When you look at the Irish cookbooks that have been published this year, three words come to mind: from the heart. From the sweeping celebration of Irish food and artisan food producers in Chapter One: An Irish Food Story to the celebration of family and home in Apron Strings, many of the authors have poured their hearts onto these pages.
This has been a good year for food bloggers, with three new blog-to-book authors (Fiona Dillon, Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell and Nessa Robins), while the original blogging superstar, Donal Skehan, has just published his fourth book and Lilly Higgins has brought out her second. Meanwhile, several other bloggers have signed deals and are hard at work on their forthcoming books.
This year also saw a noticeable shift towards self-publishing. Extreme Greens, From Lynda’s Table, Relish BBQ and Buon Appetito are all top-quality books that hold their own against the ones from the traditional publishers, and in fact even use some of the same professional photographers, stylists and editors. I think we’ll be seeing more and more cookbook authors taking this route in the years to come.
Either way, there’s never been a better time to be a home cook.
Apron Strings: Recipes from a Family Kitchen by Nessa Robins
I like to think of Apron Strings as a modern day Mrs Beeton, with thrifty tips for running a household, advice for expecting mothers, recipes for children’s birthday parties, a home nurse chapter (Nessa’s background is in nursing) and a chapter on keeping hens, making jam, composting and foraging. It’s obvious that these recipes are treasured family heirlooms (Nessa’s introduction to her gingerbread and scone recipes literally had me in tears) as well as what Nessa feeds her family on a daily basis. It’s lovely to think that just as Nessa’s contentment in the kitchen comes from her mother, her own children will have many happy memories of food and cooking and times spent around the kitchen table as a family. And of course now they have her cookbook to cherish too. To know Nessa is to marvel at her boundless energy and unflagging cheerfulness. How does she do it, you wonder, and with four kids besides? To read her book is to wish you could pull up a chair at her table. Having her recipes is the next best thing.
Recipes to try: White onion, potato and chorizo soup; chicken in an herby white wine sauce; baked sausages with a spicy tomato sauce; beef, potato and wild garlic lasagna; brown sugar and cinnamon scones; caramel and hazelnut shortbread squares; gingerbread; homemade cold remedy; carrageen moss pudding; blackberry vodka.
Blazing Salads 2 by Lorraine Fitzmaurice
Raised on macrobiotic cooking, Lorraine Fitzmaurice and her siblings had quite an unusual upbringing when it came to food in Ireland in the 1970s. But far from being a passing fad, healthy, wholesome, whole food eating has become a lifelong passion, which saw them open the popular Blazing Salads deli in Dublin in 2000. In this, their second cookbook, Lorraine shares more of the quick, easy and healthy ‘real food’ recipes that have become their trademark.
Recipes to try: Avocado pico de gallo salad; chickpea, red onion and chilli salad; quinoa with roasted ratatouille vegetables and fresh basil; Mediterranean vegetable and feta turnovers; sweet potato and carrot bhajis; Moroccan minestrone; vegetable Wellington with onion gravy; summer leek tart; almond and raspberry fingers; plum cobber with flaked almonds.
Chapter One: An Irish Food Story by Ross Lewis
Magnificent. Stunning. Breathtaking. Incomparable. Epic. This is a book that will be talked about in superlatives. It painstakingly documents some of the recipes at Ross Lewis’s Michelin-starred Chapter One, one of Ireland’s best restaurants — make no mistake, this is aspirational cooking even for the most serious home cooks. It also reads like a love letter to Irish artisan food producers, who are held in the very highest esteem, which is reflected in their beautiful portraits by photographer to the stars, Barry McCall. Ross Lewis takes their produce and elevates it to its highest expression of itself. It’s a book to inspire and savour and will stand the test of time as a beautifully crafted snapshot of Irish food at this time. It is not only the jewel in the crown of all the books published this year, but is surely the finest cookbook ever published in Ireland.
Recipes to try: These recipes are not for the faint of heart. Ross Lewis says straight out that “the home cook, no matter how talented or determined, is not blessed with a hardworking and talented brigade of chefs as I am, so it will be difficult to reproduce many of the recipes in full in a domestic kitchen. However … most of the dishes can be broken down to simpler versions or perhaps just two or three elements from a recipe.” Having said all that, the spiced chestnut soup with hazelnut cream and white truffle; winter pickled vegetable salad; Dublin Bay prawn, smoked bacon and basil spring roll; braised top rib of prime Hereford beef and Skerries new potatoes with buttermilk and Savoy cabbage, rich red wine and shallot sauce; carrageen set West Cork cream pudding with Pat Clarke strawberries and fresh yoghurt mousse, soda bread sugar biscuits and Irish apple balsamic vinegar meringues; hot Valrhona Guanaja chocolate soufflé; and soda bread and Demerara sugar biscuits in chocolate with smoked sea salt caught this home cook’s eye.
