Reviewer says
4 Ingredients, Kim McCosker | 2007 | AU

reviewed by Debbie Loakes

4 Ingredients
by Kim McCosker, Rachael Bermingham
Publisher: Meymott Enterprises, Country: AU
ISBN: 9780646470801, Edition: first, Year: 2007
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.


4 Ingredients is supposed to inspire people with “quick, easy & delicious recipes”. Quick and easy? Certainly. But in most cases the recipes compromise on both taste and health. The authors, Kim McCosker and Rachael Bermingham, rely on their status as mothers of young children to convince people that they know how to cook. Frankly, I’m not convinced at all.

Full review

While the idea of a four-ingredient cookbook is appealing (as evidenced by the high sales of the book), there are numerous problems in this book. The dominant flaw in 4 Ingredients is quite simply the quality of the recipes, which largely consist of unhealthy, processed ingredients. The authors attempt to address this at the start by saying “What we would have really loved is to have substituted many of our everyday household products for healthier alternatives”. Their excuse for not doing so is “not wanting to isolate those that are not able to purchase these products readily”.

Given that the majority of the authors’ main audience – Australians – live in urban areas, it seems unlikely that accessing fresh “products” would be difficult. More realistically, the processed, packaged options chosen by the authors permit them to use more than the promised four ingredients whenever it suits them. For instance, readers are instructed to use pre-made sauce in a jar, and in another recipe, “Top n Fill caramel”. To think of these as a single ingredient reflects a worrying attitude to food.

A section called “For the Children” illustrates just how bad (health and taste) some of the recipes are. A quote at the beginning of the section seems intended to lull readers into a false sense of security: “Children are one third of our population and all of our future”. This leads into some of the more unhealthy and uninspired food combinations in the book:

Bugs in Rugs: 3 slices of brown bread, ½ cup of tomato sauce, ¼ cup melted butter, 12 cocktail frankfurters.

Mini Pizzas: 2 English muffins sliced in half, 4 tsp. pizza paste, 3 rashers of bacon, 4tbs mozzarella cheese.

Savoury Dip: 2.5 cups sour cream, 1 pkt chicken soup mix, food colourings, assortment of julienne veggies.

Vegetable Lasagne: 6 sheets lasagna pasta [note the different spellings for this word], 3 cups shredded cheese, 1 sweet potato, 500g jar of vegetable pasta sauce.

Is “quick & easy” cooking acceptable if it encourages parents to feed their children high fat, high sodium, nutrient-lacking foods such as frankfurters, pizzas made without vegetables, vegetable lasagna made with only one (starchy) vegetable and processed sauce, and the chemical combination in that dip? Of the 23 savoury recipes in the “For the Children” section, only eight could really be considered healthy. The other 15 recipes contain ingredients such as margarine, puff pastry, cornflakes and canned soup.

The book is littered with editing mistakes, inconsistencies, mis-pasted text, and numerous irritatingly childish asides (“and your mummy in law will love it, and you!!!”, “A recipe by Lorraine Leeson … D.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s!”). Why will Santa love the apricot and blue cheese recipe, or your mother in law (assuming you have one) love honey roasted pears with honey cream?

Perhaps the authors could have spent more time on their recipes and editing than all the inane comments. Maybe then the 25 ideas for a sandwich filling could have omitted genius ideas like “ham and cheese”, “ham, cheese and a pineapple ring”, “cheese and tomato” and “egg and lettuce”. Does anyone need a book for this?

The final problem that I will mention here is the suspicious suggestion that people buy particular brand name products. Some examples are that if readers can’t find one Maggi ingredient, they should substitute another Maggi ingredient (p.31), and that they use “Nestle” caramel (e.g. p.53) and Jatz biscuits (p.55).

There are few positive features of 4 Ingredients. There is an initial attempt to address healthy eating in the introductory pages, and although this message is inconsistent with recipes throughout the book, it may be informative for some people. Additionally, the unfailing positivity of the authors may well be attractive to some readers. Amongst others, this book is aimed at those “on a tight budget”, or those “without room for a full pantry”. People on a tight budget will most certainly not enjoy this book, as many of the ingredients suggested are not basic unprocessed foods but more expensive, processed products (which also attract higher sales tax in some countries). And why are these processed products often specific brands? If it weren’t for the poor quality of the book, I’d have suspected some sort of commercial influence.

People who might actually enjoy this book must be those who have little cooking skills or imagination, and those who don’t mind being patronised throughout their recipe books. But it would be a miracle if even those consumers could be inspired enough by 4 Ingredients to “impress” a “hot date” (as claimed at one point) with something out of this popular but awful book.

There are so many better cookbooks to help people to learn to cook simple, enjoyable, healthy food.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 1. Not recommended
Visual appeal: Unimpressive
Suitability as a gift: Not really
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Rating: 2.0/5 (2 votes cast)
4 Ingredients, Kim McCosker | 2007 | AU, 2.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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  1. Posted 06 Sep 2009 at 00:15 | Permalink

    Love your review! Couldn’t agree more. Can’t believe they got a TV show… with all those spelling mistakes, lol.

    xox Sarah

  2. Posted 17 Mar 2010 at 15:17 | Permalink

    this review confirms what I felt upon flicking through this book – I think that their idea of 1 ingredient equalling a ready made sauce masks just how many ingredients these contain. I also have found that the more commercial products in a recipe, the harder it is to translate to other settings – eg internationally or if this product is not available – and I agree there should be the option of making your own

  3. peter
    Posted 16 Jul 2010 at 22:38 | Permalink

    great is an embarassment to our intelligence & a sad reflection of society that its a popular book and (arrg) TV show!!

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