The Friday Five – Healthy eating, no fads allowed

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Healthy eating, no fads allowed

 

I don’t have a great record on healthy eating books, or certainly those of a certain mindset around “healthy” eating. Deliciously Ella lasted about 2 days in my house, and a book with a recipe for unicorn fuel is my worst cookbook of the year.

But, it’s January, and many of us are thinking about how we could eat a bit more healthily, whether for health or vanity. These ones are ones that tick the boxes in that they do have proper recipes in (although one may have avocado on toast as a recipe, close call) and are quite clearly geared up to people who like to eat and like to cook.

Jamie Oliver Super Food Family Classics

 

Jamie Oliver Super Food Family Classics

 

I’m not the biggest Jamie Oliver fan, I’ve had a number of his books over the years but none have stayed in the house too long. I was given this one though, and MGG and I have cooked from it a lot. It’s an interesting read, as well as good recipes, and is definitely geared to busy family life. We loved the pesto and curry paste recipes, these are all in the freezer. The only nay from us was the Butternut Squash Mac’n’Cheese. In MGG’s view, some things are not meant to be healthy.

 

Fitness Food/Fitness Gourmet

 

Fitness Food

 

Took me a few moments to work out this is exactly the same book, just in hardback and paperback. I liked this when I reviewed the original version, other than the incident with the coconut pancakes. Still avoid that one, the recipe looks to be exactly the same between the editions. It’s easy to follow, you can work out how to dial up dishes if it’s just you on reduced calories and you’ve got growing teens to cater for too.

 

Cook Nourish Glow

 

Cook Nourish Glow

 

Amelia Freer’s second book, and I thought that with my history I was straying into dangerous territory here. But I managed to get all the way through without one FFS, so pretty good going. There is quite a bit of raw kale, which is a no go with us, but there are plenty of tasty things like chicken breast with ginger and apricot stuffing, or halibut ceviche. I like her writing style, she talks as a fellow adult, and there are plenty of well known people who will testify to the success of her approach.

 

Ready Steady Glow

 

Ready Steady Glow

 

I’m going to get these two confused. Both second books, this one by Madeleine Shaw is about wheat and sugar free, and well written. Although I can live without a yoga routine in my cookbooks if I’m honest, but it’s right at the back so you can skip it. Apricots and chicken feature again, but also something different like slow roast beef cheeks with celeriac mash. Sounds like perfect winter cooking to me, just with healthy overtones.

 

Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet

 

Tom Kerridge's Dopamine Diet

 

Okay, this one isn’t out for a few more days, and I haven’t seen anything of it other than what is on Amazon. Well, that and the change in Tom’s appearance. Let’s face it, he’s about a third of the man he was, but you can’t imagine he’s been living on rice cakes and almond butter. I’m know he’s been putting in the hours at the gym as well (I have a great story about him and a friend of mine in the sauna at the gym…nothing remotely mucky, all about getting a table at the Hand & Flowers), but I reckon if this worked for Tom then it must be good, and very tasty. I mean, you won’t think you’re on a diet if you’re eating braised beef with horseradish or Chinese pork hot pot. I may well have to order this one and give it a go.

 

Whilst I’m definitely gearing up to eat more healthily this year, I’m also not going to eat joyless food. Finding healthy food with taste is the goal, along with an awful lot more movement. Don’t wish to be a bore but loving my FitBit, really is making me think about how long I’m sat still for. Talking of which, time to move!

 

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My worst cookbook of 2017

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Ok, I know what you’re thinking.

It’s only the 4th, there’s a lot cookbooks to go at this year.

Nope, this is going to top them all. This is my worst cookbook of the year, hands down. It probably will be up there in my all time worst cookbooks ever. It’s probably vying for top spot with Deliciously Ella.

 

Eat With Intention - my worst cookbook of 2017

 

Eat With Intention is just not for me, and here’s why:

  1. Any cookbook that has me saying FFS several times by page 29 is probably not boding well. Although obviously I feel sympathy for the problems her brother faced.
  2. I don’t need my cookbooks to offer up a daily visualisation or meditation.
  3. I don’t need my cookbooks to give me a daily mantra.
  4. I don’t need a recipe for Unicorn Fuel. FFS, I’m not a 9 year old. Although that’s probably because I’m not attuned to my magic, the mantra for that day.
  5. I don’t need a recipe for AB&J rice cakes. I can manage to get almond butter onto a rice cake without a recipe. If you can call spread a tablespoon of almond butter on a rice cake a recipe. But then again I’m already comfortable with the ease and flow of life, so could skip that recipe and mantra.

