Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Pre-Review: The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

I'm calling this a pre-review because it just doesn't seem right to review a cookbook after only trying one of the recipes. That said, I'll stride boldly forward into what amounts to a book review.

One of the surprise gifts I received for Christmas this year was The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by Diana Bucholz. I didn't quite know what to make of it and figured I probably wouldn't find much use for it. I mean, something like that just doesn't sound like something that would come off my cookbook bookshelf all that often.

I did, however, at least take a look through it, and I realized a few things. First, there's a lot of food mentioned in Harry Potter. Under each recipe's name is a synopsis of the scene in which a particular dish is mentioned, and I really hadn't realized how much food comes up. Second, while I was expecting hokey recipes for magical foods like every-flavour-beans, what this really ends up being is a cookbook that tours the food traditions of the British isles. To be honest, when I saw some of the names of these foods in the Harry Potter books, I probably assumed that they were fictitious dishes. Treacle Tarts? Spotted Dick? But they're not. Besides the scene setting, each recipe also has a little blurb about the recipe--its origins or the traditions around it or some cooking tip. And these were really interesting; I found myself paging through the whole cookbook just to learn a bit about British food.

So far, I've only tried one recipe--a pumpkin tart that has a layer of bittersweet chocolate between the pumpkin filling and the homemade crust (it didn't call for lard in the text of the cookbook, but clearly this was a recipe that called for lard from the very soul of its being). I'm not sure I've ever had pumpkin and chocolate together, especially not such a dark chocolate flavor, but this was really good. I'm looking forward to trying more dishes from this cookbook, because it really looks like what we have is not a frilly cookbook attached to a Harry Potter theme but a good cookbook attached to a frilly theme.

And that is one place where the cookbook gets into trouble: its organization is basically thematic ("Good Food with Bad Relatives," "Treats From the Train," "Recipes from a Giant and an Elf" and the like). It can be a real pain finding something when you want it. The index isn't bad, but if you don't know the name of something, not having grown up under a monarch's rule... well, it can still be hard to find some things. The author does very kindly let us supply our own Muggle sorts of magic--food processors, for instance--to replace house elves and wands.

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