Reviewed by Hayley Anderton
Christmas is coming and it’s time to start talking about it. The books vying for our money, and a top ten spot, have been released – 505 of them on the 5th of October (super Thursday) alone, a good few more either side of that. The race is on.
There are a lot of cookbooks amongst that lot, so what follows is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather the half dozen that have particularly caught my eye.
First up is Nigella Lawsons’s At My Table. I’ve been a Nigella fan since How To Be A Domestic Goddess, so that’s coming up for twenty years. What made Nigella’s book so appealing to me back then is the same thing I love about her now. Her food is easy to cook, reliable, and when it comes to desserts they’re as decadent and self-indulgent as you could wish for. At My Table is a celebration of home cooking, and whilst it doesn’t exactly break new ground it has plenty of solid, unfussy, appealing food. The sort of things that you can throw together quickly, yet still end up looking like you’ve made a real effort over. It’s also food that looks good, and there’s advice on what can be made ahead, and how long things will keep for. Perfect for both experienced cooks looking for easy every day inspiration, and kitchen beginners.
Nigella Lawson, At My Table (Chatto & Windus, 2017). 978-1784741631 , 286pp., hardback. Buy at the Book Depository.
Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh came out in September, and such is the pace at this time of year, that it feels like an age ago. In the past I’ve lacked the necessary energy and dedication to really get to grips with Ottolenghi’s books. Recipes often require a lot of not always easy to source ingredients that require a certain amount of planning. But when it comes to baking a certain amount of planning is involved anyway, and most (but not all) the ingredients here can be sourced from any reasonably large supermarket anyway. Basically it’s one of those books where you want to eat everything. The flavour combinations sound amazing; sometimes unexpected, though not outlandish (walnut and black treacle tart with crystallized sage for example), and at other times they turn something as familiar as gingerbread into the far more decadent sounding gingerbread with brandy apples and crème fraîche. Perfect for cooks who like a project and anybody who wants something special.
Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh, Sweet (Ebury Press, 2017). 978-1785031144, 363pp., hardback. Buy at the Book Depository.
Kaukasis is Olia Hercules second book, and one I’d been eagerly anticipating. It doesn’t disappoint. It’s a culinary journey through Georgia, Azerbaijan, and beyond. What Hercules is doing in her books (the first one, Mamushka is also brilliant if you don’t already know it) is partly exploring her own roots and history, and at the same time introducing us to a part of the world she obviously has a deep love for through its food. As she says in her introduction it’s also her ‘vision of how to cherish tradition while also being open to creating something new.’ So part cookbook, part love letter to the places and people that have inspired her, it’s a joy to read. This is food that it’s an adventure to create. Perfect for adventurous cooks and armchair travelling.
Olia Hercules, Kaukasis (Mitchell Beazley, 2017). 978-1784721640, 240pp., hardback. Buy at the Book Depository.
Sabrina Ghayour’s Feasts is the most gorgeously colourful book in my selection and as with Nigella the emphasis is on the relatively simple. This might not always be the quickest food to cook, but these are the kind of easy going recipes that are fun to make. They’re also big on colour and flavour. There’s more than a nod to Ghayour’s Persian heritage, but she’s not afraid to experiment, innovate, and borrow inspiration from other places she’s travelled to. The chapters are broken down into recipes for particular kinds of feasts (breakfast and brunch, vegetarian, quick-fix, lighter feasts, special occasions, and so on) but there’s no pressure to follow the menus. Ghayour also encourages her readers to use these recipes as a starting point, rather than feel the need to follow them exactly. If you don’t have a specific ingredient, think if you can substitute it, or even miss it out. It’s a big open-hearted book that celebrates food and sharing it. Perfect for the cook who likes to throw stress-free parties and turn meals into feasts.
Sabrina Ghayour, Feasts (Mitchell Beazley, 2017). 978-1784722135, 240pp., hardback. Buy from the Book Depository.
If Feasts is the most colourful book in the group, Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles is easily the most glamorous. Its dark grey cloth cover with coppery birch trunks and lettering is almost impossibly smart; this is a book that can truly be judged by its cover. It’s ‘notes, stories, and 100 essential recipes for midwinter’, which means that recipes form roughly a quarter of the book, so there’s lots of room for discussing the merits of each recipe, exploring traditions, both cultural and personal, and generally extolling the virtues of winter. The book’s intention is to help you through the dark months of November to early February, partly by embracing the potential for luxury and self indulgence. Hands up, I’m not always a huge fan of Slater’s later books – his lifestyle sounds wonderful, and impossibly aspirational from where I stand, so if the idea of spending £70 on a candle that smells just rights for Christmas Day offends you then this wouldn’t be the book to go for. For fans of Nigel Slater however there’s a lot of him in this book. Perfect for unashamed lovers of little luxuries.
Nigel Slater, The Christmas Chronicles (4th Estate, 2017). 978-0008260194, 456pp., hardback. Buy from the Book Despository.
The Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young is arguably the outsider in this group. It’s certainly the only ‘first book’, though Young’s blog and Guardian column will probably be familiar to a fairly broad spectrum of people. Anyway, it’s easily my favourite – how could it not be, for the way it combines a love of food with an equal love of books. All the recipes are inspired by literature, with plenty of children’s classics (Paddington, the Famous Five, Anne of Green Gables, Winnie the Pooh, and so many more) which means there will almost certainly be common ground for everyone here. The recipes are arranged by the time of day they’re most likely to be enjoyed and whilst some are obvious choices – Paddington naturally makes you think of Marmalade – others are less so. I love this way of thinking about books and food; of drawing out the links and joining them together, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that a hot chocolate inspired by Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights is the best I’ve ever had. Perfect for readers!
Kate Young, The Little Library Cookbook (Head of Zeus, 2017). 978-1784977672, 300pp., hardback. Buy from the Book Despository.
Hayley blogs at Desperate Reader.