Category Archives: Cookbook Reviews

Cookbook Review of The Simple Bites Kitchen: Nourishing Whole Food Recipes for Every Day

Title:  The Simple Bites Kitchen: Nourishing Whole Food Recipes for Every Day 
Author:  Aimée Wimbush-Bourque
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
Price: $32.00 (CDN$)
Pages: >300
Available:  Bookstores across Canada and online

Penguin Random House Canada has offered me the opportunity to conduct a review of Aimée Wimbush-Bourque’s latest cookbook, The Simple Bites Kitchen: Nourishing Whole Food Recipes for Every Day .  Wimbush-Bourque is a Canadian food blogger and former chef who makes her home with her family in Montreal.  Devoted to healthy family-focused food, this is Wimbush-Bourque’s second published cookbook.

The book features a wide collection of 100 varied recipes categorized into seven chapters:  Nourishing Breakfasts, Wholesome Lunches and Snacks, Homegrown Vegetarian, Fresh-Air Gatherings, Everyday Suppers, Simple Bites, Staples, and Preserves Pantry. The book has a general table of contents at the front and then each chapter has a more detailed table of contents listing each recipe to be found in the chapter.  In addition, an index at the back of the book makes it easy to quickly find a particular recipe.  Each chapter is introduced by a 2-page narrative written by the author which lends a personal touch to the book and allows the reader to get to know a bit about the recipe’s creator.

The book is filled with lots of common sense tips to make food preparation easy.  For example, there are tips and hints on how to host a soup swap with friends, fridge organization, how to cook pulses and, of interest to families and office workers, information on lunch box renewal.  Appealing to a wide audience of home cooks, the book contains a mix of recipes that range from old favorites like strawberry rhubarb pie, harvest corn chowder, and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding to more modern dishes like lentil cottage pie with rutabaga mash, tofu vegetable stir-fry with cashews, Tahini maple tea cookies, Tequila-lime BBQ chicken, and tangy quinoa carrot chicken salad.

The recipes are well laid out with instructions using the ingredients in the order in which they are listed.  I found the instructions complete and easy to follow. Each step is clearly delineated and numbered. For the most part, the ingredients would be ones likely to be available in most supermarkets.  Each recipe is introduced by 1-2 paragraphs about the dish and several of the recipes contain useful tips at the end.

Full page color photos accompany each recipe on the page opposite the recipe.  This is important as it gives a benchmark of what the finished dish should look like.  The photos are clean and simple and are not overdone with unnecessary props and styling. This keeps the focus on the food.

Test-driving recipes
The real test of a cookbook comes when you make some recipes out of the book.  I selected three:  Maple-Roasted Pears in Granola (p. 29), Brown Sugar Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal (p. 48), and Butternut Squash Casserole with Apple and Leek (p. 214).

Maple-Roasted Pears in Granola
These pears are super tasty. I used Bosc pears and my own granola. Brushed with butter and maple syrup, roasted, then topped with granola mixed with maple syrup and roasted for a few minutes more, these are yummy treats served with a dollop of yogurt.  While these are in the Nourishing Breakfast chapter in the book, I’d gladly eat them any day for dessert!

Maple-Roasted Pears with Granola
Maple-Roasted Pears with Granola
Maple-Roasted Pears with Granola
Maple-Roasted Pears with Granola

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal
This is an excellent replacement for the individual packets of quick oatmeal. I made a batch of this mix and now have it in a jar in my desk at work.  Simply add hot water to the mix, stir, and let sit for a few minutes before consuming. I found it took longer than the five minutes that the recipe’s instructions indicated in order for the water to be sufficiently absorbed by the oats. I should point out that I used gluten-free oats for this recipe and perhaps they may take longer than the regular quick cooking rolled oats to absorb the water called for in the recipe. In any event, I didn’t find it a big deal – I just simply let the oats sit a while longer before consuming.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal Recipe
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal Recipe

Butternut Squash Casserole with Apple and Leek
I found this recipe easy to make and an interesting combination of three principle ingredients – butternut squash, apple, and leek.  This is a very tasty side dish that would go perfectly with poultry, pork, or beef and I would definitely make the recipe again.

Butternut Squash Casserole with Apple and Leek
Butternut Squash Casserole with Apple and Leek
Butternut Squash Casserole with Apple and Leek Recipee
Butternut Squash Casserole with Apple and Leek Recipee

 

Concluding Thoughts
This is a beautifully planned and laid out book and it is one that I simply enjoy reading.  The focus is on modern healthy foods for modern, busy families. The book itself is printed on high quality paper giving it a distinctively professional and polished look and feel.  In my opinion, this is a lovely collector’s book for anyone with a cookbook collection and is a book that the cook would return to time and again as a kitchen resource tool.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Simple Bites Kitchen: Nourishing Whole Food Recipes for Every Day  from Penguin Random House Canada for the purposes of conducting a review of the cookbook. I received no compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. All opinions expressed are purely my own.

The foregoing recipes and photographs were excerpted from The Simple Bites Kitchen: Nourishing Whole Food Recipes for Every Day by Aimée Wimbush-Bourque. Copyright © 2017 by Aimée Wimbush-Bourque. Photos copyright © Tim and Angela Chin. Published by Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

 

Cookbook Review: Best of Bridge Home Cooking (2015)

 

Title: Best of Bridge Home Cooking
Author: Various
Publication Date: 2015
Publisher: Robert Rose Inc.
Cover: Hardcover
Price: $29.95
Pages: 360

Robert Rose Inc. has offered me the opportunity to conduct a review of Best of Bridge Home Cooking. This is the latest in the “Best of Bridge” series of cookbooks.

This cookbook is a collection of standard home cooking recipes that aims to get people in to the kitchen to create special memories and meals around the table. Many of the recipes would be suitable for every day meals. The book has an attractive, sturdy hardcover and the pages are spiral bound making it easy for the book to stay open and the pages to lay flat for the recipe being made.

The book features a collection of 250 recipes spread out through 13 chapters: Breakfast, Breads & Muffins; Snacks, Spreads & Dips; Soups; Salads; Sandwiches, Lunches & Light Suppers; One-pot Dinners; Pizza, Pasta & Noodles; Meatless Mains; Fish & Seafood; Chicken & Turkey; Pork, Lamb & Beef; Side Dishes; and Desserts & Sweet Treats. At the beginning of each chapter, there is also a separate table of contents outlining the recipes (and their page numbers) found in that section of the book. There is also a handy alphabetical index at the back of the book.

Each recipe is accompanied by a 1-2 sentence lead-in about the recipe and many offer serving suggestions. In addition, useful tips and suggestions for alternate ingredients or ways to vary a recipe are provided with many of the recipes.

The Best of Bridge books use capital letters in a font that I find too large and folksy. This makes the pages cluttery and difficult to read. Generally, the instructions for making the recipes are all lumped together in one long paragraph, as you’ll see in the three recipes below which the publisher has granted me permission to include with this review. This instruction-writing style makes it difficult to follow the method. I find cookbooks that lay out the instructions in separate, step-by-step paragraphs are easier to follow, particularly for less experienced cooks. Breaking down the steps of a recipe into separate short paragraphs makes them less daunting and it is easier and quicker to find your place and progress in the instructions as you go about making the recipe.

I found the ingredients in recipes are used in the instructions in the order in which they are listed and, for the most part, the instructions are easily understandable. The recipes in the book call for, what I would consider to be, ordinary ingredients which makes it easy to shop for and to prepare the dishes. Most, if not all, ingredients would be found in standard supermarkets. However, many recipes call for pre-packaged foods and, in particular, a lot of canned goods. While this may have been a trend in the 1970s – 1990s, and it is a quick way to pull together a meal, today there is a trend toward the slow food movement, cooking from scratch, and cooking healthy. Therefore, with many diets restricting the amount of salt intake, simply opening and dumping cans of salt-laden ingredients with preservatives into dishes to make a meal may not be a selling point for everyone.

The exact quantity of ingredients called for in some recipes is sometimes vague. For example, some recipes call for ingredients in measures such as 1 head of broccoli, 2 small zucchini, or 1 bunch of asparagus. These products are available in different sizes so it would have been clearer to have specified a certain pound or kilogram measure, for example. As well, some recipes call for 1 onion – onions, too, come in different sizes so, for the benefit of more inexperienced cooks, it would be preferable if the ingredients specified if it is ¼ cup, ½ cup, or 1 cup of chopped onions. Providing exact measures helps to ensure successful cooking, particularly for novice cooks.

I also found several recipes in the book for the same dish – for example, there are about 5 chili recipes and more than one recipe for shepherd’s pie. When I buy a cookbook, I expect that it has been quality controlled and recipes are not repetitive, even if there are slight ingredient differences in the recipes. Therefore, unless the cookbook is specifically a book on chili or shepherd’s pie, I suggest picking just one recipe for each when it is a general cookbook. The other thing I noted was that there were some really basic recipes like the one on page 8 for hot oatmeal calling for rolled oats, salt, and water. If I am paying $29.95 for a cookbook, I am not looking for a recipe that would be available on the back of a rolled oats package when I buy them. Recipes for basic potato salad, peanut butter cookies, macaroni and cheese, and simple stir-fries are ones that can be found in other sources such as existing cookbooks or through a quick internet search. If I am buying a cookbook today to add to my collection, I am looking for one that has new or different recipes that I don’t already have in one or more cookbooks already on my shelf or would not likely be able to find through an internet search. In short, I’m looking for something new and different or, if it is a traditional recipe, that it has been updated or jazzed up in some way.

There are a lot of slow cooker recipes in this cookbook. Not everyone owns a slow cooker, or even likes to cook by that method. My suggestion would be that with a count of about 40 slow cooker recipes in the book, perhaps those should have been reserved for a specialized slow cooker recipe book.

There are 24 color photos in the book and they are of good quality but there is obviously not a photo for each of the 250 recipes. Including photos is so important in a cookbook as, not only do photos of mouth-watering food inspire people to try the recipes but the color photos also give a frame of reference of what the finished dish should look like. Including a large book of page after page of solid print is not very inviting or inspiring, particularly when the subject matter is food.

Test-driving recipes

I tested three recipes out of the cookbook. Robert Rose Inc has given me permission to share the recipes and their photos for Carrot Raisin Muffins, Just Peachy Pork, and Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake to accompany my review of this cookbook. The recipes follow at the end of this review.

Carrot Raisin Muffins

These muffins combine a tasty combination of grated carrots and apple, raisins, coconut, cinnamon, and nutmeg. These turned out for me but they are time-consuming to make because the carrots and apple have to be grated. The recipe indicates that it yields 16 muffins; I got 15 out of the batch and they certainly were not large muffins by any means. The instructions said to bake the muffins for 25-30 minutes; however, mine were baked in 17 minutes (and my oven has true temperature) so the baking time was off substantially.

Just Peachy Pork

This recipe, in a word, was a flop and it had expensive ingredients in it. The recipe calls for 1 lb pork tenderloin, canned peaches, green pepper, barbecue sauce, and Dijon mustard. When I read the recipe, I wondered if it had enough of the right ingredients to give it flavour and I found it did not. This dish had absolutely no flavour and was not a good use of an expensive pork tenderloin. The list of ingredients caused me to wonder what color the sauce would be. The sauce turned an ugly gray-brown color (probably due to the barbeque sauce and mustard) and the green pepper discoloured and went limp as it cooked in the oven.  This dish turned out to be a very unappetizing color, did not plate well, and had zero flavour. I will not make this again.  The publisher has provided a photograph for the purposes of this review and my dish did not in any way resemble the promotional photograph.

Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake

This recipe turned out fine for me and is quite tasty. It calls for ingredients that actually give a flavour boost to a typical tuna casserole.

Concluding Thoughts

While I can appreciate that the goal of this book may be on using easy-to-find, common ingredients to prepare fast and convenient meals at home, I am not a fan or advocate of using a lot of prepared foods in dishes I cook. I found that there were many recipes in Best of Bridge Home Cooking that use pre-packaged ingredients that come with a lot of salt and preservatives.

There is substantial competition on the cookbook market and through recipes available for free on the internet. While the Best of Bridge Home Cooking does have some tasty recipes, I would have to say, overall, I didn’t find a lot of inspiration or anything really new and creative in the book. In fact, I found most recipes were ones for which I could find equally-good or better/similar ones in other cookbooks or on the internet.

The following three recipes and accompanying photos are courtesy of Best of Bridge Home Cooking by The Best of Bridge © 2015 www.bestofbridge.com Reprinted with permission. Available where books are sold.

Carrot Raisin Muffins

 

Carrot Raisin Muffins from “The Best of Bridge Home Cooking” (2015). Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher.

Packed with nuts, fruits and carrots, these scrumptious muffins are perfect for breakfast. But they are just as tasty for afternoon snacks or stowed away in a lunch box.

2 cups all-purpose flour  (500 ml)
3⁄4 cup granulated sugar  (175 ml)
11⁄2 TSP ground cinnamon  (7 ml)
1 TSP baking powder  (5 ml)
1 TSP baking soda  (5 ml)
1⁄2 TSP freshly grated nutmeg  (2 ml)
1⁄4 TSP salt  (1 ml)
11⁄2 cups grated carrots (about 3 medium)   (375 ml)
1 cup grated peeled apples  (250 ml)
1⁄2 cup raisins  (125 ml)
1⁄2 cup sweetened shredded coconut  (125 ml)
1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)  (125 ml)
2 large eggs   (2)
2⁄3 cup plain yogurt   (150 ml)
1⁄3 cup vegetable oil (75 ml)

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease 8 cups in each of two 12-cup muffin pans or line the cups with paper liners. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt. Stir in carrots, apples, raisins, coconut and walnuts (if using). In another bowl, beat eggs; add yogurt and oil. Stir into flour mixture just until combined. (Batter will be very thick.) Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling almost to the top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes, then transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool.
Makes 16 muffins.
Tip: Have only one muffin pan? Place muffin paper liners in 6-oz (175 ml) glass custard cups or small ramekins and fill with extra batter. Bake alongside muffin pan.

Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake
Creamy Pasta Bake from "The Best of Bridge Home Cooking" (2015). Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher.
Creamy Pasta Bake from “The Best of Bridge Home Cooking” (2015). Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher.

This modern rendition of a tuna casserole includes a nutritional boost of broccoli in a creamy basil sauce.

2 bsp butter  (30 ml)
6 green onions, chopped  (6)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped  (3)
4 cups sliced mushrooms  (1 L)
1⁄2 TSP salt  (2 ml)
1⁄2 TSP freshly ground black pepper  (2 ml)
1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour  (75 ml)
2 cups light (5%) cream or milk  (500 ml)
11⁄2 cups Chicken Stock (page 42) or ready-to-use chicken broth (375 ml)
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced  (3)
2⁄3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese  (150 ml)
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh basil  (125 ml)
12 oz penne  (375 g)
4 cups broccoli florets and chopped peeled stems (1 L)
2 cans (each 6 oz/170 g) solid  white tuna, drained and flaked (2)
1 1⁄2 cups soft fresh bread crumbs (375 ml)
1 cup shredded Asiago or mozzarella cheese (250 ml)

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 13- by 9-inch (33 by 23 cm) baking dish. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Cook green onions, garlic, mushrooms, salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until softened. In a bowl, whisk flour with 1⁄2 cup (125 ml) cream until smooth; add the remaining cream. Add to pan along with stock. Bring to a boil, stirring, for 3 minutes or until sauce thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in tomatoes, Parmesan and basil. (Can be prepared to this point, covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.)
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta for 7 minutes or until almost tender. Add broccoli; cook for 2 minutes or until broccoli is bright green and crisp, and pasta is just tender. Drain; chill under cold water. Drain well and return to pot. Stir in tuna and sauce. Spread in baking dish. (Casserole can be prepared to this point; cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours before serving. Increase baking time by 15 minutes.)
In a bowl, combine bread crumbs and Asiago cheese; sprinkle over top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden and center is piping hot.
Serves 8.
Tips: If fresh basil is unavailable, substitute 2 TSP (10 ml) dried basil and cook with onions.
Assemble the dish no more than 4 hours ahead to prevent pasta from soaking up the sauce.
Variation: For a vegetarian version, omit tuna and substitute 1 can (19 oz/540 ml) kidney beans, drained and rinsed.

Just Peachy Pork
Just Peachy Pork
Just Peachy Pork from “The Best of Bridge Home Cooking” (2015). Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher.

Loaded with peaches, this sweet and tangy sauce is a great accompaniment for pork. Serve over hot white rice and add an assortment of steamed vegetables for a delightfully different meal.

1 can (14 oz/398 mL) sliced peaches, drained, 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) syrup reserved
1 cup finely chopped green bell  pepper  (250 mL)
(or 1 1⁄2 cups/375 mL
frozen mixed bell pepper strips)
1⁄2 cup barbecue sauce  (125 mL)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard  (15 mL)
1 lb pork tenderloin, cut into 1⁄2-inch (1 cm) thick slices  (500 g)

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). In a saucepan over medium heat, combine peaches, reserved syrup, green pepper, barbecue sauce and mustard. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes. Place pork slices in a single layer in an 8-cup (2 L) baking or gratin dish. Pour sauce over meat. Bake until just a hint of pink remains, about 30 minutes.
Serves 4.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Best of Bridge Home Cooking from Robert Rose Inc., for the purposes of conducting a review of the cookbook. I received no compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. All opinions expressed are purely my own.

Cookbook Review: Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes

Title: Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes   
Author: Donna-Marie Pye
Publication Date: 2014
Publisher: Robert Rose Inc.
Cover: Softcover
Price: $24.95 (US$)/$27.95 (CDN$)
Pages: 352

I recently received a complimentary review copy of Donna-Marie Pye’s “Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes” from publisher, Robert Rose. This compendium of 200 recipes is, in my view, really the only slow cooker recipe book the home cook needs as it contains a vast variety of taste-tempting recipes.

Divided into 10 chapters, the recipes are conveniently and logically grouped: Soups; Stews: Chilis and Beans; Poultry; Beef and Veal; Pork and Lamb, Big-Batch Dinners for a Crowd; Meals for Two, Double-Duty Dinners; and Desserts. There is also a complete index of recipes in the back of the book. While there aren’t photos to accompany every recipe, there are over 75 full-page, color photographs and they are well-executed and of high quality.

The first 21 pages of the book are dedicated to explaining the construction of the slow cooker along with handy and useful tips on cooking with the counter top appliance, adapting conventional recipes for use in slow cookers, and information on food safety. Undoubtedly of use to even seasoned home cooks, this segment of the book would be particularly useful for those unfamiliar with slow cookers. I recommend reading these pages before starting to make any recipe from the book as they contain some great “meat”.

Each recipe is well laid out with print font that is easy to read. Ingredients are listed in the order in which the directions call for them which facilitates preparation. Ingredient amounts are given in both imperial and metric measurements. Directions are described in easy-to-follow, step-by-step method. Each recipe is accompanied by a friendly lead-in paragraph. As well, each recipe also has a “Tip” box on the page so the book becomes a self-teaching tool for the home cook. Look for tips on serving suggestions, liquids to tenderize meats, ingredient substitutions, and other useful hints for cooking with a slow cooker. In addition, with many of the recipes, there is also an explanation of any special ingredients the recipe may use. For example, this might include a description of fennel and how to prepare it for use or what certain foods, like tamari, are used for. Each recipe also gives its yield in terms of number of servings the recipe is expected to generate.

In terms of ingredients, I found most recipes call for easy-to-find ingredients that are likely to be available in most large supermarkets. However, there are a few recipes that call for ingredients that are unfamiliar to me – for example, sambal oelek or edamame – but these recipes are the minority in the book. For the most part, ingredients are inexpensive with the exception of the meat called for in any recipe. As with any recipe, I recommend pre-reading each recipe carefully before beginning preparation to ensure you have all the necessary ingredients and/or that they are ones you can source in your area. Some recipes do incorporate more contemporary/trendy ingredients such as balsamic vinegars, roasted red peppers, fennel, and salsa. In my view, the quantity of ingredients (particularly spices and flavourings) called for in the recipes is reasonable and the instructions are clear in terms of explaining if an item is to be finely or coarsely chopped or minced, whether to include liquid with contents of a canned ingredient, and the size of pieces into which the meat or vegetables are to be cut.

One of the things I like most about this book is the section on meals for two as not many recipe books include scaled-down recipes for the smaller household.

Test-driving Recipes

I recently made the Country Italian Beef Stew for which the publisher is allowing me to share the recipe and photo along with my review (recipe follow below review). This is a yummy stew with a delicious brown sauce/gravy and is one I will definitely make again. This was also the first time that I cooked with a fennel bulb. Not being familiar with whether all fennel bulbs are the same size or not (the recipe called for one fennel bulb), I erred on the side of caution and used only a good half of the bulb in case I didn’t like it. However, I loved it – it has a subtle but not overpowering fennel flavour. This stew has good flavour and texture and reheats well, too.

Concluding Thoughts

I like this book. Very much, in fact, and it will make its way on to my crowded, and now premium-spaced, recipe bookcase and I will use the book as it contains many taste-tempting recipes. Retailing for $24.95 (US$)/$27.95 (CDN$), I feel this book is reasonably priced for its content and quality. If you are a committed slow cooker user, I think you’ll find this a wonderful inspiration for many meals and, if you are new to slow cookers, I believe you will find a number of new recipes to add to your meal preparation.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes from Robert Rose Inc for the purposes of conducting a review of the cookbook. I received no compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. All opinions expressed are purely my own.
The following recipe is courtesy of Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes by Donna-Marie Pye, 2014 © www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

Country Italian Beef Stew (page 66, beef, international)
Makes 6 to 8 servings CountryBeefItalianStewEESC

