A Review of The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

The Mother of All Cookbooks: A Review of The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

 There are few recipes you can conceive of which aren’t in this book, especially if you are interested in classic American cookery. From the perfect chicken pot pie to the right way of making Key Lime Pie, The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook will provide you with all of the recipes you could possibly need. If you want one cookbook which you will go back to again and again, this is probably it. It is not a good read, nor is it full of pretty pictures, and dreamy food writing – just a lot of recipes, and a lot of tips for making you into a better, more confident cook, and a better, more organised homemaker.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook
Random House Australia
April 2002
RRP A$69.95
592 pages 1 Ed edition
ISBN: 0609607502

Is your copy of Mrs Beeton or The Joy of Cooking getting a bit threadbare? Martha Stewart, the American “lifestyle” guru, has produced a huge collection of recipes which will cover most of your cooking requirements, from daily meals to fancy entertaining. The cookbook contains 1,200 recipes, taken from the extremely popular magazine which reached its 10th anniversary last year. This chunky hardcover book was put together to celebrate that anniversary, and contains more recipes than you will be able to cook in your lifetime, and should become the kind of household bible which is passed on from generation to generation.

The only pictures in this book are at the beginning, with 32 colour plates featuring some of the more attractively presented dishes. There is also very little prose. If you are the sort of reader that enjoys sitting up in bed reading your cookbooks, and enjoying food oriented words, you will be disappointed with this book, which is meant to be used as a tool, rather than a literary experience. Occasionally there is a sentence or two of information or instruction before each recipe, but there is no ‘personality’, no reminiscence, no history, and no background on the ingredients, or even detail of what kind of taste you can expect from each recipe. For that kind of cookbook, you will have to go to authors like Tamasin Day-Lewis, or Nigella Lawson. Instead, this is a stark manual which crams as many recipes as possible between its covers, and the recipes are well designed, and wide in scope.

The book is divided into chapters which cover basics, hor d’oeuvres (or starters, if you aren’t from NA), breakfast, breads, soups, salads, vegetables, potatoes, pasta rice and grains, meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, vegetarian main courses, desserts, cakes, pies and tarts, cookies and candy (sweets or lollies), drinks, salsas, sauces, dips, and more. There is also a chapter called “pantry” which covers ingredient details, and a chapter on finding ingredients, which will really only be useful if you live in the US.

If you haven’t heard of Martha Stewart, you are probably not an American, since her name has become synonymous with creative, stylish entertaining. From the magazine’s not so humble beginnings in 1991, Stewart virtually started the current avalanche of lifestyle magazines, and television shows with her books, TV show, website, syndicated newspaper columns, radio show, catalogues, and product line, all of which centre on providing how-to information on cooking, entertaining, gardening, crafts, holidays, weddings, and baby. Although she has had a very successful stockbroking career, Stewart has made homemaking a fashionable job once more, and her magazine has over 2 million subscribers, all of her books have become bestsellers, and her television shows have earned 6 Emmy awards. This latest collection is her largest, and contains a nice balance between presenting the best way of cooking classic, and simple dishes like Omelettes, pizzas, stocks, sauces, pastries, pot pies, corn on the cob, french fries, burgers, pasta, custards, applesauces, along with more original, and fancy dishes like “parsnip pierogies with picked red cabbage slaw and sauteed apples”, “striped bass with Ginger-lime sauce”, or “Roasted Eggplant and Bell Pepper Terrine”. The instructions are clearly written out, and where substitutions or “add-ins” are possible, these are indicated. Throughout the book there are recipes titled “X 101”, which takes simple classics and provides very specific instructions on how to do these perfectly. There are also boxes titled “Good Thing”, which tells readers how to do special extras to make their dishes special, such as warming olives and serving them in ramekinds with crusty pieces of bread for scooping, turning a pizza into bite-sized hors d’oeuvres, or turning dough scraps into little cinnamon cookies.

There are few recipes you can conceive of which aren’t in this book, especially if you are interested in classic American cookery. From the perfect chicken pot pie to the right way of making Key Lime Pie, The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook will provide you with all of the recipes you could possibly need. If you want one cookbook which you will go back to again and again, this is probably it. It is not a good read, nor is it full of pretty pictures, and dreamy food writing – just a lot of recipes, and a lot of tips for making you into a better, more confident cook, and a better, more organised homemaker.

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