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


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

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/

RECAP: Amanda McInerney at the Adelaide Writers Week 2010

We couldn’t make it to the Adelaide Writers Week 2010, but lucky for us, long-time Boomerang Books customer Amanda McInerney was a constant presence at the festival, and we were lucky enough to have her blog for us.

For those that missed her posts, here’s a recap:

Day One • Day Two • Day Three • Day Five

Amanda McInerney is passionate about books and reading.  She has recently started her own foodie blog at http://lambsearsandhoney.com/.