This stew features the wonderful flavors of the Mediterranean — fennel, basil and rosemary. Fennel has a distinctive mild licorice flavor, but even if you are not a licorice fan, you will enjoy the bold flavors of this beef stew.
• Minimum 4-quart slow cooker
3 tbsp all-purpose flour (45 mL)
1 tsp salt (5 mL)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided (5 mL)
2 lbs stewing beef, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) (1 kg)
cubes
2 tbsp vegetable oil (approx.) (30 mL)
6 tiny new potatoes, halved or quartered (6)
2 parsnips, cut into 1- to 2-inch (2.5 to 5 cm) (2)
pieces
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1
1⁄2-inch (1 cm) wedges
1 cup chopped onion (250 mL)
1 cup beef broth (250 mL)
1⁄2 cup dry red wine (125 mL)
1 can (71⁄2 oz/213 mL) pizza sauce (1)
4 cloves garlic, minced (4)
1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled (5 mL)
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves (250 mL)

1. In a heavy plastic bag, combine flour, salt and 1⁄2 tsp (2 mL) of the pepper. In batches, add beef to bag and toss to coat with flour mixture. Discard excess flour mixture.
2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat half the oil over medium-high heat. Cook beef in batches, adding more oil as needed, for 5 minutes or until browned all over. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to slow cooker stoneware. Stir in potatoes, parsnips, fennel and onion.
3. In a 2-cup (500 mL) measuring cup, combine broth, wine, pizza sauce, garlic, rosemary and the remaining pepper. Pour over beef mixture.
4. Cover and cook on Low for 8 to 10 hours or on High for 4 to 5 hours, until bubbling. Just before serving, stir in spinach until wilted.

Tip: Crush dried rosemary between your thumb and fingers before adding it to a dish. This helps release the full aromatic flavor of the herb.

Cookbook Review: Best of Bridge Holiday Classics (2014)

Title: Best of Bridge Holiday Classics
Author: Various
Publication Date: 2014
Publisher: Robert Rose Inc.
Cover: Hardcover
Price: $29.95
Pages: 303

Robert Rose Inc. has offered me the opportunity to conduct a review of Best of Bridge Holiday Classics. This is the latest in the “Best of Bridge” series of cookbooks.

While this cookbook is aimed at holiday entertaining, I would suggest there are recipes that would be suitable year-round for both everyday and special event use. The book has an attractive, sturdy hardcover and the pages are spiral bound making it easy for the book and pages to stay open for the recipe being made.

The book features a collection of 225 recipes spread throughout eight chapters: Holiday Brunches, Cocktail Parties Plus, Buffets and Potlucks, Sit-down Dinners, Leftovers, Holiday Cookies and Squares, Desserts and Other Sweet Treats, and Food Gifts. At the beginning of each chapter, there is a separate table of contents outlining the recipes (and their page numbers) found in that section of the book. There is also a handy alphabetical index at the back of the book.

In addition, there are a couple of pages at the front of the book giving sample menus for holiday brunch, a buffet party, a traditional holiday meal, a snowy Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve Banquet, and a Vegetarian Celebration. Recipes suitable for each event are listed along with their page numbers for ease of retrieval. This is useful, particularly for those who have no idea which recipe pairs well with another or what to serve with what.

When I am conducting a cookbook review, I try to approach it from the stance of how user-friendly it would be for someone with little culinary experience unless, of course, the book is highly specialized and advanced and is targeted for experienced cooks. So, I review recipes from the point of whether someone with little cooking and/or baking experience could take the recipes and easily follow and understand the instructions sufficiently to achieve success.

To begin, I found the font in the book a bit large and folksy. Everything (ingredients and method of preparation) is printed in capital letters which I find makes the pages cluttery and difficult to read. Generally, the instructions for making the recipes are all lumped together in one long paragraph. This makes it difficult to follow the method. I find cookbooks that lay out the instructions in separate, step-by-step, paragraphs are easier to follow, particularly for less experienced cooks. Breaking down the steps of a recipe into separate short paragraphs makes them less formidable and daunting and it is easier and quicker to find your place and progress in the instructions as you go about making the recipe.

I found the ingredients are used in the instructions in the order in which they are listed. The recipes in the book call for, what I would consider to be, ordinary ingredients which makes it easy to prepare the dishes. Most, if not all, ingredients would be found in standard grocery stores. The exact quantity of ingredients called for, though, is sometimes vague or lacking in the recipe. For example, on page 71, the recipe for Guacamole Cherry Tomato Halves calls for “1 small basket cherry tomatoes”. Cherry tomatoes come in various sizes of baskets and home gardeners would obviously harvest their own so it would have been clearer to have specified a certain quantity of tomatoes, in pound or kilogram measure, for example.

I also found that the instructions for several recipes were somewhat vague as well. For example, on p. 169, the recipe for Rhubarb Relish was very vague with the method starting out by “Simmer, uncovered, approximately 4 hours” but it didn’t say what to simmer or what kind or size of pot to use– i.e., in my view, it should have started out by saying “Combine all ingredients in the order listed in a certain size of pot (i.e., small, medium, or large pot). Simmer, uncovered, approximately 4 hours.” I also found several recipes would neglect to state early on in the instructions to preheat the oven and the oven temperature would only be given as the last instruction, at the stage when the dish was going into the oven. Now, experienced cooks would automatically know to preheat the oven whether it was stated as the first step in the recipe or not. However, a novice cook would be unlikely to know of this requirement, hence the importance of stating this step at the beginning of the method/instructions. It’s very important to pre-read each recipe carefully all the way through before starting to make it to ensure that the amount of ingredients required and the method of preparation are clearly understood.

