Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier
What’s the USP? Everything you need to know in order to do Christmas the River Cottage way, which roughly translates as sustainable, organic and do-it-yourself. After reading this book you’ll be ready to start knocking up your own homemade mince pies, gifts and decs while necking copious amounts of rumtopf. That sounds like a Merry Christmas to me.

Who wrote it? Lucy Brazier is a writer and course tutor at River Cottage, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s HQ in Axminster that offers courses in cooking, gardening and artisan skills.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a multi-award-winning writer and broadcaster and environmentalist committed to seasonal, ethically produced food. He is the author of numerous cookbooks and has fronted many TV series including River Cottage for Channel 4, the series that first brought him to the nation’s attention. His campaigning TV programmes have included Hugh’s Fish FightHugh’s War on Waste and Britain’s Fat Fight.

Is it good bedtime reading? You’ll want to get comfortably tucked up in bed with Christmas at River Cottage ideally a year ahead so you can put in to action all the advice in the ‘Planning Ahead’ chapter and begin growing your own produce and buying all the preserving kit you’ll need to make your own jams, pickles, booze, non-alcoholic drinks, syrups and cordials and fermented drinks. You’ll be in the perfect place as you’ll be exhausted just reading about all the work in store for you, never mind actually doing it. And that’s before you get to ‘Decking the Halls’ where you’ll learn how to craft your own willow Christmas wreath,  make tree decorations from dried orange and apple slices and how to make your own calendar in the ‘Advent’ chapter.

What’s the faff factor? It depends if you view the planning-ahead required to make things like red cabbage and beetroot pickle which needs to be prepared several weeks in advance, or marrow and chilli relish that needs six months to mature. But there are plenty of do-on-the-day recipes such as quick kedgeree and kale with anchovy cream that are straightforward enough.

How often will I cook from the book? If you take the homemade ethos to heart, then you may be cooking regularly from the book throughout the year making the jams, preserves and pickles in time for the big day, otherwise, it’s going to be mostly useful to you once a year.

What will I love? The book covers everything you need for a homespun festive break, from table decorations and drinks to the Christmas roast with all the trimmings and your own homemade Christmas pudding.

Killer recipes: Lentil salad with herby dressing; midwinter vegan tart; curried potato tart; beef and stout stew; mulled wine; prune and apricot stollen; Yule ham; Christmas Eve pizzas; turkey au vin.

Should I buy it? If you’re no longer satisfied with store-bought decorations and a turkey breast joint from Iceland and you want to get seriously hands-on with Christmas preparations all year round, then this is an essential purchase. Even for the less dedicated, there’s plenty of inspiration to make your Christmas a bit more special and personalised than it might usually be.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Christmas at River Cottage
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Best Cookbooks of 2021 Part 2

Andy Lynes chooses his favourite cookbooks of 2021

Simply Raymond
‘Straightforward and accessible, the recipes in
Simply Raymond will provide much inspiration for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner snacks and sweet treats. That’s enough to put a smile on any cook’s face.’
Read the review
Cuisine:
 French
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five Stars
Buy this book: Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home – The Sunday Times Bestseller, includes recipes from the ITV series £25 Headline Home

Essential Ollie Dabbous

‘With everything from a comforting venison toad in the hole and onion gravy to a light and sophisticated grilled bream with pink grapefruit, as well as baking projects that include an exotic fig leaf cake, Dabbous has covered all the bases and created a cookbook that’s as essential as its title suggests.’
Read the review
Cuisine: Global
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book: Essential £30, Bloomsbury Publishing

Roots by Rob Howell
Root is bursting with exciting and inspirational ideas that any keen cook will delight in. The accent on vegetables is bang on trend and will help those of us in search of help in cutting down our meat intake.  One of 2021’s essential purchases.’
Read the review
Cuisine: International
Suitable for: confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book: Root: Small vegetable plates, a little meat on the side £26, Bloomsbury Absolute

Hawsworth The Cookbook
‘In his foreword, Phil Howard says, ‘I know for certain that you will not regret investing in this book – and the knowledge of this chef’. I can only concur.’
Read the review
Cuisine: Canadian/International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book
Hawksworth: The Cookbook £33.99, Appetite By Random House

Neil Perry Everything I Love to Cook
‘With its near-encyclopaedic length and career-spanning content, the book would make a fitting finale to Perry’s 40 years in the professional kitchen. But with so many vibrant, inventive and delicious recipes, it seems that Perry has a lot more yet to share.’
Read the review 
Cuisine: Australian/International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book
Everything I Love to Cook: 150 home classics to return to £30, Murdoch Books

Sambal Shiok by Mandy Yin

‘If you happen to be new to the irresistibly spicy, sweet, savoury and sour delights of Malaysian cuisine, then this is the perfect introduction.’
Read the review 
Cuisine: Malaysian
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book
Sambal Shiok: The Malaysian Cookbook £25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Selin Kiazim

‘Kiazim has a distinctive culinary voice all her own which would be enough to make Three an enticing prospect. The fact that she is generous enough to want to help her readers develop their own style makes it a must by for both young novice cooks and those who are more experienced but in search of some new inspiration.’
Read the review
Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginner / confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book: Three: Acid, Texture, Contrast – The Essential Foundations to Redefine Everyday Cooking £25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Italian Deli Cookbook

