"If your grandma cooked it for your mum or dad, and your mum and dad love it, your mum is going to cook it for you - and you're going to love it and you're going to cook it for your children," she says.
That's typical of lineage of the food in Australia's Favourite Recipes, which the Nine Network host has edited. The book is billed as "cherished family recipes from around the country" - recipes that flooded in by the hundreds when McKinnon spread the word on TV and radio.
"The standard was incredible," she says.
That's hardly surprising, given each recipe had been tested hundreds of times over generations.
But time and familiarity have a way of making people careless, especially when it comes to measurements. McKinnon would find herself asking donors: "Look, when you say `a handful of this' or `add the rice', how much do you mean?"
She adds: "People had just taken it for granted that we'd know - because they know."
McKinnon's mother handed over the family's rice pudding recipe. "It was the vaguest one of all," her daughter laughs. "It was like, `pour some rice in a bowl, add some sugar'."
McKinnon, who says she is no more than a competent cook, set out to collect the sort of recipes that define families but which "they don't want to give you... because it's their treasure".
She has been surprised at people's generosity - "these aren't things you want to give away lightly" - but also understands why some were moved to tears when told their dish had been selected for the book.
"There is a lot of love and creativity and history in all of these recipes," she says.
Food has a way of taking you back in time, she says, and dead grandmothers live on through their recipes because "the senses of smell and taste are so powerful".
The book - with recipes ranging from goat's cheese tartlets to pavlova, from Thai fishcakes to Persian love cake - is a snapshot of the food Australia is cooking in 2012 - and it's very different from what came out of kitchens in earlier decades.
Although brought up on food such as "spaghetti bolognaise cooked with no herbs", McKinnon thinks her development as a cook since the mid-1990s roughly mirrors that of Australians as a whole and their willingness to embrace wonderful produce and foods of many cultures.
But, she says, all these recipes are quick and reliable enough for families to cook regularly, even on a busy weeknight.
"I didn't want to put anything in the book that was too difficult or required you to shop around too many places to get the ingredients. I wanted it to be a really handy book."
McKinnon and her husband, Nine CEO David Gyngell, recently welcomed baby son Edward, so Australia's Favourite Recipes is likely to get a good workout in their kitchen before and after its editor returns to Weekend Today in March.
In the meantime, McKinnon is looking forward to "a total baby-immersion summer" with tiny Ted.
SALT AND PEPPER CALAMARI
"Speed is of the essence here. Cook it quickly and gobble it down straight away. The eating quickly part is easy in our family as this is one of those appetisers that is never waved away. It's hard to avoid overcooking the squid, which turns to the texture of rubber in a nanosecond, but when you get it right it's like an impressive dish for a home cook." - Pauline Von Goes, North Fitzroy, Victoria
2 tbspns Sichuan peppercorns
3 tbspns sea salt
1/2 cup plain flour
500g cleaned calamari hoods, scored and cut into 4cm x 2cm rectangles
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
lemon or lime wedges, to serve
To make the Sichuan pepper and salt mix, place the peppercorns and salt into a frying pan and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, for three minutes or until the salt turns golden. Crush using a mortar and pestle until very fine. Store in an airtight jar.
Combine the flour and 2 tbspns Sichuan pepper and salt mix in a large bowl.
Fill a deep-sided saucepan or wok one-third full of oil and heat to 180C or until a cube of bread turns golden in 15 seconds.
Dust the calamari with the flour mixture, shaking off the excess, and deep-fry, in batches, for 2-3 minutes or until crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
"I have been making this pav for more than 25 years. It's so easy to make - no fussing about, just beat it all together. It has a beautiful marshmallow centre and the lemon filling adds a nice twist. On the rare occasion when there is any left over, it keeps well in the fridge." Jen Brittain, Cobden, Victoria
4 eggwhites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 tspn cornflour
1/2 tspn vanilla essence
1 tspn boiling water
1/3 cup (80ml) white vinegar
300ml pouring (thin) cream, whipped, to decorate (optional)
seasonal fruit, to decorate
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup cornflour
1/2 cup (125ml) lemon juice
60g unsalted butter, diced and softened
3 egg yolks
2 tspns powdered gelatine, dissolved in 1 tbspn boiling water
1 cup lightly whipped cream
Preheat the oven to 200C. Trace six 8cm-diameter circles onto baking paper, turn upside down and place on baking trays. Or, if you would like one large pavlova, trace a 20cm diameter circle onto a sheet of baking paper. (I like to use a pizza tray instead of a baking tray when making a large pav.)
Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on high speed for 20 minutes or until stiff and shiny and tripled in volume. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides occasionally. Pour the mixture within the circles on the baking paper and smooth the top.
Bake for 10 minutes on the top oven shelf, then reduce the oven temperature to 100C and bake for 30 minutes for individual pavlovas or one hour for a large pavlova on the bottom shelf. Turn off the oven and leave the pavlovas to cool completely in the oven with the door ajar.
To make the lemon filling, combine the sugar, cornflour, lemon juice and 1 cup (250ml) water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the butter and egg yolks. Stir in the dissolved gelatine and allow to cool. Fold in the whipped cream and chill for 30 minutes. Spoon the lemon filling on to the pavlovas. Spread the whipped cream over the lemon filling, if desired, and top with your choice of fruit. Chill until serving.
Makes six individual pavlovas or serves six as a large pavlova.
- Australia's Favourite Recipes, edited by Leila McKinnon, is published by Plum for Pan Macmillan, RRP $29.99. Part of the proceeds from the books' sales are being donated to Legacy.