As if there haven’t been enough “books of the year” lists, but I felt there were a few in this year’s batch that needed highlighting.
Happy new year to you all!
A cracking book on bread from Great British Bake-Off finalist James Morton, an immensely likeable medical student with a penchant for baking who I hope we see more of (and not because I’m some sort of depraved quasi-cougar thankyouverymuch). The book covers everything from bread basics to the science of bread (yes!) and tempting recipes like IPA and cardamom loaf, sourdough English muffins, challah, stollen and – wait for it – panettone. For a first book that’s a fearless approach to bread baking. More please.
Brilliant Bread by James Morton (Ebury Press)
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
Foodlovers revere Michael Pollan, and with good reason. He asks intelligent questions about the state of food, and in our discombobulated food system we really need more erudite voices asking those questions. Pollan’s lecture on “Cooking as a political act” at the LSE in May was a highlight of the 2013 food calendar for me, which shows you how often I get out.
If you want to flex those little grey cells, then buy Cooked. And Pollan’s website is well worth checking out too.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (Allen Lane)
Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food
All books written by Nigel Slater are keepers, but there’s something especially tactile and wonderful about this compact, diminutive edition. The recipes are, as ever, reliable and the writing is a joy to read. While the book bills itself as little, it is in fact bursting with solid content and there is something for everyone here. Yet again Nigel reminds us that you don’t have to spend hours slaving over a hot stove to cook great food, it can be simple, quick to prepare and delicious to boot.
Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate)
Damn that Tim Hayward, the rogue only went and wrote the book I wish I had written. Food DIY is quite possibly my favourite book of the year, along with Smashing Plates and The Ethicurean (see below). From Tim’s book we cooked one of the best dishes of 2013: Coq in Hock, a shimmering, succulent delight of a dish (and not because I have a fondness for all things Riesling…*hic*…) This is a book that celebrates food geekery in all its glory. If you’ve ever been tickled by the idea of making EVERYTHING from scratch (I have, but then as you might have noticed I don’t get out that much), be it pickles, gravlaks, smoky, meaty, manly joints of dead animal and other sexy geeky foodstuffs we’ve spent too long outsourcing to restaurants and big food corporations then buy this book. As Tim writes, “Because geekery and experimentation in an enjoyable end in itself.”
Amen to that.
Food DIY by Tim Hayward (Fig Tree)
Healing Foods : Neal’s Yard Remedies
A quick gander at Amazon’s food & drink bestseller list in 2013 will tell you how demented Britain’s relationship with food is. Top sellers run the gamut of: diet/baking/diet/baking/diet/baking/diet/baking, etc., etc., what next? A baking book for dieters? The skinny baker’s book? If a publisher so much as even thinks of doing this I will stage a protest and pelt their offices with a truckload of skinny muffins, agave syrup and acres of kale.
The relentless churning out of faddy, ill-informed, pseudo-scientific diet books is depressing and shameful, we just don’t need any more Dukan/Atkins/5:2 nonsense, what we all need is an understanding of basic nutrition, how to cook a few very good, very tasty dishes, a diversity of real, affordable food such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, good fats, some meat, fish, cheese, real bread* AND – there is no way around this – we have to get off our tooshies and move more. For the love of god, we need to stop buying into these celebrity-driven diets. The reason celebs look the way they do is because they have an army of personal chefs/trainers/masseuses/facialists/designers/makeup artists to look after them. Plus, duh, there’s a little something called PHOTOSHOP.
So I doff my metaphorical hat to Dorling Kindersely for publishing a series of clear, sensible and informative books on health and wellbeing from Neal’s Yard Remedies. Blissfully free of celebrity endorsement and hyperbole, these are the best health books on the market and if you are thinking of starting 2014 on a health kick avoid all the ridiculous diets you’ll read about in the coming weeks. Save your money and the yo-yo-ing of your waistline and invest in Healing Foods. You’ll learn more from this one book than you will in any other diet book published this year, nay in the last decade. Plus I can vouch for the fact that the recipes work, and taste absolutely delicious. I loved this book, and, as you’ve already surmised, that’s not something I would say about health books as a genre.
Healing Foods – Neal’s Yard Remedies (Dorling Kindersley)
* Carbohydrates are not, I repeat, NOT evil. Processed, sugar-laden, industrial manufactured carbs are most likely going to turn you into a human doughnut, but real bread, and the occasional slice of homemade cake will not. Joyless carbophobes need to get a grip.
How To Cook : Leiths School of Food & Wine
Practical, accessible and so utterly useful if you’re a novice cook and want to understand how to actually cook something, and then understand why sometimes things go wrong in the kitchen (because they do, we’ve all been there). This is the updated version of the classic, troubleshooting Leiths Bibles, of which I still have my battered and splattered editions from when I was a student at the school. The recipes in How To Cook are foolproof thanks to being tested a gazillion times. In one word: reliable. Which is more than you can say for about 3/4 of cookbooks on the market today.
