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Three Kiwi Cook Books Reviewed

Martin Bosley Cooks
Random House, $45. Reviewed by JEREMY ROSE

I thought I disliked rice pudding until I visited Istanbul as an 18-year-old. It was my first trip overseas by myself and I found myself in Turkey alone and almost instantly at home. It was the restaurants and a culture that brings a whole new meaning to hospitality that did it. The stuffed peppers reminded me of my mum and grandmum’s cooking but it was the rice pudding that made me think I might just have discovered paradise (no doubt the beauty of the architecture played its part too.)

I’ve made rice puddings since, and my wife, Lis, makes a damn fine version from a recipe she got from Miramar’s Two Rooms restaurant – which you might remember closed shortly after the chef asked a woman (not Lis) to leave because her perfume was overpowering the taste of the food – but it’s not till now that I’ve found a recipe that excites me quite as much as those dozens of bowls of rice pudding in 1980s Istanbul.

Martin Bosley’s Rich Rice Pudding, Poached Tamarillos and Marmalade recipe is superb: well the rice pudding aspect is anyway. It’s a simple recipe but takes a bit of time to prepare.

I’m a huge fan of tamarillos but aren’t convinced that poaching them adds much to their deliciousness. Next time I make the dish I’ll probably just scoop the tamarillos out, sprinkle them with a bit of brown sugar.

Martin Bosley will be known to many as the chef who took over the Listener’s cooking column from longtime contributor Mary Daysh. Daysh is a superb writer, so it was always going to be a tough act to follow – regardless of the quality of the recipes – and I would have to say this isn’t a cookbook I would recommend for the reading. But then the Dayshes and Claudia Rodens of this world are a rarity.

But it’s a good browse and a handsomely produced book with photos by longtime Listener photographer Jane Usher – whose food photos, it has to be said, aren’t quite as impressive as her portraits.

And like all good cookbooks it’s full of recipes that as you flick through you think, I’ve got to make that one day.

There’s a recipe for the South American dish Ceviche – a dish not dissimilar to Pacific Island-style raw fish – which includes pickled rock melon, and once again I suspect the main part of the dish will be superb but the fancy added extra will, well, not add a lot.

Which is my only real criticism of the book, despite attempting to write an “unrestauranty” style book there’s a “look at me” feeling to many of Martin Bosley’s recipes.

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Easy inexpensive family meals by Simon Holst
Hyndman Publishing, $19.99 Reviewed by SIMON NATHAN

Coming from a family where the men are expected to cook, I’m always interested in easy recipes. But understanding recipe books has always been a bit of a problem because there are many things that recipe writers (who are mainly women) leave unsaid – for example when to grease a baking dish or use baking paper? Over several decades Alison and Simon Holst have produced a series of practical New Zealand cookery books with clear instructions and good illustrations. This is Simon’s sixth book, dealing with inexpensive family meals.

Growing up in post-war New Zealand, I was conditioned to English-style main meals with meat, potatoes and a couple of other veges. And the meat usually came from a sheep. This books shows just how much things have changed over the last twenty years, with dishes ranging from Chicken Laksa to Spicy Gumbo. We now eat a much more varied cuisine than our parents, with both Asian and southern European influences. These recipes have been adopted for local ingredients, nad there are many Holst favourites here including Alison’s Lazy Lasagne.

The emphasis of the book is on inexpensive but interesting family meals, and I think that it succeeds pretty well. One of the unspoken strategies, used in many overseas styles, is to cut back on the meat that used to dominate in New Zealand meals. For example, the version of Green Chicken Curry used here includes potatoes, courgettes and peas. I’m actually more interested in how long recipes take to prepare, and almost all of these are quick and easy. There is enough to do so that you are actually cooking, but not so much that it feels a chore. Most of the recipes seem simple, but this is the product of Holst family experience in here so that no effort is wasted.

The colour illustrations and production of the book are excellent. But one tiny niggle – when a new edition is prepared, the photographs need to be labelled because it is not always obvious which of two recipes opposite a whole-page photo are being illustrated.

At $20 this book is excellent value – for someone who wants to learn to cook, or how to expand their recipe repertoire.

A Matter of Taste: Illustrations by Fulvio Bonavia and Text by Peta Mathias
Hachette, $50. Reviewed by ALEXANDRA JOHNSON

Poems, wit and culinary and romantic musings from New Zealand’s Peta Mathias accompany Bonavia’s extraordinary illustrations of food as fashion, accessories good enough to eat.

This beautifully presented book is a sumptuous visual feast. Pink stilettos with sugar laced sweets stacked into a slender heel, a silvery sardine belt and licorice sunglasses are all part of this fantasy of sculptured food.

While the photographs give the illusion of food, they are in fact pictures enhanced by that familiar collaborator, the computer. The perfection achieved here by Bonavia is concurrently awe-inspiring yet unconvincing – but that doesn’t matter much, for it’s a book of fanciful invention, of broccoli handbags, artichoke caps and cashew sandals.

Mathias’s text is engaging enough – whimsical and witty, romantic or lusty – but it is more an added extra than an essential component to the book.

The text accompanying the stilettos – “the more shoes a woman has, the better person she turns out to be” – is no doubt written jube in cheek, but is a little fatuous nevertheless.

“A job interview is a form of legally sanctioned torture? is moreinspiring, especially when the reader is advised that in wearing the chocolate cufflinks your future employer will beg you to let him taste them.

The pasta string belt – to be worn with your Pucci pants – comes with the warning, “Please wear this belt extremely al dente otherwise your tagiatelle will drop along with your reputation”, is all good fun.

A Matter of Taste is not a practical book. It is an indulgent, illusionary book of culinary fancy and sensuous accessories accompanied by brief but sometimes banal musings by one of New Zealand’s favourite chefs and TV cooking queens. It is also a book that you might pick up once or twice but once consumed, interest would wane, to become the proverbial coffee table book – one that you never open again.

But in these times of increasing economic hardship, perhaps this kind of escapism is just what we need. As the subtitle of the book says…”May you never go hungry or naked again”. Indeed.