So look, some people will love this book. Cassandra Bodzak is probably an incredibly nice person and, let’s face it, she’s having the last laugh here. She has a book deal, a TV channel, a post as a healthy living guru…and I’m just an overweight, middle aged wage monkey with a little blog and an unmagical approach to cook books.

But then, as the mantra on page 195 says, I appreciate both the sweet and sour in my life. I look forward to the sweetness of good food writing ahead. The bar’s not exactly been set high!

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The Friday Five – the best cookbooks of 2016 around the world

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Your own library of cookbooks

 

It’s no secret that I love cookbooks, and I love to give cookbooks as gifts. With so much choice though, it can be completely overwhelming, which is why those best of lists are so helpful. My only challenge is that they can be a little bit samey, from the same voices. So, I’ve looked a bit further afield to see what publications around the web have offered their readers, and taken my choices from there.

 

Better Baking: wholesome ingredients, delicious desserts

 

Better Baking by Genevieve Ko – from the Washington Post’s list, starting off with a baking book, but one that focuses on different flours, fats and sweeteners. A Melting Walnut Snowball sounds like perfect Christmas baking to me. Good to see some UK talent makes the list, including Chetna Makan and Diana Henry. Was also a close run thing to make this entry Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten, as I do love these two. Maybe order both?

 

Food52: a new way to dinner

 

Food52 A New Way to Dinner – up to Canada now for this list from the Ottawa Citizen. Again, good to see Diana Henry on the list, but I’ve chosen this one from the team at Food52. This is to tackle weekday dinners, the just feed us all now kind of dinners. Each of the sections gives you the recipes and the shopping lists, and gives you weekday choices, many that riff one off the next so you can always work out what to do with leftover ingredients. Great for busy working people who like to cook for themselves.

 

Meathead: The Science of Great Grilling

 

Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling – this one comes from Wired’s list of cookbooks of 2016, not a publication I would have expected to have this feature but a really interesting list if you’re looking for books that do the science of cooking as well as tasty dishes. If you’ve got a really keen grillmaster or mistress to buy for, this book would up their game to a whole new level, not to mention giving them some new recipes to go at. Expect a lot of conversations about the benefits of reverse searing.

 

All Under Heaven

 

All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China – as you might expect from the Bay area, this is a fabulous book of Chinese recipes from across this huge country, written by a San Francisco based food blogger and writer. From the San Francisco Times list, this is described as detailed and academic, hefty but a pleasure to read. Definitely one for those who love their Chinese food authentic and varied.

 

An: To Eat

 

An: To Eat – finally, from Gear Patrol’s list, comes this exploration of Vietnamese cooking from Helene An. Exploring her family’s story through cooking, this gives over 100 recipes including things like oven-roasted lemongrass chicken and slow roasted pork shoulder. In fact all the books on the Gear Patrol list were a bit different and, with the exception of Tim Anderson’s book, not ones that I’d come across before.

So, some different choices, some different lists and possible extra brownie points on Christmas Day. Or some extra books on your own bookshelves. I consider that a win either way.

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My fail safe cookbooks to gift to anyone

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I love cookbooks, as many areas of my house would testify. And my favourites are well thumbed, and probably covered in cooking stains, which to me is the badge of a successful book. I’ve also given quite a number of cookbooks to other people over the years, and I know which ones people come back to tell me they’ve used, even if they were reluctant cooks and bakers.

So these may not be the newest, flashiest or cheapest books on the shelves this Christmas, but these cookbooks are ones that I think earn their keep year after year, and every home should have some if not all of them.

 

Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard - my favourite baking book ever

 

Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard

I’ve given quite a number of copies of this over the years, because it’s my favourite baking book. It’s also crammed full of incredible recipes, brilliant technique and great photos, written in a way that just makes you want to get into the kitchen straightaway! I love Dan’s writing, and his recipes, and I love to share this book.

 

River Cottage Family Cookbook - great gift for learner cooks

 

The River Cottage Family Cookbook

This is a great book for people with kids who want to cook, as it’s written in a way that’s really accessible for kids to read and follow, but not in a patronising way. It’s also great building blocks of cooking so allowing them to move beyond the basics and produce “proper” meals. It’s also a great book for those who say they don’t know how to cook.

