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Sydney Seafood School Cookbook Roberta Muir, ISBN 978-1-921382-76-6, Lantern, RRP $49.99

This book has spent a lot of time on my kitchen bench since it was published. I've certainly enjoyed cooking from it and exploring new recipes.

It’s easy to get in a rut when it comes to cooking fish. We buy the same old familiar species and cook them the same old familiar way. But adventurous chefs, always looking for something new, have taught us it’s time to get more adventurous ourselves.

The Sydney Seafood School was opened in 1989 to teach people how to cook some of the more unusual species and help create a demand for the huge variety of species found in our oceans.
Each year about 13,000 people attend classes there  and leading chefs have shared their expertise and encouraged classes to think beyond whiting, snapper and flathead. And that is what this book is all about.

Seafood, with all of its innate goodness, is an important part of the balanced diet we are all encouraged to follow.

While many of us buy our fresh fish ready for the pan, the book embraces the basics like scaling, filleting, skinning, pin-boning and butterflying.

These days, more and more people are becoming accustomed to eating raw fish and the first recipes in this beautifully illustrated book include some delicious variations on the theme with experts like Guillaume Brahimi, Tetsuya Wakuda, and others sharing their favourites.

There are simple but interesting family dishes, party food, special occasion dishes, quick and easy recipes, soups and salads. Fish varieties cover finfish, shellfish, cephalopods and crustaceans and cooking methods include baking, barbecuing, deep-frying, pan-frying, poaching and steaming.

With its fabulous collection of tips, techniques and recipes from Australia’s leading chefs, this book deserves a place on every kitchen bookshelf. It will help home cooks to confidently choose from some of the less familiar species in the fishmonger’s showcase and produce some excellent dishes for family, friends and guests.

Author Roberta Muir is manager of the Sydney Seafood School at the Sydney Fish Market and even she admits to learning something new at every class. I can believe her - this book has certainly augmented my own knowledge.

Photography is by Alan Benson and certainly adds to the charm of the volume.

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Produce to Platter Daylesford & the Macedon Ranges, Ballarat & the Pyrenees Jonette George and Daniele Wilton, ISBN 978-0-9873712-0-1, Smudge Publishing, RRP $34.99

I enjoy exploring Victoria’s countryside, particularly if the jaunt is combined with an overnight stay and time to sample the local produce and wines. Books like this one certainly assist explorers to plan the journey and make the most of what’s on offer and this mother-daughter team has produced several of these helpful guides covering destinations such as the Yarra Valley, the Mornington Peninsula and the Bellarine, as well as sampling the flavours of Melbourne.

After summarising the ancient and modern history of the areas, the book moves on to the present day and what is now on offer. The areas boast a dozen local markets and these certainly offer a great opportunity to find out what treasures come from the surrounding paddocks, gardens, orchards and local producers.

A map is shown for each region, along with a list of producers, winemakers, restaurants and other food-related destinations – a considerable help to the traveller trying to put together a logical route.

Produce is also listed by seasons so car boots can be filled with the best of what’s growing, cooking and drinking well.

There is a generous collection of photos by Bianca White and Paul Richards enticing would-be visitors over the threshold of many businesses.

But wait – there’s more! This is also a cookbook featuring assorted dishes from local chefs.

A nice addition to the earlier books and one that I will find very useful..

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The Garden Cook - Grow, cook and eat with kids Fiona Inglis, ISBN 978-1742664279, Murdoch Books, $29.99

Teacher Fiona Inglis was a finalist in the first series of Master Chef and she is now involved in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden programme, teaching her students about growing healthy food and how to cook it.

In an age where some children have absolutely no idea that peas come out of a pod, that chips were once potatoes growing underground, or that the sauce sprinkled on their hamburger is made from tomatoes, it’s heartening to see that there are others who are learning the joy of gardening and growing the ingredients for simple, delicious meals.

