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Inspiration for the new year in my kitchen

January 5, 2014

The last slice of Christmas cake sits looking a little forlorn, vermillion cranberry sauce catches my eye when I open the fridge, I’m wondering what to do with half a jar of mincemeat, the scent of basil fills the air and I’m trying to find enough room to store all the freshly-picked, organic vegetables from the farmers’ market.

January is a kind of crossroads in my kitchen where the rich tastes of the festive season give way to fresher, healthier, lighter ingredients in line with new year resolutions. I’m finding inspiration in new cookery books on my wooden shelves, especially these:

a tart

Smart Tart by Tamasin Day Lewis

This book excites me for so many reasons. For one, it’s the follow up to The Art of the Tart, one of my favourite cook books. Tamasin is one of my ‘go t0’ references for cookery advice. Her ‘All you can eat’ compendium of recipes covers everything from cauliflower cheese to Christmas cake. She used the Unbound publishing platform to raise the funds for this book. It’s based on crowd sourcing and in April 2013 I pledged to buy the book which would be published if enough people did the same. By the end of last year it was printed and as an early ‘supporter’ includes my name – I’m thrilled. It’s beautifully made, with a thick, embossed hard cover but small enough to fit in your hand. The photography is tempting but informal, the fillings from the pies oozing from their pastry carapaces. The format is heavy on memoir and as each chapter unfolds you discover how food memories are woven into a fairly extraordinary family (Tamasin’s father was Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis and her brother the actor Daniel). She’s always been uncompromising in tone but here are some ‘no holds barred’ chapters on food production, the sexual revolution and food, modern day eating and cookery – truly a smart tart. I devoured this book in one sitting as keenly as sinking my teeth through pastry into custard.

West Country Cook Book – home cooking from the chefs of South West Britain, photography by David Griffen

My family didn’t have many holidays, we never went abroad, and our most exciting journeys were to visit my cousins in Cornwall. As my Aunt and Uncle ran a small hotel this couldn’t be in high season summer but in the wild depths of winter. We negotiated winding B roads in our old, unreliable car with my Mother on high-stress mode all the way, making regular stops for sandwiches, our hands wiped with a damp flannel kept in a plastic bag (my Mum’s pre-cursor to wet wipes). Bilbo Baggins had nothing on us as children as we felt we were on the most thrilling adventure. The dark, brooding sea with crashing white, foamy waves, the rain stinging your face, was a world away from the estuary of the Bristol Channel (our previous experience of a beach in Weston-Super-Mare). Born in Cheltenham, married to KP from Plymouth, a time living in Bath, friends and family throughout the South West, this is my part of England and where I spend every July and August (and where I will return home to).

The book is a portrait of the South West of England through a lens of an outsider (a grockle or an emmet) who loves good food. That lens is wielded by one of the most brilliant photographers I have had the pleasure to meet and one of the nicest. David Griffen is from Australia but has made the West Country his home. At a workshop with him in 2012 I learned more about light in photography in two hours, ensconced in a railway arch lit by a fluorescent tube, than from any other course or book. Although he brought along his professional kit, he made sure that every single one of us achieved the best shot we could from our varying equipment.  He’s a very practical man, with loads of boyish energy and a genuine appreciation of accomplished chefs regarding their cookery as an art form.  He works closely with many top names and this book is a mission to interpret their appreciation of the bounty of the fertile South West counties. I’m not a fan of cheffy books but this is not one of them. There’s nothing over complicated here, either in the recipes or the photography.  There are many fish recipes befitting a place with 702 miles (1,130 km) of rich coastline, and simple classics like Cornish rarebit with Doom Bar beer, Cornish pasties (with sweet and savoury filling) and bread and butter pudding with blackberries. I received this as a Christmas gift and would recommend it for any food lover who enjoys superb ingredients and the beauty of nature in its simplest, purest form.

