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Inspiration and Escape

I have a lot of cookbooks. Not as many as I would like, because I promised myself I would only buy as many as I had shelf space to store them (come on kitchen refurb!). But I have plenty and they are all different. Some of them were gifts and some I bought myself. Some are just compilations of recipes I've seen in magazines that I've either stuck in or written into notebooks. But I love cookbooks, for many reasons.

When I first started cooking and found that I enjoyed it, I learned a lot of techniques from different recipes and chefs. From proving doughs to whipping meringues, I had a lot of failed attempts but with practice and a lot of research, I managed to come up with ways to do different things that work for me.

Cookbooks take you into someone else's world. Whether it's a type of foreign cuisine or a look into someone else's every day kitchen, it's a window into another place. It's like being a culinary traveller. Whether you're going to a different country or just down the road, it's all an adventure.

One thing I rely on cookbooks for is inspiration. Inspiration to try something a bit different to the usual recipes I make. How many of us fall back on spaghetti bolognese when we don't know what to cook? Having said that, I love spaghetti bolognese but if I had it every Thursday I would soon go off it. Cooking someone else's food, whether I've made it before or if it's the first time, is incredibly exciting. And that meal becomes special.

Unusually, this blog post is not going to contain a recipe (I know, I'm sorry). I am going to talk you through the cookbooks I use most often and I'll include purchase links to them as well if what I say takes your fancy.

From the Markets of Tuscany - Giulia Scarpaleggia

Giulia Scarpaleggia is a food blogger from the Val d'Elsa region of Tuscany, which incidentally is where we go when we go to San Gimignano. Not only has she produced a blog and cookbooks, but she holds Tuscan food workshops in her countryside home. From the Markets of Tuscany is divided not into courses but into regions. She has covered the whole Tuscan region, talking about their weekly markets and providing recipes specific to each area. There is a very, VERY good recipe for cantucci in her book which I think you'll love! To order her book, click here.

Comfort - John Whaite

John Whaite found fame by winning the Great British Bake off and went on to study patisserie and open his own cooking school. However, not only is he a phenomenal baker, his savoury food is so incredibly delicious I don't know how he stays so trim (probably exercise, I'm not a gym regular). Comfort is a compilation of food that he has found comforts him in different ways. Like Giulia, he had organised the book a bit differently, dividing it into sections based on texture or taste. My all time favourite recipe from this book is his Pork Potsticker Dumplings that have Asian inspiration all over them. I've made them for dinners, picnics, bring-and-share meals and they always go down a treat. To buy John's book, click here.

Taverna - Georgina Hayden

I have been to Cyprus. But I was very young, we stayed in a hotel and didn't really know where locals went to eat. So it wasn't a holiday that awoke my 9 year old palate (we did spend hours on a very hot coach going up a mountain to see a church though, that I remember). Georgina's book fixes that because anything you make from that book takes you straight to Cyprus. You can almost feel the salty sea breeze on your skin and it's fabulous. She writes with love about the food she has eaten all her life; either from her grandparents' restaurant, her parents' dinner table, or family visits to Cyprus. The recipes are all traditional and some use traditional Greek/Cypriot ingredients so if you don't live in London/any other multicultural city, it might mean going to a specialist shop for some things. Her lamb chops with Cypriot salsa verde are everything you want on a summer's evening so don't miss out and click here to place your order.

Fika & Hygge - Bronte Aurell

Regular readers of the blog will have heard of this book before. This is the book that, in my opinion, has the best sweet bun dough recipe of all time. I use it for cinnamon rolls, morning rolls, hot cross buns,... anything that requires a sweet dough. It has not failed me once. The rest of the book is a beautiful homage to Scandinavian sweet treats. If you've ever been to Sweden, you'll know how important fika is to the culture. Not only is her sweet dough incomparable, Bronte has included a recipe for Fragilite. These are the most gorgeous chocolate, hazelnut meringue towers you have ever eaten. As well as this book, Bronte has written others and has a cafe/Scandinavian grocery shop in London. To order your copy of Fika & Hygge and get baking something a bit different, click here.

Family Recipes - Auntie Nadia, Dad & Mum

Now unfortunately, I can't send you a link to this one because it's a handwritten book of recipes that have always been in my family. Growing up in the U.A.E. didn't feel like growing up abroad because all of my dad's family were there too. We would always gather at someone or other's house for Eid, Iftar, or the odd Friday lunch. Luckily, all the hosts in my dad's family know how to cook but I think the big favourite for everyone was Auntie Nadia. And I tell you what, she was a feeder. If she was bored, she's make a massive batch of shatta, summaqiyya, ftayer or ka'ek and drop it round to family (as well as teaching up to A-Level biology). When she was diagnosed with cancer, she realised her recipes (her mother and grandmothers' recipes) would be lost. Knowing how much I liked to cook, she wrote them all down, Dad translated them from Arabic and Mum copied them out into a notebook that I've actually been adding to as I develop my skill. It is my most splattered book and some of the pages are well and truly crusted with flour. If you want to try some of Auntie Nadia's recipes yourself, you can bet most of the Arabic recipes on my blog were originally written by her. Here's a quick link for you.

I'm sorry there is no recipe for you this time round. But please do scroll through my blog, or pick up that cook book you have that you keep meaning to try something from. Now is the perfect time to get creative!


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