Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Consumers have been inundated for years with messages through advertising by multimillion-dollar corporations that quicker and more convenient is better. Highly processed fast food that has travelled thousands of miles to reach our tables and contain a Frankenstein’s lab full of chemicals. This has resulted in increases in type two diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and malnutrition in the USA, Europe and here in the UK. Barbara Kingsolver‘s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” tells the story of what happens after the author and her family take the decision to try to survive for a year only on produce they either grew themselves or were able to buy locally. The book is beautifully written; the author’s passion for food and the environment is evident and communicated with humour and without judgement. A must read for anyone interested in food!

Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London's Ottolenghi

Restaurateur, deli owner, author of four books and Guardian columnist, Yotam Ottolenghi is not short on credentials. A passionate and innovative chef, Ottolenghi has been helping us fall in love with vegetables and rethink how we eat for nearly a decade. Plenty More is the follow up of Plenty, his 2010’s award winning cookbook and this time the focus this is on techniques with 150 vegetarian dishes organized by cooking method – tossed, baked simmered etc. No surprise the dishes in the book are thoughtful, vibrant, inventive, with recipes that are straightforward and easy to follow. It is a gorgeous book illustrated by stunning photos that I couldn’t help but salivate over. When Ottolenghi visited Ely Cathedral as part of the Autumn Literary Festival, the event was a sell out and he demonstrated dishes from the book to rapt crowd of hundreds. A rock star of the cooking world! Plenty More has won the cookbook of the year 2014 at the National Book Awards.

The Essence of French Cooking Hardcover by Michel Roux Snr.

To celebrate the launch of his latest cook book Chef Michel Roux attended a special event in Ely hosted by Toppings Booksellers, which included a three course lunch at Poet’s House with a menu inspired by Michel’s recipes. I felt for the Head Chef Nick Zwolinsky & his team, not only did he have cooking royalty in his restaurant but had to prepare plates for 60 people that would do justice to this extraordinary book! Well, he did brilliantly, the main of ‘Denham Estate saddle of lamb stuffed with apricot & cumin, smoked pomme purée, roasted shallots & glazed baby carrots’ was fabulous. Though the highlight of the lunch for me was getting the chance to meet one of my food heroes, who proved to be every bit as charming as I’d imagined & passionate about cooking & food. In his book, beautifully illustrated with photos by Lisa Linder, Michel distils a lifetime of knowledge into 100 classic recipes, some with a modern twist. “I do this not because I have to, but because I love it” doesn’t that just say it all.

Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food

It has been nearly three years since I saw Nigella speak at Ely Cathedral (2012), where she was promoting Nigellissima, so it's great to have her back on tour with a new book, titled "Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food", and back on our screens with a companion series airing on BBC 2. Speaking at Stylist Live, Nigella said that this new book is more back to basics, pared-down home cooking "about food that makes our life easier, that makes us feel better, more alive and less stressed." I've only had a chance to flip through the book but it already looks like it will become a kitchen favourite, soon to become bespattered with food. I'm particularly keen to give the rather amazing looking 'sweet potato macaroni cheese' a try. What I love about Nigella's books are that they are clear, fun to read and contain recipes that I'd not only want to cook but feel that I am able too.

[COMPETITION] Signed book giveaway on our twitter :)

Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian [Hardcover] Sat Bains (Author) forward by Heston Blumenthal

‘Imposing’ and ‘unapologetic’, are my first thoughts when searching for words to describe the chef and his debut cookbook. Hugely ‘talented’, ‘irreverent’ and ‘funny’ also apply. I was lucky enough to be given a linen-covered limited edition copy of ‘Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian’. A beautifully put together folio, reminiscent of some of the stunning coffee table tomes you might find for art or architecture, filled with accounts from Sat’s culinary journey. From starting out at age 16 on to present day, where he holds a coveted two Michelin-stars for his restaurant in Nottingham. In the 450 pages you’ll find 68 recipes interwoven with inspirational stories from Sat’s life, exquisite photos, sketches and contributions from some of the most respected names in the industry. I would say the recipes, though well-illustrated and explained, are perhaps better suited to chefs and the more able home cook but the book is an interesting read, gorgeous to look at and a worthy addition to any library.

Kitchen Secrets

I spent a wonderful evening at ‘Bloomsbury Cooks presents dinner with Raymond Blanc’ at Brasserie Blanc, Charlotte Street, London. Over a delightful three course meal, Raymond Blanc spoke passionately about where he finds inspiration in the kitchen, recounted memories of his childhood and enthused over Maman Blanc’s wonderful cooking. The chef is clearly passionate about food and rightly proud of his beautifully illustrated new cookbook “Kitchen Secrets”. I found it to have just the right balance between recipes with some challenge and theatre and simple family meals, making it accessible and in the chef’s words “inclusive” for all. A gracious and charming host that was very generous with his time and in sharing his love of food. I look forward to trying out a few dishes very soon!