Crust by Richard Bertinet

My foodie bucket list for 2013 included making sour dough. Not only did I fail even to make a starter but my usual regular bread making took a nose dive and fell off the dough wagon in the frantic schedule of those twelve months. Crust, a gift from my daughters,  is just the kick start I need to get back on track. I’ve bought bread and pastries from the Bertinet Kitchen in Bath and love just gazing into its tempting windows. Richard brings his French bread-making expertise to the heart of England. He advocates a more gentle and intuitive approach to dough (shared by Dan Lepard) than our traditional British pummelling technique. A friend lent me his first book, Dough, which covers the basics. This book has even more in-depth information about working with dough, proving, shaping and outside influences such as the weather and of course achieving a really good crust. It covers sour dough and ferments extensively and uses unusual flours like spelt and cabernet grape flour.  As well as traditional recipes such as Breton bread made with sel gris from Brittany there are innovations like Japanese ‘sushi’ rolls made with sake, nori and sesame and his interpretation of the Bath bun. Both books come with a very useful DVD and makes me long to attend a bread making course by him. In these times where bread seems like ‘the enemy’ to many people, I love his philosophy:

Good bread is good for you; bad bread is less good for you – it’s as simple as that. The same applies with any food – a burger made freshly with brilliant beef is a great thing; a cheap, processed burger full of additives and fillers isn’t.

Savory Baking from the Mediterranean by Anissa Helou

I’ve had this since the Emirates Festival of Literature in March but haven’t got round to cooking from it. As well as breads there are some excellent recipes for pies and tarts. If my sour dough making goes well maybe I can test it out instead of dried yeast with some of the flat breads. The cover of the book features a picture of Palmyra in Syria;  a tragic reminder that just a few hours by plane from my home people are reduced to eating domestic pets as there is not even bread to eat.

Sweet Delights from a Thousand and One Nights: The Story of Traditional Arab Sweets by Habeeb Salloum, Muna Salloum & Leila Salloum Elias

I was really excited to be sent this book as a review copy.  Always keen to learn more about the vibrant and varied food of the region that I live in (which is so wrongly lumped together as homogeneous Middle East cuisine so much of the time). If you are not familiar with Arabic sweets, don’t think of candy; these little delicacies range from the lightest layered miniature pastries, to crumbly date biscuits to milk puddings. In an age of mass production, we’ve lost sight of how rare these treats were in the past due to the rarity of the ingredients (honey, butter) and the time consuming nature of how they are made. They were mainly used for times of special occasion or celebration.

The authors sketch a fascinating background including poetry and tales, for each recipe and the source from ancient texts often from Medieval times (historical recipe), a traditional recipe and a modern version for today’s methods, ingredients and cooks. A fascinating historical read plus an extensive treasury of recipes from a vibrant region; the only thing that lets this book down is the few colour plates in the middle with very poor photography – it would have been better to leave it out. I’m also surprised that there is no mention of om ali (or umm ali) a very popular milk pudding – literally translated as Mother of Ali.

A couple of the recipes  I’ve bookmarked are Lugaymat (which I know as lgeimat) which are doughnuts from the U.A.E. and Ka’b Ghazal from Morocco (I tasted some which were light as a feather at a recent festive cookie exchange with Tavola). This book comes from IB Tauris the same publishers as Sherbet and Spice; their whole list is really interesting especially if you want to know more about topics in the Middle East.

Unexpected treats

Premier Inn Gatwick were asking expats which special food items they missed at Christmas. I was a bit hard pressed to think of anything as Dubai is so cosmopolitan, however I knew that KP loves really good pickled onions and liquorice toffees. To my surprise they sent me some (and some other goodies as well – including a tiny bottle of port which somehow evaded the post office).

Pop over and see what’s in Celia’s kitchen (at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial) as well as links to a whole host of other kitchens.

What’s in your kitchen this January?

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  1. January 5, 2014 4:30 pm

    Hi Sally, great post – I’ll have to check out some of the cookbooks! I’ve just posted my IMK, which also talks about three cookbooks I’ve enjoyed reading and cooking from recently, great minds think alike?
    As for Christmas cake, we still have quite a bit left from my cake-making frenzy in December, I’m hoping they age as well as they are supposed to.

    • January 5, 2014 5:08 pm

      Christmas cake keeps forever…and you forgot to mention the custard 🙂

  2. January 5, 2014 4:55 pm

    I was just intending to check my WP reader briefly before getting on with preparing a birthday (meaty!) meal for family arriving later. Well Sally, I have now spent well over 20 minutes not only reading this superb post but also clicking on the links and ordering books! I should know that when I see a post from you that I will need to make a cup of tea and settle down for a good read. Love it! Also, despite lots of my recipes being gluten-free (I have a number of celiac friends) I don’t subscribe to the gluten is terrible for everyone brigade. Good stuff, especially homemade, is a joy for most. Chorleywood method pap is the problem – and eating too much of a good thing too (guilty as charged on the latter occasionally). I am tempted to get a dried (Russian) sourdough starter rather than start with dried yeast. What is recommended in Crust?

