Best food books for Christmas

The bad news is that several cookbooks have made the jump to £30. Even worse news is that these big-ticket items include the year's most desirable titles. You could eat sublimely for a year using only Nigel Slater's Tender (Fourth Estate, £30). The king of comfort eating has discovered the vegetable patch and seems as adept there as in the kitchen. However, we can all enjoy his succulent prose, wise advice ("celeriac is one root that makes a sloppy mash and needs an equal amount of potato if it is to stand in a cloudlike mound") and sure ingenuity with 400 home-grown dishes ranging from an asparagus, broad bean and mint pilaf to lamb shanks with preserved lemon and swede.

With a more restrained design, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers have produced their best book yet in The River Café Classic Italian Cook Book (Michael Joseph, £30). I found myself instantly impelled to the kitchen by lucid and authentic recipes. Their insalata di polpo (boiled octopus with potatoes) was a tasty triumph, by far my best rendition of the tricky cephalopod. Schiacciata, a sweet grape-laden focaccia from Tuscany, was equally successful despite my inability to locate the sangiovese grapes in the illustration. I've made it successfully three times with black table grapes and once, less happily, in an experiment with blueberries.

Did you know that limpets are best after "three drinks of the March water" (late winter rain)? This is good to know but most of Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking (Kyle Cathie, £30) is devoted to less recondite topics. With 44 pages on dairy cooking (including three pages on how to make butter) and 42 pages on the pig, this is an encyclopaedic guide to the cooking of Ireland that also finds room for blow-ins like panzanella (Tuscan bread salad) and the Indian pudding srikhand. If Allen were based in Britain instead of Co Cork, she would be one of our best-known cooks.

Even these pricy tomes seem modest compared to Larousse Gastronomique (Hamlyn, £60). Like a great aunt discovering Lady Gaga, this latest 1,200-page edition of the French food encyclopaedia has found room for revolutionaries like Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller. Whether this is worthwhile is debatable, since the Keller entry fails to mention his devotion to sous-vide cooking. Larousse also misses an entry on this vac-pack method. Where it really scores is in France's gastronomic heartland: omelette gets 2 pages and lobster four. It is the greatest book on the world's greatest cuisine.

The scarcely credible non-knead bread technique developed by Jim Lahey of New York's Sullivan Street Bakery spread like wildfire among foodies. A video on the New York Times website shows Lahey mixing flour, salt, yeast and water for 30 seconds. This is baked in a pre-heated cast-iron casserole (an oven within an oven) for an hour. The result is a perfect crusty country loaf, but as Lahey's My Bread (Norton, £19.99) explains, there are a few provisos to this miracle. You have to let the dough ferment for at least 12 hours and, if you're using a Le Creuset pan, unscrew the handle or it will disintegrate. For patient types, this book ranges from ciabatta to pizza, with sections on sandwiches and how to use stale bread (panzanella again).

In their introduction to Game: A Cookbook (Absolute, £25), Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington-Davies ponder the British reluctance to make the most of this "incredibly cheap" food source. The main reason is a word that "attracts and repels people in equal measure – 'gamy'." From partridge pie to wild boar and bean casserole, rabbit rillettes to pheasant tagine, this is a persuasive argument against such prejudice. They stress simple roasts "because we really want you to appreciate that natural flavour of game", but will they persuade the British to enjoy flavour?

Even more perplexing is the British wariness concerning any fish that isn't battered. CJ Jackson, doyenne of the Billingsgate Seafood Training School, has devoted her career to eroding this baffling antipathy. Her Billingsgate Market Cookbook (New Holland, £20) is an easy-going guide to cooking the prodigious haul sold from its dripping aisles. Though tempted by winkle and watercress sandwiches and steamed sea bass with lettuce, this reviewer's mouth produced a Niagara-like deluge at the mere thought of palourde clams steamed in coconut milk with chillies and lemongrass.

Any offering from Simon Hopkinson will attract a horde of fans, but they may be surprised by his latest topic. The man who wrote Roast Chicken and Other Stories has turned to The Vegetarian Option (Quadrille, £20). This very tasty version of vegetarianism pushes the envelope to include chicken stock. Anyone tucking into such treats as warm asparagus custards, chard gratin or boiled onions (use white ones) with poached egg and Lancashire cheese won't languish for a chop.

For a stocking-filler, you won't do better than a re-issue of a slender work by Helen Saberi and the late Alan Davidson. After the monumental Oxford Companion to Food, the duo turned their attention to "a thing of no consequence". But this "plebeian yet aristocratic" creation achieves a satisfaction "unrivalled on the tablecloth". Trifle (Prospect, £9.99) is not quite what it says.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness