Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas Biscuit Decorations for Secret Santa

Christmas Tree decorations cookies

Christmas Tree decorations cookies

My daughter started her first paid job in October as an online intern for House and Garden magazine. This means she queues up social media posts on Twitter and Facebook, 'builds content' for the site and occasionally writes pieces. It also means she works at Vogue House bang in the centre of London, she gets to bring home posh glossy magazines and go to sample sales at Vogue.
Yes, she's all grownupy. It's quite amazing. What a journey it is as a mum to watch her progress. But she's still my little girl and most days I make her packed lunch, buy her spare tights if I'm at the shops, and brought her back a fitting handbag from Sicily.
House and Garden peops are a crafty lot - meaning they are good with their hands. Every year they have a Christmas lunch in which they do a handmade  'Secret Santa' which they take quite seriously as the standard is so high. Apparently Secret Santas are now a thing. What is a Secret Santa? It's a kind of Christmas present lottery. You put all the names of the group in a hat, establish a rule ('everything must be handmade') or a budget ('a fiver each'), pick out a name and do a gift for that person. 
I don't remember having Secret Santas when I was young but nowadays they have them at uni, amongst house mates, in any large group where it's not realistic to buy everyone a present each.
For Sienna's Secret Santa present we made Christmas cookie decorations. They taste great, with a lovely crumbly texture, as well as looking good. Buy some skinny ribbon to hang them on the tree and make sure the fairy lights are nestled behind the little 'windows'.
From the Editorial Assistant, Sienna received the most beautifully handmade apron in grey linen with her initials embroidered. Clever House and Garden!

Christmas Decoration Cookies

Makes 40


Silpats or parchment paper
Flat baking trays/ biscuit trays
Christmassy Biscuit Cutters in different shapes
Smaller cutters for the inserts
Rolling pin
Thin ribbon to hang the cookies


375g butter
340g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 large egg yolks
450g plain flour
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated or ground
1/2 tsp clove, ground
1 tsp black pepper, ground

40 boiled sweets in red or green


Brown the butter in a small saucepan, taking care not to let it burn, let it cool.
Beat the butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla together in a stand mixer or large bowl until fluffy and light.
Then add the eggs gradually, beating in between each addition.
In a large bowl mix flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and pepper together then gradually add to the butter/sugar mixture.
Knead the dough into two disks, covering with cling film and leaving to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
Roll out the dough to 5mm(1/4 inch thick) cutting out the different shapes. If the dough attaches itself to your rolling pin, then I roll between two silpats or pieces of parchment paper.
Cut out the inserts, removing carefully with a knife.
Transfer to a flat baking tray that (fits in your fridge) covered with a silpat or parchment paper.
Make holes for the ribbons. Make these larger than you think as they close up during baking.
To prevent 'spread' put the baking tray with the cut out biscuits back in the fridge to chill for fifteen minutes or so.
Preheat the oven to 180ºc
Each time gather the scraps and roll out again to 5mm and cut out more biscuits.
Do a kind of rolling production line for this, depending on how many biscuit trays you have and space in your fridge.
Cut the boiled sweets in half and place a sweet in each insert. This will melt during baking to fill the hole and make a stained glass 'window'.
Bake the biscuits for around 10 minutes or until golden brown. Once you take the tray out of the oven, you may have to open up the holes again with a metal prong.
Leave to cool.
Carefully thread the ribbon through the hole.
Presented in a box interleaved with baking parchment this makes a beautiful present or Christmas tree decorations.
Christmas Tree decorations cookies

Friday, 18 December 2015

White nectarines for Christmas (including a special aquafaba vegan recipe)

White-fleshed nectarines shipped from South Africa are in season now in your supermarket, for it is summer in the Southern hemisphere during our winter. I got a crate of them and have created several recipes that would be good during the holidays, even though we do not, in the Northern hemisphere, usually associate peaches and nectarines with Christmas.
It would be a shame to cook the white nectarines, better to preserve their sweet white flesh in the raw. Here are a few ideas for how to incorporate them into the festive season...

White Nectarine Champagne Cocktail

Serves 5

3 nectarines, pitted
1 tbsp of sugar
Juice of half a lemon
1 bottle of champagne, well chilled

Blend the white nectarines with a squeeze of lemon juice and a tablespoon of sugar then add 2 tbsps to a glass and top up with champagne. 

 Christmas canapé recipe: nectarines wrapped in smoked salmon

 Christmas canapé recipe: nectarines wrapped in smoked salmon

Serves 8 as a starter or 16 as a canapé 

Rather like melon and prosciutto are a great combination in the classic Italian starter, nectarines and smoked salmon also work fantastically together: the honeyed crisp fruit and the salty, smoky salmon.  This is both a good canapé for drinks and an excellent starter course: refreshing but savoury. It takes only a few minutes to prepare.

4 nectarines, stoned, cut into quarters

200g of smoked salmon
Fresh mint leaves
Fresh basil leaves
A drizzle of good balsamic vinegar
Black pepper

Prepare the nectarines then wrap each segment in a strip of smoked salmon. Top with either a fresh mint leaf or a fresh basil leaf then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and grind on some black pepper.

Smoked salmon, nectarine, walnut and blue cheese salad

Smoked salmon, nectarine, walnut and blue cheese salad

Christmas cooking takes a great deal of organisation so make sure that desserts are made in advance and starters are cold, easy to put together affairs. You've got enough cooking to do for the main course so try this delicious salad. 

Serves 2-4

2-3 nectarines, stoned, sliced into half moons

300g smoked salmon, cut into strips
100g blue cheese (goats cheese will work too)
50g walnuts
A handful of mint leaves

For the dressing:

100ml walnut oil
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 tbsp of honey
1/2 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp of sea salt

Prepare the nectarines, then place the half moon segments around the edge of the plate, creating smaller and smaller circles until the plate is covered. Make little smoked salmon roses by cutting the salmon into 3 x 5 cm strips and rolling them, standing them upright between the nectarines.

Crumble the blue cheese and scatter it over the salad.
Split the walnuts into halves and place them all over the salad, then continue with the mint leaves (choosing small leaves from fresh mint sprigs).
For the dressing, add the oil and lemon and whisk until incorporated, then add the rest of the ingredients. Add more salt if you feel it needs it. I tend to use Maldon sea salt, which when rubbed between your fingers adds a lovely texture to salads. 
Serve cold. 

My family love a Christmas Day brunch, usually of Champagne, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. But this year we are going to try something different, though equally indulgent: French Toast with fresh nectarines. The White Nectarine Bellini would be a lovely drink with this brunch!

French toast with maple syrup and nectarines (vegan and non vegan)

French toast with maple syrup and nectarines (vegan and non vegan)

Serves 2-4

4 eggs

300ml whole milk
A pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
A few drops of vanilla 
1 tbsp of caster sugar
A pinch of salt
4 slices of sliced bread

For frying:
50ml butter

For topping:
2 white nectarines, pitted and sliced
Maple syrup

Whisk together the eggs, milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and salt in a wide shallow dish. 

Dip the bread into the mixture, making sure it is completely covered with the mixture but doesn't get too soggy.
Put the butter into a large frying pan on a medium to low heat. Place a couple of the slices in the pan and let them fry. Don't try to turn them too soon or they will stick. Once they have cooked for a few minutes until golden brown, turn the bread over and cook the other side. Continue with the other slices.
Serve with slices of the nectarine on top and drizzle with maple syrup. 

For the vegan version, replace eggs with 130ml of aquafaba liquid (the rest of a can of light-coloured beans).

Replace the dairy milk with nut or soy milk.
Replace the butter with vegan margarine (the 'from scratch' recipe is in my book V is for Vegan) or coconut butter or groundnut oil. 

Method is identical to the non-vegan method. It tastes great!

Monday, 14 December 2015

The Aquafaba revolution and a Vegan Lemon Meringue pie recipe

aquafaba vegan lemon meringue pie
aquafaba vegan lemon meringue pie

My book V is for Vegan came out in April this year. Just as it went to print in late 2014, I started to hear about a new vegan technique referred to as aquafaba, a term coined by American software engineer Goose Wohlt. It entails using bean water as an egg white replacement - you can, for instance, make a vegan meringue from leftover chickpea water. It sounds incredible, mind-bogglingly weird. But it is this sort of innovative approach that originally attracted me to writing about veganism: restriction promotes creativity.
So it's taken me all year to actually have a go at this myself. This week I used a can of chickpeas, drained it, used the garbanzos to make hummus and whipped the remainder (around 170ml to 200ml of liquid) with 200g of caster sugar to make meringue. And it worked. I just dumped both into my stand mixer with a whisk attachment and watched. After five minutes I had a bowl full of firm fluffy white meringue. I tasted it: no bean taste at all. I tried a dollop on a silpat in the oven which twenty minutes later turned into a perfect crispy little meringue.

My first Aquafaba recipe is for Lemon Meringue Pie, which is a favourite of mine. This vegan version is very light, almost mousse-like. My non-vegan parents actually preferred the vegan version to the normal pie. This is a first draught of the recipe and I'm going to work on it a bit more because as you can see in the top photo, the crust collapsed a little bit but it does taste delicious, really moreish.
Other aquafaba tips:
  • You can keep your aquafaba meringue for a few days in the fridge. If it starts to separate, just whip it up again.
  • 30ml aquafabs is 1 medium egg white to 40ml of aquafaba is equivalent to 1 large egg white. 45ml aquafaba is one egg.
  • I used approximately 1:1 but if you want stiffer meringues use more sugar, up to 1:2
  • Aquafaba replaces egg whites but The Vegg (as recommended in my book) is still best for yolks.
  • You can use any bean water for this, I've also heard you can use tofu water/whey (my next experiment) for similar results. 
  • Certain brands of beans/chickpeas work better than others. I used a Tesco's own brand tin. 
  • If using raw beans/chickpeas, you don't want the water from the soaking but the water from the cooking. Remember, beans in tins are already cooked.
  • I've made vegan meringue from egg replacer (a pavlova is in my book V is for Vegan) which was not bad but isn't as good as aquafaba
  • You can also make meringue from flax seed eggs (20g ground flax seed soaked in water) but you can't cook it. You can cook aquafaba.
  • You can make meringue, macarons, mozzarella, yorkshire pudding, chocolate ganache, swiss rolls, in breads, cakes, cookies, royal icing, butter cream icing, whipped cream (add cream of tartar), egg wash, all sorts of stuff.
If you want the classic non-vegan version of Lemon Meringue Pie, follow this link to my piece on the House and Garden site.

Vegan Lemon Meringue Pie:

For the pastry:
75ml olive oil, placed in the freezer a couple of hours before you come to bake
250g plain flour
50g icing sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
50ml approximately of iced water

For the curd:
There are several vegan curd recipes, I used one with silken tofu adapted from this site.You don't have to use the yellow food colouring, but otherwise this recipe is rather pale (remember egg yolks add to the colour in the non-vegan recipe).

300g silken tofu (from Clearspring)
75g coconut butter, melted
200g caster sugar
zest of 4 lemons
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
30g of agar agar powder (flakes would be fine too)
Juice of 4 lemons
1/2 tsp yellow food colouring

For the meringue:
Liquid from 1 400ml can of chickpeas
200g caster sugar
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract


For the pastry:
Freeze the olive oil in a plastic container. Then, using a stand mixer with a beater attachment, or a large bowl and two knives, work the oil into the flour, icing sugar and salt, then gradually add the water until you have a pliable but not sticky dough. Mix or press together until you have a ball. Flatten it into a disk, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Butter the pastry tin, bottom and sides. Remove the pastry from the fridge and unwrap it. Using quarter turns, roll out a circle 2cm thick and approximately 28cm diameter, on a clean countertop. Lifting the circle with your rolling pin, drape it over the pastry tin, pressing it into the sides carefully so as not to tear it.
Put a layer of tin foil into the pie tin and then fill it with baking beans for you are going to bake it blind.
Place in the oven on a middle shelf for around 15 minutes then remove the foil and beans ( I just lift up the foil on both sides with the beans inside). Bake for another ten minutes.

In the meantime, make the curd:
In a Vitamix or powerful blender, blend the tofu, liquid coconut butter, sugar and vanilla extract together on a low speed then gradually raise the speed to 10 or full power and blend for a few minutes. (I now use a Vitamix to make non-vegan curd also, it's so much quicker.)
Put the lemon juice and agar agar into a medium pan on to a low heat and stir continuously until the agar has melted (taking care not to let the mixture boil). Add the lemon/agar mixture to the blender and process, starting low and going to full speed, for a few minutes. Then add enough yellow food colouring until you have the shade you want.
Remove the pie base from the oven and let the pie cool. Pour the curd into the tart, spreading it evenly. Any excess curd can be put into a glass jar and kept in the fridge. You can use it on toast or whatever, but it's actually really good as a vegan lemon syllabub.
Put it in the fridge and let it cool.

For the meringue: 
Add the chickpea juice the sugar, the vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on maximum speed for up to ten minutes or when the mixture is stiff.
Using a rubber spatula, spread the meringue thickly over the lemon curd pie, making sure you have nice peaks.
Bake for another five to ten minutes or until the peaks are slightly golden. But if you have a blow torch, use that instead of rebaking it.
Remove from the oven and let it cool.

aquafaba vegan meringue

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

20 things you must eat in Catania, Sicily

My bulging suitcase when I returned from Catania.

Although Catania is not a rich town, it seems to be the progenitor of many classic Sicilian dishes. The rich volcanic soil, balmy weather and ideal growing conditions make it a foodie paradise. Here below is a listicle, we all know internauts love them, of edibles and drinkables that you should try if you visit Catania. My story on the town and the volcano can be read here at The Malcontent

1. Barbequed artichokes. Everywhere in Catania seems to be smoking hot, not just the active volcano Mount Etna, rumbling in the background. Definitely one to try on my Big Green Egg. It would be lovely with a chipotle and butter dressing or as they do them here, stuffed with parsley and garlic. 
2. Roasting chestnuts, large, mustard coloured and softly sweet, being crammed into street chimneys off the back of a truck.

3. The fish market, la peshcharia, is a must: it's street theatre with faces from a medieval painting, joking, selling, calling out. You'll see sword fish, the heads on display so shoppers can check for freshness, tins of salted anchovies, silvery eels curled into spirals, carmine chunks of tuna. I felt sorry for the guys selling parsley, how do they make a living? Maybe they make 10 euros a day, max? Do the food tour with Alessandra of StreatCatania for in depth information. You do also get the odd bloke selling a sword fish out of the back of his car. 

4. The Street Drinks: Art Nouveau booth 'Costa's Kiosk', which sells home-made syrups and seltzers known as 'sghicciu'. Italians, like the French, are obsessed with their digestive processes and after lunch, you'll see people asking for lemon with salt and soda water to help them process their lengthy repasts.
5. Pasta alla Norma, rigatoni with an aubergine and tomato sauce, my recipe here, named after the opera by Bellini, topped with...
6. Ricotta salata, another Catanese speciality: pressed, dried and salted ricotta cheese.
7. Other cheeses: there are lots of other cheeses, such as the Provolone tied up above, or a smoked version,  Pecorino made from sheep's milk, Canestrato aged in baskets,  the slightly rubbery Vastedda, and the sharper Cacciocavallo, this brings me back to the original use of cheese as portable milk.

8. Arancini: there are two types, cone shaped, deep-fried, served with 'ragu' sauce or large and round, the size of cricket balls, covered in breadcrumbs and containing cheese, butter, peas or meat.  Here's a recipe for arancini. In Catania, best eaten at Savia café.

9. Cassatini: inspired by Saint Agatha's breasts, cakes formed on the demi sphere, covered in ricotta icing and topped with a cherry. Some lurid green marzipan seems to form part of her 'breasts' too. Available in all good pastry shops and restaurants like Trattoria Casalinga, a cheap and friendly local trat.

10. Cavolfiori fugaretti or 'strangled cauliflower': steamed purple cauliflower stir fried with garlic cloves, olives, anchovies, pecorino, red wine.

11.Cipollina/e pastry: laminated dough mixed with onion. A bit like a savoury pizza croissant.
12. Granita is thought to be originally from Catania: try lemon or almond granita.

13. The wine from Mount Etna is excellent. Vineyards are planted on 45º slopes, on volcanic soil. Because of the high altitude of some parcels and the intense sunlight, Catania has good red and white wines both. I generally ordered the house carafe which cost very little and which I enjoyed greatly.
14. The tripe: ugh this is utterly disgusting but a local speciality. Bleurgh.
 15. The pickles: you often get them as an aperitif in traditional restaurants.
16. The olives and olive oil: primarily from the olive Nocellara Etnea, which is crunchy, new and green tasting and buttery inside.
17. The citrus: blood oranges, enormous fragrant lemons. You can buy essences of citrus at an old fashioned shop, Drogheda Pavone, on Via della Lettera 16-18. I also bought a bottle of pure alcohol and am going to make my own flavoured spirits.
18. Mostarda: weird disks of hardened wine musk. Often stamped with carvings. You just chew on it. Think of it as a giant wine gum. Edit: they are called Mostarda Siciliana and are a typical gift in November. More information on this at this link. 

