Cookbooks for Christmas 2013 – Part 1

Irish cookbooks for Christmas 2013

Just a little light reading

Shuush…you may not realise it but Christmas is coming. Or, like me, you may have small people in the house.

It took until June this year until I managed to distract them away from singing Christmas carols; now we’re back in full flow with Frosty the *blinking* Snowman. Sigh.

Still, with all this early concentration on the season in question – we had our first Christmas dinner two weeks ago before the Little Sister headed back to life in Aus – I’m hoping to get well ahead with my preparations. No allowing the Little Brother to order my cookbook presents on 21 December. He’s based in Austin, Texas for the moment.

On my wishlist? Anything by Yotam Ottolenghi, Diana Kennedy or Maggie Beer – and René Redzepi’s A Work in Progress looks only gorgeous. This is all, ahem, homework in advance of their appearances at the 2014 Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food & Wine.

Aside from all of that, these are a few cookbooks that I’ve been reading and cooking from this year.

The Bowler's Meatball Cookbook & The Irish Beef Book
The Bowler’s Meatball Cookbook & The Irish Beef Book

The meat-focused books: The Bowler’s Meatball Cookbook by Jez Felwick (Mitchell Beazley) and The Irish Beef Book by Pat Whelan and Katy McGuinness (Gill & MacMillan) 
As my cookbook collection grows, I’m realising the value in having books devoted to specific topics and both of these hit that mark admirably.

London-based street food entrepreneur Jez Felwick sells meatballs from an astro turf-covered van called the Lawn Ranger and his cookbook has a fantastic collection of ideas for minced lamb (Baa Baa Balls), beef (Sweaty Balls – tastes better than the name!) and pork (Mexballs). Chicken, veal and fish feature as well, there’s even a chapter on Veg Balls and a selection of brilliant side dishes: a Yorkshire pudding bowl to fill with meatballs, Jerusalem Artichoke Gratin, a Chicory, Stilton, Pear and Pecan Salad. There’s even a section on pairing meatballs with decent English craft beers.

It’s pure beef for Clonmel butcher Pat Whelan and food writer Katy McGuinness, who mix chapters on retro classics like Steak Diane and Beef Goulash with perfectly seasonal slow cooking, featuring good value cuts like cheeks, oxtail and short ribs. An entire chapter on steak, including accompaniments and sauces, is balanced out with a celebration of “the other bits”: Dripping Fried Bread (I’m not convinced!),  Beef Heart Skewers and Bone Marrow Mash. I’m proud to say that my recipe for Braised Beef Shin and Eight Degrees Ale Pie also features, and even happier that it gets my name into the index between  Henderson, Fergus and Henry, Diana.

Buy for: your meatball-loving friend, someone who’s been given a gift of a James Whelan Butchers’ beef bond and is trying to figure out what to do with the marrow bones.


Apron Strings and Like Mam Used to Bake
Apron Strings and Like Mam Used to Bake

The blog to cookbook: Apron Strings by Nessa Robins (New Island) & Like Mam Used to Bake by Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell (Mercier)
One of the lovely things about the world of food blogging, is the opportunity to turn online acquaintances into real life friends. I’ve been fortunate to spent time with Nessa and Rosanne at many blogging and food events over the last few years, have followed their journeys to publication with great interest and am thrilled to have both their cookbooks now on my shelf.

As befits someone who managed to fit cookbook writing in around her four children, Nessa’s Apron Strings is a family-orientated feast. There are chapters on pregnancy and children’s parties, perfect picnics and thrifty housekeeping, with plenty of accompanying recipes. The home nurse section – Nessa is a trained nurse – has lots of good, common-sense remedies and tips. It’s a celebration of home and family and her Chocolate Cola Cake (remove cola, replace with porter!) has been taken into the heart of our family, wheeled out for several birthdays this summer

Roseanne pretty cookbook was grabbed by Little Missy as soon as it arrived in the house and, as she leafed through it, I was given strict instructions on what she wanted to bake; anything with sprinkles, chocolate or pink on the page. That’s most of the book earmarked, so. I was more drawn to the using-up-banana recipes (Banoffee Cookies, Banana and Chocolate Chip Scones, Banana Muffins) and all the lovely recipes involving condensed milk (Chocolate Milk Cake, Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream) . As befits the name of the book, Roseanne has plenty of classics from her own childhood – I’ve never met an upside down cake I didn’t like and this chocolate orange version looks gorgeous – and many nostalgic readers will identify with her recipes for an Iced Loaf and Chocolate Freckles from Roches Stores. There’s a whole chapter on Christmas recipes too so get this one early.

Buy For:  the cousin who’s looking for new family recipes to try, anyone who loves baking. Or pink.

I received review copies of The Irish Beef Book, The Bowler’s Meatball Cookbook and Apron Strings from their respective publishers.



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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