‘Randall is not aiming for novelty or difference for difference sake, but rather to make ‘simple food with exceptional ingredients’. The Italian Deli Cookbook is further evidence that he is the master of that particular craft.’
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Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book: The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating the Best of Italian Ingredients £26, Quadrille Publishing

Marcus's Kitchen
‘It seems as though lockdown provided Wareing with the chance to really concentrate his efforts on the book which I think may well be his best yet. It’s a book I’ve already enjoyed cooking a lot from and it’s one I can see myself returning to again and again in years to come.’
Read the review
Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book: Marcus’ Kitchen: My favourite recipes to inspire your home-cooking £22, HarperCollins

Ottolenghi Test kitchen

Read the review
Coming soon
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book: Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love £25, Ebury Press

Sicilia by Ben Tish

‘A gastronomic tour of Sicily in recipes and essays courtesy of one of London’s top chefs.’
Read the review
Cuisine: Sicilian
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book: Sicilia: A love letter to the food of Sicily £26, Bloomsbury Absolute

monk Light and Shadow on the Philosopher's Path by Yoshihiro Imai

monk captures chef Yoshiro Imai’s distinctive, individual and inspiringly soulful culinary expression.  It’s a complete pleasure to read and to gaze at Yuka Yanazume’s gorgeous images.’
Read the review
Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy the book: monk: Light and Shadow on the Philosopher’s Path £29.95, Phaidon

Advent by Anja Dunk

Advent by Anja Dunk

What’s the USP? Oh, brace yourself for this, because it’s been a while. We’re always talking about cookbooks’ USPs around here, but really, how often does a book strike you as truly stand out? Truly unique? So you’ve written a book about vegan Chinese food? How quaint. What’s that? Your book looks at meals that can all be cooked in a single pan? WELL I NEVER.

Not today, my friend. Advent is a cookbook that offers twenty-four chapters (see what they did there?) that are all dedicated specifically to the world of German Christmas baking. Now that – that is a USP.

Who wrote it? Anja Dunk, who is perhaps best known for her 2018 book Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings, which dove head first into contemporary German cooking (and had one of the more satisfying titles to say aloud that year).

Germany goes hard on Christmas, from the famous markets that coax pensioners out by the coach-load in non-pandemic times to their over-the-top advent calendars that make even my Lego one seem a little uninspired (though today I got to build a very festive vaccination centre, so it’s not exactly like Lego are pulling their creative weight here either). Baking is a facet of German Christmases that we are perhaps under familiar with here in the UK. Sure, we all know our lebkuchen and stollen, but how many of us can really claim to know what differentiates a spritzgebäck from a gewürzplätzchen? Here comes Dunk, with a seasonal barrage of goodwill (and a wealth of biscuit options).

Is it good bedtime reading? Dunk opens her book with a festive introduction filled with personal anecdotes and cultural insights, painting a vivid picture of a Christmas that runs in close parallel to our own British traditions. Recipe introductions vary, and though many tend towards the short and sweet, others take a moment to expand on unfamiliar ideas or offer a peek into German homes. It’s all very cosy, and whilst it may not keep you occupied for long, Advent begs to be read whilst tucked in under a duvet, plotting the treats that will see you through to the new year.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Books about baking need a lot of specificity, and Dunk doubles down on this, offering measurements for both European and US readers. She also makes sure to give tactile advice that will reassure infrequent bakers that they aren’t totally off-track (“the dough is pretty tacky and so won’t look all that neat,” she kindly informs us of her Chocolate and Ginger Biscotti, confirming that it will all even out in the oven).

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? No big asks here – in fact, the nature of cosy festive baking means that should you struggle to source ingredients from the shops, you can likely find some knocking about at the back of your Nan’s kitchen cupboard.

How often will I cook from the book? It’s about Christmas baking, so in all honesty you’re unlikely to get much use out of Advent from January through mid-November. Nevertheless, there are a few recipes that will be welcome year-round, from ‘German pizza’ Flammkuchen to the aforementioned biscotti coverage. Those with a particular fondness for home baked biscuits may consider this a vital purchase, though.

What will I love? The sheer coverage of the relatively niche corner of German cooking that Dunk has dedicated her book to. Beautifully presented and smartly organised, this is a title that does everything it claims to, and does so with elegance that few other cookbooks offer. There’s also a pair of exceptionally thoughtful contents pages at the back, listing all the vegan and gluten-free recipes respectively.

What won’t I love? Because the book clings so tightly to the Germanic Christmas tradition, with only a few recipes drawing on immediate neighbours, it can feel a little bit repetitive. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to have replaced one of the marzipan chapters with other European festive bakes.

Killer recipes: Jam-filled Lebkuchen Hearts, Cherry and Almond Florentines, Dried Pear Fruit Loaf, Spiced Chocolate and Prune Fudge Pake, Linzer Biscuits, ‘Fire Tongs’ Punch

Should I buy it? A lovely addition to the bookshelf for fans of baking and Christmas treats, this is an excellent book that you will only use for one month a year. But what a month it’ll be.

Cuisine: German
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Cook from this book
Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) by Anja Dunk
Christmas Wreath (Weihnachtskranz) by Anja Dunk

Buy this book
Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas
£25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas