For a lot of people, there’s a huge difference between the food we like to eat, and the food that we’re meant to be eating. It’s why there’s a growing trend for cookbooks like Feel Good Food. For far too long, healthy eating has been synonymous with overly processed, cardboard-tasting foods, feeling guilty whenever you indulge, or overpriced foodstuffs that are hard to justify on a limited income. To Valli Little, it’s a situation that needs to be remedied.
If you’re looking for a cook book to tell you to give up a certain ingredient, this isn’t the book you’re looking for. Little isn’t championing a cause of repression and repentance; Feel Good Food isn’t about giving up sugar, or coffee, or any of the things we’ve come to love about our modern world and its flavours. Instead, it’s about finding ways to bring healthier elements into our daily lives in quick and simple ways.
Valli Little is known as one of Australia’s cooking innovators and inspirations, with a knack for developing recipes achievable for all home cooks, regardless of their expertise behind the hot plates. What she has created here is a collection of delectable looking dishes that sound tasty enough to catch the attention of even the most finicky of eaters.
The recipes themselves are easy to follow and well thought out, perfect for those not yet confident in the kitchen without losing their appeal to those who spend every free moment there. This is the sort of cookbook that looks capable of outliving the trend that created it; the sort of book you can return to over and over for new recipes to try and new skills to learn.
The food photography and styling is masterfully done, which isn’t surprising for the Delicious brand of cookbooks. And though the cover photo looks like it could be advertising a restaurant in the fancier parts of town, the recipes themselves are simple, and easy to prepare.
If there’s one element of this collection that irritates me, it’s the moments where Little falls into the healthy-eating trope of pretending one food is actually another. An example of this is the indulgent looking raw caramel slice.
To be honest, it feels like a long-suffering mother grating carrots into the pasta sauce to try and hide it from the kids. Especially when you realise that the only tangible link between Little’s raw caramel slice and the original sweet treat is the caramel-like ‘sweetness and texture’ of the dates. As a date slice, it looks delicious, and it’s a recipe I’ll certainly be trying. As a caramel slice, it has the potential to be rather disappointing to those expecting actual caramel. This trend of healthy eating guides claiming one food as another feels disingenuous to me. Though it may work on young children, as an adult, I know that no matter how many positive thoughts I have, I’m not likely to confuse caramel with dried fruit, and neither are the people I serve the slice to.
Though such moments irritate me, they don’t detract from the overall success of the book. It’s not hard to call it ‘date slice’ when I serve it, after all. And there are so many recipes to try that you can’t help but forgive the occasional faux pas. Little has done a wonderful job in gathering together a range of recipes that are healthy and look good enough to serve to family and friends.
Feel Good Food is published by ABC Books/Harper Collins, and is available through the Harper Collins website, ABC stores, and leading booksellers nationwide.
Rating: 3 and a half stars
By Kylie Thompson