It’s What’s On Your Bookshelf time – the monthly celebration of all things bookish – and this month I’ll be celebrating my love of Christmas cookbooks and sharing them with you. And why not? They combine the best of 3 of my favourite things in life: Christmas, baking and cookbooks.
First up though, what I read in November…
A Line To Kill, by Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz is in fabulous form in this outing. Equal billing for my read of the month.
Villette, by Charlotte Bronte
A difficult read. You can check out my full review on Goodreads.
Summer Days and Sea Breezes, by Carole Matthews
Where does she get these titles from? Pure escapism for when the world is too real.
The Jam Queens, by Josephine Moon
Jo is a fellow Sunny Coaster and, like, me, writes a decent amount of food into her books. This one takes us through the middle of the country on The Ghan – an epic train journey through the outback.
The Raffles Affair, by Vicki Virtue
This one is set almost entirely in Raffles Hotel in Singapore – somewhere that is on my bucket list of places to stay. A good debut.
Sunrise By The Sea, by Jenny Colgan
I do love a new Jenny Colgan and this was my read of the month.
Delia Smith’s Christmas
This book was first published in 1990, and I bought my copy not many years after that. To say that it’s a classic would be a massive understatement. If you have just one Christmas cookbook on your shelf it should be this one by Delia – or Saint Delia as I like to refer to her.
As well as being a recipe book it’s also a Christmas handbook – full of Delia practicality, hints, and lists – that take you from prep (beginning in October) all the way through to Boxing Day leftovers.
The Christmas cake that I make year after year comes from this book. Also from this book are the savoury pinwheels we have every Christmas morning (and for our tree putting up ceremony), the little sausage rolls, and tiny cheese, onion, and olive scones. I also particularly like the chapter on chutneys, preserves and pickles – perfect for leftover ham, turkey, and pork pies.
While I’ve never prepared them for Christmas dinner, her Brussels Sprouts with Riesling and Bacon, and the Parmesan Coated Parsnips get made at least once each winter in our house.
I giggled when I read the recipes at the end of Jenny Colgan’s Christmas at the Cupcake Café and she included Delia’s Christmas cake. It really is that good. You’ll find the recipe here.
Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook
This is a massive doorstopper of a book full of Jamie’s trademark rustic- styled food pics and plenty of variations on the base recipes. That’s probably the thing I love most about a Jamie book – the way he provides an idea and then gives you potential jumping-off points to amp it up even more.
I turn to this book when I’m after ideas for veggies, sides, canapes, and ideas of things to do with leftovers. Jamie can turn a parsnip or a sprout into an event.
My faves in this one are: Pommes Anna, Red Onion Gratin, and glazed carrots with thyme, caramelised garlic, bay, clementine and honey (although given that it’s the wrong time of the year for clementine, I use orange).
An absolute must for your Christmas bookshelf.
Oh, and if you want more Jamie, he even has a Christmas podcast.
The sub-title says it all – Food, Family, Friends, Festivities.
Given that Nigella has included a Christmas chapter in most of her books I have to admit that I assumed that this book would be simply an amalgamation of those recipes in one place. I assumed wrong. This book is huge, and the recipes are all new.
Of course, given that Nigella generously shares so many recipes on her webpage you could just as easily grab many of these from there, but to do so would be to miss out on the experience of this book – and Nigella cookbooks are more than recipes.
From think-ahead Christmas preserves to casual suppers, seasonal baking, Christmas parties, the day itself and leftovers, Nigella has you beautifully and ever so gloriously covered.
These star-topped cranberry mincemeat tarts are fresh, fruity, slightly boozy, and small enough that you won’t feel guilty having more than one. You’ll find the recipe here.
Don’t, however, overlook the Christmassy chapters in her other books. If you do, you’ll miss out on treats such as clementine cake (How To Eat), snow-flecked brownies (Feast), parmesan shortbreads (Nigellissima) and cider and 5 spice bundt cake that smells and tastes like Christmas would smell and taste if it were a bundt cake (Simply Nigella).
Fortnum and Mason – Christmas & Other Winter Feasts, by Tom Parker Bowles
Okay, this one was an accidental iBooks purchase that found its way into my digital trolley when I wasn’t looking – it could have happened when I was drooling over the Christmas windows in F&M’s Instagram feed a few years ago.
Written by Tom Parker-Bowles (one of those Parker-Bowles) to a (very) large extent, this is a tad how the other half lives, but that’s true to their brand and to be honest, as an unashamed addict of their teas I’m the last person who should be complaining about this.
To read this is to be immersed in an almost dream-like fantasy of the perfect English Christmas. It’s an England of grouse, goose and game; of potted stilton, Bramley apples and clementines. It’s also an England of sage toad in the hole, pigs in blankets and onion gravy, and marmalade and almond tart.
Sure, in some ways it’s a (not so) thinly disguised advertisement for the F&M produce hall, but to be honest that doesn’t worry me. In fact, it helps illustrate the fantasy a tad more for me. Speaking of illustrations, they’re gorgeous.
What I love is that it’s beautifully written, peppered with stories of Christmas traditions, history and rituals and shares some recipes from the Fortnum’s restaurant. Plus, the marmalade bread and butter pudding is good at any time of the year. Why wait for Christmas?
The Christmas Chronicles, by Nigel Slater
This is a book of words, stories, and notes. And that’s what I love about a Nigel Slater kitchen diary – which is, essentially, what this is – I get so tied up in the reading that the cooking comes secondary. Of course, it doesn’t have to, but this is the kind of book where you’re in the middle of something else and think “why don’t I make that ricotta and filo cheesecakey thing? The one where the pastry shatters everywhere?”…or something like that.
Slater writes about traditions, Christmas markets, Christmas windows, the smells, the feels, the tastes, the memories from the first sign of winter all the way through to February. It’s gorgeously, evocatively, sumptuously written – and I’m absolutely in love with it. I read it from cover to cover every Christmas.
As for Slater’s food? It is, as always, a simple set of ingredients, thoughtfully put together and rarely pretentious.
And for an extra treat, there’s a podcast where Slater reads from the book. You’ll find it here or search iTunes. I defy you to listen and not be spirited away to a winter wonderland. I could listen to Nigel Slater all day. Sigh.
The Scottish have an equivalent to Hygge – that Danish lifestyle word that evokes everything snuggly and comfortable. It’s “coorie” as in “coorie doon” or snuggle down. The Gaelic term is Còsagach. That’s what listening to Nigel Slater read this book is like. I’ll leave that one with you.
A Paris Christmas, by John Baxter
This isn’t a cookbook as such, but it is a book about Christmas food.
I bought this one in the second-hand section of Shakespeare & Co in Paris in May 2018. After browsing in the shop, we sat outside in the sun and had a coffee and watched the crowds across in Notre Dame. It was when I was coming out of the poky little toilet afterwards that I saw it and, at 5 euros, snapped it up immediately. I think I read somewhere that John Baxter – an Australian who married a Parisian – lives somewhere around the Left Bank not far from Shakespeare & Co…although that’s by the by.
Essentially this book follows the author as he plans and sources the ultimate Christmas feast for his extremely fussy French family. Along the way he tells a story of tradition, produce, with a few non-recipes woven into the words. Just beautiful.
The books I’d like to see under my tree on Christmas Day…
As for the books that are on my drool list? I’m glad you asked. Let’s just say that if Santa drops any of these down the proverbial chimney, I’ll be a happy woman. As an aside, I have it on good authority that Kali aka Adventure Spaniel has already purchased and wrapped a few of these… She’s a smart little cocker spaniel.
- Rick Stein’s “Home”
- “Med” by Claudia Roden
- “Butter” by James Martin
- “Shelf Love” by Yotam Ottolenghi
- “Nigel Slater”, A Cook’s Book
- Stanley Tucci’s “Taste – My Life Through Food”
- “Sambal Shiok”, by Mandy Yin
- “Recipe For A Kinder Life,” by Annie Smithers
- “Wild Sweetness” by Thalia Ho
What about you – do you have a favourite Christmas cookbook?