IoS Books of the Year 2012: Food

The recipes for seasonal joy – and scallop curry

I've got more cookbooks than I know what to do with; probably with more recipes in them – combined – than I have meals left on earth. (OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration.) So why do I, like many food fans (such as restaurateur Mark Hix, who has a roomful), keep putting them on our wish lists?

This year's best books proved that it's about much more than the recipes. Sure, you can buy the latest Nigella/Jamie/Lorraine/Mary TV tie-in title, but how many pesto or roulade variations do you need? Much more involving, and entertaining, were the highly personal food books, of which this year saw a bumper crop. How to Eat Out by Giles Coren (Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99), a kind of critic's memoir, was an unexpected joy. I found myself wiping away a tear as he describes a meal out with mum and dad, and hooting with laughter over the bile-flecked airline food chapter.

Eating out was also the theme of the exacting The Art of the Restaurateur by Nicholas Lander (Phaidon, £24.95). Those who want the inside track, rather than the critic's, will enjoy Lander's interviews with, and analysis of, some of the world's most interesting restaurant owners. It is a thought-provoking read, not least if you ever considered opening a place yourself. (Spoiler alert: it's bloody hard.)

One who knows this is two-Michelin-starred chef Sat Bains. His Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian (Face Publishing, £75) was nearly four years in the making and it shows. A lavish, microscopically detailed view of his work may not have you rushing to the oven (his scallop curry has more than 50 ingredients) but it is a thrilling visual food odyssey from one of our most creative, characterful chefs.

Even Bains, master of intricacy, uses a wooden spoon. He, like the rest of us, should Consider the Fork, which is the title of the new book by Bee Wilson (Particular, £20). Wilson gives a witty, well-informed history of kitchen implements and is a delight for anyone who's ever been in a kitchen.

Tears, again, arrived on reading Home Cooking by Laurie Colvin (Fig Tree, £12.99). Funny, clever and utterly unaffected, this is a joy for we harried, yet hopeful home cooks. She talks of "retaliating" to a dinner-party invitation, rather than "replying". Love it.

For those who feel they must add to their cooking repertoire, Polpo, by Russell Norman (Bloomsbury, £25), is a delight for its goodies from Venice and beyond, beautifully presented in a book that (hallelujah) lies flat on the kitchen surface. The easy-peasy meatballs are already a regular fixture in the Markwell household.

Cakes and baking are hardly under-represented in food books, but the imagination on display and ease of recipes in Lily Vanilli's Sweet Tooth, by Lily Jones (Canongate, £20) makes it an instant favourite of the genre. Stained-glass cake, anyone?

My two top books for snuggling up with, then cooking from (in my view, the perfect combination) are A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield (Canongate, £25) and You're All Invited by Margot Henderson (Fig Tree, £25). Bloomfield, the Brit chef doing brilliantly in New York, has a knack for friendly yet precise instruction – which not everyone does. It's lovely. Henderson's book is one I have already bought for food-loving friends because, well, I want them to cook for me from it! From fun canapés to indulgent suppers to glamorous puds, this personality-packed book has them all.