Why I stopped buying cookery books

Reading an article tweeted by Amanda, I realised this week I haven't bought a new cookery book for about two years. 

For someone who used to love nothing better than poring over a new cookery book, this has been quite a change in behaviour, but the article, titled 'Want to write a bestselling cookery book? Don't worry about making it any good', exactly summed up my apathy about most of the books currently available.

"Think of a title. Anything with “bible” in it is good, or any of the following: “ultimate”, “essential”, “fast”, “easy”, “delicious”. Don’t worry if the book doesn’t live up to these claims. The title is secondary to the cover photo. If you’re a woman, make sure you’re young and gorgeous. Be photographed in a flirty dress that hints at sexy and domestic in equal measure, while holding a tray of cupcakes in your perfectly manicured hands. It doesn’t matter if an anonymous home economist did the baking, your job is to pose. As you gaze at the camera, try to convey the sense that buying this book will give readers a glossy new allure."

Every time I browse through the cookery section of my local bookshop I'm left feeling uninspired and that I've seen it all before. Beneath the gloss and the healthy, yet slightly fey, glamour shots, there is not much substance and I want more from a cookery book than a "glossy new allure".

Plus, you know what, I have enough cookery books. I don't need anymore. I have two shelves of cookery books, that are mostly well thumbed and splattered with food. I've cooked many recipes from these books and yet I'm still finding gems I haven't noticed before; still being surprised and astounded by the writing; and still marveling at the craft, care and love of ingredients in these books.

Two shelves of cookery books that I love. That's enough for me.

Friday night pasta

In our house, Friday night is pasta night. It's a tradition that's been going on for years and years and it just doesn't feel like the end of the week without a bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine.

R usually cooks on Friday night and his pasta is covered with a rich tomato sauce, flavoured with garlic, olives and oregano, that takes well over an hour to cook.

If I'm in charge of dinner, then I want something much, much simpler.

My version of Friday night pasta is a one pot pasta, made with fresh tomatoes and spinach. It's a recipe I spotted on the clever Lottie and Doof's website and it originally comes from a Martha Stewart magazine, of all things.

Crammed into one pan it's hard to believe this can make a delicious meal...

Crammed into one pan it's hard to believe this can make a delicious meal...

It's a clever recipe, where both the pasta and the sauce are cooked in one saucepan. It seems to break every rule of pasta cooking and I'm sure I can hear the purists tutting already, but it's really, really good. The pasta exudes a starchiness, which combines with all the vegetables to make a delicious sauce.

My version, of course, has a lot more vegetable than the original - 340g of tomatoes and a bit of onion just doesn't cut it for dinner in this house. So I've upped the amount of tomatoes I use, added in some spinach and I also sneak some lentils or chickpeas in there, for extra veg and protein. All of this can be done, with no negative impact on flavour.

I love this meal, love how it tastes and love the simple alchemy that occurs in the saucepan.

One Pot Pasta with Tomato & Spinach

To make this meal you just pile all the ingredients together in one pan, add in some water, cover with a lid and then leave to cook slowly, for about 10 minutes. As with all my favourite recipes, it's very flexible - as long as you have tomatoes and pasta, you can make this meal. I frequently add in frozen spinach instead of fresh, swap between chickpeas and lentils and use garlic instead of onion. In the picture above I've added dried oregano, but at other times I'll sprinkle in some dried chill flakes, chopped olives or capers for extra oomph.

Makes 3 - 4 serves, depending on your appetite. I always make extra, as it's quite delicious the next day.

The main ingredients for One Pot Pasta

The main ingredients for One Pot Pasta


1kg tomatoes

1 onion

1 large handful fresh spinach - see notes below

150g pasta

1 cup cooked or canned lentils or chickpeas

1 tablespoon olive oil

Extra flavours - see notes below

100g feta or parmesan

What to do:

Prep the vegetables: Wash and then roughly chop the tomatoes. Add these to a large saucepan (with a lid). Cut the onion in half and then thinly slice each half. Thoroughly wash the spinach. Add both the onion and spinach to the tomatoes.

Add the rest of the pasta & sauce ingredients: Add the pasta, lentils / chickpeas, olive oil and any flavourings to the pan, together with 2 cups (500ml) of water. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta: Cover the saucepan with a lid. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce has thickened. I use a pair of tongs to turn the pasta a few times, during cooking, to prevent it sticking.

Serve with the feta or parmesan sprinkled on top.

Not the prettiest meal, but quite delicious.

Not the prettiest meal, but quite delicious.

Cooking Notes:

You don't have to be careful when chopping the tomatoes, a rough chop is fine. The original recipe uses cherry tomatoes, which would be lovely, but a kilo of regular tomatoes is generally so much cheaper than a kilo of cherry tomatoes, so the regular tomatoes win.

If you don't have any fresh spinach, you could also make this with a couple of nuggets of frozen spinach

I always add some kind of extra flavour to this meal. Either a tablespoon of dried oregano, a large pinch of dried chilli flakes, some chopped olives, a spoonful of capers, fresh basil - all are delicious.

This meal keeps really well in the fridge overnight - the flavours meld together and it's quite delicious the next day. I wouldn't freeze this meal.

It's also quite delicious topped with a poached egg!

Nutrition Notes:

  • Suitable for vegetarians

What's your Friday night go-to meal?

Friday Quicklinks

It's been quite a while since I posted some Friday Quicklinks, so I'm ending the drought today.

We Want Plates

I have been horrified, baffled, amused and fascinated, all at the same time, by the We Want Plates twitter feed. They document the often hilarious and bizarre way food is served in some restaurants. Who wants their meal on a shovel?

Paneer Jalfrezi

A lovely sounding recipe from Malika Basu of Quick Indian Cooking - Paneer Jalfrezi in a Jiffy. Cubes of paneer are stir fried with capsicum and spices and then served with fresh coriander. It looks delicious.

Superfood Suckerdom

Long term readers of this blog will know of my distaste and objections to the superfood phenomenon. Anyway, via the clever Signe Rousseau I came across this article on why we're suckers for superfoods.

Vintage Gourmet

I've been really enjoying Ruth Reichl's series of posts highlighting old copies of Gourmet magazine. A box of past issues arrived on her doorstep and for the last couple of weeks she's been posting a series of recipes, some of which are surprising, some fussily old fashioned, while others are interestingly time-consuming. The adverts are pretty funny too.

Spiced Sweet Potato Cakes

On my list of recipes to make is My Darling Lemon Thyme's Spiced Sweet Potato Cakes. Grated sweet potato is mixed together with garlic, spices, chilli and fresh coriander. The sweet potato cakes are then pan fried and served with a crispy fried egg. Our weekly vegetable box is full of sweet potatoes at the moment, so it's good to have a new recipe to try out.

Podcast: Feeding the Commons

I loved the two-part series on catering at the House of Commons by the BBC's Food Program. About 8,000 food transactions occur each day, from early morning breakfast and coffee breaks, through afternoon tea and dinner. The sheer logistics of feeding that many people, as well as the characters involved makes for interesting listening. Part one is here and part two here.

What have you spotted on the interwebs recently?

Banana, Maple & Ginger LSA Porridge

There's been much talk of “Polar air” on the weather forecast this week. A simple phrase which can't help but make me feel cold, and shivery. 

It's also made me change my normal breakfast routine of muesli or toast, to something warm and nourishing.

I can't remember where I first found the idea for this porridge, made from LSA – ground up linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds – but it's something I've been making for a couple of years now. On a cold morning, when I find myself wanting something hot and hearty for breakfast, this is perfect.

Banana Maple & Ginger LSA Porridge - perfect for a winter's day

Banana Maple & Ginger LSA Porridge - perfect for a winter's day

I make it with many, many variations and I've included some more suggestions below, but this version is my current favourite.

Banana, Maple & Ginger LSA Porridge

LSA and milk cooks into a lovely porridge, in a matter of minutes. You only need a relatively small amount of LSA and it expands and thickens into a hearty and filling breakfast. Ginger spices up the flavour, while the banana and maple add a little sweetness. Serves 2.


500ml almond, dairy or soy milk
½ cup (125ml) LSA * 
Pinch of ground ginger
1 banana
Maple syrup

What to do:

Make the porridge: Combine the milk, LSA and ginger in a small saucepan. Place over a medium-low heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Stirring regularly, cook for 2 - 3 minutes, until the mixture is thick. 

To serve: Slice up the banana and scatter over the top. Drizzle over the maple syrup and serve immediately.

Cooking Notes

LSA is ground up linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds. It's available from almost all supermarkets, where it's usually found in the health food section. Keep your open packet of LSA in the fridge, to ensure it stays fresh.

I don't have a microwave, but see no reason why this couldn't be cooked in one.

I love this made with maple syrup, but it's expensive stuff. If I've run out and don't have the budget to buy a new bottle, I'll often drizzle over golden syrup or honey. A spoonful of marmalade is also quite delicious.

Feel free to replace the ginger with cinnamon, allspice, mixed spice or a pinch of nutmeg.

If I want more fruit, I often grate half an apple and add it to the cooking porridge. Berries and passionfruit flesh are also delicious.

Nutrition Notes

  • Gluten free – although check the ingredients if you're using non-dairy milk
  • Suitable for vegetarians
  • If you use a non-dairy milk, suitable for vegans
  • As long as you use a lactose free milk, this porridge is lactose free
  • Low salt

What's your current breakfast?

Cracking recipes: Wendy's Kale & Goat Cheese Pesto

Over the past year, one of the recipes on regular repeat in my kitchen is Wendy's Kale and Goat Cheese Pesto.

Photo by Bobbi Bowers

Photo by Bobbi Bowers

I've been following Wendy's blog, A Wee Bit of Cooking, for years now. Along the way, a number of her recipes, like the Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritoshave become favourites in our house

However, it's her kale pesto I'm currently fixated on.

When talking about how to cook if time and energy are low it seems almost frivolous to mention a pesto recipe. However, Wendy's is a doozie which I just find really useful.

Firstly, of course, it tastes delicious!

Moreover, while the pesto isn't a meal unto itself, I find it can add flavour, texture and vegetable to a collection of otherwise disparate ingredients, turning them into a tasty meal.

It's also flexible and as I repeatedly say, I love a low fuss, flexible recipe. I like Wendy's idea of toasting the nuts and freely admit it would make the pesto even more delicious, nevertheless in the service of simplicity, saving time and reducing pan usage, I rarely follow this step. I also often adjust the recipe according to what's in my cupboard, changing the nuts or cheese and adding in fresh herbs or chilli, if I feel like it.

I make up a batch with a whole bunch of kale and then use it by the tablespoonful, tossed through chickpeas, pasta and rice, blobbed on the top of a vegetable soup, or folded into the middle of an omelette.

It is quite simply a brilliant and delightful recipe.

What recipes are currently on high rotation in your kitchen?

Spiced Peanut Butter Muesli Bars

Muesli bars make a great snack, however many of the brands available from the supermarket are crammed with dodgy sounding ingredients, so why not make your own?

Spiced Peanut Butter Muesli Bars

I've been making these muesli bars for a couple of years now. They originated from a recipe on Teresa Cutter's site. However, over time, I've tweaked the original, adding ingredients and changing the method until they've morphed into this current incarnation. 

My latest change has been the addition of peanut butter to the mixture which, along with the spices and golden syrup, gives a spicy and treacley flavour to the finished bars.

The bars are slightly crumbly, which is a texture I like. If this is a problem for you, then just add another egg which will help further bind them together. Makes 16 serves.


½ cup peanut butter
½ cup golden syrup
3 cups natural muesli
½ cup ground flaxseeds
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 eggs
¼ cup pepitas* or flaked almonds

What to do:

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Line a 20cm square baking tin with baking paper.

Melt the peanut butter & golden syrup: Spoon the peanut butter and golden syrup into a small saucepan and place over a low heat. Melt the ingredients, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly combined and smooth - you do need to watch this, as the syrup has a tendency to start boiling, before the peanut butter has become runny.

While the peanut butter & golden syrup are melting: In a large bowl, roughly combine the muesli, ground flaxseeds and mixed spice.

Whisk the eggs: Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and whisk together. 

Mix all the ingredients: Once melted, pour the peanut butter and golden syrup into the muesli. Add the whisked egg and then, using a spoon, mix all the ingredients together until they are thoroughly combined and gloriously sticky.

Get the bars ready for baking: Spoon the muesli mixture into the prepared baking tin and press it down firmly – I find it easiest to do this with the back of a wet spoon. Scatter the pepitas or almonds over the top, squashing them down slightly into the muesli mixture.

Bake the muesli bars: Cook for 30 – 35 minutes, until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack until they are completely cooled. Cut into 16 squares using a sharp knife and enjoy. 

Store the cooked muesli bars in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days, or freeze them individually. 

Cooking Notes

Pepitas are dried pumpkin seeds. While you can find them un-hulled, salted and / or roasted, I always buy the raw hulled seeds. These are green and flat-ish in shape. Pepitas can be found in some supermarkets and all health food shops.

There are lots of ways to vary these muesli bars and make them your own. You could use different muesli blends, or make up your own muesli from rolled oats, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. One of my favourite combinations is dried fig and ginger. I make this with a combination of oats, walnuts, chopped dried figs, together with ground ginger and chunks of crystallised ginger.

Nutrition Notes

  • Can be made gluten free by using a gluten free muesli.
  • Suitable for vegetarians.
  • Lactose free.
  • Can be made low salt, as long as you use a no added salt peanut butter.

Have you ever made your own muesli bars?