Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Best Australian Cookbooks Nos 6 to 11 - Part III

Good morning. Nice foggy morning in Melbourne. Here is my completed list of best Australian cookbooks. (Oh I see it is 11 not 10. I can't cut it down!)

No 6: Maggie's Harvest by Maggie Beer (2007).

Why: Maggie Beer is a wonderful cook, writer, produce enthusiast based in the Barrossa Valley in South Australia who is a stalwart of the Australian food industry. She champions local, fresh seasonal ingredients and has singlehandedly revised the fortunes of verjuice, quince paste and preserved lemons in Australia.

I haven't always warmed to her books but this is a lovely compendium of recipes divided into season and item, and includes sections on more unusual ingredients such as rabbit, offal and celeriac. My daughter and I often watch her show (the Cook and Chef, you can watch it on line) and in 2007 I was lucky enough to visit her shop at Pheasant Farm where I bought this book and had Maggie autograph it for my daughter. (The message says 'Always love cooking!')

Favourite recipes: leek and pancetta tart (made with her foolproof sour cream pastry) and pasta with braised witlof and radicchio.

No 7 - The Cooks Companion by Stephanie Alexander (1996, reprinted in 2004)

Why: Stephanie is a Melbourne Maggie Beer (they are apparently good friends) but perhaps more prolific. A self taught cook she has owned restaurants, been an educator, writer and general ambassador for food and good cooking for decades (her current passion is kitchen gardens for children). This is an alphabetical listing of ingredients from A to Z. If you have some eggplant and need to do something interesting with it, this is the place I start. This is an incredibly comprehensive book.

As Stephanie's website says "For each ingredient there is information on varieties, season, selection, storage, preparation and cooking, as well as recipes and quick cooking ideas." There are also very helpful 'margin' notes, setting out simpler recipes and what other items 'go with' that ingredient. Stephanie's training as a librarian really comes to the fore here. Although it runs to in excess of 1000 pages this is a tightly edited and organised book. If you don't own it you must rush out and buy it now.

Favourite recipes: pears cooked in the manner of Savoy. She also has some great silverbeet recipes (current passion). And lots and lots of useful basics, herb pilaffs, lemon risotto, all kinds of warm salads, supper dishes like Welsh Rarebit, and the very best pavlova recipe around (I recall Nigella picked this up in one of her books).

No 8 - Good Food by Neil Perry (2007)

Why: another Neil book. This is a bit more accessible than the other two listed, a bit more straightforward to cook but still covers the gamut of traditional French to Asian to modern now dishes. Again his writing is clear and enthusiastic and you will find that you cook many many recipes from this book, not just a few.

Favourite recipe: Crispy skin salmon with braised chickpeas, potato, pancetta and chestnut soup, garam masala braised chicken, duck cooked with white beans.

No 9 - the Food I love by Neil Perry (2004)

Why: this is a more encyclopaedic cookbook than the usual fare from Neil Perry. It has a longer introductory section, and is divided into cooking styles and ingredients - rice and pasta, soup, breakfast (great bircher muesli and zucchini fritter recipes), sandwiches, meats (barbequeing, braising, roasting), seafood, sauces vegetables etc.

Favourite recipes: cinnamon scented lamb with pumpkin puree, butterflied chicken with ricotta and garlic stuffing.

No 10 - Bill's Food by Bill Granger (2002)

Why: Bill's is a great series of Sydney brunch restaurants. He's a nice smiley guy. He has parlayed low tech cooking skills into a great brand. Simple, elegant, summery dishes. Yes I was a bit mean about him in a recent post, but this is the cookbook to take on holiday to your rented beach house, if you are that lucky. Few ingredients, nice fresh approach, relatively concentration free cooking.

No 11 - Thai Food by David Thompson (2002)

Why: the fact that this book is bound in bright pink Thai silk and opens with a 116 page history of the food of Thailand gives you an idea of the ambition and style of this book. This is probably the most comprehensive book on Thai food in English. It is scholarly and uncompromising. The fact it is written by an Australian who (I believe) now lives in London makes it all the more amazing. It has a whole section on 'Food Outside the Meal' (street vendor foods), accompaniments (chilli jam etc), curries, essential ingredients, desserts and so on.

There have been complaints about the complexity of the recipes and the hard to find ingredients. I haven't found this but then I haven't cooked from it nearly as much as I should.

The point is that if you want to get to grips with real Thai cooking, and taste the food you have experienced in Thailand and which is so hard to find, these are the recipes to turn to to get that depth and sophistication of flavour. To quote a review on Amazon 'I'm amazed that this dude has done anything with his life but written this book'.

Favourite recipes: curried Chiang Mai chicken noodles.


Anonymous said...

The last thing I need is another cookbook but these are so tempting!

Laura said...

I love this post, I feel that you can find out so much about people (who cook) by looking at their cookbook collections! I am coveting all of these, but here in American many of them are quite pricey...sigh, I'll just have to save up.

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