Packing my life into boxes earlier this year ahead of our house move was quite a revelation. I stumbled across all sorts of things I’d forgotten, like a tin full of congratulations cards from our wedding, the journal I wrote for Little Boy during his first year and a lovely handbag that’s in retirement as it won’t fit a nappy or packet of baby wipes. As I emptied out cupboards and drawers, I made a mental note that we need never buy any more of the following: batteries, light bulbs, French phrase books, Calpol, nappy sacks, socks, washing up sponges, iPhone chargers, plasters, paracetamol, international adaptor plugs or mosquito repellent, such is the stockpile that we’ve accumulated. By the time I’d filled several boxes with books with titles like A Scandinavian Christmas, Dough, and Eat Your Veg, I also realised that I’ve amassed rather a lot of cookery books.
Instead of doing something more useful like defrosting the freezer, I totted up my stash. It turns out that I have over a hundred volumes of varying size, shape, style and speciality. Whether I want to knock up a fragrant curry, learn how to create a wow-worthy birthday cake, construct a stunning summer salad, spend an afternoon making chutney or jam, cater for large numbers, concoct an indulgent pudding for date night, cook something for Little Boy that’s delicious and disguises the veg or plan campfire suppers for our holiday, somewhere on my buckling bookshelves I’ll find the answer.
I guess my collection is no surprise when I consider that I’ve been cooking for over two decades. I started slowly, using the simple books my mum gave me as a child, like the Peter Rabbit cookery book (lovely fresh lemonade, easy shortbread biscuits) and recipes from the Blue Peter annual (biscuits again – peanut butter ones this time). Later, during my student years, I had plenty of time to hone my skills. Ah, the joy of an arts degree! Mum wanted to make sure I ate properly away from home – at least occasionally – so she secreted a copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course into one of my many suitcases. I was too busy having fun in my first year to make my own pasta sauce, but by second year I’d moved from halls into a nice flat with a decent kitchen and spent more time at home. While my flatmates contemplated penne and pesto for the sixth night in a row, I’d put together a veggie lasagne from scratch or make large pots of soup. On special occasions I made stacks of cream-filled, chocolate covered profiteroles. I loved seeing other people take pleasure from what I’d made and I’ve been cooking ever since.
Just as my mum cooked for me (and often still does, I’m happy to say), I now cook for my own little family. Provided that the baby isn’t crying for attention and the boy is happy playing, I like pottering in the kitchen. H will occasionally offer to cook but I’d actually rather do it myself. In theory it’s time for me to have a bit of peace and quiet, but of course it doesn’t always work out like that. I’m now adept at stirring and chopping with a baby on one hip. Although I love to try out new recipes and authors, I have a number of trusty books that I turn to often if I want something delicious and reliable. These are some of my favourites:
For my fussy boy: The River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook
For fantastic bread: Richard Bertinet’s Dough For brilliant cakes and biscuits: Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Nigella. I’m an enthusiastic home cook, more rustic than Roux. On the whole I enjoy making and eating healthy vegetarian food (though I’m not averse to the odd pie, and I do love a pudding). Tonight, for example, we had an Ottolenghi root vegetable tagine and Little Boy had a cauliflower and broccoli gratin from the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook. All very nice, but I’m unlikely to be meeting John Torode or Gregg Wallace any time soon.
No, the real star cook in my family is my brother. When my mum decided to teach us all the kitchen basics so that we could fend for ourselves once we left home, I doubt she anticipated that Sam would go on to publish several cookery books and have them translated throughout the world. He started writing recipes at the tender age of fourteen and is now onto his sixth book – Virgin to Veteran: How to Get Cooking With Confidence. He’s travelled the world to promote the books, been on Blue Peter and hasn’t even graduated yet. If I didn’t love him so much, I’m sure I’d be well within my rights to hate him.
As it is, I’m not a competitive sibling and I couldn’t be more pleased for him. Each of the books is fantastic. I use his vegetarian one, Eat Vegetarian, all the time. The recipes are simple, generally pretty healthy and use ingredients that I have in as standard, so I don’t need to shop for them specially. If I’m trying to cut back on the food bills, I’ve been known to use his Student Cookbook a lot too. At the moment I’m trying out recipes from Virgin to Veteran. The caponata and polenta dish is absolutely delicious, and the egg banjo (a fried egg sandwich by any other name) has become a Sunday morning favourite in our household. I know, having had the pleasure of taking part in some of the testing sessions, that all the recipes work because they’ve all been tested to within an inch of their lives. I’m delighted to have all of Sam’s books take pride of place in my ever-growing cookbook collection.
Sam has kindly signed one copy of Virgin to Veteran for me to give away. If you would like to enter (UK residents only, I’m afraid), please leave a comment below (together with a means of contacting you) telling me what your favourite Christmas food is. I will choose a winner at random at midnight on Sunday 16th December.
*This isn’t a sponsored post, but if Sam would like to cook me something lovely over Christmas, I won’t say no.*