"I think the most important thing to keep in mind when you're cooking is that, first and foremost food must taste good. I know it sounds blindingly obvious, but in an age when style tends to take precedence over substance, we do all need a gentle reminder about this every so often."
And yet this, - a compilation of Belinda Jefferey first two cookbooks 100 favourite recipes and Tried-and-true recipes - is full of stunning photographs - not just of some of the dishes, but also many simply gorgeous still lives of this and that in the food world. The photographer is Rodney Weiland, who has also done all of the photographs on her website. And I'm talking briefly about this because it was yet another op shop gift from my foodie friend. She, like me, has a large library of cookbooks - well even larger than mine I think, and every now and then she buys a duplicate - such as this, and she very kindly passes some of them to me.
Belinda Jefferey has sort of slipped under the radar of influential Australian cooks which is a shame, because, a bit like Delia, she never fails. That is her recipes don't fail - particularly I think when it comes to baking cakes and suchlike. And her recipes are also, like Delia, not outrageous but subtle twists on thing you might otherwise think nothing of. She is also a bit like another favourite guru of mine - Robert Carrier - prone to repeat recipes from one book to another. For example my favourite Upside down tomato and basil pie that I have told you about several times before, is in this book too.
To give you a bit of a view of what is in there I first though to just show you the first and last recipes: Pickled red cabbage with chilli and ginger and Egg-Free And Dairy-Free Spicy Carrot, Honey And Pecan Cake (called Healthy and delicious carrot and honey sweet bread in the book) - from something mildly exotic, to something very Country Women's Association fare.
Not every recipe in this book has a picture to go with it, but more do than don't. And not many of them are on her website, but she obviously has her fans because many of the recipes can be found on other people's blogs, with rave reviews. In her introduction she lists some of her favourites, claiming that they get made frequently at home - I wonder - so I chose these to illustrate the sort of thing you will find in there: Braised star anise chicken; Thai cucumber, chilli and roasted macadamia salad; The most fabulous banana cake; Spicy red lentils with capers and currants; One pan chocolate and praline cake (for which, sadly, there is no recipe online) and Cooee's incredible rum balls. And don't they all look gorgeous?
Every recipe has a short introduction, sometimes, I have to admit a tiny bit repetitive. She is not an amazing writer as well as cook. But this really, really doesn't matter. What matters is the recipes - do they work? Do they taste good? Well obviously I haven't tried them all but I'm willing to bet that they do indeed all taste good. I have not had a failure yet with her recipes. She also does not do the fashionable thing of suggesting substitutes and variations, although her short piece on Taste and balance, does indeed encourage you to improvise and create - well maybe not with baking.
"Cooking to suit your personal taste can be a very liberating thing to do. A recipe becomes no longer something that's written in stone but purely a guide to get you under way. What you'll find when you start to think like this is that cooking becomes so much more creative and much more fun. Sure, every dish isn't going to work all the time, but it will rarely be so bad that it's inedible, and you'll learn something for next time."
Although this is a second-hand book it is in perfect condition, but there was one little indicator that it once belonged to somebody else - a very small piece of blue wrapping paper stuck in a page as a bookmark. The recipes there were for Italian style lentil and bacon soup and My favourite hummus. So at least one of these dishes has been made by someone, somewhere, sometime. I will keep it there as a reminder.
I couldn't resist ending with this stunning photograph. so simple and yet so perfect.
Thank you Monika.
Last night's galette was one of those dishes which was a bit disappointing. Maybe Nigel is a better writer than recipe creator. Although that's probably not really fair, because I was working with inferior ingredients - particularly in the case of the tomatoes, which were just standard supermarket ones bought in the middle of winter - so from a greenhouse somewhere. Red but hard. I also cut them into wedges rather than slices, which might have been a mistake. I had to supplement the shallots with a couple of red onions, but I don't think that was the problem. As Belinda Jefferey said "It wasn't so bad that it was inedible", it just wasn't very wow. So what did I learn? Well Nigel would say I should shop more carefully. I think it needed something else to lift it. Some cheese? Maybe a touch of anchovy, or even pesto dribbled on at the end? The pastry was really, really good though. And I will make that again. Here are the photographs. Also not that impressive!