For the last couple of years I’ve been writing the cookery book review slot for Good Things magazine (amongst other series and one off pieces as well). That means I’ve been reviewing lots of wonderful newly published titles, but not always sharing them here on Kavey Eats. So my picks for 2015 include my favourites from those commissioned pieces, plus others I’ve reviewed at home.
I’ve included an Amazon link for each book, but of course you can pop into your local bookshop to pick these up for Christmas presents.
Undoubtedly, this has been one of my top two books of the year.
I’ve long followed author Kate Doran in the guise of Little Loaf, her popular food blog full of recipes that often make me salivate. The title comes from an old family nickname given to toddler Kate ‘by a great aunt who noticed [her] appetite for bread was bigger than [she] was’. Over time, Kate noticed that the recipes which resonated most strongly with readers were the ones ‘which evoked powerful food memories’. Reading her reminisces about things she loved to eat as a child, readers were reminded of their own childhood memories as they followed the recipes she created. In Homemade Memories Kate distils that nostalgia factor into a truly captivating collection that includes a handful of favourites from The Little Loaf plus over 80 new recipes. Her inspiration comes from two key sources – classic comfort puddings her mum and granny used to make – cakes, crumbles, buns and jellies, and homemade versions of shop bought favourites – Angel Delight, Fruit Pastilles, Jaffa Cakes, Milky Way Bars and many more. Recipes are ordered into chapters covering Crumbs (biscuits), Sticky fingers (handheld treats that will surely leave your fingers covered in sugar, chocolate, icing or syrup), Cakes, Puddings, Ice Creams, Midnight Feasts (chocolates and sweets worth staying up late for) and Drinks. The last chapter is where Kate shares her favourite bread recipe and some handy extras including homemade peanut butter, lemon curd, fruity jam, hot chocolate fudge sauce and vanilla extract. Nearly every recipe has a gorgeous photograph and it’s hard not to bookmark virtually every page. Recipes are accurate and delicious; the Real Bourbon Biscuits – given a grown-up twist by the injection of bourbon whiskey into the filling – were even better than we expected and straightforward and fun to make. This book brings a bit of childhood magic back into your kitchen and is definitely one of my must buys.
Homemade Memories: Childhood Treats With A Twist by Kate Doran is currently available for £15.90 (RRP £18.99). Published by Orion.
‘Milkshakes just got drunk.’ So says Boozy Shakes author Victoria Glass as she tells us why we should give the milkshakes of our childhood an adult makeover. This books is all about harking back to childhood, getting your retro on and bringing it back to the future! Adding ‘a hearty measure of hard liquor’ to a milkshake offers the best of both worlds and Victoria shares 27 tempting recipes based on sweets, cocktails, desserts, even on music! At the beginning are a set of basic recipes – here you’ll learn how to make ice cream, sorbet, sauces such as chocolate fudge, whisky butterscotch and cherry, Swiss meringue, fruit compote and flavouring syrups. Then it’s on to the shakes themselves, divided into chapters The Candy Bar (based on sweet shop favourites), The Cake Shop, The Cocktail Shaker and Shake Rattle and Roll (where ideas are inspired by classic song titles).
Boozy Shakes by Victoria Glass is currently available for £9.99. Published by Ryland Peters & Small.
Turkish-Australian restaurateur Somer Sivrioğlu and food and travel writer David Dale combined forces to create a book that would help readers understand the food of Turkey and show them how to create classic dishes at home. The result, Anatolia, is a hefty tome bound in beautiful blue fabric and full of vibrant, eye-catching images of Turkey, its people and its food. The generous introduction includes the history of the region, dating back 5 millennia, as a key to understanding the culture and cuisine, familiarisation with core ingredients and equipment and a range of cooking techniques. Then come more thn 150 recipes, each one prefaced by an engaging tale – the origins of the dish and its place in folklore, an anecdote from the authors, a passage about a traditional producer. Incor uyatmasi (sleeping figs) is introduced with a delightful poem that provides the backstory to this simple pudding. Recipes are organised by time of day, from breakfast and lunch through afternoon tea and sweets to dinner. This book is particularly appealing as an insight into the culinary traditions, culture, ingredients and techniques of Turkish cuisine.
Anatolia by Somer Sivrioğlu and David Dale is currently available for £20.40 (RRP £30). Published by Murdoch Books.
A revised edition of the 2010 original, Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter is part cookbook, part science primer as the author investigates the science of food and why ingredients and recipes work the way they do. It’s not only informative to read but educational in a practical sense too though I’d say it’s geared most strongly to those who want to understand the how and why of a recipe or technique more than those who simply want to cook. Don’t expect to find lush colour photographs of delectable recipes – instead most illustrations are appealing hand-drawn sketches, a range of graphs and diagrams and small (and frankly amateurish) black and white photographs but don’t let that put you off; this book is enormously fun and genuinely a joy to read. I am only a couple of chapters in but have particularly enjoyed the passages on the history of recipe writing, medieval cooking and even an interview with Myth Busters’ Adam Savage. One amazon reviewer postulates that “Jeff Potter must be the love child of Julia Child and Albert Einstein” and that’s right on the nose. A great gift for the curious and geeky cook.
Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food by Jeff Porter is currently available for £18.02. Published by O’Reilly Media.
Another book from a blogger I’ve been following for many years, Chinatown Kitchen is written by Lizzie Mabbott, also known as Hollowlegs. For her first cookbook, Lizzie draws upon her amazing heritage; she is Anglo-Chinese, born in Hong Kong where she spent her formative years growing up not only on Chinese food but also exposed to the many cuisines of South East Asia. At 13 she was transplanted to England, where she has been ever since – albeit with some judicious globetrotting to feed those hollow legs! To describe the book as simply another tome on South East Asian cooking is to put it into a box that it doesn’t neatly fit into. It’s much more than Chinese – or even South East Asian – food made easy; rather it’s a very personal collection of recipes that represent Lizzie’s personal food story. There are classic Chinese and South East Asian dishes, sure, but there are also a fair few of Lizzie’s own inventions including some excellent mashups such as this Chinese Spag Bol recipe and an Udon Carbonara. At the heart of the book is the idea of seeking out ingredients in the food shops of your nearest Chinatown – or indeed any oriental supermarkets or groceries you can find – and putting them to delicious use. To that end, the book is not just a set of recipes but also a shopping and ingredient guide. Add to that an introduction to key equipment and techniques and you are all set to get cooking. Both recipes we’ve made so far have ended up on the repeat list – her Chinese Spag Bol is a simple pork mince dish that is absolutely full of flavour. The Roast Rice-Stuffed Chicken is marinated and basted in an incredible paste which is utterly delicious and we now use this for a quick Sunday roast, without bothering with the more time-consuming rice-stuffing. Also on the wishlist to make are Grilled Aubergines with Nuoc Cham, Chinese Chive Breads, Banana Rotis, Spicy Peanut and Tofu Puff Salad, Mu Shu Pork, Steamed Egg Custard with Century and Salted Eggs, Xinjiang Lamb Skewers and Red Bean Ice Lollies!
Chinatown Kitchen: From Noodles to Nuoc Cham by Lizzie Mabbot is currently available on Amazon UK for £10 (RRP £20). Published by Mitchell Beazley.
One of Britain’s most celebrated Indian chefs, Vivek Singh has been executive chef at the Cinnamon Club since it opened and also oversees sister restaurants Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Soho. He’s also a regular face on the TV cookery show circuit and has published several popular cookbooks about his contemporary Indian restaurant cooking and exploring ‘curry’ from India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. In Spice At Home, he changes tack and shares the kind of cooking he enjoys at home. Weaving together ingredients, flavours and techniques from around the world, these recipes are a modern global approach to cooking, predominantly Indian but with many fusion influences. He is inspired by the global larder available in London, ‘a melting pot of different cultures’. At the core of this book is Vivek’s grouping of spices into three clusters, the basics, the aromatics and the rare and he shares good advice on storing and using spices effectively. Recipes are divided by when they are best enjoyed, breakfast, lunch, dinner or for entertaining and there are chapters on sides and sweets plus a final section on basics, additional spice blends and core ingredients and techniques. There are plenty of authentic Indian recipes here but the ones that catch my eye are the fusion ideas – chorizo and cumin potatoes, bangla scotch eggs, pasta moily or lamg rogan josh pithivier.
Spice At Home by Vivek Singh is currently available for £18.00 (RRP £25). Published by Absolute Press.
Coming from three generations of chefs, Jeremy Pang didn’t initially plan to work in the industry; first studying biochemical engineering and then working in marketing. But the pull of cooking was strong, and after studying at Le Cordon Blue Institute he worked and travelled across South East Asia to learn everything he could about the cooking of this vast region. I first met Jeremy Pang at School of Wok, the popular and successful cookery school he launched on his return, initially out of his home and then in a dedicated location in the heart of London. Years of developing classes for the school, working out just how to unravel recipes and present them to students in an easy-to-learn way whilst retaining the authenticity and essence of the dishes, provided the perfect material for his first cookbook, Chinese Unchopped. First are Chinese Kitchen Essentials, selecting and caring for equipment and techniques for preparing ingredients. Then comes an introduction to the Chinese Pantry; level 1 ingredients are those that are essential to Chinese cooking (most of which are readily available in British supermarkets); level 2 items are those suggested for cooks ready to delve further into the cuisine (and which may require a visit to specialist oriental grocery stores). The recipes themselves are presented by technique, with chapters on stir-frying, deep-drying, steaming, poaching and braising, roasting and double cooking. Last is a collection of salads, pickles and sides. The dishes come from across China, and there are a few that show influences from Thailand and Malaysia too. Chinese takeaway staples such as Cantonese duck and sweet and sour pork sit side by side with more adventurous (and less familiar) recipes such as lionhead meatballs, five spice lotus leaf chicken and yam with hoisin. There is a tendency for books on specific cuisines to end up as a somewhat daunting encyclopaedic tome, but Chinese Unchopped is a refreshing change, imparting the essentials by showcasing cooking methods, each with an edited selection of recipes. As you’d expect from a teacher, the recipes are really well written, clear and easy to follow. A nice feature is the ‘swapsies’ provided in many recipes, letting you know when an alternative for one or more ingredients would work well.
