This year has been spectacular on the book front – it turned up two books from which I have cooked repeatedly. I hardly ever find myself following recipes to the letter but did so again and again with Hawksmoor at Home). They have completely revolutionised how I cook steak and provided me with a host of accompanying sauces (such as stilton hollandaise or poached oyster sauce). The emphasis is on comfort food, whether it's beef shin macaroni or apple pie with a boozy, spiced Tom and Jerry custard. It's a brilliant read, full of whimsy and steakhouse cartoons, Dan Lepard's photography is stunning and all proceeds go to Action Against Hunger. I love it.
Coincidentally, the other book to which I have turned on innumerable occasions this year also involves Dan Lepard. Short and Sweet was one of several good baking books, but for me his was definitive.
Hawksmoor at Home was not the only good restaurant cookbook this year. Bocca has become possibly the best all-rounder in my Italian cookbook collection. Ingredients are given simple and sympathetic treatment with stunning results. My other restaurant standout The Modern Pantry is full of fresh ideas for fusion food from Peter Gordon protégé, Anna Hansen. Unusual ingredients are expertly described and the flavour combinations are exciting rather than outlandish.
Anna Hansen is one of several women who put strong, interesting flavours at the heart of their cooking. Maria Elia's Full of Flavour has ingredient-based chapters and encourages experimentation – refreshing in a cookery book. Silvena Rowe's Orient Express is arranged by exotic flavour pairings – za'atar and saffron, chilli and cumin and, best of all, sumac and fresh herbs.
Sophie Grigson's Spices is a romp through the major players of the spice world. She is on top form here, knowledgeable as ever, riotously funny in places and provides enough unusual recipes to make this a worthwhile buy. If you want to delve deeper, I recommend Sally Francis's Saffron. Francis is one of only two UK saffron producers and her book traces its history, as well as providing some recipes by fellow Norfolk dwellers including Tim Kinnaird's moorish gold, saffron and cardamom macarons.
There were some beautifully produced reissues of some classic works released earlier in the year, and here are a couple more to add to the list. The Constance Spry Cookery Book is a joy, not least because the pure, elegant design of the book does justice to both Rosemary Hume's recipes and Spry's very engaging prose style.
The other is Anissa Helou's The Fifth Quarter, a book devoted to offal. Helou is incredibly well read and this shows in the eclectic and inspirational recipes. Besides delicious Middle Eastern offerings there is an emphasis on classic French Bistro, an impressive rollcall of British writers (including Fergus Henderson on tripe), some historical curiosities (a 1758 Spanish recipe for a sweetly spiced ox tongue pie) and the occasional nod to China with a hot Szechuan pepper brains dish. Interesting offal is becoming more widely available – a good thing in austere times, so there's definitely room also for Jennifer McClagan's Odd Bits, which is also quite definitive. Despite the fact that they can be very tasty morsels, Blandine Vie's book on Testicles cannot pretend to be quite so useful, but it makes up for that by being the most enjoyably eccentric read this year.
This was not a big year for TV chef tie ins, but those we had were great – Rick Stein's Spain was well researched and as engaging as ever. Simon Hopkinson also dipped his toe in with The Good Cook; while there is nothing earth shattering, each recipe is elevated by Hopkinson's unwavering attention to detail and his gentle wit. You will learn something useful on each page.
Finally, a trio of books you will want to curl up with. Kerstin Rodger's Supper Club was just one of a wonderful batch of books by first time authors – it's beautiful, funny and highly original. In At The Deep End sees Jake Tilson weaving together reminiscence, travelogue and references to greats such as Alan Davidson in order to cure himself of a fear of fish and begin exploring the heart of the fishing world.
Finally, Elisabeth Luard's Cook's Year in a Welsh Farmhouse is full of cleverly seasonal recipes which combine the ingredients fundamental to Luard's old Mediterranean life with those of her present in Wales. However, it is her writing and observations which I love as they make me yearn nostalgically for my own country childhood. The perfect Christmas read.