Five cookbooks helping me get through the pandemic

My secret cookbook obsession is not a secret. It's hard to put into words just how much I love them. I love how the transport me to a faraway place and I am obsessed with the stories which come with each recipe. Food is so personal and so deeply ingrained into all cultures. I read them like novels and my favourite thing to do on a weekend afternoon is to read one cover to cover, making notes and googling the history behind each dish. However, I fear one day the house may collapse under the strain. They are in my kitchen, on my coffee table, under my bed, in my loft and hiding in the spare bedroom. One day I will get my dream kitchen with a library attached to house all my 300+ cookbooks. One day.


I have been a demon in the kitchen since we went into lockdown in the U.K. Cooking and baking is the only thing which seems to be keeping me sane right now. According to social media, it seems to be the same for a lot of you out there. Despite owning far too many cooking than a normal person should, I seem to be going back time and time again to the same ones. The cookbooks where I can pick any recipe at random and know it will always be a corker. The books with unidentified splashes on them, turned over pages and ineligible notes scribbled over the copy. They are the books which bring me comfort. Here are my top five cookbooks I wouldn't be without during a pandemic. What are your favourite cookbooks?

1. Ottolenghi's Simple
I simply adore this book and have done since I first got my grubby paws on it. I should really make that lemon and blueberry loaf cake again. There are a surprisingly good amount of recipes which can be made with store cupboard essentials and I have been taking full advantage of them. I've been really enjoying making the vegetable side dishes to enjoy with a BBQ in this warm weather.  Apart from the avocado butter, which was not worth the faff, everything I have cooked has come out perfect. Ottolenghi just has such a special way with flavours and he can do no wrong in my eyes. He is probably the food writer who I refer to the most in my cooking. We are an Ottolenghi household haha!

2. Meera Sodha's East
Admittedly I am cooking lots from this book because I am going to be reviewing it soon for my blog. But even if I wasn't, I would still be religiously flicking through the pages to hunt for something to cook. I didn't think anything would come close to my Fresh India book but Meera seems to have done it again with her latest offering. I love the fact she takes inspiration from all over Asia, putting her own spin on them. I am still raving about her mushroom bao. I can't believe I made bao! I just adore how she always puts fresh produce at the forefront of all her recipes. I feel we need all the veg in a time like this!

3. Rachel Allen's Home Baking
I love to bake and have never had as much time on my hands as I have now. So I seem to be baking non-stop! This is my favourite baking book. There is such a great range of bakes, from easy peasy to quite the challenge.  I love the combination of flavours she chooses. Her date and banana bread is a great riff on a classic. Over the next couple of weeks I want to try my hand at tackling the biscuits chapter. I don't really make many biscuits or cookies so would like to expand my repertoire.


4. Dishoom cookbook
Oh how I miss the London restaurant scene! Alas I shall have to just recreate it in my own house. This is such a beautiful cookbook, if not one of the most beautiful I own. It almost reads like a novel and the stories inside it are perhaps better than the recipes. It's given me such a yearning to visit Mumbai and see it for myself. The recipes are far from simple. But if you're looking to lose yourself for a few hours in your kitchen then this is the book for you. Some of the ingredients are obscure, unless you love to cook so you may have them, but they can easily be ordered online.

5. Meera Sodha's Fresh India
Two Meera books in one list! Can you tell I have a favourite? If you love India food then your collection really isn't complete without this in your collection. The ingredients are always so easy to find, recipes are easy to follow and there is a emphasis on vegetables. All three things which are essential in lockdown cooking. I haven't actually attempted anything from her pudding chapter so need to make that my mission over the next few weeks!

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Five different types of bread to bake during the lockdown which aren't sourdough

There is something about this pandemic that is making people take up creating sourdough. I can completely understand why. Sourdough is quite time consuming and really is a labour of love. When better to give it a shot that when you suddenly have a lot of time on your hands. But if like me you're a little intimidated by sourdough, I killed my first starter and have yet to try it again, then here are five different types of bread to try. They are also a labour of love but a little less intimidating than the king of breads. I'll make at least one type of sourdough before the lockdown is up...


1. Challah
All I vaguely knew about Challah was that it was a Jewish plaited bread. I had never tried it before and judging by various recipes I gathered it was a sweet bread. I found an Ottolenghi recipe online in his Guardian column and thought I would give it a try, The recipe was so simple to follow and most of the time it was just left to prove, leaving you free to do other things around the house. It is tricky at first to try and get the braiding correct but once you have got your head around it you'll be fine. I adored the way it looked. It is so shiny! It's definitely one I will make again and I can't believe I haven't tried it before. We enjoyed it with just a lick of butter but people have suggested enjoying it with jam or cream cheese. It makes a great breakfast bread!


2. Pitta bread
I love a good pitta. they're just so versatile. You can use the in dips, stuff them with your favourite sandwich ingredients or use them as a quick pizza base. Mine didn't quite get the puff I was hoping for but they were absolutely delicious. I followed the recipe from Honey & Co's highlights on their Instagram feed. It can sometimes be a bit tricky following along with a highlight reel because it moves so fast. I make sure I weigh out the ingredients beforehand to ensure I don't get left behind. This recipe was so simple and there was something so satisfying taking off the frying pan lid to see bubbles had in fact been created!


