The Australian Women's Weekly, as every Australian knows, isn't just the publisher of a long-running women's magazine. They also produce a range of in The Australian Women's Weekly, as every Australian knows, isn't just the publisher of a long-running women's magazine. They also produce a range of inexpensive but reliable cookbooks, and the new ones out this year are a great sight better-looking than the ones of three or even two decades ago (more in line with the ABC's delicious. magazine, for instance).
When I was growing up, my mum had this book, The Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits. As a young teenager, I often made things from this book on the weekends, and have pored over it so many times I not only know every page, but it also brings my childhood and adolescence vividly to life. Funny the things that can be triggers. This is the book that has the Gingerbread recipe I still use, not to mention the one for Monte Carlos and Melting Moments, among others. It's such an utterly 80s book, though, that I never expected to have the chance to get my own copy (unaware as I was to the fact that AWW had reprinting it multiple times since 1982, including in 2003, though it looks quite different).
[caption id="attachment_18938" align="alignleft" width="300"] The original edition, left, and the new collector's edition, right.[/caption]This year, though, after thirty-one years, AWW reproduced it in its ORIGINAL copy, complete with daggy brown photographs with uncorrected white balance exposure and some very interesting crockery. It is the original reproduced with a nice "Vintage Edition" label on the cover, a "Collector's Cookbook" in all its glory.
Going through it again, it all came rushing back. All the recipes I'd tried, all the ones I'd wanted to make but never did. The measurements are in grams and cups, and the oven temperatures are in the old style: slow, moderate-slow, moderate, moderate-hot, hot. Luckily, I grew up with this and I know what these words correspond to: moderate is your standard 180ºC - though if you didn't, there is a Quick Conversion Guide in the back which also now includes the British "gas mark" settings. The ingredients lists are straight-forward, the methods as well. There's none of the Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson-style "talk", no additional information, calory counting or "ideal for freezing" notes. They have edited the methods, though, I noticed when comparing my mum's old edition (which doesn't have a date, so I don't know what year it is) with the new one. There's also a glossary in the new edition, and the index is more thorough and cross-references.
The cookbook loosely divides the recipes by ingredients, in alphabetical order: Almond, Apricot, Bran, Cheese, Cherry, Chocolate, Coconut, Coffee and so on. Hence, savoury and sweet are mixed together, though some types of biscuits are isolated: shortbread, meringues. There are only a few recipes per category, and 126 in total (unless I miscounted, which is always a possibility!). There are several different kinds of truffles and about 26 slices. It has classic oldies like Coconut Ice and Chocolate Crackles, the staples of many a school fair, and of course choc-chip. There're brandy snaps, cheese sticks, fancy biscuits and easy-peasy biscuits. It's one of those go-to cookbooks that every kitchen needs, and I'm so glad it's still in print.
It's pretty near impossible for me to resist a cookbook which has raspberry friands on the cover. RASPBERRY FRIANDS!!! When I was a uni student livingIt's pretty near impossible for me to resist a cookbook which has raspberry friands on the cover. RASPBERRY FRIANDS!!! When I was a uni student living in Hobart, I used to work in a couple of cafes, and one of them sold friands - raspberry ones and, I forget what the other kind were. They have to be one of the yummiest things in the world, and they're also something I've never made myself because they use SIX egg whites (!!) and I always struggle to find some use for the leftover yolks.
For most other people, they'll pick up this book not because of RASPBERRY FRIANDS!!!! but because it's KATIE QUINN DAVIES!!! - with just as much enthusiasm. Now, Quinn Davies is quite the phenomenon back home, but living in Canada is a bit like having my head in the sand when it comes to what's happening back in Australia, so you'll have to excuse me for being a bit slow on the uptake here. Quinn Davies is an award-winning food photographer from Ireland who married an Australian and moved to Melbourne. After the success of her blog, www.whatkatieate.com, she turned it into this impressive cookbook ("What Katie Ate" is, of course, a take on the classic children's book by Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did, which I remember really enjoying - and reading several times - when I was younger. I guess that means that Katie Quinn Davies' vol. 2 cookbook will be called What Katie Ate Next? ;) ). I highly recommend you click on the website link above to see more of her photography, because she really is one of the absolute best out there (I also feel a bit nostalgic, seeing her photos, because they remind me so much of my sister Tara whose house looks so much like these photos!). These are ones I've borrowed from her blog, as they're always going to be better quality than if I scan them myself! (And a full-page spread would never fit in my A4-sized scanner anyway.)
