Ten books for cooks this Christmas

Ms Marmite Lover's top cook books for 2020

Ms Marmite Lover's top cook books for 2020 - Credit: Archant

Food blogger and columnist Ms Marmite Lover rounds up the best books for cooks this Christmas

Nigella Lawson's Cook Eat Repeat is published by Vintage

Nigella Lawson's Cook Eat Repeat is published by Vintage - Credit: Archant

Winter Warmers by Jassy Davis (Harper Collins)

A stocking filler for the mixologist, this cute illustrated book, written with Jassy’s customary wit, has recipes for mulled drinks, hot toddies, buttered rum, and Mexican hot chocolate with tequila. I discovered last Christmas that Baileys is an ideal substitute for milk in morning coffee. After the privations of lockdown, this book is a joyful paean to letting go over the holidays.

Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson (Vintage)

Books for cooks this Christmas

Books for cooks this Christmas - Credit: Archant

After a three year hiatus Nigella reflects that: “It’s a strange thing to start a book in one world and finish it in another’. Written during lockdown, there is a contemplative introspection in her essays on anchovies, rhubarb, the joys of brown food, Christmas food and the quotidian comfort of cooking. There’s more writing, and less recipes than usual, which is a treat as I simply love her voice. That said, I want to try the Basque Burnt Cheesecake and Chocolate Tahini Banana Bread.

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Scoff by Pen Vogler (Atlantic)

George Bernard Shaw was referring to accents when he said “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him.” But he could easily be talking about food and class in the UK. Vogler’s thorough research as a food historian gives her the perspective to bounce through subjects such as restaurant trends, etiquette, posh foods versus lower class foods, ‘Golden Shred marmalade is declassé while Oxford marmalade is not’, while remaining readable and entertaining.

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Carpathia by Irina Georgescu (Frances Lincoln)

Over the last decade cookbooks by Olia Hercules and Caroline Eden have thrown wide a window on the unfamiliar cuisines of Eastern Europe. Georgescu does the same here with Romanian food, a melting pot of influences from Turkey, Greece, Austria and Hungary. Romania is still very agricultural and the food is highly seasonal. The hunger gap lasts from December to May (ours is shorter - from April to May), therefore preservation techniques such as smoking and pickling are vital to last through the lengthy winter. The recipes, simple yet evocative work well; I’d like to have a go at the pickled gherkin ragout.

Summer Kitchens by Olia Hercules (Bloomsbury)

The folksy cover with a garland of yellow fruit arrived by post during Lockdown 1 and felt like the perfect cookbook for the season, when the sun shone day after day. The title refers to the separate outdoor kitchens that most people have in the Ukraine, adjacent to kitchen gardens where the fertile soil is known as ‘black gold’. Here families could cook and feast in the shade, and sometimes fruit trees would grow through the roof “the underlying intention to try and live in harmony with nature”. As in Romania, the harvest is an opportunity to ferment, pickle and preserve; sour flavours are incorporated into soups, smeared onto rye bread, folded into salads or enliven a casserole. There are several recipes for dumplings and fritters, lighter and subtler than you might imagine. The photography is atmospheric reportage.

Red Sands by Caroline Eden (Quadrille)

After the award-winning Black Sea, Eden ventures into four of the five stans of Central Asia’s Silk Road: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Her books are for cooks who are inspired by travel; dusty overland journeys through desert scrubland, glinting oilfields and extreme temperatures of the Steppe. During lockdown, this reader was pierced by vagrant longing, the frustration of not being able to travel. Of the recipes, I want to try the Canned Peach and Sour Cream cake, Sour Cherry Borscht soup, and Prunes cloaked in Chocolate. Beautiful location photography by Theodore Kaye.

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South (Murdoch) and The Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook (Titan) by Regula Ysewijn

Regula Ysewijn, a presenter on the Belgian Bake-Off, is in love with British food history. She and her partner, artist Bruno Vergauwen, produce the most beautiful books. Every detail, design, photography and food styling is exquisite. The title refers to the crop division in the UK, similar to the wheat (north) and corn (south) split in Mexico and the butter (north)/olive oil (south) segregation in Italy. In the dedication, she acknowledges the debt that all bakers owe to slaves “sugar has a cost, and that cost was held by those in bondage”.

She also wrote and created the historical recipes for The Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook. Both of these books would make gorgeous gifts.

Jikoni by Ravinder Bhogal (Bloomsbury)

Jikoni means ‘kitchen’ in Kenya and Ravinder, like most restaurateurs, has had a tough year keeping her eponymous Marylebone restaurant going. She’s a chef with a witty fusion touch, mixing Asian flavours with British home cooking. This book unfurls her fragrant and glamorous style with recipes such as Coconut Kadhi soup with Pea and Potato Pakoras and Clams Moilee (a South Indian broth) with Lemon Vermicelli Upma (a noodle stir-fry) along with memories of her upbringing and family. Despite the exotic names, the recipes are easy.

Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson (Quadrille)

This thick tome is a good present for the neophyte but adventurous cook, containing 200 recipes split into four seasons. Often using pantry ingredients, it’s a welcome and useful update to Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries. Stuck for dinner ideas? Turn to Winter and make a Miso & Mustard Butter Baked Potato, or Crumpets with Eggs Arnold Bennet or a Sardine Pasty.

A Foodie Afloat by Di Murrell (Matador)

Another travel inspired cookbook from Di Murrell who spent years on a slow barge through the waterways of Northern France, foraging, market grazing and boozing. For all of us who have been stuck indoors for most of this year, ruminate and nibble your way through recipes such as Tarte Maroilles (a stinky Chtimi cheese), Camembert in Puff Pastry and Pears with Roquefort.

Great Trees of London Map by Paul Wood (Blue Crow Media)

Another stocking filler, more a leaflet than a book. Wood guides us through a snapshot of interesting London trees. Visit the Strawberry Tree in Waterlow Park, the Fig in Amwell Street, the Almond in Stroud Green on your Christmas walks.

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