Category Archives: Contributing Writers

COOKBOOK REVIEW Vegetarian Cooking: a commonsense guide

By Bay Books (imprint of Murdoch Books Pty Limited)

Vegetarian Cooking: a commonsense guide is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Murdoch Books Pty Limited


Review written & photographed by Jordan A.R. 

Originating from recipes developed by the Murdoch Books Test Kitchen, Vegetarian Cooking: a commonsense guide offers a wide variety of simple, affordable meals for any home cook to make throughout the year. The book begins with the “Vegetarian Adventure,” a basic look at finding nutritional balance in your diet whether or not you happen to be vegetarian. It provides information on how to avoid common dietary pitfalls by eating a variety of foods rich in vitamins and minerals. Through the combination of certain foods, this book shows you how to achieve the greatest dietary benefit from your meals.

As the title of the book indicates, this is a commonsense guide. The information presented is nothing new, but it is info people often overlook or forget. The aim of the publishers is not to preach about vegetarianism or pretend to be sophisticated health gurus, they are simply trying to “expand the menu of possibilities” by showing that one can still enjoy food without revolving every meal around meat.

What struck me the first time I flipped through the pages of the Commonsense Guide was the sheer variety of recipes, that includes everything from breads and soups to sushi and labneh (yoghurt cheese). The majority of the recipes are simple, smart dishes that don’t need a lot of ingredients or require much cooking skills; and for those that require a bit more care, well, you just have to give them a bit more care.

Overall, I found this cookbook to be a straightforward, no nonsense kind of book filled with interesting ideas worth experimenting with in your kitchen.


© 2012 Jordan A.R.

CLICK HERE FOR RESULTS FROM RECIPE TESTS

COOKBOOK REVIEW Soup: A Kosher Collection

By Pam Reiss

Soup: A Kosher Collection is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Whitecap Books. 

 


Review written & photographed by Helena McMurdo

Winnipeg based Pam Reiss holds a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management and works in her family business, Desserts Plus (kosher catering company and specialty food store). Her interest in food and recipe development led to her first cookbook entitled Soup: A Kosher Collection, which was originally published in 2004. The second edition (released by Whitecap Books, $24.95 CDN) came out in the fall of last year and contains an additional 20 recipes, full colour photos and nutritional information for each recipe.

As the name suggests, this book is a collection of kosher soup recipes (150 in total) and is organized into different sections that include Parve (vegetarian), dairy, fish, meat, as well as fruit and dessert soups. The recipes are simple and comforting and feature flavours from around the world. Whether or not you follow a kosher diet, the recipes are appealing to anyone who loves soup.

If you like to keep an eye on health, the nutritional breakdowns for each recipe are a handy feature. I also really appreciated the author’s notes stipulating whether a soup is suitable for freezing.

However, what struck me the most about this book is the variety of recipes offered. This is the kind of cookbook that will have you stop every couple of pages in order to bookmark something to make at a later date.

A gem of a cookbook for soup lovers!

CLICK HERE FOR RESULTS FROM RECIPE TESTS

COOKBOOK REVIEW Clean Food

By Terry Walters


Clean Food is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Raincoast Books

 


Review written & photographed by Jordan A.R. 

Terry Walters’s book Clean Food (published by Sterling Epicure, $30 USD) is more than just a pile of recipes: it’s a guide for developing a healthy lifestyle based around eating food close to its source in order to maximize the nutritional benefits. Clean food means real, minimally processed, seasonal food.

The nutritional information that jump starts this book for the first thirty-five pages opened my eyes not only to how depleted my regular diet is, but how easy it can be to make small changes that amp up the value of what I eat. For example, adding a small piece of kombu (a type of kelp) during the cooking process of whatever meal you make will infuse the dish with important minerals, improve digestibility, and (possibly) reduce gas. Another helpful tip was that since grains contain phytic acid, which interferes with the absorption of essential minerals, they should be soaked for a minimum of one hour, then rinsed, so that the water soluble acid vanishes and leaves you with a new and improved complex carbohydrate. Simple and effective!

