My favourite cookbooks of 2014



I love a list. They are everyday poems. But if there’s one thing I love as much as a list, it’s books, with the subset of cookbooks having a particularly warm place in my heart. These are the books I’ve loved most this year, the ones which have a place on my kitchen shelves rather than the ones upstairs in my office. There’s barely a week that I haven’t reached for them, stuck in another Post-It note, made another shopping list. If you’re looking for inspiration for your Christmas list, either for yourself or others, I hope you find it useful.



A Year at Otter Farm: Inspiring recipes through the seasons by Mark Diacono (Bloomsbury, £25)

Mark was the head gardener at River Cottage and is the owner of the country’s first and only climate change garden. In A Year At Otter Farm, he shares stories and recipes from his smallholding with characteristic candour (‘Sheep are a lovable pain in the arse.’) and much joyful optimism, in the face of blight, scab, frost and floods. Though some of the ingredients may seem exotic, most of the recipes are very straightforward. Lots of preserves and cheering flavoured booze too.

MY MOST-USED RECIPES: Warm salad of Padron peppers, sugar snaps, cherries and halloumi; Pot roast chicken with grapes in milk; Blackcurrant leaf sorbet; Walnut tart.
BEST FOR: Adventurous allotmenteers, those who love to keep their cookbooks on their bedside tables.

River Cottage: Light and Easy by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £25)
Great, everyday recipes which happen to be dairy- or wheat free. Perfect for busy cooks who want some inspiration for lively, delicious weekday cooking (though there’s plenty for more celebratory occasions too).

MY MOST-USED RECIPES: Buckwheat noodles with wakame and ginger; Lamb with cauliflower and chickpeas; Chocolate and avocado mousse with honeyed strawberries.
BEST FOR: Happy eaters who happen to be dairy- or wheat-free, or would like to be.


Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East and beyond by Sabrina Ghayour (Mitchell Beazley, £25)
Some people have hospitality in their DNA and supper-club doyenne, Sabrina Ghayour is one of them. Her lively, punchy, colourful recipes may draw inspiration from her Iranian heritage but they’re filtered through the eyes of a thoroughly modern, busy Londoner.

MY MOST USEDRECIPES: Persian bejewelled rice; cumin-roasted carrots with honey-lemon dressing and goats’ cheese; lamb and sour cherry meatballs.
BEST FOR: Generous spirits in a hurry.

A change of Appetite: Where healthy meets delicious by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, £25)
If you love food, sometimes a little too much, then Diana Henry’s latest book is your friend. Lots of gorgeous, colourful recipes – her genius for combining flavours and her friendly, encouraging tone make this one of my most-used books this year.

MY MOST-USED RECIPES: Japanese ginger and garlic chicken with smashed cucumber; Spiced pork chops with ginger and mango relish; Spiced quail with blood orange and date salad
BEST FOR: Health-by-stealth sybarites


Best Ever Dishes by Tom Kerridge (Bloomsbury, £25)
In the interests of full disclosure, I edited this book by the two-Michelin-star-holding chef patron of The Hand and Flowers in Marlow. Recipe testing for this book was some of the best fun I had in the kitchen this year and instantly made me the most popular person in my street, as I shared out the spoils. Tom is a big guy with a big heart and a love of BIG FLAVOURS. It’s not a book for spur-of-the-moment cooking, but it’s just the thing for weekend kitchen warriors.

MY MOST-USED RECIPES: Slow-roast harissa lamb with lime couscous; Sticky drumsticks; Raspberry rose water jellies with sweet cheese.
BEST FOR: Adventurous blow-torch-wielding kitchen geeks.

Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ebury Press, £27)
More vegetable-and grain-based brilliance from Yotam Ottolenghi, the man who perhaps more than any other taught us that herbs are an ingredient, not a garnish. One of the things I love about this book is that the chapters are divided into cooking method rather than course or ingredient, because often more than a particular food or flavour, what we yearn for is a texture – mashed, grilled, braised or fried, pick the dish to match your mood.

MY MOST-USED RECIPES: Peas with sorrel and mustard; red onions with walnut salsa; roasted Brussels sprouts with pomelo and star anise; Caramelised fig, orange and feta salad.
BEST FOR: Aesthetes and flavour freaks.

Honey & Co Food from the Middle East by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich (Salt Yard, £25)
This husband-and-wife team worked at Ottolenghi, went on to open their tiny, charming café off the very un-charming Tottenham Court Road and then created this book, which is full of generous, loving, exuberant dishes with modern Middle Eastern flavours. It’s intensely happy-making food.

MY MOST-USED RECIPES: Octopus in meshwiya sauce with celery salad; Slow-cooked lamb shoulder with plums and roses; Feta and honey cheesecake on a kadaif pastry base.
BEST FOR: Those happiest feeding a crowd.


Make Mine a Martini: 130 cocktails and canapés for fabulous parties by Kay Plunkett-Hogge (Octopus, £14.99)

A glorious combination of cocktails – from perfectly-made classics, to entirely new inventions, and plenty of non-alcoholic drinks for kids and on-the-waggoners – and food to go with cocktails, all described at a rattling pace in K P-H’s knowledgeable and engaging style. In my house, I vote this book ‘Least Likely To Be Left On The Shelf’.

MY MOST-USED RECIPES: The gimlet; the fine and dandy; the Somerset leveller; fig anchoïde.
BEST FOR: I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t love this book. That tells you all you need to know about my friends.


Perfect Preserves: 100 delicious ways to preserve fruit and vegetables by Thane Prince (Hodder & Stoughton, £25)

If you want one book to help you ride the fashionable preserving wave, make it this one. Thane is the preserving expert on The Big Allotment Challenge and knows her curd from her butters, her relishes from her chutneys. My friend Fi and I call her Obi-Jam Kenobi. She knows all.

MY MOST-USED RECIPES: Quince jelly with cardamom and vanilla; Bread and butter pickles; Blackcurrant cordial.
BEST FOR: The well preserved, or those who would like to be.


Made in India, Cooked in Britain: Recipes from an Indian family kitchen by Meera Sodha (Penguin/Fig Tree, £20)

This is home cooking at its very best, heart- and soul-warming recipes, many of them satisfyingly simple and swift. Meerha Sodha grew up in Lincolnshire watching her mother cook the family dishes of her Gujarati heritage and she shares some of them here, along with other dishes she’s learned or created along the way. Pleasingly you can have lots of them on the table in less time than it would take to order a take away.

MY MOST-USED RECIPES: Aubergine and cherry tomato curry, masala omelette, Roasted cauliflower with cumin, turmeric and lemon; mussels in coconut and ginger sauce; Grimsby smoked haddock kedgeree.
BEST FOR: Maximum impact, minimum effort cooks.

There’s Something About Turkey

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My default setting for dealing with leftovers is to throw them all together and cover them with pastry. Eat and repeat. Until January, when some law about dusting off the juicer and salad spinner comes into play.

Please excuse the less-than-stellar sunshine brightness of these photographs. They were taken in my parents’ kitchen which, like the kitchens in many Victorian houses, is in the far northern corner of the house. In the days before refrigeration, it gave the food a fighting chance of staying fresher for longer. Even now in this kitchen you can happily leave butter out between September and June without any risk of it being easily spreadable on anything other than the hottest of toast. It is the perfect kitchen for making pastry.

Until recently, the kitchen was even more crepuscular. A thicket of trees comes almost up to the house, shading the mossy path to the front door. The house is at the top of a valley and even the gentlest of breezes whips and licks around its walls in the most ferocious fashion. In a storm last spring, a huge tree was whipped and licked right into the kitchen wall.

Tree for Debora

My parents, who were in another part of the house at the time, didn’t notice. They were alerted by the postman who came to the back door rather than the front and explained his usual route was barred by several tons of unruly tree. It took my brother and nephew a whole day to clear a path to the house, then a gang of men with proper machinery arrived and, over several days, transformed the tree into neat logs and mountains of chippings.

So I suppose what I’m saying is sorry about the pictures but it could have been a whole lot worse.

Turkey Pot Pie

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Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients for the pie. At Christmas, I usually have all of this stuff kicking around in the kitchen and I suspect you may do too. If you’re missing anything, don’t worry. Just add a bit more of something else. Essentially, it’s leftovers in a sauce with pastry over the top. Adjust any of these ingredients depending on what you have – if you have any leftover ham, that would certainly be good. The only important thing about making this pie is that you make it without having to go to the shops. That’s the best seasoning of all.

A large knob of butter
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
A couple of sprigs of thyme, plus more for seasoning later
1 large parsnip or 2 small, cut into 1cm dice*
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice*
1 celery stick, diced (optional)
250g chestnut mushrooms, halved, or quartered if large
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 rounded tbsp plain flour, plus more for dusting
About 700ml chicken or turkey stock, or leftover gravy if you have it, hot
100ml white wine
Leftover cooked turkey, skinned, and cut or shredded into large chunks
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces
A couple of handfuls of frozen petits pois
2-3tbsp crème fraîche or double cream
1 tbsp Dijon mustard, wholegrain or plain
500g ready-roll, all-butter puff pastry or shortcrust pastry
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten with a little water

*You can use leftover roasted carrots and/or parsnips if you have them. Leave them whole and add them towards the end with the turkey.

Melt the butter over a low heat and add the onions, a pinch of salt, bay leaf and a couple of sprigs of thyme (on the branch). Sauté gently, stirring from time to time, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the parsnip, carrot (unless using roasted ones, add these later) and celery if using and sauté for a further 5 minutes until slightly softened. Turn the heat up and add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring from time to time, until the mushrooms have given up their moisture and started to brown slightly. Add the garlic and stir for a minute. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a couple of minutes. Add a ladleful of the hot stock or gravy and stir, scraping up any bits which have stuck to the bottom of the pan, then add the rest of the hot stock or gravy along with the wine. Bring to a simmer and let it all bubble away for 5 minutes until the sauce is thickened slightly.

Add the spring onions, peas and turkey (and roasted veg if using). Remove from the heat. Stir in the crème fraiche and mustard. Stir in about a tablespoonful of fresh thyme leaves, removed from the stalk and roughly chopped. If you have any parsley, chives, tarragon or chervil kicking around, you could also add a sprinkling of these, either alone or in combination. Season with salt and pepper. Cool.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. Either leave the turkey mixture in the pan you cooked it in, so long as it’s ovenproof, or pour it into an ovenproof dish.

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Dust the work surface with a little flour and roll out the pastry so it’s large enough to cover the surface of the ovenproof casserole or dish with about 5cm to spare. Brush the edge of the dish with a little of the egg wash, drape over the pastry, crimp it to the edges and trim. You want an overhang of about 2cm. Brush the top with egg wash, sprinkle on some salt, pepper and thyme leaves. Place on a baking sheet and cook for about 30-35 minutes, until the filling is bubbling hot and the pastry is golden.

Merry Christmas!

He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

From How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss

A Sweet Thank You


Cookies, as far as the eye can see.

I spent a happy evening turning the kitchen into a factory. A biscuit factory to be precise. In the space of a few hours I made eight dozen chocolate crackle cookies and four dozen oatmeal and raisin cookies. When I bake like this I go into a sort of trance of measuring, whisking, beating, sprinkling and rolling, punctuated by the ping of the kitchen timer. I rotate the baking sheets through the oven and put them onto the table in the garden to cool quickly between batches, enjoying the cooling blast of evening air.

Clearly even I can’t eat that many cookies, at least in one session. I parcelled them up in little bags to give to my neighbours and my favourite local shopkeepers. So if you’ve chatted with me over the fence, sold me a book or a bra, a lamb chop or a cat collar, a newspaper or a bunch of flowers, the chances are you’ve already tried the pretty Christmas Crackle Cookies here. If not, they’re fun to make in a mud-pie sort of way. I’ll post the oatmeal cookies in January, when we can all do with a cosy, chewy, pretending-to-be wholesome (they’ve got OATS in – they’re practically health food) cheer up. In the meantime, thank you to all of you who visit my blog and leave such lovely comments, both here and on Twitter. I wish you all a delicious Christmas and a sweetly chewy New Year.

Christmas crackle cookies


This makes about eight dozen cookies, but you can halve it quite easily if that’s too many for you. The dough also freezes well so you could keep some of the packages in the freezer, ready for when you want to rustle up a quick batch.
I took as my inspiration for this recipe Martha Stewart’s recipe here, though I tinkered with the method quite a bit. My tips for success are these:

  • Chill the dough for at least four hours, or overnight if possible. Take the packages of dough out of the fridge one at a time – you want the batter to be very cold when you work on it.
  • It helps if your hands are really cool. Run them under the cold tap or dip them in chilled water from time to time. You’ll need to wash them quite frequently anyway, as it’s a rather sticky business.
  • Handle the dough as little as possible to turn them into little balls. They don’t have to be perfectly round. Roughly round is fine – the oven will do the rest.
  • It’s quite pleasingly messy, so line your work surface with baking parchment or clingfilm to make cleaning up easy.

225g plain chocolate
about 70%, broken up into small pieces
370g plain flour 
100g cocoa 4tsp baking powder 
½ tsp salt 
225g unsalted butter, room temperature 
400g light muscovado sugar 
4 eggs, lightly beaten 
150ml whole milk 
2 tbsp Kahlua, optional 
2 tsp vanilla extract

Icing sugar and caster sugar for rolling

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely-simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl). Melt, stirring from time to time. Cool.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. If I’m making this quantity, I sift it twice to make sure it’s well blended.
In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth then add the sugar and beat until very light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs about a tablespoon at a time, beating until well combined after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and Kahlua if using, then the cooled chocolate.

With the beater on a low speed, add a third of the sifted flour mixture, then half of the milk, and repeat, ending with the last third of the flour. Mix until just combined – with this large quantity, I finish it off by hand, but with a half batch you should be fine. Be careful not to overmix though or the cookies will be tough – the dough should be soft and cakey, rather mousse-y. Divide the dough into eight flattish discs of about 220g each and wrap them in clingfilm. Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Line baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment. You will need to cook these in batches. Make sure the sheets are cool and the oven back up to temperature before you embark on each batch.

Ready to roll.

Ready for the oven.

Place a large sheet of baking parchment or clingfilm on your work surface and set up a bowl of caster sugar and a bowl of icing sugar, ready to roll the cookies. Remove one batch of dough from the fridge and use a teaspoon to scoop out little balls of dough. Roll them quickly into balls roughly the size of a small walnut. Toss them first in the caster sugar then in the icing sugar until they’re well coated, then arrange on the prepared baking sheet about 2cm apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until flattened and the sugar coating has split into a crackle pattern. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. They will keep in an airtight container for about 4 days.

Scents of Christmas


The sight of the tree glittering in the dining room window, twinkling fairy lights twining up the banisters and streams of cards dangling from ribbons stapled into the top of the sitting room doors lifts my heart at Christmas. But more than that, more than that, I love the way the house smells.


The wreath on the front door, covered in oranges and lemons studded with cloves, sprigs of bay, bundles of cinnamon and dried orange slices, smells as good as it looks. The oven, with some assistance from me, churns out cookies and cakes, hams and sausage rolls, filling the house with delicious aromas. Pots of hyacinths and jasmine, vases of eucalyptus and off-cut pine branches from the tree, are crammed on every mantel, side table and desk.


Along the sitting room mantel, I place candles stuck into old terracotta pots filled with damp sand (you could also use florists’ oasis). I cram them with clippings of myrtle, rosemary, Christmas box and bay from the garden. It takes minutes and smells wonderful. On Christmas Day, I’ll steal the candles from the sitting room and use them to decorate the dining table.

Candle pots, decorated with myrtle, Christmas box, rosemary and bay from the garden.

I dry dozens of orange slices in December (see method, below). It’s easy and cheap and I use them in so many different ways – on the wreath, tied in bundles on the tree and in quick Christmas pot pourri.

As well as making ooh-la-la pot pourri, I also just fling leftover citrus peels into the fireplace, where they dry and turn into very good, sweet-smelling firelighters.

For this, I mix the orange slices in a bowl with whatever I can grab from my spice drawer: cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, cardamom pods and cassia bark (available very cheaply in big bags from Indian supermarkets). To this base mixture, I add fresh bay leaves and rosemary from the garden so I can enjoy their sweet, spicy, piney scents as they dry. I also stud a few oranges and lemons with cloves and toss these in the bowl too. The base mixture, with perhaps just a few drops of essential oil (sweet orange, frankincense, cedar, scotch pine and clove are all good, alone or in combination) to intensify the scent, bagged up and tied with a pretty ribbon, make a very good, inexpensive present.
What scents say ‘Christmas’ to you?

Use a darning needle to make a hole in the peel before pressing in the clove – it’s a lot easier on your hands.

Christmas pot pourri.

How to Dry Orange Slices:


Preheat the oven to 130C/250F/Gas mark ½ .

Trim the ends off the orange and then slice thinly, about 3mm thick, with a sharp knife. Place sheets of baking parchment on metal cake cooling racks and arrange the orange slices on top. Place them in the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the temperature down to 110C/225F/Gas mark ¼ . After an hour or so, turn the slices over and return them to the oven. Keep an eye on them, turning from time to time. When they’re almost dry, turn the oven off and leave the orange slices in the oven until cold. The idea is to get them thoroughly dry but not to over ‘cook’ them as you want to keep the colour as vibrant as possible, so keep an eye on them and adjust the timings to suit your oven.