Cookbook Review: Bake: Essential Companion by Alison Thompson

Okay – you wanna bake? Well, welcome to baking heaven. From the pale pink and black Fauchon-esque, superbly-styled cover, dotty endpapers and delectable paper – to the recipes themselves – this is a book so sweet, it’s already dusted with icing sugar and melting in my mouth.

Author Alison Thompson has been a passionate cook since childhood, writing her first cookbook when she was just 11 years old. With 15 years experience as a professional chef and pastry chef, she has worked with the world’s finest pastry chefs in Melbourne and London, and has also spent time at the famed Little Venice Cake Company in the UK.

She is also the founder and head pastry chef of Alison Louise Designer Cakes, a wedding and special occasion cake business located in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne. In 2010 she published her first book Macaron, and here we have a worthy follow-up in Bake.

Baking aficionados – it’s all here. From pizza to strudel, baklava to doughnuts – here is a book anchored firmly in a pink patty pan of puffed delight. What more could you need when it comes to oven-sourced treasure?

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Cookbook Review: Junior MasterChef

Rating: ★★★★☆

If the adult version of MasterChef really roasted your potatoes, then it’s likely (unless you’re the type who doesn’t like working with animals or small children) that Junior MasterChef also inspired you – or perhaps the kids – more than ever before. I loved the series and, other than making me feel completely incompetent in a culinary sense, I must admit I was totally gobsmacked by the gastronomic talent of these tots. By tots, I mean kids aged 8 to 12 – but in the food world I suppose they really are tots.

The creations and the talent showcased in this television series completely blew me away and made it clear that cooking is like many an artistic creation – it takes passion, commitment and a love of food to do it well. Even if you’re 8. In a world where the terms sautée, flambé and julienne are everyday utterings, it truly appears that age doesn’t matter.

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Cookbook Review: Hopscotch and Honey Joys by Lisa McCune

Rating: ★★★★½

Once upon a time, it was de rigeur for celebrities to release a hit single. Or a perfume. Nowadays, it seems, it’s books. But not just the ubiqitous ‘auto’-biography (the inverted commas are due to the fact that they are usually actually penned by someone else)… the celeb book production line is extending well beyond the sordid tales of life-past and instead delving into a whole other world of peek-inside-my-life entertainment.

And I must admit, it’s fun to peek.

Perennially popular actress Lisa McCune has conjured up a book that’s as pretty as a perfume bottle and as catchy as a pop-hit tune. Hopscotch and Honey Joys is an unpretentious, beautifully produced peek into the TV star’s life through the heartwarming sharing of food, fun and games for family and friends.

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Cookbook Review: Manu’s French Kitchen by Manu Feildel

Rating: ★★★★☆

Manu's French KitchenFrench food, home style. The message that chef Manu Feildel wants us to take from his latest cook book is that making beautiful French cuisine doesn’t have to be a near impossible feat. And the good news is, he’s right.

Yes, he’s the expert, and he should be right. But sometimes a cook book promises so much and just doesn’t deliver. We’ve all been there: trying a dish for the first time, certain it will be delicious and perfect, and it fails. At best, it becomes a night for eggs on toast; at worst, you’re left ordering pizza at your dinner party while the guests laugh at your efforts.

You can imagine my delight, then, when I took a risk on Manu and made some dishes from Manu’s French Kitchen for the first time when I was expecting a dozen guests. They turned out perfectly: flavours to die for, and presentation just as they looked in the book. Even the pastry was perfect, and I’m known for ruining pastry. Phew.

I made a few other dishes that day, but by far the greatest comments (and requests for second servings) were for Manu’s recipes.

This book is filled with the food Manu grew up with, the dishes his mother cooked in his childhood. They’re basic but never boring, simple yet flavoursome, classic without being daggy.

I love its stunning photography, its modern take on home-style dishes, the menu suggestions for the perfect dinner party, and the surprises in store when you next bake. This is Quiche Lorraine like you’ve never tasted before, sauces and side dishes to crave, melt-in-your-mouth pastries, desserts that you thought could only be found in a lovely little café, home-cooked food that will warm and comfort you to your core.

This book is personal for Manu, featuring photographs and mentions of his family who so obviously inspire his work. In the introduction he says, “Every recipe is included because it’s for a dish that makes me happy when I cook and eat it, and because it just tastes great.” Agreed.

