Add a pinch of celebrity

Home cooking requires a bit of personality to make it great. And that personality doesn't have to be your own, says Sybil Kapoor
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Indy Lifestyle Online

To avoid being left out in the cold, anyone with a coffee table must get their hands on one or two of the season's most lavish and tactile cookbooks. Here will be revealed, even to those who wouldn't dream of following a recipe, the secrets of next year's lifestyle fashions - all touchy-feely cooking and hip ingredients such as quince and cinnamon. Chef-led cook books look so last year; ousted by the cult of personality, preferably with the backing of a television series. This Christmas Nigel Slater, Rowley Leigh, Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein are all poised to do battle with their latest offerings.

To avoid being left out in the cold, anyone with a coffee table must get their hands on one or two of the season's most lavish and tactile cookbooks. Here will be revealed, even to those who wouldn't dream of following a recipe, the secrets of next year's lifestyle fashions - all touchy-feely cooking and hip ingredients such as quince and cinnamon. Chef-led cook books look so last year; ousted by the cult of personality, preferably with the backing of a television series. This Christmas Nigel Slater, Rowley Leigh, Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein are all poised to do battle with their latest offerings.

No longer can books be chosen simply for their recipes, instead we must consider each author's culinary philosophy. Avoid giving How to be a Kitchen Goddess by Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25) to anyone who resents times spent sublimating herself in the kitchen: she may object to being told she should trail "nutmeggy fumes of baked pie" through the kitchen and produce exquisite fairy cakes. Nor would an environmentalist with a fondness for fish appreciate Rick Stein's Seafood Lovers' Guide (BBC books £20). He or she would be so irritated by the lost opportunity for tackling the complex problem of depleted fish stocks that his piscine recipes will be wasted on them.

For the £20 or £25 price tag that this season's heavyweights carry, you can choose your preferred way of life. No Place Like Home by Rowley Leigh (Fourth Estate, £25), for example, is for everyone who likes to spend time cooking. With his identity established by his London restaurant Kensington Place, Leigh is suitably Notting Hill urbane. The book is divided into four sections - "seasonal" is very au courant. In numerous short essays Leigh opines on everything from the unpleasantness of overly rare meat to the trials of producing a good picnic. The recipes are slipped in as menus for when you want to hold a Mushroom Gatherers' Lunch or a Club Dinner for the Rich Uncle. They'll suit those who love using plenty of cream, butter and eggs. Sea kale with blood orange hollandaise, for example, followed by sea trout fillet with a horseradish crust (fried) and rhubarb fool. Give it to an opinionated cook to generate some excellent meals and lively discussion.

Even Gordon Ramsay has jumped on the seasonal bandwagon, as you might guess from the title of his latest book A Chef For All Seasons with Roz Denny (Quadrille, £25). It too is divided into Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Each section is prefaced by a list of seasonal ingredients. These are influenced by what he can buy for his restaurant, rather than what you might find in your local farmer's market, although this is not a bad thing if it persuades the occasional supermarket buyer to sell crosnes (also known as Chinese artichoke) next autumn or white asparagus in spring. The recipes themselves look extremely good: Jerusalem artichoke soup with morels, for example, or roasted figs with cinnamon shortbreads. Ramsay skilfully combines flavours in new ways; trendspotters can predict that cinnamon, lemon grass, jasmine, peach and thyme, and lavender and chocolate will attain popularity.

In contrast, Appetite by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate, £25) wants to free us from the shackles of recipes, to cook as, when and how we feel like it. The recipes are designed to take you through the act of cooking, rather than instructing with a list of measured ingredients. In 448 pages, Appetite covers everything from Who are You Cooking For? to The Art of Washing Up. In between, you can find technical information on cooking methods, equipment, seasonal ingredients, and lots of lovely recipes, each of which has several variations. As with all Slater's books, you are buying his idiosyncratic approach to life with all its crusty irregularities. You are also investing in his good taste, which encompasses simple British, Italian and fusion cooking. Appetite is destined to become a bible for relaxed cooking, and should win converts as well as please his many fans.

Nigella Lawson has gone full tilt for escapism in the kitchen with her latest book, How to be a Domestic Goddess, subtitled Baking and the art of comfort cooking. Baking makes you feel good, she believes, and nothing could be more relaxing. It is already selling like hot cakes. And dainty sugar roses, passion-fruit curd and baby bundts (mini cakes) drizzled with lemon icing are indeed irresistible. However, she is also very clever at capturing the fashionable flavours wafting from trendy kitchens, so get in a supply of lemons, pistachios, almonds, quince and rosemary.

For a straightforward and beautiful book without the aspirations - but with recipes that really make you want to cook - buy Real Greek Food by Theodore Kyriakou and Charles Campion (Pavilion, £25). Kyriakou has set about introducing the reader to indigenous Greek food without any fuss, hype or lifestyle. Each recipe is clearly laid out with sensible advice that should put the ability to assemble a fine meal within anyone's reach.

Alternatively, you may long for a return of the elegant, restrained prose of Elizabeth David. If so, a worthwhile indulgence is Is There a Nutmeg in the House? (Michael Joseph £20), a new collection compiled by Jill Norman, her literary trustee. It consists of articles and recipes published and unpublished, none of which has appeared in a book before. See the front of the Weekend Review to sample.

Stocking fillers

Simple Café Food by Julie le Clerc (Penguin, £9.99). An easy to follow, throw-about New Zealand café cookbook, ideal for erratic eaters just starting to cook for themselves. Typical recipes: mixed mushroom and herb soup; seafood paella; lemonberry Pavlova roulade.

Casseroles by Tessa Bramley (Ryland, Peters & Small, £8.99). Michelin-starred chef rescues stressed cooks with lots of scrummy recipes for stew. Results may not match beautiful pictures but should taste good. Typical recipes: oven-baked chowder; pot-roasted chicken with saffron and lemon; mulled fruit compote.

Noodles the New Way by Sri Owen (Quadrille Publishing, £14.99). The sophisticated answer to every oriental food addict - stylishly covers all aspects from a trustworthy recipe writer. Who needs potatoes? Typical recipes: piquant Thai dressing; spring rolls; Balinese minced duck satay on fried noodles.

The Legendary Cuisine of Persia by Margaret Shaida (Grub Street paperback, £14.99). A dreamy book that reveals an intriguing world of new, fragrant dishes. Typical recipes: jewelled rice; duck with walnuts and pomegranates; date fudge.

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