In addition, I also found that, while most recipes did give a yield indication, some do not indicate a clear yield to be expected. For example, on page 231, the recipe for Nanny’s Real Scottish Shortbread gives the yield as “makes a tinful” which is not helpful as there is no indication what size of tin or how many shortbread the recipe makes and, as we all know, tins come in all sizes and some would hold four cookies and others 44, depending on the size of tin and cookies. This recipe does not indicate what size each shortbread cookie should be cut into. Regardless if that is how someone shared their recipe, the recipe should have, in my opinion, been tested to determine its exact yield before publishing it in the book. If someone is making a recipe and has a need for a specific number of shortbread, or servings, they need to know how many the recipe is expected to generate.

There are a few color photos in the book and they are of good quality but there is certainly not a photo for every recipe. Including photos is so important in a cookbook as, not only do photos of mouth-watering food inspire people to try the recipes but the color photos also give a frame of reference of what the finished dish should look like.

Test-driving Recipes

I tested two recipes out of the cookbook, choosing two in categories that I have significant personal experience. Robert Rose Inc has given me permission to share the recipes and their photos for Cranberry Scones and Crazy Crunch to accompany my review of this cookbook. The recipes follow at the end of this review.
Cranberry Scones

These combine a tasty combination of cranberries and orange; however, I found they did not have the light and airy texture I associate with scones and find I get from other recipes. I also did not find that they rose as scones usually do for me and they had a prevalent flour taste.

Crazy Crunch

I have a lot of experience making similar recipes and know that the caramel syrup has to reach the hard crack stage (300°F) before it is done. This recipe, however, gave a wide time span of “10-15 minutes” and a vague description of the mixture having a “light caramel color” for instructions to determine when the syrup is done. As any experienced candy maker knows, a five-minute span differential is a lifetime in candy-making and is the difference between success and failure. Also, there is no definition of “light caramel color” – what is a light color to some may be dark to another and, with no photo as a frame of reference, I did not find this particularly helpful.

The recipe also does not indicate at what temperature the mixture should be boiled – i.e., over high, medium, or low heat, a rolling or gentle boil, and whether or not the syrup should be stirred as it cooks. In my view, it would have been more useful had the recipe given directions for the use of a candy thermometer and a certain temperature which is a more accurate determination of doneness.

I used a thermometer and cooked the mixture over medium heat and found it took more than 15 minutes to reach the hard crack state of doneness. The recipe turned out for me and is tasty but I am not sure I would have had success had I removed it from the heat at any point between 10 and 15 minutes as the recipe suggested. Someone, inexperienced in candy-making, would not likely know how to adjust the recipe for success.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I found the book contains a good selection and number of appealing recipes that call for tasty ingredients and I will certainly make more recipes from it. However, in my opinion and given the foregoing, some quality control and assurance over ingredient listing, instruction writing (and ensuring the instructions for each recipe are consistently written across the book) and, in some cases, precise recipe yields are missing. For a cookbook priced at $29.95, I want to know the recipes have been tested for success and have exact amounts of ingredients listed and clear, fulsome, accurate instructions along with the expected yield from each recipe. For this reason, I would suggest the book would be best suited for individuals who have experience cooking and baking as some recipes in the book could prove challenging for novice cooks.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Best of Bridge Holiday Classics from Robert Rose Inc., for the purposes of conducting a review of the cookbook. I received no compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. All opinions expressed are purely my own.

 

The following recipes are courtesy of Best of Bridge Holiday Classics by The Best of Bridge 2014 © www.robertrose.ca.  Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

Cranberry Scones from "The Best of Bridge Holiday Classics". Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher
Cranberry Scones from “The Best of Bridge Holiday Classics”. Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher.

Cranberry Scones, page 46

3⁄4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt (175 mL)
1 large egg (1)
2 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour (675 mL)
4 tsp baking powder (20 mL)
1⁄2 tsp baking soda (2 mL)
1⁄2 tsp salt (2 mL)
1⁄2 cup margarine (125 mL)
1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries (250 mL)
(fresh or frozen)
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar (125 mL)
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp butter, melted (15 mL)
1⁄4 cup confectioners’ (icing) sugar (60 mL)
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Beat buttermilk and egg in small bowl and set aside. In large bowl, Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in margarine until mixture resembles small peas. Mix in cranberries, sugar and orange zest. Add buttermilk mixture and stir until soft dough forms. Using your hands, form dough into a large ball and place on floured surface. Pat out to 1-inch (2.5 cm) thickness. Cut in 4-inch (20 cm) rounds. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake scones for 15 to 20 minutes. While still warm, brush with butter and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
Makes 8 large scones.

Crazy Crunch, page 280

Crazy Crunch from "Best of Bridge Holiday Classics". Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher
Crazy Crunch from “Best of Bridge Holiday Classics”. Photo courtesy Robert Rose Inc., publisher.

Put this in fancy jars and give it as a little extra at Christmas time.
2 quarts popped popcorn (2 L)
1 1⁄3 cups pecans (325 mL)
2⁄3 cup almonds 150 mL
1 1⁄3 cups granulated sugar (325 mL)
1 tsp vanilla (5 mL)
1 cup margarine (250 mL)
1⁄2 cup corn syrup (125 mL)
Mix popcorn, pecans and almonds on a cookie sheet. Combine sugar, vanilla, margarine and syrup in a pan. Boil 10 to 15 minutes or to a light caramel color. Pour over corn, pecans and almonds. Mix well. Spread to dry.
Makes about 10 cups (2.5 L).

Cookbook Review: Dessert Mash-ups

Title: Dessert Mash-ups
Author: Dorothy Kern
Publication Date: 2014
Publisher: Ulysses Press
Cover: Hardcover
Price: $27.50 (CDN$); $21.95 (US$)
Pages: 152

Ulysses Press has offered me the opportunity to conduct a review of Dorothy Kern’s cookbook, Dessert Mash-Ups. Kern is the blogger behind “Crazy for Crust” food blog and Dessert Mash-Ups is her first cookbook.