Baby carrots roasted with thyme, hazelnuts and white wine - from What Katie Ate p.206
Barramundi with pickled radish, green bean and watercress salad - from What Katie Ate p.68
It's not just the photos of the food, though, that makes this a beautiful book - it's the book design itself. Every single page, and I mean EVERY page, has had time and attention paid to it. They're works of art in their own right. Here are sample scanned pages:
White bean, chickpea and roasted garlic dip - from What Katie Ate p.211
Madeline's homemade lemonade cordial - from What Katie Ate p.125
Vanilla ice cream with salted butterscotch sauce and honey-roasted almonds - from What Katie Ate p.253
And as you can see from the images above, she does that thing that Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver and an increasing number of celebrity chefs are doing: giving personal backstories or memories associated with the recipes, or extra tips.
The recipes are rather fancy, ideal for a dinner party that you have several days to prepare for. I'll be honest, I'm a little intimidated by her recipes. They're quite gourmet, and most of them have at least one ingredient that I never have at home and probably can never find anywhere. Even her "easy chocolate cake" recipe uses things like Frangelico, which I've never heard of and aren't entirely sure what it is (I'm guessing a liqueur", since she recommends you switch it for milk in a kid-friendly version), as well as mascarpone, savoiardi biscuits and so on. This isn't a cookbook for people who never have time to cook and who don't enjoy it.
I have tried a few recipes. I recently tried the "Sticky chicken with sesame and chilli" (p.187) but I was away from the oven and so wasn't able to turn the drumsticks over frequently, so, um, they kinda burnt. Not Katie's fault. The first thing I tried was the "Lemon chicken with herbed rice" and it was awful, I felt ill afterwards - we both did, but it seriously did not sit well in my stomach. And the herbed rice wasn't herbed! I don't get that. I also made the brioche buns one time, which she uses in a hamburger recipe (p.108) - they were yummy (isn't brioche always yummy?) but I've no idea how she made hers come out in such perfect bun shapes. That's one tip I would have liked to learn!
If you enjoy cooking and love taking the time to make really good food and are looking for some new versions of things to try, this would be great for you. I do happen to love cooking but I especially like to bake (cakes, biscuits, scones, desserts, bread etc.) and this doesn't have many recipes like that. It has some amazing-sounding ice cream recipes I wouldn't mind trying one day, and plenty of other things I'd like to try too - but "one day" being the optimal expression here. It's certainly an inspiring cookbook, with it's gorgeous photography and layout, and one you'll be sure to drool over, but it's also a bit intimidating and made me realise just how crap a cook I really am.
A note on this edition: This book was originally published in Australia by Penguin Australia. I have the UK edition, published by Collins (HarperCollins UK). Measurements and oven temperatures are in grams and Celsius and gas marks. You can also get a North American edition, published by Penguin USA (pictured), which will have measurements etc. converted into ounces and fahrenheit.
The six sisters - Camille, Kristen, Elyse, Stephanie, Lauren and Kendra - grew up in Utah and now live all over the place. In order to help keep in toThe six sisters - Camille, Kristen, Elyse, Stephanie, Lauren and Kendra - grew up in Utah and now live all over the place. In order to help keep in touch and swap great ideas as they begin their own families, they started a blog in early 2011, Six Sisters Stuff. Their blog became so popular that a selection of their recipes, craft ideas and tip sheets have been put together in a brand-new cookbook, which I was very excited to get a copy for review from the publisher.
