Cookbooks that changed my life: Happy Days by Jamie Oliver

Cookbooks that changed my life: Happy Days // The Sugar Hit


This is a new series about the food and cookery books that have strongly influenced my life both in and out of the kitchen. I absolutely love talking about cookbooks, so I thought you might be interested in the ones that mean the most to me. But mainly I thought this would be a cool chance for us to chat about cookbooks generally – so please let me know your thoughts in the comments! 


Who among us could say that they haven’t been at least a little bit influenced by Jamie Oliver? His books, his TV shows, his photographer (the brilliant David Loftus and now, himself), his distinctive style, his magazine, his restaurants? The man is everywhere. I have been a fan since I was about eleven years old, and probably younger, though eleven is when I was given this book Happy Days with the Naked Chef. Even at that point I was a girl in the kitchen (though not really baking or desserts – that came later), and I used to go and rent out DVD’s of JO’s first and second TV series from the library. I definitely did not telegraph this information to any of my friends, because tween girls can smell ‘uncoolness’ from miles away, but I absolutely loved that show, and still think it’s one of the best cooking shows from a production and story point of view, that I’ve ever seen.


It was never a crush, in case you were wondering. It was more that I was totally enthralled by his life. The idea of living in a truly boss flat in London, working with friends in restaurants, having access to the Borough Markets and Neale’s Yard dairy, and living this free-spirited, food-filled, experimental kind of life is what appealed to me. Lifestyle porn for someone less interested in a Pinterest-perfect house, and more interested in a kind of joie-de-vivre and freedom and love of food. That and the fact that I always loved to eat, and was discovering that I really loved to cook, too. And when I was given a copy of Happy Days (maybe for my birthday? I can’t remember) I discovered that I really loved to read about food, too.


Cookbooks that changed my life: Happy Days // The Sugar Hit

The one thing that makes a cookbook, in my opinion, is whether or not it’s real. Whether it’s honest and relevant and something that comes from the author’s life, not just a bunch of recipes that they thought were cute or fun or trendy. I want to hear what people are really cooking and eating and baking, not what they think I want to hear. That’s what makes this such a great book. Because the veracity of the recipes comes blazing out of it. There’s no poetry in the book; it’s written in a conversational, unfussy style, but it’s full of the kind of honest storytelling and genuine thoughts that fascinate me and make my heart warm like nothing else. Take this quote from the Comfort Food chapter (first chapter in the book – is it any wonder I love it?):

‘The one thing all these recipes have in common is normally memories of childhood; enjoying company round the dinner table, or in my case, coming home shivering and wet from playing footie with the boys and being ordered to change out of my wet clothes into my dressing gown before being given a steaming bowl of chilli with a jacket potato and a lob of guacamole and yoghurt. Remember: don’t eat to live, but live to eat. That’s what it’s all about!’


If that doesn’t make you want to find a rainstorm to go and run around in, just so you can come home, get into a dressing gown and eat a bowl of chilli and a jacket potato, then you and I are very different people.


Cookbooks that changed my life: Happy Days // The Sugar Hit


Same again is the recipe introduction for ‘Smush Ins’, where Oliver talks about him and his sister mashing whatever they could find into the ‘rubbishy’ ice cream their parents gave them and then scoffing the lot. Who doesn’t have a fond memory of eating ice cream scooped out of an industrial sized vat, which didn’t really taste of anything except milk and sugar? It’s these little details that make a book personal, and that’s why this book has been so influential on me. It made cooking and that food-person lifestyle seem so enticing and attainable. Without this book I highly doubt I would be where I am today.


Although it isn’t marketed as such, I think of this as the perfect cookbook for beginners. It’s not patronizing in the slightest way, but it is filled with good basic recipes for a whole load of classics as well as quick and easy fixes, and then meat, fish and vegetable dishes for when you want to put on a little Ritz. This book completely avoids the trap that a lot of ‘beginner’ cookbooks fall into of only including basic-as-heck recipes that hold no interest and give beginners no desire to cook. And it does so by sharing genuinely interesting recipes that are from the author’s life. So while there is a recipe for pancakes in there, they don’t seem boring or humdrum because Oliver was so genuinely keen on them when he wrote this.


I owe a lot of my own point of view on food to Jamie Oliver and to this book in particular. The very notion of the title ‘Happy Days’ and the idea that food is something which (to quote KonMari) sparks joy, is what informs everything I do here on The Sugar Hit. So, thanks JO. I couldn’t have made all these cakes without ya.


xx Sarah.


  • Aw Sarah, your writing speaks to me! I too want to find a rainstorm to then be able to eat chilli and a jacket potato in the warmth.. sounds like bliss. I just wanted to let you know that reading The Sugar Hit cookbook feels like it comes from your heart and it is so genuine. Thanks for being an inspiration <3

  • I have this book and I remember watching the naked chef on tv. at the time in the uk he was considered a bit of an annoying indie/britpop wannabe cliche.

