Books for Cooks for Christmas: Lavender and Lovage Off The Shelf Book Reviews

Books for Cooks for Christmas: Off My Shelf Book Reviews

Books for Cooks for Christmas: Lavender and Lovage Off The Shelf Book Reviews

Books for Cooks for Christmas:

Lavender and Lovage Off The Shelf Book Reviews

Books for Cooks for Christmas: Off My Shelf Book Reviews

Books for Cooks for Christmas: Lavender and Lovage Off The Shelf Book Reviews

Welcome to my new Off the Shelf Book Reviews post; with so many books being sent to me for review, which is JUST fine I hasten to add, as I am an avid bookworm, I was not able to dedicate a single post to each book this month, and, as Christmas is approaching I thought that a multiple book review would be very useful for my readers, especially as I am reviewing a broad selection of books that should fit into most people’s gift buying (or wish list) remit. With a HUGE thanks to all the PR’s and Publishing houses who have sent me these books to review, and please continue to send them as I am not a “kindle reader” and I much prefer the more tactile approach to reading, especially when it comes to cookbooks. I am posting a copy of all my reviews here to too, where most of these books can be purchased at much reduced prices. I am recommending ALL of these books for Christmas, with two of the books reviewed having television programmes that accompany them. I have adopted the five-star rating system for cookbooks, with the stars equating to the following levels of enjoyment:

5 Star – Excellent book with well written and detailed recipes, as well as interesting recipe introductions, accompanied by superb photography. The level of innovation also features in a 5 star book, with the level being high, but with achievable recipes for most households, and the recipes HAVE to work.

4 Star – A good read with all of the attributes for a 5 star book, but losing marks for recipes that may not be achievable for every day, or that didn’t quite work for me in the Lavender and Lovage test kitchen, as well as lack of photos and difficult recipe instructions.

3 Star – A nice book, plain writing, or maybe a standard compilation of recipes, and with recipes that don’t excite; no recipe introductions and not many images or photos. Average, not bad but not that exciting.

2 to 1 star – To date, I have never read a cookbook that warrants 2 stars or below, but I imagine it to be a book that is poorly written with mundane recipes and no photography or recipe introductions.  I am sure that all of the PR’s and Publishers I have worked with, would not print or promote such books! (I come across one, I will post my reviews however. )

Books for Cooks for Christmas: Lavender and Lovage Off The Shelf Book Reviews

Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals 

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Michael Joseph (27 Sep 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 071815780X
ISBN-13: 978-0718157807

RRP: £26 (£11:99 Amazon)

5 Stars

Following on from  30-Minute Meals, which, I have and love, this is Jamie’s next cookbook and is accompanied by the series on Channel 4. All of the recipes are easy to follow, are innovative and exciting, they are set out in a similar way to 30-Minute Meals, which makes following the recipes for a timed theme feasible  The photography is beautiful and David Loftus has done a fabulous job of styling, as well as showing off the meals in a manner that entices and appeals to readers to put in their pinny and cook! I tried out two recipes to see if they fitted in to the timed 15-minute plan, chilli con carne meatballs and avocado on toast four ways; the chilli con carne meatballs took 25 minutes, and the avocado on toast four ways took 18 minutes – both recipes were prepared and cooked my me alone, and I was rather surprised at how close to the 15-minute mark they both came. They both tasted and looked amazing and I have subsequently made the meatballs again. The book is divided up as follows:

Serve & Cook

Soups & Sarnies


The Nutrition section at the back of the book is an excellent resource for nutrition with the calorie, fat, sugar and saturated fat content of each of the recipes in the book listed alongside a picture of the meal and its page number, which, is VERY handy if you are watching your weight. Most of  the recipes are under 600 calories, and some are a lot less and the emphasis is definitely on healthy recipes as well as quick and easy after-work meals. Overall, I thought that the book was well presented, well written in Jamie’s usual “bang it in” style and beautifully photographed.  I can see myself making most of the recipes, and there was a good selection of vegetarian meals, and plenty of fish recipes too. 5 Stars is awarded for this book, mainly due to its innovative and exciting meal ideas, not so much for the 15-minute promise. 

