The Busy Woman’s Cookbook – Australian Woman’s Weekly (1972)

Strange things happened in the ‘70’s.  And for my next revelation…water is wet.  Yes, I know.  My acuity today is on fire.  I have a horrible headache.  It came on whilst reading this book.  Possibly due to the number of times I beat myself about the head with it exclaiming “WTF?  For the love of God, why?”

However, I digress.  One of the things that happened in the 1970’s was a glut of cookbooks aimed at the  growing number of women entering the full-time workforce.  They all touted their ability to save women time in the kitchen through the use of processed foods.  The result, in many cases, was a book which sacrificed taste and nutrition for what was often a false expediency.  The current wave of people wanting to do everything from scratch – bake their own bread, make their own preserves and pickles, cure their own olives etc,  may well be a backlash from the children of these busy women of the ’70’s!

Before I continue, I would just like to take a moment to say how much I love the Australian Women’s Weekly.  There is rarely a bad recipe in the modern-day magazine.   Their test kitchen is amazing and, just in case you’re reading AWW, the kind of place I would really like to work one day.  Disclaimer and hints for future employment over, sadly, this book mostly provides examples of the worst faults of this type of cooking.  Before we launch into the horror though, lets start with a positive.

This book has an awesome cover.

Just look at it.  The busy woman has a fabulous dress and great hair and makeup.  She has some amazing ceramic casserole dishes in a glorious 1970’s pattern on the dresser in the background.  Don’t look for too long though, or you may start to ask yourself some disturbing questions.  Like what EXACTLY is the busy woman doing?  Because it looks like she has made a tower of fruit and is now topping that tower with some flowers.

The message intended by the AWW in selecting this cover may have been something like :

“No longer a slave to the stove, the modern-day busy woman can spend time on creating a  delightful ambience for her guests”

The messages I took away after reading the book were:

“If you have time to faff about making flower towers you have time to cook something decent”


“I would prefer to eat those flowers than some of the meals contained in here”


“Good thing that candle’s not lit.  Material in the 1970’s was not known for its resistance to fire”


The Busy Woman’s Cookbook repeatedly commits three crimes against food.

Crime Number One: Gilding A turd

I tried for a long time to think of a more delicate phrase for this.  I failed.  For those of you not familiar with this delightful expression, urban dictionary defines it as

“Wasting your time trying to  turn something completely worthless into something that looks (or tastes) good”

This is exemplified by the recipe for :

Culprit:  Gourmet Chicken Soup, page 4

To make gourmet chicken soup, you add tarragon vinegar, cream and a stock cube to a can of cream of chicken soup. So, not only is this recipe guilty of the crime of gilding, it is also guilty of the misdemeanor of redundancy.  Using soup to make soup is…stupid.  It’s even more stupid if you are time strapped.  You already have soup.  Why bother?  Ah, I hear you cry but we want this to be gourmet chicken soup.  Let me give you a clue.  Adding vinegar, cream and a stock cube will not make your canned cream of chicken soup gourmet.  It will make your canned cream of chicken soup taste like a more creamy (again with the redundancy), more vinegary and more salty canned cream of chicken soup.

There is not a single thing you can do to make canned soup taste like home-made.  So, if you must have canned soup,  ditch the accoutrements and revel in the tackiness of it.  Whilst your soup is heating, practice your best death stare in the nearest reflective surface.  If your guests are rude enough to comment on the cannedness of your soup, fix them with this death stare and say very coldly.  “Yes, it is canned soup.  You can eat it or wear it.”  Alternatively, you could just not serve canned chicken soup to guests.

I’m not a complete food snob.  There is a time and a place for canned soup.   It is when you are sick and are too ill to make something decent. Canned soup should be only eaten when you are wearing pyjamas and have a runny nose / sore throat/ cough / headache / hangover etc.

See also: Creamy Tomato Soup (made with tomato soup), p5, Orange Sorbet (made with orange squash), p40

Crime Number Two:  Hiding Your Love Away

Otherwise known as the anti-gilding a turd.  This is when you have some great ingredients and do your best to fuck them up.

