Hello again on a Sunday! It’s so good to share things that work you know, especially when they make life a bit easier, satisfy our hunger and make life more enjoyable. So today I’m sharing 5 cookbooks and the recipes I love to make again and again. For more years than I can count, I’ve always had a running list of the cookbooks I wanted, ones that covered a broad range of recipes and drew upon some classic cookery methods as well. As my collection grows, I keep returning to these five cookbooks because the recipes are easy to follow and because the authors have really taken the time to compose and present recipes that make the home cook feel comfortable.
The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: Written from a conservation and environmental perspective, Whittingstall prompts the reader to think about where one’s food is coming from. To think about the impact of modern agricultural practices on what makes its way to our plates and to give some thought about how we can make more informed choices when choosing our food. But that’s not all The River Cottage Cookbook is about. The recipes are practical, easy to follow and accompanied by clearly presented pointers on selecting your ingredients.
From this book, the recipe I make the most is Porcini Lasagne but I leave out the parma ham. I also vary the type of mushroom I use, with my favourite being baby bellas, which technically are cremini mushrooms. I’ll eat conventional lasagne as long as it’s meat-free but it’s not something I chase after, ever. So coming across this recipe was like finding treasure, as it uses a bechamel sauce instead of red or marinara sauce.
I also like to add chopped scallions and a bit more nutmeg than the recipe calls for. Plus, I often make this the day before I plan to serve it because it’s even better when we finally tuck into it. From prep to sliding this lasagne into the oven to bake, about forty minutes is all you need so I do hope you’ll give it a go.
The Multicultural Cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago and The Caribbean-Naparima Girls High School Cookbook: This cookbook is a collaborative effort so I can’t cite one author. It was originally an undertaking by the school’s alumnae association and on the heels of the success of the original, a second, updated book was produced. The recipes are concise and well written, and they take me back to the days of our Home Economics classes during my first year of secondary school.
I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve silently been grateful for those classes, as they taught us invaluable lessons about technique, and about food and nutrition. So I’m really happy to have this book not only for its practicality but also because of the sentiments it conjures for me. The recipe I often make from this book is Shrimp Fried Rice, which can be knocked out in under forty minutes. The end result is so tasty, I often make enough so that we can have it again the next day. To me, it’s also much better than take-out fried rice and even works without shrimp. Do try it the next time you’re thinking about ordering takeout because, from the time you place the order to the moment you receive your order, you could definitely make this yourself.
A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorisson: I couldn’t tell you how I found out about this book but I first went to Mimi Thorisson’s blog which can be seen here. I cooked a number of her recipes from the blog and kept going back to it, especially when I was stumped for ideas. Sometimes I wouldn’t even follow her recipes but reading them would spark something and off I’d go, suddenly flooded with ideas. So it was inevitable that I’d give in and finally buy her cookbook.
From her recipes, I made English muffins from scratch, (easier than you think) and mastered hollandaise sauce, which is an oddly beautiful feeling. Her recipe also helped me to learn to poach eggs, which is a fascinating thing to do but also requires practice. One holiday, I made the potato pie with comte cheese recipe from her book, while another time I attempted gateau basque, a challenging but classic cake. This book because never fails to get me thinking more expansively about ingredients. Plus, the photography tugs on my heart and her narratives accompanying the recipes draw you into her ‘accidental’ life in the French countryside. Between the dogs, the children and the brilliant looking fresh fruit, produce and wines pictured, if ever a cookbook reads like a storybook, this one does.
The River Cottage Fishbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher: This is an epic cookbook and guide to choosing and buying fish and also discusses sustainability, a factor that is especially concerning in today’s fishing industry. As someone who stopped eating meat almost two decades ago, I am constantly chiding myself because deep down, I’m not sure if continuing to eat fish is a good idea especially considering the current state of our oceans and dwindling fish levels.
But as far as this book goes, I doubt there are many others like it on the market. It’s as thick as an encyclopedia, remember those? There’s also an extensive index along with easy to follow recipes. My favourite is smoked herring carbonara, a recipe that is a snap to prepare but I needed a few tries to nail down the technique when making the ‘eggy cream’ for the carbonara. Even if you don’t have smoked herring, just substitute another fish that holds up well (try mackerel), or just make the carbonara and skip the fish if you prefer. This recipe pairs nicely with a glass of white wine or even a glass of red and is especially good for a satisfying weeknight meal.
The New American Cookbook by Lily Wallace: This is one of the oldest cookbooks in my collection and I can’t tell you how excited I was to get my hands on it. There’s something riveting about old cookbooks not to mention the feeling you get of stepping back in time. I love the finger grooves on the page edges, along with the size. It’s so much easier to hold and to thumb through, and somehow I find it to be much better organised than some modern tomes.
So many of the recipes in this book no longer make an appearance in modern cookery, which is sad I think. But there are also plenty of options that can work for modern families or at least offer ideas if you’re looking to tweak some of the dishes you may already be making. Oddly, I’ve been having a late-developing infatuation with various stuffings. One of my favourites will always be Mary Berry’s sage and onion stuffing, which I referenced in a [post here]. Then when I came across this book’s version, I wasted no time in making it and I think I ended up eating most of it. Who knew that cubed bread and mushrooms would come to have such a grip on my palette?
Anyhow, this cookbook can still be found for purchase online and if you’re a collector like I am, I can’t recommend it enough. It is one of the most concise cookbooks I’ve come across and it even includes complete menu ideas for lunch, buffets, dinner parties and even picnics. Plus, it offers tips on table settings and even a breakdown of herbs and spices. They don’t make cookbooks like this anymore but if you’ve been keeping your ear to the ground, it seems like people are beginning to seek out some of the good things from eras past, so maybe we’ll see cookbooks that are as complete as this one make a re-appearance.
If you’ve read through to this point, thank you. I realise it’s a long one but cooking is such a soul-satisfying thing to do, even if your weeks are manic and your hours are long. At some point, taking even forty minutes to make something simple and satisfying instead of looking at a screen will only do you good. Try it sometime and do let me know how you get on, plus don’t forget to share on social.
*A Kitchen in France book cover original photograph by Oddur Thorisson.