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A review of the year - Cooking: A veritable feast for armchair cooks

It's been a homebody year in the kitchen. Rattling past the tills by the trolley-load are a return to the domestic in Nigella's Kitchen (Chatto, £26), Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's back-to-basics River Cottage Every Day (Bloomsbury, £25), while Jamie's 30-Minute Meals (Michael Joseph, £26) makes good his promise that cooking at home from scratch needn't be time-consuming.

• Domestic goddess Nigella Lawson delivers more family-pleasing recipes in her latest offering

Nevertheless, my own must-have of the year is Nikki Segnit's witty, idiosyncratic Flavour Thesaurus (Bloomsbury 19): a neat, near-pocket-sized compendium of what-works-with-what with attitude - cumin is fabulous with carrot and beetroot with chocolate is yucky... my feelings exactly.

Masterchef-junkies bewildered by all that messing about with macaroons in the last series - les macarons having replaced the cupcake as the must-have dessert de nos jours - can learn how to do it right in Jill Colonna's Mad about Macarons (Waverley Books, 10). The macaron, to distinguish it from the more brutal macaroon, is a "delicate, airy meringue-based shell with a moist centre of fragrant custard cream" which, being flavoured with raspberry, pistachio or vanilla, is the stuff of Parisien dreams (though a flavouring of Thai green curry might be a bit too Blumenthal for me). From the same Glasgow-based publisher - kick-started a mere three years back with the Maw Broon series - comes a welcome re-issue of Catherine Brown's Broths to Bannocks (Waverley, 12.99): easy-to-follow recipes for all those delicious traditional favourites set in their historical context by Scotland's most admired scholar-cook.

Nordic cooking comes in from the cold with Copenhagen-based Ren Redzepi's Noma (Phaidon, 35): big and beautiful, dreamy pics, glamorous recipes, tricky sleight-of-hand - which, since Redzepi trained at El Bulli, can be roughly quantified as Ferran Adria with birch-sap and sea-lettuce - so not much for the home cook but, well, anyone can dream. More practical folk can get down and earthy with Sarah Raven's Food for Friends and Family (Bloomsbury, 30) featuring 400 straightforward seasonal recipes.

Winter warmers include venison casserole with no-suet dumplings and kale with juniper - just the thing for a snowy Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, the couch-potato in your life can prop up the carpet-slippers with Malcolm Thick's scholarly life-and-times of Sir Hugh Plat, 16th century jack-of-all-trades (as was the way in those days), urban gardener, alchemist, rabbit-raiser, weapons-expert and the man who introduced macaroni to the navy (Prospect, 30).

Novice chicken-fanciers as well as seasoned poultry-keepers will find much to entertain and instruct in Tim Halket's Five Fat Hens (Grub Street, 18.99), a month-by-month diary of what goes on in the henhouse by a stay-at-home dad and first-time author (the manuscript surfaced from the publisher's slush-pile - would-be writers take heart); most though not all the recipes are chicken or egg related - and yes, the adorable henny-pennies, while given pet names, are popped in the pot when their laying days are done, though daughter Annie refuses to eat Basil the Christmas cockerel, not even with lashings of bread sauce.

Armchair travellers will love Josceline Dimbleby's reminiscences-with-recipes, Orchards in the Oasis (Quadrille, 25): elegantly-crafted traveller's tales with evocative pics from the family album along with exotic home-cooking from sunnier climes: so whack up the central heating and brew up a bowlful of Bosphorus mussel stew, follow it up with Peruvian potatoes and round it off with one of Jossie's legendary desserts. More sunshine, equally exotic, is to be found in Diana Henry's big, fat, lavishly-illustrated Food from Plenty (Mitchell Beazley, 25): the thrust is whatever makes you happy - cooking from glut, leftovers, yummy things such as peach and lavender clafoutis, blackberry and brown sugar cake. Or float through a tropical heatwave with David Thomson's classy Thai Street Food (Conran Octopus, 40). From the same geographical region, the absolute must-have for curry-fans is Pushpesh Pant's India Cookbook (Phaidon, 30): a thousand authentic recipes is probably all you'll ever need. On the same side of the street - Hindus being mostly vegetarian though somewhat inclined to sturdy combos of pulses and grains - elegant veggies are spoilt for minimalist choice with Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, while Julia della Croce's Italian Comfort Food is about as near as you'll get to a meat-free winter without actually going, so to speak, the whole hog.

Now for the hangover. When you're stuffed to bursting with the meat-fest, resolve to be a more responsible carnivore with Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (Hamish Hamilton, 20): reasons not to be so cheerful about the way we treat and eat our co-habitees on the planet. Don't stop meat-eating altogether, just eat less but better. And if you think it's safer to go back in the water, think again with Paul Greenberg's Four Fish (Allen Lane, 15), a remarkably page-turning account of the world's most popular piscine platefuls - salmon, cod, bass and tuna - from a whistle-blowing fisherman who rang the alarm-bells for Chilean sea-bass. n Elisabeth Luard's new cookbook, Recipes and Ramblings (Oldie Publications, 15), is gathered from her column in The Oldie and illustrated by the author.

 
 
 

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