Divided into the four seasons along with an “anytime” chapter, the 200 + recipes in Clean Food offer a variety of simple, healthful dishes to guide you throughout the year. My one concern with this book was that it uses a lot of ingredients I don’t normally stock in the pantry, and so the grocery bills can add up pretty quickly if, like me, you’re somewhat new to this style of eating. But once you’re stocked you’re good to go and, based on all of the information at the start of the book, it’s worth the extra money in the beginning. My only other complaint is that there are no photos. But I checked her website and it seems that a revised edition of Clean Food is forthcoming that will be gluten-free friendly with new recipes, a snack section, and photographs!

CLICK HERE FOR RESULTS FROM RECIPE TESTS

Meet Contributing Writer Jordan A.R.

The reasons why people choose to become vegetarian can be as wild and varied as the people themselves. Even the definition of what a vegetarian is can be disputed: For some it means a lifestyle completely free of any animal products; for others it means a diet where meat is consumed only a couple of times a week.

I stopped eating meat a few years ago because I believe that everything has a right to live. Yet, occasionally I still use products from big dairy farms even though I realize the animals live sad lives and eventually get slaughtered. But my excuse is simple: I’m not perfect. I try my best to lessen my impact and I think that’s all we can ask of one another. At the end of the day, if you’ve put thought into what you eat and are comfortable with your food decisions then you’ve probably done a good job.

But one thing I’ve yet to discover after switching sides is a vegetarian dish that is genuinely succulent. That’s my quest. And perhaps there’s a vegetarian cookbook out there with such a recipe.

We are incredibly excited to welcome Jordan into our CookThatBook family! As a consumer of meat, I have purposely avoided reviewing vegetarian cookbooks as I feel my perspective would lack integrity as I do not follow this particular lifestyle. Enter Jordan! If you have a question/comment for our newest contributing writer, email him c/o info@cookthatbook.com 

Guilty Pleasures


Written by contributing writer Jacqueline Twa

My husband and I have been traveling to Costa Rica for over 20 years. We love it there — in fact we love it so much that we got married there. It is truly the most alive place I have ever been in my life. The landscape is amazing! Rainforests, jungle, rugged highlands and beautiful beaches. Flowers growing in wild profusion, fruit falling ripe to the ground from the monkey filled trees. After dark the air is filled with the sounds of birds, insects, lizards. It makes you feel as if you’re listening to the sounds of the jungle renewing itself, the cycle of life doing its thing as you listen to the music of the night.

© 2012 Jacqueline Twa

Over the years my husband and I have discovered many culinary treasures in this beautiful country, and each trip we always ensure significant indulgence in our favourite cravings. When we are at our dear friends near Nosara at Guiones Beach, we make heavenly pizza in their wonderful outdoor forno oven while watching the sunset over the endless beach. We indulge in homemade tamales filled with chicken, egg, olives and prunes – yes, prunes! We go to our favorite Italian place in the capital city called Tutti Li specifically for dessert, in particular their wonderful nutella filled pasta bundles. We enjoy the country’s national dish called Gallo Pinto (said guy-o-pinto), which is made from cooking small black beans with celery, cilantro and onion then mixed with rice and served with a fried egg on top and covered in a wonderful cumin based sauce called Salsa Lizano (available online).

© 2012 Jacqueline Twa

But by far our favorite treat in Costa Rica happens when we head north to our dear friend’s farm in San Carlos, to the little town that we were married in called Boca Arenal. This is where the ‘guilty pleasures’ part of my article comes into play, in the form of Chicaronnes (pronounced cheech-a-rone-ees).

Now in life there are many varying degrees of guilty pleasures, like watching the Kardashians or eating some of your kid’s Halloween treats when they are in bed fast asleep, and then there are those REALLY guilty pleasures. Like eating Chicaronnes.

By definition, a Chicaronne is basically a piece of deep fried pig fat or pig skin. Sounds kind of gross – but I assure you it is ridiculously good! In the supermarket world, Chicaronnes are those pork rind chip type things you can buy in a bag, but freshly made Chicaronnes are something very different indeed. To truly understand how amazing they are (yes I can hear the groans of protest from the vegetarians in the crowd) you simply must try them made fresh.

