A cookbook for Christmas?

22 Dec, 2008 05:21 PM

No longer just stocking-fillers, cookbooks are a genuine, thoughtful gift for anyone partial to donning an apron, writes Helen Greenwood.

We watch cooking and restaurant competitions on the television, we listen to chefs on the radio and we read about food in newspapers and magazines.

But you can't wrap up any of this as a present for Christmas.

In the end, there is really nothing like a cookbook with thoughtful recipes, beautiful pages, inspiring photography and, above all, personality to bring joy to a cook.

This year has been an inspired one for cookbooks.

The amazing A Day At El Bulli by Ferran Adria brought the world-renowned restaurant to our kitchens.

Then there was the collectors' vintage edition of The Commonsense Cookery Book, a step-by-step guide first published in Australia in 1914.

Here are a few cookbooks we think reflect a great year of new food: The Big Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal.

What a joy to see an intelligent, generous, artistic book (pictured) from one of the world's top chefs with barely one photo of him in it.

Sure, there are a few witty illustrations of his trademark shaved pate and space-age glasses but for the most part, this book focuses on the history of his Fat Duck restaurant, the food and the science.

As Harold McGee, the guru of 21st-century gastronomy, writes in the introduction: "This book is serious fun. It nudges us to set aside our preconceptions about cookbooks and restaurant dining and enjoy watching them made new." – breathtaking photos, dissertations on perfumes and the science of chewing plus serious essays.

Worth the price, $275, Bloomsbury Press, 532 pages.

For Heston Blumenthal's favourite book, turn to page 24.

Make It Moroccan: Modern Cuisine From The Place Where The Sun Sets by Hassan M'SouliHassan.

M'Souli owns Out Of Africa restaurant in Manly and this is his second book celebrating the excitement of modern Moroccan cooking.

One of the joys of Australian food - and culture - is the way it embraces other cuisines and gives them a chance to blossom without forgetting their roots.

This book epitomises this.

From sardines stuffed with harissa and wrapped in vine leaves to veal knuckle tajine with artichokes and lemongrass, M'Souli brings us history, stunning images and recipes for the home cook. $45, New Holland, 224 pages.

Sri Owen's Indonesian Food by Sri Owen Sri Owen is the world's authority on Indonesian cuisine.

Her book, The Rice Book, is without peer.

Here she takes us into the staples and techniques of cooking basics such as sambals and rendang.

Her section on modernised recipes will be a revelation for those unfamiliar with the subtleties of Javanese cooking.

The new-wave food and menus for special occasions are especially interesting.

This production is lovely with stories and fine photography.

$60, Pavilion, 288 pages.

Maggie's Kitchen by Maggie Beer has all the exuberance of Maggie Beer's personality and her never-ending joy of food.

This book is a spin-off of her television series and we can see clearly how she uses the medieval tradition of mixing sweet and sour flavours such as fruits and meat, balsamic vinegars and vin cotto in a modern style.

Her recipes are a breath of fresh air in that they seem familiar but have a twist that is hers alone.

$59.95, Lantern, 256 pages.

Kitchen Safari: Stories And Recipes From The African Wilderness by Yvonne Short.

The humble safari camp has grown into an important eco-tourist industry for parts of Africa.

This book goes to 38 lodges and camps in six African countries and dishes up glorious vistas of Africa from wind-swept sands to grassy plains.

There are photos of real people and notes about security and the hyena that ran away.

The recipes are as humble as camping bread and roasted nut honey, as rich as chocolate pan souffle with orange and mint, and as exotic as smoked springbok carpaccio with summer greens.

$35, Conservation Corporation Africa, 192 pages.

White's Great British Feast by Marco Pierre, who is another British legend.

White chucked in his three Michelin rosettes and went off to shoot game and fish.

He returned to television, baggier around the eyes and heavier around the middle, and pulled off a celebrity comeback.

His search for quintessential British fare has an honesty about it, leavened by bits of 'esoterica'.

The recipes are straightforward and not always simple but they are compelling.

Sardines on toast with a fresh tomato sauce, roast venison with Willy's 100pc chocolate and Cambridge burnt cream. A down-to-earth book.

$55, Orion/Hachette, 224 pages.

Complete Robuchon by Joel Robuchon: I've never been disappointed in a book from this legend.

His empire now extends from Paris to Las Vegas and Hong Kong and he is the most Michelin-starred chef on the planet with 24 rosettes to his name.

Here are the classics, the kind of regional specialties and favourites that every home cook could master.

You'll find various potages or vegetable soups, myriad ways with lamb, fancy fish and frugal fish dishes, custard cake from Brittany and peach jam with verbena.

$79.99, Grub Street, 768 pages.

Chocolat by Stephan Lagorce – "Is another book about chocolate really necessary?" asks the author in his introduction.

Yes is the answer, when it's a book about how to taste chocolate, what goes with it and how it should be used.

There's a chocolate-tasting guide that covers technical aspects from single origin to organic and cocoa powder to chocolate spread.

The recipes are alluring, the photos gorgeous and the packaging, like a silvery chocolate-bar wrapper, is gorgeous – good enough to eat.

$39.99, Hamlyn, 160 pages



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