This year I've decided to bestow a book on my nearest and dearest for Christmas as a way of keeping things relatively simple and avoiding queuing up at the shops at all costs. Over the next few days, I'll be giving you a glimpse at the titles I'll be gifting, helpfully organised into Food, Fashion and Fun. First up, food...
Sensing the public's current preoccupation with all things culinary (thank you, MasterChef, Julie and Julia and GFC), a bunch of cookbooks have been released just in time for Santa's sleigh loading. Here are five of my favourites...
I Know How to Cook by Ginette Mathiot, $69.95, Phaidon
I broke a sweat hauling this tome onto my desk, such is the heft of its almost-1000 pages. Perhaps this is how the French, who have an aversion to gyms but have bought this tome since 1932, stay so slim? Known as Je sais cuisiner and recently translated into English, it has sold more than six million copies, earning its author the honorary title of "queen of French domestic cooking".
This edition is a satisfying education in authentic French cooking, with its sections on cooking fundamentals, utensils, methods, wine selection, flavourings, menu planning, etiquette and table settings, in addition to 15 recipe chapters covering everything from 'sauces and basic recipes' through to 'sweets, preserves and drinks'. Interspersed with true-to-life food photography (not for every recipe) and beautiful colour illustrations, just paging through it is a pleasure. My one qualm is that the ingredients are listed in ounces and pints, which is completely foreign to me.
Giving to... my mother-in-law
She's Leaving Home by Monica Trapaga, $49.95, Lantern
Nostalgia for Trapaga's stint as a host on Playschool notwithstanding, this book is a pure delight. What started as a gift of treasured recipes for her daughter Lil (who contributes several missives) has, Trapaga writes, "become a gift for women everywhere". Recipes include the basic, though multi-cultural, favourites served in most Aussie homes: bircher muesli, pancakes, sandwiches, pumpkin soup, tin-can tuna salad, spaghetti bolognese, roast beef, guacamole, cheesecake, san choi bao, risotto, tuna mornay, blueberry muffins and carrot cake. But there is also a nod to Trapaga's Spanish heritage, with notes on paella, sangria and gazpacho, and exotic takes on meatballs, duck salad and pasta dishes. With illustrations by Meredith Gaston and Trapaga's musings on practicalities, travel, fiestas, comfort food and family, it's the culinary equivalent of Michi Girl's Like I Give a Frock. A paean to a life well lived.
Giving to... my sister
Manna From Heaven by Rachel Grisewood, $59.99, Allen and Unwin
Rachel Grisewood trained as a chef in London before moving to Australia in the 1980s and founding her shop, Manna From Heaven, and The Sydney Biscuit Company, famed in foodie circles for its cakes, biscuits and pastries and served on Qantas flights! Grisewood's effervescent personality and passion for food shared with friends and family infuses every page. She describes her home as a "riot of colour, mess and many, many books", while in the kitchen "tins and jars clutter the benchtops, and bottles of olive oil and wine pile up next to cake stands, vases of drooping flowers and candleabra with candles that have dribbled down to stubs". What crazy fun! She shops for fresh ingredients each day and cooks with Julia Child levels of enthusiasm.
Recipes include her famous chocolate crunch, as well as 'Pooh's Goo honey Ice Cream' and moist orange cake with pistachios (the accompanying picture of this cake will cause you to salivate). From friands to fried potatoes, flatbreads to frittata, Grisewood's covered her entire culinary repertoire, and includes references to those chefs from whom she's taken inspiration, as well as quirky recipe asides. Images of a My Little Pony sitting atop a layered cake, a European-style table spread, lemon butterfly cakes, a very cute kitten, and a picture of the flame-haired Grisewood with her daughter, Olive, are memorable. It's as much an escape from the everyday into Grisewood's quirky world as a cookbook.
Giving to... my fairy blog-mother
The Thrifty Kitchen by Suzanne Gibbs and Kate Gibbs, $49.95, Lantern
This mother-daughter duo are proponents of conscious eating and engaging with food through preparation that doesn't cost a fortune. Suzanne's mother (Kate's grandmother) is Australian food doyenne Margaret Fulton, who took her to the food markets each Saturday morning in her youth to buy the freshest produce at the cheapest prices, from which they concocted delicious recipes to make meal times special. Mother and daughter both have a 'waste not want not' food philosophy, which calls for creativity in the kitchen, which is all too often lost in our microwave culture.
The book opens with notes on thrifty shopping, pantry staples and buying meats. This is followed by chapters on breakfasts (porridge with stewed rhubarb, muesli with berries, French toast, ricotta pancakes, poached eggs, omelettes); work lunches and lunchbox foods (hummus, bacon and corn muffins, chicken sausage rolls, sandwiches, falafel pockets, muffins and muesli bars); weeknight meals (crunchy tuna and egg mornay, 'slightly spicy salmon fish cakes', 'very retro curried eggs', Thai green chicken curry, lamb chops); meals from leftovers (salads, fried rice three ways, minestrone, fettuccine, potato pie); and weekend meals to cook and keep (Turkish bean salad, tomato and zucchini bake, Maltese tuna, pumpkin and rice pie, oven -braised lamb shanks and beef casserole). Apples, eggplants, lemons, stone fruit and tomatoes act as inspiration for still more recipes, which are followed by chapters on baking (cakes, biscuits, meringues, oatcakes, tarts), entertaining on a budget and a full and flourishing index. By the end, you will well and truly feel like part of the Fulton family.
Giving to... my mummy
MasterChef Australia The Cookbook Volume One, $39.95, Ebury
According to the latest Nielsen BookScan, this is the Titanic of cookbooks, becoming the best-selling book in Australia after its first week on sale. Impressive. But not unexpected: MasterChef was an Aussie pop-culture phenomenon in 2009, with contestants Julie, Chris and Poh all becoming household names and scoring themselves various media contracts in the process. In the foreward, Julie writes that MasterChef was "something positive, something affirming, something that drew families together in front of the television and into conversation with each other." She adds that her hope is this book will encourage people to get into the kitchen, back to the magic of cooking, like the show did. Given its instant popularity, I've no doubt it will be stocked on Aussie bookshelves just as Je sais cuisiner is in France.
The book covers all the basics, from dicing onions and slicing a carrot julienne-style (which always eludes me!), to making stocks, deciphering one potato from another, skinning a tomato and poaching an egg. There are tips from the show's judges and recipes by contestants, including Melissa's bug and sage tortellini, Chris's "beeramisu", Julie's lemon diva cupcakes and Justine's lamb roulade with spinach and mint puree. Photos from the show of all the friendly faces we came to know may see the MasterChef brand one day trump the venerable Australian Women's Weekly in the cookbook department!
Giving to... my sister-in-law
Girl With a Satchel (full of cookbooks)