 

The Social Bite Cookbook

 

The Social Bite Cookbook

I give this one because it’s a good cookbook that does good too. I love Social Bite, think it’s the most fantastic busienss, and I am so pleased to see them going from strength to strength, allowing them to do more good work. Look, if George Clooney thinks it’s a good thing, who am I to argue? If your Secret Santa budget is £10, spend it on this.

 

The New English Kitchen

 

The New English Kitchen by Rose Prince

The subtitle to this is how to make your food go further, and I think that the year ahead could be a tough one, and that we might all be tightening our belts just a bit further again. I fell in love with this book whilst on holiday this year, and just think it’s one that you’d end up dipping into time and time again, particularly when trying to work out what to do with leftovers, or stretch a piece of meat to cover more than one meal, or more people. Not short on taste or interesting recipes, I think it’s a keeper.

 

Star Wars Cookbook - for great food in this galaxy and beyond

 

The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookies Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes

Ok, this one is a bit of stuff and nonsense, but it is Christmas after all, and I know that this book is always a winner with anyone with even a passing love of Star Wars. I’ve bought more niche cookbooks over time, but none more loved or laughed over than this one. Love seeing people’s faces when they open this one.

 

So, these are my fail safes, that I think you can gift to just about anyone and be sure of a winner for them, and also for when they start cooking and baking from them. I’d love to know what your go to books to gift to someone else are, and why. And what’s the best one that you’ve ever received and would not now be without?

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How to liven up lunchtime in the office

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Made In the Office - tasty meals in the office kitchen

 

I really liked the premise of this book, Made in the Office, as there are many days when a sandwich at lunch in the office is really not very inspiring. This is all about how to step it up a gear with just a kettle, a toaster and a microwave, which I think most offices can run to.

Now, the breakfasts are lots of versions of porridge, but most of these sound better than the sachet stuff that goes in the microwaves at our office. The thought of trying eggs florentine at work is interesting, but I might give it a go at home first.

 

Easy eggs florentine in the office

I like the sound of the lunches, although some of them sound like they’d have people tutting in the microwave queue as they take a little while. I mean, 6 minutes for quinoa and then another 1 minute, and there’s going to be a bit of eye rolling going on. And cooking salmon in the microwave in the office is a little unsociable I think, but other than that things like a burrito bowl with chicken, feta and sweetcorn sound amazing.

 

Salmon on Asian Slaw

 

Covering breakfast, light and more substantial lunches as well as some snacks to keep you going, this is a lovely little book. I think it makes a great gift because it’s just a bit different as a theme for a cookbook, but a situation that many of us can relate to. Written by Rachel Maylor and published by Frances Lincoln, this is currently £12.08 on Amazon.

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The Friday Five – Back to school and learning new cooking skills

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Back to school time: what new cooking skill will you learn?

 

It’s that time of year, pretty much every school is now back, and you might even be considering night school. If you’re not up for evening classes, but want to learn a new school then here are five books for learning new cooking, brewing and possibly eating and drinking skills.

 

Learn to cook wheat, gluten and dairy free

 

Learn to Cook Wheat, Gluten and Dairy Free by Antoinette Savill

If free from is about to be a thing for you, through need or want, then a good cookbook is probably a great start, as there will be some some new things to know when you start cooking without things you might have been cooking with all your life to date. This gives you 100 recipes step by step, and includes my favourite thing in a cookbook: a photo of every finished dish.

 

Bakeclass

 

Bakeclass: Learn to bake brilliantly step by step by Anneka Manning

Bake Off is back, so baking is high on the conversation agenda, and everyone wondering how to bake half the stuff on there. For a more down to earth starting point, then I like this book from Anneka Manning. I like that this gives you the building blocks of the ten most common mixing methods, as that gives you the knowledge and skill to take your baking in any direction. Even to the Bake Off tent.

 

Brew Better Beer

 

Brew Better Beer by Emma Christensen

Home brewing is definitely back, and I love that this book is about learning the rules, and how to break them for a huge variety of beer styles. A bit like Bakeclass, this would be a great leaping off point once you’ve got some good basic knowledge. You’ll probably have something ready in time for Christmas if you start now.

