Non-Fiction Reviews


Harry Potter
Official Christmas Cook Book

(2023) Elena P. Craig & Jody Revenson, Greenfinch, 25, hrdbk, 175pp, ISBN 978-1-529-43473-6

 

This sumptuously produced book is a neat hybrid of cook book with Harry Potter wrapping around each recipe including quotes, concept artwork and stills from the films. It is a clothbound hardback with a gold leaf illustrated front with full colour plates on gloss art paper inside. The recipes are by Elena Craig and the text by Jody Revenson.

There are seven chapters:
                - Breakfasts
                - Soups & Starters
                - Breads and Sides
                - Mains
                - Desserts
                - Drinks
                - Harry Potter Holiday-Themed Parties

The recipes by and large are quite straightforward and they are quite easy to adapt to your own tastes: only a few are a bit more adventurous but for the most part I'd say the dishes are within the culinary abilities of those who regularly cook or at least regularly cook at weekends and for guests; you don't need to be a Gordon Ramsay or swear like him. As we all know, the wealthy nation late twentieth and early twenty-first century diet is and there is no getting away from it quite simply unhealthy as is demonstrated by the developed nations' rise in average body mass indices, increase in diabetes and too many with too high blood pressure. These recipes while delicious will need tweaking a tad: salt, sugar, butter are all too common ingredients. But this is a near universal error and I even see on BBC's Masterchef the judges all too often say 'this needs more salt'. (You don't want to be with me in a restaurant, my last two meals out I had to substitute a desert for a starter as all the deserts on the menu were unhealthy.) Let's be clear the biomedical literature has shown for decades an almost linear relationship between the amount of salt in a person's diet and high blood pressure. Long gone are the days when we needed salt to preserve meat. There is enough salt already in enough food ingredients without the need to add more. Ditto issues with sugar and high-cholesterol dairy. OK, minor rail against the world over. Let's treat this as a festive cookbook and not one for every day meals. Recipes can, though, be given a healthy tweak by the reader.

You can see from the chapter headings that every daily meal is catered for and so in theory you could provide for almost each day over the Christmas period should you wish.

For the most part there is variation throughout the book each recipe has a Harry Potter reference either as a sub-title, or smaller font-sized header. So 'Puff Pastry Books' (a breakfast dish) becomes 'Restricted Section Puff Pastry Books': the 'Restricted Section' being part of the Hogwarts Library and there is a picture of Ron Weasley holding a lantern up to a bookcase from the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone together with a quote from the film. The small bite-sized pastries even vaguely look a little bit like books. 'Bubble and Squeak' becomes 'Snape's Bubble and Squeak' which, we are told, are named by the sounds made by the ingredients when cooked which are reminiscent of the gurgles and shrieks made by something brewing in a cauldron. And here there is a quote from the Frog Choir in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban.

It has to be said that the images, be they of the cooked recipes or stills from the films, are lavish and some of the dishes spectacular. But even so, not all the dishes are complicated and, of course you do not have to do them all: you won't catch me baking bread though various of my friends do.

So, who is this book for? Well, obviously those who do home cooking. There should be more of us but what with our busy lives often many do not have the time. Here, this book scores because this is a 'Christmas Cookbook' and of course we do have time over the festive season.

Second, it is for Harry Potter fans. Aside from the references, concept artwork, film stills and quotes, a few of the recipes have looks that reference Harry Potter, such as the biscuits with cartoon images of the main characters painted with coloured icing sugar. And the chocolate witches brooms really do look like mini witches brooms

Third, parents who either want to teach their young teenagers how to cook, or parents of even younger children, fans of Harry Potter, who are picky eaters that need tempting to broaden their diet. Indeed, that this is a family book is demonstrated by only a couple of the drinks being alcoholic; the rest are alcohol free.

This brings us on to how to use this book. This is not a book for having in your kitchen. Clothbound books are not conducive to damp, sometimes greasy and sprinkled with the detritus of cooking, surfaces. This book's production qualities are too high for that. Also, the book will not stay open by itself. (Unless of course you break its spine which, as we all know, is a mortal sin.) No, this book is for going through (possibly with children or a partner) to reminisce the world of Harry Potter and to decide what dishes to create.

Here, another benefit of the book is that the final chapter consists of how to select dishes previously covered into menus for either meals (Christmas Eve or Christmas Day) or parties, movie nights (film nights too you do not have to watch a US Hollywood film).

The book rounds off with another contents listing but this time annotated with vegetarian, vegan, easily made vegan or vegetarian, and gluten free indicators. Also, some recipes in the main body of the book suggest ingredient substitutions to make them vegetarian.

Other critical matters include that oven temperatures are all in both degrees centigrade, fan degrees centigrade and gas mark.

Finally, if 25 is in your budget for a Christmas or birthday present for a friend or family member, especially one who at least likes Harry Potter, then this will make for an ideal gift. Go on, put some magic into Christmas.

Jonathan Cowie

 


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