From the macro level to the micro, Hetty McKinnon‘s cookbooks have gone from Community, to Neighborhood, and finally, Family; all with the express purpose of building connections between people using food. As McKinnon explains, what happens around the table is critical to building our sense of self. And, it’s true. The act of eating together, bonding over food, strengthening our ties and kinship is something that is common with people the world over. What I’ve come to appreciate about McKinnon is that her recipes rely on the humblest of ingredients and it’s what she does with these ingredients that is truly magical.
I first became aware of Hetty McKinnon on Instagram because a friend had suggested that I checkout McKinnon’s feed to see all the interesting things she was doing with salad. Hooked by her the delicious-looking Instagram food pictures I quickly invested in a copy of Neighborhood, which, like Family is full of the gorgeous photography of Luisa Brimble. As I’ve said about Neighborhood, when people think about salad, they might pull from their schema something raw and leafy. What McKinnon has done with salad is to break that schema and begin to reshape it into something heartier, less leafy. She has a real knack for using different elements from raw to cooked to come up with mouth-watering combinations.
So, it is with her newest book, Family, that she expands on her amazing salads while also adding delicious and simple recipes for soups, pastas, and bakes. Interestingly, she’s delved deeper into how her Asian roots have influenced her: “Eating is intensely nostalgic; every bite is sentimental.” And, while telling her food story she has encouraged us to tell our own. Just as she did in Neighborhood, she’s continued her tradition of sharing recipes and stories from other people in her life. I think it’s important that McKinnon has created a space where other families show the importance of food and its impact on their lives.
The thread throughout the book is succinctly stated within Erin Jang’s story: “the power of food as an expression of love.” It’s what I connect with, thinking about my past and how critical mealtimes were when I was a child. My mom cooked for us because she loved us, and we could taste it in every bite. The way I cook for my own family is shaped through the experiences in my mom’s kitchen when I was a kid. Even my dad, who didn’t cook many meals, still had a presence — every so often, on weekend afternoons he would bread and deep-fry clams and we would sit there in quite indulgence enjoying this treat. While the meals and recipes may differ from family to family the taste of love remains the same.
The beginning of Family is as information-rich as is the rest of the book. McKinnon takes the time to introduce her intent — which is to spread the joy of vegetarian cooking, while at the same time fostering connections between people. I admire her for how strongly she feels about the importance of family mealtimes. As our modern lives seem to disconnect us from one another she is working on re-introducing mealtimes to busy families. With the sections: New family classics, How to eat green together, The family pantry, Midweek cheats, The magic of beans, “Compost” vegetable stock, and Recipe Notes she lays the groundwork for how she approaches mealtime. While the recipes within the book are vegetarian (dairy and eggs are used) the recipes are quite adaptable so if you eat meat or none at all there are many recipes for you to enjoy. The recipes are organized into 7 chapters: Salad Days, Soupy Salads, Pasta Night, Great Bakes, Asian Roots, The Good Egg, and Sweet Talking.
As I cook through Family, the recipes represent the best of what vegetarian food is — comforting, familiar and at times a bit daring. What I can appreciate is that these meals rely on pantry/fridge/freezer staples in order to make prep less of a chore. The first recipe I made for my family was her Halloumi, Kale, and Mint Gozleme. The yogurt-based dough can be quickly made and is ready to use within a half hour, and the stuffing consists of kale (since I didn’t have fresh, I used frozen), garlic, scallions, mint, and, grated halloumi (who knew this is a thing? Grated halloumi is everything to me now!). It was a huge hit at our table and with such a versatile dough, I can already see how I will stuff the gozleme in so many ways.
“Even if you only have 10 minutes to cook a meal, give that 10 minutes your all!” is what McKinnon cheers us on to do. In her section, Midweek Cheats, she offers two different kinds of sauce (Chunky Herb Oil and Citrus Tahini) that will transform any roasted or raw vegetables into something spectacular. Because, she totally understands that sauce is that “transformative element” taking a mundane meal and making it so cravable! McKinnon has such a way with sauces — take the Roast Potatoes w/ Lentils, Capers, and Lemon-Parsley Pistou. The Pistou (south of France) enrobes the warm, roast potatoes and meaty lentils with such a delicate lemon and parsley flavour. Lively and fresh, yet completely comforting. Then there’s the sauce, what I’ll call the inadvertent sauce, that’s created as the tomatoes and mushrooms bake as you make the Polenta w/ Baked Tomato Mushrooms. As I carefully spooned the thick and lush polenta into bowls and added the baked tomatoes and mushrooms there was pan juices leftover to drizzle over the polenta-filled bowls. As a vegetarian, this might be the closest I’ll come to using the term “au jus” as the pan juices reminded me of such.
Her comfort food classics don’t stop with dinner as she carries us on through to the sweetest ending: dessert. Last week, on one of the gloomiest days this spring, my friend Lindsay Cameron Wilson dropped by for a coffee and a visit. Wanting to serve a treat and envelop the house in the scents of baking that would surely ward off the gloom I settled on McKinnon’s Orange and Rosemary Olive Oil Cake to make. A sturdy cake with a delicate crumb, Cameron Wilson described its flavour in her recent newsletter: “The rosemary and olive oil created a slightly savoury flavour against the sweetness of the icing sugar and the bright pop of citrus.” It was just the thing to accompany a lovely morning coffee and chat.
I love how McKinnon showcases Australian comfort food. It is through the second issue of her food journal, Peddler, that I became acquainted with the Australian childhood delight: Fairy Toast, and, now through Family I’ve come to adore another Australian classic: golden syrup dumplings. Looking for a quick and easy dessert recipe one day when I didn’t plan for dessert, I tried the recipe for Banana Golden Syrup Dumplings. Golden syrup, cousin to corn syrup and molasses, is used with butter, brown sugar, and water to create a glorious saucy, caramel bath in which the pillowy dumplings cook. Yet another example of the transformative powers of a good sauce, these cloud-like balls are served in the sauce with ice cream and an extra little drizzle of syrup. They make such a wonderful and memorable treat!
With almost a dozen recipes made and enjoyed, Family is one book that will continue to be a source of delicious inspiration in my kitchen. This cookbook is full of recipes you’ll want to make again and again. Something McKinnon said in a preview to Family has really stuck with me: “Sharing food with your family and friends, and the act of sitting around a table, is more than about physical sustenance – it is also good for your brain, spirit and health.” Mealtime is so much more than a plate on a table! Regardless of what is on the plate the time you spend connecting with family is invaluable and I really love that these are the messages that McKinnon is supporting with her books. Curious to see what I’ve made from Family for my family? Then check out my custom Instagram hashtag: #familythecookbookiseatoworthy or my dedicated Facebook post.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hetty McKinnon and Prestel for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.