Yeo Valley’s new cookbook and a rather fabulous souffléed egg and bacon tart

Souffléed egg and bacon tart

Souffléed egg and bacon tart

I do love a new cookbook. My family would say I already own far too many (if they could speak, my many groaning bookshelves would possibly attest to this), but there’s something lovely about ripping open the cardboard to find someone’s much-loved and oft-cooked recipes, delightfully photographed and neatly bound for posterity, ready for sharing.

I always think this is especially true with a first time author like Sarah Mayor. I like to imagine that she, like me, has a huge file on a kitchen shelf, jammed with hand-written, sometimes sticky recipes (especially given her immaculately foodie heritage, being the daughter of the founders of Yeo Valley farming family; the Meads). I imagine what a thrill it must be to see that scrappy file transformed into a brand new, glossy cookery book.

The book is a wonderful testament to everything that Yeo Valley holds dear: local, organic, fresh and seasonal. As I flicked through, marking pages of recipes I’d like to try (I know, a terrible habit, but I’ve always done it): marmalade glazed gammon (poached in West Country cider), deep trout fish cake with lemon butter and chive sauce (you guessed it, there’s trout in Blagdon Lake, running alongside the farm), it became clear that this is not only a rather wonderful country cookbook, but an absolute celebration of how we should be living right now. Modern food at its best.

And right there, as the postie walked away from the house, I decided I had to have a go at one of the recipes: a puffy, golden souffléd egg and bacon tart: a proper British picnic staple.

And, oh, the tart: light as air, cheesy, dotted generously with bacon and with pastry crisp and snappy. We devoured it. Never mind that it was about three o’clock in the afternoon and I was idly wondering about saving it for tea, maybe serving with some little rosemary potatoes and a nice salad. No, we descended upon that poor tart and devoured it. I’m not proud, but there was actually some arguing over the last slice.

I’m thinking that this one might not make it far away from the kitchen. My groaning shelves will heave a sigh of relief.

The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook (Yeo Valley) by Sarah Mayor is out now, priced £20.00 RRP

Review: ‘Melt’ by Claire Kelsey: ice cream for grown ups

Melt by Claire Kelsey

Melt by Claire Kelsey

So finally the sun is shining, and if you like tinkering in the kitchen, I think you’ll love this book.

Claire Kelsey’s a bit of a rising star as far as street food is concerned.  Her beautifully refurbished retro ice cream van,  ‘Ginger’ has been gracing the trendiest festivals with her distinctly grown up ice creams, and now Claire has published a book with loads of her favourite, funky ice cream recipes.

The flavours move well away from plain old vanilla and sickly strawberry – in this gorgeous book you’ll find pea and mint sorbet, and marmalade on toast – a flavour that won ‘Best Dessert’ at the British Street Food Awards.


Garden mint and chocolate crisp ice cream

Garden mint and chocolate crisp ice cream

I had a go at recreating Claire’s garden mint and chocolate crisp ice cream.  I love that her ice creams start with proper custard.

You may well balk at using 6 eggs and double cream in a recipe, but in my view this is just how ice cream should be, not full of emulsifiers and vegetable oil.

My garden mint was just springing up when I made it and wasn’t very strongly flavoured, but the finished ice cream was luscious and fresh tasting and the bit where you drizzle on the chocolate was great fun too.  I don’t have an ice cream maker but Claire gives easy instructions and the result had a lovely, soft texture.  I’ll be trying it again when my mint has grown up a bit!

Melt, by Claire Kelsey, published by Simon and Schuster is out now. RRP £18.99

Blog tour: 5 ingredients 10 minutes by Jules Clancy

5 ingredients 10 minutes

I love cooking.  If I have a spare half hour you’ll usually find me in the kitchen, baking a cake or preparing something for dinner.  BUT I do find choosing something to cook a bit of a chore.  Aside from the usual family gripes of who doesn’t like what, there’s the temptation to stick to the few dishes that suit everyone.  It’s the recipe for a massive food rut, something I think Jules Clancy addresses really nicely in her new book, ‘5 ingredients 10 minutes’.

I’ll often take a long time to prepare dinner (one of the bonuses of working from home), but sometimes, if everyone’s rushing off, or different people need feeding at different times, it’s nice to have some quick, healthy recipes to fall back on.

One of the refreshing things about this book is that it gets you thinking outside the meat/carb/veg box that a lot of us stick to (myself included).  My teenagers are already strapping lads: very active, and still growing fast, so protein-rich dinners are a must.  Jules provides these in a creative way, using lots of pulses, beans and lentils and, a new one for me, quinoa.

That’s not to say that meat gets thrown by the wayside, with plenty of fast, fresh ways with meat too.  The ‘beef with buttery courgettes’ is delicious, with minced beef cooked so well that it’s crispy in places – a wonderful mix of textures.

I was also delighted when Jules said that she’d happily give me some ideas for cooking chicken (our go-to dinner – especially wrapped in bacon, with veg and mash, which we have at least once a week as it’s a favourite of both my boys) – I LOVE the hummus idea:

So without further ado, it’s over to Jules:

”One of the downsides of chicken is that it can get a bit boring so I was glad when Becky asked for some ideas to make chicken more interesting rather than her old standby of wrapping it in bacon.

The first thing I like to do to make chicken more exciting is to serve it with a tasty sauce. We’re looking for things that can be made in the same time it takes for the chicken to cook.

Pesto from a jar works brilliantly with chicken. I’m also a big fan of dolloping on a commercial hummus as soon as the chicken comes out of the pan so the juices from the chicken can mix in with the hummus and make it even more delicious. I also love adding finely chopped herbs to lift the flavour of good quality commercial mayonnaise. Think chive mayo or even dill or thyme.

