The picture of Toki has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but I thought it had been a while since I bored the world with his photogenic visage and, well, my blog, my rules.
In a previous post I discussed my love of certain books, not necessarily for their recipes but for their general content – the cookbooks that I love to curl up and read. The books that are delightful and informative, where the author is clearly keen and their voice and knowledge clear. These books are often a wealth of knowledge – some are just fun – but all are enjoyable in a clearly individual way, cookbooks that have a fondness in my heart ranking up high with my fictional favourites in terms of decent reads. It was suggested that I put a list of these books together, something I have only just got round to. I desperately want to know what yours are to – but more on that after the list.
All of the images lead to the Amazon.co.uk site for more information,
The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and River Cottage is going to crop a few times in this list and I see no need to apologise for that. The Meat Book is full to the brim of everything from sourcing to storage and covers a wide range of cuts from the most well known to the more obscure. Whilst Hugh is a professional chef, formally of the acclaimed River Cafe (he was fired for being too messy) and smallholder that raises his own animals and grows his own produce, every recipe that he writes is completely accessible and, even though this book is a veritable tome, it’s a worthwhile one to have however small or vast your knowledge. Clear diagrams and a decent amount of beautiful photographs on top of Hugh’s witty writing and story telling makes what might have otherwise been a daunting textbook into an enjoyable feast for the eye and the heart and, in its keenness, inevitably the stomach with recipes from cassoulet to cozido by way of curried goat.
Game by Tom Norrington-Davis and Trish Hilferty
Game is not for everyone, but for those that do enjoy it or even for the novice wanting to try something new, Norrington-Davis and HIlferty have a book filled with passion and experimentation with lots of glamourous pictures. It takes away the daunting apprehension that the new game cook might have and offers interesting concoction for the more experimental. A long list of resources at the back are, when researched, a wealth of information and with the inclusion of the details of sourcing, hanging, plucking and skinning there are few stones left unturned. Like Hugh of River Cottage, these two are also food-writers and present, with admiration, game not just as a wealthy man’s table-top trophy, but as an affordable and healthy alternative to other meats and work well to completely demystify the subject. With beautiful photographs in plentiful supply, this is a great addition to my collection and one of my favourite to just simply leaf through.
Odd bits by Jennifer McLagan
Jennifer McLagan has had success with two other books documenting underused and underappreciated ingredients titles ‘Bones’ and ‘Fat’. Just like those two, Odd Bits, which covers everything thought vaguely as offal from kidneys to cheeks and brisket to heart, tripe and gizzards has delved through, it seems, every country of the world where these things have ever been eaten. Chatty and full of passion, this book is full of stories – stories of her own experiments and both her failures and successes, stories of happy memories associated with these cuts, humour at her own expense and, above all, a passion for her subject. There are two other books often held in recommendation in regard to Offal – Anissa Helou’s ‘The Fifth Quarter’ and Fergus Henderson’s ‘Nose to Tail Cooking’. This is my favourite of all three. I found Helou’s voice unlikeable – she seemed to actively disregard and chastise half the culinary cultures of the world and continuously stated that she hadn’t even attempted to make a good number of the recipes she included and whilst I loved Henderson’s humour and the presentation and diversity of his book, I found that, even as a professional with a decent network, the extent of the high-dining approach was overwhelming and I’d prefer to sample his recipes at St. Johns than struggle to source and recreate them in my own kitchen (but, by all means, this is another great book – a bit more coffee table than bedside table though!). McLagan has a charm in her book that the others do not have, one doesn’t feel bound by her recipes and she encourages further experimentation. A fun and professional book that is a total joy to read.
The River Cottage Fish Book by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Nick Fisher (Yes, really)
Rick Stein, in this country, is almost unquestionably seen as the don of fish and I will not argue otherwise, but this book, another River Cottage publication, is one I more enjoy to read than any of his. Like The Meat Book, this is a tome of information on seasons and welfare along with basic preparation. Each recipe comes with a list of possible substitutes for the key fish ingredient in case it cannot be found, and the variety of fish covered is vast – stuffed whole conger eel to teeny deep fried whitebait. Ling, coley, whiting and a section on whelks and clams among others. I made a conscious resolution (‘resol-ocean’ I called it…) two years ago to broaden the variety of fish I ate and how I ate them and this book was instrumental in much of that. Fish and the welfare of fish is something close to Hugh’s heart as documented in his ‘Fish Fight’ programs and his advocation of diversity and experimentation is grand. At the back, individual paragraphs, packed with essential details on each fish mentioned mean one gets an easy-to-find brief on when the best way to eat, source and understand each fish and, whether you are a fisherman or not, details on how each fish lives to get to know and recognise them better. Once again, his history in food-writing shows through with wittily recounted stories and past epiphanies to make a textbook into a treasure.