    I was a bit older than you at the time when these were on TV – i think around 17.

    from memory the recipes in this book are pretty timeless, the only issue i’ve had with a few Jamie Oliver books is that the ingredient quantities and the cooking timings are often a bit out.

    can’t wait to see what happens next.

    • Bahahaha, that’s hilarious! Obviously as an 11 year old – and probably younger, because the show came before the book – the whole ‘wannabe’ thing went straight over my head! I just thought he was cool. And I totally still do! I’ve never had a problem with a JO recipe, but then there are no guarantees in the kitchen. I’d be so interested to hear what some of your favourites are – I bet you have a few patisserie jems on your shelf. xx

  • I was feeling particularly “high on life” today, when this little gem of a posting hit my inbox.

    My mother has a similar memory of coming home in the cold of an Iowa winter to find her mother making a steaming pot of spaghetti sauce. gramma would help mom out of her wet, cold things, set her up on the kitchen stool and bring her a bowl of that rich red elixir. mine is coming home in a California rainstorm to the smell of warm, fresh gingerbread. I’d cozy up in front of our fireplace watching the steam come off of my wet socks. and slowly devour every last crumb of that little slice of heaven.

    You’re so spot on; the foods and the memories they elicit, can only be transformative if they are genuine, come from a place deeper than sheer nourishment. Many of my best memories are set around tables. My love of cookbooks and my collection of said, is dear to me. They are As engrossing and compelling as many novels. I guess I’ll be adding Happy Days to that collection.

    Thank you for bringing a giant smile to my face. today.

    • DeBorah, thank you so much for putting a giant smile on my face with this comment! What a beautiful history of comfort and togetherness through food. Kind of makes me love the rain! x

  • Hi Sarah, Thank you for this article :) I’m very inspired by his 15 minutes meal book. I found some pure gems in it including a recipe of chicken thighs you bash flat, sprinkle with Chinese 5 spice, salt, pepper and sesame seeds; then drop in a smoking hot oiled frying pan. When cooked and the pan is still hot, you add a lot of sweet chilli sauce. It makes a sort of caramelised chilli jam chicken which has become on of my signature dish. It’s to die for and ultra simple. (served with Thai salad and rice)

    • That IS simple – and it sounds super tasty. It’s funny, I didn’t love the 15 minute meals book…but your comment is making me think I need to get it back out and give it another shot. Thanks Flore! xx

  • I don’t have this cookbook, but Jamie ‘s Great Britain is one of my top-10-all-time faves, for many of the same reasons you describe… his joy of cooking and sharing fabulous food oozes from every page. as I had the life-changing opportunity to spend three years in london, I spent many a dreamy saturday romping around borough market, there is no book I would rather turn to as i re-live the memories and share awesome british food with my american “mates.” Love, love the series sarah… i suspect we have very similar taste in cookbooks, can’t wait to see what’s next!

    • That must have been awesome, living in London! It’s definitely on the cards for me (though LA is calling my name at the moment) so it’s cool to hear that it lived up to the hype! I visited when I was 15 and I absolutely loved it. Meet you in Borough Market? xx

  • Talking about Jamie and nigella for me is like talking about the original supermodels… I have every book of each, both of them are terrific writers because you feel they’re literally chatting to you while you read. but Jamie…. he’s got to be the absolute best cook/chef of all time, everything he cooks is just beyond, so I’m with you there sarah , I was also a tween completely obsessed with the naked chef, and nigella bites too!

    • Mate, if only we’d known each other! We could have sat around watching Nigella Bites (my fave) and Naked Chef together! Actually, do you just want to do that now? Sounds like an amazing Sunday. xx

  • I also have a huge love of recipe books, my collection just keeps growing. I have lots of Jamie’s but I don’t have this one, perhaps I should get myself a copy. Jamie is always my go to when I’m looking for a recipe, he’s hugely inspired my everyday cooking. Look forward to hearing what other lovely books you are a fan of x

    • I absolutely love it, Jane, but as you can see from the post I think that’s because of the time in my life when I bought it and everything it means to me! I’d be interested to hear what you think of it! xx

  • Oh Jamie. He just makes me want to MAKE FOOD. and feed ALL the people. I love the way he values food. Even the every day stuff. He just has a way of making even the simplest meal (like a jacket potato or a poached egg) seem like the purest nourishment ever. He knows we’re in the supermarket more than the farmers market. He’s not pressuring you to eat a certain way. He’s saying ‘here is some awesome delicious food – and you can make it too’.
    I’m loving this series already Sarah. I can’t wait to see what you pick next.
    My constant rotation includes: Nigella (because she just caresses the English language), Dorie Greenspan, Mark Bittman, and Martha Stewart (The.Queen).

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