By Donna Hay

Cookbook review written and photographed by contributing writer Helena McMurdo


Seasons is available for purchase through our online store or at local book stores. For more information on this book please visit HarperCollins

Australian food stylist, cookbook author and magazine editor, Donna Hay, brings together the best of Donna Hay Magazine in her book Seasons (published by HarperCollins, $39.99 CDN).

As the name suggests, this book is organized in terms of seasons and hits the mark perfectly when it comes to the foods we crave at particular times of the year. Fresh, bright flavours in spring, grilled seafood and fresh salads in summer, warm soups and comfort food as we move into autumn and winter. I have had this cookbook for nearly a year and still love to pick it up and browse through all of the culinary delights held within the pages.

My favourite things about this book include:

The photography – I don’t mind telling you that I first purchased this book because of the photography alone. Even if I had never ended up making a single recipe from this book I probably would have still been happy with my purchase! Honestly, I think I gained weight just by leafing through the pages. Outdoor settings featuring picnic and other outdoor meal scenarios are interspersed with beauty shots of dishes, styled with a rustic and authentic appeal. Although I know they have been crafted with the utmost of care and attention to detail, the pictures appear to give the reader the impression that real life is happening – granted a very beautiful, farmhouse, countryside, back to nature type ‘real life’ packed with exquisite kitchen towels, oodles of parchment paper, delightfully aged baking tins, messy spoons and perfect natural lighting.

The simplicity – The photography belies the simplicity of the dishes, with most recipes using just a few ingredients and for the most part are easy to understand and execute. The results are solid.

It’s adaptable – Many of the dishes are also spring boards for further inspiration. For example; I modified a fantastic goat’s cheese and fig tart recipe with some mushrooms and red peppers due to lack of figs. Using the same main ingredients and basic method, my efforts resulted in a whole new meal that was satisfying and delicious.

Desserts – I am not really a dessert person, at least I didn’t think I was until discovering this book. Seasons makes me want to make dessert all the time, and I fear I’m already feeling the results as I try to button my skinny jeans.

The photography – Did I mention the photography?!

There is not a lot of detail in the recipes themselves, but most of the dishes are so simple further explanation is hardly required. At 317 plus pages, the sheer volume of recipes in this cookbook will keep me busy for years to come.

© 2011 Helena McMurdo

Potato, Bacon & Pea Soup

RATING: 5 out of 5 (simple & delicious)

THE TEST: Bacon and diced onions are cooked until soft and golden to which a small quantity of flour is added to thicken, followed by stock and diced potato. After just four minutes on the heat, the peas, cream, salt and pepper are added and the soup is warmed for a further 6 minutes. What could be easier?!

© 2011 Helena McMurdo

THE RESULTS: Deliciously warming and like most soups, even better once reheated after a night in the fridge. The bacon gives this soup a hearty, delicious smokiness that is brightened by the fresh flavour of the peas. Donna says to use fresh peas which I’m all for, but I tried it with both fresh and frozen and both work equally well so don’t be put off if you don’t have an country garden to raid from. I will definitely make this recipe again, based on its simplicity and taste.

© 2011 Helena McMurdo


Pumpkin, Spinach & Goat’s Cheese Pie

RATING: 4 out of 5 (inspirational – but needs some tweaking)

THE TEST: I simply loved the idea of this pie…it looked remarkable and remarkably straightforward. First thing to note, although the name refers to pumpkin the list of ingredients specifies a butternut pumpkin. After a quick check on Wikipedia, my suspicions were confirmed that this is indeed what we in North America would call a butternut squash.

The recipe calls for some store-bought puff pastry. (Donna seems to like this a lot – as it features widely in the book). And hey, who am I to argue?! If it can save a step (or ten) I’m all over this shortcut.

© 2011 Helena McMurdo

© 2011 Helena McMurdo

The requisite vegetables (butternut squash, tomatoes and onion) are roasted on a tray and then left to cool before being layered, along with goat’s cheese and spinach, between two sheets of puff pastry rolled out to the size of a baking tray. The top of the pie is scored with a nice sharp knife to make a lovely pattern, and after a quick egg wash the whole thing is popped into the oven for 30 minutes.

© 2011 Helena McMurdo

THE RESULTS: Although my pie didn’t look exactly like Donna’s pie, I was pretty impressed with the appearance of mine as it came out of the oven. (I suspect Donna’s tray may have been larger than mine to allow a shallower layer of vegetables). I was excited to taste it, but sadly I found this to be very big disappointment. The butternut squash was very bland. Donna – have you got something against salt & pepper?! Perhaps the recipe intends for you to use your own judgment and season to taste. Following the recipe, against my better judgment, I opted to omit. The next time I make this recipe I will be sure to include salt and pepper (along with some fresh thyme) during the vegetable roasting process. I think it just needs a deeper depth of flavour as the butternut squash can be kind of bland. I also wonder if it would be worth caramelizing the squash a bit more before inserting it into the pie to make it a little more flavourful? I’m not ready to give up on this recipe yet and I think it could be an amazing dish.

© 2011 Helena McMurdo


Nectarine Tart with Orange Syrup

RATING:  5 out of 5 (you had me at hello!)

THE TEST: I was attracted to this recipe by the picture primarily. It had such a great visual impact, plus I had bought one of those skinny French tart tins recently so of course this was a perfect opportunity to try it out. First you start off by making an orange syrup using orange juice, sugar, and orange liqueur and set it aside to cool while you make the tart. Nectarine halves are coated with sugar and then browned in a frying pan and pressed into the tart base which is made from eggs, sugar, flour, almond meal and baking powder. After 30 minutes you have a lovely tart! The only tricky bit for me was to pay attention to the nectarine halves which can easily become too charred.

© 2011 Helena McMurdo

THE RESULTS: The tart looked great – my fella went oooh – and it tasted even better. The almond and lemon make the flavour of this tart really bright and balance it against the sweet nectarine. The syrup keeps the tart moist and if you don’t eat the tart all at once it serves very well the next day.

© 2011 Helena McMurdo

© 2011 Helena McMurdo

This recipe was very quick to make, and because it draws from cupboard staples it’s the type of thing you could make at the last minute without much planning. Big yay from me!

© 2011 Helena McMurdo