Cookfulness was kindly sent to The Unwritten to review, this has not influenced the views of the reviewer.
I feel I should start this review by saying I love cookbooks. My cookbook shelf is overflowing with books of all kinds. That said, as much as my crammed bookshelf declares my love of food and cooking, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
I love to cook, but being disabled and neurodivergent, cooking a satisfying, nutritious, and tasty meal for me and my husband isn’t always the easiest thing to accomplish. So when I was asked to review Cookfulness, a book aimed at people with chronic pain, mobility issues, and mental health issues, it seemed like a match made in heaven.
The first thing I do with any new cookbook is sit down and eagerly flick through the recipes in anticipation of what I want to make first. I noticed was there are no pictures of the completed dishes, as someone who can find visualising things difficult, this is a bit of a shame. Likewise, there isn’t an index, which is a supremely useful feature to have when you’ve got a random ingredient and no idea what to make with it.
There is a hints and tips section, which does include some helpful advice about making cooking easier, how to get the most out of the book, and ideas on how to have fun whilst cooking.
This included using prepared veg, freeze leftovers get equipment to help, all great hacks for disabled people which I use regularly. However, whilst I understood the author’s intentions, I found some of the advice a little unrealistic for the target audience.
For example, the advice to physically go food shopping rather than ordering online, and whilst there to go slowly and take in all the stimuli around you, is incredibly impractical for me as a neurodivergent wheelchair user who finds supermarkets inaccessible and an overwhelming sensory assault.
What I did like was the clear layout of the recipes. The equipment list is very useful – there’s nothing more infuriating than getting halfway through a recipe to find you don’t have some fancy gadget you need to finish off your dish.
My personal preference for an ingredients list that tells me how the ingredient is prepared, rather than burying “finely chop your onions” halfway through the method, is also indulged, to my delight.
I also love the addition of “Give Yourself Time” in addition to the quoted cooking and preparation time, which gives me a more realistic idea of how long I will be in the kitchen.
To really test Cookfulness, I needed to make some food! I tested three main meals and a bake. I should mention that as well as being gluten intolerant, like the author, I am also dairy intolerant, so all the recipes will be made with gluten and dairy-free replacements where necessary.
First is Poached Chicken Curry (page 70). This recipe can be made with minimal labour if you follow some of the hacks at the beginning of the book. I used a mix of fresh veggies and pastes in my curry, and I replaced the yoghurt with a dairy-free coconut-based yoghurt. One thing I noticed whilst cooking is the recipe doesn’t tell you to season the dish; whilst seasoning is a personal taste thing, a reminder to do so is handy!
I have been spoilt by my husband making authentic curries but we both agreed that whilst this was a ‘chip shop curry sauce’ flavoured curry (absolutely nothing wrong with that!) and won’t be winning any awards for authenticity, it was honest and tasty. I also thought that a firm tofu could work well if you’re veggie or vegan. We both polished off our bowls!
Next was a Fruit Crumble (page 109), which I made with apples and blackberries. I opted to use fresh fruit but you could easily use a frozen mix to save labour. I immediately ran into a problem; the recipe didn’t tell me whether the stated oven temperature was with or without fan assistance, which does make a difference to cooking time.
The crumble itself was tasty, and it took very little effort to make, but I did find myself yearning for a bit more butter in the topping and a bit more sweetness overall. That said, drown it in vegan custard and it makes a perfectly satisfying pudding!
The following night I selected the Veggie Stuffed Peppers (page 81). This recipe had a bit more prep involved and ingredients that couldn’t be replaced with low labour alternatives. It also had a major flaw in that it had ingredients in the ingredients list that I prepped which were then not mentioned in the method at all, so I had to guess when to add them to the mix.
Taste-wise this was good and a filling meal. But I found the texture of the filling a little bit mushy, and I wanted something fresh, like some lemon juice or fresh herbs, to more flavour. I’ve made many a stuffed pepper and this one sadly wasn’t my favourite. I did however love the layering of filling and cheese, which is an idea I’m stealing!
Last up was my favourite – Spinach and Rocket Tortilla (page 49). The prep of this dish was fairly easy, although you could save some labour (and washing up!) by cutting the potatoes smaller and sautéing them, skipping the parboiling step. I opted to use a mix of spinach, watercress, and rocket because it was cheaper and less wasteful than separate bags.
We ate this cold after a busy evening and it really hit the spot. It’s fresh but filling and a flexible dish that can be made ahead and eaten for any meal. Some fresh herbs in the egg mix would be the icing on the cake. Me and Mr B will be having this one again!
The food in Cookfulness isn’t complex or ground-breaking, and there are a few issues in the recipes themselves. For a more seasoned cook, you might find the recipes a little simple at first glance.
However, whilst cooking complex meals with a lengthy list of ingredients and pages is fun when I have the ability, Cookfulness is a companion for the days when cooking feels like an impossible task, to remind me that the simple things can make satisfying, tasty and achievable meals to help me feed and nourish my body.
Cookfulness: A Therapeutic Approach To Cooking by Ian Taverner is available from Amazon
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