Divine Vegan Desserts

divine-veganWickedly indulgent, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, decadent – these are not words that I usually associate with vegan food.  The words wholesome, nutritious and healthy are more likely to spring to my mind in association with this particular dietary regime – and don’t the latter descriptors actually preclude the former?  Read on, dear friend, because I might just have been wrong!   To be perfectly honest, I have always found the concept of veganism (or any restrictive form of diet) a little confronting – cutting myself off from entire food groups is not something that this greedy girl could ever contemplate.  So when a copy of Wakefield PressDivine Vegan Desserts” found it’s way into my inbox for reviewing I was a little unsure how to approach it.

Well, it turned out that was simple.  It seems that finishing off a meal with a sweet treat is not out of the reach of those who are endeavouring to make a switch to a healthier lifestyle (and even those who aren’t) and after a quick flick through these lavishly illustrated recipes I was making a list of what I would make first!  Many will be relieved to know that vegans don’t proscribe chocolate and the recipes, all dairy and egg-free, with many gluten free, low sugar and nut-free choices, are enough to lift the spirits of any dessert-lover and go a long way towards redeeming the reputation of the dessert course.

Apparently, most vegan recipe books are from overseas and contain ingredients which can be difficult to source here in Australia.  Author Lisa Fabry avoids the use of these and explains clearly and simply how to make brilliant dairy free desserts with ingredients many of us will already have on hand – or at least be able to source easily.  Fabry originates from London, but now lives in Adelaide indulging her two great passions – food and yoga. She shares her own dishes, plus a selection of vegan desserts being created by chefs in cafes, restaurants and cooking classes from around the world.

The book begins with a guide to the key ingredients in vegan baking, some baking tips and how to substitute natural colours for artificial in your cooking.  It is divided up into chapters covering baking, tarts, pies, puddings, fruit dishes, ice creams and sorbets, custards and creamy desserts and small treats, with each dish beautifully photographed.  The range of desserts is extensive and covers everything from wickedly indulgent Double Fudge Pecan Brownies, to decadent melt-in-your-mouth Banoffi Tarts and a traditional creamy, custardy trifle.  I challenge anyone to resist these dishes – they look, er, divine!

Lime Tart

I road tested a couple of the recipes – the Las Vegan Sour Cherry Muffins and (in a diversion from my usually predictable preference for chocolate) the refreshing Lime Tart.  The muffins rose perfectly and were deliciously moist and sticky, without being too sweet, but the Lime Tart was the absolute winner.  It was so quick to make, with at-hand ingredients and has a delicious zesty zing to it.  I’d happily serve it to anyone as a dinner party dessert – even those who are cynical of raw foods.  This would certainly change their minds.

I can’t say this book would convert me – I still find veganism far too restrictive and just a little confusing – but it certainly is proof that a vegan diet can have plenty of indulgence in it.  Divine Vegan Desserts is perfect for those who are interested in pursuing a healthier diet, but reluctant to give up on their sweet tooth.

Delicious Home Cooking by Valli Little

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ABC delicious. magazine has been a part of my life since it first came out in 2001.  It seemed to herald a new era in Australian food publications with it’s fresh photography and modern, exciting, but accessible recipes that didn’t require a trip to the gourmet store for every dish.  Each new month I was thrilled to find at least several dishes that I couldn’t wait to make and many of my back issues are still littered with bookmarks for dishes that I particularly enjoyed or never quite got around to before the next issue was released.

Highly esteemed home economist, food writer and chef, Valli Little, has been there every step of the way too.  English-born Valli came to Australia on a working holiday after studying at London’s Le Cordon Bleu and, like many English roses before her, fell in love with the sun, the lifestyle and a bloke. Her experiences as a food consultant, banqueting manager, gourmet store owner and private chef for the great and glorious back in England give her an enviable depth and breadth of insight into all aspects of food – as her name on the covers of all seven of ABC delicious. magazine bestselling cookbooks will attest.

“Home Cooking” is the most recent of these and continues the tradition of fresh, flavoursome, but not too fiddly recipes for the home cook.  In this edition, Valli gives us a hint of what goes on in her own kitchen as she shares her favourite recipes to cook at home along with her tips to turn a family classic into a cover-worthy meal without too much fuss.  Usefully, the content is divided into seasons as well as the different courses within each season and each recipe is as reliable, approachable and achievable as we’ve come to expect from this passionate and much-loved adoptee.   The book contains everything from tropical treats with a twist like the Coconut & Mango Tarts with Chilli Syrup,  to inspired, but simple tweaks like the Wasabi Pancakes with Smoked Trout or the velvety and indulgent Honey Pots de Creme – and, of  course, each dish is accompanied by lavish, full-colour photgraphy.

Chocolate Cheesecake with Cocoa Nib Cream

When casting my (often vacant) mind around for an acceptable dessert to serve to a visiting friend who is renowned for her stunning, sweet cookery  I recalled earmarking something in “Home Cooking” for a special occasion.  I don’t suppose you’ll be at all surprised to know that it was a Chocolate Cheesecake with Cocoa Nib Cream.  This seriously indulgent treat is an excellent example of the recipes offered in the book –  dependable, simple, but a bit special, too.  It really ticked all the boxes for everyone and was so simple to make – another winner in a long line of them for Valli Little and ABC delicious. magazine.

A wickedly rich chocolate cheesecake that is bound to impress anyone who is lucky to get some. Don’t forget the cocoa nibs – they give an added dimension with their crunch.

Chocolate Cheesecake with Cocoa Nib Cream

2 x 150 gm pkts Oreo biscuits (or similar)
125 gm unsalted butter, melted then cooled
250 gm cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups (500 gm) mascarpone
1/3 cup (75 gm) caster sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup (50 gm) cocoa
100 gm dark chocolate, melted then cooled
1 Tbs chocolate liqueur (optional)
1 cup (120 gm) cocoa nibs, plus extra to serve
300 ml thickened cream, lightly whipped

Grease and line 24cm springform cake pan.
Whizz biscuits in processor to fine crumbs. Add butter, pulse to combine, then press into the base of the cake pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 170C.
Wipe out processor (no need to wash). Place cream cheese, mascarpone and caster sugar in machine, whizz to combine. Add eggs, combine, then add cocoa, chocolate and liqueur. Process until smooth. Add half the cocoa nibs, pulse to combine, then spread filling over chilled biscuit base.
Bake 45-50 minutes until cake is firm to the touch, but slightly wobbly. Turn off oven and cool cheesecake in oven with door ajar. Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight before serving.
Fold remaining cocoa nibs into whipped cream. Pile on top of cheesecake and serve sprinkled with extra nibs.

I’ve found my thrill, on Berry Hill

Quite a few cookbooks come across my desk these days and I just love them all.  To my mind cookbooks and books about food are a little like chocolate – there’s no such thing as too much.  Of course, my favourites are the simpler, more fresh/local food based books – and anything that references chocolate in any way at all – rather than anything too fancy or too demanding.  I’m still very lazy, and keeping things simple works well for a lazy girl.  The latest book I’ve seen which ticks all of these local/fresh boxes for me and appeals very much on a personal level is “Berry Hill – stories and recipes from Beeerenberg Farm” by Grant Paech (Wakefield Press).

I guess my personal investment in this book comes from the fact that Wakefield Press is a local Adelaide publishing house of whom, I believe, all South Australians should be very proud,  Beerenberg Farm is geographically very local to me (a five minute drive) and my family is a significant consumer of their products.  Sections of my fridge or pantry shelves are suggestive of a supermarket shelf with an embarrassingly wide selection of the familiar heritage green and gold labels.  A testament to the fact that I don’t preserve as much as I ought perhaps, but I prefer to think of it more as an indication of the quality and diversity of the Beerenberg range.

Beerenberg Farm is a major South Australian family-owned and run business that grows strawberries on land acquired six generations ago.  They have become our ambassador to the world  whose sweet little jars of jam are a welcome reminder of home and can be found on tray tables in the air and on breakfast tables in the swishest hotels in Asia.  “Berry Hill” is the story of the simple beginnings of an Adelaide Hills dairy farm and how it morphed into a major tourist attraction and a commercial success producing a range of 60 hand-crafted jams, marmalades and condiments which are now exported all over the world.

Written in the first person, Grant Paech tells his story in a genuinely warm, intimate style and accompanies the narrative with a lush selection of photo’s – many from the private family album.  He shares with us a little of the history of his family, his life growing up in the Hahndorf area of the Adelaide Hills, his courtship of his beloved wife Carol (who lovingly “guides me with advice so that one day I will become the perfect husband”) before moving on to the evolution of the family farm from a dairying property to South Australia’s largest publicly-accessed strawberry patch.   With lightness and humour, Grant recounts the beginnings of the jam business, all the way from the first batches cooked by himself in the family kitchen – as a prior ill-judged remark about Carol’s jam-making skills left him reluctant to broach the subject again – to the negotiations with senior international buyers which resulted in the little pots presence on my breakfast table in Hong Kong earlier this year.

The story rings with Grant’s entrepreneurial spirit as he successfully squared off to the inevitable challenges that arose with each stage of his planned developments, but never fails to acknowledge the contribution of his staff, some of whom have been with Beerenberg for over 30 years.   These days Grant is beginning to take things a little more quietly as his three children, Anthony, Robert and Sally take over the reins of a family business that was inducted into the Family Business (SA) Hall of Fame and the South Australian Food Industry Hall of Fame in 2010 and was named 2011 Telstra South Australian Business of the Year.

Interspersed with this remarkable success story are useful hints on the choosing, storage and usage of fresh strawberries – 70 tonnes of which were produced on the farm last season and 5 tonnes of which were picked by the public –  and the second part of the book contains a large and luscious collection of recipes supplied by local Adelaide Hill chefs using both fresh strawberries, plus  various Beerenberg products.  This is one of my favourites as I always have a jar of Beerenberg Caramelised Onions stashed on the shelf and, with bought pastry, it can be whipped up in no time at all.

Beerenberg Caramelised Onion, Goats Cheese & Cherry Tomato Tart

Author: Tyson, of the Hahndorf Inn
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 55 mins
Total time: 1 hour 5 mins
Serves: 6
Perfect for a light lunch & easy to whip up quickly with a few pantry staples
  • Shortcrust pastry (home made or shop bought)
  • 5 eggs
  • 400 mls pouring cream
  • 300 gms goats cheese
  • 180 gms cherry tomatoes
  • 250 gms Beerenberg Caramelised Onions
  • 5 sprigs of thyme, rinsed, leaves stripped
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 170C.
  2. Grease and line 20 cm tart tin with the rolled out short pastry. Line pastry with baking paper & fill base with pastry weights or dried beans.
  3. Blind bake pastry for 10-15 minutes until golden.
  4. Remove paper & weights, lightly brush pastry with one beaten egg, return base to oven for 2 minutes, just to set egg.
  5. Crumble goats cheese into tart shell, spread caramelised onion over cheese.
  6. Whisk remaining eggs and cream together with salt, pepper & thyme, then pour gently into tart case.
  7. Cut cherry tomatoes in half & dot them on top of tart.
  8. Bake around 35-40 minutes, until tart is set and golden.

This is a story of an iconic Australian family business and a tribute to the spirit which accompanied the early German Lutheran immigrants to the Adelaide Hills – a spirit which lives on proudly in their now very Australian descendants.

Buy the book here…

Amanda McInerney blogs at Lambs’ Ears and Honey

Meet Annabel Langbein

One of New Zealand’s best known faces, Annabel Langbein is that country’s leading celebrity cook, food writer and publisher, the star of her own international TV series, a passionate advocate for using seasonal ingredients as a means to cooking and eating well and a member of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand.

Popularly known as The Free Range Cook, Annabel’s latest book, “Simple Pleasures”(Harper Collins Australia) invites her readers to take time out from their busy schedules to savour the honest tastes of fresh, quality, produce simply prepared.  This latest book features menu suggestions drawn from her latest TV series which will screen here in Australia later this year, but also takes a leap into the world of digital interaction with QR codes on many of the recipes linking the reader to a video on Annabel’s site of her making the recipe.

While Annabel’s face and food are familiar to many Australian cooks and food lovers, I suspect that parts of her background are not.  I was fascinated to hear about her early days embracing an alternative lifestyle and hunting for her own food.  Annabel was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me so that we could all get to know her a little better so, my lovely readers – meet Annabel Langbein!

Annabel, many of us were ignorant of your early lifestyle and career in live-deer recovery.  We’d love to know a little more about that.

When I was in my late teens I had a boyfriend who was very alternative – we were at the late end of the hippy movement really. We eschewed all the trappings of modern life and went to work as volunteers in a remote community up the Whanganui River – I describe quite a lot of this in a little essay on page 108 of my new book Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures.
I bought my first house with money I had made from trapping possums and jumping out of helicopters to recover live deer. But all the time right through I was cooking. I would come out of the bush with my leg of venison or brace of squab and get cooking. My mother had given me Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I was 14 – she knew I was a cook well before I did. And I cooked with this while I was living this wild outdoorsy life – quite a juxtaposition of a rough outdoor way of living and gourmet-style food!

When I came out of the bush (I had wrecked my knees and it was too hard a life) I went to work in a vineyard and managed that for a year and kept a big vege garden before I decided to study horticulture. I never thought to study food, as it was more of a trade – you had to go into the army or a trade school.

You’ve now published 19 cookbooks – a remarkable achievement by any measure. How did you go about that in the early days of your career?

