Guaranteed to make you Lick your Lips!
Oh, the lure of the new cookbook. It’s impossible to escape! Pages of perfectly captured shots of mouthwatering recipes with their promise of transforming my dining table from Fish Fingers, Baked Beans and Mash, to Scallops on a Bed of Pea Puree. Yeah right. Like the kids would eat that! I have an ever expanding collection of cookbooks – some used infinitely more than others… to the point they are falling apart. And they are my one collection of books I could never ever part with! For a cookbook is more than just a batch of recipes thrown together. A cookbook is lovingly written with that unique purpose of bonding souls in celebration, be it for a simple cupcake or a complex croque-en-bouche. A cookbook is for curling up on the sofa, mug of decadent hot cocoa in hand and drooling. Lots of drooling!
And here are my top 5 cookbooks from my HUGE collection. These are the ones I come to time and time again for inspiration, motivation and ultimately, creation. I will always end up cooking something from one of these. They just tick all of my culinary boxes. And I know they will for you too. How can I be so sure? Well, I can hear the rumble of your belly already!
1) Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache, by Harry Eastwood
What a title! What a cover! What a revelation!
Harry’s book is like a box of Parisian chocolates that you simply have to come back to for more. Queen of vegetables, proper butter, nuts and all things super healthy, this amazing lady has found a way to Fairy Godmother them into cake. Yes, we have seen Carrot Cake before. Yes, we are also aware of Chocolate Beetroot Cake doing the rounds. But Harry takes things one step further, leading us to an enchanting land of novelties courtesy of quintessentially British shabby chic snapshots and idyllic introductions. Her Parsnip Vanilla Fudge is introduced like this:
‘THIS RECIPE IS FULL OF MISCHIEF and requires constant attention, plenty of patience and a strong arm. Imagine how tired you might be if you spent an hour with Willy Wonka and you’ve probably got a good idea of what’s involved here.’
Intrigued by the challenge, I simply couldn’t resist… and wow is all I can say. Heavenly, and well worth the elbow grease.
Then she goes on to tempt us with a dazzling array of concoctions such as her White Chocolate, Cinammon and Raspberry Blondies (equally outstanding… and ha ha, everybody who devoured my attempt at them had no idea they were full of grated butternut squash!); Heartache Chocolate Cake; Ginger Millies; Courgette and Camomile Cupcakes and finally, how’s this for an intro to a recipe:
‘THIS JOLLY CAKE has never been on a diet in her life, and her infectious laugh gurgles up from deep inside her bosom…’
Yes, next on my cake list is Harry’s Coconut Cake with Coconut Icing! If you are looking for something different (a cookbook with chapters by food colour) and a truly fabulous read – Harry’s ‘cake trials’, inserted between chapters are so much fun to read about, then this is the one for you…
2) The Way I Cook, by Lisa Faulkner
Celebrity Masterchef winner Lisa is something of a revolutionary whirlwind in the kitchen. I watched her culinary ‘journey’ from start to finish on TV and was rooting for her all the way. For this lady, once her chef’s confidence was restored, wowed the nation with her innate cooking ability… so much so, that she now has her own TV slots on Food Network! And is it just me, or does she seem like an absolutely lovely person as well as being extraordinarily pretty?
The Way I Cook is choc full of homely sweet and savoury treats, perfect to refer to for ideas when you want to impress your family and friends without the rigmarole of fine dining. Lisa writes in a personal way that makes you feel you are almost reading notes from a friend. Her Proper Old-Fashioned Shortbread, Ginger Cake (how tricky was it to leave that for a few days so the flavours intensified!), Jambalaya and Crab Ravioli with Chive Beurre Blanc have been absolute winners so far. And as we’re having Movie Night this Friday, I am looking forward to trying out her Salted Toffee Popcorn!
Keep up the good work Lisa…
3) The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook
This one wasn’t a ‘number 1 bestseller’ for nothing! If you’re not lucky enough to live in London (the first bakery was originally set up in Notting Hill to bring American-style baking to the UK), then this is the cake book for you… With yummies such as Nutty Apple Loaf (an utterly divine, moist, texture diverse, fruity cake which pairs perfectly with a cup of tea), Key Lime Pie and Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie, there is something for every sweet tooth. The cupcake recipes are a staple for any traditional tea party, and the Vanilla and Cream Cheese frostings are sensational! This is homestead baking at its best in the way that only the Americans do it. Even Gwyneth Paltrow – on the odd occasions she does allow herself sugar! – feasts on the fantastical creations of this legendary establishment. The Hummingbird Bakery even throw in Muffins for savoury geeks (but frankly why would anyone go to a bakery and order anything without sugar in it?!)
4) Kitchen, by Nigella Lawson
I adore Nigella’s food as much as her inimitable, novel-like way with words. She has practically given us permission to express ourselves more frequently with utterances such as panoply, gratification and perfunctorily. So no cookbook list of mine would be complete without her! Kitchen differs from her other titles because it gives us a real glimpse into hers – and I don’t mean the staged version we get transmitted into our living rooms via the telly. In Kitchen, Nigella tells us of her paraphernalia (including tacky holiday tea towels), her shameful gadgets, her useful gadgets, and her culinary shortcuts. In fact, in Kitchen she’s refreshingly working class-cum-middle class in so many ways… I’m not about to suggest you try the Marmite Spaghetti though. Some things really were meant to stay apart! But with her mind-blowing Dragon Chicken (boy is this fantastic for a strictly adults-only supper – as is her spectacularly silky Saffron Rissotto), Guinness Gingerbread and Grasshopper Pie – you’ll just have to go buy it now to see if it contains the insects! – there are a plethora of combinations to delight in. And at the end of some of the recipes, Nigella throws in handy suggestions for the leftovers, making this the perfect read for all you thrifty home cooks…
A fascinating voyage of all things food, diet and modelling by Roald Dahl’s former model turned foodie grand-daughter, Sophie. Oh how much we prefer her with some curves enjoying life! Sophie writes dreamily and poetically, so much so that the fragrance of her recipes practically wafts out of the pages… inspiring me to knock up her nutritious and delicious comfort food-style numbers. Indian Sweet Potato Pancakes, Bircher Muesli and Lemon Capri Torte mingle among the seasonal and meal time divided chapters with Pan-fried Orange Halibut and Flour-less Chocolate Cake. And it’s so refreshing to find a cookbook so BIG on breakfast; THE most important meal of the day. Sophie has some fabulous new ideas and twists on classics, all served up with big doses of nostalgia, smiles and loving reference to her husband, Jamie Cullum. If Nigella is a modern day highbrow novel worthy of the Man Booker Prize, Sophie is a Jane Austen classic.
I hope I have inspired you to roll up your sleeves! Because after writing all that I’d like you to knock me up Nigella’s Pappardelle with Butternut and Blue Cheese… please…