When I say 2014 has been a good year for Irish cookbooks, I’ll admit I’m biased since this year my own book, Sláinte, is among their ranks. But what really strikes me about this year’s batch of books is the noticeable shift towards a ‘free’ type of eating — meat-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and even oven-free in the case of Sharon Hearne-Smith’s No-Bake Baking. The Extra Virgin Kitchen, which is currently in its fourth printing, has been a runaway success, and Food from the Fast Lane and The Happy Pear have both spent time in the bestseller charts too. Further afield, Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite has received international acclaim and Nigella Lawson has said that her next book will also focus on this lighter style of eating.
The other thing that jumps out is the sheer number of Irish cookbooks published this year. At a time when book sales are still sluggish overall, cookbooks continue to thrive, and the Irish market is obviously no different, with more titles and more variety than ever before.
- For the craft beer and cider connoisseur: Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider
- For the health nut: Food for the Fast Lane, The Extra Virgin Kitchen, The Happy Pear
- For the baker: Bake Like an Italian, Bake Knit Sew, Bread on the Table, No-Bake Baking
- For traditional Irish food fans: A Simply Delicious Christmas, The Ballymaloe Cookbook, The Pleasures of the Table
Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider by Caroline Hennessy and Kristin Jensen
I couldn’t help but break alphabetical rank and lead with my own book, published in September. My co-author, Caroline Hennessy, and I set out to write the kind of book that we wanted to read when we started exploring craft beer and cider a few ayears ago, when information in an Irish context was hard to come by. Sláinte covers everything from how beer and cider are made to their history in Ireland, how to taste and savour them, how to match them with food and cheese and even how to cook with them. And while it’s not strictly a cookbook, there is a chapter of 20 recipes that all feature craft beer or cider, gathered from artisan food producers, restaurant owners and chefs, food writers and bloggers from around Ireland as well as some of our own original recipes. There’s something for everyone here. Bundled into a hamper with a selection of Irish craft beers and ciders, or maybe even some Sheridans brown bread crackers and some Irish farmhouse cheese too, this would be the ultimate gift for the beer or cider lover in your life this Christmas.
Five to try: Beef, chorizo and ale stew; beer, beer and blue cheese pot pies; cider-brined pork fillets with fennel, onions and apples; double chocolate porter brownies; stout marshmallows
A Simply Delicious Christmas by Darina Allen
There’s nothing like editing a Christmas cookbook to make you crave turkey and gingerbread in July. This is the book I’ve been the most excited about this year because I know these are the holiday recipes I’ll be turning to now for years to come. The original edition, published in 1989, is already a well-loved, dog-eared mainstay in many Irish homes. This new edition includes over 100 new recipes to reflect today’s tastes, such as a recipe for roast turkey crown with harissa, pomegranate and cucumber raita and Moroccan tomato jam. My favourite feature is the ‘good things to serve with’ suggestions at the end of many of the recipes to take them in different directions, not to mention an entire chapter dedicated to sauces and accompaniments and creative ways to use up leftovers. This might be a Christmas cookbook, but don’t put it back on the shelf in January — there are so many tempting dishes to make throughout all the colder winter months. Sorry, Nigella, but I think there’s a new favourite Christmas cookbook in town.
Five to try: Smoked Gubbeen and pearl barley, cucumber, pomegranate and toasted almond salad; pulled braised lamb shoulder with pomegranate molasses and pickled red onions; Brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts and candied bacon; white chocolate mousse with dark chocolate sauce and candied kumquats; Medjool dates with Crozier blue cheese
Bake Knit Sew: A Recipe and Craft Project Annual by Evin O’Keefe
Showing that self-publishing is still a viable option, American expat and blogger Evin O’Keefe raised Kickstarter funds to publish her first book, a charming collection of knitting and sewing patterns and family recipes. Inspired by her Irish-American grandma’s recipe box and craftiness, this book showcases a year of creativity in baking, knitting and sewing. So for example, the autumn section has a recipe for an orange and honey loaf cake that is complemented by a knitting pattern for a honeycomb tea cozy. Perfect for people who always like to have a crafty project on the go.
