Monthly Archives: April 2011

REVIEW: Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals

By Eric Akis

Cookbook review written by
Stay At Home Chef

Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores

The goal of this book is to provide the slow cooker with a much needed makeover, creating recipes that are contemporary and appealing for today’s cooks. Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals (Whitecap Books $24.95 CAD) is the brainchild of chef-writer Eric Akis, who initially resisted the idea of throwing ingredients into a machine and leaving it alone all day. As a professionally trained chef this concept just seemed so…wrong. But after making beef chili in a slow cooker that his wife brought home, Eric immediately became a fan.

The book includes recipes for meat, poultry and seafood dishes, along with main course soups and vegetarian fare, and a side dish section with suggested dishes to complement each recipe. If you are a slow cooker newbie like me I would highly suggest reading the Slow Cooking 101 section which will provide you with all of the information you need to get started. This even includes what to do with your slow cooker meal in the middle of a power outage! I love the inclusion of Eric’s Options, a sidebar included alongside each recipe that offers suggestions for substituting ingredients or taking the dish to the next level.

Okay. I’m going to be honest and say that I struggled with this book. While I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Eric Akis (click here to read my interview), overall I was disappointed in the results of the recipe tests. A lack of flavour was a recurring issue for me with almost every dish I tried, and truthfully I expected more.

A lot of thought obviously went into this book, and the addition of a dedicated side dish section is an idea which I appreciate and applaud. I think the recipe selection was contemporary and fresh, steering away from the stodgy slow cooker meals that stereotype this type of cooking method. Visually I like the layout of the book, all of the sidebars and tips organized in a reader friendly way. It holds a very clean, fresh look with appealing photographs that showcases the food beautifully. Bummer about the recipes falling short.

Bottom line? This book has not made me a slow cooker convert. I’m sorry to say that the recipes I tested did not make me a believer. But I have given my copy of the book to a friend who recently received her first slow cooker and is excited to try some more recipes on her own. Hopefully she has more success (I promise to keep you updated).

I would love to hear from any slow cooker fanatics! What are some of your tried and true recipes and tips and tricks? Have you cooked from this particular cookbook and achieved different results? Please comment and turn me into a slow cooker fan…I’m waiting to be converted!


Interview – Eric Akis

No one could have guessed that working on a military base would have led to a career in fine dining, but that’s exactly what happened to Canadian chef-writer Eric Akis. Born into a military family in Chicoutimi (QB), Eric first got bit by the culinary bug soon after he started working on the base as a civilian kitchen helper. Cooking school eventually led to a red seal certification and a variety of positions within Canada’s food industry; including fine hotels, restaurants and catering companies.

In 1997 Eric saw his dream of becoming a food writer come true after being hired by the Victoria Times newspaper. His recipe-rich columns have earned him a loyal following, and six years later he launched his best-selling Everyone Can Cook series. Renowned for his accessible approach to cooking, Eric Akis’ latest cookbook is entitled Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals (Whitecap Books $24.95 CAD), a plethora of recipes for your slow cooker that includes suggested side dishes to complete your meal. Perfect for weekday cooking or special occasions, this book contains a wealth of information on slow cooking 101, what to look for when purchasing a machine, and tips on adapting conventional oven recipes to use in a slow cooker.

A couple of months ago I got an opportunity to chat with Eric about his latest cookbook endeavour. To read my entire interview with Eric Akis, click here.

Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking

By Kelli & Peter Bronski

Cookbook review courtesy of contributing writer
Andrea Savard

Kelli and Peter Bronski’s Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking ($18.95 USD, published by The Experiment) is an interesting hodgepodge of international dishes and every imaginable chicken recipe, alongside some classic gluten-free bread, pie crust and dessert recipes. Unfortunately I found the book wasn’t as well organized as I would have liked, and the recipes themselves lacked a bit of flow and focus. For example; there were dessert sections in the front and back of the book, with appetizers and entrees scattered throughout each chapter. Yet the most perplexing chapter of all was the one titled “Sides”, which basically contains four pages of recipes that delve into the mysteries of boiling rice. Although few of the recipes were imaginative or particularly “artisanal,” the book does contain useful instructions and the authors have an obvious interest in cooking a wide range of cuisine.