My other go-to sauce is to season a creamy Greek-style yoghurt with lashings of pepper. And I almost forgot another great trick is to cut a lemon in half and pan fry it cut side down with the chicken and squeeze over the hot lemon before serving with a good drizzle of olive oil.

If I’m not in the mood for making a sauce, I also love making a super quick ‘marinade’ to rub onto the chicken before cooking. In my book ‘5 Ingredients 10 Minutes’ I mix smoked paprika with a little olive oil and rub this onto chicken thighs for an instant Spanish vibe. Don’t be afraid to play around with other spices. Ground coriander adds a lovely lemony freshness. Sometimes I’ll just keep it simple with some dried chilli flakes for a bit of heat.

The other tip I have for cooking chicken breasts or thigh fillets is to bash them out first with a saucepan or your fist. This tenderises the chicken but also reduces the thickness so it cooks more quickly and evenly – very handy for getting dinner ready in ten minutes or less!

If you’d like to follow the blog tour for 5 ingredients 10 minutes and find out what other food bloggers have to say about the book, check out the image for details of the blogs on the tour.

Merry Kitschmas: a top ten of Christmas cookery books

Christmas cookbooksI have a lovely friend, Helen, who I’ve known (electronically) for years and who writes the fabulous website The Foodie Gift Hunter.  She is THE go-to person for gift ideas and, frankly, if you like food it’s a great read even if you’re not searching for a gift.  We both share a penchant for the ridiculous, the kitsch and the corny, plus we also share a love of cook books.  This year, we challenged each other to a little Christmas cook book-off, if you will.  A kind of ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ of our Christmas cookbook selections.

So without further ado, pop pickers… (and in the style of ‘Fluff’ Freeman), here are my top ten Christmas cookbooks:

A Simply Delicious Christmas by Darina Allen.  Published in the late 80s, I love it not just because its Irishness reminds me of my years spent living in Cavan, but because the original owner of my copy marked her favourite recipes with Novena cards (they’re like little Catholic prayer cards).

Elizabeth David’s Christmas. I have quite a few of Elizabeth David’s books.  Like Rick Stein, I love her writing for the elements of travel (and wisdom) as well as her recipes.  This Christmas compilation by Jill Norman is wonderful.  I love the eccentricity of it all (goose giblet stew, anyone?) but there are some Christmas classics in there too.

the cnristmas cookbook (I love that Amazon have spelled it incorrectly) – by Nanette Newman. Another 80s classic here.  Nanette Newman is so full of warmth – the perfect family Christmas positively oozes from these pages.  This is also a great one to refer to for some lovely oldy fashionedy recipes if you’re going a bit retro at your party: chicken with avocado and grapes, for instance, and an AMAZING cheesecake recipe called Eli’s Cheesecake, which I make throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

Not strictly a Christmas book, but Cooking With Mickey and the Disney Chefs by Pam Brandon gets my vote.  As you know, I’m a bit of a Disney nutcase, and I was lucky enough to have dinner with Pam Brandon at Walt Disney World on a press trip.  I nearly spontaneously combusted when she introduced herself. She writes the Disney Food Blog as well, which is a thing of beauty.  This book contains THE BEST Eggs Benedict recipe I’ve ever tried, perfect for Christmas morning.

Peterson’s Holiday Helper: Festive Pick-me-ups, Calm-me-downs, and Handy Hints to Keep You in Good Spirits by Valerie Peterson is a great fun book which comes out every Christmas at English Towers. It contains great recipes, hilarious tips and great cocktails and is a total giggle to read. Everyone should have one.

Scandinavian Christmas is a new one this year.  Trine Hahnemann’s delightful book contains scrummy Skandi recipes (including some great cookies to make with kids) and is a joy to read.  It would make a great present for any Christmas addict.

Possibly my favourite, just for the sheer joy I get from reading it is Christmas with Paula Deen: Recipes and Stories from My Favorite Holiday.  Completely bonkers and full of her more mental recipe suggestions,   including ‘The Best Damn Blueberry Muffin You’ll Ever Eat’ – you’ll need to stock up on massive amounts of cream cheese and sticks of buddderrrr, and may die of a coronary afterwards, but God you’d die happy.  Merry Christmas Y’all!

The original and best, Merry Kitschmas: The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael D Conway is the book that started my love of Christmas books.  Here’s my original post on the subject.  I still love it, and try to recreate those AMAZING candy cane cocktails every year.

Christmas would not be Christmas without Martha Stewart telling you how to hand make a personalised gift tag made out of gingerbread.  I have several Martha Stewart Christmas books (I know, right?), but Christmas With Martha Stewart Living is still my favourite. It doesn’t matter that I sit and flick through it whilst drinking a cocktail and eating my way through a box of Celebrations – in my head I’m at my sewing machine, painstakingly making presents for each of my loved ones.

Lastly, but certainly not leastly, is the wondrous Nigella.  This one comes out every year too – her Chocolate Christmas cake has been made many times, and hey, who cares if you need 8 eggs and several hundredweight of specialist items to create the dishes.  It’s Christmas.  No cook should be without Nigella Christmas: Food, Family, Friends, Festivities.

And that’s it.  Around the Christmas tree in my ten favourite books.  Do tell me yours!

Oh and by the way, this post contains affiliate links, which means that if 100,000 of you buy a book via the links, I’ll get about 2p.  Thanks!

Review: Let’s Eat, Tom Parker Bowles

Remember Market Kitchen? Is it still on?  I always had a bit of a crush on Matt Tebbutt but he never replied to me on Twitter, so that was the end of that.  I did like Tom Parker Bowles too.  I love his gentle, slightly posh manner, and his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of food too.  His book, you’ll be pleased to know, doesn’t disappoint.  Let’s Eat is subtitled ‘recipes from my kitchen notebook’ and it turns out that’s exactly what it is, the scribbles and sidenotes of hundreds of dinners, written up into what basically forms ‘a story of my love of food’.  I love it too.