As a child I learned from my father and grandfather about the deliciousness of baby carrots pulled from the earth, washed under the garden tap and consumed in the garden. I was allowed to shell the peas, pick the mint for mint sauce, harvest ripe tomatoes for the summer salad or pick a leaf of silverbeet for my baby sister’s mashed vegetables. They were such simple pleasures and it’s comforting to think a new generation is enjoying them, too.

Inglis says the children she works with in the classroom experience food from the roots up and they learn lifelong practical skills. Hopefully they’ll turn into a generation that won’t be limited in their cooking skills to defrosting ready-made meals.

In The Garden Cook she covers the basics fro essential kitchen hygiene to equipment, knife safety to measuring and common cooking terms. Then it’s on to making a veggie patch, choosing easy-to-grow staples, nurturing the plants and the immense satisfaction of turning harvested food into delicious meals.

The recipes cover a range of cooking techniques and also explore food enjoyed by various ethnic groups – focaccia, gozleme, jambalaya,, cauliflower pakoras, pizza, Middle Eastern baked eggs, mini quiches. There’s nothing childish about the food!

Even if your child’s school doesn’t have a garden, you don’t need a quarter acre section to start a small one at home. A few pots on a balcony or a windowsill can produce results.

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Sweet Studio - The art of divine desserts Darren Purchese ISBN 978-1742663371, Murdoch Books, RRP $45.00

There was a time when chefs were a bit like doctors. They made a mystery of what they did. How they achieved their results seemed like some sort of conjuring trick. Times have changed. Doctors have to be more transparent and chefs are only too willing to share their secret recipes.

Pastry chef Darren Purchese is one of the latest to reveal all in a classy book with a padded cover. Purchese moved from one prestigious hotel kitchen to another in England and France (including the Savoy Hotel in London with Anton Edelmann) before arriving in Australia in 2005 where his talent continued to grow at places like Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Sydney's Guillaume at Bennelong.

Early last year he set up Sweet Studio and after 20 years of “hard work and good fortune in the kitchen", he is now sharing his work with a wider audience.

The layout of the book, he says, “reflects the way we work at Sweet Studio, with lots of fantastic dishes with multiple components. With so many elements to a dish, though, there has to be a workflow, as not all of the components for a cake or dessert can be made in one day.”

If you’re not daunted by this and can rise to the challenge, this is a book that will certainly stimulate your creativity.

I open the book at a random page and the recipe is for Roast pumpkin, maple bacon, pecan and milk chocolate 37%. It requires 40 1cm cubes of pumpkin seed cake, spiced chocolate cream, bacon, pecan and milk crumble, roast pumpkin cream, squares of maple jelly, four 4cm milk chocolate 37% mousse hemispheres sprayed with a milk chocolate velvet spray mix, some candied pumpkin seeds and four candied bacon slices dipped in milk chocolate. That’s nine components you’ll need to make to get to the assembly stage.

But Rome wasn’t built overnight and if you have what it takes, this book is a gorgeous collection of stunning desserts that will have your lucky guests treating you with renewed respect.

Of course, without necessarily building complicated desserts, you can still use this book to master a whole range of  lovely recipes and start making your own variations and this is where I think the value of this book lies. Work your way through the techniques, the building blocks, the flavour bursts and you, too, will soon be assembling  the likes of vanilla sponge “toast”, coconut, mango and lime “fried eggs” with a slice of maple-cured bacon and a dash of raspberry and tomato ketchup.

If you have mates up for the challenge, I can see any one of these dishes being a great team-building exercise with maximum reward at the end of your travails. Maybe you can blog your progress...

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Zenbu Zen: Finding Food, Culture and Balance in Kyoto Jane Lawson, ISBN 978-1741968415, Murdoch Books, RRP $69.99

Zenbu ZenJane Lawson found herself up to her ears in stress and decided to take time out. Her energy was spent and it was time to resign from life as it was. She’d visited Japan numerous times and eleted to make her home in Kyoto for a while.

“I knew time spent in Kyoto would be medicine for both body and soul and an opportunity to get reacquainted with myself so there was no option but to swap my daydreams for reality.”

