“Don’t feel guilty about using the great products that are available in gourmet stores and taking the shortcuts offered.”
That is exactly how I initially felt when testing this book; guilty. Because I write a food blog I feel obligated to make everything from scratch, and when I reach for premade products like jarred sauces I feel a loss of culinary integrity. I know, I know; I’ve got issues. But what I love about this book is that the recipes show you how these products can maximize your time without diminishing your cooking skills. Who has time to prep for days before throwing a dinner party? These recipes offer tasty solutions that when combined with fresh ingredients do not result in food that tastes like it came out of a box or jar.
Caren McSherry is well known in the Vancouver food scene. She is the owner of the Gourmet Warehouse (a high-end grocery and food supply store), and her cooking school is the longest running private cooking school in the country. Caren’s culinary training includes the Cordon Bleu in London and The Culinary Institute of America in New York. She also went to high school with my Mom. (You never know when this trivia may come in handy!)
The concept of Caren McSherry’s new book – In a Pinch – is to bring quality premade products into your kitchen and use them as sous chefs. Her book provides foodies who are short on time with options for preparing a tasty home cooked meal at warp speed, a style of cooking that she calls the new era. The list of pantry essentials included in the front of the book provide good advice to those wishing to stock up on quality ingredients, most of which can be used in recipes found throughout this book. Helpful tips are included at the bottom of recipes, giving you ideas like using left over Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onion Dip to make a delicious pasta sauce, or pan-frying slices of potato to use in place of decorative serving spoons for appetizers.
In a Pinch is all about casual, easy entertaining without compromising flavour and leaving you short on time or money. Every page is full of Caren’s personality (often described as being larger than life!) and her passion for food, and when combined with mouth watering photography I’d say that publisher Whitecap Books has another hit on their hands!
RATING: 4 out of 5 (great make ahead dish)
THE TEST: Mr. Spock and I have become a little…shall we say ‘particular’ about ribs. It’s not our fault! Ever since becoming certified BBQ Judges through the Pacific Northwest BBQ Association (PNBA), we have tasted some of the best BBQ on the planet and in particular – ribs. So when I saw this recipe I was sceptical. It seemed so simple. Too simple. Shouldn’t ribs be tricky?! And the use of VH sauces made me nervous that the whole dish would end up tasting like it came from a jar.
The overall prep for this dish was very straightforward, and involved simmering the ribs in boiling water prior to dousing with sauce and baking them in the oven. The water was flavoured with clove studded onions, bay leaves and carrots. Now the process of boiling ribs is one that I have tried in the past. It is a technique that is used to make the ribs fall off the bone and also cuts down on cooking time, but my hubby finds the whole process creepy. I have to agree that the grey looking meat bubbling away in the pot is kinda gross. And the pot? A total pain in the butt to clean if you don’t do so right away.
What I love the most about this dish is how you do all of the work ahead of time and then simply sit back and wait. Perfect for busy weekdays. In fact, I tested this recipe on a Monday which because of school and soccer is our busiest day of the week. I simply prepped the ribs after lunch and threw them in the oven before rushing out the door. Coming home and inhaling the intoxicating smells that wafted from the oven was absolutely heavenly! Quick sautéed of veg and along with the baked potatoes I tossed in the oven before leaving – we were ready to eat!
THE RESULTS: This recipe is now one of my new favourite ways of cooking ribs in the oven. They were moist and super tasty, very similar in flavour to Maui Ribs. Taking off the foil halfway through cooking allowed the meat to become caramelized and the sauce to thicken slightly. Definitely didn’t taste like it came from a jar!
So was it necessary to boil the ribs first? Honestly I’d have to advise skipping this step. As one BBQ aficionado explained to me; by boiling ribs you’re allowing all of the flavour from the meat to seep out into the water. So the second time we made this recipe (yes there has already been a second, and a third time…) I skipped boiling the ribs and seared them in the pan with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Then I simply added the sauce and baked them in the oven as the recipe dictates, although I did let them cook a little longer because they hadn’t been boiled first. After they were done, I removed the ribs from the sauce and let the meat to rest while I cooked down the sauce on the stovetop allowing it to really thicken into a state of syrupy goodness. They tasted even better than the first time!
Mediterranean Almond Cake
RATING: 4 out of 5 (great flavour, not overly sweet)
THE TEST: In the intro to this recipe Caren McSherry explains how you can make this cake entirely in the food processor; one bowl and no mess. Stop Caren – you had me at “one bowl”.
Outside of using a box mix I honestly don’t know if there is an easier way of making cake than this recipe. The batter was incredibly simple and quick to throw together. Everything was done in the food processor and came together smoothly. The hardest part? Having to wait for the cake to cool down!
THE RESULTS: For those of you who followed my Project Food Blog attempts, you will recognize this cake which was the one I opted to make for my luxury dinner party challenge. The theme I chose was Greek, and I thought this cake would be a fantastic way to end the meal.
I was right.
After a big dinner the last thing any of us were craving was an overly decadent dessert that took you over the edge into the realm of overindulgence. This cake was not too sweet which was nice, and the dense texture was refreshing and went well with the Greek themed cuisine. Both Mr. Spock and I found the Amaretto Cream to be too heavy, and thought it lacked enough sweetness to counteract the minimal amount of sweetness in the cake. Next time I make this recipe – and there definitely will be a next time – I would swap the heavy mascarpone for whipped cream. I think the combo of heavy cake with a light as air topper would take this dessert into the realm of the divine.
Spicy Green Beans
RATING: 5 out of 5 (super quick & super tasty)
THE TEST: The first time I flipped through this cookbook and came across the recipe for these beans I knew it would be one of the three recipes I ended up testing. I love spicy green beans. The idea of making a tasty version at home – in less than six minutes – was an exciting concept.
The speed with which this dish came together was wonderful, and I loved not having to partially blanch the beans prior to tossing them around in the hot skillet (something I usually do). One less step. Because of the spice, I opted to remove a handful of beans for the kids before adding the chili mixture to the rest of the pan.
THE RESULTS: Completely addictive, Mr. Spock and I couldn’t shove the beans in our mouths fast enough! We have subsequently made this recipe on a number of different occasions and even ate a whole three pounds of beans to ourselves in one sitting. The kids just looked at us like we were crazy. This much excitement over a vegetable?! Yup.
The ginger adds a nice fresh kick to the chili mixture, which is spicy but not overbearingly hot. It is full of flavour, and the salt from the soy sauce rounds out the dish and adds that Asian flair. Genius. One recommendation is to use the Conimex brand of Sambal Olek. I find it thicker, more complex and authentic than some of the other brands.
For a copy of the recipe for Spicy Green Beans, please click here