It's a fantastic idea, to use a blog to share things between siblings like this. I have three older sisters and a younger brother and I live on the other side of the planet from them, but we all have our separate blogs and interests and tend to share things in person, which means, sniff sniff, that I get left out a bit. I also love how the sisters promote and encourage people to have leisurely, sit-down family meals, something that, in urban centres at least, can be sacrificed at times. For the month of March, the sisters are running a challenge called the 4x4 Family Dinner Challenge.
While the website has loads of great recipes and ideas - currently they have up 25 Easter treats that are super cute - I have to say that I was largely disappointed by the cookbook, and also, that I am not its ideal customer/reader. The main reason is a simple one: this food is ultra foreign to me, it's not the way I like to cook, and a lot of it simply doesn't appeal to me.
By "foreign", I mean that I have rarely eaten this kind of food, which I would call American, and when I have I didn't care for it. It's generally too rich and heavy, and I have a pretty sensitive tummy. The United States definitely has its own cuisine and culinary style, and richly diverse ones at that, but a lot of their classic dishes and ways of cooking things just doesn't appeal to me - and the things that do appeal and look incredibly yummy, also tend to be too rich for me. You probably have to grow up with a country's cuisine to really like and appreciate it.
There is a running theme of salt, fat and sugar in this book, and by "fat" I mean an awful lot of cream cheese and sour cream. Which are useful ingredients, I just wouldn't recommend that anyone eat this kind of food every day, or even once a week. Now and then would work, unless you modify the recipes. They're not all like that, though, and there were some I wanted to try (more on that later).
I was disappointed by how many processed or pre-made ingredients the recipes contain. I'm something of a snob in this regard: I love to cook and bake, but if I'm going to go to the trouble of making something, I'm going to make it from scratch (or near enough - I'm not going to make my own puff pastry, for example). Too many recipes here use cans of this or that, or pre-made dough, or cake mixes (though I did really appreciate that they included from-scratch recipes for cream-of-chicken soup, which they use a lot of, and the dry herb mix for ranch dressing). I understand that many people use these kinds of things as ingredients to make cooking easier and less stressful, but I don't happen to be one of those people. It's not easier for me, it's just ... fake-tasting. Sorry, but it is. You train your tastebuds one way, which is why we all like different things.
I have a real aversion to processed food (including cheese like Kraft and that horrid orange stuff) and pre-made this or that, from pasta sauces to frozen meals, because they're full of so many extra ingredients - often ones you can't even pronounce - and a shit-load of salt, and there's no way you can really control your intake of those ingredients when you buy this kind of thing (I'm very interested in this topic, which is why I've ordered Michael Moss' new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us). Since I do use bought bouillon or stock, for example, or sweet chilli sauce, which all have a lot of additives and sodium, I try to balance it out by cutting out added salt etc. One day I'd love to make my own homemade tomato sauce (ketchup) and things like that, but I'm not there yet.
The great thing, of course, is that we all enjoy adapting recipes, tweaking them to suit our own palates, and there's no reason why you can't do that here. The sisters themselves love to experiment, which is how they come up with these recipes. The recipes are divided up into Main Dishes, Slow Cooker dishes, Sides, Salads, Breads and Desserts. The salads section include several recipes that contain marshmallows. This is what I mean by this cookbook being so foreign to me. How do marshmallows constitute a salad? One has apples and Snickers. Pretty sure that you can't make junk food healthful by adding fruit or vegetables! I can't see myself ever making a marshmallow salad. I don't mind marshmallows, occasionally, especially cooked over a campfire, but recipes like "Orange Fluff Jell-O Salad" made with pudding mix, orange-flavoured gelatin (do they mean jelly?), and something hideous called "nondairy whipped topping" (what is that? It can't be good for you with a name like that!) just plain scare me. Another contains a lot of sour cream, while a third, yay! uses yoghurt.