I found this a delightful cookbook, all about desserts (what’s not to love about that speciality!). But, it’s more than that. It’s actually a teaching book that is sure to be a good reference tool for bakers, particularly those less experienced in the realm of baking. For example, there is a great section at the front of the book that provides a list of common pans any kitchen should have along with a list of useful gadgets and appliances. Additionally, the author also gives useful ingredient tips and suggestions along with storage and freezing tips.    While candy making can be daunting for some, Kern takes away the trepidation by providing handy tips on candy dipping that both the novice and a more experienced candy maker would find useful. Including this type of information in the cookbook would be motivating I believe for those, perhaps less confident in candy making, to try the candy recipes in Kern’s book.

The book features over 50 recipes that are well laid out. Each recipe is introduced by a short paragraph that either comments about the recipe’s ingredients or gives the author’s personal story about, or connection to, the recipe. Step-by-step clear directions call for the ingredients in the order in which they appear on the ingredients list found on the right-hand side of each page and each recipe provides the yield along with the preparation and baking times. Where there is more than one component to a recipe (e.g., a cake, streusel, and icing), each set of ingredients is listed separately along with individual sets of directions which makes preparation easier. The directions are easy to understand, even for those less experienced with baking.

One of the things I most appreciated about the book is that, while it  sometimes combines different ingredients in a recipe or “mashes” them up into something entirely different than you might think of (ever hear of lemon meringue pie fudge!), the recipes do not call for unusual ingredients that would be difficult to find.

The other bonus with this book is that each recipe is accompanied by a full-page color photograph of the finished product so you know the goal you are aiming for when making a recipe. The photographs are stunning and of high quality, making each recipe enticing to make. Of note, all food photographs in the book are the work of the author, herself.

I found the structure, content, and layout of this book well thought out with the reader in mind. The book is well organized and categorized into eight chapters: Breakfast but Better; Candy Concoctions; Cookies, Brownies, and Bars Together at Last; Pie Surprise; Cake & Cupcake Creations; New Takes on Cheesecake; Double Dips; and Holiday Mash-ups.  At the beginning of each chapter, there is a page that lists all the recipes in that category along with their page numbers.  There is also a useful alphabetized index at the back of the book.

Test-driving recipes

So, while a book might be lovely to look at and to leaf through, the real test comes when you make some recipes out of the book. I selected two: Payday Candy Corn Rice Krispies Treats (pp 134-135), and Rocky Road Cookie Fudge Bars (pp. 58-59). Both recipes turned out well for me with no issues and both were tasty and are ones I would repeat.

Payday Candy Corn Rice Krispies Treats

The twist on these perennial favorites is the addition of just a small amount of peanut butter, some peanuts, and the candy corn.  I made them for Halloween treats and they were a hit.  I also tested freezing them and found they freeze well, too.  I would make them again, with or without the candy corn.

Payday Candy Corn Rice Krispies Treats from "Dessert Mash-Ups Cookbook by Dorothy Kern
Payday Candy Corn Rice Krispies Treats from “Dessert Mash-Ups Cookbook by Dorothy Kern

Ulysses Press has given me permission to share the recipe and the book’s photograph for Rocky Road Cookie Fudge Bars along with my review of this cookbook.  I made these bars and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Displaying Dessert_Mash_Ups-RockyRoadCookie.jpg

 

Rocky Road Cookie Fudge Bars


Yield 36 bars
Prep Time 20 minutes
Bake Time 18 minutes
Chill Time At least 4 hours

I’ll never forget eating rocky road ice cream when I was young. It was one of my mom’s favorite flavors, so it was always in the freezer. I’d pick out the almonds and marshmallows to save for last, because they were the best part. My love of the ice cream inspired these bars: a rich chocolate cookie bar topped with a rocky road candy that tastes like fudge. I hope it brings back memories of all your rocky road days like it does for me!

1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1⁄2 cup packed brown sugar
1⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 (11.5-ounce) bag semisweet or milk chocolate chips
1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds
1 1⁄2 cups mini marshmallows

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 x 9-inch pan with cooking spray or line with foil and spray with cooking spray for easy cleanup.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Add the vanilla and egg, and mix until smooth. Mix in the cocoa and baking soda, then add the salt and flour, and beat until well blended. Press into the prepared pan. (The batter will be sticky; it helps to spray your hands with cooking spray to keep it from sticking to you.)

3. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the top just loses its sheen.

4. As soon as the bars come out of the oven (or a few minutes before), melt the chocolate chips in a large microwave-
safe bowl on high for 1 1⁄2 to 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate melts and is smooth. Let it sit for about 2 minutes, then stir in the chopped nuts and mini marshmallows. Stir to coat completely.

5. Pour the marshmallow mixture on top of the hot cookie bars and spread carefully. Let set at room temperature before slicing. You can refrigerate the bars to speed hardening, but be sure
to allow them to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before slicing to avoid cracking in the chocolate. Store in an airtight container at room temperature; bars are best within 4 days.

 

Concluding Thoughts

The book contains a good variety of dessert recipes that would be suitable for families, potluck get-togethers, special occasions, and gift giving.

This book is a manageable size, has good flow, and is easy to read. In my view, this book would be most suitable for individuals who love to bake, have a sweet tooth, and/or those who don’t count calories!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Dessert Mash-Ups from Ulysees Press for the purposes of conducting a review of the cookbook. I received no compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. All opinions expressed are purely my own.

