I am not a natural cook. While my husband can throw back-of-the-fridge ingredients together and create something delicious and knows instinctively what flavours go well together, I need the guidance of recipes. Which is perhaps why I love cook books so much.
I love the inspiration cook books bring, showing me dishes I’d never have thought of myself. I love flicking through their pages and feeling my mouth start to water at all the possibilities, and I love the calming reassurance of being told what to do, step by step. When life feels overwhelming and things seem out of my control it’s nice to spend an hour or so following someone else’s directions in the knowledge that if I add the right ingredients and cook for the right amount of time, things will turn out OK.
Like many people, during lockdown I’ve turned to cooking as a way to unwind and find comfort. I didn’t quite tackle sourdough (I can barely keep plants alive so don’t fancy my chances with a starter) but in the spring I baked hot cross buns and banana bread and on low days whipped up cupcakes and scones to be slathered in cream and jam. Now with the days getting shorter I’m finding myself wanting to spend more time in our little sunshine-yellow kitchen making stews, roasts and hot chocolate from scratch (this is my go-to recipe).
I start each week with something of a ritual: taking down a pile of cook books from the shelf and picking recipes for the week. I then head to the supermarket to stock up on what we’ll need. I used to find supermarket shopping pretty anxiety-enducing – the endless aisles, the endless choices and too many people in an enclosed space. But with the help of cook books my food shop has become so much easier. And when I’ve chosen a recipe I’m excited to try cooking becomes something to look forward to, not just another chore. Here are the cook books I find myself reaching for again and again…
My favourite cook books
The Roasting Tin, by Rukmini Iyer
If you flicked through my copy of The Roasting Tin you’d come across endless pages splattered with sauce or smudged with mucky thumbprints, which is testament to how much I use and love this book. All the recipes require just one tin and are real bung-in-the-oven dishes that still somehow taste totally delicious. I often use these recipes when hosting friends (pre-lockdown of course!) because they’re so tasty but so easy that you don’t have to spend your time in the kitchen while your guests are chatting. I also have two of Rukmini’s other books, The Green Roasting Tin (veggie and vegan recipes) and The Quick Roasting Tin and they are equally as loved (and splattered). I’d describe these books as books for people who enjoy eating more than they enjoy cooking (that’s me!).
Favourite recipe: crispy baked gnocchi with tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and pine nuts (the easiest but cosiest, tastiest dish)
Honey and Co, Food from the Middle East, by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich
My friends and I have become super fans of Sarit and Itamar. Our favourite place to meet is their restaurant Honey and Co, where the Middle Eastern food served is so delicious we all bought copies of their cook book after our first visit. We used to have an informal cook book club where we’d cook food together from the same cook book at each other’s houses. The idea was to use a different book each time but we ended up going back to this book about three or four times we loved it so much. We also all went to a signing of theirs together so we could meet them and get our books signed and it was difficult to reign in our groupie-like excitement. The recipes are a little higher up the ‘faff’ scale, but always worth it for the wonderful flavours.
Favourite recipe: peaches and goats’ cheese salad with roasted almonds
Bazaar, Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes, by Sabrina Gayhour
Another favourite from our cook book club is Sabrina Gayhour. We’ve made things from several of her books but this is my favourite. The veggie recipes are so tasty and include a mix of smaller dishes designed for feast-style eating as well as heartier mains.
Favourite recipe: lemon, black pepper, pecorino and cabbage rice
Fireside feasts and snow day treats
I discovered this book when house sitting for a friend last month. Yes, I am that house guest who can’t help but go through your bookshelves… It was pouring with rain while I was there and this book jumped out at me like a big cosy hug. I’ve since searched out my own secondhand copy and I can tell it’s going to be a book I return to regularly in autumn and winter.
Favourite recipe: spicy pork stew with sweet potatoes and beans
The Happy Kitchen, Good Mood Food, by Rachel Kelly
I love the concept of this book. Rachel worked with a nutritionist to develop recipes designed to aid good mental health. They’re based on research surrounding the link between what we eat and our mood and the recipes are split into chapters based on a different aspect of mental health such as good sleep and beating the blues.
Favourite recipe: kale and butternut squash salad
Midnight Chicken, by Ella Rusbridger
This is a beautiful cook book, a book to read just as much as a book to cook from. The recipes are designed to bring comfort and joy and are written with such gentleness. I particularly enjoy the odd instruction to pour yourself a glass of wine at crucial stages of the preparation, just because.
Favourite recipe: midnight chicken (this has become my go-to roast chicken recipe)
Bosh!, Simple Recipes Amazing Food All Plants, by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby
I recently asked for cook book recommendations on social media and this was the book that came up the most – so I bought it! The all plant-based recipes are hearty, tasty and easy to make.
Favourite recipe: satay sweet potato Bosh! bowl
Leon, Happy One-Pot Cooking, by Rebecca Seal and John Vincent
Like The Roasting Tin, this book is full of tasty but simple recipes that are low on the washing up. I particularly love their ‘cosy and warm’ section – perfect for this time of year.
Favourite recipe: sausage, brussels and tagliatelle
Cook book reading list
These books are on my list to buy and try. Lots came to me via recommendations on social media so thank you if you shared one of these!
- Simply, by Sabrina Gayhour
- One Pan Pescatarian, by Rachel Phipps
- River Cottage Veg, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
- East, by Meera Sodha
- Dishoom cookbook, by Shamil Thakrar
- Mowgli Street Food, by Nisha Katona
- Mediterranean Every Day, by Sheela Prakash
- Deliciously Ella, Quick and Easy
- The Moosewood Cookbook, by Mollie Katzen
- The Little Library Cookbook, by Kate Young
- Hemsley and Hemsley, The Art of Eating Well, by Jasmine Hemsley and Melissa Hemsley
- Together, The Hubb Community Cookbook
Do you use cookbooks? What’s the book you reach for most frequently? I’d love to hear your recommendations!
P.S I’m going to do another post soon on my favourite baking books – there are too many to fit in here!