COOKBOOK REVIEW: Life in Balance

Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef
Donna Hay - Life In Balance

Life in Balance is available for purchase at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Harper Collins Canada.

Dear Donna Hay, 

Damn girl. How do you do it? Time and time again you put together these cookbooks with killer recipes that are straightforward yet impressive, relatively quick to prepare and taste amazing. This has created a bit of a problem for me because, you see, I don’t want to stop cooking from your latest book – Life in Balance. And sista I have bookcases full of other cookbooks waiting for a chance to be reviewed. Food blogger problems, I know.

Sincerely,
Stay-At-Home-Chef

Donna Hay’s cookbook are all coffee table worthy, with gorgeous photography that you want to jump right into so you can immerse yourself in the scenes they depict. Life in Balance has a different feel from her other books – dark and vibrant tones with content divided by colour to showcase the culinary rainbow of food. The premise of the recipe collection is healthy eating without resorting to diet food, everyday recipes that utilize the bounty of nature in a way that makes you feel good but still satisfies those cravings. You know the ones I’m talking about.

One of the things I love most about Donna Hay recipes is that they are easy to understand. You might look at the stellar photo of a particular dish and think there’s no way that you could ever make that, but thanks to straightforward instructions you will be taken step by step through the entire process and before you know it you’re eating what you never thought you’d be able to recreate. And it tastes GREAT.

Subsections throughout the book allow you to learn more about specific vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, while a detailed glossary at the end provides information about specific ingredients you might not know a lot about as well as pantry staples. Never cooked buckwheat before? No problem. Flip to the glossary and find out more about this popular seed related to the rhubarb family.

I am not exaggerating when I say I want to make every single thing in this cookbook. Honestly, the thought behind each ingredient results in the recipes reading like a burst of flavours that you can’t wait to try. The gorgeous photos will inspire you into culinary action. I for one will be returning to this book again, and again.

Never before have I given a cookbook full marks across the board for each of the three recipe tests. Until now. Yup – 5 out of 5 for each recipe I tested from Donna Hay’s Life in Balance. This is a historic moment folks – go out and celebrate by buying this book.

Grilled Beef Skewers with Red ChimichurriPeri Peri ChickenToasted Grain and Cauliflower Tabouli

Grilled Beef Skewers with Red Chimichurri

Rating: 5 out of 5 (simple ingredients, big flavours)

THE TEST: I dare you to look at the photo of these skewers and not want to make them immediately. Okay – vegetarians get a pass – but the rest of you don’t stand a chance.

At first I thought this recipe with its long list of ingredients would be quite time consuming to make, but everything comes together very quickly and easily. In fact, since my initial recipe test this dish has been in regular rotation for our weekday dinners.

Red Chimichurri Sauce

The red chimichurri simply involves blending everything up in a food processor (red onion, cherry tomatoes, garlic, parsley, coriander, chilli, smoked paprika, cumin, olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon juice) and then setting aside until the rest of the meal is ready. The beef is tossed in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper and grilled over high heat. While the meat is cooking, slice a lemon in half and grill until charred and oozing citrusey goodness. You can either serve the kebabs in flatbread with hummus and the chimichurri or eat without the bread with the sauces as dippers. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Grilled Beef Skewers with Red Chimichurri

THE RESULTS: The only way you will be able to understand the incredible flavour explosion of this dish is to make it yourself. It is perfect in terms of the balance of acidity from the vinegar and lemon, the heat is just the right amount and not too much for the kidlets and the meat is impeccably seasoned. Do not change a thing with this recipe! When combined with the creamy hummus, bright bursts of flavour from the chimichurri and caramelized citrus from the grilled lemon – this is truly a killer dish.

Grilled Beef Skewers with Red Chimichurri

Peri Peri Chicken

Rating: 3 out of 5 (finger lickin’ good!)

THE TEST: A traditional Portuguese dish, this spicy flame kissed style of grilled chicken holds a place in my heart that is near and dear. I mean what’s not to love? Crispy skin and juicy meat all doused with a flavourful marinade. The Peri Peri sauce from Life in Balance is made up of crushed garlic, paprika, thyme, chilli, red wine vinegar and salt. This mixture is generously rubbed over a spatchcock chicken and refrigerated for 2-4 hours. Full disclosure? I opted not to venture into the world of spatchcocking a chicken and had my butcher remove the backbone of said bird on my behalf. I figured it would be best to let the professionals handle that job although apparently it isn’t hard to do.

Peri Peri Chicken

While the chicken is cooking on the grill, roast a head of garlic until it’s all squishy and caramelized and then add to Greek yogurt for a tasty accompaniment, drizzle fresh lemon juice over the bird and voilà – dinner is served. All in all this was another one of those easy to prepare dishes and since the chicken cooks much faster when it’s in a flattened state it’s not too much of a stretch for those busy weeknights.

Peri Peri Chicken

THE RESULTS: There is nothing I would change about this recipe – it is perfect in every way. The Peri Peri sauce is completely addictive, my only complaint is that I wish I’d doubled the recipe to have more on hand for dipping with the leftover chicken. The heat from the sauce was nicely offset by the cooling garlic yogurt dip, balancing all of the flavours nicely. And the squeeze of citrus is mandatory in my opinion, adding a nice brightness to the dish.

Great meal for entertaining. Your guests will be impressed.

eri Peri Chicken

Toasted Grain and Cauliflower Tabouli

Rating: 5 out of 5 (perfect salad for picnics & potlucks)

THE TEST: While this dish is not difficult to make, there are several steps involved in prepping the ingredients, so make sure you’re not rushed for time to allow ample opportunity for the salad to stew in its own juices and become even more tasty.

The first step is to precook buckwheat and burghul (or bulgur wheat). The grains are then mixed with cauliflower and tossed with olive oil, ras el hanout and salt and pepper and roasted in the oven for 30 minutes. Because of my daughter’s gluten allergy we skipped using the burghul and double downed on the buckwheat.

Cauliflower

Once everything has cooled, you simply add parsley, dill, pistachios, currants and lemon juice before mixing in cheese at the end and serving with lemon wedges. The recipe suggested using fresh ricotta but we opted for feta instead, so feel free to get creative with swapping out various ingredients. Don’t like pistachios? Pine nuts would also work. Not a fan of dill? Think about substituting another herb like oregano or mint.

Toasted Grain and Cauliflower Tabouli

THE RESULTS: I’ve made this salad on several occasions and it has always been a big hit. The wonderful thing is that you can make this well ahead of time and simply leave in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. It also works really well for picnics as it doesn’t get soggy or wilt.

This recipe is perfect in terms of the combination of different textures and flavours. The nuttiness from the grains, bite of the cauliflower and saltiness of the cheese, is beautifully balanced by the blast of acid from the lemon juice and sweetness from the currants. The salad also makes for great leftovers.

Toasted Grain and Cauliflower Tabouli

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