Culprit: Oyster Soup, also page 4

Ok, so  here’s a little test for you.  You have a dozen oysters.  You have some bacon.  You are a busy woman and your guests are sitting in the dining room waiting for their first course.  What are your options?

1 The  Romantic: Put the bacon in the fridge and have it for breakfast tomorrow.  Serve the oysters as naked as God intended, maybe with a squeeze of lemon to tantalise the taste buds.

2 Spicy Salty Goodness: Whip up a quick Kilpatrick – chop the bacon, add a drop or two of Worcestershire sauce to the oysters (personally, I also like a drop of Tabasco) add the bacon, grill.

3.  The WTF.  Alternatively titled the  AWW Option.  Incidentally, in a book for the supposedly busy woman, the this  option takes longer to cook than the either of the ones I’ve suggested. And is disgusting to boot.

Oysters and bacon are good.  Don’t add them to instant mashed potato.  Don’t add anything to instant mashed potato.  It’s an abomination sprung from the deepest recesses of hell. And, if you weren’t already feeling ill, try imagining how this would look in a bowl – beige, lumpy and gluggy….ewwwwww.

See also: Cheese Wine Dip p6 – made by mixing wine with a jar of cheese spread.  Wine is a delightful substance and has given me many hours of happiness.  It should never be subjected to such horrendous treatment.

Crime Number Three:  Sometimes A Rose isn’t a Rose

This is the crime of taking a perfectly decent concept and ruining it.

Culprit: Asparagus Mornay, page 7.

I’m not sure why I find the idea of  heating the canned asparagus in its own liquid the most repulsive part of this dish.  It’s not as if I wasn’t spoiled for choice.

See also: Easy Chocolate Mousse , p36; Pears Belle Helene, p41


Despite its many faults,  this book  is not  a complete waste of time.   The salad section is perfectly fine, there are also some good standard beef and chicken dishes, including one of my favourite childhood meals – Apricot Chicken made with a packet of french onion soup and a can of apricot nectar.  Delicious.  This was the first meal I ever made for my family.  I must have been about seven and found the recipe in one of my mum’s magazines – quite possibly a Women’s Weekly – and then badgered her to buy the ingredients so I could cook it.   After this original outing it became a family favourite.  We made a posher version than the one in this book where  we sprinkled flaked almonds over the top.  Now, that’s gourmet living!  The only reason I am not making it as part of this experiment is that if it turned out to be  horrible, I would feel like a my childhood had been stolen from me.   And a fairy would die.

The food styling in “The Busy Woman’s Cookbook is also delightfully odd.  How do you make your spaghetti and meatballs look authentically Italian?  Serve it with a backdrop of a Renaissance painting!

So, how to present your Kidneys Bordelaise?

Bordelaise means from Bordeaux (I had to Google that)so  maybe some a painting of some wine?  Grapes?  Rolling hills of French vineyards?  No?  What about a  random backdrop of a river scene?  I”m not saying it’s not Bordeaux.   Just not obviously so.

We’ll end with my favourite photo from the book, a photo that, unlike the Kidneys Bordelaise above, is for a perfectly edible dish too.   Over the next few weeks I”ll be trying out  a few more of these.   But for now, enjoy the psychedelic 1970’s delight of these funky mushroom glasses as the backdrop for a spinach and mushroom salad.



The Italian Cuisine I Love – Moccha Mousse

There is something delightfully retro about  chocolate mousse.  And this recipe is right up there with the best of them  Gooey, luscious chocolate kept from being too sweet by a shot  of coffee and a hefty dose of alcohol.  The recipe called for Strega and rum.  I didn’t have either of these  so I used kahlua and amaretto.  You could really use anything you have on hand!

This looked so cute served in a  demi- tasse cup!

180g dark chocolate
1 tbsp sugar
4 eggs (free range please)
1/4 cup strong espresso
2 tbsp strega cordial
2 tbsp rum
1 cup whipped cream

Separate eggs.
Beat whites until stiff.
Beat egg yolks with sugar until light and creamy.
Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler over simmering water.
When melted, remove from heat, blend in egg yolks, coffee, strega and rum.
Fold in egg whites and whipped cream.
Put in serving bowl, small individual bowls or demi-tasse cups.
Chill well, preferably overnight.

