Cookbooks to Cook By (or live by)


I have serious cookbook issues and although I know I could (and often do) just Google what I want to cook, there is something terribly therapeutic about browsing favourite cookbooks over breakfast or a cup of tea and adding too many post-it notes to mark ‘must-cook’ recipes.

I’ve lost my cooking mojo these past eight months but I’ve been starting to dabble again and I’ve particularly been enjoying making pickles, jams and sauces. I spent an entire two days last week cutting, pickling and saucing things up…two days when I really should have been washing and paying all the overdue bills (must work out a system so I remember). But instead of *life* I sterilised jars and filled them with goodness and this week when I’ve not wanted to cook a whole meal from scratch I’ve been throwing together bowls of salad greens, soba noodles and leftover roast lamb… and adding pickles and sauces.

She was a surprisingly useful assistant for about ten minutes.

A few people have asked me on Insta about my pickles and the new cookbook that Pud (9) has been madly cooking from, so I’ve compiled my ‘Must-Own’ list of cookbooks below and some of the ones Pud swears by.

Cookbooks to Cook By

(some for the grown ups, some for the kids)

Purchase by clicking on title links or cover images. 

My favourite cookbooks remain the ones by Emma Galloway, ‘My Darling Lemon Thyme’ and ‘A Year in My Real Food Kitchen’ – my reviews are here and here.  which you can read about here, I just always seem to have the right ingredients and I’ve never cooked anything from these books which hasn’t been divine. Emma Galloway is a New Zealand-born, Perth-based former chef and food blogger at My Darling Lemon Thyme. Her focus is real food and her books are packed full of beautiful and easy- to-prepare meals, snacks, drinks and treats, all with incredible flavours created from simple, nourishing ingredients, and herbs you will very likely have growing in your garden. I’m not a massive subscriber to the ‘whole food revolution’. I’m more a fan of ‘everything in moderation’ in relation to food, although some would say my cake baking is not in moderation. Emma’s cooking and food philosophy is of the whole food ilk, but her style is not preachy, complicated or full of hard to source, overpriced ingredients – it is just good food. Both books are full of food you can serve for all occasions and have it enjoyed by everyone – there is nothing ‘faddish’ about this food.

The Cornersmith cookbooks are similar in style in that they use fresh, simple, in-season ingredients. The recipes are not overly complex but are the ingredients are carefully considered for maximum flavour punch and interest. I’ve made so many of the salads, and I’ve pickled everything in sight, even raiding the local community garden (after asking!) for snake beans to tie into knots before pickling. 

Similarly, I’ve been jamming and saucing up like a madwoman with ‘Not Just Jam’, which is Matthew Evans’s (AKA The Gourmet Farmer from ABC) ode to the surplus of the seasons – a collection of more than 90 modern recipes for old- fashioned preserving methods. I really like the BBQ sauce, the simple strawberry jam and the apple cider mustard, and there is a few cordials I want to try (to add to champagne!). 

‘Hong Kong Food City’ is one I’ve been particularly excited about as we have had a Macanese student living with us for two years and I love the food she cooks and the way she talks about the food in Hong Kong and Macau.  Home to seven million migrants, Hong Kong boasts a food scene that is breathtakingly rich and varied. Tony Tan explores this vibrant city through 80 exquisite dishes, from the cutting-edge contemporary to the traditional. I love a cook book with stories and Tan weaves little tales with his recipes, stories that trace Hong Kong’s Chinese roots, explore its deep colonial connections and connections and tantalise us with glimpses of today’s ultra-modern city and most delicious eating spots.

Look probably I love ‘The Little Library Cookbook’ because it’s full to the brim with recipes from my favourite books, but you know what? Everything I’ve made has been excellent and so I’m going to say that it’s not just a essential cookbook for literature lovers to own, it’s also great food, over 100 delicious recipes in fact, taken from the author’s favourite works of fiction; ‘The Secret Garden’, ‘The Railway Children’, ‘Pippi-Longstocking’, Paddington Bear’s marmalade; a Neopolitan pizza with Elena Ferrante; afternoon tea at Manderley and many more! Food writer Kate Young captures the magic and wonder of the meals enjoyed by some of our best-loved fictional characters. 

Similarly, ‘Jolly Good Food’ is inspired by the beloved stories by Enid Blyton and I purchase it because I have wanted to make pop-cakes and google buns, and wash them down with homemade ginger beer since I was about ten. There are 42 recipies designed by chef and Junior Bake Off TV judge, Allegra McEvedy, lively artwork and extracts from Enid Blyton’s stories. To me this is the perfect way to bring a book to life! Check out Anna’s Faraway Tree party here. 

I have a teeny tiny addiction to Persian food and ‘Hummus and Co.’ is the latest addition to my stack of middle eastern style cookbooks. There are 140+ recipes and I’m making my way through them! Have done the cumin- and coriander-spiced lamb shoulder, with Persian cranberry rice pilaf and tangy vegetables and the lamb pizzas and green pea and ricotta fritters so far, as well as a number of dips of course! I’m keen to try to the Persian Love Cake are I already have what I think is the best recipe for this!
I’ve never been a Matt Preston fan. Sorry. It was something about the cravats and the celebrity chef thing. But a lovely parent from work has been cooking us some darned amazing meals over the last eight months and it seems that Matt Preston was behind many of them. Said parent then gifted me ‘Yummy, Quick, Easy’ and it is now my mid-week cookbook of choice. Everything I’ve cooked from this book has indeed been yummy, quick and easy and I highly recommend the following: Crispy Thai Beef Salad with Yim Tam Peanut Dressing; Roasted Miso-Glazed Salmon and the baked sweet potato meal ideas (and the ‘tip’ on that page made me laugh out loud so maybe I mis-judged Dear Old Matt).

Donna Hay’s ‘Basics to Brilliance: Kids’ is without a doubt the most user-friendly kids cookbook I have come across and Pud’s current obsession. She’s made 20+ recipes from it, with stand outs being the corn fritters, the puffed brown rice caramel slice, the caramel slice, the flavoured popcorn and the brown bread quiches. I like it because it’s the sorts of things I cooked as a child, but updated and with a healthy twist (swap out the white bread for brown and rice rice syrup in place of sugar sort of stuff). 

Donna only just surpasses Alice for kids cookbooks which get young cooks thinking about healthy choices and tasting a rainbow of different flavours.  ‘Alice’s Food A-Z: Edible Adventures’ is by Alice Zaslavsky, a former teacher, and (more excitingly for kids) a former Masterchef contestant and television presenter. Alice has created a cookbook which encourages young people to try all sorts of different taste sensations from A-Z, and has lots of tips and interesting facts along the way. There are 40 recipes in ‘Alice’s Food A-Z’, and every one we have tried has been excellent – and more to the point – the fussy eater in the family has been so amused by the funny facts about each recipe that she’s given them all a go. 

And this last one? Well I don’t even have it yet technically. BUT I know it’s going to be fabulous because I’ve read her recipes for years in various publications and seen her exquisite baking. And she likes baking and gardening…and so do I. So it’s going to be great. ‘Sticky Fingers, Green Thumb’ invites your imagination to travel out of the kitchen and into the garden. Almost sixty recipes celebrate vegetables, herbs and edible flowers in cakes and other sweet snacks. Tips on how to harness their unique flavours, prep them for baking and even grow them yourself will inspire you to create flavour-packed baked treats that aren’t loaded with empty gestures. Hayley McKee is passionate about creating sweets that taste of nature, where the ingredients are familiar, the colouring is genuine, and the flavors are unmasked.  

I talk about more cookbooks for kids here. 


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