Her first shopping expedition was to a tiny local supermarket to pick up some essential ingredients and set to producing the stock that is the cornerstone of Japanese cuisine katsuo dashi. Her journey had begun.

As Lawson separates herself from her stressful life, her body and soul begin to regenerate and she leads the reader through a delightful collection of recipes that look ultimately more helpful than a medicine cabinet full of pills and potions.

Lawson has taken many of the beautiful lifestyle photos that illustrate her book while Cath Muscat has done the food photography.

Lawson’s Kyoto experiences are punctuated by the recipes which in turn make this a fully functioning cookbook, as much at home on the kitchen bench as on the coffee table. It's certainly a book to cook from.

Zenbu Zen is definitely one to put on your Christmas wish list.

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Limoncello and Linen Water - a trousseau of Italian recipes Tessa Kiros, ISBN 978-1742668789, Murdoch Books, RRP $59.99

kirosThis latest book follows on from Tessa Kiros’s previous seven best-sellers. She has dedicated it “to all of the wonderful matriarchs I have been lucky to meet.” I couldn’t help but think of the matriarchs in my own life as I turned the pages.

It’s a gentle book that reminds me of the days when people did iron their sheets, spraying them with lavender scented linen water and carefully storing them in the linen cupboard, neatly folded.

This is a simply beautiful visual journey, packed with nostalgia. Tin toys, monochrome photos of people from earlier generations,  scent bottles, shining silverware, jewellery, lovely china and collectibles, fragments of handwritten documents, crocheted doilies, pretty tablecloths, old kitchen implements… 

I wondered where so many treasures had come from then I noticed an acknowledgement to Riccardo Barthel for lending items. According to Mr Google, Barthel runs Eyetalia in Florence

But the Italian recipes don’t play second fiddle to the photographs. We go there via the pantry, bread oven, snack box, vegetable patch, pasta pot, dining room, sugar bin and ice box chapters.

The pantry holds assorted preserves, vinegars, oils, jams – and the title’s limoncello. Bread and pizzas emerge from the bread oven and snacks include a fragrant pumpkin crostone.

Artichokes and their cardoon cousins, potatoes, zucchini, radicchio are among the vegetables and the pasta pot is full of the usual suspects. There are poultry and rabbit recipes for the dining room plus other meats – ciabatta stuffed with a pork fillet aand draped in pancetta particularly caught my eye.

Bakers will appreciate the outstanding items in in the sugar bin chapter – biscuits, cakes, tarts and a phenomenal apple cakethat is somewhere between a cake and a tart.

There are also some tempting happy endings in the ice box including granita, ice cream and sorbet.

Once again, Kiros has teamed with photographer Manos Chatzikonstantis and stylist Michail Touros. She has authored other beautiful books but this just might be her best.

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Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking Fuchsia Dunlop, ISBN 978-1-4088-0252-6, Bloomsbury, RRP $55.00

Every Grain of RiceFuchsia Dunlop was the first Westerner to train at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine and has been travelling around China collecting recipes for nearly 20 years. This book is inspired by the home-cooking of southern China where meat and fish are used in moderation and vegetables play the starring role.

Dunlop is an excellent teacher.  She gives a background to various dishes, mentions variations that some cooks make, explains unfamiliar ingredients and her recipes are clear and unambiguous.

The book is a good read as Dunlop unravels the mystery of unfamiliar ingredients, talks about kitchen equipment, chopping, cutting and basic preparation and then various cooking techniques.

There’s an important discussion on planning a Chinese meal so that there’s not masses of last minute cooking. One big advantage is it’s also easy to cater for different dietary requirements. There are Dunlop’s helpful menu ideas for catering for two, four  or six people with a balanced choice of dishes.

Of course a cookbook’s big test is trying some of the recipes. Chapters cover cold dishes, tofu, meat, chicken and eggs, fish and seafood, the various families of vegetables, fungi, soups, rice, noodles and dumplings, plus a chapter on stocks, preserves and other essentials.

I stickered some of the recipes and particularly enjoyedmaking Dou chi ji ding – a relatively uncomplicated black bean chicken dish with red and green peppers.

