Our Family Table by Julie Goodwin
Seven-and-a-half-thousand people vied for a shot at $100,000 and a cookbook deal, with the ultimate victor emerging in the form of a 40-year-old New South Wales mother of three, amateur cook Julie Goodwin. The contest was the first Australian edition of the TV cooking show Masterchef, which proved as much of a hit Downunder as in Britain, where it originated.
The publishing prize has resulted in Our Family Table, a handsome, weighty compendium filled with family recipes, passed down through generations, and newer dishes given to Goodwin by friends and neighbours.
The tastes are doled out in an orderly, 10-chapter fashion, starting with breakfast and covering the usual suspects: side dishes, desserts, sweets, special-occasion dinners and Christmas feasts.
More inventively, a chapter titled ‘Feeding the multitudes’ contains the dishes Goodwin loves to serve to her family (there’s a spaghetti bolognese, heavy on the mince, a ‘ridiculously cheesy lasagne’, chicken parmigiana . . . do you detect a theme?), while, in a rather sweet gesture, the final chapter (‘Our family table) consists of blank pages for the recording of the reader’s own culinary treasures.
‘Wide open spaces’ was my favourite, with its recipes for the camping trips Goodwin writes about relishing as a child and now with her husband and three sons. An easy recipe for damper on a stick is accompanied by a delectable ‘Camp fire train smash’ of vegetables and a simple lemon risotto cooked in a pot over the fire.
Our Family Table could not be classified as avant-garde: it features trusty crowd-pleasers and the odd harkening-back to a 1970s dinner party (veal with mushroom sauce, cauliflower cheese). There are instructions for ‘Mum Coughlan’s passionfruit shortbread’ and ‘Grandma’s hazelnut chocolate biscuits’: comfort food rather than culinary feats.
A personal attempt at Goodwin’s great-grandmother’s six-ingredient treacle scones resulted in small, light and irresistibly tasty morsels. They were moreish without being overly indulgent, the recipe calling for just three teaspoons of butter and two tablespoons of golden syrup.
The book leaves you with a strong sense of who Goodwin is, with its quotes and cooking tips from her loved ones (‘Use the good china. Every day is a special occasion’) and personal anecdotes (she shares the trial-by-fire experience of learning to make the perfect poached egg during a stint at a Sydney café).
It is not for the would-be chef or advanced home cook; for someone comfortable with the most complex tasks of Elizabeth David or Julia Child, this compendium of family favourites would be unchallenging and I daresay uninspiring.
Rather, it can be categorized alongside the likes of the Edmonds Cookery Book as a useful and dependable resource for simple, crowd-pleasing fare. The dishes are straightforward, requiring no sophisticated equipment or cooking techniques. Such risky dishes as souffle are modified by being twice-baked, and Goodwin even manages to make even the potentially intimidating crème brulee, with its call for a blowtorch, look manageable.
Our Family Table is the work of a woman who loves food and who is accustomed to finding nutritious ways to fill the bellies of growing children. For those with similar requirements it would be a smart investment, and as one of the loveliest-looking cookbooks I have seen, a harmonious addition to the shelves.
This review was previously published on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones
Published by Penguin