Tom’s recipes are proper, hearty fare.  I had a go at his treacle tart, and the result was, if not fantastically aesthetically pleasing (I’m no good at embellishment) utterly delicious.

I’ve used this book so many times (triple cooked chips: amazing, griddled lamb with cucumber raita: scrummy…) I completely forgot to review it, so apologies for lateness – it was actually published back in June.  My copy now sits, slightly grease-spotted and dog-eared, on the windowsill of my kitchen – the sign of a good cookbook, don’t you think?

Tom’s recipe for toad in the hole was also magical.  Look how far it puffed up!

I think, often, good solid recipes that ACTUALLY WORK get lost in the fashion and fluffery of food writing.  At the end of the day, if a recipe is easy (and a bit fun) to follow, I think that makes it pretty much perfect.  This book delivers on both those levels – there are delightful snippets of information woven into these recipes, making them just lovely to read.

Buy this book. And treasure it.  I bet you’ll go back to it time and time again.

Interestingly, Let’s Eat is available to download on iTunes.  I gave it a go and can tell you that it’s actually a really handy way of owning a cookery book.  Here’s a link to the page:

Let’s Eat: recipes from my kitchen notebook is out now, priced £25 hardback, published by Pavilion.

Review: The Great British Bake Off: showstoppers

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I’m addicted – ADDICTED – to the Great British Bake Off.  I like very few television programes but I’m guaranteed to get all stabby and annoyed if you talk through the Bake Off.  Be warned.

I was delighted, then, to be sent the book from the current series: The Great British Bake Off: how to turn everyday bakes into showstoppers.  The book contains loads of Showstopper Challenges, inspired by the competition.  Each section shows the basic recipe, for example a brioche dough, and then three different challenges, for example sweet brunch rolls, a more technical Camembert brioche, and finally herby brioche rolls.  The recipes are all labelled with their difficulty (easy, needs a little skill, etc) and the recipes are all clear and easy to follow.

I was keen, after watching last night, to have a look at the instructions for Paul technical challenge, the plaited loaf (I’m definitely going to give this a go) and it seems a lot easier than on the show: explaining how to number your strands of dough from 1-8 and then placing them under or over the other strands as you go… mind you, I expect it’s a lot easier in the comfort of your kitchen than under the timed, slightly stressy atmosphere of the bake off studio!  Some of the recipes don’t have photos, which is a bit frustrating, especially with recipes like the autumn wreath – a plaited yeasted bread wreath that I think really needs a picture to help you along.

If you’re a lover of the Bake Off, there is also a new app that you can get if you’ve got an iPhone with fifty recipes from the series, searchable by occasion, skill level, etc and featuring some kind of whizzy technology which means you don’t have to touch your phone with icky fingers while you’re baking.

The Great British Bake Off: How to turn everyday bakes into showstoppers by Linda Collister is out now, priced £20 and the iPhone app is £2.99.

Review: How to Bake by Paul Hollywood – and a spare to give away!

Ah we love a bit of the old Silver Fox.  There’s not much telly that makes me stabby when disturbed, but the Great British Bake Off is one of them and I’ve been known to get very shushy if people start talking over the lovely Mr Hollywood. I remember him making me laugh like a drain with the adorable Jeni Barnett back in the days of Great Food Live and I still love him now.  Le sigh…

Anyhoo, enough about the man himself and on to the book.  Often ‘celebrity’ books can be a bit disappointing (I would point you in the direction of Gregg’s Favourite Puddings, but I’m far too polite) but Paul Hollywood knows his stuff. There’s a satisfying mixture of easy, basic recipes and challenging new ideas to please even the most enthusiastic home bakers.  I tried his shortcrust pastry when making a treacle tart (and this was a wrench, as my own shortcrust recipe is tried and tested), but I have to say Paul’s – using a whole egg – was really good.  The recipes are sprinkled with professional tips and tricks and good ingredient notes too.

There’s a whole chapter on sourdough, something that I’ve tried before but not really mastered, and I’m dying to have a go at making my own Danish pastries.  The photos are fab (you know how picky I am about photography) – check out the lavender honey and toasted almond sourdough – and the methods are clear, concise and not too waffly.  I suffer from this when writing recipes – it’s so easy to go off on a tangent about some ingredient or other – very distracting when you’re actually cooking it.

A great addition to my already groaning cookery book collection.  If you need further persuading, here’s Paul walking you through his grape and stilton flatbread recipe:

How to Bake by Paul Hollywood is published by Bloomsbury, RRP £20 and is out now.  If you’d like my spare copy, leave a comment.  The one that makes me laugh most gets the book.  I’ve got it here so I’ll send it anywhere, no UK only competitions today!  Entries must be received before midnight, Friday 3rd August.  No cash alternative.  My decision is final, so there.



My Dad’s gorgeous garden, and The Icecreamists’ raspberry sorbet

My Disreputable Dad and his other half have been away on holiday this week (to the same place in the South of France that they go every year, to eat at the same restaurant every night – he’s a man who knows what he likes)….  I was left in charge of the garden, which basically meant I had free rein to go in and nick all the strawberries and raspberries.  While I was in there pilfering I took some pictures. It really is an extraordinarily beautiful garden, and he has a skill with roses that I’m sad I haven’t quite inherited.  There are entire beds of the same coloured, ruffled peach roses, and deep scarlet ones too… and around every corner a surprise – a trellised gate wound with delicate pink climbing roses that leads on to a hidden part of the garden with apple trees already groaning with baby fruit (I’ll be back for those)…. and, of course, those raspberry canes – protected with fake birds of prey, painful when you’re collecting raspberries and one bashes you on the back of the head, but they do the trick.


