The cookbooks that earn their keep


Over the year I’ve written 25 Friday Fives about cookbooks, so 125 different cookbooks, plus one or two other posts about different books, so probably about 135 in total. Which is probably about the same number as around the house here, though not the same 135!

But like most of us then not all 135 have got used! In fact I would say probably not even a quarter. But these are the ones that have definitely not been stuck on the shelf, and are unlikely to be in 2014 either:


Tamasin's Kitchen Bible - this one earns its keep time and time again


Tamsin’s Kitchen Bible – this is just always going to be one of my go to cookbooks. This year I’ve consulted it for sweet and sour pork stir fry, carrot soup, and for Hollandaise. The last one not so successfully, but think that was operator error!


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


Short and Sweet– still loving this book, still working my way through it. I tested the bread recipe against a Paul Hollywood one. I know which is my favourite.


Jamie's Great Britain


Jamie’s Great Britain – I am not a huge Jamie Oliver fan, in fact this is the only one of his cookbooks that I have. But what I’ve made from this I’ve loved. Earl Grey tea loaf, lightly spiced kedgeree, Empire roast chicken, warm crispy duck salad…all lovely, and perfect for sharing with friends.


Arabesque by Claudia Roden - great cookbook to gift to a food lover who loves sunshine flavours


Arabesque – I cook from this whenever I need sunny tastes, or there is a plethora of pomegranate in the house.


Everyday and Sunday


Everyday & Sunday – as you’d expect with recipes from Riverford, I turned to this one to work out what to do with odd things or gluts from the veg box. I’ve done beetroot tzatziki, roasted cauli with chorizo and capers and chermoulah chicken. I can imagine there’ll be some more from here next year too.


Kitchen by Nigella Lawson


Kitchen – I was always Team Nigella, and never more so than this year. I’ve of course continued to cook old favourites from Domestic Goddess, but Kitchen was new to the shelf. It’s been great for good dinners for MGG and I, so simple things like Crispy Chicken Cutlets, barbecued beef mince and Korean keema. My kitchen has been my happy place, I hope it can be for others too.

Williams Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking – this was a gift along with my slow cooker, both of which have got a lot of use. I’ve surprised myself with the dishes I’ve turned out.

Pinterest – ok, I know not a cookbook, but I’ve probably used Pinterest as a recipe resource more than any other book on the shelf. Which seems a bit nuts with all the cook books, but has revealed some gems. There was the Apple and Cream Cheese Bundt Cake, pimping up breakfast with Peanut Butter Bacon Pancakes, an American style supper with Chicken Pot Pie with Bacon & Cheddar dumplings, and then the deliciousness that was Balsamic Beef.

So, looking forward to more cooking in the year ahead, although unsure which cookbooks will be spending more time off the shelf than on. What would be off your shelf? Always love a good recommendation!


The Friday Five – Cooking and Baking a Decade On


I’ve enjoyed this month’s Delicious and Olive magazines as they celebrate 10 years since their first publication. Hard to believe really, particularly as I bought the first issues of each. Which made me think about the books that were heading onto the shelves ten years ago, and these are some of my faves:


How to be a Domestic Goddess - a keepsake gift of a cookbook for any food lover


How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking – well, the hardback had already been out for a bit, but the paperback version came out 10 years ago this month. I still love this book and bake from it on a regular basis, with the brownie recipe still being one of my go to recipes, never fails.


The River Cottage Cookbook - a great cookbook to gift to a food lover who likes it country


The River Cottage Cookbook – I moved out to the Leicestershire countryside ten years ago, and so seasonal cooking, growing my own and a bit more hedgerow foraging was going on. It was the first year I ever made sloe gin, and all from this book. It got lent to friends, and was never seen again. Possibly time to look for another copy. And bless, look how young Hugh looks!


Shakespeare's Kitchen - great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes it cultured


Shakespeare’s Kitchen: Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook – unsurprisingly this one passed me by, and is not sat on my shelf. I would perhaps give this one to a real intellectual cook who likes to share their knowledge. Or someone who is looking for a theme for their turn on Come Dine With Me.


Ainsley Harriott's All New Meals in Minutes - not on my shelves


Ainsley Harriott’s All New Meals in Minutes – I have to say I have never owned an Ainsley Harriott cookbook. I don’t really think I’ve missed out. But ten years ago Ainsley was helping out with the after dinner panic of what to cook in a hurry.


Brian Turner's Favourite British Recipes - great cookbook to gift to a food lover who likes it Yorkshire


Brian Turner’s Favourite British Recipes – I don’t know why I don’t own any of Brian’s books, as I love him. I love his down to earth approach, really robust cooking and pretty humble attitude compared to some. I think this would be a great book, particularly for winter nights.

So, some things have stood the test of time, some were a bit odd even at the time and some have disappeared into the world of supermarket openings and channels some way down your Freeview box listings. I wonder which of this year’s big releases will still be on our shelves at the end of the next decade!


The Friday Five – my birthdays in cookbooks


Bring on the cake!


Lets face it, I’m pretty good at birthdays now. I’ve had more than a few, and I guess friends and family have got the hang by now of my interests and likes! In fact, writing the blog has definitely helped them out, with some of my posts being less than subtle hints! So, as it’s nearly that time of year again, thought I would review those books I’ve received at different times, from different people, and across many different types of food.


Delia's Summer Collection


Delia’s Summer Collection – my mum and dad bought me this one, and it’s even signed by Delia. Think Mum went to what was then Georges on Park Street in Bristol to meet her. I still cook from this each summer, the pan fried halloumi cheese being a standby, and the coconut ice cream still one of my faves. I don’t look at the publication date, it makes me feel old. But this book is timeless. And the photography is still beautiful and evocative of the best summers even now.


Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery – this one came from BFF and her fella, I can’t imagine why! We’ve had some fabulous afternoon teas together, and I’ve baked one or two cakes for them over the years. These are good cupcakes, not over fancy ones in my book, ones where taste of cake is as important as the icing. This is a keeper. Hello Cupcake up for grabs. Never baking from this.


The Book of Tapas by Simone and Ines Ortega – just to show what happens when you have more than one wishlist on Amazon. I use one for storing books for future Friday Fives, and one for stuff I’d really like. And sometimes, some members of the family have got the two mixed up. Sometimes it would work ok. And sometimes, there are times when it doesn’t. This one didn’t see another birthday in the house.


How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Caking – of course, there’s a cake theme, baking, comfort food. My friends know me well. This book is very well-thumbed, and is covered in different cake batters. I don’t think there’s a better recommendation for a cookbook than finding the messiest one on anyone’s shelf!


Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky – this was a follow up to me reading Cod the year before. Great reading, some brilliant recipes, and more stuff than you ever thought you wanted to know about salt. And then some.


So, who knows what the birthday fairy might turn up with this year if I’ve been good? Will keep you posted!



Best apps for British foodies?


It was the start of a long, expensive love affair with my iPhone


I never used to care about my mobile phone. First it just made calls, then texts, and then I really went upmarket and had one with a camera.

And then that one died.

And on a bit of a whim, plus curiosity, I bought an iPhone. And, other than the appallingly short battery life, I love it!

Officially, love it.

Especially for the world of apps that it brings to your fingertips. Before I owned one, someone said to me at a party that you could tell a lot about a person by their apps, and not having one probably told him a lot too. But a look now would confirm what most people know: I love food, drink, eating out, eating in, more food.

There are  a lot of food and drink orientated apps out there, with a lot, of course, directed at the US. So, purely in the interest of research, I’ve been playing with some that seem more intended for those of us here in the UK. Here’s my thoughts:


Jamie Oliver 20 minute meals


Jamie’s 20 Minute Meals– had to start here I guess, given how many zillions of downloads there have been of this. The cheeky chap meets high tech and delivers some pretty good after work dinner recipes in his own style. I like the instructional videos for things like the best way to slice and chop an onion, and also how to organise your kitchen. So yes, this is not aimed at the most experience cooks around, but there will be some people who find this great. Recipe groups include soup, risottos, quick curries, salads and even pudding, something for all kinds of tastes. The very inexperienced cook may find it helpful to have a photo of turning the knob on your oven to the lowest setting, but I think most of us can manage without. I’ve used this at work for quick inspiration, used the shopping list feature and then just knocked something out at home. Pretty good, as long as you don’t have your fingers in a mess for when you need to swipe the screen and you can keep it somewhere where it’s not going to fall in pans of stuff whilst you cook. Currently £2.99.


