Category Archives: Cookbook Reviews

COOKBOOK REVIEW: Cravings

Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef

Cravings_cover

Cravings is available for purchase at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Penguin Random House Canada. 

Once upon a time there was a little girl born to a Thai mother and father of Norwegian decent who grew up and became a famous model and social media maven. Our heroine married musician John Legend and wrote a cookbook – which is where our story gets really good!

This cookbook has been getting a lot of attention online with skeptics converted into believers and a five-star Amazon rating out of more than 600 reviews. Oh and she looks like my friend Janakie (see below) so that kinda sealed the deal for me: this book must be reviewed.

My Friend Janakie

See what I mean? The resemblance is uncanny, right?!

After initially flipping through the recipes I headed straight for the gym. Warning! No low-cal diety recipes will be found in this book. Come on people – the title is Cravings – that pretty much sums up the recipe focus. Most of the dishes are meant to be indulgences.

In the introduction Chrissy writes that food has been her second language since she was a kid. Let me say this – you can tell. It quickly became apparent to me that this woman likes to cook. Everything I tried turned out super tasty and are dishes I’d make again in a heartbeat. The photos of her and John (I’ve made his famous chicken wings so I figure we’re on a first name basis) are fun and look like they belong in a fashion magazine. The writing and overall tone of the book is approachable and full of hilarity that will have you laughing like a crazy person in your kitchen.

I dare you to pick-up this book and not bring it home and start cooking right away. Divided into sections that include Breakfast All Day, Noodles and Carbs, Party Time and Sh*t on Toast – you’re bound to find something that strikes your fancy.

John’s Breakfast SandwichesJohn’s Fried Chicken Wings with Spicy Honey ButterSweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage

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COOKBOOK REVIEW: Quinoa Revolution

Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef

Quinoa Revolution_cover image

Quinoa Revolution is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Penguin Canada.

Apparently 2013 was dubbed the “International Year of Quinoa” by the United Nations, in honour of its nutritional qualities and adaptability to different agro-ecological conditions. The popularity of this protein-packed seed has not slowed down since that year, with many cookbooks dedicated entirely to different ways of preparing this ancient superfood.

Quinoa. So hot right now.

This is the second book from the sister duo of Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming. I was first introduced to them through their cookbook Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood, which has become a staple in our house. Their approach to quinoa is an educational one, with the first half of their latest book dedicated to detailing the health benefits of this versatile protein. From information on quinoa’s structure and nutritional traits to revolutionizing your overall fitness routine, tips for cooking a variety of forms of quinoa and notes on sustainability and fair trade practices in regards to production, Quinoa Revolution has it all. There is also a ten-page Q&A with frequently asked questions about quinoa and a quick reference guide to the basics of quinoa – including how to cook it.

Recipes are divided into easy to navigate sections that include breakfast, salads/sides/snacks, soups & stews, meals and desserts. Step-by-step instructions are clearly written but leave room for your own personal inspiration. Colourful photos are liberally littered throughout the book and compliment the overall design, which is clean and minimalist.

Learn more about quinoa in my interview with author Carolyn Hemming.

Baked Roasted Red Pepper DipChocolate Cream Mini CupcakesThai Chicken Fingers

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COOKBOOK REVIEW Saveur: the new classics

Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef

Stay-At-Home-Chef

Saveur: the new classics is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Simon & Schuster Cananda

Saveur: the classicsWhen it comes to encyclopedic cookbooks I am only willing to give up a limited amount of shelf space. I mean let’s be honest here folks – we’re talking about big, heavy tomes with a gazillion different recipes that throw you in a tailspin of indecision and to top it all off photos are limited (if included at all). But the classics do have a spot on my shelf, such as The Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After weeks of rigourous testing I can truly say Saveur: the new classics has also earned a spot on my shelf.

Before selecting which recipes to test I read through each and every one – all 1,000 of them – and can say with authority that this book offers a wonderful variety of options guaranteed to inspire you. Short little intros to each recipe provide informative details about the origin of the dish and help bring the food to life. I really appreciate the obvious thought that was put into the index; you can search by ingredient or by origin – particularly helpful when you’re in the mood for a certain type of food but don’t know what to make. The ‘Pantry’ section at the back of the book holds a treasure trove of DIY basics; including stocks, pickles and preserves, spices, rubs, sauces and condiments that will compliment your efforts in the kitchen.