Filled with fresh flavours, beautiful produce (that’s easily found), and impressive meals to serve to your friends, this book is a new firm favourite.

Cookbook Review: Table by the River by Dietmar Sawyere

Rating: ★★★★½

Table by the RiverIf the luscious cover complete with handsome man adorning Table by the River doesn’t immediately draw you in, the culinary story behind this internationally acclaimed chef will soon have you scrabbling to add his gorgeous book to your collection – for it’s not just an impressive array of recipes Dietmar Sawyere shares in this beautifully presented book.

Filled with musings on a lifetime of incredible culinary roles from Chef Saucier to an inaugural member of the Singapore Airlines International Culinary Panel, Sawyere’s impressive career spans an award-winning arc through some of the world’s best hotels and restaurants – from London through Asia and into the Antipodes, with some of his finest achievements being founded in both Australia and New Zealand.

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Cookbook Review: The Cook's Book of Ingredients

Rating: ★★★★½

I’ve always been a Dorling Kindersley fan. The intense research, the clear, concise, comprehensive offering of information, the focus on visual splendour… they just stand alone. DK books are always a feast for anyone intent on learning, growing, expanding and conquering… and there’s probably nowhere more popular for the desire to divide and conquer than the kitchen.

Part of the joy of cooking is understanding the ingredients and how they can best be diced, julienned, filleted and stored. The Cook’s Book of Ingredients is therefore a priceless foodie bible for even the most accomplished of cooks, providing a whopping 544 pages of essential information from buying and preserving to cooking and eating.

Opening with Fish & Seafood, readers will learn all about fish essentials and structure, as well as how to gut, scale and fillet a fish (yes, there are pictures), cut steaks from large fish, even which tools are best for all these jobs. Then comes the fun part – the cooking, with instructions on pan-frying, poaching, steaming, grilling and roasting.

Next are comprehensive notes on fish varieties (again with helpful pictures), superbly accompanied by classic recipes that keep all fishy requirements in one spot… you’ve gutted, filleted and prepped your cod – now you can make deep-fried cod and chips!

Shellfish are also included, as are dried, smoked, salted and other preserved seafood products, making this chapter remarkably comprehensive.

But wait, there’s more. All following chapters are given the same treatment – with a chapter on Meats of every kind, including offal, followed by Vegetables (divided into helpful subchapters such as Roots and Tubers), Herbs, Nuts and Seeds, Spices, Eggs, Dairy (so many cheeses!), Fruit, Grains Rice Pasta and Noodles, and finally – Oils Vinegars and Flavourings.  I mean, just about anything you can ingest is included in this book.

The Cook’s Book of Ingredients is certainly as comprehensive as it is inspiring and informative, and the best part of it all is that readers of all cooking levels can take what they need from its pages, and use the book as a one-stop page-turning shop for how-tos across the culinary chopping board.

The detail in this book is so well appreciated – from learning more about endangered fish to historical and cultural references. But the real highlight is the fact that unusual, oftentimes unheard-of foods are covered, making this an educational book as well as a helpful and totally enjoyable one.

Visual splendour is also a real treat – with DK’s signature photographs accompanying almost every paragraph. It’s clear the team behind this book worked phenomenally hard to put the pages together – and it shows.

If you love food or love to cook, this is a must-have for any kitchen worth its salt. Or pepper.

Title: The Cook’s Book of Ingredients
Category: Cookbook
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
ISBN: 9781405353182
RRP: A$60
Publication Date: 22/11/2010

Cookbook Review: India The Cookbook

Rating: ★★★★½

When I first took India The Cookbook and lifted it up, the first thing that struck me was the weight. Many fat, tome-like cookbooks (and there are many of late) are like poured concrete, making cooking from them a bit of a task and reading them on the couch the equivalent of a six-year-old on your lap.

India is light. Very light. Curiously light. On inner-inspection, I soon noticed this is because of the paper used inside – a blending of lightweight glossy pages for the photos, and the most divine, almost rice paper-like coloured pages for the recipes. And I like it. This book is over 800 pages long and pages even a few gsm thicker would have been nightmarish.

