Mandy Wrangles_2_tnMandy’s swooning over this recipe book!




Evans-Not Just Jam by Matthew EvansWarning: giving a balanced review of this little book without any of the oohing and ahhing it prompted upon landing in my hands will be almost impossible. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a beautifully presented book – whether it be a work of fiction or fact – and Not Just Jam is just that. I’m also a sucker for food preserving (ugh, I hate waste, and it’s a fun way to get the best out of a suburban veggie patch) with a special interest in long-lasting sauces and chutneys. Not only is Not Just Jam a sturdy hardcover with full-page colour photographs for every recipe, but it’s just the right size and weight to hang on to with one hand while you’re stirring a pot of delicious fruit or vegetables, ready to seal into sterilised jars. It’s the type of book that should last the ages (even with the inevitable sticky and stained page-corners) and be passed down to another generation, filled with recipes that evoke memories of ‘home’ and happy times.

Author Matthew Evans is known as Australia’s favourite tree-changer. As a former chef and food critic, he now lives and works in Tasmania as a smallholder, food writer and activist. He’s the star of the SBS TV series ‘Gourmet Farmers’ and has written 11 books including The Dirty Chef, Real Food Companion, Winter on the Farm and Summer on Fat Pig Farm. With credentials like those, obviously Evans knows his stuff. Not Just Jam is his latest offering, and along with the glorious presentation, Evans also proves he can come up with entertaining and super-simple recipes that will work for both those experienced in food preserving as well as absolute beginners.

The book starts out with some general tips on sterilisation and the science of preserving food, without being over-whelming or scary. Lots of books on preserves will recommend a hundred and one different pieces of ‘essential’ equipment, but Evans just gets right down to basics, proving how simple it can be to fill your pantry with jams, relishes and sauces without the need for expensive gear.

The first chapter does cover jam-making, and my favourite recipes have got to be The Quintessential Raspberry Jam (though our home-grown raspberries don’t often last long enough around children to gain the 1kg required) and the Chilli Jam, which is recommended to use with seafood such as mussels and prawns, as well as plain old fried eggs.

Mint Jelly will be the first recipe I’ll give a go, though. Even those with a black gardening thumb can grow wild mint, and we battle with it in our strawberry patch. There are literally four ingredients in this one, and it’s a great way to use up that crazy mint. Blueberry and Balsamic Jelly also sounds intriguing, especially when it’s recommended to swirl through icecream.

So far as actual fruit and veggie preserving goes, I’m looking forward to checking out the Cumquats in Brandy (because we also have a crazy cumquat tree) as well as the Dill Pickled Cucumbers. I’ve tried these a number of times before without much success, but this recipe looks like a winner. The Indian-Style Salted Lime Pickle and Beetroot Relish are more great examples of basic, yet mouth-watering recipes with only a few ingredients and little time needed to devote to something special.

For something a bit swish, try the Five-Spiced Pear Paste (served with cheese and crackers, oh my), or the passionfruit curd, which I wish I knew about six weeks ago when our passionfruit vine was dropping more fruit than we could eat or give away. There’s even recipes here for good old Worcestershire Sauce and a traditional Tomato Passata.

While I’d definitely recommend Not Just Jam for a Mother’s Day or birthday gift, at a RRP of just $35, it’s well-worth purchasing for anyone with even a passing interest in cooking or self-sufficiency. And did I mention it’s gorgeous?


Not Just Jam by Matthew Evans

Hardcover, 208 pages

Published by Murdoch Books

ISBN – 9781743365816


Mandy_HMandy Wrangles reviews Julie Goodwin’s cook book, and with her young family, it proves to be perfect.



goodwin-homemade-takeawayJulie Goodwin has become a familiar face in Australian cooking circles in the last few years. As the winner of the 2009 ‘Master Chef’ television show, she’s gone on to huge success writing for the Australian Women’s Weekly, appearing on TV, and as a bestselling cookbook author.

Her first cookbook, ‘Our Family Table’ was one of the highest selling cookbooks in Australian history. She recently opened ‘Julie’s Place’ on the NSW central coast where she hosts cookery classes, corporate team days and special events. What’s her secret to success? Well, I think it’s her normalness. Julie Goodwin is kind of an everybody. The sort of person you can imagine being friends with, the mum you met at a school fundraiser or the lady from the local shop. Her cooking style is realistic – sure, as we all learned watching her on Masterchef, she can pull out the big guns and whip up a spectacular, world-class meal without blinking – but she realises most of us just don’t have the time to undertake those kind of cooking challenges on a regular basis.

Making a call to the local takeaway shop is so much easier, if not expensive and, well, there’s always that guilt factor if you’re anything like me. Homemade is always best. It’s just not always possible. Goodwin’s latest cookbook, ‘Homemade Takeaway’ solves both those problems. With simple, easy to understand recipes that are actually achievable for the average home-cook, gorgeous photographs and a variety to please the fussiest family member, I think she’s on another winner.