In the 1990s I made a lot of money as a consultant to big food companies and at the same time I was writing a recipe column for a national magazine. One day I thought, “Why not make a cookbook of all my columns?” It didn’t enter my head to go to a publisher – I just always liked doing my own thing. And once I had done the first one I was hooked on the whole jigsaw puzzle of it, making it feel layered and whole. Since then I’ve made 18 more books, so my new book Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures is actually my 19th.

Really, though, it has been my television show Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook that has taken book sales to a whole new level. TV just exposes you to so many more people.

Your formatting and design is gorgeous – do you work on this yourself?

I am a control freak actually. I work with a designer and an editor to bring to life an idea I have in my head. An idea can be slowly evolving for about a year before it comes to life on the page.

Your recipes are always so very reliable – this is clearly important to you.

I realised very early that ensuring a recipe works and is failsafe is the single most important thing when you’re writing a recipe book. When readers cook a recipe and it doesn’t work they don’t think, “What a lousy cookbook”, they think they have failed and they lose confidence. For me, writing a recipe is a bit like making a map – you have to make sure that the list of ingredients is easily transformed into a yummy meal that looks like the photo, without getting lost on the journey.

You’ve been passionate about sustainability in food for a long time. Do you feel there is a generally growing interest in this?

There’s definitely a strong movement in New Zealand towards understanding where your food comes from and eating seasonally and locally. Farmers markets are popping up all over the place and lots of schools are developing their own gardening and cooking programmes. I think it’s a long-term trend not just in New Zealand and Australia but around the world, as more and more people discover the pleasures of growing and cooking food. In our increasingly industrialised society I think lots of us are looking for a way to feel connected to the earth and the world around us and our own communities – and cooking and sharing simple but delicious food is a great way to do that.

With so many accomplishments under your belt, how do you maintain your passion, inspiration and enthusiasm for food and cooking?

I just love what I do. I feel so lucky to be doing what I do and at the same time inspiring other people to come on the journey too. In a way food is a conduit – a thread that flows through all my work – but at the same time I have been learning about publishing and making television and new media and all these other skills. It’s a wonderful journey.

Amanda McInerney blogs at Lambs’ Ears and Honey

Review: The Food Clock by Fast Ed Halmagyi

Another cookbook made it’s way across my desk this week and this one is just a little bit different from the norm.  “The Food Clock”, by Fast Ed Halmagyi (Harper Collins), takes current fondness for the thoroughly sensible trend of eating seasonally and gives it quite a whimsical little twist that I’ve not really seen before.  Using the device of a fictional story featuring his alter-ego Monseuir Henri Petit-Pois whose discovery of a clock which tells what to eat rather than the time, Fast Ed walks us through the four seasons focusing on the peak produce for each one.

Fast Ed Halmagyi is well known in Australia as a chef, TV presenter, radio host and author, with three previous cookbooks under his belt.  The child of Hungarian parents, Fast Ed grew up on Hungarian cuisine, but is well known for his fondness for fresh, seasonal, produce prepared simply and easily.  This new book of his aims to help those of us who are responsible for the family meals move out of our cooking ruts and away from the same meals that we prepare over and over, encouraging us to take advantage of the bounty of each individual season.  At the same time, he wanted to give the whole cookbook format something of a gee-up, hence the novel approach of using a fanciful narrative format.

I’m not really sure that the story aspect of this book does it for me, although it is a pleasant new approach for the genre.  However, what does do it for me are the gorgeous photo’s, illustrations and styling of the book.  It is beautifully presented from the perfectly composed  and lit cover shot of a dapper and slightly brooding Fast Ed, to the delicate story illustrations and the rustic presentation and styling of the food.  And, let’s be honest, the food is what we’re really after.

Divided into Hot, Cool, Cold and Warm O’Clocks and the quarter-hour graduations, each of the “The Food Clock” sections features a selection of the seasonal produce available, but not quite in the order you might expect.  This can make specific recipes difficult to find, but that is what the index is for.  By setting the book out in this way, the reader (and cook) is encouraged to wander around the sections and is much more likely to be tempted to try something new to them, than if they were to head straight for the dish they wanted.  I think this is a gentle, but clever way to nudge us out of our staid cooking routines, opening our eyes to other meal-time  possibilities.

The recipes themselves are fresh, simple and delicious, featuring dishes such as Pan Roasted Duck  with (dried) Figs, Orange and Dandelion greens, Warm Camembert with Fricassee of  Mushrooms, Crispy Quail with Mandarin Salt and Apricot Stuffing, Cherry Pie and Honey Petit Pots de Creme – all of them just a teensy bit special, but well within the reach of any home cook and not requiring the purchase of ingredients which may never otherwise see the light of day.

There are also quite few baking recipes, including several breads.  I’ve been a little slack with my baking efforts of late so I decided to give one of Fast Ed’s bread recipes a whirl, knowing how much my family loves to come home on a cold evening to house smelling of fresh-baked bread.  I was a little sceptical as to how this recipe for the traditional French fougasse would turn out, but the end result was one of the most delicious and fluffiest breads I have made in ages – largely due, I suspect, to the long proving times.

Olive and Rosemary Fougasse

Recipe type: Bread

Author: Fast Ed Halmagyi

  • 500 gms strong bread flour (not ordinary plain flour)
  • 3/4 (5.5gms) sachet of dried yeast
  • 300 mls water
  • 50 gms rye flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 150 gms pitted green olives, chopped
  • 150 gms pitted black olives, chopped
  • leaves from 6 rosemary sprigs
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Combine 150 gms of the bread flour with half the yeast & 150 mls of the water in bowl of an electric mixer & beat with dough hook until smooth & elastic. Cover with plastic wrap & leave for 3 hours, until dough has risen then collapsed.
  2. Add the remaining bread flour, yeast & water, the rye flour & salt – mix on slow for 5-10 minutes until dough is smooth.
  3. Turn on to a floured surface and knead in the olives, rosemary and half the olive oil until well distributed. Place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap again and leave for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 240C.
  5. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, then stretch out to form rough triangles on paper lined baking trays. Slash deeply, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Place immediately on wire racks and brush with remaining oil.

Buy the book here…

Amanda McInerney blogs at Lambs’ Ears and Honey

Christmas Cookbooks

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat.  If you’re running out of gift ideas, I can help with that!  (My apologies to the unknown author of a carol with somewhat similar lyrics.)

As I frequently tell my husband (in a slightly shrill and utterly defensive tone) there is no such thing as too many (cook) books.  They are invaluable sources of interest, reference and inspiration and make the very best Christmas gifts.  I’m willing to bet there is a cookbook somewhere in the world to suit just about everybody.  Actually, I suspect there is a cookbook somewhere in my house to suit just about everybody, but perhaps it would be best not to draw too much spousal attention to that.  Here’s a brief look at a couple of recent publications that may hit the spot with someone you love.  As a bonus I will be giving one copy of each of these books away to a lucky winner, so check out the reviews and look at the bottom of the page for competition details.

