Monthly Archives: January 2011

Review: Williams-Sonoma Essentials of French Cooking

by Williams-Sonoma

Published by Oxmoor House

Cookbook review courtesy of contributing writer
Stephanie Sears

When I saw this cookbook at the library I immediately knew I wanted to give it a try! French cooking is becoming increasingly popular and appearing more often on the tables of average American families, in part because of cookbook authors such as Dorie Greenspan and films like Julie & Julia.

As soon as I opened the book I was captivated by the gorgeous photography (and there is a lot to admire). Almost every recipe has a matching photo, and while pictures are not a necessity for my enjoyment of cookbooks in this case it was nice to have some visual aids as I had never heard of a few of the dishes. The book includes a nice variety of recipes that range from beginner to advance in terms of cooking skill. They are written in very clear language so that even the most novice cook can easily understand what is required.

Despite the fact that I feel some of the recipes need improvement, Williams-Sonoma Essentials of French Cooking is still a good starting point for people interested in French cuisine. Overall it is informative, and includes a lot of useful information that I found helpful. I loved that each recipe includes a note about which region of France the dish originates. It was interesting to flip through the book and see the difference in flavors between the regions. I also found the information helpful when deciding upon which recipes to test.

In the end I chose the following three recipes: Soupe au Pistou, Pork with Apples, and Chocolate Pots de Crème.

To read the results from Stephanie’s recipe tests, please click HERE

Meet Contributing Writer Stephanie Sears

Stephanie Sears (a.k.a The Brunette Foodie) is passionate about the importance of the family meal. Her goal? To help inspire families back to the table on recipe at a time!

Originally from Pennsylvania, Stephanie moved to Atlanta (GA) in 2006 after graduating from college with a BA in English Literature. In 2010, she completed a MBA in Finance. After five years in commercial real estate, she traded business meetings for playgroup and piles of laundry. She lives with her husband Nathan, son Samuel, and two energetic pets: a pug named Stitch & a cat named Lilo.

Be sure to visit Stephanie’s blog at
You can also follow her on Twitter here or on Facebook here

Ode to Peanut Butter

As much as I adore sweet treats, if it ever came down to choosing between sweet and salty without hesitation I would opt for the latter. But why choose when you can have both! The classic combination of sweet and salty is addictive. There’s just something about getting a sudden bite of salty in the middle of a mouthful of sweet that keeps you coming back for more. It’s like having the best of both worlds, and I for one adore the concept.

So when I saw a recipe for Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies on the how2heroes site, I immediately strode into my kitchen and whipped up a batch.

The recipe was simple to prepare, and my four-year old had a blast helping me bust up the pretzel sticks into little itty bitty pieces for the cookie batter.

We blistered our tongues eating the cookies straight out of the oven, unable to wait until they cooled.

So how did they taste?

Wow. Goodness gracious. Oh my.

I have always loved peanut butter cookies, but combined with the added crunch from the pretzels and the sprinkle of kosher salt on top this cookie breathed new life into a beloved classic. Because unsalted butter is used for the cookie batter, the added saltiness from the pretzels and kosher salt topper was not overwhelming. Sweet and salty worked together in harmony, with the sugary dough producing a wonderfully caramelized cookie that was crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. (NOTE: the recipe calls for a generous dose of salt but I found a light sprinkle was more than enough)

Most sources credit a 1923 edition of Pillsbury’s Balanced Recipes cookbook as the first known written occurrence of peanut butter being used as an ingredient in cookies, although peanuts themselves have been used for centuries in cooking. African cuisine began incorporating peanuts into stews back in the 15th century, while crushed peanuts have been used in Chinese cooking for centuries primarily as a means of making creamy sauces, and even Civil War soldiers used to dine on ‘peanut porridge’.

However peanut butter as we know it today was believed to have been introduced in 1890, after a physician from St. Louis asked the owner of a food products company to start producing ground peanut paste as a means of providing a healthy source of protein for people with poor teeth unable to chew meat.

Here are some interesting facts about peanuts found on the PeanutButterLovers website:

  • Peanuts are not actually nuts at all! They are legumes, like beans, peas and lentils.
  • Americans eat 3 lbs of peanut butter per person every year. That’s about 700 million pounds, or enough to coat the floor of the Grand Canyon!
  • Peanuts may be a favourite food, but we’ve found many uses for their shells too! You might find peanut shells in kitty litter, wallboard, fireplace logs, paper, animal feed and sometimes as fuel for power plants!
  • Two peanut farmers have been elected President of the United States: Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter.
  • One acre of peanuts will make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches.
  • January 24 is National Peanut Butter Day in the United States

Click here for the recipe for Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies

Exciting News

The realization that the number of cookbooks in my possession continue to multiply at alarming rates made me come to this conclusion:

So many cookbooks, so little time!

As a result, I decided to invite a number of contributing cookbook reviewers to join in on the fun and lend a helping hand. Over the next few weeks you will have the opportunity to get to know each and every one of these talented foodies through their reviews and guest blog posts.

First up to bat? My dear friend and reigning Pie Palooza champion extraordinaire; Jacqueline Twa. She is the epitome of a foodie and I absolutely adore talking about all things culinary with someone as passionate about food as this lady. Being lactose intolerant doesn’t stop her from creating delicious dairy-filled concoctions for others to enjoy, although personally I would consider this a form of torture!

Meet Contributing Writer Jacqueline Twa
Jax, as she is known to her friends lives a life of quiet food worship in White Rock, British Columbia.  She shamelessly abuses her wonderful husband Don, by using him as her tasting guinea pig for all things dairy. When not meddling in her children’s lives, she spends her time being a full time bureaucrat, political dabbler, volunteer coordinator, motorcycle enthusiast and tireless shoe collector.

Tacos al Pastor
by Jacqueline Twa

I have been having a love affair with Mexico for the past 30 plus years. I love the climate, the culture, the people, but most of all I love the food!

While I have travelled to and enjoyed most of the major cities in Mexico, it is the city of Puerto Vallarta that has truly captured my heart. My husband and I usually try and visit this city a couple of times each year. We have friends with a beautiful hillside Villa above the old town district and they are gracious hosts and treasured friends. Our days are typically spent taking early morning walks, lazing at the beach and shopping, while evenings are reserved primarily for indulging in the great restaurants of Vallarta.

The number of restaurants and variety of food available makes Vallarta a perfect destination for foodies. You can enjoy amazing classic Mexican fare at places such as The Red Cabbage, Fajita Republic and Café de Olla. Vallarta also offers wonderful Spanish food at Tapas Barcelona and classic Italian at La Dolce Vita and Café Roma. Be sure to try the excellent Asian fusion at Archie’s Wok and don’t miss great contemporary restaurants like Teatro Limon and Café de Artists.

Despite the burgeoning food scene in the city, my favorite place to eat in Vallarta is at any of the Tacos al Pastor stands. Now my Mother always gave me dire warnings of Montezuma’s Revenge should I ever eat at any of the curb side taco joints, but nothing and I mean nothing does it for me like an al Pastor taco.

Tacos al Pastor (Spanish; “Shepherd’s Meal”) was thought to have been brought to Mexico from Lebanese immigrants around the 1930’s. It consists of pork that is marinated over one or two days in a combination of dried pasilla, ancho and guajillo chilies, fresh herbs, a classic Mexican spice paste called achiote, and orange juice. It is then slowly cooked over a vertical gas rotisserie called a trompo, very similar to how donair or shwarma meat is cooked.

Thinly sliced pieces of the marinated pork (usually pork butt) are layered on a long skewer with a large, peeled pineapple crowing the top and then placed on the trompo. The whole combination ends up looking sort of like a large beehive.

As the marinated pork cooks, the juice from the pineapple runs down and the enzyme in the pineapple (called bromelain) works to break down the meat protein resulting in the most incredibly tender meat. The meat is then sliced thinly off the spit with a large knife, along with a bit of the cooked pineapple. It is served on small, handmade flour tortillas topped with finely diced white onion and fresh cilantro. The whole thing is handed to you steaming hot with a slice of lime and an assortment of hot sauces.

Over the years I have been trying to recreate Tacos al Pastor at home, but not having my own trompo along with limited access to local Mexican ingredients can be a challenge. Click here for my recipe.

Review: Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy melt-in-your-mouth cookies

by Alice Medrich

Published by Artisan Books

Now THIS is a cookie book.

For those of you unfamiliar with Alice Medrich, she is commonly referred to as the master of all things cookie and after testing this book I realize just how worthy she is of that title! Her culinary career began with truffles, which eventually led to her opening a chocolate dessert shop. She is the author of eight cookbooks (three of which have won cookbook of the year awards), teaches cooking classes across the country, and works as a well respected chocolate consultant.