Chinese Unchopped by Jeremy Pang is currently available for £16.59 (RRP £20). Published by Quadrille.
Back in 2009 I was still an avid watcher of Masterchef, the cooking challenge for amateur chefs dreaming of a career in food. From early days, I cheered on cheerful kiwi Mat Follas also known as Ming and was thrilled to see him win the series. (Since then, I confess, I’ve grown steadily less of a fan of our two UK judges not to mention the formulaic format of studio kitchen, pro restaurant, mass catering and round and round again, so I’ve switched allegiance to Aussie Masterchef which is so much better – and the three judges are amazing too!) Anyway, back to Ming: Winning the competition gave Mat the confidence and publicity to launch his own restaurant, making the permanent switch from corporate IT to food and hospitality. Wild Garlic in Beaminster received rave reviews and it was a sad day when it closed its doors a few years later, but Mat is now feeding happy diners at The Casterbridge Hotel in Dorchester on Friday and Saturday nights. From the start, Mat has had a strong affinity with seafood, and is a strong proponent of making good use of the local catch. In his first cookbook, Fish, he shares recipes adapted from his time on Masterchef, plus customer favourites from The Wild Garlic and a summer seafood restaurant he ran on Chesil Beach for a few months before opening at The Casterbridge. Every recipe is modified for a domestic kitchena and uses only ingredients that are readily available to home cooks. Aware that ‘many people are scared of seafood because of bones or the complexity of filleting fish’ Mat has included guidance on both, but reminds us that, in the same way we expect our butchers to prepare and portion our meat, we can ask fishmongers to prepare fish too. Organising chapters by types of fish makes it simple to find a recipe to suit the catch (or purchase) of the day, and makes it easier too to work out which fish can successfully be substituted for each other. A few recipes need time and are best suited to a leisurely weekend of cooking but many are perfect for a quick midweek supper – 25 can be made in half an hour or less.
Fish: Delicious recipes for fish and shellfish by Mat Follas is currently available for £8.94 (RRP £19.99). Published by Ryland Peters & Small.
My other top cookbook this year is Diana Henry’s A Bird In The Hand, which I reviewed in June.
We eat a lot of chicken in the UK – it’s such a versatile meat; good roasted, grilled or barbequed, fried (pan or deep), poached, cooked in a stew or casserole… and so adaptable in terms of flavours and cuisines. Diana Henry shares over 100 chicken recipes that range from quick and casual to impressive and celebratory. And as is my wont when flicking through books that are destined to become favourites, the first time I read it I bookmarked so many recipes I may just have well have opened the book at random to find one! Some, like Baked Chicken with Tarragon and Dijon Mustard, Chicken Forestière, Thai Chicken Burgers, Soothing North Indian Curry and Japanese Negima Yakitori are similar to recipes we have made and enjoyed before; a good reminder to make them again soon. But others are ideas we’ve not tried before – Spanish Chicken with Morcilla and Sherry, Vietnamese Lemongrass and Chilli Chicken, Bourbon and Marmalade-glazed Drumsticks, Chicken with Shaoxing Wine, Crisp Radishes and Pickled Ginger, Tagine of Chicken, Caramelised Onion and Pears, Chicken Legs in Pinot Noir with Sour Cherries and Parsnip Purée, Roast chicken stuffed with black pudding and apple and mustard sauce, Ginger beer can chicken, Chicken Pot-Roasted in Milk, Bay and Nutmeg, Pot-Roast Chicken with Figs. I mean, that’s a long list and it was hard to narrow down to just that! The dish that’s quickly become our favourite is Chicken with Pumpkin, Cream and Gruyère and we make this at least once a month, usually with butternut squash. This is a great reference book to have on your shelf and a good prod to try something different instead of the usual rut.
A Bird in the Hand by Diana Henry is currently available from Amazon for £6.99 (RRP £20). Published by Mitchell Beazley.
You may also like to read my recent reviews of Nikkei Cuisine by Luiz Hara and Wild Drinks & Cocktails by Emily Han, both of which include recipes extracted from the books.
Nikkei Cuisine is currently available from Amazon UK for £19.99 (RRP £25). Published by Jacqui Small.
Wild Drinks and Cocktails is currently available from Amazon for £14.99. Published by Fair Winds Press, a member of the Quarto Publishing Group
For more food book suggestions, check last year’s recommended books guide.
Prices correct at time of publication. The Amazon links above are affiliate links (please see sidebar for more information), which means that I will receive a small commission for any purchases made. Kavey Eats received review copies of most of these titles.