AUTHOR: An Australian-born food writer in her early 30s, Donna Hay provides a casual yet hip approach to cooking. Her simply worded, elegantly styled and lavishly photographed cookbooks -- they now number six -- have generated a worldwide following. They emphasize getting food on the table fast and offer practical, never tediously pedantic, solutions, whether the problem constitutes a weeknight meal for one, a midnight snack, breakfast on the go, a leisurely brunch for friends or a formal dinner for colleagues.
She is to today's cooks what Julia Child is to baby boomers.
She was formerly food editor of Marie Claire lifestyle magazine and is currently editorial director of Donna Hay magazine.
FORMAT: These cookbooks are undeniably seductive. The appeal begins with the books' oversized formats, succinct titles and starkly elegant covers. The approach carries over to the inside layouts, with ample white space, a minimum of words and artful yet approachable food styling. The books seem an unlikely but enticing confluence of an Ikea catalogue and Martha Stewart Living, thanks to photographers Petrina Tinslay and Con Poulus and their understated style.
Each page accommodates four short recipes opposite a page of matching color photos. (The exception is the end-of-chapter snippets -- short recipes and tips.) Recipes are unencumbered by wordy headnotes, and all superfluous tips and explanations are tidily relegated to the glossary or introductory chapter remarks.
RECIPES: At first glance, the books portray an exotic world unwary of raw egg, unafraid of ceviche or sashimi, and where baby octopus is the norm.
But there are also plenty of pasta, chicken, fish and even roast with mash recipes.
And therein lies the allure. The recipes are hip and unconventional, the flavors unintimidating, the techniques straightforward and minimalist. And Hay reconciles all that without compromising flavor or requiring an entire evening in the kitchen.
Asian and Mediterranean flavors predominate, with more subtle British and American leanings. A week's worth of recipes might comprise seared scallops and lemon butter tossed with pasta, grilled chicken and eggplant doused with a honeyed-lemon vinaigrette, rice noodles and Chinese pork in a fragrant broth, Parmigiano-Reggiano-crusted chicken tenders served with oil-slicked tomato slices and basil and a four-ingredient macaroni cheese.
Hay relies on a relatively small repertoire of potent, time-saving ingredients, such as fresh herbs, citrus juice, jarred curry paste, coconut milk, ground spices, self-rising flour and fresh fruit.
The enticingly succinct recipes come at a price. Experienced cooks will miss nothing, though novice cooks accustomed to having their hands held will certainly flounder over lapses in the instructions.
BOOKS: At first glance, the cookbooks seem to be largely identical, yet each maintains its own organizing principle that lends subtle distinctions to the 150 or so recipes within.
The first, The New Cook (Whitecap, 1997) categorizes some unconventional recipes in a rather conventional manner: by main ingredient. Chapters include eggs, pasta, rice, noodles, vegetables, meat, poultry, fruit and baking.
Entertaining (Whitecap,1998) organizes chapters by one cheery culinary concept after another, ranging from "coffee & cake" to "portable food," "in a flash" to "red carpet dining." Clever, almost heretically casual, ideas make entertaining seem something to anticipate, not dread.
New Food Fast (Whitecap, 1999) intimates that an innovative dinner is a snap -- and makes good on the lure. Recipes are categorized predominantly by minutes from start to finish.
Flavours (Whitecap, 2000) flaunts the extreme versatility of certain ingredients -- among them vanilla, lemon and lime, ginger, chili, chocolate, basil and mint, cinnamon and spice and so forth.
Off the Shelf: Cooking From the Pantry (William Morrow, 2001) is a slightly misleading title. This collection of recipes parlays pantry items into decidedly unboring dishes with the assistance of fresh ingredients rather than relying solely on dried pantry goods.
The recently published Modern Classics: Book 1 (William Morrow, 2002) juxtaposes mac-n-cheese with risotto. Had the title not indicated classics, that organizing principle might not occur to most readers. It seems Hay's interpretation of "classic" translates as updated takes on cross-cultural standbys, old and new. But it's another collection of swell recipes nonetheless, from a passable pad Thai to a terrific Chinese barbecued pork. (Modern Classics: Book 2, to be published late 2003, will cater to sweet tooths.)
TESTER'S NOTES: The recipes work -- remarkably well, in most instances. Admittedly, some work much better than others, typically the savory more so than the sweet, (I'm not so fond of Hay's take on classic American desserts like bittersweet brownies and chocolate chip cookies.)
More trivial annoyances include many metric measures (and a streamlined conversion chart that doesn't supersede the occasional need for a calculator).
WHO MIGHT USE THIS BOOK: The uninspired. The hip. The self-assured. The harried. The rushed. And the just plain tired. Pretty much anyone who comes home every night to face the oft-daunting dilemma of what's for dinner.
-- Renee Schettler
Toasted Pistachio and Honey Yogurt is a perfect combination. Try thick, sweet honey poured into the base of small cups or bowls, sprinkled with roughly chopped toasted fresh pistachio nuts and then topped off with lots of creamy thick yogurt. Run your spoon down the side of the glass or bowl to the bottom and then drag it through the honey, nuts and yogurt to get all three flavors.
-- From the Morning section of the
Short Top + Sides chapter
in "New Food Fas"t
Place feta cheese in a bowl and cover with extra-virgin olive oil, lots of basil leaves and some peppercorns.
Refrigerate for 4 hours before serving with slices of crusty wood-fired bread.
