Book reviews | My pick of 2013’s cookbooks

Book reviews

My pick of 2013’s cookbooks

I know how many cookbook round-ups there are at this time of year but here, for what it’s worth, is my selection. It differs a little from the normal lists for being less about what I would buy and more about what I think would suit different friends and family. You’re not going to give the same book to a 19 year old who’s just starting out in the kitchen to someone who has been cooking for 40 years.

That said I don’t think it’s been a bumper year for food publishing - no Ottolenghi, nothing of the stature of Caroline Conran’s Sud de France which I've been cooking from a lot over the last few months or the easy accessibility of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. Publishers seem to me to be getting increasingly conservative about the books they commission but that's another post . . . Here goes:

Love that chef!

I’m not a big fan of celebrity chef cookbooks which often seem to be churned out to a formula but loved the robustness and sheer deliciousness of the food in Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food* and, to my surprise, Rick Stein’s India which would be the perfect present for a curry fiend. (Surprised more to find Rick has written a good book about India than that he’s written a good book ...) Indian food fans may also enjoy The Dal Cookbook by Krishna Dutta, which is all about .... dal. Dull? Not in my book. Great comfort food.

* though watch out for the brine in the salt beef bagel recipe which I gather contains too much salt. Corrected in later editions.

Old friends in the kitchen

There’s no such thing as too many Nigel Slater cookbooks so I leapt on his new Eat: The little book of fast food the moment I spotted it. It’s not just that it has delicious recipes and Nigel’s easy, comforting voice, it’s also so tactile - such a lovely small chunky book.

And though I’ve got it already I loved the new edition of Anna del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy which has been beautifully reissued with new photography. Great recipes too - one for any Italian food lover

Food explorers

For those who use food as a vicarious way to travel I’d recommend two books: Maria Elia’s Smashing Plates, an inspiring collection of recipes which gives the Greek repertoire a much needed shot in the arm. (This was the book that most impressed Catherine Phipps, my colleague on The Food Programme discussion I took part in last week, whose own The Pressure Cooker Cookbook (published 2012) has been a big hit). For Grecophiles, obviously, but any creative cook.

And Uyen Luu’s My Vietnamese Kitchen a beautifully illustrated and easy-to-follow collection of family recipes for anyone who wants to learn about Vietnamese food. Like me.

Day to day cooking

I generally think people’s day to day needs are better served by food magazines and the internet but for someone who just wants to refresh their repertoire the latest Jamie Oliver Save with Jamie is full of good ideas (whatever the criticism of a multi-millionaire writing a book on frugal eating). Still available at a very good price too. You can find my full review here.

Wannabe chefs

It’s not generally appreciated, I think, that chefs buy other chefs' cookbooks for ideas. Nor how many people are genuinely ambitious to cook top level restaurant food. So if you have one of those among your friends/family I’d suggest The Ethicurean Cookbook written by the team behind the restaurant of the same name just outside Bristol. Actually it has recipes - and cocktails - that the less ambitious cook could easily manage too. For those who like to be inspired by the seasons, a beautiful book to own.

Do Ahead Dinners by James Ramsden would be excellent for anyone who was thinking of starting a supper club (as James has) as it's basically about recipes you can make or start ahead. Nicely written too.

And if you want to be totally on trend there's D.O.M. by Alex Atala, a chef that is doing for Brazilian cuisine what Rene Redzepi did for Nordic. (The ingredients, coming mainly from the Amazonian rainforest may be a little hard to source but being a chef you can improvise, right?)

Good bedtime reading

This is not to say they’re not good to cook from too but these books are great to cosy up in bed with.

101 Sandwiches by Helen Graves. Who knew there were so many things to put between two slices of bread? From the writer of one of my favourite blogs, Food Stories.

Snackistan - the third book from the wonderful Sally Butcher of Persepolis in Peckham (which is, coincidentally where Helen comes from. Maybe it’s something in the air). Worth reading for the recipe introductions alone but there's plenty of inspiration for lovers of middle-eastern food

Smitten Kitchen - US blogger Deb Perelman’s first cookbook is equally entertaining and the one I find I most want to cook from currently. I made a cauliflower and almond pesto from it the other night which was wonderful. Veggie-friendly (though not vegetarian).

Dude food

The big trend this year has been American barbecue so buy friends who like to fire up the coals, dig pits or just generally mess around making things from scratch Tim Hayward’s brilliant Food DIY.

I'd also strongly recommend Pitt Cue Co. the Cookbook which was the book I championed on The Food Programme. It’s easy to forget, visiting London regularly, that not everyone has access to restaurants like Pitt Cue. This is a book to give a friend (probably male) who lives in the sticks. Complicated recipes but insanely good results. For an easy one to kick off with try the chipotle and confit garlic slaw.

Gardeners and allotment owners

We’re seen a fair number of books already on preserving and pickling but this is going to be the big subject for cookbooks for next year, I predict. Get your allotment-owning friends started with Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s Gentle Art of Preserving, a hugely compehensive book on smoking, curing, jam and pickle-making and every other imaginable household skill.

And a lovely small book for a keen gardener: Janet Macdonald's Pumpkins and Squashes which offers over 100 sweet and savoury recipes for a group of veggies I must confess I never quite know what to do with. For the friend who moaned about their courgette glut.

Cookery bibles

Not everyone wants a massive cookbook library. If you know someone who needs just one useful book to explain techniques they don’t understand Master It from Rory O’Connell of the Ballymaloe Cookery School will hold their hand every step of the way. A book for a lifetime.

Hard-core bakers

The world needs more baking books like London needs more restaurants but even those who have shelves of them might appreciate The Book of Buns an appealing collection of recipes from round the world by Jane Mason. And if you’re a pie addict like me “Global Baker” Dean Brettschneider’s Pie has some lovely and original recipes

There are bound to be books I’ve left out - and might well add if the mood takes me. I haven’t had a chance to take a look at Allegra McEvedy’s Big Table, Busy Kitchen for example which has only just come out but I've liked her previous books. A recollection of the food of her childhood and the food she wants to pass on to her own daughter. One for fellow mums, I suspect.

Although I've linked the titles to Amazon which I know you're going to check anyway for prices do try and buy at least one of these books from an independent bookshop.


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