Taming Your Kitchen: A Review of Donna Hay’s Off the Shelf: Cooking From the Pantry

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Off the Shelf
By Donna Hay
September 2001
0 73227107X
RRP $A34.95

You know that feeling. It is 5:30pm, everyone is expecting dinner, and you have nothing to cook, no food in the house, and no ideas. Enter Donna Hay, with her bestselling book Off the Shelf. The book contains a range of meals attractive enough for guests, based entirely on simple and readily available cupboard ingredients. If you follow Hay’s advice, and shopping list, you will be prepared for most food situations, including drop in visitors, special occasions, and fast family meals. Off the Shelf is Hay’s fifth cookbook, following up her very successful cooking, dining, flavours and food fast . She has been food editor at Marie Claire, a popular Australian magazine, and even has her own magazine donna hay.

The book is in an attractive large format with beautiful photography by Con Poulos, and along with its extensive shopping list and ingredient glossary, there are sections on pasta, rice, noodles, grains + lentils, mediterranean, asian, pastes, bake, and sweet. Each chapter contains information on different variations of the ingredients, tips and tricks for preparation, recipes, and “Short Order” – even quicker recipes. While some of the tips may seem obvious, such as “when draining pasta, use a large colander and shake well to remove all the excess water” or how to work out the best way of cooking rice, these are the things that will make your meal work, and should really be memorised. Dishes like pasta with pumpkin and sage brown butter, Thai lemongrass rice salad, Creamy polenta with caramelised fennel, or miso crusted salmon with fennel salad, or gremolata seared chicken are as simple as they are innovative and delicious. My personal favourite is the sweet potato curry puffs, which take about a half hour to prepare.

Because the recipes are all fairly short, the book packs a lot of recipes between its covers, and most of the tinned ingredients can be substituted with fresh; the pastes either made in advance, or bought ready made at most supermarkets. The desserts are just as simple, tempting, and delicious as the main courses (more so if you have a sweet tooth), and contain some fast and foolproof delights like Raspberry macaroon tarts, easy chocolate cake (15 minute from start to “in the oven”), & milk puddings with rosewater syrup, or brown sugar meringues with sugared fig.

If your motto in the kitchen is keep it simple, but you don’t want to sacrifice health, or the quality of the finished product, you will love this book.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.