19. Almond liqueur: gorgeous, pale creamy, sweet and alcoholic rather than Amaretto. 

20. Pistachios: the very best and greenest pistachios come from Bronte, a village under the eaves of Mount Etna. Make pistachio pesto or pistachio ravioli.
Shopping baskets hanging down so that local stores can easily deliver, is a common sight in Southern Italy.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Food Books for Christmas gifts 2015

My annual Christmas list of which food and cookery books to buy is in the Ham and High today. 

As I couldn't fit in all of my recommendations due to a limited word count, below are the rest of my picks.

For the Food Activist:

Food for thought Vanessa Kimbell

Food for Thought by Vanessa Kimbell (Kyle Cathie)

Vanessa is very entrepreneurial, a skill she no doubt attained from her marketing background. She's started a cookery school, a sourdough club, does social media campaigns, and contributes regularly to Radio 4's The Food Programme. She has an exuberant personality for, like me, she has an Italian background. I once asked her 'Do you feel at home in England?' because really, if you have an expressive personality, it can be quite difficult. It's hard to be English, it is very class bound. And if you don't act like that, you are viewed with suspicion.

All of this is a preamble to Vanessa's book which is cleverly done. She softens the political food activism with sheer prettiness of presentation with lovely food styling and photography. The recipes have witty titles such as Rubber Glove Nettle Soup.

I'd like to cook: Don't destroy the rain forest digestives and Support Your Local Miller Sourdough Pappardelle.

For the Vegan-curious cook:

Homemade Vegan Pantry

Homemade Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner (Ten Speed Press)

Part of my interest in vegan food is technical, for there are advanced techniques for making some of the staples. This book will tell you how to make many of the things in my book V is for Vegan but goes even further into the geekdom of cooking. It tells you how to make uncrab cakes, unfish sticks, unburgers, unsausages, vegan fish sauce, vegan melty cheese, flax seed meringues. An excellent book for the dedicated vegan cook.

I'd like to cook: Condensed non-dairy milk, Almond feta

The Vitamix Cookbook: over 200 delicious whole food recipes to make in your blender by Jodi Berg (Vermilion)

This isn't a beautiful but slightly useless 'gift' book but it is extremely useful to anyone on a vegan diet or wholefood diet. Author Jodi Berg is a descendant of the original Vitamix developers, the Barnard family. The story of the Vitamix developed because her grandfather suffered from terrible digestive problems. The family were fans of Dr Kellogg (he of the cornflakes) who was an early adopter of the meat-free diet. ( I talk a little about the history of veganism in my book V is for Vegan). I use my Vitamix most days, it's such a useful 'gadget' for making flour from any grain, for sauces, soups, curds, name it.

I'll make: Gluten-free Flour Mix, Garden Fresh Minestrone

For the keen restaurant goer who wants to reproduce it at home:

Spuntino Comfort Food (New York Style) by Russell Norman (Bloomsbury)

I really liked Russell's last book 'Polpo' and I like this one even more. It's got the kind of recipes I'd actually like to cook, most of them devised by the head chef at Spuntino, Rachel O'Sullivan. The recipes are well pitched, somewhere between restauranty and creative home cooking. Again this book has the innovative design and feel of Polpo with the naked spine and stitching and a smart urban bronze shiny plaque on the cover. (My mum who is an artist says: always have a bit of gold in a painting, it sells). It has a pull-out section (that you don't actually pull out) on Williamsburg, the area of Brooklyn where it could be fairly said that Norman gets a great deal of his ideas for restaurant concepts. But mainly this book is all about the cookable recipes. Casual reportagey food photography by Jenny Zarins which suits the concept.

I'd like to cook: Mackerel Slider and Pineapple and Liquorice, plus Dutch Baby.

For the street food fan:

Anna Mae's Mac n Cheese

Anna Mae's Mac n Cheese  by Tony Solomon and Anna Clark (Square Peg)

Recipes from London's legendary street food truck which started life in my back garden, which they mention in the credits. They've gone on to be one of the most successful food businesses, lauded by Caitlin Moran among others. Here is their cute, bright book on some of their recipes, notably for their fantastic mac n cheese of which there are several versions here from a Jewish Deli 'Macshugganer' to a blue cheese macaroni cheese, a French one and a classic American standard. A must for carb n cheese lovers.  One of the Amazon reviews says "I've put on half a stone already". What better recommendation for a cookbook?

