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Food & Wine March 9, 2015

One Dish Dinners. A Chat with Penny Oliver

One-dish Dinners is a new cookbook from Penny Oliver, experienced cook and author.

In this unique new book, cooking is taken back to its basics to simplify and streamline the process and create less clean up and fuss. A real practical guide to preparing meals that can be used day after day.

The recipes are all categorised by the vessel used in cooking. The reason for this is simple, it saves you time. These are everyday meals and they make full use of seasonal vegetables, as well as ingredients that are affordable and healthy. This is a diverse cookbook with recipes ranging from simple to complex, quick to slow and draws inspiration from cuisines worldwide. Care has been taken to ensure that anyone can achieve the desired results with simple and easy to follow instructions, with a great picture reference for every dish. There is also a helpful glossary of terms for anyone having trouble with the ingredients or terms used.

We caught up with the author Penny Oliver to find out more about this revolutionary new cook book and her inspiration for writing it.

Growing up on South Island seasonal fresh food was always a culinary staple throughout her childhood. Penny’s family would all pitch in and help prepare the food. “The majority of our arguments and conversations would take place there,” she says. This was the way of life back then and is something that we can keep alive in our kitchens today. Penny forged a passion for food at a young age, as she planted vegetables and raised chickens and saw the food from farm-to-table, in her own words: “The majority of our food was grown, we were the real organic generation.”

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One Dish Wonders, published by Penguin NZ

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One Dish Wonders, published by Penguin NZ

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Penny is an accomplished cook coming from a colourful career that has taken her around the world and back again. From being the kitchen manager at the America’s Cup kitchen in Australia to Le Cordon Bleu School in London, it wasn’t long before she found herself writing for Cuisine magazine as one of the first contributors. It soon struck Penny that writing a cookbook was the best direction to head in and One-dish Dinners will be her fifth published to date, with even more in the works for the future.

When you open this book, the first thing you will notice is the striking photography. All of the colours and ingredients are brought to life and they serve as a fantastic visual reference to the recipes. The pictures are true to her method and ingredients, and serve as a great aid for readers as to what to expect from the recipe. The photographer behind these great visuals was Manja Wachsmith, a long-time contributor and friend to Penny — their creative process has been described as a ‘well-oiled machine’.

All of these features are part of an ‘approachable’ ethos that Penny masterfully captures in her writing. Anyone can pick this book up and give it a go — from students to pensioners — there is something to help everyone. These are realistic dishes that are simple to prepare and do not cost a fortune to cook. Penny wishes to encourage people to continue cooking by showing us that we need not fear a mountain of pots and pans.

Penny encourages people to challenge themselves in the kitchen, as she challenged herself with the creation of these recipes that are cooked wholly in one vessel. “I had to get very inventive,” she tells us modestly. Her recipes have been painstakingly created to avoid sacrificing on flavour and there is a great depth to these dishes, making use of herbs and spices.

The message here is that anyone can aspire to cook more impressive and complex dishes on a regular basis and Penny’s recipes will help you do just that. These are not your average ‘everything in the wok’ dishes — these are well thought out recipes that have been tried and tested to bring you a complete dish, with complex flavours.

There has been a growing interest in this book among students and those who have little to no experience in the kitchen. I for one know that this book would have been appreciated during my strict ‘2 minute noodle diet’ phase of university. It is also an ideal accompaniment for those of you planning a trip away at a bach or otherwise, providing versatile and numerous recipes without as much beach time taken up by cleaning.

Another upcoming book is currently in the works from Penny Oliver, set for a September release. The details are still under wraps but we did ascertain that it will be a book on salads — we can hardly wait Penny!

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