Published by Wakefield Press and part memoir, part recipe book, Mezze to Milk Tart by Cecile Yazbeck contains a tantalising array of culturally combined  vegetarian dishes.  Cecile Yazbeck was born into a Lebanese family in South Africa and went on to study anthropology and sociology there, using her education and skills to work on behalf of the disadvantaged who were suffering under Apartheid.   Fearing for the safety of her family, she immigrated to Australia in the mid 1980’s and subsequently established her successful cooking school and catering business.  Retired now, she has gathered her favourite recipes together with personal anecdotes and reflections to continue to share her passion for food.

Drawing together the varied threads of her culinary past, these dishes embrace the Indian and Malay-influenced flavours of the South African food of her childhood,  some of the more traditional South African dishes, the Lebanese food which was  her own family tradition and recipes that she developed and taught in her cooking school, “Cecile’s Vegetarian Kitchen” at her home in Wahroonga, NSW.  With a focus on good health and environmental awareness, the book looks quite modest but just bursts with temptingly fresh recipes using plenty of fresh herbs and spices and also has a very satisfying chapter on desserts.  The perfect gift for the budding vegetarian in the family.

Still riding the wave of popularity of Australia’s favourite television show, comes the best recipes from the most popular contestants and the expert guests in Masterchef Series 3 The Cookbook.  Beautifully photographed and clearly laid out, there is no excuse for anyone not to try their hand at becoming a master chef in their own kitchen using this book.  Using the same format which has proved so successful with the first two in the series, this book introduces us to the top 24 contestants and progresses, week by week, through the filming schedules and highlights of the series.  A few of the (mostly chocolate) recipes caught my eye and have been noted and, for those who are interested in making a seasonal gingerbread house, there are instructions for the template for Adrian Zumbos’ Fairytale Gingerbread House with the accompanying detailed instructions and aspirational photograph.  An absolutely essential gift for your Masterchef tragic.

Amanda McInerney

REVIEW: Free Range in the City by Annabel Langbein

I’m buggered if I know where November has gone to, but it’s just about over and I can feel the beginnings of a rising panic whenever my thoughts stray to Christmas.  It will have a bit of an extra frisson to it for me this year as my mother will be celebrating a ‘significant’ birthday on 22 December, necessitating extra frivolities and the influx of family from the far-flung regions of Queensland and New Zealand.  Nagging thoughts of Christmas menu planning and shopping are now knocking at the back door of my brain so this seems a great time to share one of the more recent cookbooks to pass across my desk.

When it comes to fresh, regional/local seasonal food, New Zealander Annabel Langbein has one of the most impressive pedigrees around.  She has a degree in Horticulture, is the self-published author of numerous cookbooks, has a successful cooking television show in New Zealand which focuses on the seasonal produce of her own vegetable garden and she also has a past history of hunting her own food – so, no flash in the pan here.  Her latest book, “Free Range in the City” aims to show the urban dweller that it is still not only possible, but immensely satisfying to offer simple, sustainable food from your kitchen.  There are over 200 recipes in this book, most gloriously photographed and all of them using fresh, accessible ingredients to turn out meals that any cook – however experienced – would be proud to offer either family or friends.

The recipes are indexed in several different ways to make the book as versatile as possible.  There is the alphabetic index at the back, the contents in the front are divided into events – coffee break, barbecues, dinner in minutes, party plates, etc – and further in the book all the recipes are listed again under the categories of “Impromptu”, “Make Ahead”, “Portable”, “Freezable”, “Vegetarian” & “Gluten Free”.  This is enormously practical depending upon your requirements at any given time.  Each dish comes with snippets of extra information, the book is dotted with shopping, cooking and serving tips and hints and – joy of joys – it always stays open on the page you are working from.

My recently-released domestic goddess cooked up several dishes from the book last week and was utterly thrilled to find that they all made up a very respectable amount of food and all worked out exactly as stated – not a situation that always occurs with new cookbooks, much to her chagrin.  The one I’ll share with you is Annabel’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I know, I’m just so very predictable, but I was quite pleased with the way my photo turned out for this one and just had to show it to you all.

Like her other recipes, this makes a big batch of cookies so I rolled half of the dough up into a log, wrapped it firmly in plastic wrap and foil and popped it it the freezer for later.  I used a combination of Lindt 50% and 70% because I’m fussy about my chocolate, but if all you have on hand are choc chips they’ll be fine.  A word of warning – don’t do what I did and leave the dough in the fridge overnight.  It sets like a rock and is then very difficult to work with for quite some time. Annabel’s recommendation for 15 minutes in the fridge to chill would be more than adequate.

Annabel Langbein’s Chocolate Chip Cookies


500 gms soft butter (NOT magarine)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup condensed milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

4 1/2 cups plain flour

4 tsp baking powder

500gm dark chocolate, chopped into chunks


Preheat oven to 160C (I used 170C) & line baking trays.

Beat butter & sugar until creamy.

Beat in condensed milk and vanilla.

Stir in flour, baking powder and chocolate until just blended.

Chill dough in fridge for 15 minutes until firm.

Roll into walnut sized balls and place on tray, leaving space between each.

Flatten firmly with your hand and then flatten again with a fork to make thin.

Bake 15 minutes, until golden.

Cool on trays.

Amanda McInerney

July Cookbook Heaven

Now that July and my pre-occupation with mushrooms has run its course, I’ve had time to turn my attention to two promising tomes which have been sitting patiently upon my desk, awaiting my attention.  The first is another gem from Adelaide’s own Wakefield Press.  Just in case you need reminding, Wakefield Press is one of Australia’s leading independent publishers -they publish between 40-50 titles per year and regularly win literary, design and production awards, both nationally and internationally.  They are South Australian based and we are just a little bit proud of them in this neck of the woods.

Launched last month, “Making a Meal of It” by Jane Willcox and Rosemary Cadden, is a member of one of the relatively rare categories of cook books that makes it a very useful and practical addition to just about any kitchen bookshelf.  From an idea sparked by the authors nagging sense of guilt over their own kitchen waste, this book will have you looking at the sad remains in the bottom of your fridge in a new and more productive manner.  While it is all very well for television chefs to bang on about the importance of using the very best and freshest produce, we all know only too well what can happen to that same produce when real life gets in the way of enthusiasm, good intentions and meal plans.  Food wastage is a major issue in modern society (see here and here) and this book will help you take a big step towards reducing your own.

Set out alphabetically and covering most of the major fresh food items we would all deal with on a regular basis, each chapter offers recipes and  tips on buying, storing and using fresh produce and, most importantly, using up the left-over bits of the same foods.  From how to put over-ripe avocado to good use, to what to do with a bunch of bendy carrots, the seeds from your pumpkin or a handful of parsley stems, these ideas are practical, accessible and tasty.  This is a brilliant gift for the budget conscious novice, but even if you’ve been cooking for years, I guarantee you will find at least one or two ideas in this book that you hadn’t thought of before and that you are going to want to try.

As a great Aussie icon used to say, do yourself (and the planet) a favour and check this book out!

The second book which has been winking at me for the last week or two from the corner of my desk, “The Good Life” (Pan Macmillan), is actually written by one of the afore-mentioned televison chefs – Adrian Richardson.  Richardson, who began his cooking career at the age of 14,  has appeared on several Australian  food shows, including MasterChef and Ready, Steady, Cook and is also well known as the owner of the Carlton (Melbourne) restaurant La Luna Bistro, popular for its fresh and modern Mediterranean cuisine.

Keen to pass on his personal philosophy – that things taste better if they’re homemade – Adrian presents us with a handsomely bound book brimming with photos of achievable, delicious family foods.  Divided into sections for each of the four seasons, this book will take you back to the more interesting basics of modern family food with recipes for things like “Cauliflower, Currants & Pine Nuts in Brown Butter”, “Pissaladiere (a personal favourite) and “Braised Lamb with Moroccan Spices”, all of them presented with colour photographs and simple, non-threatening instructions.   For those of us who like a bit of a challenge in the kitchen, there are also nine master-classes on skills such as bread making, salami, sausage and pasta making and fish curing – each set out in an easy to follow, step-by-step fashion and accompanied by photographs numbered for each step.

I really like the approachable feel of this book.  The food is not tricky, pretentious, grand-standing cuisine, but interesting, honest, flavourful dishes that anyone could quite happily put in front of either their family or guests with a sense of pride.  It will appeal to cooks of all skill levels and contains the broad range of cuisines that many of us have become familiar with in modern Australian kitchens – quite the keeper, in fact.

Amanda McInerney


From Paddock to Plate by Louise Fitzroy

The ongoing and seemingly endless love affair between the media and food or food sources has ensured that an apparently inexhaustible mine of food and cooking publications finds their way onto book retailers catalogues.

We can take our choice from over-rated celebrity cookbooks, chef memoirs, hastily penned food-themed novels and any number of glossy themed recipe books – although the literary or culinary merit of many new editions is, to say the least, arguable.

With the big named authors commanding the lions share of the publishers PR dollars, it can be easy to overlook some of the less prominent works and, in some instances, that would be a shame.  With that in mind, I want to draw your attention to a recent ABC Books publication, From Paddock to Plate, by Louise Fitzroy.

From Paddock to Pl
ate is a journey into the rural heartland of Australia, giving the reader the opportunity to meet with Australian food producers, learn a little of their stories and share a recipe or two of theirs.  Louise is an ABC journalist and last week I had the opportunity to chat to her about her journey from the family farm in Guyra, in the New England region of New South Wales, to her innovative Western Australian food safari radio show, The Cold Esky Challenge, which resulted in her book.

It’s a long way from Guyra to Western Australia, isn’t it?

Louise was brought up on a mixed family farm and was exposed to all the fickleness and vicissitudes which come with a farming life.  On completing her journalism degree at the University of Armidale, she headed overseas for a time before returning to a sports media job which eventually morphed into the life of a rural reporter moving from Tamworth to Alice springs then on to Port Lincoln, before finding herself in Bunbury, Western Australia.

And the “Cold Esky Challenge”?

The Cold Esky Challenge came about as a result of a trip Louise took herself on to try out the wares of the renowned wine-tasting area of Margaret River in WA.  Once there, she realised the extent and diversity of the range of local food production.   She was amazed to discover that, with no prior planning, she was able to trace a dish from the seedling to the table when she followed up a visit to an apple orchard with a trip to the local bakery who were more than happy to bake the apples into a dish for her.  Thus began her hunt into the provenance of a range of local specialities and the quest to share the knowledge of this with the local inhabitants of the region.  Her later move to rural Victoria was when she decided to broaden her scope and expand her research nationally.

What were the selection criteria?

Louise decided that she wanted her book to demonstrate to Australians the diverse range of products which we grow here and chose her inclusions based on their variety and, occasionally, the unique nature of the food produced.  She relied upon word-of-mouth to source her producers, sometimes putting a call out on her radio programs to spread her search out.   Thus the book covers growers and producers from all of the Australian states and territories with crops ranging from the familiar potato or tomato, to the exotic custard apple and on to some surprise inclusions (well, to me, at least) like saffron and wasabi.  Each entry gives us an introduction to the people behind the produce and a recipe (or two or three) that they share to maximise our enjoyment of the fruits of their labours.

And the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect?

When I asked Louise what she enjoyed most about putting this project together she had no hesitation in citing the generosity, kindness and friendliness of the folk she met on her journey.  From the bush man that she met near the Canning Stock Rout who taught her how to make a genuine damper, to the Western Australian country house wife who bottles all her neighbours excess produce, then donates it to raise money for the local community, Louise was struck by the eagerness to share and the strong sense of community inherent in the various people she encountered.

One of Louise’s hopes in penning this volume was to help guide and inform all consumers, but particularly  urban dwellers, about where their food comes from and how it gets to them.  Food security in general, and food security in Australia is an issue which we all need to be more aware of, if we are to have any control over it.  I think that developing a more direct relationship with the providers of the food on our plates is a very good place to begin.

We love you, Alice B. Toklas

Adelaide’s Wakefield Press recently sent out notification of their new and current publications, which included a few re-releases of some older titles.  They have some delightful titles in their new editions and I urge you to pop over here for a look, but I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a closer look at a couple of the older books.  Theses books both contain recipes, but both offer the reader much more than just the promise of a good meal.

Kafka’s Soup by Mark Crick

The cover of this slender little volume promises “A complete history of world literature in 14 recipes” – a surprising claim in anyone’s estimation, but if you are lover of both food and literature you won’t be disappointed.  Now, I can’t claim an utterly comprehensive knowledge of the history of literature, but it was pretty clear to me that Mark Crick, the author, has certainly done his English homework.

Each of the 14 recipes in the book is written in the style of a different, noted literary author and the results are very funny and very clever.  Homer shares a delicious recipe for the Maltese dish, Fenkata, John Steinbeck depresses us with a Mushroom Risotto and dear Jane Austen takes four and a half pages to deliver a recipe for Tarragon Eggs.  Contemporary authors are not left out with  Irvine Welsh’s outrageous recipe for Rich Chocolate Cake my favourite by far.  Crick accompanies each recipe with one of his own original illustrations or photographs in exactly the manner of the original works, suggesting that his skills are not at all limited to writing.

