The Best Recipe Books Ever – So Far

Yesterday’s post was about how I learned to cook. Today’s is about sharing with you some of my favourite cookery books.

Let us start with the first book that made a huge difference to the way I thought about, bought, prepared and ate my food.

For me this came when I bought Nigel Slater’s, Appetite.

It is a simple book which is not hugely heavy on recipes, despite its heft. Rather it is about how to enjoy your food, how to get the best flavours out of the things you buy and eat, and how to relish different types of food for different occasions. It demystifies a lot of cheffy behaviour, tells you exactly what you can do without in terms of kitchen equipment etc, and gives you permission to experiment wildly.

When you have to cook in a thrifty way there is a danger that your food will become pedestrian, and that because many of your choices are boxed in by cost, that you will forget the pleasures of beautifully prepared, simple, perfect ingredients.

Nigel reminds you how to make a basic loaf that tastes like heaven, cook a perfect piece of meat, or enjoy a really simple home made custard. There is nothing Michelin starred here. He shows you how to cook real food, for ordinary cooks, and do it with panache.

The book is what I would recommend to all would be cooks. I wouldn’t bother with Delia’s epic tomes on ‘How to Cook,’ or Nigella’s utterly messy ‘How to Eat’. I’ve never got on with Delia. She isn’t the cook for me. Nigella, I love, but her book on how to eat is messy, and difficult to read and use, and actually only really for people who already know what they’re doing, or who are prepared to spend an age finding out.

Nigel keeps things simple. He tells you how to find good ingredients, which herbs go well with what, what to look for in a cut of meat or a piece of fish. He tells you basic rules of thumb as regards to roasting pretty much anything, and all those niggling little things that you need to know, but don’t actually know you need to know until you’re in the thick of it. These are often things which other cookery writers will assume you know, and then you find yourself panicking.

There is a brilliant New Cook’s Survival guide in the front of the book which I have read so many times the page is utterly trashed and there are places where the words are illegible due to stains and rips where the pages have stuck together. The few recipes there are are absolutely key to cooking good, delicious meals. He also offers you lists of alternatives which you can use the same methods for, as well as easy ‘cheat’ meals including the fact that a Kit Kat can make an excellent pudding.

It is a book I’ve owned for nearly twenty years and one I find myself going back to whenever I have a kitchen based wobble. It is indispensable.

I have all of his cookery books, but my other truest loves are Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries, volume I and volume II. I don’t cook many of the things in them, although what I have cooked has always been delicious. What I do do is revel in every single word Nigel puts on paper. I LOVE HE.

My next choice has to be Nigella Lawson’s  How to Be A Domestic Goddess. Say what you like about the woman, she knows her cakes. I have cooked so many of the recipes in this book that it is quite literally falling apart, and if you want to know how to bake, this is the book for you. Her style is chatty and confiding. Her recipes are simple, well thought out and easy to follow. The only recipe of hers I take issue with is her chocolate brownies, which I have only ever managed to bake successfully once. Everything else is foolproof. There are good sections on breads, pastry and pies as well.

My third pick is one of the newest books I have, and that is Liberty London Girl, Sasha Wilkins’ book Friends, Food, Family. Regular readers will no doubt be bored rigid by my raptures over this book, but in the short time I have owned it I have used it time and time again. In common with my two previous books it is written beautifully, and in the anecdotal style I like. It is also, crucially, well thought out in terms of layout, design and how the recipes are grouped. All the recipes are well written and turn out as promised and it is a brilliant, every day cookery book with some triumphant, special dishes for those moments when you want a wow factor. It is a book I will be using for years to come.

My next choice is another baking book. If you like your cakes, and you know we do, here at Boo Towers, then Jo Wheatley’s A Passion For Baking, is a must. I have baked a great many of the things in it, and all of them have been good. I did have a problem with one of the recipes, once (a biscuit recipe I believe), where I could not get the mixture to work. I tweeted Jo, and she replied pretty instantly with a fix I could try, which worked. I was incredibly impressed. Her chocolate Malteser and ganache cake has won over even Jason and my dad, who do not like chocolate cake, and as far as I’m concerned she is a star. The recipes are simple to follow and work every time.

For Indian food, which we also eat a lot of, I cannot recommend Anjum Anand highly enough. I don’t get on at all with Madhur Jaffrey, who is the doyenne of the Indian cookery book world. I find her recipes time consuming and inconsistent in quality and flavour. Anjum however, nails it every time for me. Her recipes are easy to follow and don’t all require hours of grinding curry paste and marinading. Yet everything we have eaten which I have made from her recipes tastes fantastic. I particularly love her book Anjum’s New Indian, because her Anglo Indian shepherd’s pie dish is second to none, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love it.

These are my cookery main stays. The books that I would take with me if I had to run away somewhere. The indispensable volumes that I can’t imagine being without.

I do have a great many other cookery books and special dispensation goes to Jamie Oliver’s first book The Naked Chef, for teaching me how to cook my first, proper risotto. The River Cafe Cookbook for an incomparable spaghetti with parmesan, lemon and olive oil; Niamh Shields’ Comfort and Spice for new flavours and inspiration, and Manly Food by Simon Cave for helping me to make my husband a very happy man at so many meal times.

What are your favourites?

10 responses to “The Best Recipe Books Ever – So Far

  1. Always Nigel for me, he is simply inspirational. Simon Hopkinson and Matthew Fort are other favourites; cakes I rarely make, so I don’t need a whole book for that.

  2. Nigel Slater and Simon Hopkinson are favourites of mine, too. They both clearly enjoy food – real proper food, that is, not just gimmicky stuff or fashionable ingredients; and both make dishes to which I actually respond ‘Yes, please’ rather than ‘So what/ yuck/ why, in heaven’s name?’.
    Like my ma before me, I enjoy cookery books almost more to read than to use, so I have lots in that category, too, from ‘Tante Marie’s French Kitchen’ (Hollandaise sauce is sooo simple)(um – maybe not, Madame) to ‘Emelie Waller’s Cookery & Kitchen Book for Slender Purses’ (enough to make you want to give up and live on cheese and biscuits, frankly).

  3. Having worked in a bookshop for 8 yrs before I had children my cookbook collection is vast! But my particular favourites are any Bill Granger ones, Rachel Allen Home Cooking, Nigella’s Christmas ( only book we’ve made nearly every recipe) and my very well used Good Housekeeping Cookbook. I also have a few vintage 60’s and 70’s ones I love too. x

  4. I was given the 1997 Joy of Cooking when I got married. I go to it whenever I have a basic ingredient cooking question and it has the answer most times. It’s so heavy that it’s good for pressing paper flat as well. I need to buy the Smitten Kitchen cookbook because I use recipes from Deb Perelman’s website all the time and they are wonderful.

  5. I also love trying out Smitten Kitchen recipes because she really really test drives them before you get them. But my go to is the huge and unwieldy A Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander (Down Under person here) because it has just about everything in it you could possibly ever want to cook. I’ve only ever really hated one recipe but then I was trying to make it do something it wasn’t designed to.

  6. I am loving these recommendations from Australia. New names to try. What joy. x

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