When it comes to building kitchen courage and firing imaginations, a picture of Neven Maguire on the cover of a book can do wonders. When you look at him smiling on the front of 'Home Chef', you feel like you can hear him in your head saying, 'Go on, give it a go. Sure, it'll be a bit of fun and you'll learn something.' And whether you are a dinnertime rookie, a good cook who wants to improve their bit of know-how or someone who has lots of signature dishes and secrets, 'Home Chef' deserves a place on your shelf (or beside your bed if looking at food books before you go to sleep is your guilty pleasure, too).
With 130 recipes, ranging from 'Straightforward' to 'Stretch Your Skills Further', 'Home Chef' has something for every course and occasion - including cocktail parties. Throughout Maguire peppers his instructions with insights and asides that build confidence and broaden your knowledge as you move through dishes.
While the recipes in some cookbooks can appear daunting, Maguire's unfussy style, wit and wisdom make you relaxed and excited at the same time. "If you're nervous about trying some of the more advanced recipes," he says, "you can always make just the main part of the dish, and save the accompaniments or sauces when you've had a bit more experience." That's like finding gold dust in the kitchen before you put on your apron.
In his mission for readers to achieve the "wow factor" when cooking for family and friends, Maguire has included two brilliant selections at the beginning and end of the 'Home Chef'. 'Chef's Skills' tells you what you should have in your store cupboard and there is great advice on choosing knives, preparing vegetables, buying meat, what herbs go where - and when - and much more. In 'Larder' he gives you the recipes for stocks, sauces, dressings and shortcrust pastry, so that you'll always have something handy for uninvited guests or at the end of a long day.
It's a joy to read a book where someone begins by saying that they "have now had 32 happy years in this world" and "have enjoyed every minute". Not only are those sentiments the perfect antidote to all the hard men/temper tantrum chefs, they're a reminder of all the good things in your own life. You can savour those gifts all the more when you've trumped your inner critic, impressed those closest to you and tasted what you've cooked from here.