Extreme Greens by Sally McKenna
Seaweed has been in the spotlight more and more recently. Did you know that seaweed has twice as much vitamin C as orange juice, 50 times the amount of iron as spinach and is 10 times higher in calcium than cow’s milk? That it can be used as a fertilizer, a medicine and a food? And that’s just for starters. By the time you’ve finished reading this book, you’ll wonder if there’s anything seaweed can’t do. Sally McKenna (of McKennas’ Guides fame) became enchanted with seaweed while exploring secret watery nooks in her kayak around the coast of West Cork, and her enthusiasm is infectious (take one of her foraging tours and see for yourself — highly recommended!). With 80 recipes, a guide to how to forage for your own seaweeds and even instructions on how to make your own natural beauty products with seaweeds, this is an indispensable resource for anyone who wants to incorporate this magical food into their life, and with dried seaweeds now commonly available in health food shops around Ireland, there’s no reason not to.
Recipes to try: Mussel, coconut and kelp soup; seaweed and chilli popcorn; spaghetti and sea spaghetti with a tomato fennel sauce; seafood crumble with dillisk; sea grass and garlic butter; seaweed sausage rolls; kelp and sour cherry scones; dillisk and stout brown soda bread; sea grass blaa; chocolate, hazelnut and nori ice cream.
Food for Friends by Edward Hayden
Life provides plenty of opportunities to push the boat out a little bit in the kitchen, and Edward Hayden’s second book has it all covered, from brunch to children’s birthday parties, food for romance, a movie night in or dinner party and straight through to Christmas. As such, this is also a great book for anyone who’s just starting out in the kitchen or is only starting to build their cookbook collection.
Recipes to try: Sweet and sticky chicken drumsticks; sweet chilli noodle salad; pork and cider stroganoff; braised chicken with smoked bacon cream; Edward’s apple and rhubarb crumble cake; whole roast duck with apricot and hazelnut stuffing; festive mince pie crumbles.
Food from an Irish Garden by Fiona Dillon
Who hasn’t dreamed of swapping the city office for a life in the country? In 2009, Fiona Dillon did just that and shows you how you can too. Fiona said that this is the book she wishes she’d had when she started her journey towards self-sufficiency. Part how-to, part cookbook, it covers everything from keeping poultry and pigs and a bit about beekeeping to maintaining a kitchen garden, then on to recipes for what to do with the things you grow and even a chapter about foraging, all illustrated with Fiona’s own photos of the good life at Hunter’s Lodge. If you don’t already live in the country, this book will have you dreaming that you did.
Recipes to try: Traditional Irish soda bread; baked eggs; tea loaf; sweet and sour cucumber pickle; raspberry gin.
From Lynda’s Table by Lynda Booth
Lynda Booth says that she likes a cookbook with plenty of reading, and she has written just that. Owner of the Dublin Cookery School, this is her first book and is a treasure trove of wisdom, tips, tried and tested recipes and anecdotes from her years spent working in kitchens and with top chefs from around the world before she realised her dream of opening her own cookery school. Lynda’s background as a teacher comes through in the way the recipes are written, guiding the cook every step of the way. The book has a wide scope of recipes and flavours. It starts with a chapter on foundations before moving on to the recipes Lynda makes on holidays in Connemara, a ‘Branching Out’ chapter that will help you to push your boundaries a bit, a chapter on the flavours of Thailand and India and one on desserts. A beautifully photographed, hefty hardcover weighing in at 360 pages, the book is a bargain and one you’ll return to again and again. You can find it in bookshops or you can order it online from the school. As Willy Clingan of the Irish Times said, writing so well about this being his favourite Irish cookbook, “Use it to cook for people you love, or hope to persuade to love you.” After all, isn’t that what most cooking is about? One of the best books of the year.
Recipes to try: Griddled lemon chicken with salsa verde; Connemara meatballs and tomato sauce; Turkish pizzas with lamb and harissa; biscotti with dried apricots and cranberries; linguine with shellfish sauce, pan-fried lobster and Dublin Bay prawns; spicy beef salad with Thai chilli dressings; Sauternes pots de creme with Armagnac prunes; Robert de Niro’s chocolate hazelnut cake.