I'd like to cook: My Big Mac Greek Wedding

Books for bakers

Honey & Co book

Honey and Co The Baking Book by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich (Saltyard)

Apart from anything else this book is a bargain in terms of content, it has almost 150 recipes. The book is divided up in chapters by time of day; dead of night, first light, elevenses, lunch, tea time and after dark, which seems appropriate in that traditionally baking in done in the middle of the night. The recipes are international, with an emphasis on Middle Eastern and Israeli baking. Definitely a book you'd actually use.
I'd like to cook: Pocky Sticks, the Clementine cake and Su Boregi.
Forget your bake-off amateurs, this is a woman who really knows her stuff, Juliet Sears is a professional baker who supplies the birthday cakes to the stars. Some of her cakes and ideas look rather difficult to achieve but there are detailed step by step instructions and graphics. Sears tells you when it's a hard project or an easy job and delightfully bossy (after my own heart) when telling the reader what to do. Every command here is born of hands-on experience and she's not holding back any secrets.  This is a very different sort of baking to Honey and Co but if occasionally you yearn to have a go at a less casual, more theatrical cake, this is the book. 
I'd like to bake: The Pinata cake and the Wedgewood inspired cake

For the food history geek:

English Puddings, sweet and savoury by Mary Norwak (Grub Street)
 I love that nursery expression, the cuddly word 'pudding' (derived originally from the French boudin), that we English use. Americans are terribly po-faced and think pudding only refers to a certain kind of dessert. All dessert ultimately is 'pud,' as in 'what's for pud mate?' This book has chapters on blancmanges and flummeries, junkets and syllabubs, custards, fools, dumplings, fritters... aren't these simply some of the best words in the English language? So nostalgically evocative and roly-poly, Georgie-Porgy, pudding and pie, FUN. Mind, I was one of the few children at school who loved tapioca with jam.
Each recipe has a little of the history, for example: before such modern fripperies as the fork, meringues were beaten with birch twigs. Or how her father liked milk puddings Tudor style, with butter and spice. Or the difference between the English 'Floating Islands' (mentioned I think in Patrick O'Brian's books) and the French 'Iles flottantes', the latter a much lighter affair. Or the interesting nugget that pies had different shapes and pastry decorations so that bakers could recognise their pies in the communal ovens. This book has no pictures, just text and is small enough to take on the bus. 
I'd like to cook: I've made a few of the recipes in the past...'boiled baby' and 'peas pudding' and genuine almond blancmange. I'd like to make Damask cream, Geranium cream, Prince Consort pudding.

Books for DIY cooks/fermenting geeks

 Ferment Your Vegetables

Ferment Your Vegetables by Amanda Feifer (Fair Winds)

Fermentation and canning have been a la mode for the last semi-decade, although pioneers such as Sandor Ellix Katz have been resuscitating these ancient preserving techniques for years. American author Feifer is knowledgeable, with chapters on kimchi, kvass, kraut, fermenting in crocks (I've bought myself a sauerkraut crock), how to make a cabbage 'shelf' and techniques I'd never heard of such as misodoku and nukadoku, which are Asian pickling styles.This is a book I can learn from.
I'd like to ferment: Miso Rhubarb, Healing Burdock Turmeric Pickles.

Art books about food

Inside Chef's Fridges, Europe

Inside chef's fridges by Carrie Solomon and Adrian Moore (Taschen 2015)

Parisian concierge Adrian Moore and photographer Carrie Solomon spent months visiting Michelin starred chefs and having a peek inside their fridges. The results are both intriguing and a relief: yes there are exotic ingredients but also the homely simple food that these chefs and their families actually eat. Alongside the fermented elderberry flowers, the squid ink and the fresh whole lobsters, there will be a jar of Nutella. The contents and even the type of fridge do seem to be representative of each chef's style: Ottolenghi has a fridge stacked full of tiny jars with exotic ingredients, rather like his recipes, while Marco Pierre White has refurbished a grand and vintage wooden fridge.
This is a fantastic gift book for those who like art, chefs, travel and food.