I’ve had a subscription to Saveur magazine for close to twelve years, and I’ve kept every single issue. This book is like an extension of our magazine collection, minus the stunning photography and editorial pieces, but with the same foolproof recipes that provide cooks with a creative and flavourful trip around the world. It is a celebration of everything Saveur stands for – culinary passion and knowledge – and I know I will be reaching for this book time and time again.

Jalapeño CornbreadPork Spiedies Spaghetti Carbonara

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COOKBOOK REVIEW: Alice’s Cookbook


Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef


Alice's CookbookAlice’s Cookbook 
is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Lyons Press

I’m going to cut to the chase and announce right off the bat that I have a lot of heart for Alice’s Cookbook (Lyons Press $21.95 CDN). My crush on this book is unexpected as I picked it up on a whim, my purchase simply a reaction to the unusual thick cardboard cover with sketched illustrations on the front and back. The collection of recipes continue to inspire and motivate me in the kitchen. In fact, I’m having a hard time putting it aside and have a number of recipes earmarked to make in the near future.

Written by Alice Hart, a British chef and food stylist, this book bridges a years worth of seasons and holidays with recipe options that include an autumn movie night, New Year’s brunch, hot summer barbecue and a light, post-Christmas dinner. The book is divided into five separate sections: breakfast and brunch, picnics and happy camping, seasonal Sunday lunch, supper and lunch to share and – simply – party. It is geared toward creating feasts to be shared with friends and family at leisure and in celebration. If you’re looking for prepared food or quick-fix ideas this book isn’t for you. That’s not to say that Alice believes in slaving away in the kitchen up until the last minute guests arrive, but instead spending time a day or two beforehand to make a marinade or bake a cake. In other words, taking what she calls an intelligent and enjoyable approach to cooking and entertaining.

Each section of the book contains a collection of recipes for a particular menu (e.g. spring breakfast for six on the weekend) and provides make ahead suggestions to help avoid that dreaded last minute rush in the kitchen. I really appreciated the fluidity with which the recipes are written…and this coming from a self-professed rule follower. Alice include all of the relevant detail one looks for in a recipe, but keeps it open to interpretation in a way that really makes you feel in control of the dish as if you are co-creating it together. It’s more of a guide, leaving room for your natural culinary instincts to take charge. Don’t get the wrong idea here folks – precise baking measurements are included along with oven temperatures etc. – but instead of dictating one tablespoon of chile Alice leaves it open to your own interpretation. You pick the type and amount of chile that suits you. Don’t like a particular root vegetable suggested for a dish? Swap it out for whatever root you fancy more. It’s a liberating approach to recipes that went over quite well with me.

Two thumbs up from me!

Sautéing frittata goodiesRice Pudding Squares with Star Anise PlumsGrilling off skirt steak

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COOKBOOK REVIEW: The Preservation Kitchen


Review written & photographed by Helena McMurdo
All images © Helena McMurdo. Do not reproduce without permission.

The Preservations Kitchen is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Random House Canada

The Preservation Kitchen

The Preservation Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, $29.99 CDN) is written by Paul Virant, the Michelin-starred chef behind the Vie, in Western Springs, Illinois. He’s known for his local, seasonal cuisine and has an awards list as long as your arm including Food & Wine 2010 Best New Chef and a James Beard Nomination. I admire his approach to food, which embraces the seasons and uses preservation methods in order to showcase local flavours and ingredients.

He is joined by food writer, Kate Leahy who you may know as the co-author of A-16 Food+Wine, the ICAP2009 Cookbook of the Year.

