Tuesday, 25 February 2014

My favourite recipe books

Hi lovely followers!

I've been thinking a lot about cooking and recipes lately, partly because Pancake Day (or Shrove Tuesday as my mum calls it)  and St David's day are looming.  That got me thinking about - and leafing through - some of my favourite recipe books.

I love reading, and I have a lot of books - including a lot about cooking.  I really enjoy looking through all of them, but there are a few I return to again and again.  So I thought I'd write a bit about them - and why I love them so much!

Beautiful books

Chocolate heaven...
Firstly, there are a couple of cookbooks I just love to look at. I've barely cooked from them, but just love to read them and handle them. 

The first two are the lovely Green & Blacks books 'Chocolate Recipes', and 'Ultimate Chocolate Recipes' (thanks for that one Emma!)

The photographs are so beautiful and the recipes practically leave you full, because they sound so sumptuous you can practically taste them.  I tend to use them for ideas and inspiration, or just when I want to dream about chocolate for half an hour!

Scrummy cakes
Third is the wonderful 'Cupcake Magic' by Kate Shirazi which was a birthday gift from a dear friend.  I not only love her imaginative and colourful cakes, but her writing style is really fun and her recipes are easy to follow. 

The book is divided by how complicated the recipes are, but all the sections contain designs which look spectacular.  And if that's not enough, a part of the price goes to the British Hen Welfare Trust, a fantastic organisation that rehomes ex-battery hens and also campaigns for better conditions for chickens!

Learning new cuisines

This one was hard to track down!
The first of these has to be The Art of Romanian Cooking by Galia Sperber.  I went to Romania when I was in my late teens, and my, what a beautiful country with every landscape from high cool mountains, to lush valleys filled with sunflowers, to ancient cities with topsy-turvy roofs.  I met many wonderful, welcoming people and tasted food unlike anything I had ever tried before.

I returned from Romania determined to try to cook some of the heavenly dishes I had eaten while I was there - so I bought this book. It didn't disappoint. The chicken and sausage casserole (which I make with chorizo) and zrdente (noodles for soup) are special favourites of mine!

Bargain book
Next up is Japanese Cooking by Emi Kazuko - a book I got at the bargain book store. I've never been to Japan, but I got a taste for Japanese food when I lived in London (mainly at Satsuma in Wardour Street if I'm honest). This sumptuous book could just as easily go in the first section, with its gorgeous photos enough to make anyone hungry - but even better, it de-mystifies many Japanese ingredients and explains what to look for in terms of quality and freshness.  

A large section of the book describes food and ingredients, then simple recipes follow - with replacements suggested for hard-to-get ingredients.  This book allowed me to give my little brothers their first taste of sushi.   I just love it!

Surrogate Welsh Granny!

The third of these isn't really a book but a set of books.  They aren't expensive, and they don't have fancy photos or lots of details. They give me something different - simple, tasty family recipes for the Welsh cuisine I have come to love so much since moving here aged 6.  

I learned lots of North Eastern recipes as a kid, like 'Metantatterpie' (meat and potato pie), bubble and squeak and Staffordshire oatcakes; but I don't have a Welsh granny to teach me how to make Welsh cakes, cawl, bara brith, or crempog - so I am learning from these books (£1.95 each). They are perfect - easy to understand, well written and full of local - and literal - flavour.  Thanks, Bobby Freeman!

Spice is nice...

Fourthly, a book which almost certainly never won any prizes for beauty, and doesn't credit its authors on the cover, probably because there are several contributors.  This book has short, to the point recipes and is easy to use.  

If you love Indian food but have no idea how to start from scratch, this is a great choice. It's not overstating to say that this book helped fire my fledgling interest in cooking in my late teens - and moreover, there are so many recipes, you can get a good feel for how to start experimenting.  It has everything from korma and dhansak to naan breads and lassi - and while there are definitely more elegant, sophisticated and up to date books available, this one is a good place to start.

Books I grew up with

These are books that are very close to my heart - books and recipes that were a big part of my childhood. 

Sweet memories
The first of these is one I remember cooking from with my mum and my dad from an early age. We are a cakes and biscuits type of family - my mum is fantastic at baking cakes and my dad makes amazing biscuits.  

There are so many beautiful recipes in this book, many of which I have adapted over the years to make my own.  Our family have made sauces, biscuits, cakes and puddings out of this book over the years - and not one has been other than delicious.  It's out of print I believe, but if you see a copy, I really recommend you snap it up!

Family heirloom
The next is the fabulous Mrs Beeton's Cookery Book. Please do beware of modern imitations - I shelled out for a modern version to keep this fragile family heirloom as intact as possible (as you can see it has been loved over the years) but the recipes were NOT the same - and I saw a sneaky footnote 'based on Mrs Beeton's recipes'.  Very loosely based is all I can say.

My mum has a newer copy which I used growing up, but this was inherited from my great aunt when she sadly passed and it has an inscription to her mother 'To Mary, from Arthur 26.9.27.  This is such a treasured possession, which I handle with great care. It has hundreds of recipes - and although some are outdated, many of them are just fantastic.

Family memories

Finally, and this is cheating a bit because I didn't grow up with this actual book but rather the recipes in it, this book is my own - a hand written recipe book containing family recipes - mum's yorkshire puds and easy sponge cake recipe, a Christmas cake recipe (which I am still perfecting!) and a yummy chocolate mousse from my wonderful mum in law.  

To me, these beloved recipes will make any place feel like home, and I look forward to adding to it as the years go by.  I hope one day someone else will enjoy them as much as I have.

 What are your favourite recipe books?  I would just love to hear from you about what you like to cook and why! If you want me to share any recipes, just let me know and I will try my best to oblige.  I was thinking of Welsh cakes ready for St. David's day?

I'm off to make some practice pancakes!

H xxx


  1. These all look like wonderful cookbooks. I've never read any of them but I will have to see if we have them in the library. My favorite cookbook is a Betty Crocker cookbook I was given around the time I got married, in 2002. It's very basic but every recipe in it works beautifully!

  2. Fantastic! I've never read the book but there are some fab recipes on the Betty Crocker website I'd like to try. I must say a reliable recipe book with recipes that work every time are worth their weight in gold - those with wrong cooking times, temperatures or ingredients just cause so much stress cooking things twice. The Art of Romanian Cooking does have a few recipes where cooking times are a little out, which I think depends a lot on for example the size of chicken wings you use, which can vary so much.

    So what do you enjoy cooking or baking the most? I think I love baking the most....

  3. They all look like wonderful books and I'm glad you get so much enjoyment as well as delectable foods from them. I don't have any favourites myself but have a special few that I flit among - in the gluten free range! I also love the idea of your own personal recipe book - I have one my daughter made for me but I need to catch up with entries! Joy x

  4. Thanks :) Glad I could share my enjoyment! I have to do quite a bit of gluten free baking for friends with coeliacs, and though I've adapted a fairly decent rich sponge, and amaretti are always a great choice, I'd love to extend my knowledge and only have one gluten free cookbook. Are there any you especially recommend? X