Tag Archives: Robert Rose Inc.

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).