 

How to Smoke Meat

 

How to Smoke Meat by Martha Stephenson

You might be thinking end of the summer, BBQ’s back in the garage and the smoky flavours are over. Well, this book might help you think differently. I think it would be a pretty impressive thing to serve up to friends a platter of smoked meats that you’ve made yourself. It would also give you something else to do with the turkey leftovers at Christmas!

 

Learn to Spice Up Your Food

 

Learn to Spice Up Your Food by Gordon Rock

This is not about spicy food, but certainly food with flavours, and lots of them. It’s one of those things I often think about when watching Bake Off, as there’s normally one person at least who really pushes the flavour combinations. With knowledge to share, and recipes to work through, then it’s a practical guide that you’ll want to get stuck into.

 

So, if you could learn a new cooking skill, what would it be? Or what have you learned recently? I’d love to know.

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More to food at uni than PopTarts and Pot Noodles

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university-beckons

 

So, the results are out, places have been accepted, courses have been changed and plans are really taking shape. Which means planning for life without the parental kitchen.

How do you make sure your kids are set up for success, and at least given the skills to consider some sort of cooking and healthier eating?

It depends where they’re starting from of course. If they’ve been your kitchen helper from being small, then probably your only worry is frisking them on the way out the door to discover what kitchen equipment they’re trying to take with them.

If they’ve never, ever cooked, not even toast, then you have two approaches: one, ignore it. If you haven’t taught them anything so far, unlikely to get much to take in the weeks left. Or two, crash course, work through Delia’s Complete How to Cook Book at some pace. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between. Maybe skip Christmas dinner if that’s in the book.

And if they’re somewhere in between, then send them off with some decent knives, some decent saucepans and possibly a casserole dish or slow cooker. A slow cooker is one of my favourite bits of kit for turning cheap cuts into delicious dinners, and with not a big impact on the electric bill.

If you want some more detailed ideas sorted by what level their current cooking ability and interest is then check out my post “You’re going to uni. Now what?” Or if you want to send them off with a cookbook or two, then I’ve written about alternative student cookbooks, and a personal perspective on the five books I’d dispatch MGG with.

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Keeping the kids entertained with jars

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How to keep bored kids entertained in the kitchen

 

It’s that stage in the holidays where the kids start moping around, complaining that they’re bored, and parents are running short of ideas.

Well, this book might help. Mason Jar Nation, whilst not purely food or drink idea based, could provide a few hours entertainment for the kids. It could end up producing something for dinner, or something to carry to a picnic, or some other craft projects, although these are probably more suitable for older kids.

And much older if it’s the Pineapple Vodka!

 

Mason Jar Nation - great cookbook gift for a food lover with kids to entertain

 

Of course it’s all been about the Mason jar, which you may or may not have hanging around the house. Personally I think the trend has probably reached a peak, and you could do many of these with any fairly robust glass jar you have hanging around the house.

I mean, if you’re going to try making homemade butter with them (which would be great fun) then then the butter isn’t going to know it’s being churned in a Mason jar or a leftover jam jar, just as long as the lid is tight fitting.

A nice little book, not worth the full price though but there are options on Amazon from £4.73.

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What do food lovers get for wedding presents?

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What do you get food lovers for a wedding present?

 

Hopefully not some of the things that we get as food lovers as Christmas! Maybe it’s just indicative that I’m at that age where there aren’t so many weddings, but I haven’t written about wedding gifts in six years.

Given that I’ve been through a few life experiences since the last wedding I went to (and it’s usually best not to mention that at a wedding) I wondered if I’d feel differently about advice I’d given. Well, here goes!

 

Surely there's a wedding gift more interesting than towels?

 

Buy off the list. Unless the list is dull.

Now, generally I still think if the couple have gone to the trouble of putting together a wedding list, then generally it’s better to stick to their list. Unless you’ve not been organised and got to it too late to find anything either in your budget, or interesting to give. And therefore I would stick with the original plan.

I found myself in this situation once, and it’s why I ended up breaking that rule, and went off list, and adopted an olive tree for them with Nudo. Was still a better bet than the two flannels that fell in my budget.

 

Add an extra food loving something to their honeymoon

 

Do something for their honeymoon

Yes, this could still be a great idea, if the destination is not secret, as it’s easier than ever to find foodie tours or cooking classes most places in the world with a click of the mouse. Just maybe check in that it’s not the kind of honeymoon with an hour by hour itinerary.