I don't own a slow cooker and I have no plans for getting one (I think my husband's grandmother gave us one once and we quickly re-gifted it), but you can easily use the oven instead, which I did when I tried one of the recipes from the Slow Cooker section. I would have liked some direction in that regard, like a temperature suggestion, but it's not a big deal (I figured 160ºC, which is a "slow" oven). The Breads section seemed a bit of a cheat to me on the whole, though I can see that for people who already use things like "rise and bake frozen rolls" or refrigerated pizza dough or Pilsbury or Bisquick products or cans of refrigerated buttermilk biscuits, whatever that is, these will be very useful variations for people to try (there are a few from-scratch recipes but I haven't tried them yet). There's not much from here I can try to make, though, without the actual bread recipe - which is a shame, because the Blackberry Cream Cheese Danish looks amazing.
I loved the look of some of the treats - biscuits, slices and truffles - but almost all of them use cake mixes as their base, or other pre-prepared food stuff, so they will require more imagination and adaptation from me than I feel confident with - just wait for my attempt to make the Andes Mint Cookies, which looked amazing in the book. (As an aside, I don't understand why people don't make cakes etc. from scratch - it's super easy, doesn't use elaborate ingredients - flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk are the basics - and tastes way better too. Food made from mixes always taste a bit fake to me. I can always tell when someone's used a packet mix.) They also look very sweet and, some of them, a bit sickly-sweet - again, these aren't the kinds of cakes, biscuits (cookies), slices (bars) or cupcakes I've grown up with, but I'm a good-enough baker (and I love my sweet stuff!) to be able to tell how something's going to taste by looking at the ingredients and the picture. It's often all about texture, too - I heard once that it's texture rather than taste that defines our likes and dislikes when it comes to food.
The book isn't just about food, though. There are some clever craft ideas, like how to make an ice-cream piñata, or pallet bookshelves (two ideas I'd love to try one day). They have 14 ideas for Valentines - fourteen things you can do with your partner in the lead-up to Valentines, which are very cute and revolve around puns. The "much more" encompasses some helpful lists: 50 Fun Date Ideas, 100 Healthy Snack Ideas, 101 Fun, Easy and Cheap Indoor Activities for Kids, 40 Road Trip Ideas for Kids, which are very handy. They also have a Spring Cleaning Checklist which is rather terrifying, and a "Build your 72-Hour Kit in 52 Weeks" - my first thought was, "What's a 72-hour kit?" but looking at the list, I gather it's some kind of survival kit.
The book has great presentation, in full colour and easy-to-read text, and every recipe has a photo, which is really important to me. It's a shame that many of the photos are out-of-focus but the overall visual is still there.
I realise that all this must make me sound neurotic or fussy or just really uptight and boring, but actually I'm not, I'm just really passionate about good quality food and the truth is, you save money by cutting out the processed food and junk food and buying fresh ingredients instead, which can be used for multiple meals. It's a myth that buying good food costs more than buying junk. Try it one day: go to the supermarket or the green grocer or wherever you like to go, and only buy veg, fruit, milk, butter etc. - those kinds of everyday basics. Go another time and buy all the junk and pre-made stuff, and compare. It's amazing how much veg you can buy for twenty dollars. The next step is having the time to cook good quality meals, and it's true that things can get fiddly and take longer than you expected. But meals don't have to be complicated at all, and there are plenty of simple dishes you can make relatively easily. Making a cheese sauce for pasta that uses butter, flour, milk, cheese and seasoning takes no longer than getting out a packet mix, to be perfectly honest. (If you want a really good recommendation for great, simple recipes then look no farther than Bill Granger, he's my go-to celebrity chef.)
This review should, I hope, give you a good idea of what to expect in this book, because I'm sure it will appeal to a lot of people (especially Americans??), but if you're more like me and you're someone who likes making things from scratch, and avoids using processed food as much as possible, then this probably isn't the book for you. Nevertheless, as part of the 4x4 Family Dinner Challenge, I picked out four recipes to try to go along with this review, and I will be posting a new one each week for the rest of March, starting today with their recipe for Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken. I was really happy to find this here - and find that it was a recipe that I could easily make - because I've never come across a recipe for it before. And it was yummy. Not something I could eat very often, but definitely worth making. I'll list the recipes here and add the links after I post them on my blog: