Matt Preston serves up a taste of history
Matt Preston serves up a taste of history

It's not often anyone gives Matt Preston a recipe tip he hasn't already tried.

I managed it with an old trick of my mum's who used to add a couple of tart Granny Smith apples to her pumpkin soup.

We were discussing Matt Preston's 100 Best Recipes.

While he's been publishing recipes for years, this is his first cookbook.

And it's a cracker.

He's pulled together his favourite recipes for the meals he often cooks at home for his family.

There are even recipes in there from his children, which he proudly points out they have altered to their individual taste and now proclaim their own.

Most of us have a collection of cookbooks we've gathered over the years - and more than a few usually look as pristine as the day we brought them home.

In my case, my most precious cookbooks is very well worn. It's an old leather-bound cookbook my mum put together when she and my dad were on a property north west of Moree in NSW.

It started life as an account book and still has a page in the back from September 23, 1909 in beautiful copybook writing in black ink.

Among the hand-written recipes from aunts and grannies, there are clippings from long-forgotten CWA cookbooks and The Australian Women's Weekly going back to the early 50s.

There's even an hilarious recipe for cooking rabbit, scribbled in by a weatherbeaten old stockman for a lark, including tips on catching the bunny and involving axle grease and other unmentionable ingredients.

The thing is, while many of the old basic recipes may have been widely forgotten, they are still as relevant and delicious today as they were well over half a century ago.

This is the legacy Matt has drawn on.

As he says in his introduction, it's the food he cooks when the cameras aren't rolling, when friends are coming to dinner or the kids are screaming for their tea.

"When I started writing recipes 10 years ago I began with really simple stuff - cakes, slices, jams - and got a good reaction to that," Preston says.

"Then I got a bit smarter and probably a bit fiddly but now I've come through that and I'm back to the stuff I really like to eat.

"And I've come to the realisation that's what people want to eat, not the fancy showy-offy stuff.

"The book is full of things that take 10 minutes to prepare and two hours to cook, the stuff that's delicious to eat and doesn't rely on exotic ingredients or tricky equipment to make it."

Cooking is not hard, Preston insists, all it takes is giving people ideas and some simple techniques to make better, tastier dishes.

His favourite mantra is Minimum Fuss, Maximum Flavour.

"Just look at what people buy in the supermarket - what are the things we love?

"We love cooking with salmon, we love cooking with with beef, we looove making meatloaf and bolognese, we love carbonara and banana bread and chocolate cake.

"Surely you have a recipe for bolognese but if I can give you one that maybe takes something you love and makes it better, then hopefully that book is going to stick next to the cooker.

"I'm hoping this is a book that's going to get dirty in your kitchen."

It's no accident Preston isn't wearing his trademark cravat in the cover shot.

This collection is all about simple, delicious recipes that are easy to make and even easier to eat.

Many use key ingredients we've all grabbed at the local supermarket - from canned peaches to roast chickens.

It's the box of tips and tricks he opens up that turns them into something magical

Sometimes, he says, it's just a case of giving people a nudge in the fit direction, and off they go.

"There are recipes in this book that I would suggest are decidedly daggy," he laughs.

"But they're Australian country cooking and there's stuff you can learn from that.

"One of my favourites in the whole book is a braise of lamb.

"You braise it with a bit of soy sauce, a bit of chilli, a bit of ginger - and pineapple juice which is quintessentially Australian.

"And you get this wonderful sweet and sour but very rich and meaty braise - you can't really identify the pineapple juice, it's just got this tang and sharpness.

"It's a classic old Australian country recipe and it's just absolutely delicious.

"Sometimes we rush towards the new and forget about the stuff our grandmothers made that was delicious.

This cookbook isn't a gleaming city 4X4 that will never see a dusty track; it's a battered, honest ute covered in mud and full of well-worn tools.

  • Matt Preston's 100 Best Recipes, is published by Pan Macmillan Australia, RRP $39.99.

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