Cerys Matthews may well be better known for the distinctive singing voice that her Welsh upbringing has gifted her, but like many celebs (or people in general), her talents and interests far exceed her singing career and happen to include a deep interest in international food and cuisine. Throughout her music career, with Catatonia and beyond, Cerys was lucky enough to travel the world exploring the vibrant music and food cultures of far flung destinations and has now curated them all together in a book of her favourite recipes from far (and not so far) away lands. Along with a selection of recipes from 15 countries (including yours truly), Cerys has upped the conviviality stakes impressively by including a playlist of native musical suggestions to accompany each recipe and ensure a truly authentic experience. While I admit this might sound a little gimmicky, I actually found it to be a lovely addition to the book. Along with the playlist suggestions, each chapter includes quotations and poetry from notable figures from each country along with explanations of local colloquialisms and some historical titbits, elevating it from a traditional recipe book to a publication that provides short but compelling snapshots into the culture of all the countries Cerys has visited.
The recipes are not complex and include a good selection of vegan and vegetarian options to appease a crowd. There are 15 chapters in total including Japan, India, Jamaica and of course her native Wales. The Irish compendium includes recipes for Colcannon, Brown Soda Bread and Chocolate & Guinness Fondants with musical accompaniments from Christy Moore, Van Morrison and Laoise Kelly while the French selection includes a recipe for Sautéed Scallops with Lemon while Edith Piaf keeps you company in the musical department.
For the purposes of Christmas Day research, I chose to recreate the Sherry Trifle recipe which while not typically considered a Welsh dish, it is a family recipe from Cery’s grandmother. Given the season I thought it was the perfect traditional Christmas dish to put together while listening to Welsh entertainer Ryan Davies (as suggested by the lady herself). As this was my first time creating a Trifle (we were never in the Trifle house camp) Cery’s recipe differs somewhat from my perception of a typical Trifle by including jam instead of jelly and adding whipped egg whites to the whipped cream topping. The result did provide an ethereal lightness to the topping and the entire dessert was so simple to prepare with lovely textural combinations from the sponge, the crunchy almonds and the shards of Amaretti hidden beneath the custard. If you a Trifle fan, this could well be the one for you, leaving you plenty of time on the big day to concentrate on your turkey and the fifty other side dishes you have committed to…….oh wait, is that just me?
Gramma’s Sherry Trifle
160 – 180g trifle sponges halved
5 tbsp. good quality raspberry jam (the recipe states this as optional)
200 ml medium sherry
100g crumbled amaretti biscuits
100g toasted flaked almonds
300 ml double cream
1 egg white
1 tbsp. caster sugar
100g glacé cherries
Sandwich the trifle sponges with the jam (if using) and place on the bottom of a wide bowl. Pour over the sherry, half the almonds and the crumbled amaretti.
Whisk the cream until stiff. Whisk the egg whites separately until soft peaks form, add the sugar and continue to whisk until stiff. Fold in the cream.
Spoon the custard over the sponge base. Top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with remaining almonds and serve straight away of chill until required.
I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did, so it came as a pleasant surprise to me that I was so smitten. It is well put together and the recipes are easy to follow and prepare while providing good suggestions for geographically themed entertaining. The accompanying playlists add a thoughtful element and provide added interest to the book, and added atmosphere while cooking. There is enough interesting content in this book to while away a rainy afternoon on the couch reading it, or to while away a rainy evening cooking to it. Your choice.
Cookbook Review By: Ciara McQuillan.