Category Archives: Contributing Writers

COOKBOOK REVIEW: The Preservation Kitchen

Review written & photographed by Helena McMurdo
All images © Helena McMurdo. Do not reproduce without permission.

The Preservations Kitchen is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Random House Canada

The Preservation Kitchen

The Preservation Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, $29.99 CDN) is written by Paul Virant, the Michelin-starred chef behind the Vie, in Western Springs, Illinois. He’s known for his local, seasonal cuisine and has an awards list as long as your arm including Food & Wine 2010 Best New Chef and a James Beard Nomination. I admire his approach to food, which embraces the seasons and uses preservation methods in order to showcase local flavours and ingredients.

He is joined by food writer, Kate Leahy who you may know as the co-author of A-16 Food+Wine, the ICAP2009 Cookbook of the Year.

As the name suggests, this book paints a picture of a kitchen that is organized around the bounty of the seasons, where food is put by for future use. It has two main sections: Preserving methods and various types of preserves are tackled in the first section while the second section is dedicated to menus to make with the preserves. Paul Virant’s philosophy that food is part of the good life, is evident in the way he has approached the recipe section, featuring an array of seasonal and occasional menus. His menus paint a picture of life enjoyed around the table with family, friends and conversation, whether it be through a refreshing light summer meal, an abundant thanksgiving menu, or a delightful charcuterie platter to share with friends who help out on a fall day of canning.

My favourite things about this book are:

The variety of preserves – This book has recipes for lots of different types of preserves and has different chapters for acidified preserves such as pickles and relish, conserves (including mostly fruit-based jams, marmalades, butters), bittersweet preserves including Aigre-Doux and Mostarda) and finally fermented and cured preserves such as sauerkraut and cured meat.

The sophisticated flavours – I found that flavours in the preserves to be subtle and multi-layered, not the sour, acid pickles I remembered from home canning of the past. With most of the pickle recipes calling for champagne vinegar, I found the results to be more delicate.

Aigre-Doux – This group of sweet and sour French preserves was a lovely discovery and the recipes in this category are ones that I’ll be taking advantage of to add wow to my cheese plates. I fell in love with the tangy, zingy flavours in these preserves.

The small batch recipes – I’ve been daunted in the past by canning because I felt like I needed to go out and procure 100lbs of tomatoes, and assemble a huge team of helpers, something my tiny kitchen would groan at. The recipes in this book allow you to try many different preserves in batches of 4 or 6 pint jars. So it’s not a huge investment in canning equipment or space. I liked the fact that if something grabbed my fancy I could put it together quickly in a few hours.

The clear and precise preserving instructions – Preserving can be daunting. I certainly don’t want to poison my friends or family with any unsafely canned food. In addition to the separate section outlining safe preserving instructions, the individual preserve recipes are very clear and have a good step-by-step sequence. I also really like how the authors have included equivalent measurements in volume oz, grams and percentages for all recipes.

My main criticism of the book would be that for most preserves, there was usually just one recipe to work with in the accompanying menu section. I found that certain preserves were really interesting to me, and while Virant definitely offers some additional suggestions for ways to use a preserve, in addition to the menu recipe, I would have appreciated additional menu recipes to work with. Despite the delicious and inspiring menus it was the preserves that really inspired me and I would have enjoyed other ways to use them.

That said, I think I’ll refer back to this book frequently. It’s basic methods and instructions for preserving are invaluable and the flavour combinations are truly inspiring. This is a book for the long haul, to sit with and plan with. The seasonal menus need some thinking out and I’m sure I’ll enjoy this book more in years to come as the seasons change and I’m able to take full advantage of more of the recipes.

Green Bean Salad Final Plate_© 2012 Helena McMurdoPanzanella Fennel Salad_© 2012 Helena McMurdoPear Vanilla Aigre-Doux Jars_© 2012 Helena McMurdo

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COOKBOOK REVIEW: Veggie Burgers Every Which Way

Niki Shewfelt
Review written & photographed by Niki Shewfelt

Veggie Burgers Every Which Way is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit The Experiment

Veggie Burgers Every Which Way

When I first picked up Lukas Volger’s Veggie Burgers Every Which Way (published by The Experiment, $12.68 USD), I was not sure I could really enjoy a cookbook featuring only burgers. I mean, how many burgers can a person eat anyhow? I was wooed by the colorful cover, and the photos inside quickly inspired me to add veggie burgers to my weekly menus, as well as nudge me into making my own burger buns, from scratch. This book will definitely be the only burger book your family will need – even for those carnivores looking for a new palate-pleasing experience. I promise, you will not miss the meat in these recipes.

