At the busiest, buzziest time of year for bookshops, here’s a round up of some of our favourite recent books for cooks and food lovers, to buy for yourself or others – could be just the thing for those book tokens after Christmas… 

Baking is on a roll these days, but it hasn’t always been like that. Sliced pan was king over a long period in Ireland and when I wrote my own baking book ‘The Best of Irish Breads & Baking’, in the mid ‘90s, it was in the hope of inspiring a revival in home baking. Fortunately things have changed a lot since then and several outstanding baking books have arrived this year, starting with the delightful and highly practical Bake: Traditional Irish Baking with Modern Twists by Graham Herterich, aka ‘The Cupcake Bloke’ ( Hardback,€25) While it’s a great read, this is a real hands-on baker’s book which, for many people, will change their perception of Irish baking, and of Irish food in general - and also, perhaps, of Graham’s home town of Athy and other rural Irish towns. [Read our review & recipes here] Then along came The New Ballymaloe Bread Book by Darina Allen (Gill Books Hardback, €26.99). A comprehensive work by Ireland’s leading cookery teacher, it’s destined to become the go-to bread-making reference for a new generation of cooks and bakers in Ireland and beyond. Superb in every way, it is just what’s needed post-pandemic, and will be a reassuring panacea for many of the world’s ills for years to come. [Read our review & recipes here] Most recently The Irish Bakery by Cherie Denham and Kitty Corrigan, with photography by Andrew Montgomery (also the publisher) was launched in Belfast in November and promises to be a real treat. It was an a immediate sell-out and we can’t wait to see it when a reprint becomes available in early February 2024. Priced at £27+ P&P, it can be pe-ordered at

And there is a bread connection with pretty much everything in food, including The Gathered Table: A Taste of Home (Hardback, €30) which was launched at in Eoin McCluskey’s super Dublin bakery and café, Bread 41. Originated and compiled by Gather & Gather Ireland and edited by Kristin Jensen of the boutique Irish publishing house Nine Bean Rows, this unusual and beautifully produced collaborative Irish cookbook celebrates the relationship between food and home, in aid of the national housing and homeless charity Peter McVerry Trust, which marks its 40th anniversary this year.[Read our review & recipes here]

Chef Paul Flynn’s Butter Boy is a lovely big yellow door stopper of a book, jam-packed with his recipes and highly entertaining stories. But it is also important historically as Butter Boy is the complete Irish Times collection of all of Paul’s 152 articles and over 450 recipes from three very unusual years, November 2019 to October 2022, ‘a time when cooking and mealtimes took on new meaning’, and his record of this time through food (and stories) not only resonates for all of us now, but its importance as a record will grow as the pandemic becomes a distant memory. Widely available, €40. [Read our review & recipes here ]

Another highlight this year was the arrival of Paradiso: Recipes & Reflections by Denis Cotter ( Hardback, €39) a beautiful hardback featuring 160 recipes from the legendary founder of Cork’s pioneering vegetarian Paradiso restaurant, with photography by Ruth Calder-Potts. As pandemic projects go, this is pretty epic - and the forward-looking tone may be a surprise after three decades in business and many awards, when a little nostalgia might be expected. But standing still, or even slowing down, is not in the script at Paradiso, where it’s all about evolution. It’s also a very practical book with pointers on kitchen management, in particular, that will be very helpful to home cooks who like to entertain – and for family events, like Christmas. [Read our review & recipes here] To balance up the vegetarian theme it’s only fair to mention that The Irish Beef Book by well known butcher Pat Whelan and food writer Katy McGuinness celebrates ten years with a special reprint edition – and all proceeds of the classic cookbook are going to Cork Penny Dinners and The Capuchin Day Centre. An ideal Christmas present, available at all good bookshops, online and at Dunnes Stores, price €22.99.