Books for cooks

Home by Trish Deseine

Home by Trish Deseine (Hachette 2015) 

Trish has spent the last twenty years living in Paris, becoming a celebrated cookbook author which is no easy task in chauvinistic France. But now she's returned home to Northern Ireland and created this book containing recipes using the restricted palette of Irish ingredients only... so no olive oil, no pomegranates, no Mediterranean herbs, only foods that can be grown in Ireland. The recipes are both nostalgic and modern, a new look at Irish cooking. It also has atmospheric photographs, gorgeously bleak in the Irish misty light, by Deirdre Rooney.

Love your leftovers

Love your leftovers by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (Bloomsbury)

Some of my best meals are created from leftovers so I'm immediately on board with a book on what the French call 'les restes'. With the assistance of brilliant cookery writer Debora Robertson, Whittingstall has written a resourceful tribute to the art of efficient housekeeping and the carefully managed pantry. There is even a recipe for fried fish skeletons!

I'd like to cook: Arancini patties, Paneer.
Winter Cabin Cooking

Winter Cabin cooking by Lizzie Kamentzsky (Ryland Peters)

I love the atmosphere in this book which is beautifully styled and photographed. I think winter is the best season for cooking, after all it's when you are at your hungriest and you don't have to worry about calories as you will shiver them off. (Freezing your fat off is a new thing). You've got all the chalet girl favourites, gorgeous rib-sticking food that acts as a culinary woolly jumper. Lizzie also features dishes from American mountain ski resorts such as Huckleberry pie as well as Alpine recipes like rosti.

My only issue with it as a non-meat eater is that it is so meat focussed. You don't need meat to feel warm and cosy...potatoes and cheese do the job so much better.

I'd like to cook: the proper Apfelstrudel, Heaven and Earth pie.

For those who like illustration:

Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook (Michael Joseph)

This pretty notebook style cookbook with some of Rachel's charming illustrations and watercolours is perfect for a young cook wanting to explore slightly harder, more exotic recipes, that have been thoroughly tested. Cute!

I'd like to cook: Japanese Teriyaki salmon steamed buns!

Stocking Fillers:

Posh Toast
Posh Toast (Quadrille)
My whole family are toast fiends. It's the easiest 'recipe' for a country that has one of the highest electric toaster ownerships per capita in the world. I asked Which magazine what percentage and they said 90 % sounded about right. This book is full of toast topping suggestions. (I also have vegan toast toppers in my book V is for Vegan). A very pretty book.
I'd like to toast: Parmesan pain perdu and piperade.
Ultimate one pot dishes

Ultimate One Pot Dishes by Alan Rosenthal (Ebury Press)

Alan Rosenthal specialises in one pot dishes such as stews, he's managing director and creator of which is sold in supermarkets. After grilling, the one pot dish is the basis for the earliest cooking, probably as soon as mankind invented some kind of pot that could be heated, perhaps inspired by using the animal's stomach as a pouch for all the ingredients. Unfortunately for me the recipes are very meaty so there wasn't much I would want to cook from it, but a good selection of stew-like dishes from around the world.

I've cooked: the Succotash recipe which worked well.

Books for campers

Guyrope gourmet

Guyrope Gourmet by Josh Sutton (Punk Publishing)

Josh Sutton is also known as Guyrope Gourmet and has been featured on TV and in the press for his ingenious camping recipes. I love camping and cooking outdoors when the weather is fine. Food tastes better when eaten outside, I'm convinced. Have you ever had a portion of chips in the street, even eaten in the rain on a freezing Northern night? How good does it taste? So much better than if you have it at your centrally heated home on a plate. Josh has some engaging tips for camp cookery, such as barbecuing on an washing machine drum, what kit to take with you on a trip and what key ingredients you'll need. My kind of cook! A good pressie for men, women, boys and girls.
I'd like to cook: stuffed trout wrapped in maize leaves

Not about food

Red Rosa by Kate Evans (Verso Books)
This is a graphic novel by a friend of mine from my activist days. I met Kate when I was squatting at the London Fields Lido, along with another friend who has also done well, the street artist Stik, who also brought out an art book this year. It's amazing how much talent was in that place. Beautifully drawn, this is the biography of Rosa Luxemburg, writer and political leader, one of the 20th centuries best known revolutionaries. I think some of the best work being done nowadays is by graphic novelists, for instance I'm a big fan of The Walking Dead TV series. Highly recommended.

My gardening/cooking book Christmas gift list can be seen here at this link.