Category Archives: Cookbook Reviews

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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COOKBOOK REVIEW The Gluten-Free Aisan Kitchen


Cookbook review written & photographed by Andrea Savard

The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this cookbook please visit Random House of Canada

 

The moment I opened this attractive and well-organized book I was impressed and excited to start cooking! I have always been a huge fan of Asian cuisine. Unfortunately, since soy sauce traditionally contains wheat and is one of the main ingredients used in Asian dishes, this means I typically need to avoid the cuisine. I am always envious when I see people picking up takeout orders from their neighbourhood Chinese restaurant. Being able to eat at any restaurant without second thought is something you take for granted until suddenly you’re faced with strict dietary constraints. But thanks to Laura Russell’s The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen: recipes for noodles, dumplings, sauces & more (published by Celestial Arts, $22.99 USD) I will now be able to enjoy all of my favorite Asian fare again.

What I love about this book is the colourful and well-photographed food, which is a refreshing change from many GF cookbooks out there (and a personal pet peeve). I like the way that Russell organizes the recipes into categories, instead of by country of origin as is the case with many Asian cookbooks. She even includes an entire chapter for desserts and Asian inspired cocktails (the Saketini, made with cucumber and lime was light and refreshing).

The ingredients listed in this book are mostly available at local grocery stores; surprisingly I had the majority of ingredients on hand already. All of the recipes appear to be very user friendly, although the dumplings looked like they would require a solid afternoon’s time commitment.

This cookbook has taught me that cooking delicious, gluten-free Asian inspired dishes is easier than I thought. It requires a few different combinations of spices and some items that might not be in your cupboard, but everything is readily available in most grocery stores. This book will be a mainstay in my kitchen. With summer officially over and temperatures starting to dip, I look forward to cooking up warming dishes such as Asian Braised Short Ribs with Star Anise, Gingery Pork Potstickers, along with the abundant number of curries listed in the book.

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COOKBOOK REVIEW The Quintessential Quinoa Cookbook


Review written & photographed by Jordan A.R.

The Quintessential Quinoa Cookbook is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this cookbook please visit Thomas Allen & Son

The Quintessential Quinoa Cookbook (published by Skyhorse Publishing, $17.95 USD) is written by Wendy Polisi, creator of the popular website CookingQuinoa.net. This book is a collection of over two hundred of Wendy’s quinoa-inspired recipes, and includes nutritional information for each dish as well as tips on preparation and ingredient substitutions. The recipes cover a wide spectrum of dietary genres, including vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free. There are also kid specific recipes, as well as suggested meals to serve on busy weeknights when you’re short on time but still want to serve something healthy.

I have to admit that I found the photography completely uninspiring. It is said that we eat with our eyes, and the same follows true with cooking: we want to cook what looks good to eat. Obviously publishers don’t have unlimited budgets and high caliber food photography is not cheap, but this book would have really benefited from some more consideration in terms of its overall visual appeal.

Some of the other issues I have with the book are in regards to basic edits. For example; I found the suggested cook times and temperatures not only to be inaccurate but also inconsistent with what is listed online. There were even instances where itemized ingredients were nowhere to be found in the recipe itself, while more commonsense ingredient additions were excluded. After double-checking the website I found the same recipes online without errors.

If you’re interested in a beautiful recipe book about quinoa, something like Quinoa 365 deserves purchase. But if all you want are some quick, simple recipes using this South American staple, check out Wendy’s website. Honestly, after testing this cookbook and closely examining her website I cannot help but feel that what’s online is a far superior resource for cooks.

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COOKBOOK REVIEW The Mom 100 Cookbook


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

The Mom 100 Cookbook is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this cookbook please visit Thomas Allen & Son

The Mom 100 Cookbook (published by Workman Publishing Company, $16.95 USD) is described as providing “recipes every mom needs in her back pocket”. Written by Katie Workman, it is specifically geared to young families and deals with 20 typical mealtime dilemmas by providing five recipes per predicament. For example; getting the kids fed and out the door on time (Quick & Easy Breakfasts), going beyond hamburgers and hotdogs (Main Dish Meat), healthy munchies (Handful of Snacks), meatless dishes (Vegetarian Mains), and new twists on old favourites (Pasta & Pizza).

By the time I started testing this book I was fully aware of all the hype and had read positive review after positive review. As a mother of two small children, I am always on the lookout for a new cookbook that will make my life easier and hoped this one would live up to my expectations.

I love the overall look and vibe of this cookbook that compliments Workman’s playful writing style, and found the recipes to be both fun and practical for the family table. The “Fork in the Road” sections are really helpful, and provide you with options for serving the same dish to the entire family by including suggestions for various adaptions that allow you to incorporate additional flavours or spices for more adventurous palates. It was always a pet peeve of my mother’s when she found herself serving up four different meals based on our family’s likes and dislikes.

“What the Kids Can Do” sidebars provide helpful tips for getting children involved in the cooking process, allowing them to feel more invested in the food on their plate and therefore more open to its consumption. Nearly every recipe contains tips and suggested cooking techniques, serving ideas and storage instructions.

Although the photos are not what I would consider to be overly inspiring, they showcase the food in a clear manner that is far from fussy and leaves the food looking relatable (the approach most parents take to food when feeding children).

I must say that The Mom 100 Cookbook is definitely geared towards parents of young children, so if you are searching for a book that deals more in technique or fancy fare I would give this one a pass. The recipes are very basic, and therefore perfect for people with little to no cooking experience. For those of you who know your way around the kitchen, I would suggest using this book as a jumping off point and build upon the recipes. Personally, because I am constantly subjecting my family to all sorts of recipes tests this book is a good reminder for me to include some kid friendly meals into the mix. Yes I want to expose my children to a wide variety of tastes and flavours, but sometimes they just want some plain ol’ chicken strips.