Veg! Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Perhaps you can tell by now what high regard I hold Hugh in? His recipes do not fail me nor his humour cease to make me laugh. If I am ever in doubt or confusion, a quick reference to one of his books will almost always hold an answer. This vegetable compendium was made in the small-holder’s three months of vegetarian living to diversify his approach to vegetables. It is all simple and approachable but much more varied than your standard bunch of stews, soups and pastas, he really has a direction that makes the vegetables shine along with information on seasons, growing your own or, once again, sourcing. Everything else I have praised before – his food-writing, his clarity, his focus and his passion also shows through in this one and is great for those, like me, that enjoy a few meat-free nights a week or even, like the other two, just to ready from, learn and feel inspired to start growing things (until, if like me, your fear of slugs holds you back)
Veggiestan by Sally Butcher (once again, not kidding on the name)
I love this book. I love, love, love this book. Sally Butcher, the owner of a Persian deli in Peckham, is funny, bright, keen and witty. Her talk is full of energy and this delicious book full of whole sections on myths and legends surrounding these Middle-Eastern vegetable dishes and their key ingredients. Neat, juicy little segments on spices and seasoning and traditions among vibrant recipes that you can basically smell from the page. She charts with humour, her own misconceptions, failed experiments and frustrations and is thoroughly likeable, packing into this book so many neat, snug segments of stories and wisdom that each one feels like a jewel as the recipes travel from the Lebanon and Turkey and, of course Iran (Persia) into North Africa and more recognisable Morrocan dishes. These recipes are straightforward, perfected for the Western reader by Butcher and if ever a book breathed life into making vegetables exciting, this is it.
Roots by Diane Morgan
From two British vegetable books, we go to a North American one. This is the latest book to have joined this list and I have a sense I don’t ever want to be without it. We’re about to enter the Autumny/Wintery time of year when roots are in abundance and this book has already made back it’s worth in its vitality and breadth and more. It is a very American book and this is not a criticism in any way (I wouldn’t expect British books to try and be Americanised so why want for the opposite?) – just a warning for the British reader to know that sourcing would be different, seasons would be different and that one does need a fairly keen inter-english translator in their brains (rutabagas = swede, arugula = rocket, celery root = celeriac and so on and so forth). Fortunately, Morgan provides references to many of each roots popular names making them more recognisable. The book is split into easy to navigate sections – alphabetically by root – and includes everything from nutritional content, advice on storage, where she has sourced them from as well as the biology of each plant and any cautions to be taken while handling or cooking (some are poisonous when undercooked or raw for example). This doesn’t just cover the usual suspects – it diversifies completely with arrowleaf and burdock root hanging out with the beetroots, turnips and potatoes, galangal and ginger make an appearance, as does taro and lotus root along with a whole load I had never heard of before – what the hell is malanga? I don’t know, but it looks cool and I want to eat it. Each recipe is prefixed by charming blurb and glorious rustic photography brings about the nestling comfort of these vegetables. A new favourite that, I genuinely think, will not fall out of favour.
Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible
Any long term follower of this blog or Old Blog will not be surprised by this books inclusion. One of those books that is so good and makes you so happy, that you want everyone to see it – in fact I have gifted in both to my Mother and to my Mother-in-Law and, from what I gather, both have created successfully from it. Jaffrey originally came to England many years ago hoping to be an actress and, whilst she has her roles, she is more well known and beloved for her cookery books on her native foods (Eastern Vegetarian Cookery is another one I can recommend). Another one the has little blurbs before every recipe stating stories of origin, myths and legends that surround them or just personal anecdotes, she makes simple work of explaining the different distinctions and definitions between a bhuna and a biryani, a korma and a dhanzak. She doesn’t stay in the safe-zone of India either, her travels have brought her in close and curious proximity with curries from Thailand and Indonesia as well as Japan, China, Morocco and South Africa. One highly successful recipe I make from here (even this past week for a paying client to much acclaim) is a Vietnamese Pork Curry with Lemongrass and Chilli. In her recipes is none of this cop-out ‘from a jar’ pastes in ingredients lists – she fully details the processes and ingredients of each paste and spice mix. From fish and vegetables to a whole different slew of rices, no curry feast has ever been the same in this house since. Madhur Jaffrey has printed many curry recipe books both before and after this one, but this is the one that I love, constantly reliable, ever uplifting, full of history and love, a great reading that creates good eating.
Jamie’s Great Britain by Jamie Oliver
I know I have said that I believe Jamie Oliver is slipping and I stand by that, however, in recent years, among the tedious “quick cook” books and the disappointing recent publication, there was this. This was a book that made me so happy to be British and not ashamed to be a Britain made up of a mix of mongrel nationalities and immigrant parents either – Britain’s history is steeped in exploration, conquest and immigration and, like magpies, our food is a mixture of nationalities – African spices, Mediterranean fruits and vegetables, garlic brought over by the Romans, hearty breads by the Vikings and smoked fish by Jewish immigrants. We have a bad reputations due to neglecting our own cuisine for at least half a century to go foraging through the foods of seemingly more exotic lands but a Modern British revival has helped us love and care for and want to nurture our own food again. Jamie’s book and the accompanying series shows the diversity of this land and the people in it and the sheer variety of what it produced. Those that have never really thought about it could suddenly see how arable our Island is and just how much we can make from it. Once again full of personal anecdotes, historical titbits and homages to some of our better loved figures, this is a great book for any Englishman or Anglophile out there. Scotch Broth, Lincolnshire Poacher Pie, Pheasant and Fennel – it is a sensory and cultural delight for me.
Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen
Darina Allen runs the Ballymaloe Cookery School up in County Cork and, though it makes me sound traitorous to the school the taught me, it is a course I would love to do at some point in my, hopefully long, life. Based on a farm, the students completely witness the process from the farm to the plate and this book covers many of the small techniques and touches that add a whole different definition to food. With information going from raising chickens to churning butter (and where to get your own butter stamps) this is a real country gem. The are all types of pickles, preserving and jams as well as the straightforward basic of jointing your own poultry and growing your own vegetables (and how to tackle those slugs…still don’t want near those slimy buggers personally). Many of her recipes have become staples in this home – mustard fruits to accomapany game and beef for example and simple recipes for snack-sized biltong (and one for jerky as well). The sheer breadth of this book is inspiring, dotted, once again, with history, lore and development stories, I don’t think there’s a person around that couldn’t learn something from it.
Leiths Technique Bible by Susan Spall and Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne
Oh shush. How could I know include one textbook that saw me through my Leiths training? A book I read hastily in last minute revision or, when befuddled and panicked at parfaits, soothingly provided the answers? A book that is covered in scribbles from being bent over it in demonstrations with furrowed brows and read late at night to make sure I understood what was expected of my genoise sponges? The book that means that no egg I ever cook will ever be less than perfect or ensured that I can understand why my croissants fell or my souffle didn’t rise? The book that drummed into the importance of using the right oven shelf for the right thing and has made so much in my cooking automatic? Of course I owe so much to the school I went to and the weighty books I had to heft around each day on a commute that lasted an hour each way. Apart from giving me some serious upper body strength, this book has been an enforcer and a guide, another teacher. It may be more emotional for me than it could be for you, but it holds so many answers to many questions from aspic to yeast to pasta to butchers cuts to grains. This one is a textbook, but, forgive me, it was my textbook at my school and, even for that reason alone, I will always need it in my life.
I will also be referring some of the favourite cookbooks of my friends and family over the next few posts.
So those are the books that I love to read. There are not ones in every section – there are no baking books are the cultural ones are limited – but this isn’t about ‘good books’ – this is about the books that I enjoy and now I want to know about the books that you enjoy. A selected winner will get a copy of the aforementioned Roots by Diane Morgan, my new favourite and all you need to do to enter is write a short bit about a book that you enjoy and why – the answers don’t have to be clever or out-there (the winner of a previous competition – ‘Three Good Things’ – won with a, obviously longer, answer of ‘bread, butter and tea’ almost simply because so many people agreed with it) but I’m interested to see what books are special to you and why – and, who knows, some might join my own library. I think I am going to have to randomly select the winner of this one since there is no way to select a ‘best’ answer to a competition based on opinion but I am greatly looking forward to seeing what you come up with.
You can enter from anywhere in the world – this isn’t restricted to the UK (though if someone far-away and really expensive to post to wins, they might have to wait a little bit!). This competition closes on, hmmm, shall we say Bonfire Night? By then we’re truly in the cold in the Northern Hemisphere and we’re going to need some rooty recipes. For those unfamiliar with Bonfire Night, we’re talking about November 5th.