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Zumbarons Adriano Zumbo, ISBN 978-1742669700, Murdoch Books, RRP $24.99

ZumbaronsSydney pastry chef Adriano Zumbo has been tempting Sydneysiders for five years with macarons, pastries, cakes and chocolates and his little empire include four stores there and plans for another interstate.

Most of us would have first encountered him on MasterChef or his own television series or through his best-selling first book Zumbo, published last year.

This latest book, with its transparent fluorescent pink sleeve, is a treasure trove of  40 amazing macaron recipes.

This is a book best attacked from the back where there are plenty of tips and tricks for novices from the basics to the “oh, dear, what now?” situations. An invaluable glossary covers some of the less familiar ingredients.

Those who can’t resist heading straight for the macarons will find some really creative temptations, from pancakes and maple syrup Zumbarons through to flavours that include satay,  Kalamata olives, gin and tonic, salted butter popcorn, sticky date, beetroot, pandan, chocolate mayonnaise and, no kidding, Vegemite.

And if you don’t like macarons, this is a delightful and well-priced book that would make a great Christmas gift for creative friends.

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Pizza Pete Evans ISBN 978-1742661544, Murdoch Books, RRP $39.99

Pete Evans has had a long and abiding interest in pizza. As executive chef at Hugo’s for many years, he created numerous pizzas and continued to develop and collect his best recipes with the idea of writing a book about them.
It’s an idea whose time has come and this book contains enough recipes to keep the average pizza lover inspired for weeks.

Down the back of the book are recipes for a variety of pizza doughs, including a gluten-free one. Then there are assorted toppings that can be kept in the fridge, freezer or pantry for the next pizza session – garlic confit, balsamic onions, peperonata, roasted capsicum, spicy Italian sausage mix, caramelised onions, tapenade, chermoula and so on.

The first chapter deals with breakfast. Now many of us will have enjoyed the cold remains of last night’s pizza for breakfast but these are fresh from the oven beauties both sweet and savoury and including the usual morning ingredients like bacon, eggs, fruit, sausage.

There’s a chapter of classic pizzas, another on ones that proved to be crowd-pleasers, indulgent ones with luxury ingredients, meat lovers’ pizzas, seafood and vegetarian ones, a chapter of recipes from Pete’s friends and a collection of sweet pizzas.

I’ve got a bench-top pizza oven, a large bag of strong flour and a fresh supply of yeast and I am ready to go. Check out this title and you will be, too.

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Around the World in 80 Dishes: Classic Recipes from the World's Favourite Chefs David Loftus, ISBN 978-1-84887-522-7, Atlantic, RRP $49.99

This book follows the route taken by Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. It’s a good mix of food and travel liberally laced with recipes by those who appreciate the culinary traditions of the countries visited.

David Loftus is a noted food photographer and his clients include culinary luminaries such as Jamie Oliver and in fact Oliver has contributed several recipes to this volume, as have Alice Waters, Atul Kochhar, Gennaro Contaldo, Heston Blumenthal and Nigella Lawson.

Of course the book is abundantly illustrated. There’s a certain moodiness about many of the photos with their sombre shades – a style that seems to be creeping into more of today’s food photography. I’m still not convinced it’s a turn for the better.

Phileas Fogg set out on his journey with a breakfast of boiled fish with sauce at the Reform Club, not far from his home in London’s Savile Row. Fortunately this book provides a livelier Grilled mackerel with gooseberry relish and we are on our way.

This is an interesting collection for the 21st century cook as various dishes celebrate moments from the novel. I can see a number of recipes I intend to try.

One little slip-up though.  Loftus in his welcome message mistakenly notes Verne’s book as his 1892 classic. In fact, the book was first published in 1873.

This is not the first book of similar name. Lesley Blanch wrote Round the World in Eighty Dishes in the mid-50s but, as she wasn’t following the Fogg route, she managed to fling her net a little wider taking in more countries – and regrettably including a Kiwi mutton and barley stew. However, my copy bears its battle scars as I made the more exotic fare.

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Bill Cooks for Kids Bill Granger ISBN 978-1742668895, Murdoch Books, RRP $29.99

Bill Granger believes it’s important for parents to develop their children’s palates. “After all, they are going to be the people you are sharing meals with for the next 20 years, and who wants to dine with fussy eaters.”

He cooks dinner at home every night “so I’ve got a vested interest in making sure my kids don’t request special food and push me into the ‘cooking two meals’ scenario.”

Hear, hear. The dinner table shouldn’t be a battleground. As Granger says, if kids don’t eat something, keep serving it and don’t make a big deal about it. (Or you might end up, as a colleague of mine once did, with a child who would eat only fish fingers and mashed potatoes.)

The book comes in five chapters – breakfast, milk and cookies, play-date dinners, family feasts, and party time.

Breakfast is a sensible but tempting collection of the usual suspects – cereals, smoothies, pancakes, eggs, French toast, bakes beans, frittata, and probably all no more work than making several lots of toast and finding everyone’s favourite topping.

It’s always good to get the kids involved in kitchen activities helping make something for afternoon tea provides double satisfaction – making something then eating it. There’s even time between to learn the clean up as you go trick. Granger’s recipes are classics, in some cases lightened up – scones, muffins, apricot bars, lamingtons,  double choc-chip cookies and the like.

Today’s kids’ lives seem to have more structure than ours did. No one made appointments to play. However, the play-date dinners chapter includes a collection of Granger’s kiddy dinner standbys, equally useful for the nights when parents are going out for a meal later. There are meatballs, lasagne, risotto, burritos, crispy potato cake, baked polenta and the like, and some simple desserts.

Family feasts can be the nightly dinners together and this collection of dishes will keep both generations happy. Nothing too exotic or elaborate but a chance to introduce an occasional new flavour to develop those little palates.

Party time – and there’s nothing wrong with an occasional chocolate bar or an ice cream after school is fine “if they’re having a healthy dinner every night”, says Granger.

An excellent book for anyone with kids in their lives to cook for.

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Cooking with the World's Best ISBN 978-1742665115, Murdoch Books, RRP $49.95

Anyone who has attended the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival will know it attracts some of the best chefs in the world – the established, the veterans, the rising stars, the local legends, the latest hot chef, the brash lads, the chemical brothers and the plain awesome.

This book is a celebration of the talent that has helped put the wow factor in each festival these past 20 years – the rock stars of the culinary world.

It’s been my pleasure to meet some of them, to attend their master classes, to eat their food. This book harnesses their many talents and is a lovely reminder of summer afternoons at the World Longest Lunch events, dinners all over the city, and the dozens of small happenings that have made each year memorable.

As festival chairman John Haddad notes in his foreword, the “nice little program” of the early days has evolved into an all-embracing, award-winning hallmark event on the Victoria calendar.

The book starts with Local Legends then brings us dishes from around the world and takes us down the laneways. Then there’s the whizz-bang of the new ingredients and the chemical mystery of one food masquerading as another. There are the spice stars and the women of the kitchen and even simple comforts.

Pages are studded with the recipes of the culinary Who’s Who – Maggie Beer, Donovan Cooke, David Chang, Tony Bilson, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Elena Arzak, David Thompson, Teage Ezard, Elizabeth Chong, Martin Boetz, Gary Rhodes, Philippe Mouchel, Andrew McConnell, Rachel Allen, Christine Manfield, Greg Malouf, Stefano de Pieri, Shane Delia, Neil Perry, Frank Camorra, Sat Bains. I could go on…

Kitchen Coquette Katrina Meynink, ISBN 978-1-74237-681-3, Allen & Unwin, RRP$39.99

You have to feed your partner’s parents, granny, a hangover, the whole fam-damnly, gay mates, yourself…  Katrina Meynink’s book, subtitled The go-to guide for those random life scenarios when food is the only answer, will give you plenty of bright ideas for meeting any food-centric situation.