The Italian Cuisine I Love – Cavolo Nero with Chickpeas and Bacon

The original recipe for this used escarole.  I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely sure what that is.  Cook’s Thesaurus said that spinach or rocket could be substituted, so of course I used something completely different.  Cavolo Nero, or Tuscan Black Cabbage is an ingredient I love.  It is at the peak of its season at the moment so I substituted it for the green in this.  As the leaves are a lot tougher than spinach or rocket (or possibly escarole)  I adjusted the cooking times accordingly.

The other change I made to the original recipe, with full apologies to Jules J, was that it originally was a soup.  I wanted it as a side dish so I decreased the amount of stock I  added back in my version.  If you want it as a soup, you will need to add 2-4 cups of stock where I have placed the asterisk in the recipe below.

This was, awesome.  I have a very fussy easter for  a husband, and it is not often he asks for second helpings of sides, particularly ones that are vegetable heavy.  Maybe it was the bacon in this but he not only had seconds, he took the last little bit into work for his lunch the next day!

500 grams eacarole / cavolo nero / greens of your choice

2 cups chicken stock

1 medium onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 spring onions, chopped

1/3 cup lean bacon, diced

1  can chickpeas

1 tbsp parsley, chopped

1/2 tsp basil

2 tbsp grated parmesan

Trim cavolo nero.  Discard tough ends.  Chop into slices about 1 cm thick.

Put chicken stock in a saucepan.  Heat  to boiling.  Add cavolo nero.   If there is not enough stock, top up with water until leaves are just covered.

Cover and cook until crisp/tender.

Drain and reserve cooking liquid.

Saute bacon in a heavy saucepan, add onion, garlic, spring onions, and saute until soft but not browned.  Add the chickpeas and cavolo nero and a few spoonfuls* of the cooking liquid.

Warm through.

Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve.


The Italian Cuisine I Love – Rolled Breast Of Chicken

You may recall this photo from the first post on the Italian cuisine I love.  It’s one o f the photos supplied by the Ruffino Wine Company and one of my favourites from the book.  I made the Rolled Breast of Chicken and it was delicious.  This is a great meal when served with the following recipe for Cavolo nero, and of course some Italian wine!

Rolled Breast of Chicken.

  • 2 tbsp onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 4 sweet italian sausages (I  used spicy…because some like it hot!)
  • 1/4 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp tarragon
  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • salt & pepper

Cut the chicken breast horizontally in half.

Heat the oil in a skillet, add garlic and onion and saute or 1 minute.  Strip sausage out of the casing, add to skillet and cook until well browned, breaking up any lumps with a fork.

Remove sausage, onion and garlic with a slotted spoon and discard all but one tablespoon of fat from the pan.

Mix sausage, onion and garlic with breadcrumbs, parsley, tarragon, salt and pepper and put a pat of this stuffing on  each of the chicken pieces.

Roll them up, tuck in the ends and secure with toothpicks or string.  Add butter to skillet, saute the chicken rolls until browned on all sides – two or three minutes.

Remove rolls from skillet to a hot serving platter  and remove thread or toothpicks.  Add wine to skillet, delglaze quickly and pour sauce over rolls.

My Version

Rolled Breast of Chicken

The Italian Cuisine I Love – Tuna Stuffed Tomatoes

Tuna Stuffed Tomatoes 

These would be great for lunch or a light summer supper.  They are perfect for a hot day as there is no cooking!!!!

They would also be really cute if you made them for a tea party or as a finger food using cherry tomatoes and piping the mixture in.

4 firm ripe tomatoes
1 cup canned tuna
3/4 cup pimento stuffed olives, chopped
2 tbsp grated onion’
1 tbsp parsley, minced
1 tsp capers, chopped
2 anchovy fillets, mashed
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chives

Cut the top off the tomatoes, hollow out carefully.

Mash tuna  and combine with all oth er ingredients except mayonnaise and chives.

Mix well.

Add enough mayonnaise to bind the mixture.

Fill the tomato shells and sprinkle with chives.

Chill before serving.

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