This book takes cookies seriously. There is zero tolerance for fooling around when it comes to technique or quality ingredients, the importance of which is emphasized throughout the book. Divided into sections based on cookie texture (chewy, gooey, crispy, crunchy), you will find a wide variety of recipes that include updated traditional, wheat-free, whole-grain, dairy-free and Weight Watchers options. The biggest challenge you’re going to have with this book is choosing which recipe to try first!

What I love the most about Alice’s approach to her cookbooks is her unyielding commitment to testing and resting recipes until they are absolutely perfect. Specific techniques are used to garner specific results. For example; beating salt with the eggs and sugar rather than adding it to the flour will produce brownies with a mousse-like texture. Bake the brownie batter at a high temperature and then plunge the pan into an ice bath and the end result will be dense and creamy. The book is littered with these kinds of helpful tips and tricks guaranteed to be of interest to more experienced cooks, while helping to guide the novice cookie maker through the process of creating amazing cookies.

To say Alice is a detail oriented cook is an understatement, and I had to laugh that she included a note about the difference between “1 cup nuts, chopped” (measure whole nuts prior to chopping) and “1 cup chopped nuts” (measure chopped nuts) which funnily enough is something I’ve often wondered.

Some people have mentioned that they were initially turned off of this cookbook due to the limited number of photos. This is an ongoing debate when it comes to cookbooks and is one that I don’t see everyone ever agreeing upon. Personally I do not consider this a deterrent, and when reading through Alice’s well written and expertly organized recipes I was able to visualize and virtually taste each cookie to the extent that my mouth began watering. But that’s just me – and lord knows I’m a bit of a cookbook nerd.

(Which side of the argument do you support? Should cookbooks include a photo for each recipe? Would you ever buy a cookbook that did not include photography? I would love to hear your comments on this debate!)

To read the results of my recipe tests for Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, please click HERE

Beer and Butter Tarts

I’m excited to announce that CookThatBook will be a new featured listing on Beer and Butter Tarts, a great online resource dedicated to Canadian food and drink related websites. It’s basically a one stop shop for people interested in Canadian food blogs, and is a great way of connecting bloggers across the country.

Be sure to visit their website! I have found so many new blogs to follow, including the list of finalists in the 2010 Canadian Food Blog Awards (CFBAs). Voting is currently underway; including the People’s Choice Award (voting open to the public) and will run until January 15th, 2011. Winners in all categories will be announced at the end of the month.

Good luck to all of the finalists!


[Recent conversation]

Friend: Hey I just made the Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup recipe from that Quinoa 365 book you keep going on about all the time.
Me: Sounds yummy!
Friend: You haven’t made it yet?
Me: Nah…I don’t like soup.


Friend: Seriously?!
Me: Yup.


Friend: Huh. So how does that work?!
Me: It’s kinda complicated…

See the thing is that I actually do enjoy the taste of most soups; I just find the whole process of eating it one spoonful at a time to be so laborious. I know you must be judging me right now, I mean who doesn’t like soup? According to my mom this is a trait I inherited from my father with whom I share the weird genetic disposition to be irritated by the process of eating soup. As a child I remember preferring to pour mine into a mug as it increased the speed of consumption.

Nonetheless, it seems like every time I talk to someone about Quinoa 365 they mention how they’ve made the Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup and absolutely loved the results. So for the first Meatless Monday of the year I decided to give it a try.

This soup is incredibly easy to throw together, plus it’s ready in no time flat! No need to simmer for hours in order to enhance the flavour of the ingredients, making it the perfect weeknight meal to serve to the troops.

The results?

Rich. Thick. Creamy. Robust. Flavourful.

The classic combination of tomato with roasted red pepper is one that I adore, and the quinoa flour acts as a wonderful thickening agent while providing a slight nuttiness to the overall flavour of the soup that is addictive.

Could this be the start of something beautiful between me and soup? With recipes like this I’d have to say the odds are looking pretty good.

CONGRATS to authors Patricia Green & Carolyn Hemming on their book being selected as a finalist at the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards! Be sure to visit the official Quinoa 365 website for more information along with recipe samples from the book.

To read my review of Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood, please click HERE

Happy New Year!

As a fun way of starting off 2011, I thought it would be fitting to go back to my original list of culinary resolutions from last year. Read on to discover how I made out…

Include Michael Pollan’s idea of Meatless Mondays into my family’s eating habits
So we started the year off strong, but once we moved house it became a slippery slope back to carnivorism. I really enjoyed integrating the concept of Meatless Mondays into my family’s lifestyle and would like to re-embrace this weekly foray into vegetarian food in the New Year. For me the biggest challenges were finding inspiration for meals (I always seemed to get stumped unless I had a particular recipe in mind), and not relying so heavily on pasta dishes as a quick solution for a meatless dish.