3. White loaf of bread
My New Year's resolution was to not buy a loaf of bread this year and instead make them. So I was really keen to have a solid white loaf recipes in my arsenal. I love scrolling through Instagrammer Sophie from The Scandi Cook's feed. She does a cracking sourdough but also has a great white loaf. The instructions are so simple to follow and it makes a foolproof loaf. I've made it a few times now and each time has been just as delicious as the last.


4. Scalded rye loaf
I love Claire's Instagram and I own her book New Kitchen Basics - although I have yet to cook from it which I must rectify immediately1 She puts cracking recipes on her grid which always sound so simple yet incredibly delicious. I knew I had a bag of rye flour hiding away in the cupboard which I had bought from the Aldi 'Special Buy' aisle on a whim. I absolutely loved this bread and am already planning on making it again. It tastes a bit like wholemeal bread, quite nutty in places and has the best crunchy crust. It's chewy and so flavoursome. It works great as toast once it has lost its freshness.


5. Bagels
Bagels are a labour of love which makes them a great weekend project. Or a weekday isolation project! I used Edd Kimber's New York Style bagel recipe from his blog as I am obsessed with his Instagram at the moment. I didn't realise they had a 12 hour prove time otherwise I would have done them just before bed and let them prove in the fridge overnight. Serves me right for skimming the recipe! I substituted the malt syrup for honey. I wasn't sure when I would use malt syrup again so I didn't want to buy any especially. I much preferred the poppy seed bagels as I felt they gave them so much more flavour.
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Tried and tested online recipes using store cupboard essentials

One thing I have learnt during this pandemic is that I was a secret stockpiler before it was cool. I've been quite pleasantly surprised and a little shocked at how much I have squirrelled away in my cupboards. My store cupboard may look a little different to yours as I have a habit of always picking up random ingredients. But hopefully you might have some of the same ingredients and will be able to give these a go. One thing I have been enjoying recently is being a bit more creative in the kitchen as I usually only get the chance over the weekends. Here is a round up of some recipes I have sampled and ones I'm definitely adding to my regular rotation. I have made a note of things you can sub or what I have used instead.


Mushroom and lentil pearl barley risotto from Jack Monroe
If you're looking to cook on a budget or you have lots of random tins to be used up then you need to head to Jack's blog pronto. I love how inventive the recipes are and really think outside the box. I have no idea where the bag of pearl barley came from but I'm not complaining! Tinned lentils are a great lifesaver. They're already soaked and cooked so are really easy to chuck into vegetarian dishes. Add them to salads, use the instead of mince in a lasagne or pop them in a rice dish to bulk it out a bit. I used frozen spinach as my greenery option and it turned out great. Scattered with a generous helping of parmesan cheese, we really enjoyed this for lunches throughout the week. I can imagine myself making it again during this lockdown!


Seeded wholemeal soda bread from BBC Food
Soda bread is a great option if you're struggling to source yeast from the supermarket. It's best eaten on the day of baking with a generous slab of butter. I used all pumpkin seeds because that was what I had in the cupboard and it came out delicious! This is a great option if you need a quick bread as it's so simple to make. There is no need to wait for it to prove, you stick it straight into the oven once it has been tied. Try not to make the dough too flat as it doesn't rise much.


Brown butter rum banana bread by Milli Taylor
If you haven't seen Milli's BBBB doing the rounds on Instagram then you must be living under a rock. You can find the recipe in her highlights on her Instagram page. I didn't have any rum as it's not something I drink but I found a non-alcoholic version which I had been gifted in a Holland & Barrett goodie bag. Milli suggests using tea as a substitute to soak the fruit. Once again I had to make a few substitutions as times are strange. I used currants as my fruit and dark brown sugar. The substitutions worked perfectly and it is the best banana cake recipe I've tried. I absolutely loved it! I have plans to make it over the weekend again.


Pizza dough from BBC Good Food
Pizza is my all-time favourite food. I would eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I had the choice. But for some reason I'd never attempted my own dough. I always felt a bit intimidated but decided lockdown was as good a reason as any to pop my cherry. This recipe asks you to grill it outside but I whacked my oven up to the highest temperature. I let it warm up for 30 minutes and then cooked each pizza for 15 minutes. I managed to get four pizzas from this recipe. I'd love to try lots of different toppings and not be restricted by my lockdown fridge. So many ideas!


Chocolate and oat cookies from Thida Bevington
Yet another recipe I had seen popping up all over my Instagram feed. I finally had some time to try it out! The recipe can be found in Thida's highlights on her grid. I dropped off a few care packages on friend's doorsteps and they said these were the best cookies I've made. I loved them and can't wait to experiment with different flavoured chocolate. I have some Reeces Pieces chocolate chips in the cupboard which I think will work perfectly.


Grilled potato salad from Bon Appetit magazine
I am obsessed with Bon Appetit's Test Kitchen on Youtube as well as the website. I tend to stick to their savoury recipes as working in cups whilst baking is not the one for me. It seems to be a reoccurrence in my kitchen where I keep finding random pieces of veg to use up before it goes completely bad. I came across this recipe when I was looking for an idea for potatoes to have with some pork kebabs I had found in the freezer left over from a BBQ last summer! It had a great Asian vibe going on thanks to the rice wine and fish sauce. It made a lovely change from the traditional potato salad I make with mayo and vinegar. I used a white onion instead of a red, scattered a standard red chilli over it and vetoed the fresh basil as I didn''t have any.
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A Essex based lifestyle blogger who lives a champagne life on a lemonade purse!

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