Good enough to eat: Top eight cookery books to gift this Christmas

KEYWORDS in cookbook titles for 2018 are ‘happy’ and ‘at home’ and none the worse for that. If we are thinking of good health, the enjoyment of food, (as long as we make it ourselves, however quickly) is important, helping digestion and adding to the pleasure which generates happy hormones. We really cannot lose if we enjoy cooking and eating.

All of this year’s selection are in hardback, are smartly designed and easy to read, so take that as a given in all reviews.

I also looked at Detox Kitchen Vegetables by Lily Simpson (Bloomsbury, €26). I’m not convinced by the concept of detoxing, but with recipes listed by vegetable, good seasonal recipes are easy to find. Try the sweet potato chilli for a Christmas day vegetarian option.

Just awarded the prestigious Prix des Savoureuses in France, Trish Deseine’s C’est de la Trish (La Martinière €24.99) gives us excellent, easy tips on to how to bring flavour into dishes, while minimising waste. Currently available only in French, but easily understood by beginners, with beautiful photographs. Available online.

Most books here are priced in sterling and I have found euro prices in Irish shops and online vary hugely, so shop around. Unless stated, recipes are easy to follow, but do sit down and read through before collecting ingredients. There is plenty to learn about how to cook healthily and eat well.

Home Economics for Life by Neven Maguire; Gill Books, €22.99

A first cookbook for anyone who needs to understand the basics of a roast dinner, poached eggs, omelettes, there are tips for cooking pasta, pizza, stews, burgers, meatballs, chips and cupcakes. With plenty of instructive photographs to make it easy to follow for beginners, it hardly needs to be read at all. Spaciously designed, it feels calm and I am partial to a ribbon marker.

The Currabinny Cookbook by James Kavanagh & William Murray; Penguin Ireland, £20

This textured covered book feels as good as it looks with recipes for pesto of kale, cashew and wakame — good for the festive season. Old fashioned cauliflower cheese and ‘cleansing’ nettle broth contrast with flourless dark chocolate and sea salt cake, and lemon and rosemary biscuits. Pair wholemeal pitta or cider and honey loaf with smoked mackerel with Tabasco and lime potato salad. Crowned cookbook of the year at An Post Irish Book Awards.

The Happy Pear by David & Stephen Flynn; Penguin, £18.88

Jokes abound about this pair’s mad energy and half naked pics, and it’s here on the page in bounces. Vegetarian recipes have chicken replaced by cashew nuts for nuggets, lentils for meat in ‘spag bol’, mushrooms and beans for ‘meatballs’. They tell us about their Vitamin Sea — early morning daily sea swim, and emphasise the need to read labels to recognise and avoid different types of sugar (singing my song). All good sense.

Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi; Ebury Press, £25

Always beautifully-designed, this author’s books are still inspiring. His critics talk about complicated recipes, but once you have his staples of pomegranate molasses, za’atar, sumac, cardamom, chilli flakes and tahini to hand, you can transform winter vegetables. There are meat and fish, and sweet treats here too — try mint, pistachio chocolate fridge cake for gifts. This book is simpler than his others — indulge in the chips with feta and oregano.

Eat Happy by Melissa Hemsley; Ebury Press, £20

Hard to resist the subtitle 30-minute Feelgood Food for this page, ‘tasty, nourishing and thrifty’ is the justified claim for recipes such as Pizza Omelette (flour-free), Greek red lentil soup, French lentil stew with gremolata, herby cauliflower couscous (couscous-free), broccoli, pea and feta dip to have with chickpea crackers. Make chocolate coconut clusters for seasonal gifts. There are meat and fish recipes too. Delicious for the festive season.

Honey & Co At Home by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich; Pavilion, £26

This couple has three Middle Eastern food outlets in London and this book reflects their easy, home habits with generous bowls of food flavoured with lemon, mint, chilli, coriander, with good combinations of fruit and spices with meats, and vegetables with creamy tahini. Plenty of unctuous desserts too with crunchy ones good for food gifts. Try fennel crackers with arak (or Pernod) and sugar — crisp and delicious.

Slow by Gizzi Erskine; HQ, £25

Slowing down and enjoying cooking doesn’t mean spending all day on recipes, but savouring the time. Pork and apple stroganoff is appealing for wintry days (cook for 60 minutes, so not all that slow). A vegetable lasagne is a good substitute for the meaty version. Give confit garlic as a Christmas gift (70 minutes prep and cooking). I will try her ginger ham for Christmas this year.

Happy Food Niklas Ekstedt & Henrik Ennart; Absolute Press, £22

“How eating well can lift your mood and bring you joy” is the subtitle of this fluorescently decorated, interesting book. Even those who don’t trust easy fixes will be impressed by the idea of our gut being our second brain, weighing about 1.4kg the same as it, and how important it is to keep it healthy. There are plenty of ideas and recipes which will have you reaching for ‘terrific turmeric’ — no hardship there.

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