Some people cooked their way through 2020 lockdowns, putting their energy into sourdough and cake and so on. Looking back – and it’s astonishing to me that some parts of the year are already a blur – I can say with fair confidence that I did not do the same thing. The nightly question of what to cook for dinner became no easier, but I did have more help on hand than usual. While online learning, one of Riley’s subjects was food technology and he set himself up in the kitchen to complete set tasks that helped solve meal planning (his pizza dough was high on the rotation at one point). And speaking of baking, Keira proved herself a pretty deft hand at it. Our sweets cravings were well and truly satisfied.
Still, while my cooking interest remains ambivalent, my fondness for cookbooks endures. I love their promise and you-can-do-it-too optimism. And I love learning about different forms of, or approaches to, cooking and eating, be they cultural, philosophical (i.e. vegetarian etc.), environmental or a combination of these factors (and more).
Speedy Bosh! by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby offers plant-based meals that can be cooked in 30 minutes or less. It also provides speedy food hacks in regard to preparation and planning. I have to say, in this example at least, I was primarily interested in their jackfruit recipes. I don’t mind jackfruit, but at the same time I’m always on the lookout to see how others use it to its best potential because I’m just not there yet. The same goes for tofu, if I’m honest. Speedy Bosh! helped on both counts.
Next is Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage. These two have combined their talents again in, as Ottolenghi describes in his Introduction, “the world of vegetables”. This particular book specifically is about “understanding what makes vegetables distinct and, accordingly, devising ways in which their flavours can be ramped up and tasted afresh”. Did I have many of the 20 main ingredients used in the book in pantry? Nope. Did that bother me? Nope. I substitute or improvise all the time. I paid special attention to his heartier meals rather than his salads. Generally speaking, give me gnocchis or ragus or baked potatoes, please. This book provides those options, and so much more.
The recipe section begins at the halfway point in The Ethical Omnivore: A practical guide and 60 nose-to-tail recipes for sustainable meat eating by Laura Dalrymple and Grant Hilliard. Before then, in this gorgeously designed book, the reader is taken through sustainable food meat production and the processes these involve, from soil health through to waste reduction. Very educational. While I like to keep the scales tipped towards having more vegetarian meals than meat-featured ones, last year my iron levels dipped to an almost all-time low. Bringing red meat back into my diet, just a bit, did make a difference. I remembered how much I enjoy a long slow-cooked brisket or some other cut of meat. And how versatile those leftovers can be, which suits me very well because I hate waste.
Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, recipes and stories by Nigella Lawson is a big hug of a book full of her usual buttery vocabulary and effortless storytelling. This sometimes extends a recipe’s steps to go over several pages, but who cares? Not me. Success lies in the details. Sometimes you love a book so much you cannot articulate it properly, you can only press it into another’s hands saying, “Here, see for you yourself”.
Finally, we come to Air Fryer: 275+ recipes to absolutely nail it published by Herron Books. This was my Christmas present to Adam because 2020 was also the year we welcomed a precious new member to our family – our air fryer. I can make jokes now because at the time I was a bit scowly and skeptical about the purchase, but I admit it has been very handy. We’ve only explored some of its wider potential – like baking muffins and such – and so far they’ve all been good! Thumbs up from me!
Have you read any of these? Any feature pride of place on your kitchen shelves?