Food and the art of cookbooks: My top five

I’m late to TV’s The Restaurant , BBC 2’s reality show backed and financed by chef legend Raymond Blanc.
For the similarly uninitiated, couples compete for the chance to run a business with the master by running real restaurants with mixed success.
Last night’s challenge involved three completely hopeless attempts at pitching a cookbook. One couple came up with what was intended to be a child-friendly title “Conquering Cabbage” (one can only assume “beating broccoli” and “canoodling carrots are soon to follow). Another couple (one half of which should get a special award for smugness) came up with something called “The cheerful soul” which disappointingly wasn’t even a fish cookery pun but just a mawkish collection of “childhood favourites” and the final one had so many errors in the text that recipes required that water be mixed with water.
In fact they were all so incredibly awful it did leave me wondering whether any of the participants actually read cookbooks.
I do read cook books – and I mean read. I’m quite happy curled up on the sofa going through my favourite books without any intention of cooking!
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So I decided to draw up my all time top five cookbooks as of now. That is, before the Christmas sackfall arrives to start another year of culinary adventures.
1. 1,500 recipes by Marguerite Patten Maybe it’s because this is the first cookbook my mum gave me when I set up home alone but I think it has more to do with the fact that this massive tome is so incredibly useful. The recipes are arranged in different labelled sections “quick suppers”, “main meals etc”. The instructions are all simple to follow and, although there’s no real illustrations, it is full of useful technical tips too.
2. The Moro Cookbook by Samantha and Samuel Clark.
This betrays my love of eastern Mediterranean cuisine and is what gets pulled off the shelf for posh nosh. Having said that there’s some everyday stuff in there too – the veggie stew Turlu, Turlu being a particular favourite. The downside of this book is the difficulty of sourcing some of the ingredients (pomegranate molasses for example) but if you go alomg with the general idea of the recipe, there’s usually a way round it.
3. The Silver Spoon
I am informed that Italian brides are routinely give this as a wedding gift. And very comprehensive it is too. The content is divided by course in the Italian way and there a good selection of illustrations. Although a good read, I have had mixed results with this book, finding some of the recipes frustratingly a little advanced.
4. Superfoods Michael van Straten
This is one of those books that gets read regularly as it has such a mine of information about the different nutritional qualities of food. Here the content is divided into touchy-feely values such as “positive thinking” and most of the recipes are to do with assembling ingredients to resemble the lovely photography featured rather than cooking technique.
5. How to be a domestic goddess by Nigella Lawson
I don’t do much baking (not having much of a sweet tooth) but if I do need to make a cake, this is the book I turn to. Easy to follow with the now expected gorgeous pictures even I can bake a passable chocolate cake in 40 mins using this book.
Do you share any of my choices? What’s your favourite? Let me know below.

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5 thoughts on “Food and the art of cookbooks: My top five

  1. I don’t share any favourites with you there, though ‘Appetite’ by Nigel Slater is always a book I revisit, and “Roast Chicken and other stories” by Simon Hopkinson is always good for inspiration.

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  2. I love cooking and love cookbooks too, although my style is more Nigel Slater chuck-it-all-in-the-pot than weighing everything to the last gram and following a recipe exactly. That said, I own many cookbooks and have several favourites.
    An essential for dipping into is Jocasta Innes’ The Pauper’s Cokbook (now sadly out of print, with a nasty co-written updated version available that is nowhere near as good). Many of my staples were drawn from this.
    I also have the Marguerite Patten – as you say, it’s so useful!
    For gastroporn for reading pleasure, anything by Elizabeth David plus Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries (widely copied but miles ahead of all imitators). Actually, I love all Slater’s books simply because we cook the same way, by improvisational instinct.

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  3. @Louise – I agree with regards to Slater. I loved Toast (not a cookbook tho) and regret dontaing it to a second-hand books pile.
    @jonthebeef thnx for the tip on Roast Chicken. will check out.

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  4. Silver Spoon is sensational. The diagrams of the differences between cuts of meat in Britain and Italy alone would be worth the price, but if you add the recipes for roman spring lamb and rabbit with mustard it’s something everyone should own.
    You’ve left Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating off your list though. Shame.

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