Cookbook review: Bill’s Basics

Front cover of Bill's Basics

Ever have one of those books that grows on you?  At first, you think, Wow, this is all really simple, I don’t know what I’m going to get out of this.  Then you look a little deeper, and you see the idea: laying the groundwork for people to love cooking.  And the easiest way to do that is give them some simple recipes, without long ingredient lists or crazy manipulations, and then say “Play away”.

Bill Granger is going there with his latest book, Bill’s Basics.  When I first opened it, I thought, well, fine, bran muffins.  Steamed fish.  Bit of chicken.  But starting to cook from it, you see the simplicity that he intended.  This isn’t Delia, darling, this is how to cook with no fuss and no muss.  I use every implement in the kitchen when I cook, and with these recipes I only used 2 cooking spoons (that’s a record for me.)

Bill is known for his breakfasts; his scrambled eggs make people line up around the block in Sydney.  The breakfast section, the first one in the book (makes sense, let’s start out right!), has your simple recipes: bran muffins, how to make coffee in a cafetiere.  But on the same page as the coffee is a recipe for scrummy homemade chai tea, which has come closest to the style I’ve been searching for!  White hot chocolate?  Okay!

He’s a fan of No-Knead Bread, and pairs it with apricot jam…both recipes included.  American hash browns are in there too, along with brown sugar bacon (really, try this.  Sweet/salty heaven.)

In the baking section, there seems to be a recipe that everyone focuses on: the lemon drizzle loaf with blueberries and polenta.  Maybe cause it’s delish?  I think so.

Interestingly, his comfort food seems to be a lot of Asian cooking.  I haven’t been to Oz yet, but knowing how Americans are about their Mexican food, the parallel is clear.  And really, if you want to go basic, I think Asian is the way to go: stir fries, soups, they’re fast, easy, and very satisfying.

I made the spiced butternut squash soup for a friend who doesn’t like butternut squash (yes, I told her what it was before giving it to her, I’m not a monster.)  This was the first squash soup she liked.  So much that she had another bowl before going home.  Baking the squash and tomatoes in the soup pot in the oven first, them mooshing them and adding the broth really made a huge difference.  The kids ate it up.

Tonight’s meal is going to be the Coq au Vin, which uses white wine instead of red and pan-fries the mushrooms so you get “non-flabby mushrooms”.  I like that.

Butternut, lentil and spice pasties

There’s all types of food in here: fish, seafood, lamb and beef.  I like in the vegetables section it’s not just sides: there’s some great veg*n recipes in there like chickpea burgers and butternut squash, lentil and spice pasties.

Did I mention the deconstructed banana split?  No?  In a dairy-free household, we adapt much.  This one?  The chocolate sauce is made with coconut milk.  Why I didn’t think of that before I don’t know.  I don’t care.  The kids are eating it up with spoons straight from the pan.  Must get some bananas so that there’s *some* nutrition going into them!

The book itself is laid out simply: great photos (more than most books, I think, seems to be a pic with every recipe, which is extraordinary in a good way), simple, clear directions and ingredients you really can find just at the supermarket up the road.  I like Bill’s intros to the recipes as well…slightly chatty, but also giving a bit of direction.

If you’re looking for how to make fish roe foam, this isn’t the book for you.  If you’re looking for some new tried-and-tested dishes?  This is the way to go.  I really feel that you can take this down off the shelf, cook straight out of it, and it will all go brilliantly the first time.  This is high praise from me, since most cookbooks DON’T do that (I’m looking at you, Nigella).

With Christmas coming up, this is a great book to give to someone moving out on their own for the first time (or someone you want to move out on their own for the first time…)  It’s clear, concise, and really, I don’t think you can go wrong with this book.

Book: Bill’s Basics by Bill Granger

ISBN: 978-1-84400-843-8

Available from The Book Depository

Thanks to Quadrille Publishing for the review copy.