How to cook : Leiths School of Food & Wine (Quadrille)
Modern Art Desserts
This was a birthday gift from my friends Mungo and Eleonoora, who really nailed it with their choice of cookbook. Modern Art Desserts is an absolute delight to read, everything from the vivid Mondrian-cake cover photo to the step-by-step instructions on how to construct desserts inspired by Warhol, Jeff Koons, Lichtenstein, Frida Kahlo, et al. made this one of the most covetable food books on my shelves in 2013. In all honesty I can’t claim that it’s the most essential or practical cookbook you’ll ever purchase but top marks to Caitlin Freeman and Ten Speed Press for originality and whimsy, both under-rated virtues in cookbook publishing nowadays.
Modern Art Desserts by Caitlin Freeman (Ten Speed Press)
Pitt Cue Co.
Disclaimer: I tested some of the recipes in this book so forgive the obvious bias but if you love smoky, sticky, beefy, piggy, man food then Pitt Cue Co. will likely be the book for you. Everything from the bold, neon-coral cover to the stiffer-than-stiff cocktails, snacks such as smoked ox cheek on toast with pickled walnuts (their unabashed love of pickles is what sold me when I first ate at the restaurant), chipotle and maple wings, bright and colourful salads and indulgent desserts suggests that these fellas not only know their food but are bursting with love for it. The meat is glorious, yes, but there’s a surprising lightness of touch to many of the other dishes within this book.
Pitt Cue Co. The Cookbook by Tom Adams, Jamie Berger, Simon Anderson, Richard H. Turner (Mitchell Beazley)
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Illustrated comic/cartoon books on food: we could definitely do with more of these. Lucy Knisley’s Relish is replete with brilliant illustrations, snappy recipes, stories from her childhood and is just plain fun to read. If, like me, you like comics you’ll love this.
Relish: My life in the kitchen by Lucy Knisley (First Second)
A strong contender for cover of the year within the food book category, Maria Elia’s Smashing Plates is a bright, sparkling jewel amongst 2013′s vintage of cookbooks. With its stark, graphic photography and clever, inventive recipes, this is the book on Greek food I’ve long been waiting for. Maria guides you through the Greek pantry and recipes like ouzo and lemon cured salmon, taramasalata and salt cod croquettes, pumpkin snail pies, wild fennel and halloumi stuffed rabbit are just some of the inspired selection within Smashing Plates that exude supreme confidence from a woman who really knows her food.
Smashing Plates: Greek Flavours Redefined by Maria Elia (Kyle)
The Taste of America
I have Sarah Chamberlain of TOAST to thank for showing me this book one rainy November afternoon while we were ambling through Foyles. Colman Andrews’s The Taste of America is an unexpected delight. This isn’t a recipe book per se but rather an idiosyncratic exploration of the quintessential American ingredients and dishes that reflects America’s rich culinary diversity. As a half-American who spent many happy summers in New England I found much to rejoice in this book and the drawings are really the icing on the proverbial cake, or key lime pie if you will. Superb.
The Taste of America by Colman Andrews (Phaidon)
The Ethicurean Cookbook
Much praise has already been heaped on the guys and gals at The Ethicurean, it is pretty much universally agreed to be one of the most dynamic, clever, creative hubs of delicious cooking in Britain today. Given their mantra of “eat local, celebrate native foods, live well” the seasonal focus of the cookbook makes eminent sense and I found their gentle, meandering journey through a year’s bounty of food not only inspiring but oddly calming.
This is a tome of modern British cooking at its very best, and, unlike many of its peers, I suspect The Ethicurean Cookbook will pass the test of time, inspiring readers for a good few years to come with a cornucopia of beautiful recipes that make the heart sing. I’ve bookmarked a few to try in the new year, including sweet cure mackerel with morels, spelt soda bread and horseradish; Japanese inspired trout with kelp and shiitake stock, rice, flat beans and sea kale (umami on a plate!); salsify and ogleshield gratin, because as any true caseophile will tell you, there are few greater pleasures in life than a socking great cheese gratin.
The Ethicurean Cookbook: recipes, foods and spirituous liquors, from our bounteous walled garden in the several seasons of the year (Ebury) (try saying that three times after you’ve imbibed a few spirituous liquors…)
In sum: 2013 saw some stellar food books published. We could do with more of the kind listed above in 2014 and fewer TV/celebrity/brand/restaurant (with a few notable exceptions) led cookbooks published in the future. More narrative, better writing, clever, creative recipes, fun, whimsy, eccentricity, and yes, more comics, drawings and illustrations please. In other words, less of the bland, the boring and the predictable, and more risk-taking.