Nigella's Quick Colletion on the app store


Nigella Quick Collection– where Jamie leads…well, the only amazing thing is that it’s only Nigella from the roster of UK chefs and cooks that seems to have followed. Recipes are sorted, possibly in a Sophie Dahl tribute, by food mood, including comfort, romantic and nibbly. Recipes do have a nifty voice control for going forwards or backwards through the steps, avoiding the possibly messy swiping involved with Jamie’s. The videos look like clips from the TV programmes so not ideal to cook along to, but you can email the recipe to yourself and print it out. The invite function is a cute little quirky extra, and I really like that you can set the units and retailers to UK or US. Is it worth £4.99? I’m not sure, you could buy How to Eat for less than that and have a whole host of meals at your fingertips.


Ocado on the app store


Ocado – this is my favourite app, if only because I normally end up in bed reading Olive or something similar and adding stuff straight away to the next delivery. I love that it gives me options to add everything I’ve had before, or some of it, recommends stuff I might like based on other stuff I’ve bought, and is good on highlighting offers. Bit short on inspiration, but high on convenience.


Zagat on the app store

Zagat – this is obviously a paid for app based on the best selling guide, and does give you the benefit of being a lot lighter to carry around than all the guides. The UK coverage is focused pretty much on London, with over 2,200 entries, compared to 1 in Cardiff. I also find it a bit difficult to navigate, as it’s not intuitive how to go back a step, and seems to need to go back to the start each time. Reviews are concise but interesting, features opening times, credit card policies, and other categories, that include cheese tray served, dessert specialist, game served and winning wine list. I love the out-takes from places that you don’t want to try that pop up too. At £5.99 it’s not the cheapest app, but there’s a lot to it, if you like Zagat’s style.
9 to 5 Food – this is billed as quick, money-saving recipes for busy people, so I guess a little similar to Jamie without the celeb name or production values. And at the same price, I would question whether it really is worth it, and who would buy it other than those of us interested in researching foodie apps. I would say it was pretty basic, very text based and the writing is not that compelling. I wouldn’t waste your money.

iCook Curry


iCook– there is a huge range of cookery styles available in the iCook series, and I’ve been trying iCook Curry. For 59p it’s ok, you could probably Google all the recipes quite easily, but it’s convenient and gives you 18 recipes. Some on here were quite normal (Chicken Tikka Masala) but then included things like Persian Biriyani and Murgh Chana Balti. Instructions are clearly written, but not extensive, but I imagine most competent cooks would be fine with them. The series includes cupcakes and gourmet burgers, and also some more generalist volumes too. Would probably give it a B minus, and could try harder.


Starbucks app


Starbucks– I have no idea what the use of this is, unless I needed to find a decent loo close by. MGG has chosen to create a personalised Venti Strawberries & Cream Frappucino with 20 packets of sugar. At least it’s virtual. It’s up there with the McD’s finder in terms of usefulness to those who enjoy great food.


Good Food Magazine app


GoodFood – the magazine has two apps, festive recipes and healthy eating. I’ve got the latter, although would probably like the recipes in the former better. There’s a pick of the day, recipes for each meal and videos for things like preparing a whole fish or how to grill peppers. It’s okay but not particularly inspiring. At £1.79 I’d save up and buy a copy of the magazine.


Good Food Guide app


Good Food Guide– You don’t need this and Zagat I would say, and this is obviously much more comprehensive in its coverage of the UK. I like the near to me function, giving you everything around where you are, or you can combine this with keywords. The listings include those places that won Reader awards as well as Editors’ awards, those with notable wine lists, and those that have been in the list the longest. I would say this was £4.99 well spent if you want to eat out a lot.

I am sure I’ve not exhausted the list of apps available, as it increases every day, so I’d love to know what you’ve found, what you think I should have a try of. And there are gaps. I can’t find anything relating to farmer’s markets (although you can get a National Farmer app), or much from the big wine makers or retailers. You would have thought that wine pairing would be great as an app. I am sure it will happen!

Meantime, I’m off to the Little Chef to test out their Afghan menu!


The Friday Five – Cakes for Haiti, or anywhere else


One of my faves! Perfect for cakes anytime, especially for fundraising


You may have picked up that today is Cakes for Haiti day, and hopefully you’ve been busy knocking up something delicious! I’ve done blondies and hummingbird muffins, which are new to me. I guess I could have done all cakes or biscuits beginning with h, but that would be taking it a tad too far for me!

So if you need some inspiration for a last minute cake sale, or for a more leisurely bake, then these are the ones I either work from regularly, or wish I had on the shelf.

1. Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache – I know I’m boring, I’ve written about this book several times since I bought it, but I love it. I particularly love it for a) fabulous tasting cakes b) getting veg into things I know kids will eat and c) giving me some new ideas on what to do with the annual courgette glut. Courgette and coconut cake is the way to go, and I adore the Chocolate Beetroot Brownie.

2. Sky High – I am a big fan of the He Eats blog, and regularly have cake envy. Edd regularly bakes from the Sky High book, and they always look fantastic, which is down to his skill. But I so want to have a go. So this is one my wish list!

3. Cake Chic– these are very posh looking cakes from Peggy Porschen, that would be the sort of things I would want to make for a girls get-together. They are not the sort you would knock up in a quick afternoon baking session, but definitely worth it for a big occasion. One to work up to I think, but worth the effort.

4. How to Be a Domestic Goddess – I sort of hesitate to mention this one, as I am sure so many people have this, but it is a book I come back to again and again for baking inspiration. It’s particularly good for baking with kids, or for recipes that you remember from way back but have forgotten how to do.

5. Exceptional Cakes – if you spot a branch of Baker & Spice then worth stopping by for great cakes. If you want to recreate it at home, then this is the book for you. It covers everything you could wish to bake from cakes to muffins, biscuits to doughnuts and meringues. Which should keep everyone happy for at least one round of afternoon tea!

So, whether you bake for Haiti, or just for the joy of it, these would give you some ideas. No matter how depressing a day is, homemade cakes make everything seem just a little bit better!


The Saturday Session – 101 ways with a courgette




Well, not quite, but tonight’s dinner challenge is a different use of courgettes with every course because, like many of you who might grow your own, there’s a courgette glut still on.

I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of the courgette, but I’m coming around. I think it’s too many years of it being served up wet and soggy, either on is own or in some awful bastardisation of ratatouille. More rat than touille I always thought. But I think tonight’s three ways might be about as far away from that as you can get.

Firstly, we’ll be starting with Courgette Hummus, from the Gastrokid cookbook and as featured in last Sunday’s Observer. Sadly, it’ll probably only use up a max of 2 courgettes as there are only 7 of us. Doesn’t sound like you can go too far wrong with this combination of flavours though, what with all the parsley, basil, lemon juice and olive oil. It may just prove to be a way to get more veg into kids, rather than contributing anything distinctive on the flavour front, but it does look a very pretty shade of green. I shall reserve judgement.

Main course is somewhat easier, as there’ll be grilled courgette. This is the way to serve courgettes to non believers, as it is with many veg. Roasting or grilling really brings out a different side to the flavours, slightly sweeter plus that slight smokiness. Of course, chucking good olive oil and rock salt on helps a lot as well!

And for dessert, I’m going the obvious route, which is Flora’s Famous Courgette Cake out of How to be a Domestic Goddess. Although being slightly undomestic goddess like, I will not be whipping up a lime curd this afternoon, although it is worth doing when time allows. If you’re not convinced by the sound of the cake, check out Mouthfuls of Heaven’s report from when she gave it a go.

Whatever is left from the glut I’m thinking of grating and freezing for going into cakes and soups over the winter. Unless anyone has any other interesting recipes for me to give a go? Go on, let me in on your courgette secrets! From A Forkful of Spaghetti comes the delightful sounding courgette pickle, so that’s a good start!

Photo by Indigo Goat.


The Saturday Session

4th July, an excuse for some comfort cooking!
4th July, an excuse for some comfort cooking!

I love Saturdays, it’s when I get to cook properly, thinking about it, without just needing to feed everyone. And particularly I get to bake, which I love. So the Saturday session is just a chance to reflect on some great recipes, as the best gift you might be able to give your foodie, or yourself, is just the time to do something different in the kitchen.

And as today is July 4th, it seems appropriate to have some American themed recipes. I was looking for Nigella’s brownie recipe, but got waylaid by the recipe for pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. At least once on any trip to the US, this is my indulgent breakfast at choice. I wish I’d been organised enough to make it for this morning’s breakfast!

But for a taste of the US, and suitable for my cream tea tomorrow, then I’m going to go for Red Velvet Cake. I’m never sure of the history of this cake, but it definitely seems to be an American thing to me. I love this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and the observations about the cake. There are better tasting cakes, but nothing can beat people’s reaction when they see the colour. It would also make a perfect Halloween cake for kids!

So, start flipping those burgers, get The Boss on in the background, and bake up a storm. For once, it looks like we might have weather worthy of those Independence Day gatherings you always see on Martha Stewart!