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The 12 greatest cookbook gifts

Jen G on 10th Nov, 2015

This time of year every single publication you come across or website you peruse is accosting you with its opinion.... So here I am chucking in my two pennies. These are my all-time favourite top 12 foodie books. What makes my list different from all the others you will see is that mine isn't just all new publications and populated entirely by authors on the flog circuit. It's just the stuff I like, both new and old, mainstream and obscure. I promise you that any food fanatic on your shopping list will love any of these. Get giving, and get reading too, these are too good to miss.

The 12 greatest cookbook gifts

1. My Last Supper – Melanie Dunea

This is a coffee table book that I love. I was gifted this by a friend a few years ago and I’ve dipped in and out for pleasure many a rainy afternoon. Sit down with a cuppa and a biscuit for this one as some of the worlds best chefs tell you what their last supper on earth would consist of. Who would cook it and why, what music would be playing and who would be there. Anthony Bourdain gives the introduction and 50 chefs had stunning portraits taken for each tale. Including Gabrielle Hamilton, author of another book on this list, Fergus Henderson and Jamie Oliver. A real foodies delight. A little different from the usual cookery book  best seller. Surprise someone on your shopping list. 

2. A New Turn in the South – Hugh Acheson

Unknown in the UK but a bit of a rock star chef in the US, Hugh Acheson is one of my faves. He is a regular host/judge on America's most addictive cookery contest Top Chef and looks very much like Henry Rollins. Mono-brow and all. He owns several restaurants throughout the Southern states, including the brilliant Empire State South in Atlanta, where I ate the dish that finally converted me to okra eating. A very hard task to have completed and high praise. Originally from Canada but adopted by the South as one of their own, Hugh's recipes are brilliant. They take traditional old Southern favourites and make them fresh and up-to-date, turning them on their head and infusing his personality every step of the way. The book is filled with great pictures and notes and is a fun read, as well as containing so many dishes that will become part of your repertoire.

3. Jamie's America- Jamie Oliver

OK so he has sold millions and millions of books in dozens of languages around the world, but interestingly this was his least selling title. I really don't know why. I know I worked for him and therefore might sound biased, but this is by far my favourite. The photos and recipes jump off the page and the American Green Chilli recipe in here has become a standard recipe for me to cook for friends. Different, tasty and easy. A great one to get boys cooking I have found, something about it appeals to guys, they just want to get those ribs and cornbread cooking! Give a copy to a budding Jamie in your life and hope they cook for you from it.

4. The Gift of Southern Cooking – Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis

If I was made to survive with only one cook book for the rest of my days to read, this would be it. My personal desert island tome. The descriptions of each recipe are so beautiful they are almost poetic. All the recipes turn out beautifully and will become real family favourites. Author Scott Peacock is truly one of the most charming southern gents I have ever had the pleasure to meet and call friend. Try Grandmaw Peacock's chicken and rice to lift any malaise, and the marmalade layer cake is a fitting bake for any occasion, plus it keeps in the fridge! I've bought several copies for friends over the years, perhaps you should too.

5. Blood, Bones and Butter – Gabrielle Hamilton

Not a recipe book but a memoir and what a kick-ass one at that. Gabrielle Hamilton is a New York chef, owner of Prune - a staple NYC eatery. This book is so vivid you can smell the dishes she speaks of, especially the whole roast lambs at her family's annual New Jersey parties. You can feel the puglian sun on your shoulders as she speaks so fondly of her mother-in-law's influence on her cooking. Despite the marriage being a flawed bad idea in the first place and the two women speaking not a word of the same language. Gabrielle isn't just a pretty girl food writer, she is a real gritty chef which makes her compelling to read. This book will delight anyone who has even a passing interest in food or the restaurant industry. One to slip into the stocking of anyone considering a career at the stove. By the end they will either run like hell for the hills or be chomping at the bit to be in the thick of it. Also, I think “Blood, Bones and Butter” is the best title for a memoir EVER.

6. Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life – Kim Severson

It's all about girl power this one. Kim (an American food writer) recounts the story of how she lost her way and found it again. Somewhere between the time her mother was teaching her lessons and finding herself having to teach her own daughter, Kim lost sight of everything. Who she was, who she wanted to be, where she was, what mattered and what didn't. She became an alcoholic(in Alaska nonetheless) but she found sight of everything again with the help of eight female cooks. Between them, knowingly and unknowingly, they taught her things, in and out of the kitchen which seem small in some ways, but were big enough to save her life.

It's written in a very honest and frank way, and is often funny. It did thoughreduce to me to 'something in the eye' status a few times while reading it on the bus. This would be a great gift for a female friend or relative whom you want to say thank you for a special bond to.

7. Nose to Tail, a Kind of British Cooking – Fergus Henderson

Another written by one of my former employers but I love it so much I cannot leave it off the list.

I can read this book like a novel as much as a cookery book. The recipes are not for the faint hearted in places (spleen anyone?) but there is also much to be had for the non-offal lover. The writing style is infectious and Fergus' voice comes through as if he were talking directly to you. The photography is stunning and in Fergus' own words, “Chicken broth and wild garlic will fix you right if you ever are feeling a little frail” and after Christmas, who isn’t?

8. The River Cottage Meat Book – Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

This is one that will educate as well as provide great recipes.

I use this a lot as a kind of encyclopaedia. If you want to know anything about meat you’ll find it here. What cuts are best for what, where they all come from, what game is best when and how to cook the lot. The fejioida recipe is perfect. I used this to learn how to roast a whole hog and it came out wonderfully, one for the more advanced cook in your life who is adventurous and wants to explore. I'd pair it with a butcher's apron for the perfect gift.

9. Rhodes Around Britain – Gary Rhodes

Don't hear of the spiky haired one much now do we? This is an old book but a goodie.

As a teen this was my first proper cook book, owned just by me. I cooked my first ever risotto from it. A great one for the traditional cook in your life, one who isn't concerned by trends but wants some great recipes that work every single time. The rarebit topped haddock and tomato salad was one of the first dishes I ever successfully cooked for a dinner party and I still make it today.

10. The Apprentice – Jacques Pepin – My life in the Kitchen

Starting pre-war France this memoir tells the tale of one of the earliest culinary television stars. The forerunner of everything we watch today. It starts out truly old school, big hats and real Escoffier French country kitchens, complete with barking ogre chefs and the fascinating tales of his time as Charles De Gaulle's personal chef. Pepin also writes about his friendship and working with Julia Child. In a sea of cooking biographies that I have read this one stands out as one to remember. A true tale of from the bottom to the top, beguiling.

11. Polpo – Russell Norman

Polpo is one of my favourite small restaurant chains, the Venetian food is soul soothing. It makes you feel like you are being cooked for by some rosy cheeked Italian Nonna, and indeed you will feel like one too as you make the enticing sounding dishes. Even if you are from Grimsby.

Lamb and pistachio polpette was a big hit with my gang of hungry friends. Also, it is published by Phaidon, who make some of the most beautiful books in the world which gives it extra book shelf appeal.

12. Heritage – Sean Brock

Quite possibly the most beautiful cookbook I have ever seen. Visually stunning but sounds tasty too. Sean is another chef from the American South, but he is stripping food back to its roots and looking at history as well as flavour. The recipes range from simple-to-make pure home comfort food to slightly fancier restaurant style dishes, something for everyone. The Food Programme on Radio 4 dedicated a whole show to Sean earlier this year and it made me eager to read more about him. After looking at this book I’m sure you will too. 

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