Five to try: White chocolate cheesecake; snickerdoodles; Aunt Nell’s blondies; orange and honey loaf cake; monster cookies
Bake Like an Italian: More Recipes for the Good Life by Catherine Fulvio
Continuing on from her earlier books Catherine’s Italian Kitchen and Eat Like an Italian, Catherine Fulvio focuses on baking in her latest Italy-inspired book. Chapters are divided into breads, pasta bakes, pizza, little bites, dolci, something for coffee, something for Easter, something for Christmas and bambini bakers. The recipe intros are full of interesting background stories to the many traditional Italian recipes in the book, the result of Catherine’s travels to Italy to research the book and sweet talk her Italian friends and family into sharing their recipes. Plus ‘The Pantry’ chapter and the introduction to ‘The Bread Bin’ chapter are full of helpful tips to get you started making your own breads if you’ve never tried your hand at it before so that you’ll soon be knocking out your own homemade breads with ease.
Five to try: Foccacia with red wine and grapes; sweet raisin bread; Roman pizza; chocolate hazelnut torte; mocha and orange biscotti
The Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen
Back in September, I was browsing the cookbooks in Dubray Books on Grafton Street when a Dutch tourist asked me for a recommendation for a good traditional Irish cookbook, saying he buys at least one cookbook from every country he travels to. Without even having to think about it, I took the new edition of The Ballymaloe Cookbook down from the shelf and pressed it into his hands, saying, ‘You simply have to get this one.’
Concepts and words like local, seasonal and artisinal are all the rage these days, but when Myrtle Allen opened her restaurant in her home at Ballymaloe House 50 years ago, it wasn’t revolutionary — it was just the way food was. As she says herself in the introduction, ‘I started the restaurant because I knew that the food that was available to me at Ballymaloe was terribly good as it was. I get enormous satisfaction in being able to give people the food that I think we ought to be eating.’ It’s also easy to forget what a true pioneer Myrtle Allen was when it came to recognising the outstanding quality of our own homegrown produce and serving it simply but well, years before Alice Waters famously served a single perfectly ripe peach for dessert at Chez Panisse.
I was honoured to be the editor for this handsome new edition of The Ballymaloe Cookbook, which was first published in 1977. And after reading every single recipe — twice! — I feel that I have learned the secret to Ballymaloe, and it is this: butter and cream, and lots of it, and a generous hand with the seasoning. These recipes are true classics that have stood the test of time and reflect the fact that when you’re working with top-class ingredients, you don’t need to do very much to them to make them shine. It has also been updated with some new recipes to reflect our changing tastes, but it still stays true to the Ballymaloe ethos that has since become famous around the world. No Irish kitchen should be without a copy.
Five to try: Chicken baked with butter and fresh herbs; pepper beef stew; leek, potato and cheese pie; carrageen moss pudding; Ballymaloe brown bread
Bread on the Table: Baking Traditions for Today by Valerie O’Connor
Many of us tend to think of homemade bread as beyond our abilities, when in fact you can knock out a loaf in less time than it takes to pop down to the shops for a sliced pan. This book is the perfect introduction to bread-making for novices, but with plenty of modern and inventive recipes to tempt more experienced bakers too. The very first recipe gets you to jump in headfirst with a basic white yeast bread and the recipes go from there, including soda breads, brown bread, sourdough, breads made with wild ingredients, gluten-free goodies and sweet things. Once you realise how easy it is to make your own bread at home, and how much better it tastes, you’ll never look twice at a shop-bought loaf again.
Five to try: No-knead spelt bread; wholemeal and honey loaf; potato and rye semi-sourdough; wild garlic foccacia; chocoalte swirls
Dinner: The Irish Times Selection by Domini Kemp
I had a tattered, stained printout of Domini Kemp’s winter salad recipe that I hung onto for years once it went behind the Irish Times paywall, but I was finally able to bin it now that it made the cut for inclusion in Domini’s collection of her most popular recipes from her Irish Times newspaper column. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had a collection of such well-loved and well-used printouts or recipes torn straight from the pages of the Saturday magazine and I’m sure there are many more people just like me who were delighted to see her best recipes from the past six years collected together into a book. And what a book it is, with a substantial heft to it, which is perfectly fitting for a collection like this. Domini Kemp is a woman after my own heart — or palate, as the case may be. I love the big, bold, punchy flavours she uses in her cooking, and I especially love the way she streamlines recipes to make them as quick and to the point as possible but without compromising on taste. This is the kind of cookbook that will rarely make it back onto the bookshelf because it’s bound to be in such constant use in your kitchen.
