Christmas is galloping up to greet us and with it will the inevitable gamut of food and drink books. The big hitters like Jamie and Nigella will undoubtedly top the cookbook sales this year but sometimes it’s nice to think outside the box (or book…) and perhaps consider an unfamiliar but equally fascinating or delicious author. Here are a few books that have caught my eye recently.
For those fond of a tipple or two….
I’m not a particular fan of cocktails either drinking or making them (they always seem like far too much hard work) so I really didn’t think Good Things To Drink With Mr Lyan and Friends would appeal to me. However, what Ryan Chetiyawardana has produced is a book filled with innovative cocktails that are easy to make and sometimes with surprising ingredients (chocolate wine anyone?). The Mulberry Smash which uses mulberry jam instead of a syrup is a fantastic idea and drink. Chetiyawardana is the man behind the award winning White Lyan and Dandelyan bars in London. He demystifies the cocktail making process by talking you through the essential equipment required (or providing suggestions for regular household alternatives) and basic techniques used in a funkily illustrated section at the front of the book. I also love the way he encourages you to experiment with other flavours and spirits. Divided into chapters based around different drinking occasions like ‘Alfresco Days’ or ‘Fireside Serves’ this would definitely suit someone who fancies themselves as a bit of a mixologist or even a cocktail making novice like me.
Drinking beer with food is hardly a new concept but until relatively recently the practice had fallen by the wayside. The renewed interest in craft beers has rejuvenated this beverage from something to be supped by bearded CAMRA enthusiasts to an altogether more sophisticated drink. If you doubt this assertion then pick up a copy of Stephen Beaumont’s The Beer and Food Companion. This respected journalist explains the different characteristics of beer and how best to pair beer with food. There’s even a helpful chart at the back of the book with food and beer recommendations. This book extends beyond the ‘what you should drink guide’ (it’s not that prescriptive, which is a good thing as it avoids any snobbery around the subject that you often get with wine books). There are also insightful interviews with beer sommeliers and chefs from around the world as well as recipes for cooking with beer (I’m looking forward to trying the Hop ‘Hot Smoked’ Salmon and Beer Hollandaise). A must this year for any beer aficionados although I wouldn’t class myself as one and I really enjoyed this book.
For the health conscious….
Most of us know that we should really eat less meat but for some people the thought of crossing into vegetarian territory is rather daunting. Nicola Graimes’ latest book, The Part-Time Vegetarian could offer a potential solution. The book promotes flexitarianism, that is a predominantly plant based diet that occasionally includes meat and seafood. There are sections on breakfasts and light meals through to weekday suppers and food for sharing with beautiful photography to accompany the recipes. I’m rather partial to vegetarian food myself so I find it hard to believe that any of Graimes’ delicious recipes could be enhanced further by the addition of meat or fish. But at least the option is there should you want it and it could be a very useful book if you are trying to convert someone to a more plant centred diet.
The Part-Time Vegetarian by Nicola Graimes (Nourish Books, £20)
If on the other hand you or someone you know has decided to ditch all animal based products then The Vegan Bible is definitely worth adding to the Christmas wish list. The author Marie Laforêt is a food blogger and photographer from France. As unlikely as it sounds that a country famous for force feeding geese should produce an authority on vegan cooking, Laforêt’s book is the best selling book on the subject in France and is now available in English via Grub Street. It contains over 500 enticing recipes on everything from making your own vegan cheese to the perfect vegan barbecue. There is even a chapter on vegan nutrition which provides advice on how to achieve a balanced diet. Each recipe is also headed with little pictorial code to let you know whether it is Quick, Easy or Economical to make. This is a great tool for anyone entering the realm of veganism for the first time or even a confirmed vegan looking to reboot their cooking repertoire.
For lovers of Italian food…
Mezzogiorno by Francesco Mazzei is a book to salivate over. Peppered with anecdotes about his life and inspiration and with beautiful imagery, it showcases the cuisine of southern Italy. The recipes are rooted in the cucina povera tradition (cooking of the poor) although they are rich with mediterranean flavours and colours so beloved of those of us living in less sunny climes. Mazzei is the chef-patron of L’Anima (and will soon be reopening Sartoria in London’s Mayfair) but his recipes are more grounded than haute cuisine. Rustic dishes like Orchiette with Turnip Tops sit comfortably alongside more adventurous offerings like Cod Marinated in Liquorice or Aubergine and Chocolate Cake. Being inspired by the south there is plenty of spice in the form of chillies and n’duja sausage plus there are some great veggie options too.
Something a little more mature perhaps….
In a recent Food Programme podcast food writer Bee Wilson said she feels that sometimes food books are judged too quickly. She believes it is better to see how they stand the test of time, and I have to say I agree with her wholeheartedly. So the following recommendations are not ‘new’ books but I think they are the enduring kind that will be a pleasure to read and to cook from in the years to come.
The first is A Good Egg by Genevieve Taylor (2013). Whether you keep hens or just love eggs this is a inspirational seasonal cookbook for making the most of those ‘versatile heroes of the kitchen’ (as she likes to refer to eggs). Taylor has a relaxed style of writing and has produced some mouthwatering recipes from Fig & Oloroso Upside Down Cake to Malaysian Egg & Aubergine Curry. A great addition to any cookbook shelf particularly if you’re a hen owner like myself!
The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee (2014) was by far my favourite read in 2015. It charts the history of citrus fruits in Italy which have fascinated nobility and mafioso for centuries (although for very different reasons). I’m the first to admit that food history books can by a bit dry but Attlee’s narrative neither plods nor waffles and remains engaging and fascinating at all times. Even if you’re not that ‘into’ food this book would appeal to gardeners or travel enthusiasts (or be an ideal companion to Mezzogiorno above as it covers some of the same areas of Italy). She also won the Food Book of the Year in the 2015 Guild of Food Writers Awards which is praise indeed from her peers.
And if you really want to go vintage check out the selection of pre-loved classic cookery books available from Refried Books.