Tag Archives: cookbook reviews

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)
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)
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.

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.


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.