But does this paper lessen the quality of the book? No, it doesn’t. The paper may be thin but it’s not fragile and it’s actually a pleasure to flick. The thicker, glossy pages containing recipe photos give the book the colour and vim all good cookbooks should give their reader – so this blend is as satisfying as a perfectly balanced bouquet garni.

Being that it’s over 800 pages of spicy deliciousness, where on earth do I begin with this book? How about the beginning? The cover, reminiscent of the front of a hessian bag of Indian rice, is just gorgeous and seriously inviting to the reader. The opening matt, rice paper style pages are also stunning, taking India’s flag colours of orange, white and red (well, the orange is sort of more of a red, but then the book was printed in Italy…) and using them most effectively on the stamped ‘labels’ outlining each chapter.

The book is broken into several sections, starting with a brief and fascinating history of Indian food and a section on the rold of Ayurveda in Indian cooking. Ayurveda is a form of Hindu medicine that focuses on the meridians and balance of the body, and matches certain food types to body types. We are also treated to a glorious expedition through the food regions of India and their particularly delicacies, from Kashmir through Punjab and Rajasthan to Agra, Delhi and Bengal.

There are notes on how to eat an Indian meal – perfect for those wanting an authentic experience and also notes on the recipes before we’re launched into spice. And plenty of it. Oh the glory! Here is an entire section dedicated to the machinations and magic of blending spice, making the front part of India alone a must-have resource for lovers of Indian food.

There’s garam masala, kotu podi, karepaku karam and valsadi masala dry blends, but the chapter is also dedicated to other Indian meal accompaniments like pastes (coconut, ginger, fried onion to name a few), paneer (a sort of solid yoghurty cheese) and syrups, all printed on pale green paper.

We then move on to pickles, chutneys and raitas (oh the glory!), now printed on yellow paper, for easy divisional reference, and the variety on offer is astounding, from savoury to sweet. Next is a section on snacks and appetisers from skewered pumpkin to onion fritters and fried lentil dumplings. Yes, samosas are here – and you couldn’t get them more authentic.

In main dishes, we’re treated to a boggling variety of dishes, many of which are vegetarian, so those who baulk at the idea of sinking their teeth into a chop will be in vege heaven. There are hundreds of recipes here, but suffice to say your classic vindaloos and tandooris are present, among many other amazing treats – many most of us have never heard before. This is Indian cooking at its most authentic, that’s for sure, and author Pant has done an incredible job of cataloguing this collection. It’s probably true when the publisher says this is the only Indian cookbook you would ever need.

Not all recipes show photographs, but a nice, hand-picked selection appears throughout the chapters, to break up the colour-coded pages. The photos are authentically styled and studded with their lovely price-sticker labels and will undoubtedly make your mouth water, most especially the sections dedicated to breads (hallelujah! there’s naan, poori, paratha, roti, bhakri, phulka, chapaati and more) and desserts, which will stun you with their diversity – rice flour dumplings in sweet milk, syrup-soaked pancakes, pistachio ice cream, puddings, biscuits, yoghurts, drinks, tea – it’s all here. Rice dishes are also covered from sweet to savoury.

Rounding our this culinary and very spicy masterpiece is a Guest Chefs section featuring signature dishes from some of the best Indian chefs from around the world, a detailed glossary will keep you fully prepped and the very clever directory listing where to buy more elusive Indian ingredients, will keep you fully stocked.

Mouthwatering. I’m off to rustle up some dahl.

Title: India The Cookbook
Author: Pushpesh Pant
Category: Cookbook
Publisher: Phaidon
ISBN: 9780714859026
RRP: A$69.95
Publication Date: 25/10/2010

Cookbook Review: Cook Like an Italian by Tobie Puttock

Rating: ★★★★☆

Tobie Puttock is well-known for his passion for Italian cuisine but this time, he has really outdone himself. This is not just a cookbook, it is an Italian experience, one that is personal to Puttock.

The result of a six-week trip to immerse himself in the Italian way of life, beginning in Venice and heading south, Cook Like an Italian is as much a memento of his time in Italy as it is a cookbook.

And that in itself sums up Italy, does it not? Sharing not just food around the table, but stories and a passion for life.

Puttock introduces his latest book with his philosophy towards Italian food, explaining that although he puts his own twist on many of these traditional recipes, he also likes to stick with the basics. He says, “Italian cuisine is already perfect.”