Five to try: Roast chicken bake; meatballs with lemon and wine; lamb hot pot with harissa yoghurt; baked beans with chorizo, egg and feta; pasta with salami, tomato cream and rocket
The Extra Virgin Kitchen: Recipes for Wheat-Free, Sugar-Free and Dairy-Free Eating by Susan Jane White
Thirteen years ago, Susan Jane White was a model student at Oxford — literally. But a combination of a stereotypical model’s diet with an even worse stereotypical student diet — a cocktail of carbs, caffeine and cigarettes — eventually led to a similar cocktail of bodily complaints: thrush, earaches, headaches, psoriasis, dizziness and cold sores that not even 12 courses of antibiotics and several hospitalisations could clear up. So when the consultants couldn’t figure out what was wrong, Susan Jane took matters into her own hands and with the help of a nutritionist embarked on an elimination diet. In her own words, she said ‘it felt like someone was sucking the illness out of my body’. So it was goodbye to junk food and hello to goji berries after that, and she’s never looked back. Now in its fourth print run, I think it’s fair to say that this book has been the surprise hit of the year. Susan Jane’s writing is at once informative and playful, but most of all, it makes you want to get into the kitchen and run right out to buy a spiralizer. Crucially, the book also has a resources section at the back with lists of where you can source some of the more hard-to-find ingredients. I’ve become addicted to her smudge recipe and have had a batch on the go almost continuously since the book came out back in the spring and I’ve made her hot and smoky seeds and her Irish superfood salad countless times by now too, plus her chocolate avocado mousse is the best version I’ve ever tasted. This is food that’s so vibrant and delicious, it never even occurs to you that anything is missing.
Five to try: Smoked paprika and cumin quinoa; mackerel paté with anchovy aioli; salmon fishcakes with curried coconut yoghurt; 10-hour shoulder of lamb with crushed chickpeas and the best sauces you’re ever likely to taste; chilli chocolate missile
Food for the Fast Lane: Recipes to Power Your Body and Mind by Derval O’Rourke
Most of us usually need something major to happen to get us to change our ways, but how many of us can cite a disappointing Olympics performance as a wake-up call? Lining up to race in Athens in 2004, just four weeks after suffering a case of severe food poisoning and appendicitis, Derval O’Rourke writes, ‘I was 22 and one of the youngest members of the Irish Olympic team. It was one of the worst performances of my entire career and possibly had the biggest impact on my future running…The message was loud and clear: I wasn’t paying enough attention to my general health. I was depending solely on the work I was doing on the track and in the gym. And that was not enough.’ What followed was a dawning realisiation that everything is intertwined and that goodness in = greatness out, starting with a good diet and a new philosophy to sleep well, eat well and live well to be the best athlete she could be. But if you think that means an unappealing diet of energy shakes and protein bars, think again. Derval loves food, and it just so happens to be healthy. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete in training to enjoy meals like chicken and mango salad, baked trout with lime and garlic butter or quick coconut and basil chicken, or treats like dark chocolate banana bread or lemon drizzle and poppy seed squares. Oh, and as for being the best athlete? Two years after hitting rock bottom in Athens, Derval went on to become world champion. Looks like the proof really is in the pudding.
Five to try: Baked avocado, eggs and basil; warm quinoa with lemon, pistachio and harissa; chicken and lentil casserole; sea bass with tomato and chorizo; creamy pistachio pasta
The Nation’s Favourite Food Fast! by Neven Maguire
It’s 6pm on a Wednesday and you’ve just landed in the door from a long day at work, maybe after collecting the kids from the creche on the way. There is a list as long as your arm of things to do, but first there’s the small matter of what to make for dinner. That’s where this book comes in. Neven Maguire has created these recipes to be ready for the table in under an hour, with many only needing 30 minutes to cook. It follows the same format as last year’s popular The Nation’s Favourite Food book, with 20 short chapters of five recipes each. But just because they’re fast doesn’t mean they’re boring: think dishes like rib-eye steak with chimichurri, chicken and chickpea tagine with honey and ginger, sticky bacon chops with root vegetable rosti or even my favourite, the baked fish fillets with horseradish crust and lemon cream sauce. It’s no wonder this book won Best Irish Cookbook at this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.