A Bird in the Hand: Chicken recipes for every day and every mood

Perhaps the most popular, yet at the same time most maligned ingredient, is the humble chicken. Handle it wrong and it could kill you ... the only good chicken is organic, free range ... it's bland .. you should only eat white meat .. and so it goes on. There's a lot of warnings, a few myths & a lot of snobbery surrounding chicken, with a real dearth of cookbooks dedicated to it. Finally, much loved food writer Diana Henry has turned her talents to paying proper homage to poultry in her latest publication; 'A Bird in Hand'. Last night (19 March 2015) I found myself sat in the unlikely setting of Saint Peters Church in Ely, with a heaped plate of tasters cooked by the multitalented Stuart of Toppings Book Sellers, listening to Diana in conversation with fellow food writer Bee Wilson. As always Diana's friendly demeanor & obvious fondness of Bee made it seem like we were all sitting in her front room enjoying a chat with a friend. A lively discussion ensued that was fun & educational .. I now want a chicken brick (long story). The book is beautifully illustrated & as you would expect from Diana, the recipes are easy to follow producing yet more 'feel good' dishes that you'll just love to eat.

A Change of Appetite: where delicious meets healthy

Since beginning ‘The Best Sunday Lunch’ blog (April 2013) I’ve gained just under a stone in weight, I shouldn’t be surprised given the extremes of gluttony I’ve engaged in. Whilst acknowledging the need to shift some of those extra pounds I’ve come to really dislike the word ‘diet’ so when I saw the title of much-loved food writer Diana Henry’s new book “A Change of Appetite” it was a Eureka moment. I didn’t want to deprive myself but I knew I needed to become more moderate in my indulgences & teach my palate to crave foods that were healthier for me. This new book seemed like the perfect solution, a gentle "shift" from heavy foods to more vegetables, fish & grain based dishes taking inspirations from the Middle East & Far East, where powerful flavours excite without the need for excessive quantities of unhealthy fats & sugar. The author’s relatable style, gorgeous food styling & beautiful photos means that the recipes are easy to follow, more importantly the results are fabulous, healthy food that you will want to eat. "Not BE good food, just GOOD food" that is "accidentally healthy". [Book launch celebrated with a 3 course supper created by Toppings Ely from the pages of the book].

Mary Berry's Absolute Favourites

Though not a baker I adore Mary Berry, I’ve been a fan ever since watching BBC2’s two part documentary ‘The Mary Berry Story’ which charts her life from her childhood in Bath during WW2, to London in the 1960s when she got her first big break, a remarkable women, unafraid of working hard for what she wants & despite global fame, completely down to earth, generous & charming. It was a huge treat to be able to enjoy champagne, tea & cakes at BAFTA’s HQ (16 March 2015) & listen to her chat with another great food writer, Diana Henry. Part of the event was a promotion of her latest cookbook; ‘Mary’s Absolute Favourites’ the official tie-in to the six-part BBC2 TV series of the same name. The book contains typical Mary recipes, 100 fuss-free, delicious dishes perfect for everyday cooking & weekend entertaining, with ideas from canapés to mains & of course plenty of ideas for dessert! Including a delicious 'Stones ginger wine cake with caramelised apple cream cheese' that BAFTA head chef Anton Manganaro served on the day. (Telegraph photo album)

Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure: 100 recipes from our journey

Whilst I enjoy most styles of cuisine I do have a bias towards the East as this is where I spent my childhood. For me flavours from the Orient echo thoughts of family and celebrations and are one of the reasons that I enjoyed the BBC series ‘Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure’ in which Chefs Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang undertake a culinary adventure across China, sampling the food and the links it has with the culture and history. The cookbook that accompanies the series divides recipes according to region, highlighting some of their best known dishes. Whilst some of the dishes seemed a bit intimidating these two chefs have a relaxed, accessible style of cooking on screen that has translated to the pages of this cookbook. For those not used to Chinese cooking then a trip to your local Chinese supermarket and an investment in some staples like Ching’s seemingly favourite ingredient ‘Shaoxing wine’ plus a wok will be needed, beyond that I found the recipes well illustrated, straightforward and the results a pleasure to consume. Happy woking!

Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food

There is no denying that Tom Kerridge is the chef of the moment, if not 2013. It seems as if his cheerful grin is around every corner I turn! His recipes have been featured in the Telegraph this weekend & a large display of his new cookbook graces the entrance of my local Tesco. The book, titled ‘Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food,’ published by Bloomsbury, is Tom’s first foray into print. In it the Chef reveals how to cook the ‘best-ever pub food’ & he should know! Tom & his wife Beth run The Hand & Flowers in Marlow, the first pub in the UK to be awarded two Michelin Stars. There is no question that the book will be a success as Tom’s BBC Two series ‘Proper Pub Food’ regularly attracted over two million viewers a week who, like me, drooled over his ‘lush’ creations & were charmed by his no-nonsense style & easy going manner. The book contains 130 recipes that are divided into 6 sections, beautifully illustrated with stunning images by photographer Cristian Barnett. Flicking through there are a few proofing errors* in the weights & measures printed e.g. 500g instead of 200g salt to 1L water for the brine, but overall it is a fantastic book full of photos to salivate over & accessible recipes to cook for family & friends. I can’t wait to have a go at cooking Tom’s Sunday Lunch, or better yet, visit H&F and have him cook it for me!

(*corrected in latest print)