Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cookbook review: In the Kitchen

Thanks to a combination of Christmas presents and bookshop gift vouchers, I've been able to add to my cookbook collection. I didn't need to add to my already burgeoning collection but I just couldn't resist some of the new titles on offer. I'll be reviewing my new cookbooks over the coming weeks. The first one is In The Kitchen by Allan Campion and Michele Curtis.

Allan and Michele are well-known to Melburnians, with The Foodies Diary and The Foodies Guide to Melbourne being just two of their regular publications. I've never bought the diary but I have several previous editions of the Foodies Guide and it's a great treasure-trove of information. If you need to know where to source food items, whether it's buttery croissants, unusual Asian vegetables, decadent chocolates or Spanish food stores, this book has all the information you need. It's a great way to make new discoveries and find out places worth crossing town for. It was through this book that I discovered the wonderful Frank's Bakery in Elsternwick, where the sourdough bread is a perennial favourite of mine.

I also have a copy of Campion and Curtis's Everyday Cooking, which has had plenty of use and can always be relied upon to provide a recipe when I'm running short of inspiration or need a quick but tasty weeknight meal.

When I saw In The Kitchen, which has more than 1000 recipes and weighs more than 2kg, I thought I really couldn't justify another cookbook, especially one of this size. But when I flicked through the book, I found that there was a recipe on practically every page that I wanted to try, so of course the book came home with me.

The chapters are divided into food types or meals for easy reference; for example brunch, starters, soups, everyday dinners, curries and tagines, cakes and lunchbox ideas. Each recipe is accompanied by a breezy little note that explains the recipe and perhaps a hint to its provenance, gives some reassuring comments about the difficulty or otherwise of the recipe, or provides alternative ingredients to jazz up or dress down the original recipe. I like the personal and reassuring tone of the book, which will comfort less-assured cooks, as it feels like a good friend is standing there with you in the kitchen and guiding you through the recipe.

Many of the dishes use everyday ingredients found in a well-stocked larder and many are both family-friendly and suitable for quick weeknight dinners. There's also more glamorous recipes for dinner parties or special occasions but, again, many of these recipes don't use specialist or unusual ingredients but rely on good lateral thinking or the pairing of complementary ingredients (such as dates with blue cheese).

So far, I've trialled several of the cake recipes and the one-pot chocolate cake recipe is alone worth the price of the book. The introduction to the recipe says "This has to be the best, most simple chocolate cake in the whole world" and I agree. Only a pot, a wooden spoon and a cake tin are required to make this fudgy cake, which is elevated above everyday status with the addition of good strong coffee. The flavours of this cake improve with age and it is a cake that I know I'll make again and again. The friends who were my guinea-pigs when I tried this cake were so delighted with it that they immediately requested the recipe.

I've also made the gingerbread cake, which is a cinch to whip up and is ready within 30 minutes, making it perfect for an unplanned morning or afternoon tea. The double chocolate chip biscuits satisfy any sweet cravings without an unnecessary trip to the supermarket (as the double chocolate hit comes from chocolate chips and cocoa, rather than chocolate chips and melted chocolate).

From the savoury chapters, I can report that the southern fried chicken is easy and delicious, with none of the fat or greasy skin that you would get from the commercial fast-food version, and that the oven chips are to die for.

I've bookmarked many other recipes to try, particularly stews and soups for when the weather turns colder. In The Kitchen is full of many recipes that will become classics in your own kitchen because the delicious final result belies the simplicity of the technique. We don't need to be highly trained chefs to eat well and these recipes will help launch novice cooks on their way, as well as providing more experienced cooks with plenty of recipes to extend their repertoire. I highly recommend this cookbook.

In The Kitchen is published by Hardie Grant Books.

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