Five to try: Beef stroganoff with fluffy rice and dill pickle shavings; speedy coq au vin; roasted hake with cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella; pumpkin pizza with Cashel Blue and pickled red onion; cappuccino cream chocolate cake
No-Bake Baking: Easy Oven-Free Cakes and Treats by Sharon Hearne-Smith
As a food stylist, Sharon has been a behind-the-scenes kind of gal in the food world, working with the likes of Jamie Oliver, Rachel Allen, Lorraine Pascale and Ina Garten, to name just a few, to get their food ready for its close-up on television and in their books. But Sharon has such talent and flair and so much personality of her own (she rocks a beehive hairdo and polka dots better than anyone) that it was only a matter of time before her own name was on the cover of a book. And what a fun, beautiful book it is. Sharon’s recipes turn baking on its head by taking the oven out of the equation — no more soggy bottoms! Just delicious treats like no-bake biscuits, cakes, slices and bars, cheesecakes, pies and tarts, and frozen desserts. No-Bake Baking is her first book but I’m confident it won’t be her last, and that this is just the start of a career as a food writer in her own right for Sharon.
Five to try: Blackberry swirl marshmallow gateau; cookie monster ice-box cake; candy stripe blueberry cheesecake; chocolate, date and peanut butter bars; white chocolate and pistachio tiramisu. Check out five recipes from the book here.
The Happy Pear: Recipes and Stories from the First Ten Years by David and Stephen Flynn
Twins David and Stephen Flynn are on a mission: they want to get you to eat more veg. It doesn’t hurt that they are walking, talking advertisements for their vegetarian way of eating, all sunrise walks on the beach and glowing good health. What began as a greengrocer’s shop 10 years ago is also now a renowned cafe, an online shop, a Happy Heart course and cooking demos, classroom health education courses, a sprout and wheatgrass farm and a partnership in a local cherry farm. The book can get a little text heavy at times with a lot of background information and reminiscing, which is sure to appeal to loyal fans but might be lost on readers who aren’t lucky locals of the cafe itself. But then, this is a cafe that is very much rooted in its community with an admirable business ethos and David and Stephen are doing what they love. The book is a vibrant reflection of that and it’s hard not to be inspired by their enthusiasm and energy, which comes through in their writing and in the recipes. With all the interest in a healthier, plant-based and raw foods way of eating recently, this book has wound up being bang on trend.
Five to try: Carrot, cashew and coriander soup; chermoula and herb couscous with edamame beans, cherry tomatoes and almonds; Spanish chickpea and potato bake; chocolate, orange and ginger cake; honey and seed flapjacks
The Pleasures of the Table: Rediscovering Theodora Fitzgibbon selected by Donal Skehan
Theodora Fitzgibbon is to Ireland what Elizabeth David was to England. She introduced her readers to exotic and far-flung flavours via her Irish Times column, which she wrote for 20 years, not to mention her 30 cookbooks. And also like Elizabeth David, she travelled widely, living in India, the US and in many countries on the Continent, which obviously had a huge influence on her approach to food. But in addition to being a prolific food writer, she also worked as an actress in London and Rome and wrote two autobiographies and a novel. Her black and white photo in the introduction of the book, with her bare shoulders, upswept hair, sharply pencilled eyebrows and holding a slim cigarette as if an admirer outside of the camera’s frame is just about to light it for her, oozes glamour. They don’t make them like her anymore. This new book, a collection of her best recipes selected and photographed by Donal Skehan, will appeal to her many fans as well as introduce her to a new generation of food lovers. It’s an intriguing mix of traditional Irish recipes like nettle soup, crubeens and boxty cakes but also more cosmopolitan recipes that must have been unheard of at the time she wrote them, dishes like rogan josh, chicken Lahori and peperonata. It’s a neat coincidence that this collection was brought out in the spring and then the current Irish Times columnist, Domini Kemp, published her selection in the autumn, a perfect contrast of old and new.
Five to try: Braised beef with prunes; ham cooked with Guinness and served with apple sauce; Dublin lawyer; Irish omelette; gur cake
And here are loads more Irish cookbooks published this year:
You might also like:
*I received review copies of all the books featured above. In addition, I was the editor for the following: A Simply Delicious Christmas, Bake Knit Sew, The Ballymaloe Cookbook, Bake Like an Italian, The Extra Virgin Kitchen and The Nation’s Favourite Food Fast.
If you’re working on a cookbook and need an experienced editor, email me at kristin (at) edible-ireland (dot) com.