Charlie and I crept in one lovely evening and gathered an enormous punnet of raspberries.  Back at home with our spoils, we decided to make raspberry sorbet.  The recipe is adapted from The Icecreamists (out now priced £16.99, published by Octopus Books) – a wonderful book which, when you look past the ‘I’m mad, I am’ over the topness (breast milk ice cream, anyone?) contains some amazingly clever and easy to follow recipes.








We made ‘Glastonberry’, a seasonal berry sorbetto, and jolly nice it was too.  Scoffed in the garden, watching the sun go down, and wishing my roses were as good as Dad’s.  There’s always next year…

Review: Reza’s Indian Spice: Eastern Recipes for Western Cooks by Reza Mahammad

I’m going to start this review by saying that Reza Mahammad is a Really Nice Person.  I’m not going to let this fact cloud my judgment at all – I just thought I’d let you know.

I’ve been a fan for years, since I used to watch him on UKTV Food when I lived in Ireland.  He encouraged me to have a dabble with Indian cookery and brightened up the TV with his infectious laugh.  Since then I’ve followed his television career and absolutely loved his recent series for the Food Network: Reza, Spice Prince of India.

I was delighted, then, to be offered a review copy of Reza’s Indian Spice – Reza is adorable on Twitter: friendly, fun and chatty – exactly how a good foodie celebrity should be. He even expressed delight at a photo of my recent attempt at pakoras (I’m ashamed to say I was delighted, and rushed, laptop in hand, downstairs to show the kids: ‘look, I’m tweeting with Reza!’).

Reza now lives in France, and this French influence is evident in some of the recipes, for example paupiettes of lemon sole enhanced with a creamy, saffron scented sauce. Delicious.  Other influences are Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and, of course British.  There are classic curries, show-off dinner party dishes and a’Quick and Chic’ section which on its own warrants buying this fabulous collection of recipes.

My boys liked the spiced meatballs in tomato sauce so much, I’ve cooked it three times already, and on my ‘to do’ list to try next are the scallops with coconut and ginger, lamb pasanda with green mangoes and the sumptuous white chocolate, cardamom and rose panacotta (I want the photo of this dish blown up and hung on my kitchen wall, its so beautiful).

All of this is written in Reza’s easy to read, chatty style (I abhor stuffy, bossy cookbooks).  So often I pick up a cookery book and think ‘urgh – I cook all this stuff every day, in one form or another’, but this gorgeous-looking book has so many different ideas, so much inspiration, that I feel I’ll come back to it for dinner party recipes and midweek suppers for a long time to come.

Reza’s Indian Spice is published by Quadrille Books and is available now, priced £17.00 hardback.


And true to form, look what arrived on my Twitter feed this morning *happy sigh*:

Fabulous new cookery books for Spring: epic tomes and fresh flavours

There’s a real sea-change in my cooking at this time of year.  I want brighter, fresher meals and newer, interesting flavours.  And while the weather over Easter left a lot to be desired, it also left me a bit of time, while waiting for my slow-cooked lamb, to wade through the enormous pile of new books I’ve received recently, to find the best ones just for you (you’re welcome).

First up, then is Bill Cooks for Kids.  I love Bill Granger’s food, and he certainly fits the ‘brighter, fresher’ theme very well.  His new book is jammed full of really great, interesting recipes to cook with children and I love that there are some more complex flavours in amongst the more simple cakes and biscuits: spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, ricotta, spinach and Pecorino is easy to cook, but Bill makes it much more interesting (and appealing to adults to) by roasting the cherry tomatoes with garlic and red onion first.  If you’re looking for simple, fresh suppers and rainy-day baking, look no further.  A great book with Bill Granger’s easy style and bright, stylish photography.  Loved it.

Bill Cooks for Kids is out 10th May, currently priced £6.79 on Amazon.

Claudia Roden’s new book, The Food of Spain, is nothing short of a magnum opus.  This absolute feast for the eyes took, apparently over five years of research, and it shows.  Roden travelled extensively around Spain to bring us delicious, traditional dishes from every region, plus interesting commentary and fascinating notes on ingredients.    This book is a MONSTER.  I’m only about a third of the way through but so far I’ve marked so many pages of incredible food – I’ll be working through it for a while.  The papas arrugadas y mojos canarios reminded of my Disreputable Dad, who adores the salty Canarian potatoes, while the almond ice cream takes me straight back to the Majorcan holidays of my youth.  I can’t wait to dive into a proper paella and the Catalonian chocolate and almond cake looks utterly sumptuous.  With gorgeous photography and Roden’s trademark attention to detail, I reckon this is a must-buy for anyone who adores food.

The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden is out now, hardback priced £15.00 on Amazon.

Donna Hay is another writer who consistently produces beautiful, inspiring cookery books and her new offering, Seasons, doesn’t disappoint.  The photography is gorgeous and the recipes, while being garnered mainly from her eponymous magazine, will be new to most of us here.  As it’s (obviously) split into seasons, this is the book to grab NOW for inspiration for fresh new dishes for spring.  The coconut bread (made with buttermilk and ground almonds) is an absolute delight and the pan-fried salmon with fennel salad has already been bookmarked for one of this week’s suppers.  My one complaint is that the book is so massive, it’s difficult to perch somewhere in the kitchen while you’re cooking!  It’s actually quite magazine-like in its feel (if not its weight!) and I love Hay’s choices of recipes – from easy midweek suppers to gorgeous dinner party blowouts.

Seasons by Donna Hay is out now, priced £14.48 on Amazon.

