Ever since that memorable moment when Jamie Oliver’s attempts to makeover primary school dinners were aired on Channel 4 in 2005, the culinary world enjoyed a wave of newfound popularity. Fresh, homemade food became the principle desire of the nation, and Turkey Twizzlers were relegated to history. Cooks everywhere seized the opportunity, clamouring to share their latest creations in cookbooks, online, or on television. Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen and the revival of MasterChef for instance, were only two of the masses. Popular chefs became “celebrity” chefs and even celebrities themselves were keen to get in on the action. From Gwyneth Paltrow’s controversial Notes from My Kitchen Table, to Gok Wan’s Gok Cooks Chinese, the surge of recipes, diets and inventive dishes just never seemed to end – and it still hasn’t. The success of the BBC series The Great British Bake Off has sent Britain into an even greater food frenzy. As viewers’ mouths water at the elaborate creations on-screen, even more cookbooks are added to the shelves.
Just a glance down Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers List, for example, shows just how influential the programme has been, with the Great British Bake Off: Celebrations recipe book, and Mary Berry’s Absolute Favourites making the cut. But where does this leave you and me? Confronted with all of these brightly coloured titles, how do we know which to choose, and which to avoid? Well, there is no need to panic! Having tried and tested many a cookbook, here are my personal recommendations for both the beginner cook, and the experienced chef:
Nosh for Students, by Joy May
Don’t be fooled by the title! While this is indeed every student’s saviour (the endless days of pot noodle are long gone!), this book of homely recipes is suitable for everyone. Each recipe comes with a photo of what the dish looks like, information on how much it costs per person, the time needed to prepare and cook the dish, and the number of people it feeds.
What’s more, no weighing scales are needed as each ingredient is measured using a mug! This book taught me to cook, so that I’ve expanded my pre-university range of beans on toast and jacket potatoes, to dishes such as sausage pie, chicken risotto and spaghetti bolognaise. There are even vegetarian, gluten-free and graduate editions, so every mouth is catered for.
Delia’s Complete Cookery Course, by Delia Smith
First published in 1978, this book continues to be a family favourite. Delia misses nothing, taking the reader through almost every dish imaginable, whilst describing clearly every step of the way.
I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that you could happily live lifetime of tasty and varied meals with this cookbook alone on your shelf.
The secret behind Dad's roast dinners, Mum's chocolate sponge cake, and my very own fish pie, it's not an unusual occurrence to hear “consult Delia” as a response to any culinary query in our family kitchen. I would personally recommend the apple crumble as the ultimate highlight. Bliss.
Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals, by Jamie Oliver
Perhaps the experienced and nimble-fingered chef could whip us Jamie's dishes in 30 minutes, but for us mere mortals out there, I would suggest a more realistic time-frame of 45 minutes to an hour.
Don't let that put you off however! Jamie's dishes are well worth the time and effort they take to prepare, and are real go-to meals for any dinner party or romantic meal.
Not only do they sound impressive, but each dish comes with pictures too, so it's easy to see what you should be aiming for.
The Hummingbird Bakery: Home Sweet Home, by Tarek Malouf
What with the sudden tidal wave of baking recipe books, it's hard to know where to begin! After many a disappointing bake, I stumbled across The Hummingbird Bakery: Home Sweet Home on advice from a friend. It is safe to say, we have been best friends ever since.
Each cake, tray-bake, biscuit and pudding I've had the pleasure to make has turned out to be a slice of heaven. A definite favourite has been the Chocolate Malt Cake, closely followed by the S'More Brownies. If you're still unsure, why not pop into one of the London Hummingbird Bakery Café's themselves for a freshly baked bite of the action? Be warned, after cake this good you won't turn back.