-- From the Basil + Mint
chapter of "Flavours"
Cook 2 cups macaroni for 6 minutes or until al dente. Drain and return to saucepan. Add 1/2 cup cream, 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup grated white cheddar cheese to the pan with the macaroni and stir over low heat until the cheese melts and the mixture is thick. Serves 2.
-- From the Pasta, Noodles + Rice
chapter of "Modern Classics: Book 1"
Chinese Barbecue Pork and
Egg Noodle Soup
8 cups chicken stock
1 star anise
11/2 tablespoons shredded ginger
4 scallions, sliced
1 small red chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine*
11/2 teaspoons soy sauce
8 ounces gai larn,** trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
10 ounces fresh thin egg noodles
12 ounces Chinese barbecued pork fillet, thinly sliced (takeout or recipe follows)
Heat the stock, star anise, ginger, scallions, chili, cooking wine and soy sauce over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the gai larn and cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, place the noodles in a bowl of boiling water and allow to stand for 30 seconds. Drain.
Warm the barbecued pork.
To serve, place the noodles in bowls, pour over the soup and top with slices of pork.
* Note: Similar to dry sherry, Chinese cooking wine is a blend of glutinous rice, millet, a special yeast and the local spring waters of Shao Hsing, where it is made in northern China. It is used for braised Asian dishes and is sold in Asian supermarkets, often labeled "shao hsing."
** Note: Also known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, gai larn is a leafy vegetable with dark green leaves, small white flowers and stout stems (the part of the plant that is most often eaten). Wash thoroughly then steam, braise, boil or stir-fry.
Per serving: 360 calories, 22 gm protein, 31 gm carbohydrates, 17 gm fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 639 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber
-- From the Soup chapter
of "Modern Classics: Book 1"
Chinese Barbecue Pork
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
11/2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine (see preceding recipe) or dry sherry
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 pounds pork neck cut into 2-inch wide strips (or substitute country-style spare ribs or shoulder cut into strips)
Combine the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, honey, Chinese cooking wine and Chinese five-spice powder in a large nonmetallic bowl. Add the pork pieces and mix to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drain the pork, reserving the marinade, and place on a rack in a baking dish. Bake for 40 minutes or until cooked through, brushing with marinade frequently.
Slice and serve with steamed greens and rice or add to a soup or stir-fry.
Per serving: 460 calories, 25 gm protein, 13 gm carbohydrates, 33 gm fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 13 gm saturated fat, 543 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
-- From the Roasts + Simmers
chapter of "Modern Classics: Book 1"
Pasta With Shredded Chicken
and Fried Basil
14 ounces fresh pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 chicken breast fillets, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil, extra
1/4 cup basil leaves
4 ounces feta cheese, chopped
Cracked black pepper
Lemon wedges for serving
Place the pasta in a saucepan of boiling water and cook until al dente.
While pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken for 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove, cool slightly and shred the chicken.
Add the extra oil to the pan and heat. Add basil and cook for 2 minutes or until crisp.
To serve, drain pasta and toss with the chicken, feta and pepper. Pour the oil and fried basil over the pasta and serve with lemon wedges.
Per serving: 623 calories, 36 gm protein, 75 gm carbohydrates, 19 gm fat, 73 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 373 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber
-- From the 10 Minutes (Or So)
chapter of "New Food Fast"
Chicken Poached in Coconut Curry
3 tablespoons red curry paste*
6 chicken thigh fillets, halved
2 cups chopped sweet potato
2 cups (16 ounces) chicken stock
11/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
Place a frying pan over medium-high heat and add the curry paste. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until the paste is fragrant. Add the chicken and sweet potato to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the stock and coconut milk and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer gently for 12 minutes or until chicken and sweet potato are cooked. Sprinkle cilantro over the chicken and serve with steamed rice or steamed greens.
Do not boil the coconut milk as it will separate -- the flavor will be the same but the appearance and texture of the sauce will be different.
* Note: Red curry paste is a hot and spicy paste of ground red chili peppers, herbs and spices. Available in bottles from supermarkets or Asian food stores.
Per serving: 711 calories, 30 gm protein, 48 gm carbohydrates, 46 gm fat, 121 mg cholesterol, 26 gm saturated fat, 1,041 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber
-- From the 20 Minutes Chapter
of "New Food Fast"
(Makes 11/2 cups)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cracked black pepper
4 anchovies, chopped (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 66 calories, 1 gm protein, trace carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 82 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
-- From the Salads chapter
of "The New Cook"
Chocolate Chunk Semifreddo
2 cups (16 ounces) cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs,* separated
3 ounces dark chocolate, grated
3 ounces milk chocolate, grated
Place the cream in a bowl and whisk until firm. Refrigerate until required.
Place the sugar, vanilla and egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until the mixture is thick and pale.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until soft peak form. Gently fold together the cream, egg whites, egg yolk mixture and the grated dark and milk chocolate. Pour the mixture into a metal container and cover. Freeze for 3 hours or until firm. Serve in scoops.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We used some grated, some finely chopped and some coarsely chopped chocolate.
* Note: Uncooked eggs may be contaminated with salmonella bacteria and therefore should not be consumed by the very young, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.
Per serving: 519 calories, 7 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 42 gm fat, 254 mg cholesterol, 22 gm saturated fat, 86 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
-- From the Chocolate chapter