    • January 5, 2014 5:07 pm

      What a lovely compliment Kellie – so glad this caught your interest. I’ve yet to properly read through all the chapters on the starter methods so I’ll let you know. I’ve dipped in and out though and he even goes into why you should cook bread down properly and never eat it warm (the structure is more indigestible). He doesn’t dismiss ceoliacs but has a rational, informed and balanced approach to intolerance/allergies. The Chorleywood method should be banned! Happy new year to you – and I’m going to take a leaf out of your book and eat more vibrant salads, and vegetables.

  3. January 5, 2014 4:59 pm

    Great to have these cookbook suggestions. Thank you. And happy new year!

  4. sarahhedonista permalink
    January 5, 2014 5:43 pm

    Love these posts. Will have to hop over to some of the others and see what’s in their kitchens too.

  5. January 5, 2014 5:44 pm

    Thanks for the recommendations! I now know what to add to my cookbook wish list!

  6. January 5, 2014 5:53 pm

    What great book recommendations! Thanks.

    That fruit cake looks very tempting. I made one too this year.



    • January 5, 2014 9:29 pm

      It usually hangs around longer than this so it must have been a good one this year!

  7. January 5, 2014 5:56 pm

    I feel like I’m always looking for new inspiration, and these books all look amazing. I love flipping through different cookbooks and looking at plating, flavor combinations and preparation methods. Maybe that’s why it’s so awesome to follow different foodblogs? 🙂

  8. January 5, 2014 6:27 pm

    I knew that this post of yours was going to be truly inspiring and yes, it indeed is. All of these books look beautiful and except Anissa Helou’s book, I don’t have the others. Have a fabulous year ahead…. and thank you for inspiring me, as always:)

    • January 5, 2014 9:30 pm

      Thanks my dear – Happy New Year.

  9. January 5, 2014 7:36 pm

    Love the post – wonderful selection of cookbooks to check out, particularly Anissa Helou’s Savory Baking from the Mediterranean. Thanks for the share!

  10. January 5, 2014 9:03 pm

    Such inspiration! I bought the Day-Lewis book and baked from it a good bit while we were in England in the fall. How wonderful that you played a role in its publication. It’s a lovely little book. She’s such a fine writer. Though I have to say that the amount of butter in the Bakewell Tart shocked even me. (I didn’t think that was possible. So, of course I had to try it. And it was delicious.) Happy new year!

    • January 5, 2014 9:09 pm

      Gosh I’m going to have try that one first now!

  11. January 6, 2014 12:17 am

    That first paragraph read like poetry. I think we all make an adjustment in January.

    • January 6, 2014 12:30 pm

      Thanks Joan – what a lovely comment.

  12. January 6, 2014 12:54 am

    Sally, I moaned out loud when you mentioned om ali – we tried it just once at a local Egyptian restaurant before it closed down, and I’ve been craving it ever since! Love your wonderful cookbook reviews, thank you! I’ll be on the look out for the Tamsin book, her recipes are always so good! You make the David Griffen book sound so appealing! What a long way you’ve come for someone who never had holidays away as a child! Finally, I have the Bertinet book too – it’s great, but just be warned that his sourdough method (which I’ve never tried), seems to use up a huge amount of flour! Have a wonderful 2014, dear friend! xx

    • January 6, 2014 12:32 pm

      Milk puddings do that for me too. It’s strange not to be in the book because it’s in every buffet here – maybe too ubiquitous. Thanks for the warning about the flour. I have a confession – I lost your little packet for a while and have now found it. I’m now too nervous to activate it in case I kill it! Will practise with my own starter first before I move onto… (secret name).

      • January 6, 2014 12:34 pm

        Darling, it costs me all of $2 to send you another one if you kill it or lose it, and it’s a doddle to dry some fresh starter off for you. Good luck with your own, but don’t ever worry about asking me for more, it’s absolutely no problem at all.

      • January 7, 2014 6:11 am

        You are so kind.

  13. January 6, 2014 1:01 am

    What a fabulous way to describe January — “a crossroads in my kitchen.” I also enjoyed your comprehensive cookbook reviews, Sally. Happy New Year!

  14. January 6, 2014 1:39 am

    A great tasty post, dear Sally. 🎅🎅

  15. andreamynard permalink
    January 6, 2014 1:45 am

    Love the sound of those books Sally, particularly hankering after that Tamasin Day Lewis book – looks wonderful.

    • January 6, 2014 12:33 pm

      It’s a lovely little book. She gets on her soap box too – I like that.

  16. January 6, 2014 1:49 am

    Oh Sally, what a dangerous blog post! I have *such* a cookbook problem, which mostly is that I can’t walk past one without buying it. I’m about to commence a cull, because when you can’t fit all your cookbooks on the 6-foot bookcase dedicated to them, you do perhaps have too many… but your list makes me want to buy more! Especially the one about middle eastern sweets and, of course, the sourdough one…

    • January 6, 2014 12:33 pm

      I feel your pain (have a similar problem!)

  17. January 6, 2014 2:28 am

    This could well be the most expensive blog post I’ve ever read! So many recommendations…. where to start? I’ve been reading Anissa Helou’s Levant, which is a fantastic collection of stories and recipes, so it’s good to know I can move on to Savoury Baking next. Good luck with the sourdough – it was my baking challenge for 2013 too and has now become our everyday bread… it’s addictive!

    • January 6, 2014 9:07 am

      Levant is on my wish list too.

  18. January 6, 2014 6:29 am

    Hi Sally, You make me want each book. Your site is just too dangerous to visit 🙂

    • January 6, 2014 8:04 am

      Ha ha – I take that as a great compliment

  19. January 6, 2014 11:44 am

    G’day Sally! Great cookbook suggestions, true!
    Happy New Year! May it be the best one ever for you, your family and blog too!
    Thanks also for this month’s kitchen view!
    Cheers! Joanne

  20. lizzygoodthings permalink
    January 6, 2014 12:35 pm

    Hi Sally, such an array of wonderfully good things. May I take this opportunity to wish you a happy new year! And happy cooking too xo

  21. January 6, 2014 6:08 pm

    What a great post – lots of neat cookbooks and foods! Pickled Onions…YES, please!

    • January 7, 2014 6:09 am

      Do you have a lot of pickles in your kitchen? We always do.

  22. January 7, 2014 7:48 am

    that slice of Christmas Cake wouldn’t have lasted long in my kitchen…actually if I was in your kitchen it wouldn’t have lasted long either!
    lots of great books indeed.

  23. January 7, 2014 7:59 am

    I hope your family are safe from the floods! And how nice to get some treats from home. Make some bread rolls stuffed with the left over mince meat 🙂

    • January 7, 2014 8:43 am

      Love the bread roll idea. All dry and safe thanks Tandy.

  24. January 8, 2014 2:25 am

    Ooooh….liquorice toffees. That’s a brainwave. We she speak of that little bottle no more but wink to each other and smile inwardly. Great read Sally. I look forward to reading throughout 2014.

    • January 8, 2014 7:05 am

      Yes – glad that one sneaked through the postman. Although had a similar (and potentially more serious though much more rewarding) happy parcel mistake when I lived in Saudi!

  25. January 8, 2014 7:38 pm

    Thanks for the book reviews- I’m contemplating breaking my own rules and buying a couple new cookbooks this year ( since no one bought me one for Christmas!)
    You write a really good and comprehensive review!

  26. January 9, 2014 11:33 pm

    Love your collection of cook books, they all look fantastic and would certainly get my fingers itching! Thank you for letting us into your kitchen.

  27. January 10, 2014 5:58 pm

    What a great collection of cookbooks! especially that west country one it looks gorgeous!

  28. January 11, 2014 5:42 am

    Great post Sally. My food challenge for 2014 is to cook at least one new-to-me recipe from as many of my cookbooks as I can. That way I can justify buying a few more – have added some of these to my list 🙂

    • January 11, 2014 7:51 am

      That’s a great resolution – I’ve just added it to mine Mel.


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