But don’t expect another book filled with lasagne and pizza. This is much fresher than that.

Cook Like an Italian is broken into cities and towns, rather than courses, and each section contains entrees, mains and desserts (in an informal sense; the courses are not broken down as such).

First we have Venezia (Venice) and a feast fit for a king, filled with bruschetta, pasta and traditional ragu, followed by semifreddo. Next up is Ponte di Legno, a village tucked away in the Italian Alps (you might hear a sigh of longing from this reviewer at this point), with its soups, gnocchi, risotto and rosti.

Then comes Milano with lots of vegetables and cuts of meat, with a light sorbet or delicious chocolate truffles to finish. Parma gives us salads and desserts, Genoa seafood and an abundance of fresh produce, and Lucca its own style of gnocchi and range of meats.

Then we come to my personal favourite – Firenze (Florence). This city, in the picturesque region of Tuscany, is famous for its food and Puttock shares the best bits with us. Soups, pastas and salads abound, with beautifully modern and fresh desserts the finishing touch.

Onwards we go, to Panzano’s homemade sausages, Ascoli Piceno’s rabbit, boar and oxtail, Roma’s huge variety (if only we could reach in and grab some gelato to finish this off with), and finishing with a smorgasbord of fish in Napoli.

Each town has its own story, a series of Puttock experiences, which are shared with us along the way.

And, of course, there is the photography. Each section contains stunning photographs that are as much a feature of the book as the recipes themselves. Modern food styling and awe-inspiring shots of each town complete the experience that Puttock is sharing with us.

Luckily for many of us, practicalities have not been forgotten. Ingredients that are harder to source are explained or given alternatives for, and dietary requirements are also catered for.

If you’ve ever wanted to travel through Italy, or if you’re been and want to relive it all, this book will take you there. This is one stunning collection of recipes that will sit among the classics in your cookbook collection.

Title: Cook Like an Italian
Author: Tobie Puttock
Category: Cookbook
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 9781921382192
RRP: A$49.95RRP
Publication Date: 27 September 2010

Cookbook Review: The Sam Stern Series

Rating: ★★★★☆

I first had the pleasure of reviewing young Sam Stern’s Eat Vegetarian (see AWO’s review here) back in June and I must admit, I was instantly hooked. Publishing his first book at the age of 14 (okay, with a little help from his mum), this young food-lover has released an astonishing five books – and he’s still a teen!

Cooking up a Storm, his inaugural book, was released in 2005, quickly followed by Real Food, Real Fast in 2006. In 2007, he put out Get Cooking, followed by Sam Stern’s Student Cookbook in 2008. In 2010, after a short and well deserved-break! he put our Sam Stern’s Eat Vegetarian – perfect for an increasing population of young people who are turning to vegetarian food.

But Stern’s books are not just for young people. Indeed, anyone in need of inspiration will surely be chocked to the gills with culinary motivation when they open this young lad’s books. His passion for food and cooking floods every page.

In his first book, Cooking Up A Storm, the [very] young Sam has subheaded this tome ‘the teen survival cookbook’. What does that mean? Well, it means that inside you’ll find a gaggle of specially-written recipes for kids, just like Sam, who love to cook.

The intro is mouth-watering in itself. In it, we learn why Sam likes cooking – “…the feel of pastry, the smell of melting chocolate and fresh bread… the sound of a fry-up or popcorn exploding… I like it that you’re in touch with your good when you do things yourself…” And indeed, he does.

Inside, kids will be shown how to make brilliant breakfasts, cool and quick lunches, school ‘recovery’ snacks, evening chill-out food, even dishes that will impress the girls. There’s also puddings, party food, exam survival nosh, weekend family meals and what to have when your mates are round.

I love how Sam pads this book out with a chapter called ‘essential extras’ and ‘top tips’ which encourage young cooks to make it work.

In Real Food, Real Fast, Sam appears on the Jamie-Oliver-endorsed cover – and he’s starting to grow up. His second book features really cool tabs that separate the recipes into quick-find sections – 5 minute, 10 minute, 15 minute, 20 minute and 30 minute meals.

Yes, mum, you better believe it (and don’t you want to borrow your kids’s cookbook right now?!). For fast results or those with a short attention span, this book is great for young cooks on the run. There is also a helpful section on leftovers, essential extras and a shopping list.

