifies the eating experience.

Another great thing about this book is that the recipes are really everyday. The next one I want to share with you is the Beef Ragu with Courgetti. What a fantastic way to include a nourishing though somewhat overlooked vegetable in a traditional recipe, but with a difference. Courgetti are strips of courgette made either with a contraption called a spiraliser, or by using a swivel peeler to peel strips of flesh from the courgette then cutting them in half along the length if they are too wide. These are used in place of pasta, and, like cauliflower rice, are a fantastic and healthy substitute. For non-lovers of courgette, it can barely be tasted because the flavour of the ragu overpowers it, though for those of us who do like courgette, the subtlety of the flavour still comes through. Everyone wins.

Once again, this recipe does not disappoint. I've made it several times, and now make it instead of traditional spaghetti bolognaise, it's so good, and everyone loves it.

I have to tell you that I made one minute adaptation to this recipe; I added a tablespoon of maple syrup, just to make it a little richer. That single tablespoon really did the job.

I think my absolute favourite recipe from this book has to be the Papaya, Halloumi, and Watercress Salad. Seriously, my mouth is actually watering as I'm writing this, with the book open beside me and my remembrance of eating it last only a week ago. As the recipe is just a salad, I add shredded chicken breast, and serve it with boiled new or Charlotte potatoes, crushed with a fork and with butter, full-fat cream cheese and seasoning mixed in. It just complements the salad perfectly and makes it a more substantial meal. The colours and vibrancy of this dish just shout at you to dive in and taste everything. I say everything because the plate of food one is presented with is very exciting! It's also great for children as a lot of the parts can be served as finger food and each part is full of taste and yumminess.

Perfect for picking up!

Should you wish to serve the salad with chicken and the potato mixture, simply roast one or two chicken breasts half an hour before you want to serve the meal, and boil some new or Charlotte potatoes until tender. Once cooked, crush with a fork then add equal amounts of butter and full-fat soft cheese (approximately one heaped tablespoon of each) plus seasoning to your taste. Once the chicken is cooked, shred and add to the salad, whilst serving the potato on the side.

 A fantastic recipe for times when you are feeling like something a little lighter, yet filling enough for you not to want to eat anything after dinner, is the Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad with Brazil Nut Pesto. Goodness, I really cannot emphasise enough the intensity of taste in these recipes. As I'm looking at each recipe I want to share with you in the book, the taste of each one comes back to me. This is a beautiful recipe, almost thrown together, especially with the first instruction of, "roughly chop any vegetables you like, the more colours the better." This is super easy yet you can serve it to look impressive, and once again, it looks really vibrant on the plate.

 The Brazil nut pesto is genius. It's so simple to make, although you do need a food processor to grind down the nuts, yet it is so effective, both visually, and in the perfect way it complements the rest of the dish.

I could just carry on sharing and sharing with you from this incredible book, as I have multitudinous photos of the recipes I've cooked from it. I'm going to finish, however, with not a meal, but a loaf of bread. The absolutely incredible Multiseed Loaf. This bread is made from sweet potato and buckwheat flour as well as mixture of seeds and raisins. Talk about a bread that needs nothing but butter to serve (and we all know I love bread served only with butter)! The taste of this beautiful, rustic-looking loaf is quite astonishing. I actually made it to take out for lunch on a family day we went to with our church, and everyone sitting adjacent to us was utterly intrigued by it. It went around a fair few people and everyone who tried it absolutely loved it and were utterly astonished when I revealed the secret ingredient of sweet potato. I love that about cooking slightly out-of-the-ordinary recipes; seeing peoples' reactions when they cannot believe what they are eating. Here is the lovely loaf before baking...

...and fresh from the oven.

In fact, looking at these photos makes me think I will cook this loaf again at the weekend...

So there you have it. I hope this review has shed some light on the content of this cookbook if you've seen it on the shelves and have been intrigued and wondering whether to buy it. And I hope that, if you've never heard of it, you'll be inspired to seek it out, whether in your local library or in a bookshop (or supermarket - I bought my copy in Tesco). It has entirely changed the way I think about food. The taste of an ingredient can be enhanced so easily, and ingredients which are deemed common and dull are given a new lease of life. Well known ingredients are mixed with some less well known but easy enough to obtain, and cooking with butter, ghee and coconut oil is just a revelation. This really is the absolute best cookbook I own. It is interesting, informative and inspiring, as well as being presented in a really fresh and attractive way, yet maintaining simplicity and accessibility. The meal photographs are presented in such a way as to make them look casual and everyday, yet somehow special at the same time. There is no pretence, only honest, delicious and nourishing meals with exciting flavours and new methods to try, not forgetting the stunning sweet recipes such as Tahini Bliss Balls, which are quite something else. They are certainly bliss!

I want this book to change how you cook too! If you get a copy, I'd love to hear how you get on with it and if it affects you in the same way.

xxx Sam


  1. Great review! I immediately bought the book after reading this so hopefully I'll love it as much as you do!

    1. Wow! I'm glad it had such a positive impact! I'd love to hear if you love it as much as me; please drop back and let me know, and thanks so much for the comment :-)


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