Shetland by James and Tom Morton

Shetland by James and Tom Morton

What’s the USP? Father and son team explore life on a remote Scottish island ‘with food, drink and community at its heart’ through the medium of recipes, pictures and personal memoir and anecdote.

Who are the authors? You’ll probably know James Morton in his guise as Great British Bake off finalist. He is also the author of an extremely good book about brewing called Brew. He is also a doctor. His father Tom is a writer, journalist and broadcaster.

What does it look like? There are very few landscapes as dramatic as those found on the Scottish islands and Shetland (as Morton points out in his introduction, ‘It’s not, never has been and never is ‘The Shetlands’), the northern most point of the UK, is no exception. Photographer Andy Sewell captures it in all its rugged glory, as well as taking some charming portraits of the locals. The food looks as hearty and elemental as you might expect.

Is it good bedtime reading? In addition to the dozens of recipes, there are plenty of articles about life on the island, its food and feasts. Recipe introductions are extended and detailed and there is plenty of text given over to techniques such as cold smoking and pickling.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You might need to go online or to a health food shop to track down pinhead oatmeal, a butcher or online retailer for hare, mutton and, erm, piglets’s testicles, and a good fishmonger to get fresh seaweed, whelks, large scallops and live crabs. Additionally, unless you live there, Shetland black tatties  and Shetland trout might be tricky to get hold of (but the recipe suggests fresh farmed salmon as an alternative).

What’s the faff factor? There is a fair amount of what you might call cooking ‘projects’ such as pickling and jam making, and you might consider building your own cold smoking chamber (although all you need is sturdy cardboard box and a few other bits and bobs from the DIY store) and curing and smoking your own Golden Syrup Bacon a faff, but recipes such as poached salmon or a simply roasted hare are quite straightforward.

How often will I cook from the book? This more an occasional book than everyday, for when you want to get stuck into a day’s cooking or want something a bit different and rustic.

Killer recipes? Fresh mackerel pate; oven bannocks; The apple pie, Jaffa cakes. 

What will I love? It’s a great read, both father and son can really write and the whole thing is done with great good humour.

What won’t I like? Some of the recipes may seem recherché and you may not cook as often from this book as others in your collection.

Should I buy it? This is one for the serious foodie or Scottish food fanatic.

Cuisine: Scottish
Suitable for: 
Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Three stars

Buy this book
Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World
£25, Quadrille

Together: Our Community Cookbook by the Hubb Community Kitchen and HRH The Duchess of Sussex

together our community cookbook

What’s the USP? Recipes written by a group of women who were gathered together in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire to cook for their families and neighbours.

Who’s the author? The authors are all members of the Hubb Community Kitchen based at Al-Manaar, The Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, London and include Cherine Mallah, Oxana Sinitsyna, Munira Mahmud, Halima Al-Hudafi, Intlak Alsaiegh, Aysha Bora, Faiza Hayani Bellili, Leila Hedjem, Claren Bilal, Amaal Abid Elrasoul, Sanna Mirza, Ahlam Saeid, Mama Jay, Jay Jay, Gurmit Kaur, Hiwot Dagnachew, Jennifer Fatima Odonkor, Dayo Gilmour, Lillian Olwa and Honey Akhter.

What does it look like? The attractive, vibrant dishes are simply presented, reflecting the rustic nature of the cooking. Portraits of the women cooking at Al Manaar gives a sense of the community they belong to and help nourish.

Is it good bedtime reading? Aside from the foreword by HRH The Duchess of Sussex (AKA Meghan Markle) this is a recipe focused book.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The book reflects a wide range of culinary traditions including Algerian, Lebanese, Moroccan and Ugandan and there is the odd specific ingredient such as Argan oil, Persian dried limes, dried barberries and Egyptian short grain rice that may mean a search on line or considering an alternative, but the vast majority of ingredients will be readily to hand.

What’s the faff factor? There are some recipes with long ingredients lists (often down to the use of numerous spices) or with several elements, but in the main, the dishes are simple and approachable.

How often will I cook from the book? Together is unlikely to gather dust on your shelf and is exactly the sort of book you might reach for when you you’re looking for inspiration for a weekday meal, or a more time consuming weekend cooking project.

