Book Review: Marie Claire Real + Simple, Michele Cranston

| 21 March , 2010 | Reply

Jane de Graaff, I Ate It All

The happiness of a cookbook named ‘real + simple’ comes in the discovery that yes, the name says it all.

For flavour raiders familiar with the beautiful gastro-porn of the Marie Claire cookbooks (and specifically the work of Chef and Food Stylist Michele Cranston), you’ll already know that the beauty of these books is two fold.

1.) Firstly, the books look good enough to eat (pardon the pun), and real + simple is no exception. The pages just overflow with idyllic pastoral scenes, milky looking maidens in gumboots toting mismatched nanna crockery, and close-up shots of produce so fresh that it’s still daintily dusted with dirt.

2.) The second great joy is that not only is real + simple pretty, it is (like the Marie Claire cookbooks before it) real simple to follow. This is inspired and inspiring cooking made easy. Portions are hearty and presentation is relatively uncomplicated.

For those who are yet to discover these kitchen bibles, real + simple is a great place to start

It’s a book for any level of cooking- from beginners who don’t know their peaches from their pomegranates, to those with the kitchen confidence to wield a mezzaluna with style… anyone can be assured that in real + simple what you see is what you get.

Dishes and steps are straightforward and common sense. There’s no smears of jus here, just big bowls of steaming barley with vegetables and pots of chestnut simmered chicken.

The book is broken down into chapters that include the likes of ‘healthy’- flavours on a plate, ‘simmer’- a pot full of goodness and ‘stir’- savoury and sweet delights. This lets you pick a mood to cook to, and that’s a whole lot more inviting than simply thumbing through to the poultry section.

The artful images not only show off the dishes at their best (giving you a good, clear idea of what to expect and creative ways to plate-up), but produce a sense of warmth and conviviality with deliciously casual table settings and outdoor images, reminding us that food is part of life, not just something that comes out of the cupboard.

And just to prove the point and to see how ‘real + simple’ the book was, we just had to trial a couple of the dishes and report back on how we went.

Suffice to say that the results were wonderful, and these are certainly dishes worth adding to the repertoire.

Fresh Fig Salad with Roasted Almond Crunch:

It’s summer, so salads are welcome as a cool crunch for hot days. But let’s face it, no one likes boring old rabbit food- so a bowl of greens with a bit of panache is something to get excited over.

Rocket and fresh figs warmed-through in the oven made this dish delightfully peppery and sweet. But it was the added crackle of the simple almond and rosemary crunch sprinkled over the top that really took this dish from ‘just a another summer salad’, to ‘salad with style’, perfect for sharing with friends over a chilled rose`.

And taking all of about 15mins from go-to-whoa, you’ll be hard pressed to find a simpler or more appealing dinner.

Chocolate Almond Cake:

Nobody loves a tea-party more than us, so what better way to while away a Saturday afternoon than out in the sunshine with a gooey piece of homemade chocolate cake?

There’s very little mess with this easy torte (nut based cake), and we substituted the flaked almonds for almond meal, which worked a treat and saved us s step with the blender.

With no raising agent, this cake stays moist in the middle and serves up in a flat wedge of chocolate happiness that looks tres gourmet for something so surprisingly straightforward.

So put the kettle on, grab Nanna’s teapot and lay on afternoon tea at the garden table – because we recommend serving this cake with a good dose of sunshine and your best china.

Ain’t nothing like playing ladies when you’ve got tea and cake!

Available now: Murdoch Books RRP$34.95

Jane

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