Ok – so what can you make in 5 minutes? Plenty! Several cool variations on toast, for one. There’s also smoothies and shakes, fruit yoghurt combos, nifty fruit and veg and fast fish options.

Next up on the plate – Get Cooking - focuses on friendship. The book is peppered with sections on what Sam’s friends best love to eat.

In Tomatoes, we meet Jess who loves to eat well – so it’s no surprise this chapter is dedicated to her. Sam talks about how tomatoes are vital for the immune system, eyes and skin (who needs makeup!?) and follows the intro with plenty of ways this humble fruit can be used, from bruschetta to soup, tarts and sauces.

Other chapters include Cheese, Meat, Veg, Potatoes, Pasta, Chocolate and Sweet Stuff – all featuring a friend and all resplendant with deliciousness. The dishes are both simplistic and sophisticated yet totally do-able – a really nice blending that will allow kids the confidence to do something a little ‘out there’.

Recipes include roast pork with apples and trimming, sweet potato gnocchi, whole orange cake, sherbet lemon jelly, spinach avocado and bacon salad, mushroom curry and sleepover breakfast brioche (oozing with chocolate).

In Sam Stern’s Student Cookbook, parents can rest easy as send their kids off to uni – simply hand over spare socks and undies, a wad of cash and this book. Endorsed by none other than Gordon Ramsay (this kid has friends in hot places!), this smaller format book is jammed with easy-to-make but highly creative and nutritious meals that will impress mates and girls and lecturers alike, which still keeping your child’s teeth in their head and immune system functioning.

There is also a heavy focus on foods that offer brain empowering effects – perfect for long hours of study. Once again, the book opens with encouraging, totally-kid-relatable advice on cooking before being sliced up into useful sections from Equipment and Storecupboard, through Basic Techniques, snacks, eggs, soups, pasta and pizza, noodles, rice, grains, lentils, meat, fish, salads, puddings, cakes and breads – it’s all here. Well-rounded and most-importantly, mighty attractive to young adults.

The book’s recipes are given a Legend treatment with small markers on how many it feeds, how cost-effective it is, whether it’s a vegetarian meal and if it’s fast to cook, and accompanying photos bring everything to life.

All Stern’s books are packed with cool dude photos of kids doing their thing. The photos are not overly stylised, meaning kids are not alienated – and nothing is made a fuss of – equally important.

Unpretentious, simple, straightforward and totally unintimidating, if this doesn’t get your kids cooking, I’ll be a monkey’s toasted sanger. This series is all about encouraging independence and competence in the kitchen – and also encourages kids to eat well and make something of a gourmet – as opposed to pig – of themselves.

I hear you, parents. Perfect.

Learn more about Sam Stern’s Eat Vegetarian here.

Title: Cooking up a Storm
Author: Sam Stern
Category: Cookbook
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 9781844287741
RRP: A$24.95RRP
Publication Date: 1 November 2005

Title: Real Food, Real Fast
Author: Sam Stern
Category: Cookbook
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406302493
RRP: A$24.95RRP
Publication Date: 1 October 2006

Title: Get Cooking
Author: Sam Stern
Category: Cookbook
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406305609
RRP: A$24.95RRP
Publication Date: 1 October 2007

Title: Sam Stern’s Student Cookbook
Author: Sam Stern
Category: Cookbook
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406308181
RRP: A$24.95RRP
Publication Date: 15 October 2008

Title: Sam Stern’s Eat Vegetarian
Author: Sam Stern
Category: Cookbook
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406319750
RRP: A$24.95RRP
Publication Date: 1 June 2010

Cookbook Review: OMG! I Can Eat That? by Jane Kennedy

Rating: ★★★☆☆

A big fan of Jane Kennedy’s first cookbook, Fabulous Food Minus the Boombah, I was thrilled to see her second book hit the shelves. And I spent a week devoted to this new book, to check if it’s as good as the first.

What I loved about her first book was the simple, yet flavoursome and gorgeously presented, recipes that make eating at home even simpler than picking up takeaway. I loved that she had taken recipes such as Beef Vindaloo and removed the high fat content. Foods that were once the occasional, ‘naughty’ treat were transformed to become regular favourites in our household.

And Kennedy’s latest offering, OMG! I Can Eat That? contains more of these gems.

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