Cookbook Reviews: Great Lookin’ Books!

It’s Friday! That means more book reviews from Kristina Gill, something we’re trying to do a bit more regularly, at least through the end of the year if I don’t wear Ms. Gill out! Since it’s officially gift season I can think of nothing better than cookbooks, can you? And when they all look good like this week’s entries, well, let’s just say I’ll make sure to safely secure my stocking this year to accommodate the weight of books, hint hint.

KG: When I first started experimenting in the kitchen, I admit I was attracted to that perfect, hoyty-toyty kind of food.  I couldn’t be away from the TV when Great Chefs Great Cities was coming on because I just loved that program.  I had to have pictures in my cookbooks because, in retrospect, I cared more about how the food looked than how it tasted.  The more I learned to prepare the food I liked, the more I cared about eating what I liked.  Spending tons of time in the kitchen was ok, but getting great food without great effort was even more fun.  This week’s books are about just that.  (Australian + British style)

Bill’s Basics by Bill Granger (Quadrille Publishing 2010; photography by Mikkel Vang) This is a general cooking book, as the title suggests.  The back cover reads “100 classic recipes made simple”…maybe it should have been called Bill’s Classics…All jokes aside, this book by Australian cook Bill Granger has an even distribution of cuisine types, Asian influenced, American influenced, and European.  (Nasi Goreng, Black Bean Chili, Carbonara, Lamb Curry, pancakes, etc.)  I’m most impressed with the desserts, though, which come both at the beginning of the book disguised as “Baking” and at the end as “Desserts”.  Nothing Bill Granger makes is ever complicated, so the instructions are clear and easy.  If you need an all around cookbook for yourself or for a budding cook, this is a good starter which will produce great results, won’t discourage future exploration in the kitchen, and is quite nice to look at as well.  I do not like the semi-glossy pages though.

How I cook by Skye Gyngell (Quadrille Publishing 2010; photography by Jason Lowe) I was so intrigued by the cover of this book because it reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons by Richard Corrigan (which I previously reviewed here), I couldn’t resist picking it up. Inside of course is nothing like Corrigan’s book. Though this is also based on seasonality and easy preparation, it is more of a personal book about how Australian chef Skye Gyngell eats– what she prepares for herself at home. It is arranged by meal, and menu, so you don’t have to think about what to pair items with. This book would be quite useful for planning small and elegant dinner parties. The ingredients are all quite common, yet Skye manages to put together a refined collection of recipes, not at all the “comfort” type food I imagined when I first opened the book. Much like her previous two books, you might opt for only one of them, but not all three.

Canteen:  Great British Food by Cass Titcombe, Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton Malone (Ebury Press 2010; photography by Angela Moore) Canteen is a restaurant with ‘flagship’ in Spitalfields (East London), and three more throughout the city.  The intro to the book says “Canteen is committed to providing honest food, nationally sourced, skillfully prepared and reasonably priced.”  I’ve never eaten there.  But I am fascinated by traditional British cuisine, or what we think of as British cuisine.  Though it was just published this year, the book looks exactly like its from the 1950s, cover and all.  I find that charming!  The recipes cover the typical bubble and squeak, scotch eggs, steak and kidney pies, treacle tart, steamed syrup pudding mixed in with more modern fare like roast tomato and goat’s cheese tart, skate with black butter, roast squash and fennel with spelt, and hazelnut, cherry, and white chocolate cookies.  Of course I will never ever touch the deviled kidneys on toast, but the shallot, thyme, and cheddar pie or the sausage rolls?  I’m in.  I haven’t been back to London since I got this book, but next time I go, I’ll check out Canteen and report back.

Leon:  Naturally Fast Food Book 2 by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent (Conran Octopus 2010; special photography Georgia Glynn Smith). I never thought I’d use the expression hot mess to describe a cookbook, but here it is: Leon 2.  I didn’t see Book 1 of Leon, but I think it looked exactly like this, too.  This edition is dedicated to meals you can cook in under twenty minutes from start to finish, and meals you can prepare in advance and reheat (my kind of cooking!).  It is a collage format inside, full of drawings, family photos, and unappealing food photos.  Really unappealing.  To quote a colleague of mine when he is exasperated, “Honestly!”  But if you can get past the headache inducing design of the book and focus almost entirely on the recipes, there’s great stuff hidden in here.  Winter Vegetable Herb Post Roast (no meat!), John’s Broccoli with garlic, cashew nuts, and chilli (red pepper), Rigas’s Lamb (slow roasted lamb with small macaroni), Lamb and Apricot balls (meatballs), Courgette soup (zucchini)…  Really, this book is like sifting through a flea market to uncover great treasure.  By the way, I understand that Leon is a brick and mortar food store of some sort in London, but I’ve never been.  I will put it on my list to check out next time I go.  I like the section of the book which includes recipes from Leon managers, but I needed a Dramamine to read the acknowledgements page.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean!!  This is the perfect book for a student or someone who has an innate curiosity for all different types of cookbooks.  Or someone who is looking for great quick recipes and cook ahead recipes.

Food From Plenty: Good food made from the plentiful, the seasonal, and the leftover by Diana Henry (2010 Mitchell Beazley; photography by Jonathan Lovekin) Diana Henry began working on this book before the recession hit, so it has come out on the tail end of already quite a few books on the theme of being more responsible with your food.  That’s not really why I bought it, but it’s one of the reasons I really like this book.  I like sensible recipes.  I love the “throw it all in a pan and roast it” or “heat olive oil and spices, shred the left over meat and brown it in a pan, then add the left over rice” type recipes because I think they have even greater flavors and they feel more…natural.  Diana Henry’s book is that simple, yet creative:  Spanish rice with pork and spinach; Lamb, beer, and black bean chilli, cherry and goat’s cheese-stuffed chicken, parsnip and smoked haddock soup, and there is dessert– laid back like sugar-crusted lemon loaf cake.  The chapters are divided by main ingredient– roasts and leftovers, vegetables, pulses, grains, soups, sweets, eggs, etc.  I love it, and the photography is sublime.  Someone, somewhere will probably hate me for saying it, but it reminds me of Nigel Slater’s cooking style, and definitely one ups Tamasin Day Lewis’s Supper for a Song.  This book would be nice for anyone who is interested in being inspired to make their own laid back dishes in the kitchen after trying a few recipes by someone else.


  1. says

    Hi Broderick,

    He has good recipes, and I love having breakfast at his original restaurant in Sydney. And I know you’d particularly appreciate Mikkel Vang’s photography in this one!


    P.S. Did you notice all the mud australia stuff he uses in his shows?!? 😉 Those lucky lucky Aussies!!

  2. says

    i must say i’m a little jealous of your blog. And i think i’m more jealous that you are funnier than me. I have work to do! Great blog – i love your cookbook selection – i’m intrigued.

  3. says

    I’m really, really interested in the naturally fast food one. I got to start feeding the kids some better food, but it has to be fast ’cause we’re always on the go.


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