The Great Cookbook Debate (or Swindle?)

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (or even here, for that matter) you'll know that I have a mild cookbook addiction. Well, to be honest, I have a serious cookbook addiction. So much so that as our renovations are imminent, I've been effectively banned from buying any more for the foreseeable future! But this past Christmas I was asked what I wanted for my $100 Kris Kringle family gift and I couldn't resist - I wanted a cookbook! 

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The cookbook I had my eye on for a while was Peter Gilmore's Organum. I love his food at Quay and really wanted to get my hands on his gorgeous new tome. So the natural question from the gift-buyer was, where to pick it up? And that, my friends, is when I started to get a bit worked up. I checked my local bookstore, the Constant Reader. Price: $100. Then I checked Amazon. Price: $88, with shipping, and that's with the atrocious Aussie dollar at the moment. Well, let's see what Bookdepository.com charges. Price: $67, with shipping. Wait a second... this is an Aussie Chef, from an Aussie publisher, and it's CHEAPER to buy it overseas and get it shipped in? I could possibly see it when the dollar was stronger than the US, but now??

My gift-giver waited until the last moment so ended up buying the book at a local store for $100. I got it home, opened it up, and found that there was an iPad addendum app. Yay! And then I discovered it was another $8. This is completely insane. I had to talk to the publisher.

That evening I sent Murdoch Book a couple tweets and an email, asking questions like: "Why do you charge $100 for a cookbook and then add $8 to get the iPad addendum app?" The answer was that they don't publish the app, and therefore don't control its pricing. That ignores the fact that the app references the book throughout and the book had a promo flyer for the app. I also asked things like, "Why the disparity?". Keep in mind that the price was $57 at the time overseas. I said that consumers would be feeling confused at best, ripped off at worst. I kindly said I'd look forward to their reply.

A couple days later, the reply came. "Thank you for your email. I've passed this onto our Sales & Marketing Director who will assess if it's appropriate to offer a comment." And that was that, no further reply. So clearly the publishers simply want us to ignore the disparity and the fact that we're paying massive premiums for cookbooks that are published here and feature our chefs and restaurants. How pervasive was this? I did a little research.

A couple days later, the reply came. "Thank you for your email. I've passed this onto our Sales & Marketing Director who will assess if it's appropriate to offer a comment." And that was that, no further reply. So clearly the publishers simply want us to ignore the disparity and the fact that we're paying massive premiums for cookbooks that are published here and feature our chefs and restaurants. How pervasive was this? I did a little research.

Quay, Peter Gilmore - Bookstores, $94. Overseas (incl shipping), $58

Marque, Mark Best - Bookstores, $49. Overseas (incl shipping), $39

Rockpool Bar & Grill, Neil Perry - Bookstores, $80. Overseas (incl shipping), $66

Origin, Ben Shewry - Bookstores, $95. Overseas (incl shipping), $67

I could go on. Even with the numbskull idea of adding GST to sub-$1,000 purchases the differential doesn't add up. What gives? Do you think this is fair? Do you work in publishing and can add some background to the conversation? I just don't get it. And I certainly won't buy any books locally until it changes.

Scallop Sashimi, Shiitake, Chorizo

If you're like me, getting back into the swing of things in the new year has been hard. I returned to work just after the holidays only to find that the office was a ghost town. A lot to do, but not many people around to get things done. That might be an indictment of how much *I* actually do, but that's another story.

So on the Friday of my week back I decided to work from home. There was a lot of prep and reading to do, and for the first time in ages I didn't have any meetings! As soon as the Gourmet Female heard she demanded that I cook dinner and that she be regaled with a massive seafood fest. Enter my riff on a Dan Hong recipe, scallop sashimi with shiitake, chorizo, and spring onion.

This recipe is dead easy. The hardest part is finding an Asian market for the ingredients... And the only cooked component is a chorizo... Which can be done a few hours in advance... So you have NO excuse for not making someone an amazing seafood dish this summer!

This serves two people. You'll need:

  • 1 chorizo
  • 1 spring onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 raw scallops, sliced in thirds
  • 3 small shiitake mushrooms, very thinly sliced
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 1/4 tbsp shiro-dashi
  • 3 1/4 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Fry or BBQ the chorizo until done. Put aside to cool.

Mix the sesame oil, shiro-dashi, soy sauce, honey, and lemon juice and whisk together to combine. Slice the cooled chorizo thinly.

Place the scallops around the plate. Add the shiitake mushrooms, chorizo, and spring onion. Pour the dressing around the plate and serve! Now don't you look like the Gourmet Male?!

Beetroot, Chickpea, and Fetta Salad

Admittedly, I am not exactly a salad specialist. And I am probably the farthest thing from a vegetarian that you can find. But, as is the custom in my wife's family, I was asked to bring a salad to last year's Christmas Day - and that meant the search was on for something unique and tasty that fits our Christmas-in-summer climate. 