As the name suggests, this book paints a picture of a kitchen that is organized around the bounty of the seasons, where food is put by for future use. It has two main sections: Preserving methods and various types of preserves are tackled in the first section while the second section is dedicated to menus to make with the preserves. Paul Virant’s philosophy that food is part of the good life, is evident in the way he has approached the recipe section, featuring an array of seasonal and occasional menus. His menus paint a picture of life enjoyed around the table with family, friends and conversation, whether it be through a refreshing light summer meal, an abundant thanksgiving menu, or a delightful charcuterie platter to share with friends who help out on a fall day of canning.

My favourite things about this book are:

The variety of preserves – This book has recipes for lots of different types of preserves and has different chapters for acidified preserves such as pickles and relish, conserves (including mostly fruit-based jams, marmalades, butters), bittersweet preserves including Aigre-Doux and Mostarda) and finally fermented and cured preserves such as sauerkraut and cured meat.

The sophisticated flavours – I found that flavours in the preserves to be subtle and multi-layered, not the sour, acid pickles I remembered from home canning of the past. With most of the pickle recipes calling for champagne vinegar, I found the results to be more delicate.

Aigre-Doux – This group of sweet and sour French preserves was a lovely discovery and the recipes in this category are ones that I’ll be taking advantage of to add wow to my cheese plates. I fell in love with the tangy, zingy flavours in these preserves.

The small batch recipes – I’ve been daunted in the past by canning because I felt like I needed to go out and procure 100lbs of tomatoes, and assemble a huge team of helpers, something my tiny kitchen would groan at. The recipes in this book allow you to try many different preserves in batches of 4 or 6 pint jars. So it’s not a huge investment in canning equipment or space. I liked the fact that if something grabbed my fancy I could put it together quickly in a few hours.

The clear and precise preserving instructions – Preserving can be daunting. I certainly don’t want to poison my friends or family with any unsafely canned food. In addition to the separate section outlining safe preserving instructions, the individual preserve recipes are very clear and have a good step-by-step sequence. I also really like how the authors have included equivalent measurements in volume oz, grams and percentages for all recipes.

My main criticism of the book would be that for most preserves, there was usually just one recipe to work with in the accompanying menu section. I found that certain preserves were really interesting to me, and while Virant definitely offers some additional suggestions for ways to use a preserve, in addition to the menu recipe, I would have appreciated additional menu recipes to work with. Despite the delicious and inspiring menus it was the preserves that really inspired me and I would have enjoyed other ways to use them.

That said, I think I’ll refer back to this book frequently. It’s basic methods and instructions for preserving are invaluable and the flavour combinations are truly inspiring. This is a book for the long haul, to sit with and plan with. The seasonal menus need some thinking out and I’m sure I’ll enjoy this book more in years to come as the seasons change and I’m able to take full advantage of more of the recipes.

Green Bean Salad Final Plate_© 2012 Helena McMurdoPanzanella Fennel Salad_© 2012 Helena McMurdoPear Vanilla Aigre-Doux Jars_© 2012 Helena McMurdo

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COOKBOOK REVIEW: Veggie Burgers Every Which Way

Niki Shewfelt
Review written & photographed by Niki Shewfelt

Veggie Burgers Every Which Way is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit The Experiment

Veggie Burgers Every Which Way

When I first picked up Lukas Volger’s Veggie Burgers Every Which Way (published by The Experiment, $12.68 USD), I was not sure I could really enjoy a cookbook featuring only burgers. I mean, how many burgers can a person eat anyhow? I was wooed by the colorful cover, and the photos inside quickly inspired me to add veggie burgers to my weekly menus, as well as nudge me into making my own burger buns, from scratch. This book will definitely be the only burger book your family will need – even for those carnivores looking for a new palate-pleasing experience. I promise, you will not miss the meat in these recipes.

finished burgerburger cookingsalad

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COOKBOOK REVIEW Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You HUNGRY


Review written & photographed by Jordan A.R.

Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You HUNGRY is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Thomas Allen & Son.

Vegetarian Entrees That Won't Leave You HUNGRYLukas Volger’s book Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry (published by The Experiment, $17.95 USD) confronts a prevailing misconception that, without meat, a meal lacks the power to fill you up. Not only does Volger provide recipes that prove the heartiness of vegetarian cuisine, he does it without any pomp. An approach I found refreshing. His writing is both honest and friendly, offering easy to follow recipes that also encourage you to try a few twists of your own.