finished burgerburger cookingsalad

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Meet Contributing Writer Niki Shewfelt

Niki ShewfeltI once read that a person’s personality can be summed up by the types of reading material they have on their bedside table. Currently, mine is stacked with two Vegetarian Today magazines, one Simply Living magazine, a vegan cookbook, an inspirational running book and a gripping teenage fiction novel, all compliments of my local library.  After a brief encounter with a suspicious lump six years ago, I made an at-the-moment weekend decision to switch our family to a vegan lifestyle. Over an eggplant and cashew-cheese lasagna, roughly two months later, my husband casually inquired, “Wondering and not complaining, but… we eat meat anymore?”  (Currently on his bedside table: 3 coaching and leadership development books, a history of the middle ages, a Christian nonfiction about father and daughters, and the sequel to my teenage fiction novel).

With two competitive-swimming teenagers, our active vegetarian/vegan household seems to be continuously fueling up, keeping me in a constant search for wonderful new menus to create. I receive inspiration from recipes which blend balanced, whole foods without the hassle of being considered fussy. Rarely follow recipes to their entirety, my family is rather used to enjoying their meals “in the moment” (or disliking them in this same way), as they are rarely duplicated.

Please give Niki a warm welcome to the CookThatBook family! We are excited to have her join our team in the position of resident vegetarian cookbook reviewer. If you have a question/comment for Niki, please email her c/o Inaugural cookbook review coming soon!

COOKBOOK REVIEW Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You HUNGRY

Review written & photographed by Jordan A.R.

Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You HUNGRY is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Thomas Allen & Son.

Vegetarian Entrees That Won't Leave You HUNGRYLukas Volger’s book Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry (published by The Experiment, $17.95 USD) confronts a prevailing misconception that, without meat, a meal lacks the power to fill you up. Not only does Volger provide recipes that prove the heartiness of vegetarian cuisine, he does it without any pomp. An approach I found refreshing. His writing is both honest and friendly, offering easy to follow recipes that also encourage you to try a few twists of your own.

Throughout the book are scattered little tutorials on subjects that vary from soups and dressings to hosting dinner parties and cooking just for one. The eclectic list of recipes guarantees that you’re bound to find something you’ll want make, whether it’s homemade paneer, kimchi, pizza, or just a simple salad.

Bulgur Salad with Kale & FetaCassoulet with Tomato-Roasted Carrots & ChardRiesling Poached Pears


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.


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.


Fifty Shades of Gray Poupon

Written & photographed by contributing writer Jacqueline Twa

I spent most of my formative years out here on the beautiful west coast, and grew up sheltered from many things…including condiments.

Well, ketchup and mayonnaise have always been a part of my life but mustard was something rare and really bright yellow – sun shiny yellow. In our home it was only to be used sparingly. A little swipe on a ham sandwich on white bread, or sometimes on a hot dog. This brilliantly coloured condiment was definitely not something that you encountered every day. At least in my family.

Looking back now, I realize that I was a mustard innocent. But all of that sweet naiveté was stripped away in junior high school when I met and befriended Yvette, a girl who had just moved to our city. She came from France, and as a result seemed incredibly unique, very sophisticated, and oh so worldly.

I shall always remember the day I was first asked to come over to her house for dinner.

I had never seen anything like the food that was put in front of me. They even had hor’derves – and on a Tuesday night no less! Yvette’s Mom came over to us with a tray of tiny round crackers with what I thought was going to be mayonnaise and a sweet pickle, but in actuality was a tiny cornichon with a healthy slathering of Dijon mustard as its sexy pillow.

I took one, thanked her politely, and popped it into my mouth.

My scalp tingled and my eyes widened at this first taste. My virgin tastebuds were assaulted, slowly heating my mouth and shocking my senses into total oblivion. I abruptly feelt a stiffening in my mouth, my lips throbbing from the tangy assault. I spat out this unfamiliar experience into a million little pieces, watching helplessly as they fell into the depths of my napkin.

My mouth spent and exhausted, my chest heaving from the heady experience.  A strange and somehow savory, sexy taste lingering on my lips from the mustard. It was at this point that I knew deep inside that I would forever be bound to mustard – my new dark, savoury obsession.

When I mentioned this experience to my Mom after returning home later that night, she just rolled her eyes at the thought of serving 14 year olds hor’derves!

Thus began my fetish with mustard.  I dared not tell anyone about my obsession for fear they wouldn’t understand. When I left home and moved out on my own, I immediately went to the grocery store and bought several types of contraband mustard and brought them home to explore and embrace my new mustard-centric lifestyle.