Last, but my no means least, and actually quite Claudia Roden-like in its delivery, is my surprise of the season: Cooking from the Heart: A Jewish Journey Through Food, by Hayley Smorgon and Gaye Weeden.  This is another epic tome, but if you’re a bit of a food buff, like me, you’ll adore reading the stories of the Jewish people in the book (who all ultimately ended up in Australia) and sharing in their stories and family recipes.  You know me: I love a bedside book with proper food stories, and this is one to get lost in.  There are plenty of what you would consider classic Jewish dishes, but lots of fabulous fusion too.  Utterly adorable and addictive: buy it for someone you love.

Cooking from the Heart is available now, priced £22.63 on Amazon.



My top ten gorgeous books for under the tree

I think cookbooks are sometimes overlooked as Christmas presents.  Maybe it’s the ‘domestic’ element of it?  I’m not sure.  I remember when the brevren were small, English Dad bought me a breadmaker for Christmas.  At the time I was devastated and offended and saw it as insulting that he’d bought me something so ‘homey’ and boring.  I don’t know what was the matter with me – I’d love it if he got me one now!!  Anyway, if you’ve got a food lover in your life, here’s my top ten of some of the more recent books that have been released.  I’ve reviewed some of them before, and have provided links to my reviews.  I’ve also given you links for books on the WHSmith website where I can.

Allegra McEvedy’s Bought Borrowed and Stolen has become one of my absolute favourite cookbooks.  I’ve reviewed it here so you can read all about it.  A beautiful travel/cookery book written in a no nonsense style that is truly unique.

Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet - a perfect pressie for anyone who loves to bake.  Dan’s friendly nature (he’s lovely on Twitter – look him up) comes across really well in this chunky book full of sweet treats.  I know I’m probably silly, but how a book looks and feels is important to me and this one is gorgeous – I love to be able to flick through photos and pick something that takes my fancy.  If you’re like me, you’ll adore Dan Lepard.

Jamie’s Great Britain – I’ve LOVED the series on the TV and this book is a really great accompaniment.  Not only are there all the recipes from the series but tons more besides.  I know Jamie has his critics but I absolutely adore his food – big flavours, creative combinations and no fiddly twiddly bits.  The book is split up into nice easy sections – my fave being breakfasts (I’ve had a go at the Yemeni pancakes – they’re delicious) and mmmmm bubble and squeak with a runny egg on top.  Heaven.

Donna Hay’s Fast Fresh Simple – Aussie Donna Hay’s book is absolutely gorgeous to look at and the recipes don’t disappoint either.  I really like Donna Hay’s no nonsense approach to cooking, and her books reflect it really well.  There are some fab shortcuts and inventive ways to get classic recipes on the table in half the time too.  I love it.

One Sweet Cookie – Another really lovely looking book (making it perfect to be given as a gift, in my opinion) full of all sorts of yummy baking.  The author, Tracey Zabar, herself famous as a jewellery designer, and stylist on Sex and the City, approached some of the most famous chefs in America (which is why you may not recognise some of the names) and asked them for their favourite baking recipes.  The result is a treasure trove of amazing recipes.

Silver Spoon – Phaidon have recently published a new edition of this absolute monster of a classic cookbook.  It’s got loads of new photographs and a really luscious red cover.  Any foodie would be delighted to discover this one under the tree – everything you could possibly need to know about cooking Italian food.

Pieminister: A Pie for All Seasons is another of my recent favourites.  All manner of gorgeous pastry surprises nestle amongst its pages.  Another good looking book, not too girly, which would make a great pressie for your man in the kitchen.  Here’s my review.

Leith’s Cookery Bible - I was lucky enough to be given one of these after my recent trip to Leith’s.  It’s another real weighty tome but it’s got absolutely everything in it – every recipe you can ever imagine co0king is laid out here, clearly and succinctly – I love the wine tasting section too.  Really interesting.  This would be a great pressie for a serious amateur cook.  It really is a bible.

The Great American Cookbook – this one is quirky and fabulous.  I adore it as much for the story behind it as for the actual recipes.  Back in 1948, Clementine Paddleford set out on an epic journey to travel across the United States seeking out regional recipes, bringing them together in one enormous tome which was published in the 1960s.  This reprint has all the spirit of the original and every truly great American recipe will be found nestling in its pages, from Creole cooking to New York cheesecake and Southern fried chicken.  A fantastic read and a really great reference for any keen cook.

And lastly, but by no means leastly, the delightful Lorraine Pascale’s Home Cooking Made Easy.  Another lovely Twitterer (Tweeter?), Lorraine Pascale’s books are some of my very favourites.  Her recipes are faff free, easy and delicious.  I love her easy manner and find her eminently watchable on TV.  Looking forward to the big Christmas programme too (22nd December, 8pm on BBC2)!
Next up will be my top ten Christmas books.  Happy shopping!










Roast figs with brown sugar and cinnamon, inspired by Diana Henry

I absolutely love Diana Henry.  Her book ‘Food from Plenty’ is one of my absolute favourites, so I was delighted to be offered a copy of her ‘Roast Figs, Sugar Snow’.

This book is just gorgeous.  It’s all about Autumn and Winter, and the ingredients: figs, pumpkins, maple syrup, chestnuts, cranberries, quinces, are so evocative of the seasons.  It’s like a massive warm hug in a book (with an optional hot chocolate).

Some of the recipes I’ve already got bookmarked include Danish Christmas Rice Pudding, snow biscuits, a steamed apple and marmalade pudding and roast figs and plums in vodka with a cardamom cream.  You’re drooling already, right?  It’s the perfect book to curl up with in front of the fire – not just recipes, but a lovely, seasonal read that will get you in the mood to get in the kitchen and rustle up some comforting winter food.

Inspired by this gorgeous book, and by the beautiful soft, dusky orbs in my local farm shop, I thought I’d have a go at roasting some figs.  The result was utterly delicious.  And so easy:

Roast figs with brown sugar and cinnamon

6 figs

50g butter

50g soft brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to gas 5/190 degrees.  In a non-stick baking tin, place the figs, cutting a deep cross into the top of every one.