 

Fortnum & Mason Beemaster's Hamper

 

A hamper for their return

Let’s face it, coming back from any holiday is depressing, so a honeymoon must be doubly so. A hamper of gorgeous goodies, preferably things that would make a good carpet picnic, is still an idea that I think could go down well.

 

Add to their cookbook collection

 

Checking other wishlists

If the first bit of advice is holding true, and the official wedding list is not inspiring you, then checking whether they have things like an Amazon wishlist for some alternatives, particularly in the cookbook or kit area, might be a great idea for something more interesting than towels. It might be more things they really want, than things they think they ought to have, which I do think sometimes happens with wedding lists.

 

Date night!

 

Book a date night for the future

Originally my advice was about trying to book them a table at their must do restaurant for post honeymoon. But perhaps on reflection it could also be about buying something they can go off and do together? A wine tasting or a cookery class perhaps? You could try local to the bride and groom businesses, or try somewhere like Red Letter Days for a great selection nationwide.

 

To be fair, none of this has held up for the weddings I’m attending. One asked for travel vouchers, another for donations to a hot tub fund. Let’s face it, most of us have all the china we need, so why not? Or maybe even we need nothing at all, and donations to good causes seems to be on the rise as well.

Still, all more interesting than towels!

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The Friday Five – Summer Party Time

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Bring on the summer parties

 

It’s that time of year when we have a handful of birthdays to celebrate and also the thought of just gathering a few, or even a lot of, friends around the big table outside to celebrate the one decent day of sunshine of the summer. I don’t need much excuse to cook for a group, and often serve them up new dishes.

Let’s face it, they’re my loved ones, so you’d hope they’d forgive the occasional recipe mishap.

Yes, Mat, I know, you hated my gluten free bread.

It was 8 years ago.

I think you have to let it go.

So, if you fancy some inspiration for a big gathering, here’s five great books to give you plenty of ideas to keep you entertained as a cook, not just your guests.

 

Cook up a Feast with Mary Berry & Lucy Young

 

Cook up a Feast

Let’s face it, Mary Berry has definitely cooked up a few gatherings in her time, and given how long her writing relationship with Lucy has been, then these two know a thing about tried and tested crowd pleasing dishes. I mean, bacon and water chestnut bites with mango chutney sound like my kind of nibble to stave people off whilst I’m finishing off cooking. And a Moroccan platter sounds like a good sharing plate. What’s lovely about Mary’s books are that it’s a little bit of everything good to eat, not in loads of depth but enough to give you some great dishes.

 

Mezze: Small Plates to Share

 

Mezze – Small Plates to Share by Ghillie Basan

Now, this title desribes exactly the kind of thing I love to serve for a get together. I love Mediterranean flavours, and a platter of great dips and good breads, maybe some cold meats, some feta and watermelon…well, it’s summer on a platter to me. There are recipes for cold and hot dishes, as well as sweet, so something for everyone. Or just make a huge bowl of something like the labna with saffron, apricots and pistachios and stuff for dipping and that might do the trick.

 

Party Perfect Bites

 

Party-perfect bites

If it’s smaller bits you want to serve, then this is a great book, without things being over-engineered or poncey. This has sections inspired by different cuisines from the Americas to India. Fun to make, easy to eat, more time for garden games. Or cocktails

 

Terry & George - Feeding Friends

 

Terry & George – Feeding Friends

I’ve never heard of Terry and George, but given Mark Hix seems to rate them, that’ll do for me. They’re apparently famous for pop up events and are apparently Britain’s most fashionable foodies according to some. But it sounds appealing in this is classic British dishes with a twist, a sense of fun, and they sound delicious. Also says the recipes are filled with northern soul, so as a long time northerner, sounds good to me.

 

Thug Kitchen Party Grub

 

Thug Kitchen Party Grub: Eat Clean, Party Hard

A summer party does not mean huge chunks of grilled meat for some. I featured Thug Kitchen’s first book, and this one covers how to make vegan parties inspiring and delicious. Starting at breakfast, this runs all the way through amazing dinners to desserts and even the cocktails. Irreverent but delicious ideas.

So, it’s been a pretty rubbish summer so far, so let’s hope there are some sunny days ahead to enjoy food outdoors, jugs of Pimms, some cold beers, the sound of Jenga blocks collapsing and general laughter and merriment. Sounds like bliss to me. What’s your standby summer party dish?

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