Darina Allen's best book buys for Christmas

Darina Allen's best book buys for Christmas

It's that time of the year again, my desk is piled high with new cookbooks, pre-Christmas publications, all shiny and glossy and very tempting.

First out of the traps in early September was Jamie Oliver’s Veg. I’m a big fan of Jamie’s and felt a deep sympathy as he faced a whole slew of challenges earlier in the year. He has bounced back in a variety of ways — lookout for his YouTube cooking slots and this new book is another must-have.

Another of my food heroes is the indomitable Fergus Henderson. The Book of St John written with his long-time business partner Trevor Gulliver celebrates 25 years of the iconic ‘meaty‘ restaurant that pioneered ‘nose to tail’ eating and happily coincides with the Year of the Pig.

Pitty, witty, and structured to mirror the practises and rythyms of St John Kitchen, from butchery to stocks, braise and brine, St John’s on St John’s Street in London is not just about meat, there’s also an extensive repertoire of fruit and vegetable recipes, all new and a whole chapter on puddings. Lick your lips — steamed syrup pudding, sherry trifle and lots of treats for the eleven o clock biscuit tin, as well as a seed cake and a glass of madeira (Fergus’s favourite tipple), and finally a whole chapter dedicated to feasting ... an irresistible publication with gold edged pages — a very special present.

Darina Allen's best book buys for Christmas

In the midst of the pile, are two shiny hardbacks written by two Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni. James Ramsden, food writer, podcaster, chef, owner of three restaurants including Michelin starred Pidgin in Hackney, has written a fourth book, Let’s Do Dinner, jam-packed with tasty tried and tested recipes. Nothing chefy here, just lots of yummy dishes to enjoy that can be prepared ahead for family and friends, so you don’t find yourself racing against the clock at the last moment.

The second book is a first for Rachel Goenka from India who did the 12 Week Certificate Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2011 before returning to her native Mumbai where she opened her restaurant The Sassy Spoon. This debut book, Adventures with Mithai is already a best seller in India and reflects her love of baking. Here again, there are many stunning photos of creations you’ll really want to bake.

Finally, Le Cordon Bleu Chocolate Bible — a culinary guide to all things chocolate. With 180 recipes, it is so difficult to pick a favourite recipe. This may we’ll become the quintessential chocolate book.

A cookbook makes a brilliant present that keeps on giving — so lots to choose from.


Makes 40


50g mixed glacé fruit

50g candied orange peel

35g glacé cherries

100g flaked almonds

25g flour sifted

100ml whipped cream

85g caster sugar

30g mild honey

300g dark chocolate


Preheat the oven to 170C (335F). Butter a baking tray.

Finely chop the mixed glacé fruit, orange peel and cherries and place in a bowl; add the almonds. Tip the flour into the bowl and stir carefully by hand to separate the pieces of fruit.

Heat the cream, sugar and honey until simmering; stir over low heat for 2 – 3 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves. Using a wooden spoon, carefully blend the hot cream mixture into the glacé fruit and flour. (If desired, the Florentine mixture could be kept refrigerated for 2 days).

Using a spoon, put small mounds of the mixture on the baking tray placing them well apart. Flatten with the back of the spoon into 3cm discs. Transfer to the oven and when the discs start to bubble, remove and cool for about 30 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 160C (325F) and bake the discs for another 10 minutes. Cool and transfer to a wire rack.

Temper the chocolate: Coarsely chop the chocolate. Place 2/3 (200g) of the chopped chocolate in a bowl; melt over a bain-maire until the chocolate reaches 45C on a digital thermometer. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the remaining chocolate, stirring until the temperature drops to 27C. Return the bowl to the bain-maire, stir gently and reheat the chocolate to 32C.

Using a pastry brush, apply a layer of tempered chocolate to the flat side of each Florentine; tap each on the work surface to release any air bubbles in the chocolate. Spread with a second layer, using a spatula to remove any excess chocolate. Harden the Florentines at room temperature.

Chef’s Tip: Make sure that you spread the dough out thinly on the baking tray otherwise the Florentines will not be easy to eat when cooked.

Extracted from Le Cordon Blue Chocolate Bible. Published by Grub Street.

Braised Lamb, Peas,Crème Fraîche and Mint

It is important to stress the wonder of slippery pea: olive oil, crème fraîche and chicken stock, the three lubrications combine to create that glorious slipperiness. Don’t be afraid of a frozen pea. A chef who shall remain unnamed once told Fergus: “Wait until peas are in season, then use frozen.” A comfort for the home cook.

To serve 6 happily


Sea salt and black pepper

1 lamb shoulder on the bone

A few glugs of extra virgin olive oil

20 shallots, peeled and left whole

20 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole

A bouquet garni (eg, parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay, etc)

Half bottle of white wine

A ready supply of chicken stock

2 healthy tbsp of Dijon mustard

4 healthy tbsp of crème fraîche

A few handfuls of fresh or frozen peas

2 bundles of mint, leaves picked and stalks retained for the bundle of joy


Season the shoulder well, then heat a large frying pan over a medium heat with a splash of olive oil and brown the lamb all over.

Place it in an ovenproof dish or roasting tray large and deep enough toaccommodate the joint with a little space. Gently sweat the shallots andgarlic in the lamb frying pan for 3 or 4 minutes, without colouring them, and nestle these around the shoulder with the bundle of joy.

Place the roasting tray over a medium heat and pour in the white wine. Reduce by half, then add the chicken stock and an extra glug of olive oiladministered like squirts of factor 50 at the beach: a generous coating. While the liquid returns to a simmer, take a small bowl and whisk together the mustard and crème fraîche, loosening the mixture with a couple of spoonsful of the simmering stock. Pour the resulting sauce into the tray. The liquid does not have to cover everything — remember that you are looking for the alligators-in-the-swamp effect.

Place in a barely medium oven for at least three hours, the crème fraîche and meat juices unify while it blips away. Check the shoulder with a skewer and, when the meat is tender and yielding, add the peas and return to simmer in the oven for a few minutes longer.

Reinforce the seasoning if needed, discipline your mint leaves and fold through to finish.

The leftover braising juices and slippery peas make an excellent sauce for farfalle — a favourite for staff dinners.

Extracted from The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver Published by Ebury Press

View this post on Instagram

Fergus describes a misplaced pie fear: “I once sat next to a lady at dinner who, when the pies arrived at the table, admitted to pie phobia. Her condition worsened every second that went by before the pie’s filling was exposed, only then could she compose herself. It’s a bit like having a gimp in the larder, not knowing what’s going on under that rubber onesie or, in the case of pie, its suet crust”. . The new Book of St. John is a joy. A gimp in the larder is an inconvenience. Picture 1 depicts @clerkenwellboyec1’s Rabbit and Trotter Pie on Monday, a comforting and non-terrifying delight. Picture 2 is a shot from our new book, a pie chained up in the cellar at Smithfield. “Capturing steak and kidneys in a pie is an expression of power. Put your trust in pie. All will be well”. . . . . . . . 📸 1 by @clerkenwellboyec1, 📸 2 by @emperorofhoxton. Book published by @eburybooks. . #BookOfStJohn #fergushenderson #gimpinthelarder #piegimp #pie #cookbook #newbook #trevorgulliver #stjohn #stjohnrestaurant #steakandkidneypie #gamepie #nosetotail #trotters #rabbitandtrotter #rabbitpie

A post shared by St. JOHN Restaurant (@st.john.restaurant) on

Warm Butternut SquashSalad with Labneh and Chilli

Serves 4–6

Labneh is yogurt that has been strained of all its whey, leaving the thick curd behind. It needs a day or two to reach its peak, so if you’re making this at more of a run, just use a really thick, Greek-style yogurt.

Darina Allen's best book buys for Christmas


500g/1lb 2oz natural yogurt

Salt and pepper

1 small butternut squash or pumpkin

Olive oil

A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

For the dressing

A big bunch of parsley, leaves only

½ tsp ground coriander

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed to a paste

Juice of ½ lemon

100ml/3½ fl oz/7 tbsp olive oil


1–2 days ahead:

Line a bowl with a clean tea towel. Tip the yogurt in, add a pinch of salt, then tie the towel up with string and hang from a cupboard handle over the bowl.

Up to a day ahead:

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. Wash the squash but don’t peel it (the skin is delicious) and cut it into rounds, discarding the seeds. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, and roast for 45 minutes. Leave to cool; chill overnight if necessary.

Up to an hour ahead:

Make the dressing: finely chop the parsley and mix with the ground coriander, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper, or whiz in a blender.

30 minutes ahead:

If necessary, warm the squash in a medium oven (180C/350F/ Gas mark 4). If the oven’s already on for something else, do it at that temperature, keeping an eye on it if it’s particularly hot.


Place the chunks of squash on a plate and top with a dollop of labneh. Scatter with chopped chilli and a generous dressing of parsley oil, then serve.

Tweak: Use goat’s milk yogurt instead, to produce lovely goat’s curd. Also delicious just spread on toast.

Extracted from Let’s Do Dinner by James Ramsden, published by Pavilion Books. Image credit to Yuki Sugiura.

Wonderful Veg Tagine

Serves 6


1 pinch of saffron

4 cloves of garlic

4cm piece of ginger

Olive oil

1 tsp of ground cumin

Half tsp of ground cinnamon

1 tsp of ras el hanout

1 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste

2.5Kg mixed veg, such as aubergines, courgettes, carrots, cherry tomatoes, red onion, butternut squash, mixed-coloured peppers.

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas

100g dried apricots

1 preserved lemon

300g couscous

Half bunch of mixed fresh herbs such as dill, mint, flat leaf parsley (15g)

20g flaked almonds


Put the saffron into a jug, cover with 500ml of boiling water and leave toinfuse. Meanwhile, peel and finely slice the garlic and ginger, then place in a large casserole pan over a medium heat with 2 tablespoons of oil, the cumin, cinnamon and ras el hanout. Add the tomato paste, fry for a few minutes, stirring regularly, then pour over the saffron water.

Trim and prep the veg, as necessary, then chop into large chunks, adding them to the pan as you go. Top in the chickpeas (juices and all), roughly chop and add the apricots and preserved lemon, discarding any pips, then season with sea salt and black pepper. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.

When the veg are almost tender, just cover the couscous with boiling water, season with salt and pepper and pop a plate on top. Leave for 10minutes, then fluff and fork up. Pick the herb leaves and toast the almonds. Serve the tagine and couscous sprinkled with almonds and herbs.

Delicious served with harissa rippled yoghurt.

Extracted from Veg by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House © Jamie Oliver Enterprises Ltd (2019 Veg)

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