Perth food writer and culinary whiz Jane Cornes McLean is well known in foodie circles; she was Scoop magazine’s food and wine editor, and has worked as a food journalist for the likes of Gourmet Traveller.
Happily, she’s now ready to share her favourite recipes with us in her brand new cookbook, Lazy Fare.
But don’t worry, the recipes aren’t complicated. This award-winning culinary queen is the first to admit, that when it comes to making delicious dishes, she likes to keep it simple. Jane, a self-confessed “lazy person” says it is possible for us to make memorable, delicious dishes with ease.
Featuring 50 recipes for salads, starters, mains and desserts, her cookbook shows us how to create” impressive, flavoursome dishes without doing – frankly – very much at all!” she assures.
Jane chats to The Starfish.
You have a long history of food writing; why did you decide to produce a book now?
In March, I signed up for an online memoir writing course. I realised there were no excuses left not to write my memoir. Luckily, I had been collecting recipes for a cookbook for most of my professional life, so this seemed like a much easier option. The lesser of two evils, basically!
Why the name Lazy Fare?
Laissez Faire, geddit? It says it all really. This was about the 10th title I toyed with. But when I came up with it, I just knew it was the right one.
How did you decide which recipes to include?
I have collected hundreds over the years, but given my focus was on how to make lovely food easily, it was a bit of a no brainer. If it took too much effort it was out. If it was simple AND impressive, it got extra brownie points. Thus I whittled it down to around 55 recipes that I felt achieved the brief: To impress the shit out of dinner guests whilst leaving the cook unharried and free to bask in the glory of their collective admiration.
I’ve hung around most of the good chefs in Perth over the years – Russell Blaikie from Must, Alain Fabregues from the Loose Box, Don Hancey from pretty much everywhere – and I’ve learned from them. A case in point is Russell’s beautiful recipe for labne with olives, sumac and fresh thyme. It’s another one of those dishes you can whip up im a second and impress the gathered throng with your abilities as a cook.
The book has a wonderful look and feel. A great deal of work goes into writing, photographing and designing a book. How long did you work on it?
Thank you. In early 2020 I was in Queensland with my husband Neil, supporting his dad who had recently become widowed. We had a big garage with brilliant daylight so I set up a little studio in there, bought myself some soft lights online and raided all the local op shops for interesting food props. I am now the owner of 75 glass bowls, none of which I can bear to give away.
Ive always done my own food photography, notably during my days as Food and Wine editor at Scoop magazine, but I realised I needed to take things to a whole new level if I was going to create my own cookbook. So I watched a lot of online videos and learned my craft. I cooked and photographed every dish in the book myself, editing and rewriting recipes as I went to ensure they were user friendly.
The writing of the stories was mostly done, because most of them had been published in various magazines and newspapers, but I needed to edit them substantially to fit the feel of the book. Quite a few stories didn’t make the cut because they were too information-heavy and not engaging enough. I think I ended up with the right mix: A bit of humour, a bit of pathos and a lot of food.
Your mum obviously had a great influence on you.
Mum’s recipes tended to be far more longwinded than anything I wanted to include in a book of simple recipes. Rather, mum’s ethos, of fresh is best, of using the best ingredients, of not being scared to use lots of butter and oil and garlic and salt, inform everything I have ever cooked. She taught me about flavour, and that underscores the whole book. In short, there would be no book if not for mum. Damn, I miss her.
If you were to select three favourite recipes from the book for a dinner party, which would they be?
I love love love the pistachio, prune and rosewater ice cream. During lockdown, I’ve been having virtual dinner parties with girlfriends in New Zealand, Canberra and Melbourne, where we all cook the same thing and agree on what wine goes with what course. It has been surprisingly satisfying, as in we share the same experience of eating and it really feels like we are together. I come away reconnected and happy. Anyway, that ice cream was a big hit at our first VDP (virtual dinner party). It looks so pretty, tastes bloody amazing and takes amount two nanoseconds to make – win win!
I’m always looking for ways to do things simply without compromising on flavour. My smoked salmon with salsa is a case in point. Open a packet of smoked salmon, top it with a blindingly fresh salsa and top with sour cream. It’s bloody delicious, and the potato chips on the side add requisite crunch. An almost instant starter for your next dinner party!
The same goes for my third choice: a really zingy, flavoursome Asian-style roast duck salad which you can whip up in under 20 minutes. Basically, you source a roast duck from your local Asian BBQ cafe, chop up loads of herbs, reconstitute a couple of packets of instant noodles, make a garlicky dressing and serve. It never fails to impress.
How much time do you spend in the kitchen yourself?
Almost none. I have been known to put the kettle on and hang around while it boils, but generally I stay away. Seriously, I am a minimalist cook. Give me good base ingredients and I’ll do the bare minimum to augment their deliciousness.
Who is the book primarily targeting? Is it people with little time on their hands looking to make delicious food fast, devoted foodies, or both perhaps?
That’s an interesting question. I felt I needed to have a particular reader in mind as I edited and rewrote things. I have a friend in New Zealand – Junine, a professional woman around the same age as me (61) who loves good food and wine but doesn’t have much confidence as a cook. So I wrote the recipes as if I was talking to Jun. She’s smart as a tack and laughs at all my lame jokes, but needs guidance with cooking.
And then I’ve got a bunch of mates who are bloody good cooks. I wrote it for them, too.
Do you prefer making desserts or savoury dishes?
Definitely savoury. Except for that ice cream….
Are there any noticeable exciting new trends in Australian food, and what do you think of the current state of cuisine in Australia?
You’re asking the wrong person. For 20 years, I could’ve told you every good restaurant to visit in WA. Through my work as a restaurant critic and food journalist with Gourmet Traveller, I spent my days eating, writing about and considering food. I don’t do that any more. I teach songwriting and creative writing, eat simply, stay away from ‘pretentiou’s food and even get a bit grumpy about spending big dollars on dining out. Who knew?
Where is Lazy Fare available to buy?
It’s available only online at www.juicecreativ.com/lazy-fare I am not selling through retail outlets. The only place you’ll get it is online.
Jane’s recipe for Prune, Rosewater and Pistachio Ice Cream can be found in this edition of The Starfish.