I look forward to recommitting to Meatless Mondays for 2011 and would love for people to leave a comment with their favourite vegetarian cookbooks, recipe ideas and websites!

Make the monthly cover recipe of Bon Appétit Magazine for the entire year (and blog about my experiences)
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this challenge! At first glimpse of a new issue in my mailbox I would eagerly check out the front cover to see what I would be whipping up next. In terms of the recipes themselves, I would have to say the following:

My personal favourite: Eggplant Parmesan Rolls with Swiss Chard & Fresh Mint (March)

Mr. Spock’s favourite: Grilled Cheese & Short Rib Sandwich with Caramelized Onions (February)

Most inspiring: Caveman Porterhouse with Poblano Pan-Fry (July)

Most out of control crazy: Triple-Beef Cheeseburgers with Spiced Ketchup & Red Vinegar Pickles (September)

Worst results: Apple Torte with Breadcrumb-Hazelnut Crust (October)

(NOTE: November and December’s cover recipe results will be posted soon…forgive my tardiness. I blame the holidays).

For the last few weeks I’ve had a poll on my website asking readers to cast their vote for which magazine I should follow next. While the top three spots kept flip-flopping between Bon Appétit, Savuer and Food & Wine, it is the latter publication that came out on top! And you know what? I’m VERY excited as the cover recipe for their January issue features a breakfast sandwich. Does it get any better than that folks?! I think not…I think not.

Review Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Okay. Well I bought the book. I have even figured out which three recipes I want to test. What can I say?! She’s an icon and I’m intimidated.

Attempt to make ice cream for the first time ever!
Santa left an ice cream machine under our tree this year, so stay tuned for some exciting ice cream related adventures in 2011…

Go on a cooking vacation
While I did go to Chicago specifically to eat and revel in this amazing city’s food scene, I never actually went on a trip and took any cooking classes. Any suggestions for places I should go this year?

Interview Jamie Oliver
I have a feeling this will be on my list for awhile. (C’mon Jamie…I’m ready when you are baby!)

Find the PERFECT chocolate chip cookie recipe
After conducting numerous taste tests (including Angie Quaale’s addictive Bacon Chocolate Chunk Cookies), I feel that my search has ended. The recipe that emerged as the victor? Alice Medrich’s recipe for My Chocolate Chip Cookies instantly won all of our hearts. It provided everything we were looking for in this American classic; buttery, crisp exterior with rich and chewy center, the perfect amount of chocolate and sweetness.

Beat my friend Crystal in our family’s annual crepe off!
Nope – think I’ll just give up on this one as Crystal’s savoury crepes are just too delicious. Plus she kinda scares me.

Update my family cookbook and print one hard copy to keep on my VIP kitchen shelf
Ugh. While I have worked on this project there is still so much more to do before I am ready to print off a copy. But I am inspired to keep going! My fellow food blogger Shirley Blake recently self-published her book of recipes, entitled My Mother’s Cookbook. It is essentially a compilation of her mother’s recipes – some of which she reinvented and updated – put together in a beautiful book as a keepsake for her family. Shirley, you inspire me to keep going with my project!

Shop more frequently at our local farmers markets
Farmer markets for local cheeses, fresh fruit and veg, local non-medicated meat from our neighbourhood butcher, organic fresh baked bread from the bakery down the street, and superior quality fish from our favourite fish monger. That has been the pattern of our food shopping this past year and it has been amazing! Not going to lie though; shopping this way did increase our food bills rather significantly. I feel so fortunate to be able to afford this luxury and did not mind cutting costs elsewhere in order to make it work within our budget.

[Now as far as 2011 is concerned, the above amended list should keep me busy, but I would also like to add the following goals]:

Explore the food truck phenomenon already well established in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Portland and Austin. My hometown – Vancouver – has a burgeoning food truck scene that I would like to experience. Now if only I can convince Mr. Spock to tag along on my food truck adventure! Somehow I don’t think this will be hard to do…

Take a variety of authentic Asian cooking classes, a style of food I heartily enjoy but have not had much success with in the kitchen.

Make my own marshmallows from scratch! Over the holidays I feel in love with Pink Spatula’s handmade treats and don’t think I can go back to the commercial variety. I have been meaning to make my own marshmallows but have a feeling that my renewed addiction will be ample enough motivation!

Expand my website and invite a number of contributing writers to join my team of cookbook reviewers. (NOTE: this is already well underway…stay tuned for some exciting updates!)