Katie Workman is a food writer whose work has appeared in publications such as The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and AOL Food. She is the founding editor-in-chief of Cookstr.com and an active supporter of the largest hunger relief organization in the US; Share Our Strength. The Mom 100 Cookbook is Workman’s first book.

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COOKBOOK REVIEW Anjum’s Eat Right For Your Body Type

By Anjum Anand

Anjum’s Eat Right For Your Body Type is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Da Capo Lifelong Books. 


Review written & photographed by Helena McMurdo

UK based Anjum Anand is the host of Indian Food Made Easy (carried in the US on The Cooking Channel), and has had UK bestsellers with Indian Food Made Easy and Anjum’s New Indian. She is known for her light, healthy, modern take on Indian Cuisine.

I know what you are thinking – why am I reviewing a ‘healthy/diet’ book. It’s just soooo not me. Or is it? After a few months of reviewing some very delectable cookbooks, I’ll be honest and say I was beginning to exhibit some…er…side effects. So the idea of a healthy book sounded like a good idea. Well at least it couldn’t do me any harm.

Anjum’s Eat Right For Your Body Type: The Super-Healthy Detox Diet Inspired by Ayurveda (published by Da Capo Lifelong Books, $24.95 USD) is an interesting look at the world of Ayurveda and the foods that suit each of the Ayurvedic Doshas. Even if you have no knowledge or interest in Ayurveda, you’ll appreciate this book for its healthy (not to mention delicious!) recipes.

Ayurveda is a form of alternative medicine originating in India. The Sanskrit word translates to “knowledge for long life” and is based on the belief that everything in the world is based on the interaction of different and dynamic forces and energies.

The three energies that make up Ayurveda are called Doshas and while according to Ayurvedic belief we all possess all three Doshas, usually one or two will dominate. This in turn affects who we are, and how we react to things including food. Although it’s significantly more complicated than I’m describing, for the purposes of this book, the premise is that certain foods suit certain people and constitutions better than others.

The book contains a significant introduction and explanation of Ayurveda, including an outline of the various Doshas and a quiz that will assist in identifying your own Dosha. Then there are 75 recipes, most of which suit or are easily adaptable for all Doshas. In addition, there are menu plans for each Dosha and a chapter providing detox diets.

My initial impressions were that the recipes in the book provided lots of delicious and tempting (yes tempting) choices, but I quickly became frustrated as I was experiencing a form of Dosha confusion. I eventually enlisted the help of a friend to work through the quiz with me and settled on a Vata/Pitta assessment. (Now you know all my secrets).

In reality, I needn’t have worried about whether or not I correctly identified my Dosha, as the recipes are all healthful and representative of a balanced diet. While many of the recipes draw on flavours and spices that we would traditionally associate with India, there are other ingredients and cultures represented that give this book a broader appeal. Lean proteins such as chicken and fish are included as well as a host of vegetarian dishes. This is one of those books that will tempt you on every page with new ideas for familiar flavours and ingredients.

I found everything that I made to be delicious and very simple to make. Most dishes ask for only a few ingredients and any well-stocked pantry will provide you most of the items you need. The majority of recipes are designed to serve one or two people, a feature that I can tell you I rarely find in a cookbook. As someone who cooks most of the time for just myself and my lovely fellow, I appreciated the smaller portion sizes.

I really enjoyed this book, and in fact I was pleasantly surprised at the great extent to which I did like it. Health benefits aside, more than anything I was impressed by the range, variety, and deliciousness of the recipes. While I’ve always been interested in the idea of Ayurveda and enjoyed learning more about the lifestyle, I doubt I have the discipline to follow it very strictly. My only advice would be don’t let confusion over your particular Dosha stop you from trying the wonderful recipes in this book. There’s so much to enjoy! This is a health book that’s all about taste. And that’s my kind of book.

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COOKBOOK REVIEW Back to Baking

By Anna Olson


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

Back to Baking is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this cookbook please visit Whitecap Books Ltd. 

Back to Baking (published by Whitecap Books Ltd., $40.00 CDN) is Canadian celebrity chef Anna Olson’s seventh cookbook, and marks her return to the world of pastry. After a semi baking hiatus that allowed her to focus on broader culinary pursuits (such as her hit television show Fresh with Anna Olson), Back to Baking was released in December of last year to rave reviews.

Written as an approachable guide to the fundamentals of baking, this book is perfect for novice bakers as well as those with more experience. The recipes are clearly written with detailed directions that will help you achieve the results you expect. A plethora of cookie varieties, brownies and squares, pies and tarts, crisps, crumbles, cobblers, cakes and cupcakes, cheesecakes and special occasion desserts, puddings, custards and soufflés are all tackled beautifully in what has already become a well used book in my house.

I like the way in which the book acknowledges the wide variety of dietary restrictions many of us face, and includes a number of recipes specific to dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, and low-fat/low-sugar lifestyles. The photography (by Ryan Szulc) is beautiful and informative, letting the food shine in an appealing oh-my-god-I-need-to-make-this-now kind of way. The ‘Note from Anna’s Kitchen’ sidebars provide readers with helpful tips and tricks, as well as ingredient substitution and storage information.

Aside from the three recipe tests I conducted for the purposes of this review, I have subsequently made several other treats including the Raisin Butter Tarts, Raspberry, Lemon & White Chocolate Rugelach and Classic Spanish Flan, all of which turned out nicely. This is definitely a cookbook that I will continue to use on a regular basis.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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