© 2012 Jacqueline Twa

To make the Chicarrones you need a large outdoor burner and the biggest, thickest metal pot you own that is suitable to cook things at extremely high temperatures for a long period of time. You will need a giant metal slotted spoon and beers on ice. You also need pork. To be more specific, you need pork skin and fat with a small amount of meat still clinging to it for dear life. You need salt, fresh lime juice, tortillas, and most importantly a single potent Peruvian Pepper (lethal little buggers meant to burn your face off).

You begin the cooking ritual by putting the pot on the burner and cranking up the fire. Cut the pork fat and skin into approximately one-inch square cubes. Put about a tablespoon of a high smoking point oil in the pot and add the pork goodies.  Now for the tricky part. Throw in the Peruvian pepper and fry the living daylights out of the pork until it is brown, crisp and succulent. During the cooking process it is crucial to drink at least a couple of cold ones otherwise you’ll melt from the heat. Honestly, it takes a good 45 minutes to an hour to render this kind of scary mound of meat, skin and fat into crispy, crunchy, porky magnificence!

© 2012 Jacqueline Twa

When the pork is ready, take your massive slotted spoon and pull out the pieces onto a large platter and salt liberally. Add a squeeze of fresh lime juice and serve on a small flour tortilla.

Mmmmmm.

Pure, unadulterated, guilty bliss.

COOKBOOK REVIEW Mourad: New Moroccan

By Mourad Lahlou

Mourad: New Moroccan is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Thomas Allen & Son Ltd.


Review written & photographed by Helena McMurdo

Virtually self-taught, Mourad Lahlou learned to cook “accidentally” while at university, trying to recreate the dishes of his childhood Morocco and longing for a connection to home. Eventually abandoning his studies to open a restaurant with the support of friends and his former professors, his first restaurant became an overnight success.

Today, Mourad Lahlou is the Chef behind San Francisco’s Aziza restaurant where his cuisine marries the traditions of Morocco, with the fresh local ingredients of the Bay Area and the advanced culinary techniques employed by only the most modern of chefs.

In collaboration with Susie Heller, Steve Siegelman, and Amy Vogler along with stunning photographs by Deborah Jones, Mourad: New Moroccan is Mourad Lahlou’s first cookbook and a sensual homage to the memories of his homeland while showcasing the modernity of his cuisine.

At  380+ pages, the book (published by Artisan, $40.00 USD) is comprehensive and detailed. After two introductory sections, the book launches into “Seven Things”, a set of seven introductory lessons that introduce the reader to such essential pantry items of Moroccan cuisine as Preserved Lemons, Couscous, and Harissa. Each of these sections covers these ingredients in amazing depth, with a look at the culture surrounding the ingredient as well as detailed information on how to make them from scratch. There is also a section with suggestions about how to include these items in your cooking.

At first, I was a bit daunted by the magnitude of these sections. The idea of rolling my own couscous or making my own warqa (a Moroccan brick pastry) seemed like more than I wanted to take on. In fact, Mourad explains in the case of warqa even Moroccans buy it these days. But gradually I came to the realization that whether or not you choose to make these things yourself is not the point. The point is that these chapters will give you a better understanding about how these things are made which will ultimately assist your culinary efforts throughout the book.

This cookbook may be grounded in the traditional flavours and memories of Morocco, but the techniques are sophisticated and modern. The recipes range from salads and quick bites to the rich and hearty stews we most commonly associate with Morocco. But there are also refined dishes like Berbere-Cured Chicken Liver Mousse, surprising and unexpected combinations like Farro Curry with Yuzu-Glazed Mushrooms, and a range of sophisticated and beautiful restaurant-style desserts featuring ingredients such as almonds, lavender and rosewater.

Here’s what I loved about this book:

It’s a great read
From the very first pages, Chef Mourad paints a vivid and heartfelt picture of his childhood and the sights, smells and tastes of his homeland Morocco. You’ll be just as inspired to curl up with this book in a quiet corner and let yourself be transported to Mourad’s world as you will be eager to roll up your sleeves and get down to work cooking the recipes.

It’s beautiful
The book’s modern aesthetic and stunning photography make it a pleasure to peruse. The plating is clean and sophisticated and Deborah Jones’ photographs of the dishes flooded in light seem to be bathed in Moroccan sunshine. These are juxtaposed with the colour and flavour of traditional family scenes in Moroccan kitchens and markets.

It was a great excuse to give my spice cupboard a makeover
This book introduced me to spices and ingredients like grains of paradise, long peppers, and dried rosebuds, that were either completely new to me or I had heard of but never deigned to use. If you have a bunch of old supermarket spices, it will make you want to toss them out and start toasting and grinding your own. The biggest reward this book has provided to me has been the insight into the flavours of Moroccan cuisine and the recipes for spice blends like Ras El Hanout, and Harissa Powder. I’ve enjoyed using these while testing recipes from the book, but have also had fun experimenting with them on my own.

It’s an educational adventure
This book imparts a lot in the way of technique. Hand-rolling couscous, making preserved lemons and fresh cheese were all new to me. Some of these things I may not do again, but others will become staples of my pantry. The useful appendix in the back of the book is filled with chef basics, recipes for stocks, sauces etc. If you like knowing how the chefs do it, you’ll also appreciate the “Chef to Chef” sidebars in select recipes which provide alternate presentations and method tips. 

It’s filled with delicious and exciting flavours
The recipes I chose to make were flavourful and rich and featured ingredients both familiar and new. Preserved lemons in particular were something new that I’ve been delighted to discover.

This is definitely the kind of book you’ll want to spend some time getting to know. Be warned that there are few ‘quick-fixes’ in here. The recipes require time and effort and in some cases you need to be prepared to dedicate a few days to complete a dish. Initially I thought this style of time consuming cooking would be impractical for most of us who lead busy lives. But the more I got into the book, I realized that because many of the recipes are prepared in stages the steps can be broken down to make it less of a chore. If you get satisfaction from the effort you put into your food, you won’t mind. And let me tell you the results are worth the effort! More than anything, this book is a chance to look through into someone else’s world, delivered in an authentic and heartfelt voice. I’m looking forward to cooking from this book for many years to come and I’m sure it will quickly become a favourite of mine.

CLICK HERE FOR RESULTS FROM RECIPE TESTS

Interview – Chef Mourad Lahlou


Interview conducted & written by contributing writer Helena McMurdo


Photo courtesy of Deborah Jones

Mourad Lahlou is the Chef behind San Francisco’s Aziza, where his cuisine marries the traditions of Morocco with the fresh local ingredients of the Bay Area and the advanced culinary techniques employed by only the most modern of chefs.

Virtually self-taught, he learned to cook “accidentally” while at university, trying to recreate the dishes of his childhood Morocco and longing for a connection to home. Eventually abandoning his studies to open a restaurant with the support of friends and his former professors, his restaurant became a success almost overnight and took him from economics major to major chef. Today, he is known as the Chef behind the innovative cuisine at Aziza and has a Michelin Star to boot!

I spent an hour with Mourad recently when he stopped in Vancouver on a whirlwind trip to our beautiful city to talk about his first book; Mourad: New Moroccan. Nostalgic and passionate, he shared childhood memories of his upbringing and the place that food holds in his culture. Inquisitive and curious by nature, he also spoke about his somewhat trial-and-error process and new techniques he’s employing in his kitchen. It was a pretty inspiring conversation and I ran home to start my preserved lemons so I’d be ready to start cooking! I left feeling that even I could learn to hand-roll couscous and with a wonderful reminder of the very important role that food plays in all our lives.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL INTERVIEW

Bread – back to basics


Written by contributing writer Jacqueline Twa

As we sailed slowly into the small harbour, I noticed someone on the hillside making their way down the steep slope. This person had a giant load of what I guess you could call brush on their back; a huge pile of gnarly twigs and small pieces of assorted types of wood. It was quite a load – the person looked almost bent over double with the large pile on their back.

