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Saturday, March 22, 2008

My favourite cookbook

To say I have an extensive cookbook collection would be an understatement. I'm one of those people who keeps a continuous list of 'books to buy', and as time goes on the list seems to grow ever larger due to the modern day proliferation of great publications (and my lack of funds to purchase all of them at will).

So, in keeping with this blog's title, I thought it appropriate that my first ever post should be about a cookbook. And not just any cookbook - this unassuming and not-so-glamorous number (compared to some of the stunningly beautiful 'coffee table tomes' available) would have to be the number one book on my shelves for sheer user friendliness and all-encompassing content.

A bit of background: the authors of this fabulous book (and several others) are the Melbourne-based husband and wife team of Allan Campion and Michele Curtis. Both are chefs and general food personalities on the Melbourne scene - for more information see *As a small aside, I will be attending one of Allan's 'Foodies Walking Tours' in Melbourne at the end of April. I've been wanting to go to Melbourne and do this tour for ages, so stay tuned for the post-tour write up.* You can purchase Every Day in the Kitchen, along with their other publications, direct from the site, and I believe they sign the copies purchased via this method.

But back to the was first published in 2002 in hardcover with the title 'Campion and Curtis in the Kitchen'. This in fact is the version I own, although I've put up the newer softcover-version photo from their website as this is what you'll need to look for if you want to buy the book now.

Split into 18 chapters, plus an introduction and 'how to use' section, Campion and Curtis cover just about everything the modern Australian cook could hope for. Each chapter starts with a brief insight to the following pages and a general overview of techniques and necessary information for that type of cooking, entitled 'things you need to know about...'. In addition, most of the recipes have their own short introduction which may describe the friend the recipe came from; their particular way of eating or serving it; or just a little anecdote about why they love that dish. This personal touch is, I think, what makes it so appealing to me, as I'm a sucker for food with a story.

Whilst I am a competent cook and usually apply my own approach and style to recipes, this is still a book I find immensely useful and I often refer to it if not for an entire recipe, then for the wealth of variations and general know-how the authors include. Just as importantly, when I do follow the recipes letter for letter, they work without fail every time, and I'm yet to try something out of this book which is bland or uninteresting. High praise from someone who spends much of her working and leisure time poring over cookbooks and food websites!

And now that I've spent all this time expounding on the greatness of Every Day in the Kitchen, it's probably only fair that I share one of my most-used recipes from the book...simply called Coconut Cake, it's something I've played with and baked in many different forms over the past few years. I think my favourite adaptation is to bake the cake as the recipe says, adding the zest and juice of a couple of limes whilst creaming the butter and sugar. This will split the mixture, however it comes back together again when you add the flour later in the recipe. I also don't bother with a springform tin as the recipe states, and use a normal 22cm round tin. Just make sure to grease and line your tin well or the cake won't turn out properly.

The above photo is a version of the Coconut Cake I made for a wedding (apologies to everyone that I don't have one of the inside of the cake!). The couple were after a cake which tasted great and looked pretty without being overdone, so I've iced with a basic buttercream flavoured with lime juice to complement the lime in the cake, and decorated with fresh flowers which matched those carried by the bride. Trav and Jac, hopefully you won't mind the use of your cake photo here!
Coconut Cake
taken from Every Day in the Kitchen
Allan Campion & Michele Curtis
Hardie Grant Books
*this is word-for-word the version in the book, including the brief introduction*

This is a beautiful cake with a dense texture that can easily be sliced and passed around. Try it as your next birthday cake.

270ml coconut milk
100g dessicated coconut
200g soft butter
300g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
250g self-raising flour

Preheat oven to 180C (350F).
Place coconut milk and coconut in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes, then allow to cool.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one by one, fully incorporating each one before adding the next. Alternatively fold in sifted flour and coconut mixture until well combined. Spoon mixture into greased and lined 22cm (8 1/2 inch) sprinform cake tin.
Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes.
Test the cake by inserting a skewer. If it comes out clean the cake is ready; if it doesn't, cook it for a further 5 minutes and test again. Allow to cool, dust with icing sugar and serve. Serves 6-8.