Let’s start with kitchen queen Mary Berry, whose Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook (£25, Dorling Kindersley) has been revised, updated and expanded with 30 new recipes.
Billed as “the ultimate family cook book” it has over 1,000 tried and tested recipes including dinner party dazzlers and family favourites, plus a section on healthy low-fat dishes. One for cooks who like clear instructions, easily-sourced ingredients and simple to follow recipes, while coffee-table droolers and those who fancy themselves with a blow-torch should probably look elsewhere.
Funkier and definitely faster is Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals: Delicious, Nutritious, Super-Fast Food, by Jamie Oliver (£26, Penguin Books). Oliver’s follow up to 30-Minute Meals, Britain’s most-popular cookbook ever, has the same tasty, nutritious everyday food but on the table in half the time. Faster than you can say bish, bash, b....” the family will be lapping up ridiculously easy classic chicken, steak and pasta dishes, as well as more globe-trotting Asian-inspired street food and Moroccan flavours. Well, they would if you were Jamie Oliver. Mortals might not manage the quick lamb tagine, pan-fried aubergine and cumin crunch within his time scale, but even if you double it, who’s complaining? If time, tempers and cash are short, this is the cook book for you.
Some of us just can’t resist Nigella Lawson’s self-conscious titillating and when she starts talking Italian, we’re all up for a taste of La Dolce Vita. Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration, Nigella Lawson (£26, Chatto & Windus) is a good-looking, beautifully produced tome with easy recipes. Purists may carp that it’s not authentic Italian cooking and lacks exactitude, but when has Nigella’s ever got her Spanx in a twist over that? She simply wants us to get stuck in about huge balls of mozzarella, slurp up lashings of saffron, marsala and cream over spaghetti and dive into overflowing bowls of vermouth-charged Prawn Pasta Rosa. Bravissimo!
Travel and generally eating a lot have led Tom Parker Bowles into a career as a food writer and Let’s Eat: Recipes from my Kitchen Notebook (£25, Pavilion) backs up his foodie credentials. Inspired by meals cooked by friends and family, formal dinners and fare from the worlds’ best restaurants, the son of Camilla has recreated them with the 140 recipes in this cookbook. Homely yet posh, they give an insight into how the other half eat, which isn’t that different to the rest of us, only with more grouse. Eat like a prince by trying “My Mum’s Roast Chicken” or his Quick Fix speedy stir fries.
For those who like to read about food and what it says about our society rather than just rolling up their sleeves and feeding their faces, Tom Dickinson’s pie and football pilgrimage, 92 Pies (£14.99, Blackline Press) is a diverting read. Spending a season travelling around the English League football grounds, he sampled the pies at each one, resulting in this witty account of the grounds, savoury snacks and fans who eat them, but most of all the football. From carrot cake at Exeter to a man in a pineapple bikini at Cheltenham, there is plenty of food, but most of all it’s a way into the beautiful game. One for footie foodie fans only.
Speaking of which, erstwhile Ranger’s player Gordon Ramsay attempts to turn the attention away from money woes and family fueds back to his kitchen genius in Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course (£25, Hodder & Stoughton). Aimed at being the final word in cooking - and no, there are no expletives - it has 120 modern, simple and accessible recipes, and is a demonstration that away from the TV shows and celebrity antics, the botoxed one has a passion for food and an eye for perfection that are the reasons he’s won and kept his five Michelin stars.
Best drink books for Christmas
words Brian Elliott
FIRSTLY we have a couple of guides to accessible, and often, inexpensive wines. The perennial Best Wines in the Supermarket by Ned Halley (£8.99, Foulsham) is based on tasting and scoring some 2,000 wines. It is sure-footed, easy to use and contains very helpful endorsements for reliable, inexpensive and easily-sourced wines - such as the Asda Marsanne and Sainsbury’s House Pinot Noir.
Popular TV personality Oz Clarke also offers a High Street buying guide. His My Top Wines for 2013 (£7.99, Pavilion) gives clear and unpretentious commendations to wines that range from Tesco’s Simply Pinot Grigio at £4.99 to a terrific 2010 Crozes Hermitage at £18.99. Its companion, Clarke’s Pocket Wine Book 2013 (£11.99, Pavilion), provides a mini encyclopaedia of wine-related facts and delivers them in his reassuring “guy on the next bar stool” style.
His more in-depth work, Oz Clarke Bordeaux (£25, Pavilion), has been completely revised for this, its third edition. Despite all the criticism heaped on the region he likens Bordeaux to “a wayward, headstrong mistress” but concedes that “the very thought of her brings a smile to his lips and warmth to his heart”. With over 500 illustrations and profiles of some 300 chateaux, this is not just about the region’s élite but also a guide to the modest family operations that are the backbone of everyday Bordeaux.
Another excellent and authoritative book on Bordeaux was also published this year – The Complete Bordeaux by Stephen Brook (£45, Octopus Books). It is a definitive yet very honest look at the region’s wine trade in which Brook is unafraid to dismiss an underwhelming but quite prestigious claret as “dilute, decidedly rough with a coarse finish”.
That frankness makes praise when it comes so much more valuable. I defy anyone with even a passing interest in Bordeaux not to find something helpful, fascinating and informative in this skilfully assembled book.
Another celebrity wine writer has put a focus on a curiously neglected area. American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wine Producers of the USA (£40, Mitchell Beazley) by Jancis Robinson and US wine writer Linda Murphy explores the massive rise in the country’s wine producers – nowadays in every state. Most of us are reasonably familiar with California but, here, you also find out about riesling (including ice wine) from New York State’s Finger Lakes and sangiovese from San Antonio that forms part of a blend called “Super Texan”.
Robinson has also co-authored (with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz) the authoritative Wine Grapes (hardback, £120, Penguin Press). With detailed information on over a thousand grape varieties, this is a comprehensive tome that also gives fascinating insights into wine family trees, unexpected relationships and, of course, what the result tastes like.
Beer enthusiasts will enjoy The World Atlas of Beer by Tim Webb and American journalist Stephen Beaumont (£25, Mitchell Beazley) which charts the history and characteristics of around 500 beers from over 30 countries. They include such exotic delights as Singapore’s Brewerkz Scholar Red and Taybeh Golden from Palestine but also more familiar fare such as Traquair House Ale, Williams Bros Fraoch Heather Ale and Orkney Dark Island Reserve. Altogether it is a terrific coffee table read that will expand the horizons of beer aficionados everywhere.
The UK based author of that Atlas - Tim Webb – was once a Board member of CAMRA whose 2013 Good Beer Guide (£15.99, CAMRA Books) is unbelievably in its 40th edition. CAMRA has not only saved us from industrialised beer production but also provided this route planner for a million thirsty travellers. From The Steam Packet Inn on the Isle of Whithorn in the south to the Scourie Hotel in the north, the Guide steers you unerringly to authentic real ale outlets all over Scotland.
With any of these books, gentle reader, hours of fireside enjoyment lie ahead that will almost rival drinking the tipples they so lovingly describe.