Before I even attempted any of the recipes, I was disappointed in the overall design and layout of the book. The cover photo of the Mediterranean Lasagna looks appetizing and is a decent picture, but it’s the only appealing photo in the book. The other images are all grouped in the middle eight pages, which is problematic for someone like me who prefers to see the photo right next to the corresponding recipe. The photographs are small, shot with poor lighting with little attention to placement, and are arranged on a blue background that makes all the food look like it should be on a diner menu and not in an “artisanal” cookbook.

Considering all the time and money that goes into the publication of cookbooks, I’m often amazed when one isn’t thoughtfully designed or well organized. Sometimes it feels that editors and publishers aren’t interested in making gluten-free look more sexy and appealing. People living gluten-free like pretty books too! I am always on the lookout for that ever elusive beautifully designed glossy paged gluten-free cookbook with gorgeous photos to match the quality go-to recipes. Even though I am cooking gluten-free food, I still want that visceral, all-consuming, celebratory book that reflects a love for making great food…even without gluten.

That being said (thanks for putting up with my rant), I am not the type of person to judge a book by its cover, questionable editing choices, amateur photos, or clunky design. So I went ahead and tried three recipes: Thin Crust Pizza Dough, Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf, and Prawn and Vegetable Tempura.


Whoopie Pies

By Sarah Billingsley & Amy Treadwell

Cookbook review written by
The Stay-At-Home-Chef

Whoopie Pies is available for purchase at your local bookstore or online at

The origin of whoopie pies (or ‘gobs’ as they are also called) is somewhat controversial. Some people say that they were invented in medieval Germany and brought over to Pennsylvania by the Amish. Women would bake cakes and use leftover batter and icing to make these special treats, which were then tucked into the lunchboxes of husbands and children. Upon discovering the treat, cries of “whoopie!” were shouted. However the state of Maine likes to lay claim to the invention of whoopie pies, and in fact the Maine State Legislature is currently embroiled in the process of making the whoopie pie the official state treat.

In their book Whoopie Pies (Chronicle Books $16.95 USD), authors Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell provide you with all the tools necessary to whip up a batch (or two, or three…) of a variety of whoopie pies that will pretty much guarantee your addiction to these retro treats.

I picked up a copy of this book after writing a recent article on whoopie pies. Yes – I admit I became a tad obsessed with these treats and wanted to try making them at home. Poor Mr. Spock groaned when he came home to a house full of three different varieties of whoopie pies. Seeing what I was up to, he silently headed to the gym knowing full well that later he would have to be privy to the taste testing process.

Overall I really like this book, the soft vinyl cover similar to an actual whoopie in terms of the pillowy texture. The tone of the book is casual and upbeat, making you feel all happy inside even before you pop one of those whoopies into your mouth. I happened to like the fun sketches included at the beginning; finding it lent a nice retro feel to the book that complimented its subject matter.

I love how traditional whoopie pie recipes are included along with more creative flavour varieties, such as pistachio-cardamom, gingerbread and mocha, and even a savory whoopie (jalapeno cornbread with bacon-chive goat cheese filling).

Here’s what I didn’t like:

There seemed to be quite a few inaccuracies that should have been caught during the editing process. Yes, I only tested three recipes but the errors I encountered were significant enough to have been noticed (see my recipe tests for more details).

Also, it would have been great to have suggested icings on the same page as the cake recipes, so you don’t have to keep flipping back and forth between the different sections. Wow. Did I really just get that anal?!


What’s the Big Whoop?!

By The Stay-At-Home-Chef

Sorry. Yes I actually did just title my post “what’s the big whoop”. But one bite of these highly debated increasingly popular baked treats and you’ll understand why the corny in me just has to come out.

For us west coasters, the whole whoopie craze has only recently started to make an appearance in the pop food scene. A perfect combination of sandwich cookie and cake, the traditional version consists of dark chocolaty cake with a creamy marshmallow filling. However similar to what we saw happen with cupcakes, whoopie pies are becoming more trendy and fancy in terms of taste and flavour combinations.

It was time I discovered what all the fuss was about.

My first stop? A famous coffee shop chain which recently started selling a red velvet variety of whoopie pies. One bite of the overly sweet cardboard tasting treats and I knew my search would need to be expanded. So I headed down to Tracycakes Bakery Café. Located right on White Rock Beach in British Columbia, this is a chic and cozy café popular with locals and tourists alike. Designed to create a special experience for customers that centers around good food and good hospitality, everyone who steps into the store is made to feel warm and welcome but in an elegant way.

