Cookbook Reviews – An Overdue Look at Some Inspiring Reads

by Amanda McInerney on 24/03/2014

It seems I’ve been so busy of late that I’ve neglected one of my favourite areas of food – cookbooks! I’ve amassed quite a little cache of them over the last few months and it’s time to take a look at a few of my favourites.

Not resting on her laurels after the best-selling and award-winning success of her first cookbook on South Australian show cooks, The Blue Ribbon Cookbook, Liz Harfull has followed it up with  The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook (Allen & Unwin). Hitting the road, Liz has travelled around the country meeting and eating with some of the hundreds of amateur cooks who enter the 600 or so agricultural shows across Australia each year.

Sticking with the format that saw The Blue Ribbon cookbook named runner-up in Paris in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards against finalists from more than 50 countries, this charming book is full of the stories of real food heroes. These are the (mostly, but not exclusively) women who keep the country cooking tradition alive and well all around Australia.

Sharing recipes based on tradition, experience and strict judging standards we meet the faces behind the Tupperware containers, discovering their passion, history and stories. Each featured cook shares a prizewinning recipe and each is accompanied by tips from the cook and tips from the judges. The book is full of the sort of food that memories are made of and is, quite simply, a joy to flick through. I couldn’t help but smile at the warmth, wisdom and generosity of these cooks. I doubt I’ll ever attempt to win a blue ribbon, but I’m damn sure I’ll be able to make a decent sponge because of this book!

I imagine that quite few of the prize-winning cooks interviewed in Liz Harfull’s book first found their cooking mojo in home economics classes, clutching a copy of The Commonsense Cookery Book (Harper Collins) in their hot little hands. Celebrating it’s centenary this year, this kitchen/classroom bible was first compiled by a group of dedicated NSW cookery teachers and has sold over one million copies over the years.

This new Centenary Edition comes beautifully boxed with a companion notebook and a new introduction, plus historical information. The format is clean and simple, setting out step-by-step recipes from basics up to more complex dishes and would be the perfect gift for any novice cook (or any domestically-challenged young adult that you might eventually manage to elbow out of the house). The contents include tips on measurements, cookery terms, and dietary guidelines and also has a handy list of basic kitchen equipment.

I couldn’t resist making a comparison between this new edition and a 1941 copy of the same book I had handy (as one does ;-) ). No prizes for guessing that the list of kitchen equipment has changed a bit – it seems not many of us need a blancmange mould, pudding basins or an asbestos mat these days.

delicious. Love To Cook (ABC Books, Harper Collins) is ABC delicious. food director Valli Little’s eighth book. I last reviewed one of Valli’s great books back in January of last year (crumbs!) and still stick by what I said then. She really does deliver when it comes to fresh, interesting food without too much fiddling or fuss.

This new book is just the thing for any of us who are at risk of becoming just a little jaded with the whole kitchen thing. The drudgery of churning out interesting meals day in and day out can get quite old and Love To Cook reminds me that I, in fact, do like to cook. A lot of the dishes particularly appeal to me because they take what can be a simple, basic dish and give it a gee-up with just a couple of special, but not obscure, ingredients – just the way I like to cook.

Valli shares clever twists on quick weekday meals, along with admirable ideas for entertaining and some inspired suggestions for menu combinations. The book includes some stunning photography and all of the recipes I’ve tried so far have been delicious and worked out exactly as expected – not something that you can guarantee with a lot of cookbooks.

Buy this book for yourself if you need a little extra inspiration – you won’t be disappointed.

Supercharged Food: Eat Yourself Beautiful (Murdoch Books) by Lee Holmes is the kind of book we all need tucked on our cookbook shelves somewhere. While it’s always nice to indulge, it is very useful to be reminded that there are just as many healthy ways to great tasting food as there are, shall we say, less nutritionally sound ways.

The author, Lee Holmes, was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2006 and set out on a quest to heal herself through her diet using nutritionally rich, anti-inflammatory “super-foods”. The book contains over 100 beautifully photographed, simple and inspiring recipes – many of them free from gluten, wheat, dairy, yeast and sugar. All are delicious, easy to follow and aimed at helping the reader to jump-start their immune system and boost energy levels using potent antioxidants and nutrient dense foods.

I’m a long-time devotee of fat and carbs, but while flicking through the pages of this newly released book I found myself muttering “yum” and “oh wow” more than once or twice, bookmarking things like Cannellini Bean & Walnut Pate and Creamy Leek & Parsley Soup.

Buy this book if you are feeling a little guilty about your diet – then be inspired by some truly delicious and healthy recipes.

If the constant flow of alarming nutritional claims about food and the damaging effects of our diets are sending you into anxiety attacks every time you do the shopping then Wholehearted Food (UQP) by Brenda Fawdon is probably just the cookbook you’ve been looking for. Brenda founded Mondo Organics, the first licensed organic restaurant in Australia, and its immensely popular cooking school. She is passionate about using organic, unrefined and sustainable produce to create simple, nourishing and flavoursome meals.

Again, this is another cookbook which richly demonstrates that healthy, wholesome food is also exciting, delicious and easy to prepare. Brenda gives us sections on sourcing sustainable provisions and cooking with sustainable seafood and meat. She also shares how to prepare some whole-food basics and a tempting dessert selection with a strong focus on chocolate, showing that she is certainly no wowser when it comes to enjoying food. What she does stress is the fact that we all have a choice about what we put in our mouths. She’s not afraid of the odd calorie, but likes them to count, preferring her food to be as close to its natural state as possible and grown with integrity.

Buy this book if you are looking to change the way you eat and want to explore a healthier way of life.

All of the above books were supplied to Lambs’ Ears and Honey as review copies by the publishers.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lizzy (Good Things) March 24, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Love the Blue Ribbon Cookbook… and the Commonsense Cookbook, though I have a 1970s version!

Mel @ The cook's notebook March 25, 2014 at 9:49 am

you’re the second person recently to rave about the Blue Ribbon Cookbook. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. And also for Supercharged Foods – both look great!

I gave Brenda’s book to my SIL for her birthday with the intent of borrowing it back – must get onto that :)

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef March 25, 2014 at 10:43 am

I want the Commonsense Cookbook. My mother always said I didn’t have any. :) That and the Blue Ribbon book are on my wish list now.

Hotly Spiced March 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm

That’s a great display of books. I would like to have the Blue Ribbon Cookbook in my collection but the Eat Yourself Beautiful also sounds very interesting. I have finding the time to browse through new cookbooks – it’s therapeutic and very inspiring xx

InTolerant Chef March 26, 2014 at 11:18 am

I love cookbooks. I love the whole tactile experience of holding and flicking through real pages, and even the history of sauce splashes marking a family favourite :)

Anna Johnston March 26, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Love cookbooks, haven’t purchased one in a very long time tho. Would love a Squiz at your collection, really need inspiration for a cooking comp I’m participating in next month. Thanks for the reminder to get back to my collections. Happy Wednesday to you. :)

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