Almost a year ago, through a recommendation by Pepe Saya, we popped over to Kitchen by Mike for lunch and tried a few different dishes that they had. The focus that day was mussels but we were intrigued by their roast chicken with harissa and the variety of salads on offer. A few days before Christmas we popped by and had an amazing lunch - we both had the chicken but I had their beetroot salad. And was intrigued. 

I believe that Mike actually might cover this salad in his book but I decided to wing it on my own - part of my stop-following-recipes-to-the-letter resolution. I think it turned out pretty good and I found a nifty little secret with the beetroot that allowed me to put this together in under five minutes of effort, flat.

This should serve about 8 people. You'll need:

  • 1 packet packed baby beetroot (the secret weapon)
  • 500g can chickpeas
  • 200g creamy Feta cheese (probably Danish)
  • 1 bag spinach leaves
  • 1/2 red onion
  • red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1tbsp dijon mustard

Now here's the lowdown on the beetroot. Usually, you would roast the beetroots, remove the skins, cool, and then slice. This could take close to an hour and is error prone and messy. Enter the pre-prepared baby beetroot packets cropping up all over Australia. For $3 you can avoid all the whole roasting debacle and you'll end up with pretty much the same result. Nice!

First, macerate the red onion by cutting it in half and then slicing, and covering with red wine vinegar in a cup. Let it stand for 30 minutes. Remove the beetroots from the packet and cut each beetroot into eight pieces. Rinse the chickpeas thoroughly.

Combine the balsamic, olive oil, and mustard with a pinch of salt and pepper and whisk or shake to combine. Set aside.

Add the spinach to a large salad bowl and then pour in the chickpeas. Remove the onion from the vinegar and scatter over the salad. Crumble and sprinkle the feta on top and then add the beetroot pieces. Cover generously with the dressing and mix. Voila! An amazing summer salad. And I bet you won't miss roasting those beetroots...

Bourbon Pork Belly Bites

If you follow Gourmet Male you'll see that I've been doing a lot with pork belly recently. A-FREAKIN'-LOT. Mainly, I've been making my own maple smoked bacon. Over the Christmas break I wanted a try a few new dishes with pork belly, like chicharrones and pulled pork, but never imagined through a stroke of luck that I'd end up with more pork belly than I knew what to do with. A mate of mine was about to rush off to the Gold Coast for Christmas and was given a kilo of belly as a present - so guess who ended up with it when he ran out of time to cook it?! ME! 

Now, I'll have to admit, I've seen a version of this recipe somewhere before. I'm not sure if it was in one of my cookbooks or on a website, but I made it with what I could remember as well as some elements of "winging it". I ended up making it twice - the second try at New Years' Eve cemented my position as one of the resident top chefs in my group of friends!

Make sure to give yourself a couple days to make this. It sounds onerous but it actually helps if you have a big event to cater for - most of the work is done in advance and really all you need to do is heat it up on the day. 

This makes enough bites for about ten people. You'll need:

  • 1kg pork belly
  • 12 hand-crushed juniper berries
  • 300ml bourbon whiskey
  • 4 tbsp spicy tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp organic honey
  • 1 lime
  • 1 padron pepper (or jalepeno)

Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan forced). Pour half the whiskey (150ml) into a rectangle baking pan and add the juniper berries. Salt and pepper both sides of the pork belly and add to the pan. Cover the pan tightly with foil. Add to the oven and cook for 3.5 hours.

Remove the belly from the oven and chill in your refrigerator overnight. You can keep it there for an extra day if you need to. 

Mix the tomato sauce, soy sauce, honey, the rest of the bourbon, and some salt and pepper. Cover and place in the fridge.

Remove the pork belly from the fridge and place onto a cutting board. Carefully remove the skin from the top of the belly and set aside (or use for crackling later!). Make sure to leave a good portion of the belly fat. Then cut the belly into bite-sized chunks. Return the chunks to the pan.

Now you can chill the pieces for a few hours if you want to take with you somewhere. Either way, when you're ready, heat the oven to 200C (180C fan forced). Add the pork belly bites to the oven and roast for 20 minutes, or until they start to brown and sizzle. 

Meanwhile, heat the sauce mixture on medium-high heat and simmer down for 10 of the minutes that the pork belly is roasting. Remove the pork from the oven, cover all the pieces with the sauce and then put back into the oven for 10 more minutes.

Remove the pork belly from the pan and place on a serving platter. Chop the pepper roughly and sprinkle over the bites. Cover the bites with the zest and juice of one lime. Serve with toothpicks and you're done! Trust me, this is one dish that doesn't take much work but is sure to impress.