‘Homemade Takeaway’ is broken into chapters such as Thai, Tex Mex, Lebanese, Corner Store and Chicken Shop. There’s a fab bakery section (the baked chocolate cheesecake, oh my!) and lots of quick tip recipes, such as pickled onions and burger sauce to add to your Aussie or American burger. The chapter on Chinese cooking gives us those timeless classics such as Sesame Prawn Toast, Mongolian Lamb and Chilli salt soft-shell crab, along with basics like Special Fried Rice.

For Italian, there’s pizza of course, pasta dough and Spaghetti and meatballs, but you can also check out something a little more special such as the Ricotta and spinach ravioli with burnt butter and sage (I’m SO cooking that one soon…will be back to you with the results). I’m expecting my family favourites to be the Lebanese flatbread and dip recipes, along with those burgers from the Corner Store and Tex Mex chapters.

In all, this is one of the most well-presented everyday cookbooks I’ve come across in a long time. It’s practical as well as beautiful and nothing about it screams too hard or fiddly. Best of all, Goodwin gives us alternatives to buying takeaway, using healthy, locally sourced and easy to find ingredients. She also gives tips on how to make a dish more economical – for example using water instead of buttermilk to poach chicken pieces that will later be fried for Southern Fried Chicken (another must-make, it looks amazing).

I recommend ‘Homemade Takeaway’ for anyone who loves to cook, but is practical and realistic about what is achievable in a home kitchen. It would make a fantastic Christmas gift for anyone who enjoys feeding their family and friends the timeless favourites – and for fussy kids who prefer takeaway to Mum’s cooking…it’s a super-win!

Homemade Takeaway by Julie Goodwin

Published by Hachette Australia

Paperback (re-enforced, glossy) 273 pages

ISBN – 978-0-7336-3213-6


Mandy Wrangles_2_tnBake, Sizzle and Simple are three new bite-sized cookbooks from Valli Little and the team behind Australian food magazine, delicious.

sizzle simpleI have Sizzle and Simple from the collection, and can guarantee I’ll also be checking out Bake in the near future. While these cookbooks might be small, they each contain sixty recipes – all of them simple and achievable even for those who aren’t so awesome in the kitchen. The layout is clear, with one recipe and the corresponding colour photo across each double page spread. The gorgeous photos alone are enough to get you cooking.

Sizzle concentrates on food that, well, sizzles! Hot flame cooking. BBQ and grill. This one is definitely for the carnivores, though it does have a small number of vegetarian recipes. Dishes are drawn from cuisines all over the world, and while a couple are more decadent main meals, most are easy brunches or mid-week meals. There’s Eye Fillet Steak with Raspberry Sauce, Salmon Skewers with Fennel and Orange Salad, Tuna Wasabi Burgers, Strawberry and Brie Sandwiches and Fried Eggs with Bacon Jam. Yes, you read that right. Bacon Jam. With ingredients like bourbon and brewed espresso. Oh, my… I think I’ll be checking that one out first…

Simple is just as the title portrays. Simple, fast recipes that rely on pantry staples such as pasta, rice or couscous and match them with fresh ingredients. See? Simple. There’s twists on the old standards like Spaghetti and Mussels, Homestyle Meatloaf and Singapore Noodles. Then there’s the Macadamia Crumbed Chicken Strips with salsa, Prawn, Chilli and Pesto Pizza and the Lamb and Haloumi Sausage Rolls. Like Sizzle, Simple also has a small number of vegetarian dishes.

Bake, Sizzle and Simple join Spice, Indulge and Slow in this series of mini-books. You’ll find loads of inspiration between the pages, and their small size makes them easy to store in an easy-to-access kitchen cupboard or shelf.

Sizzle and Simple

by Valli Little and the delicious team

Sizzle ISBN – 978-0-7333-3363-7

Simple ISBN – 978-0-7333-3364-4

ABC Books






Mandy Wrangles_2_tnIt’s almost Easter, and I have to confess this recipe was one of the trickier ones I’ve put together for Cook Club! After being inspired by an extremely delish photo I found online, I set about making my own version (of what looked like a really simple recipe) to share with you guys. Alas, I need to remember things on the internet can be deceiving! But never fear, Cook Clubbers, after three trials, we now have a simple, pretty much fail-safe Easter Loaf so full of chocolatey goodness it might just send us all into a diabetic coma.


choc loaf 1WHAT YOU NEED:

Mixed chocolate bars. I used Cherry Ripe, Peppermint Crisp, Crunchie, Kit Kats, Wonka’s Cookie and Cream and mixed mini Easter eggs (but nothing too creamy – I made that mistake in attempts one and two). Look for bars that have colourful insides.

400g dark chocolate, chopped

50g butter, cubed

1 tin of condensed milk

A loaf tin

Grease proof paper (or similar, to line your tin)


choc loaf 3HOW IT’S DONE:

Prepare your chocolates by unwrapping them all, maybe cutting some in half. You’ll need to work fast so have everything handy. Line your loaf tin with cooking paper.

In a medium saucepan set to a low heat, melt butter and condensed milk together, stirring constantly. Once they’re combined, add the chopped chocolate all at once and stir like crazy. It will come together thick and fast, so use your muscles.

Once your fudge base is combined, layer it in the tin with your prepared bars and Easter eggs, giving the tin a light tap between layers to get rid of any air bubbles. Continue layering bars, fudge, bars until you fill the tin to the top. Refrigerate for 24 hours, or at least overnight. When set, turn out of tin – you might need to give it a good tap on the bottom – and slice.

**Confession – my loaf tin is quite deep, so I ended up doubling the fudge mixture. Next time, I think I’ll add more bars and less fudge.

** Don’t be afraid to experiment! I think using milk chocolate in the fudge mix would work well – dark choc made this recipe very, very rich…though my family aren’t complaining! I’d love to see what variations you guys come up with.




choc loaf 4

Easter Chocolate Loaf



Belinda tries Mandy’s recipe!


The Fault in Our Stars

By John Green

(or, reading outside your comfort zone)

Mandy Wrangles_2_tnHere at Escape Club, each year we write up a wrap of our top five reads. It’s normally something I really enjoy; going back through my bookshelves and lists of reviews, sorting which of the dozens of books read will make my own list. Unfortunately, 2014 was a bit of a dud reading year for me. You know when you just can’t seem to find that book that grabs you? Or you read the first hundred or so pages of one novel, only to be distracted by something else (ooh, shiny!) and not end up completing either of them? Well yeah, that was me this year, with only a couple of exceptions.

And one BIG exception.

Green_The Fault In Our StarsI spent a lot of hours on aeroplanes this year when we travelled to the United States from Melbourne. I watched a LOT of movies on those planes – all from my usual genre of choice, which captures my book taste too. Malificent. Godzilla. The latest X Men and Planet of the Apes movies. Movies about time-travelling detectives and a heap of superheroes. Get the picture? I’m a speculative fiction gal, through and through. I don’t like watching or reading about real life, I already live that. I want fantasy and horror, science fiction and action on my entertainment menu.

And then, on the final leg of our trip home from Hawaii, I clicked the button to watch the film adaptation of John Green’s uber-selling novel, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’. I saved it ’til last because a/ not my thing, b/ it would bore me into sleep and quicken the ten hour flight, and c/ not my thing again. I was wrong. I sobbed and laughed out loud and sobbed again. It was mortifyingly embarrassing. I had to cover my face, wiping away the black-mascara tears with Qantas napkins, not able to speak to my family or the aircraft crew. And still, I couldn’t turn it off. As we disembarked at Sydney for our connecting flight to Melbourne, my sister-in-law, Kerrie (who was seated a couple of rows back from me) said: “Omg, can you tell I’ve been crying? I just watched that movie, that Fault in Our Stars”. Yep, her too.

So of course, I had to read the book. Just to you know, see which was better. I needed to know how the author, John Green, had created such beautiful characters in Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters – two teenage cancer patients – to be so witty, so clever and yet never whiny or precocious. I wanted to know if the movie was a fluke or if the book could evoke that sort of emotion from me as well. Of course, like everyone in the Western World, I’d seen The Fault in Our Stars on display in every bookshop and department store for months beforehand. I refused to buy it. Too commercial for my tastes. Too mainstream. Too soppy. Too real-life.

I’ve never, ever been so wrong. And I’m very happy to admit it.

I loved the novel version, knocking it over in two sittings and keeping me up until 2am to finish. The only reason I put it down at any time was to reach for another tissue. I forced my Mum and BFF to read it NOW with the threat of not speaking to them until they had (they did. And loved it too) Of course, I knew what happens, there were no surprises or twists for me – the movie keeps pretty close to the book – but still, Hazel and Gus’s story of love and commitment through all that is thrown at them kept me entranced. And the writing – oh, the writing! John Green the most incredible way of playing with words and tugging at your heartstrings. While the story is told from terminally-ill Hazel’s point of view, we’re not left wondering what might be going on inside the delicious mind of her beloved Gus either. These two characters could easily become boring Mary-Janes (too perfect) but they are so full of faults and imperfections, and in Hazel’s own words: Cancer Perks to be anything of the sort. Against all my preconceived ideas, they completely won me over.

If you’re one of the few people out there yet to read The Fault in Our Stars, or see the movie, sorry, but I won’t be handing out spoilers here. You MUST read it. Or at the very least, SEE it. The film adaption, while of course not quite being as amazing as the book, captures Hazel and Gus so well. Starring Divergent’s Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace and the kinda quirky Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters, amongst a slew of well-known actors, John Green’s characters really are brought to life.

So the moral of my story? Well, besides the fact that you must run out right now and jump straight into this very real, very funny and painful world, don’t be scared to read outside your preferred genre. You might surprise yourself, like I did. Go on, be adventurous. If you normally read science fiction, give a bit of crime fiction a go. Fantasy lover? Try some hard core space opera. Horror more your style? Who says you won’t enjoy a little high fantasy. You just never know.


Keep in contact through the following social networks or via RSS feed:

  • Follow on Facebook
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Follow on Pinterest
  • Follow on Google+
  • Follow on GoodReads
  • Follow on Tumblr
  • Follow on LinkedIn
  • Follow on Keek
  • Follow on YouTube
  • Subscribe