Wartime Farm: Rediscovering The Skills And Spirit Of World War II  

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley (3 Sep 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1845337085
ISBN-13: 978-1845337087

RRP: £20 (£9:80 Amazon)

5 Stars

Accompanying an 8-part BBC series, Wartime Farm, which I watched EVERY week, is a book that sets out the changes of that period of history from 1939 to 1945 within a historical context and looks at the day-to-day life of that time. Following the footsteps of their World War II predecessors, archaeologists Peter Ginn and Alex Langlands, along with social historian Ruth Goodman (from Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm fame) live the “year-long experiment” and the book (like the series) covers their life on a wartime farm, from land cultivation and ploughing by night to the black market and wartime recipes, the book is packed with interesting facts and figures from the period. I found the book an invaluable resource when I recently embarked on a week of living off WW2 rations – The Wartime Kitchen. The book is divided up as follows:

Meet the Farmers

Manor Farm

How it all Happened

The Battle for Food

Chapter One: The Farm at War

Chapter Two: Mobilising People

Chapter Three: The Home and Garden Front

Chapter Four: Wartime Food

Chapter Five: Livestock

Chapter Six: Home Defences

Chapter Seven: Make Do and Mend

Chapter Eight: …And Carry On

The Legacy



As this is a book review predominately for cookbooks, I will concentrate mainly on the food and recipes side of the book; chapter four which covers Wartime Food contains 39 pages of fascinating information about the rationing system, the health of the nation under rationing, the black market and the barter system, foraging for food, pig clubs, preserving and the WI during the war, cheese making, feeding evacuees and a large selection of at least 17 recipes. The book as Ministry of Food facsimiles from the era reproduced as well as other posters and evocative images and photos from the era. I am giving the book a deserved 5 stars, as I not only did I find it entertaining, but I also found it interesting and well researched.  

The Kitchen Herb Garden: A Seasonal Guide to Growing, Cooking and Using Culinary Herbs

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Spring Hill (31 Aug 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 190586289X
ISBN-13: 978-1905862894

RRP: £14:99 (£7:49 Amazon)

5 Stars

I was sent this book several weeks ago now, and I have used it EXTENSIVELY since receiving it, it is a beautiful book about herbs WITH  a wonderful selection of over 60 exciting and innovative recipes. This book is full of inspiration and practical advice about cultivating a kitchen herb garden, and there is detailed information about how to plan, plant, grow and maintain specially selected herbs, from Lavender and Lovage  to Myrtle and Mint. The book includes information on:- Which culinary herbs to plant,and how to grow them. Illustrated planting plans for designing different types of herb garden. Using herbs to flavour oils, vinegars, butters, sugars and jellies. How to harvest, dry and preserve your herbs. How to grow herbs in containers and  How to match herbs to ingredients in your cooking. The book is divided up as follows:

Part 1 – Techniques: The Why, What, Where and How to Grow Herbs

2. Harvesting and Preserving your Herbs

Part 2 – Seasonal Jobs in the Herb Garden:

3. The Growing Season

4. The Dormant Season

Part 3 – Using Herbs in the Kitchen:

5. Delicate Herbs – Recipes

6. Robust Herbs – Recipes


1. Latin Names of Chosen Herbs

2. When and Where to Sow Herb Seeds

3. What Type of Cutting is Suitable for Which Herb

Useful addresses and websites

Index of Recipes


I have to say that I am captivated with this book, it is beautifully laid out and with such inspiring recipes, such as: Quince Compote with Bay, Crème Brûlée with Sweet Marjoram and Raspberries, Prawn and Sweet Cecily Pasta, Honey and Lemon Thyme Ice Cream, Goat’s Cheese Stack with Oregano and Crab Cakes with Lemon Grass. The herbs that are featured are all accompanied by excellent photos and the book is well laid out and eminently “readable”. As well as the wonderful recipes, there is an excellent section on preserving herbs, which sets this book apart from to many other herb books I own, and have read. I have awarded this beautiful book 5 stars for excellent recipes, easy to follow herbs propagation and harvesting advice, useful appendices at the back of the book, two indexes – one for recipes and one for herbs, and the fact that is written in a clear and concise manner. 

Rosemary Shrager’s Absolutely Foolproof Food for Family and Friends 

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Hamlyn (3 Sep 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0600624102
ISBN-13: 978-0600624103

RRP: £18:99 (£9:50 Amazon)

4 Stars

I am a Yorkshire lass and I follow Rosemary Shrager with interest, both on and off the TV, and I already own several of her cookbooks, of which my favourite is her Yorkshire Breakfast Cookbook. So, when I was sent a review copy of this book, I was looking forward to seeing what the clever Ms Shrager was going to share. This is a GOOD book, and it is full of very HELPFUL techniques and step-by-step photographic tutorials, such as how to make confit of duck, dry curing fish for gravadlax, de-boning whole birds and how to prepare ballotines, as well as different pastry techniques and methods. The book has a concise selection of classic core recipes, which would be useful for any amateur cooks. There are lots of specialist recipes for celebrations, and I particularly  liked her advice on buying essential kitchen equipment, particularly her advice about knives.  The book is divided up as follows:







Raised Pies











The glaring omissions for me, was the lack of section on desserts, soups in general and dairy products, such as eggs and cheese.  However, the recipes that are featured in the book are clear and concise, although not all of hem have a finished photo, which is a shame. This is undoubtedly a handy reference book for cooks, as well as a cook book. The recipes are varied and quite unusual, I have to report that the recipe for Pork and Apple Pies was wonderful, and I have made them twice now to great acclaim.  I also followed Rosemary’s method for duck confit, which, was well presented and easy to follow.  I am giving the book a 4 star review rating, based on the fact that there was no desserts or dairy section (I can see a step-by-step soufflé recipe being an invaluable addition) and that some of the recipes did not have a photo of the finished recipes, a very enjoyable and helpful book nevertheless.

Leon Family & Friends: Book 4 

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Conran Octopus (1 Oct 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1840916095
ISBN-13: 978-1840916096

RRP: £25:00 (£12:50 Amazon)

5 Star

I ADORE all of the Leon cookbooks and have already reviewed Leon ~ Baking & Puddings. Book 3 on my blog. Book 4,  Family and Friends is just as wonderful as books 1 to 3. I was very excited when it arrived, as I love the photos and layout in ALL of the Leon books, and this one did not disappoint either. I am also NOT surprised to see that the book has been featured in The Times Top Forty Cookbooks of the Year. For Leon, family is not just about their own relatives; it’s also the extended community of friends, neighbours and colleagues too, and that ethos is very evident throughout the book. The recipes are, as always, fun and interesting, and yet achievable with fabulous photos accompanying most of them. The categories are creative and innovative – I particularly liked the idea of  Weekend blow-outs, A walk in the park, After lights out and 10 things you should know how to cook before you leave home.  The book is divided into three sections:

Today, including great breakfasts, brunch ideas and post-school teas
Tomorrow, for those occasions where some planning is involved picnics, weekend lunches, birthday parties and Christmas
Yesterday, a culinary celebration of nostalgic family food memories

…..and the chapters in each section are:

Part one: Today:
Breakfast and brunch
Speedy lunches
A walk in the park
Tea time and high tea
Super weekday suppers
After lights out
Something sweet

Part two: Tomorrow:
Food on the move
Weekend blow-outs
Kids’ cooking classes
Christmas and boxing day
10 things you should know how to cook before you leave home

Part three: Yesterday:
Memory lane

Thus far I have made FOUR recipes from the book, since it arrive little over a week ago: Eleanor’s top table potatoes was VERY top table and is on the Christmas Menu; Graig farm’s all meat sausage on fig jam on toast was LUSH and my husband has not stopped asking for it to be made again; Ploughman’s in a box was a fun version of a traditional ploughman’s lunch and Mary’s Victorian diable was devilishly good, and on the menu again soon! There is a useful double index where one index is split into categories:

Low glycemic load
Low saturated fat
Wheat free
Gluten free
Dairy free vegetarian

And, the second index is a traditional  A-Z index.

The recipes are diverse, exciting, imaginative, nostalgic, hearty, dainty, spicy, comforting and so very friendly…..I am have no hesitation in awarding this book 5 stars; it’s the kind of book that I will be delving in to for years to come, and it will no doubt become as gravy and dough spattered as my other much-loved cookbooks.



  1. says

    A really enjoyable post. Thanks for highlighting that the Jamie O book contains calorie counts – I haven’t read this info in any previous review of the book but now I know, I am tempted to purchase a copy. Do you happen to know if this is a new feature for the 15 minute book or does the 30 minute book have this info also?

    • says

      Thanks so much! I loaned my 30-minute book out to my daughter, so cannot check now, but I feels ure that there was nutritional breakdown in that book too!

    • says

      Thanks so much! I loaned my 30-minute book out to my daughter, so cannot check now, but I feels sure that there was nutritional breakdown in that book too!

  2. says

    Ah, Karen, you have read my mind! I’m currently working on a list of my favourite (or most-used) books of 2012 – I haven’t seen any of the titles you mention (apart from Jamie’s) and love the look of the herb one. Oh, and the Leon one. And the Wartime Kitchen…

    • says

      Thanks Lucy! I was sent these books for review, but, I would have bought all of them, with the exception maybe of the Rosemary Shrager one, as it would duplicate what I already know, but would make a good book for novice cook. Glad it has helped you with your wish list! Karen

    • says

      Thanks Janice, the Leon book is a stunner and is so well written with interesting recipes and little anecdotes from those who submitted recipes too, such as Kavey and her mum! Karen

  3. says

    what a mammoth read but i’m so glad I got through it all… an EXCELLENT post my dear and a brilliant and very thorough system for reviewing too (although I noticed you forgot to give the Leon book its 5 star rating at the top of the review… which I think it needs as it’s such a bloody brilliant book!) great read Karen and an excellent addition to your bog. I hope to see more of this on here xx

    • says

      Mammoth read, took me 3 hours to write! Even with notes made when I read and cooked from books! :-) BUT, so glad you appreciate it Dom and a BIG thanks for pointing out I omitted Leon’s 5 stars too, I have amended that now thanks to you and Leon is back where is belongs, a 5 star book! Thanks again Dom. Karen

  4. says

    What a lovely and well informed review Karen. I do love Jamie Oliver recipes but the thought of preparing the meals within 15 minutes was just a difficult idea to buy into. Shall I let you into a wee secret? I couldn’t even make his 30 min. meals within the alloted time! But for me, it’s not about the timing – I like to take my time when cooking as it’s a therapeutic process but his recipes are ones I refer to time and time again so I’m pleased to see that the current one does not disappoint.
    I’m really drawn to the Kitchen Herb cookbook as it features some techniques that I have never tried before.
    Thanks again for the round up Karen, great little rating system too :-)

    • says

      I agree so MUCH with what you have said Jacqueline, I also LOVE to take time in the kitchen; I assume that Jamie’s latest book is aimed at manic office workers and the like! It is an interesting concept and it sort of works, but for me te main reason I loved his 15-minute book so much was due to the quality of the recipes, and the layout of the book, as well as the photos too. The herb book is a LITTLE stunner, one of the best ones I own and the recipes are just lovely, so innovative and yet achievable too. Karen

  5. Susie @ Fold in the Flour says

    Great post Karen. I’m a complete cookbook junkie so this was a great read for me. The Leon book looks as though it might make it onto my Christmas list. The star rating is really helpful, so I hope you continue doing review posts like this. :)

    • says

      Thanks Susie, I am so glad you enjoyed this post……The Leon book really is the star of all the books I have reviewed lately and I am a REAL Leon addict – I love the restaurants, the ethos and the books as a complete package! Karen

  6. says

    Yay for the non kindle readers I say Karen. I always enjoy reading cookbook reviews, so thank you for this. I can’t get my head around 15 minute meals – unless it’s beans on toast, that would be an impossibility in my kitchen. Just hunting around for the ingredients, (which could be in various places in the house depending on what they are) would probably tale the allotted 15 mins. But an interesting concept nonetheless. The Leon book is the one I’d really love to get my hands on.

    • says

      Thanks Choclette, and yes, the 15-minute book is excellent, not for the 15 minute promise though! The Leon book is fabulous, I feel sure you would enjoy it. Karen

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