This little book had me  in stitches and was quickly appropriated by my daughter whom I later  found giggling in a corner over it.  A perfect gift for the bookish foodie in anyone’s life.

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook by Alice B. Toklas

Alice was the life partner and lover of the well-known writer, poet and art collector, Gertrude Stein, with whom she lived in Paris until Stein’s death in 1946.  She wrote her cookbook some years later, when seeking something to occupy her while she recuperated from an illness.  This book is really something of a memoir as it mingles recollections, reflections and recipes from Toklas’ life and travels with Stein during and after the war.  Toklas and Stein were famous for their Paris salon where they entertained some of the leading literary and artistic personalities of the time and, while Stein is remembered for her art collection and writings, Toklas’ legacy is a little more obscure.  She was quite satisfied to stand in the shadow of Stein, undertaking the role of secretary, cook and general support – hence her interest in culinary matters.

First published in 1954, the chapters of the book are divided into some very interesting categories, listing things like “Dishes for Artists” with details of Bass for Picasso, food during the Occupation and food in the US in 1934 and 1935.  There is one recipe included for which the book is quite notorious.   Haschich Fudge is a blend of spices, nuts and fruit to which is added “a bunch of canibus sativa” and which “anyone can whip up on a rainy day”, although Ms. Toklas does point out that obtaining the canibus (sic) can present some difficulties.  This recipe alone ensured that her name was remembered well into the heady days of the 1960’s and ’70’s when it was lent to a range of chemically enhanced baked goods.

Notoriety aside, the book is a warm and charming account of travels and meals with her beloved companion (who is always given her full title, Gertrude Stein, in the narrative) with the original recipes of the time.  On a sad footnote, Alice B. Toklas died in poverty (Stein’s family took the artworks which she had willed to Toklas) in 1967 at the age of 89 and is buried next to her lover in Paris.

Alice B. Toklas by Carl Van Vechten, 1949


A couple of cookbook reviews

As I mentioned in my last post, there are currently plenty of new cookbooks available for gift-giving and a few of them have found their way into our house (none of the ones from my wish-list, I hasten to add!).  A cookbook is really a no-brainer gift for anybody even vaguely interested in food and those available seem to cover every possible field of food interest.  Neither of the following two are books I would have necessarily chosen for myself and I have been very pleasantly surprised by both of them!

The first is  restauranteur and TV chef Miguel Maestre’s “Miguel’s Tapas“, published by New Holland Publishers, Australia.  Miguel Maestre is a Spanish-born Australian chef who got here the long way – via Scotland – and worked in some of Sydney’s best kitchens before opening his own restaurant, El Toro Loco, in Manly.  He hails from the agricultural region of Murcia in Spain and an immediate and extended family practice which embraced the local food traditions and fostered his passion and skill.  This book stars the tapas, or “little dishes”, approach to Spanish food that sits so very well with the relaxed and informal Australian way of life and dining.  The recipes are divided into meals, rather than courses, beginning with breakfast and ending with evening snacks, with sections in the back devoted to some of the basics of tapas dining and a glossary of terms.  Ranging from a simple, but sublime, three ingredient recipe for garlic prawns to the stunning Maestre family recipe for paella or a modern,deconstructed take on a Spanish omelette, the recipes in this book provide a brilliant and accessible window on this congenial food custom.

New Holland publish a diverse range of quality non-fiction and pride themselves on their design standards – as is immediately obvious when looking at this book.  Competitively priced, this coffee-table edition is beautifully produced in hardback with gold page edging and is filled with gorgeous full-page photo’s of the food, the restaurant, the chef and his staff.  If tapas tempts – go for it!

Before I go any further, I really must make a confession.  I have never watched a full episode of “MasterChef”.  I have caught glimpses of it and watched short sections, but never sat down from “go to whoa” for a whole show.  Of course, I am aware of how enormously successful it has been and, having met some of the contestants, I am also aware of how life-changing it has been for them so I was fairly interested to see how a competitive cooking show would translate into a book.

I can certainly see how “MasterChef Australia Volume Two: The Cookbook”, published by Harper Collins, will be an indispensable book for the millions of followers who became so absorbed in this extraordinary television phenomenon.  The winner of Masterchef 2010, Adam Liaw, opens the book with a foreword that is both modest and sincere and this is followed by a brief introduction to each of the remarkably varied  24 finalists.

Rich in photographs of the contestants, the judges, the guest chefs, the challenges and the wonderful food that was produced by this talented group of amateurs, this will be a winner in anyone’s Xmas stocking this year.  Each of the contestants shares both some of their special moments and their best recipes and the book is dotted with helpful and practical tips and suggestions.  Also included are the recipes for such milestones as Zumbo’s notorious macaron tower – even I heard about that! – and the ultimate challenge from Peter Gilmore – the Guava and custard apple snow egg!

Serif’s satisfying range of cookbooks

I know for a fact that more than a few of my readers are quite fond  of thumbing through cookbooks.  If this applies to you then you might be interested to know that Adelaide’s  Wakefield Press is the Australian distributor for Serif, a small, independent, London-based publisher.  Serif publishes a very satisfying  range of cookbooks that are just that little bit out of the ordinary in that, rather than being new releases, these books are considered to be classics in their genre and I have had my nose in a few of them over the last week.

I struggle to select favourites when it comes to cookbooks, especially when choosing from among classics, but Edouard de Pomiane’s book “Cooking with Pomiane” is one that I will not grow tired of.   Born in Paris, de Pomiane was the son of Polish emigrants who moved to France in 1863 and took out French citizenship.  He was born in 1875 and became a food scientist and academic at Institut Pasteur in Paris, a radio broadcaster and food writer.   “Cooking with Pomiane” was first published in French in 1939, with the English translation published in 1948.

Possessed of a splendid moustache and highly esteemed by the likes of Elizabeth David, Edouard de Pomiane’s food writing was valued for it’s fresh approach as he encouraged his readers to free themselves from the restraints of the fashionable, but heavy,  haute cuisine of the day and urged them to be confident in whatever they presented on their tables.  His style is warm and gently encouraging as he clearly explains away a great many of the mysteries that surround culinary processes and he was one of the first food writers to  point out the health benefits of a less complicated, more balanced diet.  His recipes are straightforward, if occasionally unusual – he has several versions of ancient Roman dishes – generally using fresh, simple ingredients and he is not averse to providing the odd  short-cut.  Indeed, he is particularly noted for his book “Cooking in 10 Minutes”, which was listed earlier this year as one of “The Observers” top 50 cookbooks ever, and is also available in this series.  This is a delightful book to have a wander through and one that has not dated at all so, if you are interested in the real classics, this is one you need on your shelves.

Speaking of ancient Roman recipes leads me to another interesting title in this series, “Roman Cookery – Ancient recipes for Modern Kitchens” by Mark Grant.  Grant is a classics teacher and has translated works by several ancient authors.  What started some years ago as a slightly unusual fundraising dinner  for a benevolent society, has turned into a passion for him and led to this book which was first published  in 1999.  The ancient Romans had a few condiments that were used as the basis of many their dishes, but are not common today, including a fermented fish guts sauce that sounds particularly challenging.  Fortunately, Grant has revised this and other sauces to make them totally acceptable to modern cooks.  The recipes are simple, but interesting, accessible and will be of interest to anyone who likes a dollop of history with their cooking.

One of the very first modern books written about Moroccan cooking, “Traditional Moroccan Cooking” by Madame Guinaudeau comes with a foreword by Claudia Roden, which is all I need to know to verify it’s value on the subject.  The wife of a French doctor, Madam Guinaudeau moved to Fez in 1929 and lived there for over 30 years, delighting in discovering and researching the culinary traditions of all levels of Moroccan society.  Her goal was to document and fix the cooking traditions of Fez before they became transformed by too much contact with Western cultures and she shares her enthusiasm for both the people and their food.   My only issue with the recipes in this book is that they seem to be very light in the use of spices.  Many of the recipes for ten people use only pinches of the various spices and “pieces” of a cinnamon stick – my inclination is to use much more, but maybe that is just me.  Oh – and the recipe she gives for El Majoun, a sweet, spicy mix of honey, nuts, raisins and hashish doesn’t specify just how much hashish to use!   This book was first published in French in 1958, then translated in 1964, and she went on to publish a much larger book on the cooking of regional Morocco in 1981.

Other books in the Serif series include “Bengali Cooking: Seasons and Festivals” by Chitrita Banerji,  “Cooking in 10 Minutes” By Edouard de Pomiane and “Classic Jamaican Cooking: Traditional Recipes and Herbal Remedies” by Caroline Sullivan.

Amanda McInerney, http://www.lambsearsandhoney.com/

REVIEW: Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti

sicilian foodI make no secret of my shameless and insatiable need for cookbooks and books about food, nor is my particular interest in Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean food one I’ve kept hidden so, when I was presented with the opportunity to review a book on Sicilian food it is no surprise that I grabbed it with almost indecent haste!

“Sicilian Food” by Mary Taylor Simeti was first published in the US as “Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food” in 1989 and has been re-published here in Australia by Adelaide’s Wakefield Press.

While I can appreciate the benefits of the less cumbersome title, the new one does not really do justice to the contents of this book which is so much more than a collection of recipes.  Simeti is an American who married into Sicily, but even so, came late to her full appreciation of the rich culinary history of her adopted home.  It wasn’t until she and her Sicilian husband began to spend time in the countryside that the historical significance of the peasant culture around her began to tease her earlier interest in history, sending her off on the fascinating and thorough research which informs this book.

Sicily lies at the toe of the boot that is Italy and  has had a long association with the culinary arts – the first known Western cookbook, the now lost  “Art of Cooking”, was written in Syracuse in the fifth century BC.   Sicilian food has been influenced by the many and  varied cultures which held sway over the Mediterranean island, including the Greeks, Arabs, Romans, French and Spanish.  Such was the reputation of Sicilian food, that possessing a Sicilian cook was considered to be a status symbol in the Roman Empire  and a  great many Sicilian dining favourites subsequently made their way up the boot to the rest of Italy and Europe.

In the early chapters, Simeti’s book follows the incursions by the miscellaneous conquerors and notes the culinary influences of each of them with plenty of traditional recipes reflective of each culture.  There is a chapter devoted to bread and it’s place in Sicilian society,  further chapters look at foods of the various classes of past Sicilian society and the final chapters are dedicated to pastries, street foods and ice cream.  Each chapter of the book is a fascinating and very well-researched read about the history and culture of each subject with anecdotes and excerpts from historical and literary sources.  Interestingly, for a good Catholic school girl, the section on sweets and pastries involved  research into the histories of many of the convents of Sicily as the devout nuns exercised their creativity by turning out a plentiful supply of treats!  The recipes are traditional and classic Sicilian dishes and Simeti states that she has made each of them herself – even going so far as to attempt some of the more ancient and unusual concoctions that she read about in her research.

Mary Taylor Simeti is a New York girl who travelled to Siciliy, in the 1960’s, for what was meant to be a two year break.  There she met her husband, an agricultural economist, and they now run an organic farm near Palermo.  She has written several other books, some in Italian, and including one which is a memoir of a convent-trained pastry chef.

As I stated earlier, “Sicilian Food” is not just a collection of recipes, but a well researched and accessible examination of an influential and rich culinary tradition.  Simeti’s writing style is descriptive, amusing and engaging – this is a book that belongs in the hands of anyone who has an interest beyond just the taste of their food.

Mary Taylor Simeti will be in Sydney and is appearing as part of the “Crave Sydney International Food Festival” on 9 October, 2010.

Amanda McInerney www.lambsearsandhoney.com

REVIEW: Amore and Amaretti by Victoria Cosford

This memoir, published by Adelaide’s Wakefield Press, is a lively, but vulnerable account of Victoria Cosford’s love affair with Italy. As an Australian student, studying the Italian language in Florence, a young Victoria meets and falls in love with the mercurial chef, Gianfranco and thus begins her seemingly unbreakable ties to Tuscany and its people.    In a matter of months she has moved in with her romantic and charming Italian lover, who teaches her to cook as they work together in his restaurant.    Fairly soon it becomes clear that Gianfranco’s volatile nature, combined with Cosford’s below ground-level self esteem, will make this relationship turbulent and ultimately unworkable.  She falls into another, equally passionate relationship which eventually fails, too,  leaving her without the amore of the book’s title, but with bonds that time and distance never sever.

While lacking in the love that Cosford so desperately craves, the book is filled with enormous fondness for the food and the region and locales of Florence and Tuscany, which are vividly evoked on every page.  Her deft descriptions of the hectic pace of restaurant kitchen life in full flight are interspersed with the scenes of quiet beauty and peace that Cosford seeks out on her early morning walks, or the sophisticated Florentine cafes and shops that she visits on her days off.

While her Italian life may have been short on love, it most definitely was not short  on passion and it is Cosfords passion for the food of Tuscany that is so brilliantly displayed in this book. There is hardly a page that does not have some mention of  the regional foods,  either being prepared by herself or one of the other chefs.  She lovingly describes meals that she shares with her friends and manages to make even a scratch meal eaten in a dingy bedroom sound appetising.    She clearly learned much about the pleasures of food and shares some of the more tempting recipes throughout the book.  Whenever I put the book down, it was usually to wander into the kitchen to concoct something either directly from her pages or inspired by them.

