Dish up delights for your festive family bubble

Dish up delights for your festive family bubble: From Nigella to Jamie and Mary, the year’s best cookbooks — plus the pick of gardening and some right royal revelations

  • Constance Craig Smith rounded up a selection of this year’s best cookbooks 
  • British literary expert also picked out her top reads for fans of gardening 
  • Ysenda Maxtone-Graham revealed a selection of the best tomes on royals  

Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson (Chatto £26, 342pp)

Cook, Eat, Repeat

by Nigella Lawson (Chatto £26, 342pp)

Cooking, Nigella says, ‘can be a safe space for the frenetic soul’. With essays on topics ranging from rhubarb to a defence of brown food, this quirky book is mostly wonderful (celeriac and anchovy gratin, chocolate peanut butter cake) with a dash of weirdness (black pudding meatballs). Its real strength is that Nigella is such a pleasure to read.

The Vegetarian Kitchen

by Prue Leith and Peta Leith (Bluebird £25, 256pp)

In collaboration with her niece Peta, a professional chef, Prue Leith’s first ever meat-free cookbook is reassuringly undogmatic and is designed to win over even the most ardent carnivore. With soups, pasta, hearty main courses and inventive salads, this is satisfying vegetarian (and some vegan) fare for those who don’t want anything too radical.

Simply

by Sabrina Ghayour (Mitchell Beazley £26, 238pp)

The names of the dishes may be unfamiliar, but most of these Persian recipes are surprisingly straightforward to make, provided you have a well-stocked spice cupboard. Comforting family meals such as spice-seared lamb, crispy cod wraps and courgette and oregano pancakes could be just the thing to get you through winter. This is an elegantly written cookbook, with especially mouth-watering photographs.

Chetna’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian by Chetna Makan (Mitchell Beazley £20, 208pp)

Chetna’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian

by Chetna Makan (Mitchell Beazley £20, 208pp)

Bake Off semi-finalist Chetna Makan has become one of our most reliable writers on Indian food, with a knack for unfussy yet flavoursome recipes. Her latest book, inspired by Indian home cookery, covers canapés, soups, salads, chutneys, curries and rice dishes, with each dish lovingly photographed. Dip into this and you might never need to order a takeaway again.

Home Cookery Year

by Claire Thomson (Quadrille £30, 414pp)

If you want a cookery book full of pretty pictures, this substantial book probably isn’t for you.

With sections including ‘midweek dishes’, ‘on a budget’ and ‘treat yourself’, it’s aimed squarely at confident home cooks who are hoping to broaden their repertoire. The 200 clearly written and inventive recipes have Italian, Asian and South American influences, so there’s something here for everyone.

The Roasting Tin Around The World

by Rukmini Iyer (Square Peg £16.99, 238pp)

A pioneer of the ‘put everything in a roasting tin and shove it in the oven’ school of cookery, lawyer-turned-chef Rukmini Iyer’s fourth cookbook features tasty, no-fuss dishes from across the globe.

Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain (BBC Books £22, 255pp)

From Malaysian roast chicken to Creole crab tarts, most recipes can be cooked in under an hour. This is my best-thumbed cookery book of 2020.

Nadiya Bakes

by Nadiya Hussain (BBC Books £22, 255pp)

Bake Off winner Nadiya returns to her first love — baking, of course — with this cornucopia of bakes. Alongside savoury favourites such as quiches and tarts, there are tooth-achingly sweet concoctions such as cola cake and a ‘scone pizza’. Nadiya’s chatty asides — ‘there is always room for pudding, in our hearts, in our kitchens, on our plates!’ — are part of the fun.

7 Ways

by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph £26, 317pp)

Jamie says he’s been listening closely to what his readers have been asking for, so here are 120 savoury recipes based around everyday ingredients such as potatoes, chicken, eggs, avocados and sausages, showcasing seven different ways to use each of them. With its uncomplicated instructions, this is perfect for anyone stuck in a cookery rut and in need of some inspiration.

A Table For Friends by Skye McAlpine (Bloomsbury £26, 314pp)

A Table For Friends

by Skye McAlpine (Bloomsbury £26, 314pp)

Acknowledging that cooking for a dinner party can be nerve-racking, seasoned hostess Skye McAlpine reveals her favourite no-stress recipes, and how to make your dinner table look glamorous with little effort. The dishes, mostly influenced by Italian cuisine, include ossobuco with sage and lemon, panzanella with tuna and anchovies, and coffee mascarpone biscuit bake. A classy guide to relaxed entertaining.