Melt the butter and brown sugar gently in a pan on the stove, add in the cinnamon, then pour the whole lot over the figs.

Roast for about 15 minutes.  Serve with some thick double cream (Henry adds crushed cardamom seeds and a little icing sugar to hers) – a sprinkling of crushed pistachios would be gorgeous too.

Roast Figs, Sugar Snow: Food to Warm the Soul is available now, published by Octopus.



Review: Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Bought, Borrowed & Stolen’

There are some cookery books that I definitely class as bedside books.  Some are just a plain old list of recipes, and that’s fine, I like those ones as well, but others tell amazing stories and warrant bedside-table space along with the handcream and glass of wine (everyone does that, right?).

Take Sophie Dahl’s beautiful Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights.  It’s one of my favourite books – I thinkSophie Dahl writes amazingly well, and her gorgeous prose interlinked with anecdotes, rememberings from her childhood and other snippets enhance the lovely recipes and really make the book what it is, a classic to be treasured.

Allegra McEvedy’s new book, ‘Bought, Borrowed & Stolen. Recipes & Knives from a Travelling Chef’ is definitely a bedside book.  Part recipe book, part travel tome, it’s a wonderful mixture.  McEvedy has travelled extensively and started to pick up knives here and there on her travels.  Along the way, she lists the knives she purchased in different places, then goes on to give local recipes in a friendly, matey way that I absolutely love.  She starts one Mexican recipe with ‘My Spanish is crap’.  I love that.

In my usual, destructive way I’ve turned down loads of pages to mark recipes that I really, really want to cook.  They are miriad: Clafoutis aux Abricots, Szechuan Crispy Pork Ribs and Caldo Verde, temptingly subtitled: ‘A Soup of Greens, Spuds and a bit of Pig’.  What’s not to love about that?

If you count a food lover amongst your nearest and dearest, especially one who loves to travel, lovingly wrap this book for them for Christmas.  Like me, they will absolutely adore it.

Bought, Borrowed & Stolen is available now, published by Octopus.  Click below to take you straight to Amazon.

Review: Prepped by Vanessa Kimbell

Regular readers (well, the ones without early-onset Alzheimers, and those that don’t  just pop in to give me a bit of gyp in the comments) may remember me mentioning Vanessa Kimbell and her ‘write a cookery book in a year’ project a while ago, when I reviewed her spelt bread/pizza recipe.  At the time, I said that ‘the idea behind the book is gorgeous food without the slog – a multi-tasking masterpiece for time-short foodies’.

Well the book is now published, and looking gorgeous in pink, with my words on the cover (and the inside!!):

Bit blurry, sorry about that.  It was the excitement!

Anyhoo, as I was lucky enough to work with Vanessa  on her new book I suppose I can’t really give you a totally impartial review… but hey, who cares?  It’s gorgeous.

Not only is the photography RAVISHING, but the concept is just fab.  Take, for example, this rather luscious elderflower and rose syrup:

Not only is it beautiful, and would make an amazing gift but it’s also the cornerstone of several very inventive recipes.  Mixed, for example, with gin and ginger beer, it makes a rather fantastic cocktail called, adorably, a ‘Ginger von Tease’.  It also adds a piquant touch to baked trout with chilli and elderflower, and is wonderful when used to adorn baked peaches.

You’re getting the drift now, aren’t you?  Start with Vanessa’s building blocks: gorgeously fragrant sugars and aromatic syrups that can be whipped up on a rainy afternoon, and you have the beginnings of some seriously clever meals.  I love the spiced orange and clove brandy – imagine how Christmassy that must smell! – which goes on to be used in everything from a chicken liver parfait to mincemeat and even Christmas cake.  It’s clever stuff.

Well done, lovely, warm-hearted Vanessa.  Your book is beautiful.  I know it’s not always been an easy journey, but you got there, and the finished product is amazing!  Thank you for using my words, I meant them all.  Looking forward to that lunch! xx

Prepped, by Vanessa Kimbell, is out now priced £10.48 on

Review: My Daddy Cooks by Nick Coffer

Now first of all I’ll admit that I’m slightly biased here as Nick Coffer, author of this book and food vlogger and blogger, is a good friend of mine.  We’ve known each other for ages and finally met last year at The Real Food Festival.  We have a mutual ‘argh, help!’ relationship and he’s my go-to person for those niggly food-writing problems (‘why won’t this rise/will it matter if I don’t do that?’, etc…)

That said, I promised him faithfully that I’d give an honest review, so honest I will be (mwah ha haaaa).

First things first, the colours in the book are really pleasing to the eye.  There’s a turquoise theme running through, cleverly accentuated in Nick and Archie’s clothes, backgrounds and even crockery.  I think it was one of the things that Nick maybe resisted, but it works really well, making it a pleasure to read.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that because Nick cooks with Archie, his toddler, it means that the recipes are ‘kids’ food’.  Not at all.  The book is filled with really good, solid, family recipes with some innovative ideas sprinkled in for good measure.  Take, for example, the Mexican Lasagne.  Instead of pasta, the recipe uses tortillas: and yes, they really work!  It doesn’t even matter if you don’t use every recipe exactly as it’s written – simple layer up your own favourite chilli  and follow the rest of the dish in the book – I think that’s the beauty of a lot of these recipes: there are hints, tips and ideas that you’ll adopt into your everyday cooking.

The (almost) no cooking required section will have busy parents everywhere sending Nick fan mail, and the pesto, although different ratios of ingredients than I normally use is – gasp – better and fresher than mine!  I’ll be using Nick’s version from now on.

