It’s been a bumper season for cookbooks this fall, it’s been hard to keep up. SO many excellent titles, where to begin? Today I’m sharing four of my favourite books from this season for the home cooks on your holiday list. Or, you know, you!
Jamie Oliver’s Quick and Easy Food
There’s so much to love about this book. It’s a collection of real food meals made with 5 ingredients (plus a few pantry staples) and a few clever shortcuts. I bought this book at the end of the summer when it was released in the UK and I’ve cooked close to 40 of the recipes – many multiple times, and many of them with my 7-9 year old boys’ cooking club. It’s brilliant and has completely changed the way I cook during the week. Most of the recipes come together in around 30-45 minutes, there are no complicated or fussy techniques and the food tastes really good. I mean, say no more, right? Read my full review here.
Nigella Lawson’s At My Table
I mean, it’s Nigella. Who says: “The food in this book, that comes from my kitchen, is eaten at my table, and will be eaten at yours, is the food I have always loved cooking. It doesn’t require, technique, dexterity or experience […] Life is complicated, cooking doesn’t have to be.” Sounds like both Nigella and Jamie are bringing cooking back to a simpler form, the way they (and, let’s be honest, most people) actually eat at home. There’s so much to love about this book as well. Firstly, there are no chapters – the book is roughly organised into breakfast, lunches, dinner, sweets with a few drinks as well – which for me makes total sense to me. There’s an excellent index (gotta love an excellent index) which is easy to search according to ingredients which I prefer over ridigly telling people a dish is a dinner or a lunch dish, you know? I’d rather search by ingredient. So logical, for me anyway, it’s like a playbook for life, with stories (because Nigella is a masterful storyteller, I enjoy her headnotes and sidebars as much as the actual recipes) and recipes. In her introduction, Nigella also speaks of the challenge of imposing a “serving size” on a recipe (something I too struggled with – there are so many factors coming into play to determine that number) but speaks of her servings being generous to allow for leftovers – because life is always better with something good to eat in the fridge (there are make ahead and storage suggestions in the back of the book too for those who like to plan ahead). This is a book for those who love to read about food as much as they love to make it. For those who like “unfussy”, simple to make but fancy to eat food (the photos are an excellent example of this – not overly styled, which I LOVE, presenting the food simply but beautifully), this is weekday (and weekend) inspiration par excellence.
Smitten Kitchen Every Day
“Unfussy” “Every Day” Are you sensing a theme here? This title from the incomparable Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame, is her second cookbook, full of all Deb’s favourite things to cook and eat: 115 recipes (101 of which are new). There are also a fair number of vegetarian (with a whole “Vegetable Mains” chapter), gluten-free and dairy-free recipes. Again, the photography is simple, unfussy, not overly styled – making the book feel very accessible as you flip through it. If the introduction is the first thing you tend to read in a cookbook and you’re looking for ways to liven up your meals without too much fuss, you’ll appreciate the title of Deb’s: “Against Drudgery”. After the birth of her second child, Deb started to understand that “not everyone jumps for joy when it’s time to make dinner” and this book is a response to that. About “the realities and practicalities of cooking”. This book doesn’t call for fancy ingredients or techniques. Deb’s conversational style that makes it feel she’s right there in the kitchen with you. If you’re a fan of the Smitten Kitchen website or Deb’s first book, this book is for you. If you’re new to Deb’s work (not sure how that can be possible but maybe there are a few of you out there!), and you’re looking for simple recipes for delicious and beautiful food that you can make during the week, this is a book you should buy. Deb’s writing is honest and clever. Her recipes work. It’s food you (and your family) will want to make and eat. What more can I say?
Gail Simmons’ Bringing it Home
In recent years as one of the judges on Top Chef, Gail Simmons has most definitely enjoyed “a life of adventurous eating”. But as she says in the introduction to Bringing it Home, since having a family of her own, she’s struggled with “the same issues as any home cook. Most nights, like most people, I want to put a nourishing meal on the table in as little time as possible”. This book is the beautiful marriage of a life of culinary inspiration with a practical focus (i.e. feeding a family). Gail’s trick for accessible, delicious meals? A little planning ahead, a smartly-stocked pantry and smart navigation of the grocery store. As well as delicious recipes, Gail includes tips and tricks to help you succeed in the kitchen and (I LOVE this!) “Snippets” – fun facts and trivia about some of the ingredients or dishes themselves. The book also contains home cook-friendly versions of professional techniques to make your meal prep easier. While the recipes are not complicated at all, they are a little more-so than those in the previous three books and I’d say there are some more unusual ingredients that are called for. But, as Gail says, with a well-stocked pantry (and recipes which use the ingredients over and over again, so you’re not buying a spice just for using 1/4 teaspoon in a recipe you’ll make once or twice). I made the Shaved Zucchini Salad with Harissa Citrus Dressing and Mint and the Roasted Zucchini with Coriander Vinaigrette with my 7-9 year old boys’ cooking club and they LOVED both dishes (making and eating them!) – so, a little more than five ingredients and perhaps not what you’d call “unfussy” but definitely doable (we made both recipes in an hour) and delicious. Two absolute musts in my kitchen. I loved this book, as much for the stories (and trivia!) as for the recipes. I’ve been a Gail fan from way back and this book did not disappoint. I met her in 2012 when she was on tour for Talking with my Mouth Full – she was at the Coach store in Toronto for a book signing (!) and I spent a good while chatting with her about food, life and cooking with kids. She’s genuine and sweet and smart and funny. And this book is all that too.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Smitten Kitchen Everyday from the publisher. I purchased Quick and Easy Food, At My Table and Bringing it Home myself. I was not asked to write about these books, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions my own.
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