Finally we got the sailboat docked and made our way slowly up to the restaurant, hoping they had ice to fill the glasses of our desperately needed gin and tonics. As we were quick to learn, ice is a commodity in these small harbours in southern Turkey.

We were part of a group of 12 nearest and dearest who had sailed from Greece through the islands into the South Western area and the small ports of Mediterranean Turkey. Small rocky ports with magical names like Datcha and Bodrum and Maramis, the area they call the Turquoise Coast where the Aegean and Mediterranean meet and mingle.

Paradise.

TO CONTINUE READING “BREAD – BACK TO BASICS” PLEASE CLICK HERE

COOKBOOK REVIEW Fabulous Brownies

By  Annie Rigg

Fabulous Brownies is available for purchase through our online store or at local book stores. For more information on this cookbook please visit Thomas Allen & Son Ltd.

 


Cookbook review written & photographed by contributing writer Anuradha Sharma

When it comes to brownies I know most people like to stick with their tried-and-tested recipes, which are usually quick and tailored to their own palette. Their idea of experimenting is trying a different nut or substituting spices. I know this for a fact because I used to be that person.

But people change. Nowadays I rarely go back to the same recipe twice! And as for brownies, I say life’s too short to stay in the comfort zone. Experiment. That’s my new mantra when it comes to food. So now that you are aware of my enlightened approach to cooking, it should put into perspective my excitement when CookThatBook asked me to review a cookbook dedicated entirely to brownies.

As you flip through Annie Rigg’s Fabulous Brownies (published by Ryland Peters $15.95 USD), you will come across a few cute ideas that can take your basic brownies to the next level. But my happiness was short lived because there are only 27 recipes. Honestly, I was expecting more.

I had to pick three recipes to test for the review and I wanted to make sure there was a variety of different brownies; something for everyone. A simple Salted Caramel Brownie to keep you warm on a rainy day, luscious Gingerbread Brownies for some late night indulgence, and delectable Cupcake Brownies which are perfect for not sharing.

Now you should know that when it comes to brownies, there are three things that I absolutely need to have present:

1. A cracked top

2. A gooey core

3. Easy to bake

Overall while I did like the book, there were some issues. The photography by Laura Edwards is good but from a design perspective I found not enough importance was given to the layout of the recipes. Personally, I think cookbooks must have a clean design with a decently sized, readable font. This book falls short on both counts. And even though the recipes themselves provide great inspiration for experimenting with new and exciting brownie flavours, I was disappointed in the limited number of recipes.

The instructions are fairly simple but the author provides no tips for serving suggestions or storage. Sure, there is one short line included in the introduction that tells you the brownies should last 4-5 days at room temperature but this is not a universal rule. For instance, I think the brownies with ganache would be better stored in the fridge or at least kept in a cool place.  A variety of flavors and combinations would have taken this book to the next level.

There were definitely some nice decorative ideas, such as the Brown(ie) Owls which are absolutely adorable and the Whopper Brownies which would be a surefire hit with the kids. There’s no denying this book contains lots of inspiring ideas guaranteed to expand your typical brownie repertoire. I just wish there were more.

In conclusion, everyone loves brownies. They are the ultimate rich, gooey and pure indulgent treat. With three recipes down, I’ll be surely trying more and eating my way through this book one brownie at a time while adding to my brownie repertoire. But is it the ultimate brownie book I’ve been waiting for? Not quite.

CLICK HERE FOR RESULTS FROM RECIPE TESTS

Meet Contributing Writer Anuradha Sharma

Baker Street is the alter-ego of Anuradha, a woman who works all day as a television producer, takes care of her husband and dog, has no culinary background, and is still inspired to experiment and bake. She is also the creator of Muffin Monday, a weekly fun filled initiative for food bloggers.

We are all excited to have An join our team! As CookThatBook’s newest contributing writer, she will be dedicated to reviewing dessert specific cookbooks so check back often for some sweet reviews!

Visit Anuradha’s blog Baker Street 

You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook