Inspirations: the girls who dish

By Karen Barnaby, Margaret Chisholm, Deb Connors, Mary Mackay, Caren McSherry-Valagao, Glenys Morgan, & Lesley Stowe

Published by Whitecap Books

Sigh.

I wanted to like this book, I really really did. Visually the cookbook is inviting and provides readers with enticing photos. The pantry section at the back of the book is useful, and contains a comprehensive list of ingredients for those in search of pantry essentials. Also included are suggested menu ideas for special occasions – a feature I always enjoy seeing in cookbooks.

As I initially flipped through Inspirations: the girls who dish, I remember thinking that it was going to be difficult to choose just three recipes to test. Everything sounded delicious! Yet when it came down to testing the actual recipes, there was disappointment looming behind each one. The flavours just weren’t there for me. I found each of the three recipes turned out bland and (dare I say it?) boring. And in the end I am left wondering if the authors had any of the dishes tested prior to publication.

Even though a number of great tips are scattered throughout the book (such as presentation ideas, how to make your own spice-infused oils) overall I was frustrated by the lacklustre results. I expected more from these ladies who are considered by many to be leaders in Vancouver’s culinary scene.

Beef Tenderloin with Portobello Boursin Sauce

RATING: 3 out of 5

THE TEST: Steak with a mushroom and Boursin cheese sauce?! There was absolutely no way I was not going to test this recipe! I love steak. I love mushrooms. I love Boursin. My mouth started watering just imagining the combination.

I was surprised by how long this dish took to prepare as the sauce needed quite a bit of time to reduce. Cooking steak by searing it in a pan and finishing in the oven is how we typically cook (and enjoy) our steak. The searing imparts such great flavour, caramelizing the meat in its juices. It is probably worth mentioning that I used beef stock instead of veal stock, and white wine instead of vermouth. WARNING: insanely intoxicating smells will waft through your kitchen if you prepare this dish. Large amounts of drooling will be inevitable.

THE RESULTS: This was by far my favourite recipe that I tested from this book. It turned out pretty good! The flavour combination of the mushrooms and creamy cheese sauce with the steak was very compatible. That being said, there was still something lacking and it’s been bugging me that I can’t quite put my finger on the missing element. Perhaps a little heat or herbage to make it more interesting?

Coconut-Crusted Prawns with Mango Tango Sauce

RATING: 2 out of 5

THE TEST: I cannot begin to tell you how much I disliked preparing this recipe. By the time we sat down to eat I had become quite ‘peevish’ as my friend Erin would say. So what went wrong? The kids were otherwise engaged, and I was pleased to find myself with some alone time in the kitchen to focus on preparing this dish. All of my ingredients were on hand, my workspace was clear and I had a glass of vino in hand. Off to a great start! But then the amount of dishes began to pile up, my egg whites wouldn’t stiffen, and my cornstarch container exploded across my kitchen. (Cue violin music please!) I tossed my first batch of egg whites and started again, only to end up with a foamy mess that I am embarrassed to say I ended up using. In my defence I was running out of eggs and the piled up eggshell carcasses were freaking me out. (NOTE: I have a long and sordid history of failure when it comes to beating egg whites into a state of stiffness. Would love any tips or suggestions!)

Assembling the dipping sauce took very little time and was incredibly easy. Whew. But deep frying the prawns in my Dutch oven on the stove was messy and not much fun. Trying to keep the oil at the correct temperature was difficult and I found it became either too hot or too cold. The splattered oil and batter gloop across my stove did nothing to improve my mood, and in the end I only cooked half the batch of prawns.

THE RESULTS: Initially I was quite excited about this dish. I thought Coconut-Crusted Prawns with Mango Tango Sauce would pair well with the curry Mr. Spock had simmering on the stove. Unfortunately this recipe was a flop. The battered prawns needed a considerable more amount of flavour. Instead of the nice coconut crunch I was expecting, they ended up tasting like a plain ol’ hunk of deep fried dough. The dipping sauce was okay, but also pretty bland in the flavour department. If I were to make the sauce again I would try doubling all of the flavour ingredients for more punch. Very disappointed.

Penne with Sautéed Artichokes, Tomatoes & Curry

RATING: 2.5 out of 5

THE TEST: When I first saw this recipe I became almost giddy! I have wanted to find a truly phenomenal curry pasta dish ever since Mr. Spock and I fell in love with the Curry Chicken Pasta at one of our favourite restaurants; Beecher Street Cafe. The idea of being able to replicate something similar was very exciting, so I immediately headed to the grocery store while visions of yumminess danced through my head.



THE RESULTS:
The only good thing I can say about this dish is that it was easy to prepare. There was absolutely no flavour. None! Only by adding a ton of extra salt and pepper and a mountain of parmesan cheese was I able to salvage this meal. Looks like my search for the ultimate curry pasta dish must continue…