Review of Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

Chef Michael Smith's Family Meals Cookbook, published 2014
Chef Michael Smith’s Family Meals Cookbook, published 2014

 

Title: Family Meals
Author: Chef Michael Smith
Price: $32.00 (CDN$)
Pages: >250
Available: Bookstores across Canada and online

Penguin Canada has offered me the opportunity to conduct a review of Chef Michael Smith’s latest cookbook, Family Meals. Michael Smith is a celebrity chef and Food Network Canada star who makes his home in Prince Edward Island on Canada’s East Coast. Known for his love and promotion of fresh, local ingredients, this is Smith’s 7th published cookbook.

The book is clearly influenced by Smith’s cooking for his own family in his home kitchen as the book contains many photos of his family in the kitchen and around the dining table. The focus of his book is to get the entire family cooking and eating together.

The book features 100 recipes that range from smoothies to sandwiches, snacks like kale chips, salads, soups, side dishes, and maritime mussel chowder, to old world chicken cacciatore and flaming banana splits. The book is well organized and categorized with chapters on breakfast and brunch; lunchbox and snacks; simple salads; soups, stews & casseroles; slow cookers & pressure cookers; family meals in minutes; meatless Mondays; vegetables & whole grains, and sweets and treats. One chapter is dedicated to slow cooker meals to encourage families to plan ahead and prepare meals in advance of arriving home hungry at mealtime with no idea what to put on the table quickly. And, yes, you’ll even find some lentil recipes, too, from the lentil hunter. Smith has also included tips in the book on, for example, ways for families to cook together, plan meals, organize the kitchen, and prepare lunchbox contents.

While the book has a broad range of recipes, some do call for ingredients that may be less familiar or accessible for some – e.g., wasabi peas, edamame, nori seaweed, miso paste. Several of Smith’s recipes veer toward the spicy category as he makes liberal use of lots of spices and garlic for flavouring many dishes. There are several innovative recipes in the book to encourage families to try new foods, or familiar foods in new ways, to add variety to their meals. However, that would be contingent upon how adventuresome family members are to try new or different foods. That said, the book does contain some more well-known, traditional family-style recipes like beef stew, spaghetti and meatballs, and baked beans. Smith also includes recipes that cross various cuisines – for example, there are Asian, Italian, Kenyan, and Greek-inspired recipes which would help to introduce children to foods and dishes from other countries and cultures.

The recipes are well laid out with instructions using the ingredients in the order in which they are listed. I found the instructions complete and easy to follow; however, in my opinion, some familiarity with cooking would be beneficial when making recipes from the book as novice cooks could find some challenging.

What I like most about this book is the full page color photo that accompanies each recipe. As we all know, we eat first with our eyes. If I see a color photo of an appetizing dish, I am more likely to be motivated to make it. This book scores high marks for the beautifully-executed photography. The photos are simplistic, clean, and are not overdone with props and excessive styling. The focus is on the food as it should be. Quality photos give the cook a point of reference of what he or she is aiming for and what his or her version of a recipe should look like.

The book itself is beautiful, printed on high quality paper giving it a distinctively professional look and feel. Weighing in at some 3 pounds, though, this is not a cookbook you would balance in one hand while stirring a pot with the other! However, it is a lovely collector’s book for anyone with a cookbook collection and is in keeping with the size and style of Smith’s earlier published cookbooks.

Test-driving recipes

It’s one thing to leaf through a cookbook filled with photos of appetizing-looking dishes but the real test comes when you make some recipes out of the book. I selected three: Nutty Seedy Granola (p. 4), Granola Muffins (p. 51), and A Pan of Pork Chops with Marmalade Mustard Pan Sauce (p. 167).

Nutty Seedy Granola

Nutty Seedy Granola from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook
Nutty Seedy Granola from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

Beyond a doubt, this is the best granola I have ever had! It was easy to make and I chose to include many of the different suggested ingredients Smith gave for the content and I think that’s what made it so darn tasty. My version (photo above) turned out very similar to the one in the book’s photograph.

Granola Muffins

Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook
Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

 

Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook....made in my square muffin tins
Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook….made in my square muffin tins
Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook
Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

Because I had made the granola, I chose to then make the granola muffin recipe. These muffins are, in a word, yummy! With some granola in the muffins themselves and then some on top of the muffins, these are a real treat. They also freeze well. I made half the recipe the first time, liked them so much that I turned around and made the full batch. This recipe will now become part of my go-to muffin recipe collection. My muffins (see 3 photos above) very closely resembled the ones pictured in the cookbook.

A Pan of Pork Chops with Marmalade Mustard Pan Sauce

"A Pan of Pork Chops with Marmalade Mustard Pan Sauce from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook
“A Pan of Pork Chops with Marmalade Mustard Pan Sauce from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

I found this recipe easy to make and it uses common ingredients I already had in the kitchen. This is a very tasty way to present pork chops and I would definitely make the recipe again. My version (in above photo) of the sauce turned out a little darker than the photo in the book, probably because I used my own peach marmalade which was deep in color to begin with.

Concluding Thoughts
This book portrays the laid-back personality of Chef Michael Smith and his casual approach to cooking – look for phrases like “a splash or two of …”, “handfuls of fresh herbs”, “toss/stir the works together”, “a bottle of big beefy red wine” throughout the book. It shows his chatty, conversational style that those who follow Smith know is his style of cooking whether on television or in front of a live audience at events such as the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival which he hosts each year.

In my view, this book would be most suitable for individuals who have some familiarity with cooking, home chefs who are adventuresome in meal preparation, families willing to try some, perhaps, less common or less traditional ingredients and, of course, for fans of Chef Michael Smith.

Disclosure:

I received a copy of the Family Meals cookbook for review from Penguin Canada.  I received no compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. The opinions are my own.