Known for their cupcakes (in 2009 The National Post named them the most retro delicious cupcake in Canada) Tracycakes also serves up continental breakfasts, soups, salads, sandwiches and light lunches. But the newest treat to hit their stores? Whoppie pies.

“If you can’t decide between a piece of cake or cookie, why not have both?!” reasons owner Tracy Dueck. Hard to find fault with that kind of logic!

Tracycakes started carrying whoppie pies just last month, after slaving away in their kitchens creating and tweaking recipes since October of last year.

“We wanted to make sure that we had the perfect recipe before launching our whoopie pies,” Dueck explains. “It was difficult to get the perfect consistency of cakey cookies that are not too soft but are still nice and moist.”

Current flavours available at their stores include Toasted Marshmallow, Peppermint Patty, Raspberry, Salted Caramel, Chocolate, Vanilla and (my personal favourite) Cookies n Creme.

When I asked Tracy why the sudden surge in popularity of whoopie pies, she said that one of the most common responses she gets from customers is that they are easier to eat. It’s true! Because the icing is sandwiched in the middle you don’t get that classic icing nose as with cupcakes. People who don’t like cupcakes tend to enjoy eating whoopie pies, often siting the lesser quantity of icing as one of the most appealing factors. Personally I enjoy both cupcakes and whoopie pies. What can I say?! I don’t like to play favourites.

Last year saw a number of whoopie pie specific cookbooks published (with more in the works), and Wilton has released a whoopie pie baking pan for those concerned with uniformity. This isn’t a trend that will be going away anytime soon, so why not jump on board the whoopie pie train and try them for yourself!

For more information on Tracycakes Bakery Café, please click here

Want to try making your own whoopie pies? Click here for a recipe courtesy of Tracycakes Bakery Café

A Little Liva!

by contributing writer Jacqueline Twa

Want to see something really funny?  Tell your kids (or even better tell your husband) that you are making liver for dinner. Then sit back and watch their faces.

Grown men – including the toughest tough guy types – turn into squeamish, yuk-faced babies at the thought of eating liver. Children have a look of horror that cannot be duplicated by any other means, and I cannot even begin to explain the true depth of the teenage facial experience.

Growing up, my mother would make liver and whenever that happened we would all protest vociferously and pitch fits. But no matter how much we would whine and complain, the liver always had to be eaten. You see, my mother and father were Prairie people and grew up eating things that didn’t come from beneath a saran wrapped package or from underneath a mainstream glass fronted butcher’s counter. They ate liver and kidneys and tongue and tripe – yuk!

It’s not that we were so opposed to eating liver, the problem was that my mom had a family recipe that she always used during the once a month ritual torture. We called it the “mom’s cooking liver tonight” recipe.

Now my mother fancied herself a gourmet cook, and for the most part she was a good cook. But her crazy idea about how to cook liver left a lot to be desired. Basically she would take the liver and poach it in tomato juice which made the liver dry and taste terrible, the meat tough and chewy versus the wonderful, creamy, savory yum that can result from a wonderfully spiced and perfectly cooked piece of liver.

When it comes to liver, you should know that there are several different classifications of people:

  • First off there are the “hate liver” people. They hate liver. Really, really hate liver. They do not eat any kind of liver, ever, period.
  • Next are the “neither one way nor the other” liver people. Depending on the dish they could be coerced into giving it a try.
  • Then we have the “like liver” people. Eternal optimists that will try anything once and as long as it tastes good they will eat it again. Really, it doesn’t matter so long as it tastes good.
  • Lastly are the “love liver” people. They are just weird.

Now I happen to be a “like liver” person. Never mistake me for a “love liver” chick; I don’t want to be painted with that brush. In comparison, my husband is a “hate liver” person. He also happens to be German, which is interesting as most Germans tend to be “like liver” people. Go figure.

In general I like to think that liver people are more enterprising and outgoing, more emotionally sensitive and attractive. So what are you waiting for?! Try my amazing liver recipe. Right now. Seriously.

Click here for a copy of Jax’s Spicy Chicken Livers recipe