I cooked my first dinner party when I was 11. The guests were, of course, my family and the menu was lifted straight out of the classic AWW Dinner Party Cookbook. I don't remember all the details, but I do recall it involved Steak Diane and an awful lot of mess. That was the beginning of my love affair with entertaining.
Now, when it comes to cookbooks I have a bit of a problem...I have yet to meet one I didn't like...or want to own. This is most of my collection (it doesn't include every single edition of the Donna Hay and Delicious magazines plus quite a few Vogue Entertaining and Gourmet Travellers.)
I adore cookbooks. Poring through their pages, imagining tastes as I gaze at the images...in the days before children I could easily waste half a day planning a dinner party menu.
Most of them get at least one run a year, but I have three absolute favourites which I just could not live without: The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander, and two by Neil Perry - The Food I Love and Good Food.
Stephanie's book is a complete how-to for the novice cook - practically an encyclopedia of every food on the planet and how to select, store and cook it. It's so valuable for those of us who didn't have enthusiastic chefs for mothers. If I see an ingredient I'm not familiar with at the markets, I'll buy it, take it home and look to Stephanie for advice on how to use it. Tonight, I'm cooking her lasagne, which I believe is the best recipe for that dish that I've found.
Neil is almost single-handedly responsible for teaching me how to cook meat well. The man is a genius. Food I Love is a bit hard going because it's written in a very conversational style - no step-by-step here. But it encourages experimentation and thinking about flavour matching...it's a bit of an education, really. Highlights for me? Slow Roasted Rack of Milk Fed Veal, BBQ Beef Sirloin with Parsley and Lemon and Vanilla Bean Pannacotta with Strawberries.
Good Food is his cookbook for home chefs and contains some of my favourite family meals. Chicken and Macaroni Salad is THE best pasta salad you will ever taste, and barely a week goes by in winter without us having his Lamb, Mint and Pea Pie.
I'm getting hungry just blogging about them. Next time you're in the market for a cookbook, have a squiz at these three...I guarantee they'll have a lasting place in your bookshelf! And, please, feed my obsession - what's your tried and true cookbook? After all, you can never have too many...