The Hand And Flowers Cookbook

by Tom Kerridge (Bloomsbury £40, 426pp)

Tv chef Tom Kerridge runs a two-Michelin starred pub in Buckinghamshire and this mighty tome contains 70 of the pub’s best recipes. Tackling them requires advanced cooking skills and patience: his chocolate ale cake, for instance, has to be made over three days.

A masterful book which will allow ambitious cooks to fully flex their culinary muscles.

How To Raise A Loaf And Fall In Love With Sourdough

by Roly Allen (Laurence King £12.99, 111pp)

How To Raise A Loaf And Fall In Love With Sourdough by Roly Allen (Laurence King £12.99, 111pp)

Forget banana bread — making sourdough was the real lockdown craze. This enjoyable little book shows you how to make your own golden, airy loaf, as well as sourdough rolls, pizza base and even sweet bread. From creating your starter to achieving a really good crust, you’ll learn everything you need to know about mastering this versatile dough.

Towpath: Recipes And Stories

by Lori de Mori and Laura Jackson (Chelsea Green £27, 287pp)

Towpath is a popular cafe on London’s Regent’s Canal; actress Keira Knightley, a regular, calls it ‘a dream of a place’. Interspersed with anecdotes about the cafe’s customers, this is a guide to its best-loved recipes such as Chicken Marbella and olive oil cake. A heart-warming read with a collection of appealingly stylish dishes.

Simple Comforts

by Mary Berry (BBC £26, 302pp)

In difficult times, who better to turn to than Dame Mary Berry, for whom cooking a family meal is ‘a wonderful way of expressing love’? Her food isn’t cutting edge, but almost every dish is tremendously appealing and Mary’s instructions make everything sound simple. From duck salad with hoisin dressing to her posh baked potatoes, you know you’re in very safe hands.

The Batch Lady

by Suzanne Mulholland (HQ £20, 256pp)

The Batch Lady by Suzanne Mulholland (HQ £20, 256pp)

If you’re worn down by churning out family meals every day then try this book, which is full of time-saving tips, from batch cooking and freezing to using the same bases for different dishes. It even shows how to whip up ten meals in just one hour.

The recipes aren’t particularly inventive, but busy parents will love it.

Flavour

by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage (Ebury £27, 316pp)

Ottolenghi is a culinary magician, transforming everyday vegetables, grains and pulses into exotic dishes.

There is the usual smattering of obscure ingredients — gochujang chilli paste, bkeila, smoked cascabel oil — but most of the recipes don’t require anything too outlandish.

Table Manners

by Jessie Ware and Lennie Ware (Ebury £22, 287pp)

Based on the popular mother/daughter foodie podcast, this is a delicious mixture of name-dropping — singer Ed Sheeran had four helpings of the sausage casserole — and favourite family recipes.

From pasta with smoked salmon, vodka and caviar (you can use black lumpfish instead of caviar, they suggest), to brother Alex’s orange pistachio cake, this lovely book is a real winner.

Fakeaway by Chris Bavin (Dorling Kindersley £14.99, 192pp)

Fakeaway

by Chris Bavin (Dorling Kindersley £14.99, 192pp)

Instead of cooking fresh food, too many of us are addicted to calorie-laden takeaways.

In this breezy book, TV chef Chris Bavin gives healthy(ish) versions of more than 100 favourite takeaway dishes, from Indian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese to Middle Eastern, Italian, Mexican and American diner food.

Follow these recipes, he promises, and you’ll ‘save your money and your waistline’.

Falastin

by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (Ebury £28, 352pp)

A guide to Palestinian cuisine as well as ‘its produce, its history, its future, its people and their voices’, this is an engrossing read.

The recipes, such as pomegranate cooked lentils and aubergines, and lemon chicken with za’atar, are pleasingly exotic, and there are great sweets as well.

If you want to try something different, Falastin provides plenty of culinary inspiration.

Under The Olive Tree

by Irini Tzortzoglou (Headline £25, 320pp)

Winner of MasterChef 2019, Irini’s first book is aimed at ‘the curious, ambitious and playful 21st-century cook’.

A Love for Food by Carole Bamford (Square Peg £30, 384pp)

She shows there is a lot more to Greek food than the traditional taverna fare, with sophisticated dishes such as squid and sun-dried tomato orzo, loin of venison with chestnuts, and cheese and cinnamon tart. A sunny, satisfying read.

A Love for Food

by Carole Bamford (Square Peg £30, 384pp)

In this fully revised edition of her 2013 cookbook, Lady Bamford — who founded the pioneering organic Daylesford Farm — credits her team of chefs for many of these recipes.