Killer recipes? Egyptian lamb fattah; carrot and onion chapatis; Yemini bread; Moroccan chickpea and noodle soup; Russian semolina cake 

What will I love? The sheer variety of dishes, some of which you may not have encountered before such as Mahamri (African beignets – fluffy, doughnut like buns flavoured with cardomom and coconut milk).

What won’t I like? At 128 pages, it ends all too soon.

Should I buy it? All profits from the book The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex for the benefit of the Hubb Community Kitchen. That alone is a good enough reason to get yourself a copy.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: 
Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Five stars

Buy this book
Together: Our Community Cookbook

Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit

lateral cooking by niki segnit

What’s the USP? Segnit says that Lateral Cooking is ‘a practical handbook, designed to help creative cooks develop their own recipes’. So, not your everyday cookbook then.

Who’s the author? Niki Segnit is probably best known as the author of The Flavour Thesaurus, the culinary version of Roget’s Thesaurus, which listed 99 ingredients and suggested flavour matches for each of them. Lateral Cooking is designed as a companion volume to The Flavour Thesaurus.

What does it look like? At over 600 pages long, its a brick of a book, with densely packed pages illustrated only by simple red ink line drawings.  Think weighty reference work rather than a glossy cookbook.

Is it good bedtime reading? Oh yes. There are (very) approximately 300,000 words to keep you occupied, or around three airport novels worth.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The short answer is no, but that needs some qualification, so here goes with the long version. This is not a recipe book as such (although it does contain recipes) and is organised in a very particular way. Each of the twelve chapters takes either a type of ingredient such as nuts, chocolate or sugar, or a product (bread) or related group of products (stock, soup and stew) and offers a simple ‘starting point’ recipe which Signet says lies on a ‘continuum’ which links one recipe to the next within the chapter’s subject. As she explains in her introduction, ‘Marzipan can be nothing more than a mixture of equal weights of ground almonds and sugar with just enough egg white to bring them together. Macaroons, the next point on the continuum, simply call for more egg white’.

So will you have trouble finding the ingredient for the starting point Marzipan recipe? Almost certainly not. But before you get to the next point in the continuum, Signet provides ‘a range of flavouring options’ under the heading of ‘Flavours & Variations’ for the starting point recipes. So you might want to try and track down candied melon to make your own Calissons D’aix, a lozenge shaped sweet from Aix-en-Provence made with a marzipan like mix of ground almonds and flavoured with honey, Grand Marnier and orange flower water as well as the aforementioned candied melon. Signet doesn’t always provide recipes for all her flavouring options, so you’ll have to google Calissons D’aix , or just click here. Ultimately, Signet wants her readers to develop their own recipes based on the starting points and flavouring options, so your imagination is your only limit to what you include in a recipe, which means you might have trouble finding ingredients if your ideas are really out there.

What’s the faff factor? Again, not a straightforward question to answer. The starting point recipes are designed to be simple, but the idea of the book is not just to master those simple recipes, but to become an all round instinctive cook who understands ingredients and cooking methods so well that you won’t need recipes or cookery books anymore. So, in addition to the flavouring suggestions, each starting point recipe comes with a list of ‘leeway’ bullet points that illustrate the different ways the basic recipe can be prepared and variations in ingredients (and this is before you get on to the more major variations of the flavouring suggestions). So the faff is not necessarily in the complexity of the recipes, but the amount of reading you will need to do before you get into the kitchen.

How often will I cook from the book? If you treat the book as it’s intended and follow the ‘continuum’ from the starting point recipes and really get inside a particular branch of cookery, you will be making a lot of food and basically taking a self-directed cookery course at home. Otherwise, I’m not sure this book would be the first I’d reach for when planning a weekly household menu for example.

Killer recipes? As a practical handbook, Lateral Cooking isn’t really about killer recipes but culinary fundamentals, so you’ll find full written out recipes for things like Yeast-risen bread, Brown Chicken Stock, Risotto Bianco, Pasta, Tarka Chana Dal, Lamb and Vegetable Stew, Marzipan, Shortbread and Ice Cream. The more unusual dishes are often embedded within the ‘Flavours & Variations’ sections, such as Chanfana, a goat stew from the Beira region of Portugal that’s flavoured with red wine, mint, paprika and piri piri seasoning. 