Home Cooked by Donal Skehan
Equal parts comfort food and lighter, more exotic tastes, the thing that really appeals about Donal’s food is its freshness and its bold flavour. Home Cooked is Donal’s fourth cookbook and is easily his best yet. Donal is one to watch as he goes from strength to strength — one of his (many) new projects, the breathtakingly beautiful FEAST: A Dinner Journal, is one of the most exciting things to happen in the Irish food world this year. We knew him when!
Recipes to try: Baked risotto all’Arrabiata; blue cheese beef sliders; butterflied rosemary chicken with romesco sauce; chilli and lemongrass chicken; deep, dark and delicious pork shoulder tacos; margarita chicken with smoky avocado corn salsa; polenta chips with rosemary salt; roast Asian beef stew with chilli noodles; chocolate pistachio espresso biscotti; crazy monkey brownie baked Alaska.
“In Ireland, we have the best climate in the world for growing beef.” So begins fifth-generation butcher Pat Whelan in his introduction to The Irish Beef Book. “The luxuriant green pastures of Ireland, and the good husbandry practised by our farmers, are responsible for the world-class quality of Irish beef. Sometimes I think we take this for granted, when really we should be pausing and taking time to celebrate this naturally superior product.” And celebrate it he does in this book, a comprehensive guide to the different cuts of beef and a wealth of recipes for how to cook them, from a classic Sunday roast or long, slow braises to an entire chapter devoted to cooking steaks and good things and sauces to eat with them. Put away the Post-its you might usually use to flag the recipes you want to try in a new cookbook — you’ll want to make them all in this one.
Recipes to try: Skirt steak with anchovies, red wine and garlic; roast fillet with wild garlic salsa verde; rich beef cheek ragu; braised beef chin and chorizo; barbacoa beef cheeks; short ribs with balsamic vinegar; slow-cooked pulled chipotle brisket; Spanish meatballs in a tomato chorizo sauce; Knockmealdown burgers.
Like Mam Used to Bake by Rosanne Cromwell Hewitt
No sooner did this book come into the kitchen than my eight-year-old daughter pounced on it and neatly wrote out a (very long) list of all the things she wants to bake from it. As for me, my search is over — Rosanne’s flourless brownies have proved to be the elusive perfect brownie recipe that I’ve been looking for my whole life. What is striking about this book is how approachable the recipes are, with many having just half a dozen ingredients that you probably already have in the house. These are comforting, nostalgia-tinged treats, many of which featured in Rosanne’s own childhood, that are easy and quick enough to rustle up on a weeknight. The recipes are unfussy favourites that have stood the test of time — classics like Victoria sponge, apple tart, gur cake or knickerbocker glory — as well as more modern ones too, like mojito cucpakes, individual blueberry clafoutis, biscotti or caramel macarons. The perfect book for the baker in your life, it’s also very popular with children, thanks to its cute and colourful design, and is sure to be under the Christmas tree for lots of little girls this year (and grown-up ones too). Be sure to check out Rosanne’s blog too, where her deadpan Dublin humour will have you laughing out loud.
Recipes to try: Rosanne’s famous pavlova; coconut cake; coffee cake; RoRo’s rocky road; Brazil nut toffee; sticky toffee buns; double chocolate peanut butter cookies; apple bake; cappuccino mousse; millionaire’s shortbread; and of course those incredible flourless brownies (seriously, the book is worth buying for the brownie recipe alone).
After graduating from Ballymaloe in 2007, Lilly Higgins dreamed of opening up her own restaurant. While the recession might have forced her to shelve those plans for now, she’s realising a different dream as a food writer and has pulled together a collection of recipes for what might be on the menu of her dream deli some day. For the home cook, this is a snazzy collection of fast, easy, healthy cafe-type fare: breakfast and brunch, light lunch and supper dishes and, of course, plenty of teatime treats too, and all with Lilly’s trademark colourful, vibrant flair.
Recipes to try: Peanut butter granola; quinoa salad with pistachios and pomegranate; mango and shredded chicken salad with garam masala yoghurt; ham cooked in cider; fennel, pork and apple sausage rolls; sea salt, honey and macadamia nut popcorn; coffee streusel cake; ginger and white chocolate flapjacks; raspberry and coconut buns.
This book is sure to be a winner with Neven’s many fans around the country: the best 100 recipes from one of Ireland’s best-loved chefs, all tried and tested favourites. What makes this book even better is the way it’s organised: broken up into 20 short chapters (plus a basics chapter at the end), each chapter has five classics that would be right at home in anyone’s repertoire. If you have only one of Neven Maguire’s many cookbooks in your collection, it should be this one.
Recipes to try: Lamb cutlets with garlic, lemon and paprika; pan-fried fish with lemon and herb butter sauce; smoked salmon and leek quiche; sweet potato cakes with chilli and feta; meatball pasta bake with spinach and mozzarella; braised blade of beef with celeriac purée; French beans with hazelnuts and garlic; Vietnamese pot noodles; raspberry chocolate brownie with salted caramel sauce; MacNean wheaten bread; maple glazed ham with pineapple salsa.
After the scorcher of a summer we just had, Rozanne Stevens’s new cookbook couldn’t have been better timed. Rozanne, who is originally from South Africa, has put her own al fresco spin on 10 different world cuisines (South African, Irish, Thai, Indian, Italian, Mozambique, Chinese, Mexican, Greek, American). The salads are particularly tempting and you’ll never want to settle for a bottled barbecue sauce again after trying these marinades, bastes and sauces.
Recipes to try: Black pudding burgers; soy-glazed salmon burgers; strawberry chilli flattie chicken; smoked paprika BBQ pork chops with guava salsa; BBQ prawn, avocado and melon salad; Monica’s berry Baileys meringue roulade.
For home cooks, one of the best things about weekends is the chance to happily potter in the kitchen, luxuriating in long, leisurely breakfasts over coffee and the papers, a bit of baking or a proper Sunday lunch with family and friends. Catherine Fulvio’s fourth cookbook was made for this kind of cooking, with chapters dedicated to play dates, curry night, movie night, late night supper, food for the match, afternoon tea, baking day, tapas night, dinner parties, Sunday brunch and Sunday lunch. Forget about hurried midweek meals, this is food to unwind with.
Recipes to try: Chilli bhajis with spicy apricot pickle and coconut raita; spicy chicken tacos with lime and avocado salsa; celeriac soup with lemon gremolata; Greek lamb with feta topping; crispy pork belly with chilli ginger caramel and sweet potatoes; cinnamon and walnut rolls; coffee cheesecake; wicked mousse layers.
Wild Food by Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle
There are few things as simple and satisfying as foraging for wild food and turning it into something tasty in your kitchen. Far from being a passing fad, foraging is more popular than ever, which makes this a well-timed book. It looks at 25 wild foods and is helpfully organised according to what’s in season, from February straight through to December. Each wild food is broken into sections on where to find it, what it looks like, how to pick it, how to prepare it, traditional uses, how to preserve it and a few recipes for it. Written by Biddy White Lennon, an active Slow Food member who has been foraging for wild food for as long as she can remember, and Evan Doyle, who owns the BrookLodge Hotel and Ireland’s only all-organic restaurant, The Strawberry Tree, with its famous wild food pantry, this small but mighty book is an invaluable guide.
Keep your eye out for the following Irish cookbooks too:
- 30 Years at Ballymaloe: A Celebration of the World-renowned Cookery School by Darina Allen (click here to buy a signed copy)
- Buon Appetito: The Campo de’Fiori Cookbook by Marco Roccasalvo
- Celebrating Irish Salmon by Máirín Uí Chomáin
- Eat West 2013: Eat the Best of the West at Home
- Gluten-free Treats ebook by Vicky McDonald
- Irish Pantry: Traditional Breads, Preserves and Goodies to Feed the Ones You Love by Noel McMeel
- Kevin Dundon’s Modern Irish Food by Kevin Dundon
- Master It: How to Cook Today by Rory O’Connell
- Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen: Simple, Delicious Family Food by Rachel Allen
- Wild and Free: Cooking from Nature by Cyril and Kit Ó Céirín
And while they’re not cookbooks, these food books were also published in 2013:
- A Taste of Ireland.com Food Heroes Vol. 1 by Sean Monaghan
- Georgina Campbell’s Ireland: The Best of Irish Food and Hospitality by Georgina Campbell (12th edition)
- Good Food: Can You Trust What You Are Eating? by John McKenna
- Put the Kettle On: The Irish Love Affair with Tea by Juanita Browne
*I received review copies of the following: Apron Strings, Extreme Greens, Food for Friends, Like Mam Used to Bake, Lilly Higgins’ Dream Deli, The Nation’s Favourite Food, The Weekend Chef and Wild Food.
In addition, I was the editor for the following: From Lynda’s Table, Good Food, Lilly Higgins’ Dream Deli, Relish BBQ, The Nation’s Favourite Food and The Weekend Chef. If you’re working on a cookbook and need an experienced editor, email me at kristin (at) edible-ireland (dot) com.