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.