Throughout her story, we watch as Cosford struggles with her relationships, her poor self-esteem and her weight.  It is with some relief that we see her make her way towards the confidence and happiness that she ultimately finds back home in Australia as a journalist, loved partner and – unsurprisingly – a teacher of Italian cooking!

Word of Mouth – a celebration of the food and wine books

The 8 day food festival, “Tasting Australia” has opened here in Adelaide with one of the biggest events being the “Feast for the Senses”, a two day extravaganza of food and drink held on the banks of the River Torrens over the weekend just past.  This is an enormously popular event, attracting thousands looking for a picnic treat in the autumn sunshine.    There were queues aplenty as I pushed my way through the feeding frenzy, gradually making my way over to a marquee at the far side where a more sedate consumption of words was taking place at “Word of Mouth” – a celebration of the spoken and written word in food and wine-related matters.

I managed to catch a little of a session on food security and sustainability, featuring cookbook writers Julie Biuso (NZ) and Jill Norman (UK) and the indefatigable Peter Cundall, who addressed what they see as the imperative of growing our own food.   Jill Norman pointed out that, with the recent cessation of international flights in Europe as a result of the Icelandic volcano, many fresh fruit and vegetables have become unavailable in the UK – a situation that would not be so critical if there were a return to the home growing of seasonal produce, rather than their reliance on imported products all year round.   This was followed by the session about food/travel journalism where “Selector” magazine publisher Paul Diamond, journalist Winsor Dobbin and writer Paul Mercurio  disabused the listeners of any notions they may have had about travel writing being merely “junkets”!  There was general despair about the amount of commercial “puff pieces” and advertorials in current travel journalism, with the panel advising any potential food or travel writers to be stringent in their checking of facts before submitting any written pieces for publication.

The final panel I sat in on for the day was a very popular discussion about Spanish cuisine.  The speakers were Melbourne chef Frank Camorra and writer Richard Cornish – authors of the multi-award winning “Movida” and their latest book, “Movida Rustica” – and John Barlow, author of “Everything But the Squeal”.    The Movida Madrilena was a movement that took place in Spain after Franco’s death and represented the resurrection of the Spanish economy and identity.  Spanish food, both traditional and modern, has become a significant marker of this and the conversation centred around how and why this is so.  Camorra pointed out that there are 17 different autonomous communities within Spain, each with their own regional languages and cuisines and each having wide autonomy to enable them to maintain their distinctions and diversities.  John Barlow’s book, “Everything But the Squeal” is a testament to this and he spoke of his experiences in Galicia as he travelled around the province endeavouring to eat every part of their  principal source of meat – the pig!  Camorra and Cornish both spoke of how tactile the food culture of Spain is.  There is a significant focus on food sharing and physical closeness and a habit of touching the food – with much eating with fingers!  It is  a culture which engages in a great deal of discourse about food, with cooking and dining being constant sources of discussion.  Camorra also spoke warmly of the generosity of the people when it came to sharing their food and recipes.  He and Cornish travelled extensively in the regional areas when compiling their latest book and frequently found it a great struggle to move on as their various hosts pressed them with food, wine and conversation.  Clearly a labour of love, this book, “Movida Rustica”, is a celebration of Spanish traditions and traditional cuisines and last night was awarded a prestigious “Gold Ladle” award at the Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards for Best Hard Cover Recipe Book (over 35 Euro)!

Three Wakefield Press books nominated for Le Cordon Bleu World Food media Awards

The biennial, international food and wine festival “Tasting Australia”, is coming up here in Adelaide in a few weeks time. It is a week long “foodie-fest” which also involves some industry events, including the awarding of the Le Cordon Bleu World Food media Awards. This year South Australia’s own Wakefield Press has had three of their publications nominated for the prestigious awards – “The Blue Ribbon Cookbook“, by Liz Harfull has been nominated for Best Hard Cover Recipe Book (under 35 Euro) and Lolo Hobein’s “One Magic Square” and John Barlow’s “Everything But the Squeal” have both been nominated for Best Food Book.  The nominations come from a jury of over 50 international food industry professionals looking at the best the world has to offer in the field of food media and Wakefield Press have every reason to be deeply chuffed for scooping three nominations in such a competitive arena!

Liz Harfull’s “The Blue Ribbon Cookbook” is a joy to look at and thumb through with the format a credit to the book designer.  It is the first book to pay tribute to the – mostly country – cooks who enter the agricultural and horticultural shows of South Australia.  Inspired by a book of artwork from US State Fair posters and recipes,  Harfull, who is originally from the South East but now lives in the Adelaide hills, spent over  seven months researching and writing, attending the country shows and visiting the prize-winning cooks out of show time.  The book features a story on a prizewinning cook from each of the area shows, with one of their winning recipes.  This isn’t haute cuisine, but the kind of food a lot of us were brought up on – or wish we were – so if you are looking for a completely reliable recipe for lemon slice or homemade pasties, I’d suggest that you start here!  Each entry is accompanied by plenty of full colour photo’s of the cooks and their food, the shows and a wealth of archival photo’s, some dating back to the beginning of the last century.

Lolo Hobien is another denizen of the Adelaide hills, having emigrated with her husband and children to Australia from  Holland in 1958.  She is no stranger to nominations, with “One Magic Square” winning a Gourmand World Cookbook award for Best Innovative Cookbook in 2008 and the Bicentennial/ABC Fiction Award for her earlier novel, “Walk a Barefoot Road”.  In “One Magic Square” she shows how it is possible to have a productive food garden in as little as a single square metre.  With many well-intentioned veggie patches failing because of ambitious beginnings, she suggests designs, planting tips and pointers on soil maintenance which should put home grown produce within the reach of all of us.  Easily accessible for the novice gardener, this book also offers  suggestions for the more experienced gardeners – and I know some – who enjoy dipping in and out at random.

Everything But the Squeal” is written by Englishman John Barlow, who now lives in Spain with his wife and son.  In it, he documents his year of traveling around Galicia to fulfill his goal of eating every bit of the pig which is the dominant meat in that damp, green north-western corner of Spain.  To achieve this he determinedly makes his way through astonishing amounts of rich, fatty, but frequently very tasty piles of pork in every possible incarnation.  In the process he both observes and takes part in many of the cultural celebrations of Galicia, some of them dating back to pagan times, including one called “Dirty Day” which I cannot even begin to describe!   He meets up with some surprising locals and becomes familiar with a breed of pig that was considered extinct up until less than 20 years ago, but is now making it’s way onto the plates of gourmets around the world.  This is really a very affectionate homage to both pork and the people of Galicia and a very amusing read.  Having said that, I did read most of it in one sitting, subsequently dreaming of pork all night and, on waking, felt ever so slightly queasy.

Amanda McInerney is a book and food lover from the Adelaide Hills.  She writes her own foodie blog at: http://lambsearsandhoney.com/