Throughout the book are scattered little tutorials on subjects that vary from soups and dressings to hosting dinner parties and cooking just for one. The eclectic list of recipes guarantees that you’re bound to find something you’ll want make, whether it’s homemade paneer, kimchi, pizza, or just a simple salad.

Bulgur Salad with Kale & FetaCassoulet with Tomato-Roasted Carrots & ChardRiesling Poached Pears

CLICK HERE FOR RESULTS OF RECIPE TESTS

COOKBOOK REVIEW Good Food To Go


Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef

Good Food to Go (cover image)Good Food to Go is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Random House of Canada Ltd. 

For some reason I always find it difficult to get back into the swing of things after the winter break, especially when it comes to packing school lunches. The initial excitement and lunchbox creativity that heralded the arrival of September has completely worn off and I find myself searching for inspiration. Luckily this year I knew just where to turn!

Good Food to Go (published by Random House, $19.95 USD) is one of those books that you will turn to again and again when searching for new, healthy lunch ideas for your kids. Visually it comes across as quite unassuming, but don’t let the lack of book ‘bling’ deter you from adding it to your cookbook collection. Just look at my copy – completely littered with sticky notes and folded over page corners.

Good Food To Go

When it comes to packing kids’ lunches, there are a lot more pressures compared to when I was a child. For example; healthy homemade food, BPA free environmentally friendly containers, everything must be nut-free, oh and yeah your kids have to actually like the food. Talk about a tall order for busy parents!

Good Food to Go contains great advice on how to get your kids more involved in packing their own lunches, effectively utilize leftovers, helpful meal planners to prevent getting into a lunch rut, and a great list of pantry essentials. I love the sidebars littered throughout the book that include lots of interesting nutritional facts/information, food preparation tips, and suggested ingredient variations and substitutions. The information is well researched by authors with years of training and experience in nutrition and pediatrics.

The book is divided into the following sections: Getting Started, Vegetables & Fruit, Sandwiches, Picnic-Style Lunches & Snacks, Soups, Super Salads, Encore Performances (leftovers), Baked Good & Desserts, and After-School Snacks. I must admit that I found the index to be quite frustrating to navigate, as it is structured around themes so when searching for a particular recipe it was often difficult to find. Also, Good Food to Go closely follows Canada’s Food Guide, so be prepared to have that particular agenda promoted throughout the literature. That being said, if you happen to follow a vegetarian/gluten-free/dairy-free lifestyle it is easy to make the necessary adjustments.

The authors argue that the fast paced culture of North American family life in combination with easy access to cheap, processed food continues to result in poor eating habits and a steady increase in health related concerns such as child obesity.

I couldn’t agree more.

As we continue to work extended hours and cram even more extracurricular activities into our children’s already over scheduled lives, it can become difficult to find the time to prepare healthy home cooked meals.

Scary stuff. Perhaps that’s why the thing I love most about this book is that it provides readers with practical, affordable, and easy strategies for packing nutritious lunches within the confines of our already busy schedules and tight budgets.

I have come to rely heavily on this book as a source of inspiration when it comes to food for my kids. All of the recipes I have tried so far have turned out wonderfully, and as I prepare to return to the world of full-time work I know I will reach for this book often.

Cinnamon Loaf (slice)Fruit Filled Jell-O FingersToasted Whole Wheat Pita Chips & Homemade Hummus

 

CLICK HERE FOR RESULTS OF RECIPE TESTS

COOKBOOK REVIEW The Soup Sisters Cookbook


Cookbook review written & photographed by
Stay-At-Home-Chef

The Soup Sisters Cookbook is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Appetite by Random House

Immediately upon receiving this book I was struck by the cover; the warm photograph inviting me to delve further into its pages. This heartwarming tone is carried throughout the entire book, and with over 100 contributors (including volunteers as well as over 50 celebrity chefs and food professionals) it is a true embodiment of the spirit of community behind this organization.

