Test kitchen: Good Food reviews 10 top new cookbooks

Which recent releases are worthy of a spot on your kitchen bench?
Which recent releases are worthy of a spot on your kitchen bench? Photo: Scott McNaughton

How do the recipes of big-name chefs and up-and-coming authors stack up in the average domestic kitchen? We rolled up our sleeves to test 10 cookbooks released in the past year.

Never judge a book by its cover is wise advice when it comes to cookbooks. Beautiful design and photographs will make you want to own the book, sure. But for a book to earn a place not on your shelf, but on the bench within easy reach, it has to deliver recipes that work and that you want to cook again. But who can tell you how a book translates to the real world?

For the past month, the Good Food team have been willing guinea pigs, cooking our way through 10 books that represent the best-in-class of recently released titles.

We were looking for accuracy, clear instruction, any bonus knowledge you might walk away with, and how easy it was to execute the dish with the tools of an average home cook.

Where would each book sit in someone's library? Who is it written for and does it speak to them? And, most importantly, would these recipes carve out some territory in your repertoire? Read on to find out.

Scoring

  • 3 whisks = every home needs this
  • 2 whisks = worth buying, but it won't live on your bench
  • 1 whisk = for superfans or pros
Cookbook author Lucy Tweed & daughter Winter, creator of Every Night of The Week, a cookbook and Instagram account with family friendly dinner wins. 20th Jan 2022. Photo: Edwina Pickles / SMH

Lucy Tweed with daughter Winter at home. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Every Night of the Week

  • Author: Lucy Tweed
  • Price: $35
  • Score: 3 whisks

More like a manual for busy households than a cookbook, food stylist Lucy Tweed's debut is divided into seven chapters that follow the rhythm of a typical week. Monday's recipes lean a bit more virtuous; by the time it's Friday, expect beef and bean nachos or a sang choy bao from the dregs of the veg crisper.

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Every day, though, is full of efficient routes to full-throttle flavour that are still kid-friendly. One-pot winners like "G-rated red chicken curry", tray-bake saviours and forgiving titles such as "freeform lasagne" or "saviour soup" are just the thing to put pep in your step as you get dinner on the table.

Tweed's sassy wit, which first attracted fans on Instagram, is there, though doesn't connect as well in book form. But it doesn't matter. If you're determined to get dinner on the table fast, and get some nutrition into your kids, you'll want Lucy Tweed in your corner. Emma Breheny

The Comfort Bake

  • Author: Sally Wise
  • Price: $40
  • Score: 2 whisks

Bakewell tarts, brownies and pot pies aren't going to change the world. But that's exactly their beauty. Tasmanian cooking teacher and radio presenter Sally Wise unlocks the satisfaction of making time-honoured treats like lamingtons in your own kitchen and sharing the spoils with friends, strangers and family. And she makes it easy to boot.

As no-nonsense as you'd expect a country cook to be, Wise won't have you running to three different specialty shops.

Some recipes, such as a self-saucing chocolate, whisky and orange pudding (pictured), are as easy as measure-mix-bake, while more complicated feats, like individual meat pies with a layer of mushy peas inside, are well signposted and explained.

Even if you think you're not a baker, you might become one after trying these down-to-earth recipes. EB

Kin Thai

  • Author: John Chantarasak
  • Price: $45
  • Score: 1 whisk

British chef John Chantarasak, born to a Thai father and English mother, lived in Bangkok for several years and worked under David Thompson at Nahm before returning to London, where he'll open his own restaurant this year. His upbringing gives him a perfect vantage point for writing Thai recipes for a (mostly) Western audience.

Kin Thai includes helpful tasting notes for various nahm jims or curry pastes, full-colour photos of dishes, and encourages substitution of tropical ingredients such as green mango with more accessible items such as celeriac for those in cool climates.

You will need to visit an Asian grocer to stock your pantry. You will need a large mortar and pestle. And you will definitely need time. Chantarasak doesn't shy away from that, but he's also got plenty of words of encouragement.

And when you taste the brighter, funkier flavour of a red curry paste you made yourself, wok-fried with salmon fillets and green beans, you'll be glad you made the effort. EB

Indian Cooking Class

  • Author: Christine Manfield
  • Price: $40
  • Score: 3 whisks

Christine Manfield, aka Australia's Spice Queen, has been travelling to India for more than 30 years and there are few people I trust more to distil the experiences and first-hand teachings of this incredible continent into concise, authentic recipes.

Yes, you need to stock your pantry with the sweeping gamut of spices from turmeric, cumin and saffron to Kashmiri chilli, which seems to be in every second recipe (try herbies.com.au), but once you are fully loaded, you need not much more than a hero protein or vegetable, the triumvirate of onion, ginger and garlic, and perhaps some fragrant curry leaves to make a sensational meal.

I love that many classic recipes are here, delivered clearly, genuinely and deliciously. Rogan josh? Best I have cooked. Mint chutney on the side? Zinging with flavour. Bored of weeknight lamb chops? Masala cutlets with kachumber (tomato and cucumber) salsa are here for you.

I have cooked at least 10 recipes and I find it a joy to chop the aromats then overlay them with vibrant heaps of spices. If you have room in your book shelf for one Indian cookbook, make it this one. Ardyn Bernoth

Yotam Ottolenghi's new book.
Yotam and co-author Noor Murad
 Photographer is Elena Heatherwick

Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad in the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen in London. Photo: Elena Heatherwick

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

  • Authors: Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad
  • Price: $30
  • Score: 2 whisks

In Yotam Ottolenghi's world of smash-hit, internationally acclaimed cookbooks, his team works on the premise that every recipe must contain the "Ottolenghi twist" – an unexpected ingredient to lift the dish above the ordinary. And so from the depths of the pandemic, OTK (Ottolenghi Test Kitchen) was created to mine the food of your pantry, albeit a pantry filled with black lime and preserved lemons.

I am drawn immediately to the chapter called "Who does the dishes?", home to some sensational one-pot wonders. Chicken and carrots are berbere-spiced and scattered with chickpeas to become a gorgeous weeknight dish. Ditto baked orzo puttanesca, a classic Italian pasta dish reinvented, and za'atar salmon with tahini.

I love this book. It is pared back yet inventive, and is so much better than his last, Flavour, which was way too complicated with hard-to-source ingredients, without being the life-changing essential that Simple is. It contains the promise of endless inspiration for weeknight cooking. As long as you are prepared to go out and source that Ottolenghi twist. AB

Rigatoni with silverbeet and sausage from Everything I Love to Cook by Neil Perry. Featured in Good Food's road-test of the 10 best cookbooks of the past year.
Credit Petrina Tinslay
For Good Food, May 4, 2022

Neil Perry's rigatoni with silverbeet and sausage. Photo: Petrina Tinslay

Everything I Love to Cook

  • Author: Neil Perry
  • Price: $60
  • Score: 3 whisks

Neil Perry has played a large part in moulding Australian palates into what they are today. So when he assembles his favourite recipes from the past 40-plus years into a single, comprehensive tome, you can expect to cook from it for a year and never get bored.

You might consult it one day for a salad sandwich (declared "the world's best" – you be the judge), bright red bowls of chilli-laced Korean stew the next, or a wholesome and dead easy chickpea and spinach curry on a Monday night.

Perry's chef knowhow scattered throughout each recipe will stay with you beyond the final step. You'll never waste the fat from good Italian sausages again, when it could form the base of a pasta sauce with sausage and silverbeet, a recipe that is so much greater than the sum of its parts because of Perry's technique, honed over decades of cooking in restaurants and passing this knowledge to home cooks.

Whatever you cook, you can rest assured that if it's Perry's favourite, it's worth knowing about. EB

Mabu Mabu: An Australian Kitchen Cookbook

  • Author: Nornie Bero
  • Price: $45
  • Score: 2 whisks

Native Australian ingredients are now commonplace on the menus of top Australian restaurants, but our own dinner tables are a different story. If you've been wanting to experiment with the ingredients of Australia's First Peoples, the debut cookbook of Torres Strait Islander chef Nornie Bero is an excellent place to start.

Bero, who owns Mabu Mabu in Melbourne, starts with an illustrated glossary of ingredients like bunya nuts, quandong and more, followed by some of her favourite stockists.

Once you've got your supplies, her recipes are fairly straightforward: squid braised with tomato, a set-and-forget bourguignon of kangaroo tail, poached mushrooms with crunchy sea succulents. There are also butters, sauces and pickles to liven up your cooking.

You may need to have a moderate level of cooking confidence, as instructions can at times be light on detail. But if you're curious about Australia's essential ingredients, this is a beautifully packaged place to start. EB

Extract from All Day Baking by Michael and Pippa James, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $45.00. Photographer by Lisa Cohen. 
Quinoa and sweet potato sausage rolls
Strictly single use print and online

Quinoa and sweet potato sausage rolls from All Day Baking. Photo: Lisa Cohen/Hardie Grant

All Day Baking: Savoury not Sweet

  • Authors: Michael James with Pippa James
  • Price: $45
  • Score: 2 whisks

Sorry, sweet tooths: this one's not for you. The title comes with another hint: some of the bakes may take you the better part of a day, especially those requiring a batch of from-scratch puff pastry. But it's a nice change of pace, reflecting the book's genesis during the pandemic's home-baking boom.

Author Michael James, ex-Tivoli Road Bakery in Melbourne, consults to bakeries both here and abroad (and taste-tests hot cross buns for us), and he sure knows his stuff. Some of his methods do require a little intuition and are fiddly. Cheddar scones involved incorporating a rectangle of flour strewn with cubes of butter on the bench, and "cutting" the wet ingredients into the dough in a mixing bowl before putting it back on the bench. But there was no denying their flavour and flakiness.

There's an emphasis on wholegrains and seasonal veg, the pages filled with classic and creative fillings for pies and pastries (hello pork, miso and soybean sausage rolls). A bonus condiment section helps preserve the book's usefulness beyond your baking craze. Annabel Smith

Stephanie Alexander in her home kitchen for the release of her new book, Home.

Stephanie Alexander in her home kitchen. Photo: Armelle Habib

Home

  • Author: Stephanie Alexander
  • Price: $60
  • Score: 1 whisk

The grande dame of the Australian kitchen acknowledges that Home will appeal mostly to people who are already good cooks, and that some recipes require serious stamina and determination.

Written with the confidence of a woman who knows her mind and enjoys sharing her hard-won skills, it's interspersed with musings on issues that have shaped Alexander's long career, such as cooking with children, favourite food writers and travel – catnip for readers who've collected her previous 18 books.

Her crowd-pleasing potato gratin, for example, comes with advice on safely using a mandoline to cut thin slices for even cooking and on using leftovers (as if!). And a recipe for spicy fish with Moroccan flavours and green olives comes with the game-changing tip to take a box grater rather than a knife to the tomatoes: "The tomatoes will become saucy in a saute pan much faster than if conventionally peeled, seeded and chopped").

Casual cooks, on the other hand, will likely find most of the recipes too involved and too tricky. Count me among the superfans. Roslyn Grundy

Extract from Lanka Food: Serendipity & Spice by O Tama Carey, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $55, available in-stores nationally on 30 March, 2022
Dhal 
Rotated for digital only
Photographer: Anson Smart
Single use Good Food online/print

O Tama Carey's dhal is far from boring. Photo: Anson Smart/Hardie Grant

Lanka Food

  • Author: O Tama Carey
  • Price: $55
  • Score: 3 whisks

Carey, owner-chef of Sydney restaurant Lankan Filling Station and daughter of a Sri Lankan mother and Anglo-Celtic Australian father, combines the cultural sensitivity of an insider with the wonderment of a visitor in this inspiring book.

She has endeavoured to provide a deeper understanding of Sri Lankan culture through food, demystify the cuisine and act as a starting point for you to cook Sri Lankan food. Mission accomplished.

Billed as a comprehensive guide, even newcomers to Sri Lankan cooking can guarantee success by swotting the pages devoted to measuring ingredients, spices and spice blends, and how to balance a shared meal, before heading to a specialist grocer for ingredients from the 10-page glossary, such as jaggery (smoky, sweet palm sugar), Maldive fish and pandan (an aromatic leaf with hints of vanilla).

I've adored everything I've made so far, including dhal (usually a byword for boring), pumpkin curry (best ever!) and pol sambol (a fiery coconut condiment). Even a seemingly unpromising cabbage mallung (a cross between a salad and a stir-fry) is on the "would make again" list. RG