Tonight I shall be making the chicken and cauliflower biryani with my leftover roast chicken from yesterday, and this weekend I’ll be going all-out and trying Nick’s pared down version of a flourless chocolate cake (I do love it when my favourite recipes get even easier).

I’ll let you know how I get on!

Pop over to Nick’s blog to see videos of him and Archie cooking up a storm.  You can also hear Nick on BBC Three Counties Radio: Nick Coffer’s Weekend Kitchen is on every Saturday from 12-2pm.   I’m also regularly found busting my paltry download limit by listening on BBC iPlayer too.

Nick Coffer’s My Daddy Cooks is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is out now on Amazon, priced £11.04.

Review: Cakes by Pam Corbin (River Cottage Handbook no 8)

I knew I was going to love this book from the moment I was offered a review copy.  I stalked our poor postie, Bernard, mercilessly every day until he was beginning to look a little uncomfortable, I was so looking forward to reading it.

Happily (for me and Bernard, it appeared.  And I wasn’t wrong.  I bloody love it. Cakes (River Cottage Handbook) is probably one of those books that could render half my cookery book collection redundant, it’s that useful. I even took it on a recent Aer Lingus flight where the lady sitting next to me in departures took a look at it, nodded and smiled appreciatively.  I mean, who doesn’t love River Cottage?  And who hasn’t watched ‘Pam the Jam’ working her magic?

And yes, I’m a sucker for a bit of pink, so the cover alone is enough to make me want to carry it around in my handbag, but the contents more than compete in the gorgeousness stakes, believe me.

I’m a page turner-over (I know, kill me now) and this book now has so many corners turned over I can barely shut it.  Pam’s recipes for retro favourites are on my must-cook list (jammy dodgers!), and so is her fabulous chocolate fudge icing recipe.  I also spied a really gorgeous gluten-free lime and coconut cake that I want to pass on to a Coeliac friend.

There are some really great old-fashioned favourites here, like cherry cake and proper fruit cake, but also some really surprising new ones to try, my faves being a really interesting looking potato and apple cake, plus a twist on the wonderful Battenburg, made with chocolate and hazelnuts.

I love a cookery book that is more than just a collection of recipes.  I want something I can take to bed (or on a plane) and read, and really get a sense of the person writing the book, and the stories behind the recipes.  This book more than delivers.

Don’t be put off thinking this is just another book about cakes.  It’s an absolute must-have for seasoned cakeophiles and beginners alike.  Grab it while it’s hot.

The River Cottage Cakes Handbook is published by Bloomsbury and available now on Amazon, priced £7.68.

Review: I Love Curry by Anjum Anand

Anjum Anand’s Indian Every Day is one of my favourite cookbooks ever.  It’s well-thumbed and a bit covered in bits of food which is always a good sign, I think.  I was delighted, then, when Quadrille Books offered to send me Anjum’s new I Love Curry to review (by the way, I’m not sure if you’re supposed to say ‘I heart curry’ or what, but I gave up trying to put a little heart thing in the title bit here, so you’re stuck with ‘love’ I’m afraid.

There are 54 curry recipes in this book , from yummy nibbles, through to takeaway favourites like Chicken Tikka Masala, through to breads, rice and vegetable dishes, all with Anjum’s healthier approach to Indian food.  I tried the sweet and sour squash (admittedly without the dried mango powder and asafoetida – a trip to Dublin required for those, I fear), but the result was still gorgeous and raised our roast chicken to an entirely new level.

I was also really impressed with the Bengali Yoghurt Fish, which was heavenly.  I used pollock and the overall result was deliciously creamy without being sickly and scented without being overly spicy.

The pictures are really fabulous (call me old fashioned but I love a full-page pic on the opposite page to the recipe) and this beautiful book would make a great Christmas present for a curry lover who fancies having a go at home, or a foodie intent on creating an Indian feast.


I Love Curry is out now, published by Quadrille and available on Amazon priced £8.50.

Review: Catherine’s Italian Kitchen by Catherine Fulvio

Irish people really love Italian food.  The Irish lifestyle of good, simple food, family and, of course, the archetypal Irish Mammy at the heart of every home echoes that of Italy in so many ways.  Catherine  Fulvio is an Irish girl married to a Sicilian, who also runs a successful cookery school (Ballyknocken in County Wicklow), so she has the perfect CV for creating an amazing Italian cookbook.

And what I love about this book is the sheer variety.  There are so many recipes that are obviously favourites from Catherine’s husband’s family and this gives the book real authenticity.  Catherine’s tips add to this: ‘never cut your spaghetti, not even if you are three years old’ made me laugh, as did ‘listen to your mama, she knows best’.

There’s no ‘here’s how to make a pizza base, now bung on anything you fancy’ in this book.  Look out for the pancetta, spinach and three cheese calzone, and the artichoke and pancetta pizza, dotted with olives and sprinkled with lemon zest, it’s an absolute treat and looks beautiful too.

Special mention must go to the bread section – I haven’t stopped baking since my review copy arrived in the post – the  Italian flatbread is easy and gorgeously soft and chewy, and the mozzarella and pancetta filled bread is possibly the yummiest thing ever invented by man (or woman).

Another hit was the Pesto Trapanese – really simple pesto made with toasted almonds instead of pine nuts.  Really delicious and versatile too.  Catherine recommends stirring it into risotto as well as tossing through pasta.

My ‘to do’ list (or sticky out bits of post-it note) for the book include the amaretto and almond truffle torte, which looks lush, and the plum and mascarpone tart, as well as the oven baked fennel sausage and tomato risotto as soon as I can track down some proper Sicilian fennel sausages.  Nomnomnom.

So there you have it.  It’s completely different, in a good way.  And with so many cookery books published all the time that’s no mean feat.  A rare 10/10 for me.