The Soup Sisters Cookbook (published by Appetite by Random House, $22.95 CDN/USD) is a compilation of the project’s favourite recipes edited by Sharon Hapton and Calgary-based cookbook author Pierre Lamielle. Hapton is the founder of Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers, a non-profit charitable social enterprise dedicated to providing comfort to women, children and youth through the making, sharing and donating of soup. Her belief in soup as a nurturing and nourishing gift for those in crisis has led to over 60,000 containers of soup delivered to women’s shelters across Canada. Soup Sisters is now in 10 cities across the country and makes approximately 8,000 bowls of soup per month.

If the story behind this inspiring organization doesn’t make you fall in love with this cookbook, the results will quickly make you a fan. Easy-to-follow recipes are arranged by season for your convenience, and a number of helpful tips and techniques for making and storing soups are included. (Did you know that if you stir chilling soup in the same direction it cools faster? Or that when freezing soup you need to leave out cream and pasta ingredients?)

Now you might be wondering if we really need another cookbook dedicated to soup. As far as this book is concerned the answer is YES. I am a self-confessed soup avoider and am proud to say that after rigorously testing this book I have been making a batch of soup each week and been loving every bowlful.

A portion of the proceeds from this book will be used to support the ongoing work of Soup Sisters. For people wanting to get involved with Soup Sisters, please visit their website for more information and opportunities in your area. 

CLICK HERE FOR RESULTS OF RECIPE TESTS

COOKBOOK REVIEW Classic Artisan Baking


Review written & photographed by Helena McMurdo

Classic Artisan Baking is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Thomas Allen & Son.  

Julian Day is the proprietor of Meg Rivers Artisan Bakery, a popular UK mail order cake company that has been shipping treats around the world for over 25 years. The company was originally started by Meg Rivers, a busy mom wanting to make cakes free from preservatives and artificial colourings. Julian ran a successful food wholesaling business in rural Warwickshire and was approached by Meg’s family after her death to take over the Meg Rivers business. Having now run the company for several years, Julian decided it was time to put together a cookbook with the original Meg Rivers recipes and bakery favourites.

At 140 pages plus index, the book is divided into sections for different types of baking with recipes for family cakes, small cakes, brownies and bars, biscuits and cookies, loaves, breads, and tarts. And what beautiful recipes! The book is filled with traditional British favourites like Caraway Seed Cake, Lemon Drizzle Cake, Bakewell Slices as well as fun treats like Traffic Light Tarts; jam filled tart shells in red, yellow and green. The tart section features tempting desserts like Rhubarb & Marscapone Tart and Tarte au Citron.

I love leafing through a cookbook and finding lots to enjoy and savour on every page. In fact, I found myself constantly ticking boxes and adding sticky notes to recipes I want to make in the future. The beautiful photography by Steve Painter very much contributes to the overall enjoyment of the book. I felt like I was peering through the windows of British country farmhouses and seeing all of these beautiful treats laid out inside.

Be prepared for a few unfamiliar items such as self-raising flour, readily available on shelves in the UK but harder to find in North America. However, you can easily search online to find recipes for blending your own self-raising flour. I also found myself envious of all the pretty and useful cake tin liners that the author seemed to employ in many of the cakes, which try as I might I could not seem to find. Instead I settled for parchment paper, which of course worked just as well (if perhaps not as prettily).

A word about pans: many of the recipes call for 6-inch or 7-inch pans (not our usual North American 8-inch standard). Being a total sucker for all things cute and small I succumbed and bought two new pans, somewhat begrudgingly at first. But any resentment soon vanished once I saw my lovely little cakes.

These small quirks might put off some readers, but I felt that the overall results of the recipes and the delicious cakes were worth all of the additional effort. I found lots of inspiration in the simplicity of the recipes.

One final small note about the overall size of the book: it’s not something I’d usually mention but at 7.5 x 9.5-inches, this book employs the smaller size that I’m seeing being used now by many cookbook publishers and I have to say I quite like this trend. It fits easily in my handbag, and doesn’t take up the whole counter when open. Yes, I am one of those people who often will be found carrying cookbooks around in my handbag! And this is exactly the kind of book I’d toss in any day of the week.

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