Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen and Ryan Dunlavey
This is the best cookbook I've ever read. Amanda Cohen runs a well reputed vegetarian/vegan restaurant 'Dirt Candy' in New York. Set in comic strip form, this book talks about the problems setting it up and going on Iron Chef. She talks about feeling insecure, dealing with staff and she also gives some innovative vegetarian recipes: smoked cauliflower, cheddar powder, coconut poached tofu. This is not high-octane Gordon Ramsay alpha-male style, but a seriously talented female chef who has humour, humility and is completely honest about running a restaurant. So many times I thought: I recognise that, I've had that problem. This is a funny, human book with amazing recipes. Get it.
Cooked by Michael Pollan
Written in an accessible way, this book has good pacing, reading like a food adventure story. Pollan never talks down to the reader and seems excited by what he is discovering. Trish Deseine and I have had rows over this book and how to educate people about food. She believes it's unrealistic to talk about cooking from scratch in this way when people are resistant to cooking at all. As a food geek, of course, I love his journey into food, and hope that this approach to cooking will eventually filter through to everyone. The issue of food poverty have been much talked about in the media recently. As a single mum who spent years on benefits, during the previous tory regime, prior to New Labours' more generous benefits, I can honestly say we never went hungry. Apart from cooking from scratch, I skipped food from bins. Lidl is great for that, you get free unopened food in perfectly good condition. I didn't feel humiliated by this, I felt resourceful. It helps that we didn't eat or expect meat and that fish was a rare treat. So, if you are poor, go veggie for gods sake! Buying basic ingredients such as flour, which don't cost much, and learning how to make your own bread, is something anyone, who isn't working full-time, can do.
The real problem is twofold: fuel poverty (you need fuel to cook with and cheap foods often require slow cooking) and lack of food education, and this is what Michael Pollan is giving here. It's great to hear that the government is bringing back cookery classes into schools. We need dozens of Michael Pollans spreading the word about sourdough and other 'from scratch' techniques. We need a whole food programme on the dole, giving people a leg up by helping them start a micro food business.
Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts by Gizzi Erskine
Love the style and pizzaz of this book by Gizzi in which she reunites the 'cook yourself slim' of her early career, her rock n roll image with her genuine interest in street food and Korean food. This book ascribes to the 80/20 theory of healthy eating, which is if you eat fairly low calorie 5 days a week, you can feast 2 days a weeks. Most of the 5:2 diets are the other way around, you eat what you like 5 days a week and fast on 500 calories for 2 days a week. Frankly Gizzi's book makes more sense, otherwise it's just too good to be true. (Mind, I tried the 5:2 diet and by 5pm on my first diet day, felt so hungry I just thought 'screw this' and succumbed to roast potatoes.) However the food in this book, skinny or wicked, looks so delicious it's hard to believe that it might be 'diet food'.
The Forager's Kitchen by Fiona Bird
I first saw this book for sale in Alberquerque in a very chic cafe/bookshop. I haven't heard too much about this book over here, so I'm guessing Fi Bird is big in America. Fiona was a runner up on Masterchef and has been teaching cooking to school children. She's passionate about eating well and education. She has plenty of kids herself, about five I think, and lives with her doctor husband in the outer Hebrides. I've always been interested in foraging and this book demonstrates in depth knowledge while beautifully illustrated with photographs. Although for some reason the photographer is not credited. Fiona forages not just at the hedgerow but at the beach. There are enticing recipes for seaweed popcorn, Douglas fir chocolate pots, minted pea and ramps soup, plus things to do with berries, herbs and flowers. It's inspirational and another way to eat on the cheap: forage!