My 10 Favourite Cookbooks
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I'll let you in on a weight loss secret; I use cookery books to fill the gaps between meals. Yes, I eat books. I salivate over lists of delectable ingredients and devour luscious photography. I consume the words: macerate, caramelise, whisk, de-glaze, zest.
They are a guilt-free, calorie-free and surprisingly satisfying treat. In addition, many cookbooks are heavy enough that lifting them must surely count as exercise.
I also cook from them, but that's an optional extra.
10. Stephane Reynaud: Ripailles
'I remember the Sundays of my childhood (just one a week wasn't enough).'
This book is exquisite. Its luxurious matt pages are packed with glorious photographs, witty cartoons and even some sheet music. This is a book to drool over. The recipes are brief and not particularly instructive. That said, everything I've tried my has been wonderful. This is not the cookery book for someone with an earnest desire to learn. Rather, it would make an ideal gift for an accomplished cook or a book lover who doesn't cook at all.
Best Recipe: Against all odds, Boudin Noir (black pudding) with Apples and Port has become a family favourite.
9. Harry Eastwood, Gizzi Erskine, Sal Henley, Sophie Michell: Cook Yourself Thin
'Make a few changes to create a lasting difference.'
I owe this book a debt of gratitude. I learned from these women that you don't always need to add butter or cream to make your food taste good. Sometimes you do and that's okay too. This book is all about making smart choices and includes lots of clever tips on how to cut the calories without any sense of deprivation. Fancy some guilt-free Chocolate Truffles? Can you resist? You don't have to.
Best Recipe: Fennel-crusted Salmon with Mango Salsa never fails to elicit groans of pleasure.
8. Ursula Ferrigno: Bringing Italy Home
'Italy captures your heart and binds you in a spell.'
We lived in Italy for three years as newly-weds. I still suffer waves of nostalgia and I bought this book entirely because of those words, 'bringing Italy home.' Fortunately, the book lives up to its title. In typically Italian fashion, Ursula Ferrigno is obsessed with seasonality. Her recipes are authentic and quite simple, requiring only three or four top-notch ingredients. I've found this book has come into its own since I started growing my own vegetables.
Best recipe: Ferrigno Family Limoncello.
7. Jamie Oliver: Everyday Super Food
'If you pick up just a handful of ideas from this book you'll start to feel differently about food.'
Jamie Oliver's seventeenth book is something completely different. Having visited some of the longest-lived communities on the planet, Jamie enthusiastically shares his discoveries about how food can, 'feed, fuel, fix and nourish you.'
Every recipe comes with a nutritional breakdown, mouth-watering photographs, and a guarantee that it will taste good and make you feel great.
The Italian Jam Jar Salad brought first prize for my Teenage Daughter in her school's healthy lunch competition.
Best Recipe: Delicious Squash Daal with Special Fried Eggs.
6. Nigella Lawson: How To Be A Domestic Goddess
'You can never have too many rhubarb recipes.'
I have nudged La Nigella above Saint Jamie simply because I love her writing style. Her pithy introductions to each recipe never fail to entice and entertain. Where other recipes end with, 'cook until done,' Nigella signs off with a witty bon mot to raise your spirits if not your cake. This is a book to, as Nigella would put it, 'store away with joy and satisfaction in your heart.'
Best recipe: I chose this particular Lawson book, from my collection of four, because we could not live without Fresh Gingerbread with Lemon Icing.
5. Aoileann Garavaglia: Yumee
'What do you get if you cross a croissant with a sausage? A cross-oink!'
This is a little gem with a big place in my heart. Aoileann Garavaglia draws on her Irish and Italian roots to create delicious and fail-safe recipes 'for young chefs.' My kids have cooked every recipe from Peach Volcanoes and Cross-oinks to Jurassic Bread and Moomeringues.
The instructions are simple and easy to execute. Best of all, the food tastes great.
If your children leave home with nothing more than this repertoire, they will be well-armed.
Best Recipe: Rhubarb Clafoutis is impressive enough for any dinner party.
4. Trish Deseine: Nobody Does It Better...
An Irish writer of French cookery books, Trish Deseine hopes to,
'make you want to cook rather than telling you how to.'
She succeeds with elegance and panache. Madame Deseine asks the reader to imagine a French woman, 'the one who cooked you that fabulous meal, real or imagined, in Gordes or Biarritz or Paris or Lille all those years ago.'
Now, learn how La Francaise does it, how she shops wisely (chapter one), knows her classics (two), steals from chefs (three) and finally, in chapter four, rises to the occasion.
While the author's lyrical Ulster accent shines through, you will find she has you humming Carly Simon songs and stirring the pot with a certain je ne sais quoi.
Best Recipe: The Chocolate Mousse Cake is the gold standard in our house, by which all other chocolate cakes are judged.
3. Lilly Higgins: Make Bake Love
'I had made it to comfort my family and every crumb of it was put to good use. Those are the days when baking really is something powerful.'
My first reason for loving this book is that my eldest daughter bought it for me, with her own hard-earned pocket money, when she was only ten. The inside cover bears the inscription, in pencil and a childish hand, 'To Mummy, with lots of love and cooking.' Truly, there is love in this book.
Beyond that, it's a straightforward book about baking. There are big and small cakes, cookies, pies, tarts and some excellent breads. Baking can be expensive, but this book has a superb chapter titled 'Thrift' so that you can have your cake and eat it.
Every recipe is a good one. They are all precise and reliable, and that is a rarity even among the most popular cookery books.
The Ice-cream Cone Cupcakes have been a runaway success at parties and the Meringue Swan has become my daughter's piece de resistance.
Best Recipe: Health Loaf.
2. Darina Allen: Forgotten Skills of Cooking
'When you bake your own bread or make yogurt, there's a wonderful feeling of satisfaction which is quite unlike the buzz you get from snipping off the top of a packet and reheating something in the microwave.'
Darina Allen brooks no nonsense. Her books are not intended to ornament your shelves. They are practical tomes intended to provide you with the knowledge and the courage to cook from scratch.
I debated long and hard between this book and Darina Allen's classic, Ballymaloe Cookery Course. Each is equally valuable, containing hundreds of infallible recipes from an incomparable teacher. The Ballymaloe Cookery Course is possibly more complete and, indeed, the only cookery book you really need, but Forgotten Skills is a beautifully produced book and very inspiring.
This book focuses on traditional methods and skills that were once taken for granted but are now in danger of disappearing. The opening chapter on foraging has changed the way I look at the calendar. April means Wild Garlic Pesto and September spells Damson Gin.
The book continues through every imaginable skill from butchery to herbal cures.
Make your own butter, cheese, chorizo – this book will make you brave.
Best Recipe: Hot Chocolate Souffle (serves one).
1. Rachel Allen: Food For Living
'Sometimes a little loving treat can say more than words.'
Rachel Allen is the daughter-in-law of Darina (in turn the daughter-in-law of Myrtle Allen). Rachel continues the Ballymaloe tradition of excellent recipes but with prettier pictures and a cosier attitude. I own six of her books and cook from them daily.
A few years ago I challenged myself to cook every single recipe in this book regardless of difficulty or expense. In doing so I became a much better cook.
It is an all-rounder with a little bit of everything from Sunday lunches to celebration meals and romantic dinners for two.
The Arabian Spiced Rack of Lamb is my death row dinner and the Champagne Dover Sole is easily the most impressive dish I have ever cooked. Homemade Pork Sausages, finger-lickin' Korean Beef and soul-soothing Aztec soup are all winners.
Best Recipe: I simply could not survive without Cucumber Pickle.
Do you cook your books or use them as a snack between meals? Do you have favourites? Let me know!