I’ve always been a total sucker for beautifully photographed, glossy cookbooks – my well-thumbed collection is piled high all over the kitchen. Of an evening with a big glass of red, I’ve been known to read them like slightly porny fiction. My fantasy is that someday I’ll make everything from every single page and my table will look like something out of a 1950s al fresco Italian rustic banquet, or that my charmed life will enable me to spend an entire day swinging a wicker basket bursting with fresh ingredients around some romantic street market in Southern France, before effortlessly rustling up a perfect dinner party for 20 without ever breaking a sweat.
And then, back in reality, I realise the few books I do actually cook from, time and time again, all share a common bond: they’re useful, no-nonsense, inclusive and easy to follow, all packed with recipes that us regular folk can, and actually want to, make at home.
The key for me when I’m thinking of cooking something other than an unadventurous soup, roast chicken or chilli con carne, is to make myself stray occasionally from my failsafe regulars, try the odd new ingredient or preparation method, but to never feel like I’m completely out of my depth. For me, cooking needs to be a happy, relaxing and fun experience, so where’s the joy in being forced to race around the city seeking impossible-to-find produce or equipment, while spending a fortune? In my experience that traditionally results in me tipping spectacular failures into the bin, then dialling for emergency curry just as guests burst through the front door expecting something tasty and home-cooked. Among my stack of books, the truth is there are probably half a dozen that are my true culinary friends.
Look in any bookshop and there’s an endless stream of new, tempting foodie publications to wade through and, while most of them look great, many, I find, are too much for my meagre skills, or some too basic and patronising. Here are a few, both recently published and some due to come out over the summer, that are really doing it for me right now.
Good Food For Your Table: A Grocer’s Guide by Melrose And Morgan (£25, Saltyard Books)
More than a cookbook, this feels like a smart, useful culinary guide from the wonderful gourmet grocers, Nick Selby and Ian James of Melrose And Morgan. There’s lots of good stuff about about what to store in your kitchen, when to buy seasonally (their big thing!), stocking your larder and how to get the best out of your ingredients. As well as easy and delicious recipes, there are clever touches, such as lovely ideas for making cheap, but effective, foodie gifts, such as herb-infused oils, sea-salted caramel honeycomb or preserved lemons.
Good Food for Your Table is available now
A Lot On Her Plate by Rosie Birkett (£25, Hardie Grant)
Tipped as a rising star for 2015, food blogger and stylist Rosie Birkett is all about delicious, simple ingredients, great flavours and cooking seasonally. Her love of food comes from an outdoorsy family upbringing in Kent: her father was a keen vegetable grower, her mother an accomplished cook herself. The result is you sense her passion and warmth in the way she writes, cooking with ingredients she really believes in and thankfully, there’s nothing diet-y in sight. I’m drawn to guacamole bread, fried eggs and chipotle for breakfast, speedy fun snacks, such as Marmite gougeres, as well as salted butterscotch popcorn cheesecake. Yes, really.
A Lot On Her Plate is available now
Coøk: Natural Flavours From a Nordic Kitchen by Mikkel Karstad (£30, Clearview, published 15 May)
Here’s the thing I find about all things Scandi: they’re just so good at making simple things work beautifully. Whether we’re talking about furniture design or food, it’s about using the best materials and never over-complicating anything. That’s why I love this new book by celebrated Danish chef Karstad. A professional maybe, but one who examines new ways of experimenting with just 14 key ingredients as a base and seeing what comes out of it, making it totally suitable for us ordinary home cooks. My favourite chapters include fennel, lamb, Brussels sprouts and berries. Oh, and the photography and styling is lush.
Cook: Natural Flavours From A Nordic Kitchen is available to pre-order.
How To Eat Outside by Genevieve Taylor (£17.99, Bantam Press, published 18 June)
A seasoned food writer and author, Genevieve Taylor makes me properly excited about eating outdoors this summer. I know it’s optimistic, but we Brits can do it and here’s how. The book is divided into five chapters: pack up a picnic, barbecue feast, bonfire celebrations, camp cookout and wilderness eats. I particularly love recipes for one-pot curries, recipes with three ingredients and her super-simple puddings.
How To Eat Outside is available to pre-order.
A Modern Way To Cook by Anna Jones (£25, Fourth Estate, published 16 June)
Despite being a fairly committed carnivore, I absolutely love cooking from vegetarian Anna Jones’s debut book, A Modern Way To Eat, published last year, which makes me eager to get going with this new one out in June. Healthy eating can sometimes be pretentious and annoying, but somehow Jones avoids that with her straight-up approach and accessible, delicious recipes. She’s cleverly broken down chapters into the time it takes to prepare and cook (something we love at The Pool) and standout recipes include 10-minute veg-packed Vietnamese noodle salad with lime, mint and green chilli; sweet potato and greens tacos with avocado; 10-minute spinach polpette and a speedy massaman curry with a carrot pickle and brown rice.
A Modern Way To Cook is available to pre-order.
Can't wait for A Modern Way To Cook? Anna Jones' first book, A Modern Way To Eat, is already a big hit in The Pool office.