As a lover of food, chef and blogger extraordinaire *tongue in cheek* I am always on the lookout for recipe inspiration. There are some go to favourites that allow you to know what’s in vogue/season/trending which is always interesting to read if not inspirational. Gourmet traveller and Vogue Food and Travel are great monthly mags that keep me up to date and Donna Hay and delicious are great for everyday recipes, but what about recipe books?
Spending $4-$10 on a magazine doesn’t seem quite the hefty investment an $80-$100 recipe book is. So how do you choose? How do you literally choose a recipe for success, a book of go to ideas that are sure to impress your guests? I have five different components to look for when finding a recipe for success
1. Method in the madness – How is the dish cooked?
Whilst the photos will draw you in, I always read the methods. If I as a chef can sense complex methods and too many ingredients in more than one recipe, I have to either a) really enjoy the author’s food having made a recipe before or b) have found a book in a genre I’d like to learn so I am prepared to spend the time creating the dishes.
Taking notes on recipes and methods that work for me and had worked for my mum
2. Inspiration and Food Porn – Does it look great and does it make you want to cook it?
My problem is that despite being a stickler for the methods, I don’t always follow the exact rules. It’s a habit that pertains to other areas of my life. Sewing and following a pattern? Some of the time. I usually do my own little thing to it. Paint by numbers? Not a chance. But then this is how I create food that is authentically mine. I like a good and clear method so I can clearly grasp the concept of the dish, the reasons for adding something or making it just so. From there I can alter to suit my tastes, palate and preference. Beautiful photos give me a sense of the dish and how it comes to fruition from the ingredient list. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and photo that makes you drool is worth its weight in culinary inspiration and success. A word of warning though – food styling is full of tricks so what you see may not always be the whole truth – as with the method use it as a guide and don’t judge yourself for the finished product – it is made by you therefore fabulous by default!
Two of my favourite cookbooks both for the actual food and the stunning images
3. Watching the clock – How long will this really take?
The lament I have often heard from my family and friends is how long it took to make something. The fact that Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals have been a roaring success is a no brainer. The marketing almost does itself. Dinner is a half hour or less? Yes please! Now I know he makes sure certain elements are in place like a hot oven, a boiled kettle and utensils ready, but really, this is what chef’s do every day to make sure creating the delicious food you enjoy doesn’t take three hours to get to your plate after ordering. Realistically though it shouldn’t take you any more than an hour to create one of those dishes. Dishes that are labour intensive can be tedious and remove the joy from the final outcome unless you are truly in the mood. Check how long the dishes will take and whether they are the type of time frames you like to worth within.
Jamie - making dinner quick and easy
4. Kicking it Old School – Tried and Tested recipes
My favourite recipes and recipe books are more often than not the old school traditional ones. Great sauces, jams, chutneys, relishes, mayonnaises, dressings are the building blocks to a great meal. These are the final touches that can elevate a piece of lettuce to the piece de resistance! A slight exaggeration perhaps but you get my drift I’m sure. The great thing about recipe books such as those from Australian Women’s Weekly and Marie Claire is that they test and test and test their recipes before release. This ensures the recipes are tried and true and able to be replicated in a home kitchen. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe and realising you need a special piece of equipment that you don’t have.
One of the most comprehensive guides to ingredients and what to do with them from Stephanie Alexander. Fabulous stuff. Australian Women's Weekly making entertaining easy. Just like it should be.
5. Step Back in Time – Retro and classic cooking to remind you just how much food has evolved
Sometimes too it is fun to scour for retro and vintage cookbooks. There is certainly a large selection of microwave cookbooks in second hand stores. Microwaves were initially seen to be the time saving life savers busy people who love to cook were looking for. People were poaching eggs, steaming veg and making microwave cakes like it was going out of fashion. Thankfully it did as I don’t feel you can really recreate conventional cooking methods in a microwave. Other amusing finds in retro recipe books are the ingredients that are used and the way they were presented. Curly parsley, paprika, lemon wedges were food items elevated to pride of the dinner table. Liver, onions, tinned asparagus and pastry encrusted items filled the pages. Now foams, gelee , sous-vide poaching and spherification are all the methods a home cook needs to master to emulate restaurant style food. Or so it would seem.
The best ever recipes, classically retro and stylish
So how do you create a recipe for success in your own home without trotting out the same meatloaf that your grandmother made and seeming behind the times? Take it up a notch of course. Recipes can recreate classical combinations and ideas in a way that is more current, clean and interesting. You can take the elements you are familiar with and present them in a way that looks like it was lifted out of the pages of the latest foodie magazine.
It can be very easy to fall into a cooking rut, thus dishes which are simple and easy to make become high on rotation. It doesn’t always have to be so though. It can be remarkably easy to tweak minor components of a dish to make a major change and that’s the beauty of recipe books, research and inspiration. You see something in a new light and all of a sudden you’re eating interesting again.
Need a hand updating your culinary skills? Feel free to throw a challenge my way to update a family recipe to a new dish or a new way of presenting it and I will blog it here.
Otherwise enjoy the hunt for a great recipe book and I hope the recipes I feature here become favourites too. Happy eating!