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Cookbooks of 2015

December 31, 2015

Review of Cookbooks 2015 on mycustardpieWith my shelves groaning under the weight of at least 100 cookbooks, I’m getting a lot fussier about what I add to my collection. Food writer Diana Henry who has a legendary cookbook collection commented as much over on Instagram the other day. Is this down to the sheer volume of releases, cookbook overload, or perhaps the quality and depth of some titles is not as it was in the past? Nevertheless there was enough to tempt me to give more than a handful a permanent home. Some would make great gifts (ever slipped one for yourself under the tree? ). Here’s what crept onto my shelves in 2015:

General recipe books

Nopi – Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully

This recent kind gift meant that I have all the Ottolenghi books which I refer to often. It’s the usual exciting combinations of flavours but a little more refined and time-consuming. So much I want to cook and eat in here. The first book to contain pork too – and the pork belly looks like a labour of love and totally stunning. Meticulous instructions, beautiful photography and an alluring cocktail chapter. This is definitely a book to peruse when friends are coming over; gurnard baked in banana leaf with pineapple and chilli sambal, baked blue cheese cake with pickled beetroot and honey, poached quince with raspberry and quince jelly and mascarpone sabayon all bookmarked. The hardback copy is a thing of beauty too with gold-rimmed pages. What’s not to love? Thanks Ishita, Debbie and BookMunch.

Slow Cook Italian – Gennaro Contaldo

Slow Cook Italian by Gennaro Contaldo - mycustardpie.comThis is probably the most thumbed and cooked from during 2015. The recipes are wholesome, comforting, simple and completely moreish with vivid flavours of the ‘lick-the-plate-clean’ variety. I bought other slow cooker recipes this year but none are a patch on this one. A full review of Slow Cook Italian and other slow cooking cookbooks here.

A lot on her plate – Rosie Birkett

To be honest, I bought this for the cover, the layout and the overall design of the book. It’s inspiration for my own food photography and a direction I’d like to take with the look of my blog. I also thought I’d cook from it … but I haven’t. There just isn’t enough in here to please the whole family.  Octopus carpaccio with smoked paprika mayo and cod’s roe and sweetcorn fritters would not go down well with KP and it’s nigh on impossible to get pig’s cheek here. There’s a fair bit of repetition of classic recipes which seem to appear in everybody’s books these days too. Kale smoothie or baba ganoush anyone? However, it’s staying put for the Marmite gougères, keema pau and for losing myself in its beautiful pages.

Jamie’s Comfort Food – Jamie Oliver

This was released in 2014 but I think I bought it in 2015. Despite being prolific, Jamie’s books are still a great resource of ideas and he always delivers big flavours. He draws from many cultures in this book including bun cha bowls and shawarma (I would not veer from Ottolenghi’s version in Jerusalem for the latter). It’s his chillies, curries, pasta dishes and classics such as smoked haddock which I turn to often. Many involve a lot of time – this is not about putting food on the table in 15 minutes – but they are not complicated and bubble away for ages. I’m not sure I would add a base layer of mashed potato for Shepherd’s pie as he suggests but the multi-layered kicks of chilli you get from his arrabbiata means this will be my go to recipe forever.

Single ingredients and cooking methods

Anna Del Conte on Pasta

An understated beauty which has lived by my bedside as much as in my kitchen. There are no photographs, just finely wrought illustrations of ingredients and techniques. The introduction to the history of pasta is a riveting read and even contains quotes and pasta plus myths and legends. Authentic and accessible, Anna Del Conte takes you by the hand and gently leads you through classic Italian pasta dishes, from the very simple tomato sauce to more elaborate timballo of anoli stuffed with braised beef. A must for any collection.

A Bird in the Hand – Diana Henry

This book makes me really hungry. I avoid chicken unless its guaranteed good provenance as the price for cheap (and bland) chicken is via intensively reared birds in tiny cages or crammed into barns. This means a chicken in our house is a special event and any of these tantalising recipes would be appropriate for celebrating the taste of this free range and considerably more expensive bird. It ranges from chicken messina (in the salad chapter entitled ‘chooks, shoots and leaves’) to Roopa’s lemongrass and turmeric chicken with potato salad and date and tamarind chutney. It’s like Diana is a friend who has invited you into her kitchen and encourages you to stick your nose in the pan. Her knowledge of culinary culture means she may borrow influences from a couple of different sources and combine, but they are always relevant.  There is joy in leftover chicken as well as thrift hence a dedicated chapter which includes sumptuous ideas like a fennel layered creamy gratin. My cookbook resolution for 2016 is to expand my collection of Diana Henry books.

Magic Soup

I was lucky enough to win this book from the super talented food photographer and friend Regula Yswin who has filled the pages with irresistibly delicious and beautiful images. It’s soup with a difference and there are many innovative twists on classic recipes. The hearty soups include a beguiling pea and mountain ham, and a corn, cod and chorizo recipe. An egg based soup which is featured on the cover is a restrained marriage of yoghurt and herbs with a burst of golden yolk. Whether they push the boundaries too far will depend on the reader and I have to take issue with their version of Avogolemono soup. We make KP’s Cypriot grandmother’s version of the this and she would shudder at the liberties taken with it – including a fried egg and rice krispies on top.   In summary, feast on the whole with your eyes and choose your recipe to cook from with care. Unless the idea of crunchy rice in egg and lemon soup appeals to you of course!

The Cook and the Cowboy

Not the most sophisticated book and I haven’t cooked from it. This was a gift – from a cowboy. Actually THE cowboy who, with his wife Erika, captured my heart through their dedication to raising meat in a sustainable and humane way. There is so much we ignore about cattle which are mostly lined up in sheds for milk, many never seeing the light of day. Even with the land mass of Canada, intensive production is the norm so Christoph and Erika are forging the way with their premium range-reared beef from cattle which have lived well.  Spirit View Ranch meat is available in Lafayette Gourmet in Dubai and they supply Baker & Spice ME with all their beef. You can read a virtual version of the book here.

Different cultures

Mamushka – Olia Hercules

This is a window on a different culture even if you don’t cook from it – but there will be something in here you can’t resist trying. Olia Hercules grew up in rural Ukraine, where she absorbed varied influences from her diverse family background and the produce that was cultivated in the fields around her. I expected similarities to Polish cuisine which I know, but there is so much more, recipes with roots across the Caucasus and beyond. They are interspersed with engaging “rather eccentric family stories” – which anyone with an Eastern European relative will think is perfectly normal! There are a few recipes which may confirm your prejudices about saturated fat content such as the gherkin, beef and barley broth, but there are many to knock them out of the water completely such as Armenian cold yoghurt and sorrel soup. The inclusion of several Georgian recipes makes me happy. All in all as vivid and exciting to cook from as it is to look at – immerse yourself in Olia Hercules’ world asap.

Vegan and veggie

A Modern Way to Eat – Anna Jones

While I bought many of the titles below with veggie teen in mind (she spent six months as a vegan this year), this one was for me. Anna Jones has trained and worked with the best as a chef and food stylist, from Jamie Oliver to Yotam Ottolenghi and I’m already coveting her other title A Modern Way to Cook. This is un-gimmicky, fresh, bright wholesome food and while the odd chia seed creeps in it’s got more than enough within it’s pages to make it timeless. There are some formulas to recipes so you can make up your own, for example ‘one soup: 1000 variations’ which goes through creating a base layer on flavours, adding herbs to the finishing touches. There is a guide to making a ‘killer roast dinner’ – must be a first for a vegetarian book. I just want to eat everything in here and it’s perfect for farmers’ market haul inspiration (honey roasted radishes are the bomb). Veggie teen gave the mac and greens a big thumbs up, as did I.

V is for Vegan – Kirsten Rogers

At a food blogger conference a few years ago, Kirsten aka Ms Marmite Lover touched on the subject of sponsored posts on blogs. “It’s like working for the man isn’t it?” was her battle cry. This cover of this book would look at home among Sex Pistol’s singles summing up the radical stance that is still given to veganism. But while she may have a punk attitude to convention, don’t expect anything less than meticulous research, planning writing and photography from the founder of the supper club movement in the UK. There is a healthy dose of humour and irreverence too; a refreshing change from the wide-eyed, earnest or preachy tone of other vegan books.  Thumbs up from veggie/vegan teen who deemed it the book she’d most like to eat from. As always MML pushes the boat out and while it may start with some fairly conventional staples like guacamole and roasted chickpeas, there are some challenging recipes in terms of time, commitment and sheer interest and appetite appeal. Even if you don’t feel up to cooking artichoke, potato, spinach and tofu b’stilla with poppy seeds and rose petals after a hard day at the office, it puts out a challenge to preconceptions of how to cook for vegans. For me as the cook for a vegan it provides inspiration when most needed e.g. 13 things on toast. Although it contains energy balls, it’s the least trend-led book of recent vegan releases and takes inspiration from cultures who have had veganism at their heart for centuries rather than diet or ingredient led fads.

The Homemade Vegan Pantry – Miyoko Schinner

Jumping the gun as I refer below to the new world of alternative ingredients when contemplating a vegan diet. However this is a cookbook about condiments, sauces and staples of cooking made at home which happen to be vegan. It’s another step on from the book below but much more in line with my way of cooking and I don’t have to buy too many unusual or ingredients apart from flaxseed (which is used to replace eggs). From no-anchovy Worcestershire sauce, to pasta, dough, pancake mix and even butter-less butter, the pages are filled with a good foundation of basics. The not-tella chocolate hazelnut spread is bookmarked as I refuse to have the branded stuff in my house due to the use of rain-forest destroying palm oil.  The design of the book is both elegant and homely too; it feels like an old friend already. This book compliments the ‘Vegan Toolkit’ chapter in Kirsten’s book (above). Note: My copy uses American measures.

But I could never go vegan! – Kirsty Turner

One of the first books that made it into my kitchen when veggie teen made her resolution to spend half of 2015 eating vegan. This takes the path of replacing meals that people think they could never give up with vegan alternatives and goes to some lengths to do so. My mind boggled with some of the new ingredients, nutritional yeast, liquid smoke and miso, a few of which have now found a permanent place in our store cupboard. The recipes are quite involved and many of them have long ingredients lists and multiple, fairly elaborate processes. I’ve found it useful to take elements of the dishes to use elsewhere, the macademia nut parmesan and the tempeh bacon for instance. It’s an interesting window on a certain world and got me thinking in a different way about vegan recipes.

More about this book and others, and what makes a good vegan cookbook here.

Bedside reading

I couldn’t resist these two beauties when I saw them in the Barnstaple market…

So quite a restrained 2015 for cookery book acquisition all in all – and it’s a fairly good snapshot of how we now eat (trying to eat healthily, catering to veggie teen and then digging into big bowls of comfort food now and again).

Do you still buy cookbooks or find all your recipes online? Which were your favourites of 2015?

  1. December 31, 2015 4:40 pm

    Fascinating. Just bought Rick Stein’s From Venice to Istanbul as a Christmas present to self but not opening it until 2016! Regular favorite is the avant grade food mag Lucky Peach, which you can easily get via

  2. December 31, 2015 5:34 pm

    These all sound lovely – thank you! And I’ve never heard of Diana Henry, so I will now look up her books! Happy New year!

  3. December 31, 2015 6:43 pm

    My favourite kind of end of year list, hurrah! I am still very much cooking from recipe books, I do search online for inspiration too (usually for quick midweek meals using leftovers) but I have learned so much from my cookbooks and I just love having a collection of them – mine also made it to over a hundred this year! I got some fab new oldies in 2015, including a madly illustrated 1970s’ book of regional German food, but I think my favourite additions have been by Diana Henry – A Bird In The Hand as well as A Change of Appetite – plus Persiana, Honey & Co, Our Korean Kitchen and Flavor Flours.

    The Anna Del Conte book looks beautiful, I must look that up. I wanted to love A Modern Way To Eat but just haven’t cooked from it as much as I thought I would, and Nopi was the first Ottolenghi book I decided not to get at all – though I’d be quite happy to be given it! 😉 Wasn’t there a couple of pork recipes in The Ottolenghi Cookbook though? I’m sure there was a roast pork belly with a selection of relishes…

    Anyway wishing you all the best for 2016! Greetings from Germany 🙂

  4. Robyn Hunt permalink
    December 31, 2015 7:45 pm

    Saw NOPI but didn’t grab it…now I’m regretting it! I will have to head back and pick up a copy then we can compare notes!

  5. December 31, 2015 8:47 pm

    Lovely books. Thanks for the reviews…

    Best wishes for 2016!



  6. January 1, 2016 1:33 am

    What a fabulous array of books, I’m sad to say that I just don’t get the time to read new cook books any more so don’t ask for them as presents these days.

  7. January 1, 2016 11:26 am

    Very useful! I’d been pondering the Anna Jones book so your review was very welcome, thank you.
    Happy New Year!

  8. January 1, 2016 5:21 pm

    I’ve got a couple of these on my shelf too. I was sent Magic Soup to review and was delighted with the variety and originality. The images are lovely. I’ve been trawling the shelves of a local secondhand shop for the gems of yesteryear and recipes from my childhood. I still can’t resist the lure of a new book especially an Ottolenghi. GG

  9. January 1, 2016 6:09 pm

    What a great list! That Diana Henry one keeps popping up. I could definitely use a good poultry cookbook, now that well-raised birds are readily available (thank god, finally!). I do still buy cookbooks, though for many years now I’ve often been disappointed by them. Fingers crossed that may be changing.

  10. January 1, 2016 6:18 pm

    Leave room on your shelves for Dima Al Sharif’s book on the food of Palestine, which is due to go to press in the next couple of weeks. Despite editing it, I’m happy to say it’s an instant classic – an unknown cuisine, a passionate author and recipes that are both familiar from the wider Middle East and yet distinct and imaginative. Despite most regional recipes being meat based, even as a vegetarian there’s loads of great stuff in here I want to make when I can catch my breath! The name? Plated heirlooms…

  11. January 2, 2016 7:33 pm

    What a great collection of books! I confess that A lot on her plate caught my eye too, but after reading your review I think I will give it a miss. Wishing you all the best for the New Year!

  12. January 3, 2016 2:18 am

    Really great collection! I have a stack waiting for me to read, cook, review. Read loads last year and shared my favourites too! Love A Bird In The Hand.

  13. January 3, 2016 6:21 pm

    I’ve been considering the Anna Jones and Jamie Oliver books for a while, very useful reviews thanks

  14. January 5, 2016 1:18 am

    Wow dally that’s an impressive addition to your collection in one year. I loved Jamie’s Comfort Food and used it a lot in 2015. My top pick for the year was Rick Stein’s India….

  15. January 5, 2016 8:18 am

    Really enjoying Rick Stein’s latest, from Venice to Istanbul. Would love to see what he makes of South America…

  16. January 25, 2016 2:39 am

    Only just seen this: thank you so much Kerstin xx


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