OK, so maybe you’re not one of those people who needs a cookbook that devotes a chapter to food for  “awkward moments”. That’s OK. This is really a fun book with lots of interesting dishes to pep up your life in general.

This is Meynink’s first cookbook. She has a Masters in Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu and the University of Adelaide and is in her final stages of training to be a chef and has received scholarships from the James Beard Gastronomy Foundation and The Culinary Trust. She blogs and has a business La Petite Miette so she lives food.

This book will see you through first dates with fare like Prawns with candied pancetta and gremolata, Chorizo Wellington with capsicum salsa and buttered spinach and an Apple crumb soufflé.

So you have to bring a plate? Fill it with White chocolate and rosemary brownie biscuits or Blue cheese grissini sticks – the latter for a divorce party.

One- pan chorizo hash brown will alleviate part of the hangover blue, Pastitio will soften the edges of grief, and Roasted lam rack with smoky eggplant puree and three tomato salad is good for a family reunion.

As the blurb says, “Katrina has isolated the experiences in your life that can leave you scratching your head, and put an outstanding recipe alongside it.”

There are simple dishes, ones with a wow factor and plenty of nourishment in between.

A great gift for busy but caring people.

Stephane Reynaud's Barbecue Stephane Reynaud, ISBN 978-1742662404, Murdoch Books,RP $49.99

“Set the alarm for 5am to prepare the embers.”

Well, it’s no good going to make a recipe and finding out you should have started preparing for it well in advance – like ordering your 20kg suckling pig for spit-roasting. Not to mention marinating it, stuffing it, sewing it up, swathing its ears in foil and persuading Uncle Jack to come along and carve the beast.

Reynaud is an unabashed carnivore and his previous cookbooks include Terrine, Ripailles, Rotis and 365 Good Reasons to Sit Down and Eat.

First up he deals with all the manly essentials like the right gear, maintenance, building a barbecue, the hotplate, basting, rubs, salts, sauces, dressings and general paraphernalia.

Chapters cover skewers, yakitori, sausages, fillets and roasts, burgers, rib and cutlets, barbecue XXL (whole roasts - such as the aforementioned pig),  fish and shellfish, the bits on the side.

He also has a little tongue-in-cheek fun at the expense of those who manage to turn a spit-roast into a sauna, who serve raw meat in a charred coat, or who have multi-storey BBQs and even include a UV lamp for tanning on the job. That’s the endearing thing about Reynaud – his sense of humour which is reflected in Jose Reis De Matos’s quirky drawings, complemented by Marie-Pierre Morel’s photography. And in recipes like that for the beef rib cutlet which is best cooked and eaten “with no one. I’m eating the lot myself, end of story.” What drink to serve with it? “None of your business.”

The food ranges from basic to very imaginative with plenty in between for tong-wavers who love a bit of showmanship.

This is high on my list of great books for Christmas giving. I can see the blokes happily mulling through this one on Christmas day, planning menus for the sunny days ahead.

MoVida Cocina Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish, ISBN 978-1741968996, Murdoch Books, RRP $49.99

First there was MoVida in Melbourne’s Hosier Lane. Then came MoVida Next Door then MoVida Aqui in Bourke Street and the nearby Terraza kiosk and more recently, Pulpo.

This latest book from chef Camorra and food writer and TV producer Cornish gives a closer look at the people and venues that have become favourites with Melbourne diners.

Shared plates are now so much a part of the dining scene and have removed a lot of the plate envy formerly generated by a la carte dining – you know, when everyone else’s choices look so much better than your own. These days we happily graze from the platters that take our fancy, leaving Bella to the octopus and Fred to the deep-fried brains.

Here, then, is a happy collection of 70 new recipes.

The more adventurous can have a shot at sous vide dishes that don’t necessarily require fancy cheffy equipment. Or play with meat glue that will bind the protein in meat or fish as in the recipe for elegantly refine cubes of Prawn terrine with romesco sauce.

But for those who like the rugged good look of more rustic fare, there is plenty to tempt – food like Smoked eel croquettes with horseradish or potato salad with alioli, pickled garlic and short breadsticks to poke into the creamy goodness.

It’s all about pushing the boundaries, fusing local and international flavours and feeding customers with dishes they will long remember – and now can create at home.

I’ve enjoyed cooking from the previous MoVida titles and this one has me writing my shopping list.

Planet Cake Celebrate: Cake Making for All Occasions Paris Cutler, ISBN 978-1742665856, Murdoch Books, RRP $29.99

I will be the first to admit cake decorating is not my forte. I lack the skill and the patience and I was the kid who always pulled the almond icing and fondant off Mum’s Christmas cakes anyway. Likewise the cupcake and macaron phenomena have left me underwhelmed. I just can’t handle that much sugar.

That aside, I know there are thousands of people who love producing tiered stands of edible art and a whole industry of accoutrements has been spawned.

This beautiful book will certainly become a bible for  the cake makers in our midst as it is packed with lots of ideas for making more than 20 cupcakes and mini fudge cakes for parties, charity fund-raisers, family celebrations  and sharing the joy of making little works of art.

There are plenty of good tips for achieving professional looking results and I was interested to see the lovely results achieved by simply using a variety of shaped cutters and commercially available decorating dusts and glitters. I can see decorating cupcakes could become the main party activity for some young people.

There is a useful section covering the tools and ingredients required plus a small recipe section including vanilla, chocolate and gluten free cupcakes, icing and caramels.

Cutler  takes 10 special occasions – ranging from baby showers to kids’ parties, school fetes to team building competitions and gives ideas for creating appropriate masterpieces.

A great buy for someone with a passion for producing beautiful works of cake art – plus some valuable troubleshooting advice for  people like me.

Zumbo Adriano Zumbo, ISBN 978-1741968040, Murdoch Books, RRP $49.99

We’ve all seen his glorious sweet creations on MasterChef Australia and marvelled at the technical skills required to emulate him. With this book, Adriano Zumbo gives the reader a guided tour of his brain and the thinking that goes into creating his polished, quirky or sometimes just fantastically ridiculous masterpieces.

For many of us his name is permanently associated with macarons and he shares his technique and some of his favourites, from licorice to Vegemite, Kalamata olive to rice pudding and chololate mayo. But there’s more to Zumbo than macarons.

Some of his cakes are complicated and can require at least half a dozen recipes for the component parts. And there are ingredients that start to sound like an apothecary’s inventory. But for people who want to graduate from carrot cake to a truly awesome creation, this is the book to get the juices flowing.

Chapters cover Zumbarons, chocolates, pastries, gateaux de voyage, cakes and desserts.

One thing that’s evident from the recipes is that there’s a lot of flavour going on. These aren’t architectural wedding cake structures covered in bland icing but rather a smorgasbord of shapes and tastes. Little wonder the book has quickly reached the top of Murdoch Books' best seller list.

No doubt someone will set themselves a blogging challenge to work their way through the book’s recipes. It won’t be me - it requires a team approach. But I’d love to read it.

Home Made Yvette van Boven, ISBN 978-1742663999, Murdoch Books, RRP $49.99

This book was winner of the Dutch Cookbook of the Year award in 2010  and contains more than 200 recipes for the home cook.

The author divides her time between Amsterdam and Paris and is a freelance food stylist, artist and recipe writer and is co-owner of a restaurant and catering company in Amsterdam.

It’s interesting reading a cookbook from across the world and noting the subtle differences from Down Under cuisine.

Home Made starts with breakfast and lunch. There’s tea and cakes, cocktails, soups, preserves,  pasta,  roasts, salads - all simple, authentic and healthy.

I like the chapter on cheese making and the one of making a smoker – the sort of touches that give a meal individuality.

It’s a lovely book to dip into and a series of menus for cover various occasions from Sunday brunch to a lunch buffet for 10, high tea, dinner for two – or another for 12. There are even ideas for cooking for a funeral including sage and lemon tea to calm the nerves.

The author's husband, Oof Verschuren took the photos and van Boven drew her own quirky illustrations and prepared the food.



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