What will I love? Lateral Cooking is a comprehensive work and notable academic achievement, taking a fresh perspective on a well worn subject that will have you thinking about cooking in a new way.

What won’t I like? Whether or not you like the book will depend on how willing you are to go with Segnit’s basic conceit of the cooking continuum, how important you feel it is to understand cooking from that perspective and if you agree that it will turn you into an instinctive cook (if you are not one already) and if that’s what you want to be.

Should I buy it? If you don’t own a copy of Larousse Gastronomique, Le guide culinaire by Escoffier or La Repertoire de la Cuisine and are a novice cook who wants to take a more serious approach to learning the craft, then Lateral Cooking will fit the bill. If you already have a decent cookbook collection and are an accomplished cook, you may want to carefully consider how likely you are to cook through the book in the manner intended. However, it may fill a gap in your collection as a modern reference work.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: 
Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Lateral Cooking: Foreword by Yotam Ottolenghi

£35, Bloomsbury Publishing

Mob Kitchen by Ben Lebus

mob kitchen by ben lebus

What’s the USP? Quick and easy recipes that will feed four people for less than a tenner, this is the print version of the youtube and social media food channel.

Who’s the author? Ben Lebus previously worked as a waiter in his father’s Oxford restaurant and as a Deliveroo rider before launching Mob Kitchen, an online publishing company that creates short cooking videos.

What does it look like? The vivid, direct, colourful and simple design makes it a pleasure to cook from.

Is it good bedtime reading? In a word, no. But it is good listening, sort of. Every chapter and recipe comes with its own soundtrack. Just scan the Spotify code using the app on your phone and you can hear Bon Temps Rouler by Scoundrels while you knock up some Healthy Chicken Gyrpos.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The book is pretty much aimed at the supermarket shopper so you should have no problems finding anything.

What’s the faff factor? Lebus doesn’t understand the word ‘faff’. As he explains in his introduction, Mob Kitchen is all about weaning uni students and young professionals off their fast food and takeaway habits and showing that ‘cooking healthy, delicious food is easy, fun and affordable’.

How often will I cook from the book? If you are a uni student or young professional and you do want to eat more healthily, cooking from Mob kitchen could become a daily habit. And even if you don’t fall into the above categories, the book has plenty of mid-week meal ideas to appeal to casual cooks and dedicated culinarians alike.

Killer recipes? Chorizo shak attack; the crispiest sweet potato rosti with poached eggs and guac; Asian courgette ribbon and chicken salad; lamb kofta couscous salad with tzatziki; chicken panzanella.

What will I love? The sense of discovery and joy in sharing knowledge and the fact that the dishes really will only cost you ten quid to cook.

What won’t I like? If the book was a person it would live in Shoreditch, call you ‘buddy’ and have a thing for craft beer. There is a certain amount of twenty-something testosterone (and which is also very evident on the videos) which some readers may find hard to swallow.

Should I buy it? As a first cookbook for a younger person, you can’t really go wrong but also well worth investigating if you’re short on time to cook and are bored by your  weekday meal routine.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for:
Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Four stars

Buy this book
Mob Kitchen: Feed 4 or more for under 10 pounds

Fruit Soup with Verbena by Michel Roux Jr

fruit soup

(SOUPE DE FRUITS ROUGES À LA VERVEINE)

This beautiful, verbena-flavoured dessert is summer in a bowl. And it is even better with a few little madeleines on the side.

Serves 4

75g caster sugar
2 tbsp blossom honey
2 fresh verbena sprigs (or a handful of dried)
500g mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants)
freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Pour 500ml of water into a pan, add the sugar and honey and bring to the boil.  Add the verbena and simmer for 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, cover and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. Remove the verbena. Pour the liquid into a bowl, add the fruit, then leave to cool. Chill the soup in the fridge until it is very cold. Just before serving I like to add a little freshly ground black pepper.

Cook more from this book
Monkfish cooked in the style of lamb
Basque-style chicken

Read the review

Buy this book
The French Revolution: 140 Classic Recipes made Fresh & Simple
£25, Seven Dials

Basque-Style Chicken by Michel Roux Jr

chicken basque style

(POULET BASQUAISE)

This is a really good simple supper – everything you need in one pot. I like to make it with chicken legs, as they are more flavourful than breast and less likely to be dry. Espelette chillies are grown in the Basque region in southwest France and have a beautifully mild, fragrant taste that is perfect for this dish. If you can’t find any, just use other chillies to taste. This is a dish that’s even better when made in advance and then reheated.