The seasonal dishes are hearty and mainly uncomplicated, with excellent meat recipes and a particularly original selection of pies and tarts, like Jerusalem artichoke and cavolo nero tart. 

Lose yourself in a glorious garden

The Five Minute Garden

by Laetitia Maklouf (National Trust £9.99, 232pp)

The Five Minute Garden by Laetitia Maklouf (National Trust £9.99, 232pp)

Do you feel ‘horticulturally overwhelmed’? This book shows how, by squeezing just a few minutes of gardening into a busy day, you can tame your plot — and find your time there enjoyable, rather than a chore. Written in a sweetly breezy style, this is the guide to help you stop stressing about your garden.

Diary Of A Modern Country Gardener

by Tamsin Westhorpe (Orphans £20, 248pp)

This enjoyably upbeat diary, by a journalist who also runs a well-known Herefordshire garden, mixes sound practical advice with wry observations. Despite our weather, she concludes, being a professional gardener is ‘a wonderful, healthy and rewarding occupation’.

Wild Your Garden

by The Butterfly Brothers (Dorling Kindersley, £14.99, 192pp)

Can an ordinary garden really be turned into a nature sanctuary? Brothers Jim and Joel Ashton, aka The Butterfly Brothers, show how small changes like a ‘habitat heap’ log pile, choosing nectar-rich plants and a tiny pond can make a huge difference.

Passionate but unpreachy, this is an essential manual for creating a wildlife-friendly garden.

Gardening With Drought- Friendly Plants

by Tony Hall (Kew Publishing £25, 208pp)

I Ate Sunshine For Breakfast by Michael Holland and Philip Giordano (Flying Eye £14.99, 124 pp)

With summers getting drier and water an increasingly precious resource, it makes sense to use plants that require less watering. Tony Hall, who works at Kew Gardens, profiles more than 200 plants that are adapted to drought conditions.

I Ate Sunshine For Breakfast

by Michael Holland and Philip Giordano (Flying Eye £14.99, 124 pp)

Written for children, this ‘celebration of plants’ will appeal to many adults, too.

Mixing practical projects, experiments and a hefty dollop of fun facts, it shows how inextricably our lives are linked to plants. After all, ‘without them, no other living thing would survive’. Beautifully illustrated, this deserves to become a children’s classic.

The Modern Cottage Garden

by Greg Loades (Timber Press £18.99, 256 pp)

According to the author, a modern cottage garden should combine the best elements of a romantic old-fashioned plot with the principles of the New Perennial style, which uses long-lasting flowers and grasses to give colour and structure right through winter. An inspiring and imaginative guide.

Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas by Naomi Slade (Pavilion £25, 208pp)

by Naomi Slade (Pavilion £25, 208pp)

Hydrangeas, long considered rather dowdy and boring, have recently been undergoing a renaissance. Florists adore them and there are few flowers that age so beautifully. With the new, more compact varieties and a subtler range of colours, this exuberant book showcases their beauty and demonstrates why they are ripe for rediscovery.

Green

by Ula Maria (Mitchell Beazley £20, 176 pp)

Can a really small space ever be turned into a beautiful garden? Fashionable garden designer Ula Maria shows how even the tiniest balcony or courtyard can become something special. Featuring numerous case histories and practical advice on storage, paving, furniture and lighting, this is an excellent reference source for anyone with limited space and big dreams.

My Garden World

by Monty Don (Two Roads £20, 432 pp)

Sissinghurst: The Dream Garden by Tim Richardson (Frances Lincoln £30, 224 pp)

Along with the garden so familiar to Gardeners’ World viewers, Monty Don also owns a small farm in Wales. This book is a meditation on the natural world around him, how to appreciate it and how to protect it. Wildlife, he says, isn’t just found in exotic places: ‘It’s right here in our own backyards.’

Sissinghurst: The Dream Garden

by Tim Richardson (Frances Lincoln £30, 224 pp)

One of the world’s most famous and admired gardens, Sissinghurst in Kent has a fascinating history. This lavishly photographed and well-written book traces the making of the garden from the 1930s onwards and gives a tour of its many different areas, including the celebrated White Garden. Keen gardeners might even pick up tips on planting combinations.

Plate throwing and cold feet — a peek inside the palace

The Crown In Crisis

by Alexander Larman (W&N £20, 352pp)

The Crown In Crisis by Alexander Larman (W&N £20, 352pp)

‘Edward VIII believed that the whole world, wherever he was, revolved around him,’ writes Alexander Larman in this compelling countdown to the Abdication in 1936. His stubbornness is indeed something to behold.