Catherine’s second TV series, Catherine’s Roman Holiday is airing on RTE at the moment, and the book, Catherine’s Italian Kitchen is out now (Gill and Macmillan, €19.99).

Review: Gregg’s Favourite Puddings

I live a weird life. After spending the last week moaning that I’ve put on 9lb since our wedding blessing in September (9lb!, that’s, like, a whole baby), I then felt moved to do this review justice by cooking – and eating – loads of puddings. MasterChef’s Gregg Wallace, yes he of the ‘it’s like a lemon has just picked you up by the ears and given you a big snog’ judgements has released a whole book of puddings. Just to taunt me.

Happily, I have to report, they’re really good puddings. Gregg knows his stuff, and alongside the classics (sticky toffee pudding, chocolate fudge cake), there are some really quirky surprises, such as mocha profiteroles and chocoholic’s alaska.

I tried his ‘proper sponge pudding’ recipe, which was lovely and moist, and also the ‘quick custard’ to go with it (handy when you can’t be bothered to faff about separating 6 eggs).

This is a great reference guide, especially on those ‘what shall we have for pudding?’ moments when planning Sunday lunch, and there’s enough sophistication here to help you with any dinner party.

My one complaint is that, apart from his little introductory sentence before each recipe, it’s quite impersonal, feeling more like a reference book than a collection of his own recipes.  Still, the fantastic ices and mousses section (drool over the spiced mango sorbet with pineapple) more than makes up for it.

In the words of Gregg himself: ‘I’d quite happily put my face in it’.

Gregg’s Favourite Puddings (Octopus Publishing Group) is available now (Amazon price £9.99).

Erica’s week of Annabel Karmel Pasta Recipes

From Erica at

A little while back ok, quite a while back the lovely English Mum asked me to review Annabel Karmel’s book ‘Annabel Karmel’s Top 100 Pasta Recipes’, you see they aren’t big pasta fans over here at English Towers. Of course I was more than happy to oblige, but then I started to worry about how I would keep up the cookery standards you’ve come to expect here on Englishmum’s blog. It’s a well known fact that Englishmum is a baker extraordinaire, even this post involved a bribe for lime and pistachio cupcakes (Englishmum forget my cupcakes and there will be trouble, you hear me?)

Anyway onto fulfilling my end of the bargain, and in answer to the cookery standards quandry I’ve gone with quantity over quality. It was meant to be ‘a week of recipes from Annabel’ (including homemade pasta, with like a pasta making machine and everything), like all the best plans this did not come to fruition and we are left with three recipes (I believe we have a chinese takeaway and a chippy to blame for that *cough*).

Right! So here we have three recipes from Annabel’s book.

Stir-Fried Beef

Chilli Beef

First up was the stir-fried beef recipe. This recipe had a number of processes, a couple too many in my opinion. The beef ended up a bit soggy and the dish on the whole was a bit flavourless. Oh, and I don’t want to rub it in Annabel but my husband said that my own chilli beef recipe was superior in the flavour department (although this may have been in a bid to secure extra conjugal rights *cough*)

Spicy Sausage Meatball Pasta

Meatball Pasta Bake

Moving on then, the second dish we tried was the spicy sausage meatball pasta. This was delicious and very easy to prepare. The little meatballs were particularly tasty, especially as I made my own pesto *insert smug look* which complemented them beautifully. We even managed to get Erin to eat them passing them off as ‘sausage nuggets’ (she’ll only eat things in nugget form, bloody kids eh). Definitely one to try again and this time I’ll make extra meatballs sausage nuggets to freeze.

Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle

Mushroom Tagliatelle

Finally I made mushroom tagliatelle for myself because nobody else likes mushrooms. I made my version with closed cup mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms as I didn’t have any wild ones. It was surprisingly light and very tasty and probably quite low fat as it’s made with creme fraiche. I think you can see that by this point I was finding my feet, see the extra chives on top assembled in decorative manner? I saw that on tv once :)

Overall I’d happily recommend Annabel’s book but if you’re cooking for adults be sure to add some extra flavour into the dishes with extra seasoning, garlic, chilli, whatever’s included and then you’ve got some very nice dishes.

Englishmum, should I send you an invoice for the cupcakes?

Review: ‘Canteen: Great British Food’

Every so often a cookbook drops onto my doormat with a request for a review.  Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t (I’m picky like that).  Recently, I’ve had some absolute crackers though, and this new one from Cass Titcombe, Patrick Clayton-Malone and Dominic Lake, the brains behind the wondrous Canteen restaurants, it’s just fabulous.

First off, it looks and feels really lovely.  It’s got a kind of old-fashionedy brown paper cover, which is soft and tactile,  and is full of wonderful, quirky pictures (check out the stuffed animals dotted about too).

The recipes themselves are classically British, with more than a touch of nostalgia.  Flick through the lovely grainy pages and you’ll find proper, wholesome grub: Slow Roast Pork Belly with Apples, Steak and Kidney Pie (the pies in the book are particularly good), and awesome desserts: Apple Brandy Syllabub and Blackcurrant Jelly with Ice Cream particularly caught my eye.  There’s also a really good cakes and biscuits chapter, and some really useful basics, including pastries and sauces, plus a piccalilli recipe that I can’t wait to try (I know, I know, but Hubby loves it).

Canteen: Great British Food is out now priced £16.99, but it just so happens that I have one of these covetable tomes to give away.  If you’d like to win it, just leave a comment and tell me your favourite nostalgic food.  The winner will be picked by my wondrous BFF, the gorgeous Jen, who is both an amazing cook and mad as a sack of badgers (no, I know the second bit isn’t exactly a desirable qualification for a competition judge, but it’s still true).

PS: I’m over at Baby Budgeting today doing a little sneaky guest posting on budget birthday cupcakes.