Serves 4

12 new potatoes, scrubbed
4 chicken legs
1 tbsp smoked paprika
4 tbsp olive oil
2 red, green or yellow peppers, halved and seeded
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
200ml white wine
1 tbsp piment d’espelette (see page 8) or chilli flakes
4 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the potatoes in half, put them in a pan of salted water and bring to the boil. Cook them for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside. Joint the chicken legs into thighs and drumsticks – or ask your butcher to do this for you. Season them with salt and smoked paprika. Heat the oil in an ovenproof pan or a flameproof casserole dish and fry the chicken pieces until golden brown on both sides. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.

Slice the peppers into long strips and fry them in the same pan until tender, then add the onions, garlic and par-boiled potatoes. Cook them over a medium heat for 5–6 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/ Gas 6.

Tie the bay leaves and thyme sprigs together and add them to the pan along with the wine and piment d’espelette or chilli flakes. Add extra chilli if you like your food really spicy.

Add the tomatoes, then put the chicken and any juices back into the pan and stir gently. Put a lid on the pan or cover it tightly with foil and place it in the oven for 30 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear. Check the seasoning, then serve or set aside to enjoy later.

Cook more from this book
Monkfish cooked in the style of lamb
Fruit soup with Verbena

Read the review

Buy this book
The French Revolution: 140 Classic Recipes made Fresh & Simple
£25, Seven Dials

Simply Delicious by Darina Allen

Darina Allen

What’s the USP? As the cover boldly states, ‘100 timeless, tried and tested recipes’ from the doyen of Irish cookery, collected from Allen’s now out of print Simply Delicious 1 and 2 and Simply Delicious vegetable books from the late 80’s and 90’s which were some of the most successful cookery books ever published in Ireland.

Who’s the author? You could call Darina Allen the Delia Smith of Ireland.  She is perhaps best known for running the world famous Ballymaloe Cookery School near Cork since 1983 but is also the author of 16 books including Irish Traditional Cooking and has presented nine series of the Simply Delicious TV show. She is a key figure in the Slow Food movement and founded the first farmer’s market in Ireland.  

What does it look like? Like the recipes, the design of Simply delicious is also timeless, tried and tested with simply-styled, full page overhead food shots and unadorned recipes. There are one or two portraits of the great lady herself in the busy in the kitchen and double page spread, photographic chapter headers featuring things like a metal colander of courgettes complete with flowers or a simple bunch of asparagus. Simple but nicely done.

 Is it good bedtime reading? A two-page introduction and that’s your lot sadly.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? How much is a ‘splash’ of sunflower oil? How much oil is enough for deep frying? How many lettuces and salad leaves constitute a ‘selection’ big enough to feed 6 people?  How many are ‘a few small leaves of lettuce’? What does ‘a little local goat’s cheese’ mean; do I need one log, two logs. And what weight? How much is ‘a little’ extra virgin olive oil. For a food writer of such long standing, and especially one who has run a cookery school for 35 years, the recipes are surprisingly littered with this sort of thing.

Killer recipes? This is comforting, home style cooking, dishes that transcend the fashions and fads of the professional kitchen like beef with stout; traditional Irish bacon with cabbage and parsley sauce;  farmhouse chicken and Irish stew. Things get a bit more racy with Lebanese cold cucumber soup and onion bhajis with tomato and chilli relish, but kombucha and dashi are notable by their absence.

What will I love? Simply Delicious is based on fundamental, sound cooking techniques and the food is appealing. The book will help you rediscover the delights of a well-made soup, stew, pie, salad or fruit fool.

What won’t I like? Clocking in at under 200 pages, the book is a little on the skimpy side for price and the lack of additional content like meal suggestions, glossary or more biographical details about Allen is disappointing.

Should I buy it? If your shelves are heaving with Redzepi, Humm and Bottura, then a shot of good old commonsense cooking in the shape of Simply Delicious might be exactly what you need.

Cuisine: Irish
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Simply Delicious the Classic Collection: 100 timeless, tried & tested recipes
£20, Kyle Books