We recently caught up with author, home economist, baking teacher and founder of BakeClub, Anneka Manning at her Sydney-based baking school.
1. Tell us about your favourite food occasion.
Casual (and usually early) dinners on the weekend. This is how I like to eat – surrounded by good friends or family eating good food, at home. These occasions give me a real excuse to spend time in the kitchen enjoying the process creating a meal (a lovely change from the recipe testing I usually do that tends to be very structured and planned).
I often cook dishes that are good for sharing so I can put them in the centre of the table for everyone to help themselves. They might include a selection of appetizers such as warm orange and fennel-marinated olives; something slow-roasted such as lamb shoulder with pomegranate molasses; something with fresh seasonal vegetables such as a fennel, cos and Persian feta salad; a spiced pilaf with mint and coriander; and finished with something baked such as a whole mandarin and pistachio cake with homemade ice cream.
2. What’s the best piece of advice you have for home cooks
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Unfortunately things don’t always work out in the kitchen, there are just so many variables and things can easily go off track. A disappointing result can be due to numerous reasons. The main thing is not to presume that you can’t cook or bake and, most importantly, don’t let it put you off. Remember just to learn from your mistakes, get back into the kitchen and give it another go – this will just make you a more confident and skilled cook in the long run.
3. Are you a sweet or savoury fan?
I do prefer to cook sweet but when it comes to eating I definitely like a balance…I am very partial to anything with a salty slant and can’t go a day without a large bowl of seasonal vegetables in some form. I’m also a big fan of lamb. Anything with chocolate, citrus and/or nuts hit my sweet spot.
4. What’s the best recent foodie experience you have had - either in or out of the kitchen?
I recently discovered a fabulous Malaysian restaurant around the corner from me. The food is simple, fresh and morish. I love it when you find a local eatery that can give you a great food experience mid-week!
5. Biggest mistake you can make in the kitchen?
One of the biggest mistakes that many home cooks make is using a recipe that’s not right for them. It is really important to choose a recipe that is not only appropriate to your skill and know-how in the kitchen, but also suited to the utensils and ingredients you have on hand. Remember that good recipes don’t have to be complicated – there are plenty of dead-easy recipes that use basic kitchen equipment and easily obtained ingredients to create something absolutely delicious!
You will always have greater success if you choose a recipe that is well matched to you baking ability and supplies. I’ve actually written a handy eBook that you can download from my website called ‘Totally Baked’ that talks about the most common mistakes home cooks make when baking.
6. The one cooking or kitchen utensil/appliance you can't live without?
I love my scales (I know, it’s sad, really). I bought my first set of electronic scales about 20 years ago and they were expensive, but invaluable. My advice would be to buy a set before anything else because they will make measuring ingredients a breeze. Electronic scales have a number of features that will save you time in the kitchen, including the ability to ‘zero’ the reading (the tare weight) so you can measure a number of ingredients, one after another, into the same bowl – brilliant for one-bowl mixes, not to mention the saving on washing up! Most electronic scales can also switch between metric and imperial measures – another very handy feature.
Another of my favourite baking tools is called a ‘spoonula’ – basically a rubber or silicone spatula with a shallow bowl like a spoon. It makes light work of folding mixtures, transferring them to cake pans and then scraping the bowl.
7. Who has been your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?
Julia Child, Nigel Slater, Diana Henry and Alice Waters…they have all influenced my cooking and baking for many, many years – in different ways but all substantially. One thing they all have in common is a wonderful way with words - they make me want to sit down and read their cook books, not just cook from them. Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer and Margaret Fulton are my trio of Aussie food heroes - fabulous Australian women who have strongly influenced the way we eat and cook in Australia today.