Thursday, December 01, 2011


At a time when publishers of that marvellous item, the book, must be under considerable stress, some of us a dedicated to save it from extinction. I for one, have pledged that the cook book will not be an endangered thing in my time. I suspect I’m not alone in this, but justifying an addiction as principled action can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Recipes for just about anything you care to dream up are now readily available on that all pervasive internet thingie. But there are still some die-hard cook book fans out there, committed to the book in all its glory. I am an unashamed collector of said cook books; nothing gives me a greater thrill than an addition to the bookshelf. They don’t have to be pristine, brand new, virgin, latest releases. I love them all equally… Actually, that’s not true. I love to open a new cook book that no woman or man has gone before me, and splotched with their attempts of cooking past.

And I don’t just cook from them. Looking back over the collection, I can see a real development in Australian cuisine, together with the influences, fads and fluffiness of a given era.

Design: The cover is mysterious and features the neon sign at the front of the Melbourne restaurant of the same name. (I also adore a neon sign). You feel like you’re walking into one of those atmospheric hole in the wall eating establishments where a culinary adventure awaits.

So, ready to dive in:

Bookmarks: Three! Count them, three. As the bulk of the book is shared plates, you'll probably cook more than one dish for a meal. Smart.

Typeface: Hmm, the Contents page. Text running vertically rather than horizontally and from right to left. Why, one asks oneself? And the chapter divisions with the wiggly migraine inducing lines, might just give an epileptic an episode! And there's something about the dark tones that is just ever so slightly menacing. Not my cup of cha. But hey, it’s about the recipes and the text.

The cocktails make an appearance at the front of the book. Yay! They’re usually buried at the back as an afterthought. And what delicious sounding cocktails they are: I Dream Of Lychee, Cucumber and Lemongrass Martini, and Ginger Girl. There’s 11 in all, and with the festive season almost upon us, I’m prepared to give every last single one of them a try, all in the name of research, you understand. They're all fresh, tropical and tangy, ideal for an Australasian Christmas.

The greater part of the recipes fit in the Shared Plates plates section and feature an abundance of seafood, but of course, beef and pork make an appearance, as does tofu. What sort of Asian influenced cook book would dare to exclude pork belly from its pages. Gingerboy’s take on that oft-abused Sweet and Sour pork sounds fab ~ Sweet and Sour Pork Belly with Cherry Tomatoes, Coriander and Peanut Salad.

WHAT I LEARNT: Prickly Ash is Sichuan peppercorns. Who knew? I discovered this in the Basics section. I’d seen it listed as an ingredient, and got a creeping ‘Oh, no! Where can I possibly get that?’ feeling . (I live in the country.) Also in the Basics are recipes for a Char Siu marinade, and Green Ginger Wine Dressing, which I can’t wait to try.

YUM FACTOR: Restaurant. High.

As the weather’s warming up, I was drawn to the parfaits in the dessert section. Mango, Chilli and Lime Parfait with Fried Sticky Rice and Blackberry Caramel. Yes, please. And the thing about this book is you don’t HAVE to make the Fried Sticky Rice and/or the Blackberry Caramel. The parfait alone would be just fine for dessert. But if you want to make an impression, by all means, hit ‘em with the frilly bits. And speaking of the Fried Sticky Rice Balls, you’ll find them in the Basics section, but for this recipe they’re finely ground and sprinkled over the parfait, kind of like a praline. Nice idea.

RECIPE TEST: I’m off to have a pre-dinner Ginger Girl cocktail now… Bye. I will post a follow up recipe test come the weekend when I can get to my regional town and get a few supplies. Perhaps a simple one to start, the Salt & Pepper Silken Tofu, and then when there's more time, something a little more complex.

While a lot of the recipes aren't at all difficult, there's something about the high end restaurant styling and photos that makes you think there might be. Compare it to Bill's Everyday Asian, and you'll see what I mean. For someone who's a fan of the gingerboy restaurant in Melbourne, I'm sure they'll love this book with a passion. So... note to self... go to Melbourne, eat at gingerboy, use book more often.

COMING UP: More on Asia with Bill Granger’s Bill’s Everyday Asian.

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