Bewildered Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin received a letter from a sexual psychologist explaining that the king had ‘overcompensated’ for sexual inadequacy as a younger man, hence his being ‘persistently obstinate in attaching himself’ to Wallis Simpson.

A cast of fascinating minor characters walk across the set of this fast-paced story, including an Irish fantasist, George McMahon, who (Larman believes) was encouraged by MI5 to have a pop at Edward during a procession in July 1936, but the gun was knocked out of his hand by a woman in the crowd who noticed his twitchy behaviour.

Prince Philip Revealed by Ingrid Seward (S&S £20, 384pp)

Prince Philip Revealed

by Ingrid Seward (S&S £20, 384pp)

Staying with his friend, the beautiful Daphne du Maurier, in Cornwall just before his wedding, Prince Philip had a severe attack of cold feet. ‘I don’t want to go back. I want to stay here with you.’ To which Du Maurier replied, ‘Not on your life. For a start I am 14 years older than you. Second, I am married, and third, your country needs you. Get on that train.’

In this wide-ranging biography, Ingrid Seward celebrates Philip’s ensuing 73-year role as (in the Queen’s words) ‘my strength and my stay’, without shying away from some of his less family-minded attributes, such as that he failed to attend six out of the first eight of Prince Charles’s birthdays.

Battle Of Brothers

Battle Of Brothers by Robert Lacey (William Collins £20, 400pp)

by Robert Lacey (William Collins £20, 400pp)

It was more complicated than ‘heir and spare’. As Princes William and Harry grew up, their roles evolved into ‘golden boy’ and ‘clown’. ‘It was the predetermined future — the very destiny — of the youngest brother to carry the can for his exemplary eldest sibling,’ writes Robert Lacey in this chatty and clear-eyed chronicle of how the brothers, once so close and affectionately teasing of each other, came to be ‘separate entities’. When William questioned Harry about his plans to marry Meghan Markle, Harry took deep offence.

As Lacey writes, William was ‘speaking less as a brother than as the chief personnel officer concerned to evaluate the newcomer and the qualities she could bring to The Firm’. Perhaps not such a good idea.

Kensington Palace by Tom Quinn (Biteback £20, 320pp)

Kensington Palace

by Tom Quinn (Biteback £20, 320pp)

Reading Tom Quinn’s sparkling history of Kensington Palace, you see what a member of staff meant when she said, ‘It’s as if the very walls have a baleful influence on the inhabitants . . . everyone who lives at the palace eventually becomes jealous and suspicious — sometimes even paranoid.’ Those walls have heard everything, from George II’s wife Queen Caroline screaming at her detested firstborn son, to Queen Victoria evicting the loathed Sir John Conroy, to Diana and Charles throwing pictures, plates and vases during their marital rows.

‘The aunt-heap’, Edward VII called KP; in other words, the place where eccentric minor relatives were put away for life. This book will introduce you to a host of them, including Victoria’s Uncle Augustus, who had 5,000 Bibles.

The Windsor Diaries by Alathea Fitzalan Howard (Hodder £25, 368pp)

The Windsor Diaries

by Alathea Fitzalan Howard (Hodder £25, 368pp)

Lodging with her grandfather in a house in Windsor Great Park during World War II, 16-year-old Alathea Fitzalan Howard felt unloved and misunderstood: so misunderstood that she sometimes self-harmed, cutting her arms. But there was magic in her life. She attended weekly drawing and dancing lessons with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret at Windsor Castle and they became close friends.

For a glimpse into the lives of the young princesses, who were still having ‘nursery tea’ in their teens, as well as playing games of charades and ‘making the dogs jump the tennis net’, these diaries are riveting.

Finding Freedom

Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand (HQ £20, 368pp)

by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand (HQ £20, 368pp)

‘Harry and Meghan didn’t want to walk away from the monarchy; they wanted to find a happy place within it.’ Thus write the authors of this gushingly Meghan-centric book, who gawp (irresistibly) at her shopping sprees, her high-end travel preferences, her Instagram and her healthy eating habits.

The fairytale marriage started so promisingly, with the Queen taking her on a one-day tour to Chester, where she excelled herself.

But the couple took offence at a thousand perceived slights, and the cracks widened until there was no happy place for them inside the monarchy — the Queen being pragmatically brusque in quashing their hopes of being ‘half-in, half-out’.

‘There are so many occasions,’ Scobie and Durand write, ‘when the institution of his [Harry’s] family could have stood up for them, backed them up, and never did.’ 

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