Community and story-telling is very much at the heart of many of the best cookery books, and that’s certainly true of Soup ( Hardback €15) by Blanca Valencia, Dee Laffan and Mei Chin, co-hosts of the popular Spice Bags podcast. They say that soup connects us all - and the recipes reflect both the individual cultures, memories and tastes of the authors, and Irish food today. [Our review & recipes] A sister publication in the super little Blasta Books range is Tapas by Anna Cabrera and Vanessa Murphy of the wonderful Dublin destination Las Tapas de Lola. Nobody knows more about Tapas than this pair, who say: “Tapas are the perfect party food and even better icebreakers (great for first dates!). They can be enjoyed at a table or bar or simply as finger food. It’s all about sharing. And the best part is that you don’t have to commit to one dish – you can sample them all.” Perfect casual entertaining to, including Christmas. The 72-page A5 cookbook illustrated by Dublin artist Nicky Hooper is available to buy online and in bookshops and independent retailers around Ireland, price €15. Also from a much-loved Dulin chef and restaurateur Spice Box by Sunil Ghai (Penguin ISBN: 9781844885831) hit the shelves running this year. Sub-titled Easy, Everyday Indian Food, it does what it says on the tin so you can expect an authentic but accessible introduction to Indian cooking and over 100 encouragingly easy recipes to cook at home. All the classics are here - delicious kormas, curries, fish dishes, meat-free favourites, desserts and sides from naan breads to raitas and chutneys – and, crucial to the promise of ‘easy’ food, the ingredients are widely available (and probably in stock at home already). Spice Box is widely available, including online from Easons and Dubray Books.

Closely-connected local communities within Ireland are embarking on some great joint projects these days, including Paula McIntyre’s latest book, Taste Causeway – Recipes and Stories (Hardback, £25. Buy online and from some of the businesses featured.). As much a travel guide as a cookbook, the diversity of the produce and 40 or so businesses featured within a relatively small area is remarkable – and, as always with Paula McIntyre, it’s a lovely read. [Read our review & recipes here ] In the same vein, Created in Cavan is a lovely colourful collaborative cookbook from members of the Created in Cavan Food Network. Bringing Cavan’s food, drink and hospitality community together, the aim was to raise the visibility of the county’s outstanding offering, in Ireland and internationally, and to raise funds for several charities - Cavan Autism Parents Support CLG, Breffni Blues Special Olympics Club and Cuan Cancer Support Centre. [Read our review & recipes here ]

 Finally, an unexpected treat, Is That Fat Foreigner Rich? An Irishman in China by Graeme Allen (Murphy Brothers Publishing), arrived on the editorial desk recently and while not a cookbook or newly published, it is in print and will be a find for anyone interested in food and hospitality, so well worth seeking out. It’s a rollicking tale of an Irishman abroad the author, a nephew of the late Myrtle Allen, is a man who has done a lot of living - mainly around the hospitality industry - in his 80 or so years. Some of it has been in Ireland with a hotel in Clifden, and there were key times in Australia. But most of it is in China (where he and his Chinese wife run a restaurant) in an increasingly hectic time of devolopment - when he first worked in Shanghai, it was said to be the location of a quarter of the world's active tower cranes. Thus he was inevitably drawn into executive roles with the large-unit international hotel chains, and proved to have a real zest and talent for sales and marketing on the grand scale.
So although China has become much more prosperous and smoothly organised than it was during his formative years of experience there, this entertaining book is a fascinating introduction to the Chinese way of doing things. For instance, they want to feel they have established a personal friendship before working on a business deal. And a bit of private enterprise is always being explored - in one posting, he was at first surprised to find three of his sales staff in head office were giving their phones double use in order to run various personal enterprises in addition to selling rooms in their thousands. It's a bit reminiscent of how the entrepreneurial Albert Reynolds, as Station Clerk on the railway at Dromod in Leitrim, began to build his multi-aspect business empire thanks to his unfettered access to a functioning phone, while in Buenos Aires, a young Greek emigrant called Aristotle Onassis began to create a global shipping mega-business through being on the night shift as a telephone operator.
This fascinating book entertainingly reveals similar attitudes which enabled China - once the restraints of various overly oppressive governments were eventually removed - to be set on course to become the world's second largest economy. Through it all, Graeme Allen made his way. It was often a merry one, but there were dark patches too, while today's China is much changed from the vast mysterious place he was initially drawn to. First published in 2016, this rollicking read has been re-issued in a timely way to entertain, inform and engage the sympathies of today's readers, and is spot-on for the Christmas market. Available online, including from Amazon. Prices vary.



There are currently no comments

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment
Not a member? Register for your free membership now!
Or leave a comment by logging in with: