Favourite books

<i>Hungry? A recipe book for filling your family with good stuff </i> and <I> Friends at My Table </i> are Karen Hardy's ...
Hungry? A recipe book for filling your family with good stuff and Friends at My Table are Karen Hardy's picks of the cookbooks for the year. 

I like the idea that my favourite cookbooks of 2012 were two I bought myself. Over the course of a year, dozens of cookbooks pass by the Food and Wine desk, Jamie, Bill, Donna, Nigella, the year’s MasterChef contingent, the Australian Women’s Weekly ... literally thousands of recipes ready to be cooked. But how many actually get cooked?

Most of the recipes I’ve cooked this year have been old favourites: Donna Hay’s basic banana bread from 2008’s No Time to Cook, a tuna pasta from Susan Austin’s Frostbite, also from 2008, and Nigel Slater’s sausage, basil, cream and mustard from Real Food, 1998. But as for new recipes, I’m not sure there would be many, other than from a little book that I bought on a whim. Hungry? A recipe book for filling your family with good stuff had me at hello. Who could ignore that title? Filling, family, good stuff. The dinner time essentials.

The book now has its own frill, with markers for recipes sticking out every couple of pages, veg, chicken, fish, meat, desserts, even random post-it notes indicating that something on that page took my fancy. (Note, buying proper recipes stickers is a must. Food and Wine editor Kirsten Lawson and I have come to blows over her predilection for turning over page corners.)

There are vegetarian burgers that have gone down a treat in our meat-loving family. Green mac and cheese, which was made on its intro alone – ‘‘tucked away under a crunchy, green canopy of blitzed up broccoli, tiny jewels of roasted butternut squash happily nestle amidst creamy macaroni’’ – how could you not want to eat it?; sausage and squash mash, which is the banger recipe of the year; and lamb kofte pitas, which satisfy the shoving-dinner-into-bread-keeps-everyone-happy rule.

It’s also a fun read, another important requirement of a good cookbook – think Nigel Slater, Nigella and Charlotte Wood’s 2012 Love and Hunger (Allen and Unwin, $30) – a perfect Christmas gift for a girlfriend who likes to cook.

The recipes in Hungry? are interspersed with fun things to do in the 10 minutes it takes your pasta to boil – synchronise all the clocks in your house, for example, word games, jokes, and how to make your tortillas last an entire night in while watching the first series of The X Files (eat one tortilla every time you hear, ‘‘Mulder, it’s me’’).

Alice Hart quickly found a spot at our table. I discovered her beautiful writing and recipes in 2010’s Alice’s Cookbook. Last year’s Vegetarian almost convinced us, but this year’s effort Friends at My Table: A year of eating, drinking and making merry is a reminder that cooking and eating are for a purpose, not a cause. If you’re not doing it for the people you love, and with the people you love,then what’s the point?

‘‘I can think of few more rewarding occupations than cooking a supper, lunch or brunch for a good crowd of loved ones,’’ she writes, and then holds our hand and leads us towards the kitchen by saying this book will provide techniques and steers to make life – and our enjoyment of the gathering – that much easier. You can’t help wanting to be her friend.

Menus for a holiday weekend away, a help-yourself New Year’s Eve supper, a beach cricket barbecue. The book works through the seasons, from spring bridal showers, to winter mezze nights, three menus each, and up to 20 guests catered for. Each has tips and ideas on cooking for a crowd: plan to cook very little fried food, make pudding in advance, artfully convince guests to serve themselves. And stay calm. My motto for 2013. In the kitchen and everywhere else.

Hungry? A recipe book for filling your family with good stuff (Innocent, Fourth Estate, $30)

Friends at My Table, by Alice Hart (Quadrille, $39.95)

Notable mentions

One-dish Dinners (Australian Women’s Weekly, $12.95): Bakes and gratins, roasts, pot roasts, stir fries, pasta and rice dishes and minimal washing up. Perfect.

River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook by Nikki Duffy (Bloomsbury, $29): Taking the philosophy of River Cottage to the youngest eaters. Learn about baby-led weaning.

Merle’s Kitchen by Merle Parrish (Ebury, $39.95): She won us over on Masterchef and in this book the Country Women’s Association cake-baking champion shares her secrets.

Starter Kitchen by Callum Hann (Murdoch Books, $25): Another Masterchef alumni, the perfect book for those about to leave home. Loved his cookies and cream ice cream. Too easy.

Australia’s Favourite Recipes edited by Leila McKinnon (Plum, $30): Seventy treasured recipes collected from around the country, celebrating the diversity of the food we hold dear.

After Toast by Kate Gibbs (Allen and Unwin, $30):Plugged as a young person’s guide to totally awesome food, there’s still plenty of ideas here for those of us a little more mature.

Best Ever Baking Recipes by David Herbert (Lantern, $49.95): More than 200 recipes for cakes, muffins, scones, biscuits, slices and tarts. And they all work.

Easy by Bill Granger (Harper Collins, $50): You can rely on Granger like clockwork. Every year, a book full of achievable mid-week dinners. This one didn’t disappoint.

More Fired Up by Ross Dobson (Murdoch Books, $40): The man we’d most like to invite over for a barbie. More than 100 easy recipes to take you beyond steak and sausages.

Marie Claire: 10 years of great food by Michele Cranston (Murdoch Books, $60): More than 250 recipes that capture the magazine’s fresh and easy approach to food.

Karen Hardy is a Canberra Times magazine editor.