Julie Biuso is one of New Zealand’s most established and authoritative food writer’s – so much so, she has just released her 15th cookbook, Sweet Feast. Not only is she the Food Editor at Your Home & garden and Taste magazines, she also runs her own cooking school, gives numerous food demos around the country and is the NZ Ambassador for Le Cordon Bleu School. And with the silly season coming up – and therefore the green light to eat our own body weight in Pav, we speak to Julie about her new book and her inspirations.
Tell us where the inspiration for your new book, Sweet Feast, came from Julie?
My mother was a great cook but baking was her real love - she made melt-in-the-mouth pastry and fabulous cakes and kept the cake tins filled all through my school years. I've had hundreds of sweet recipes published since I began working as a food editor nearly 30 years ago. This collection is special because it is my favourite recipes from Taste magazine, many which draw on my mother's expertise.
You are married to an Italian and spent some time in Italy - can you share with us how that influenced your cooking repertoire?
I fell in love with Italy the very moment I arrived - the madness of it all, the splendour, the charm, and of course, the food. It made an enormous impression on me. I remember eating pesto for the first time back in 1975 on my first trip - it was this green oily goo and at first I thought 'no way…'. I love the immediacy of Italian food, the short list of ingredients - you can taste every ingredient - the liveliness of it, and it's good for you, being largely based on a high vegetable and grain intake, fish, small amounts of meat, and olive oil.
I love cakes and all the sweet things I know are bad for my waist line. Tell me why I should spend the time baking at home instead of buying Countdown's finest muffin selection? How different are the products you bake at home?
There's a reason a cake from a supermarket lasts for 6 months and a made-at-home one doesn't. If you don't mind colourings, acidity regulators, gum, starches, thickeners and other additives being added, fine, buy ready-made products. But if you want to know what is in your food, make it yourself. It will also taste much better, and gives you the opportunity to use more natural ingredients such as butter rather than trans-fats, fresh organic eggs, NZ-grown fresh nuts and whole milk and yoghurt, among other things.
Is my meringue actually going to look like yours in the book? I usually manage to frazzle mine, so they don't end up tasting quite right… If so, how can I create stylish dinner party desserts like my mum used to make without it looking a total disaster?
A real strength of Sweet Feast is the Cooking Classes. There are 4 in-depth pages after each chapter covering all the English cake-making methods, how to, line cake tins, make custard without it curdling, steam puddings and make pastry in a food processor, and, importantly for you, 4 pages on making meringues. I guarantee success if you follow the steps.
Can you give me some tips on how to avoid over-indulging over Christmas without the diet factor? What should I do to still be able to enjoy the Christmas season, without going into total glucose overload?
Balance the sweet load with plenty of fruit. In Sweet Feast fresh fruit is an integral part of many of the recipes to ensure that a good jot of antioxidants accompanies the indulgent bits! Swap cream for a lower-fat substitute such as crème fraiche, ricotta or yoghurt. Even a pavlova can be topped with thick Greek yoghurt in place of cream as in Sweet Feast - it is absolutely divine to eat!
You're quite an entrepreneur Julie - and I've heard that you've recently even managed to scoop an SPCA good egg award - and the only food writer to do that. What was this about?
I've always wanted chickens, and this year we got them, three gorgeous girls!
They lay an egg each a day and that's enough eggs for my cooking classes which I run from home and the magazine shoots I do for Taste and Your Home & Garden, making our small business self-sufficient in eggs. We grow all our vegetables organically, and the chooks have a wonderful run under the fruit trees, though occasionally they escape and head straight to the vegetable patch - they can mow through a row of lettuces in a morning, so it has to be watched. Earlier this year they ate all the leaves off the chilli plants and had a bit of a munch on the chillies, too.
And finally - what do you really think about the New Zealand foodie scene - how does it truly compared to overseas?
The first thing I want when I return from a trip overseas is a fresh salad from the garden -snappily crisp and unadulterated goodness. It's not just my garden though - don't know what it is about our produce, but it is so much fresher than many other places. Our lamb is fine-grained, the best in the world, our beef, venison and other meats and fish of a really high quality, and our olive oils, cheeses and dairy products are also exceptionally good. Then there are all the artisan products such as the vinegars, jams, pickles…and our locally grown nuts, avocados, cherries, berries, apples… I could go on. Visiting a farmers' market can be an eye-opener. We've really embraced the whole food thing and I think this is just the beginning. Cooking from scratch is my mantra.
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