Eventually I did come out of hiding and openly admit that I like mustard. I even began serving it at dinner parties. Today it is unusual for me to make any kind of savory sauce, vinaigrette, wet rub or barbeque sauce without adding at least some mustard. My family enjoys mustard and the things I make with it, with the exception of my middle son who has a morbid fear of mustard in any form.

Perhaps like me, he just needs to experience a mustard awakening.

Laters, baby!

For a copy of Jax’s Mustard Chicken please click here

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 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.


How hard can it be?!

Written by contributing writer Jacqueline Twa

I love to entertain and have enjoyed playing hostess ever since I was a child.

My Mom entertained often and always loved having a house full of people. Being the only girl in the family, I was enlisted at an early age to help. I didn’t mind, because like my Mom I loved having friends and family nearby, eating and drinking and sharing in our lives.

If 15 people walked through the door unexpectedly, my mother would have no problem throwing together a last minute meal that left everyone satisfied. She was a genius at pulling things together with no prior notice.

I helped raise three wonderful sons, and despite the fact that they are now grown with families of their own, I still find myself instinctively feeding them whenever they are around. During their teen years they always had two or three friends in tow, and like my own mother would do, I would always whip up something for them to eat.

I think it’s fair to say I don’t get fazed easily. I have experienced firsthand the awe-inspiring event that is teenage boys eating (I used to say that our boys had worn off their taste buds with pure friction judging by the amount of chow they could put down their gullets!)

Anyway, I digress.

I like to think that when friends drop over for an unexpected visit – a common occurrence around our house – I am always able to offer them a glass of wine and pull together a bite or two of something to feed the conversation.

I used to entertain quite a lot.  It was something that always felt right and easy for me. I love to cook and hate to figure out a ride home, so the natural solution always seemed to be to have people over to our place. Long, cozy dinner parties with friends lasting late into the night. Candles, good food, laughter and too much wine before sending everyone home at the end of the night.

Personally, I thought I made it look easy. I leaned on my tried and true dishes and could always seem to get it together in the end. I also happen to have a wonderful spouse who acts as my personal sous chef and co-conspirator in entertaining. I know I am the envy of my friends in this regard. He helps me in so many ways and is naturally a great host, filling glasses and gaps in the conversation – he does it all!

Plus he’s pretty easy on the eyes.

I must say however, that in the last few years it has become increasingly tricky and difficult to throw a dinner party. People have mysteriously just stopped eating most things. Gone are the days of just throwing some steaks on the grill or making a big bowl of pasta.

Now whenever I invite people to dinner, I usually receive an acceptance back accompanied by a list of the food items people can’t eat. The most common food avoidances are dairy (guilty as charged!) and gluten. Sometimes it’s both! However, I’ve entertained people with a wide variety of allergies including but not limited to nuts, tomatoes and garlic.

Then there are the celiacs and people who don’t eat red meat.

And let’s not forget the vegetarians! I have always had friends who are vegetarians, but now you have to remember the type of vegetarianism they prescribe to. There are so many different categories of vegetarians out there today – pure vegans, lacto vegetarians who will eat cheese, milk and some ice creams but not eggs, there are ovo lacto vegetarians who eat eggs and cheese, and then there are the fish eating vegetarians now referred to as a pescatarians!

Can you believe there is such a thing as pseudo vegetarianism? Flexitarians!

There is always someone in the crowd that’s on a fad diet: “I’m on Atkins”, the “I’m only eating grapefruit and popcorn this week”, and of course there are the point counters – “can you tell me how many points will be in the entrée?”

I have had friends request that everything served should be grown and processed within a 50-mile radius. Seriously? Are you really not going to eat the pasta sauce because it was made with canned tomatoes from Italy?!

And let’s not forget the folks who refuse to eat anything white (?!) and of course the meat-a-tarians (I have a brother that does not eat vegetables).

The thing is I happen to have food issues of my own. Obviously I want to be respectful of everyone’s choices, but damn! All of these differing dietary requirements make entertaining challenging in a way my mother never had to deal with in her day.

Dinner parties have become an exercise in imagination and frustration. Just when you’ve figured out what you are going to make another food no-no comes along. In fact, during a recent dinner party the only thing I could figure out to serve for dessert that took into consideration all of our friends’ dietary restrictions were Rice Crispy Squares!

So I have found that keeping things simple, using fresh local ingredients and classic preparations is the way to go when entertaining. Living on the west coast I am fortunate to have access to a plethora of fresh fish and locally grown produce. Big green salads, simple vinaigrettes, decadent desserts, and politically correct entrées that meet everyone’s dining criteria and voilà – dinner party success!

When it comes to feeding our beloved vegetarians, I actually turn to one of my favourite types of cuisine; Indian. You can make a wonderful gluten-free, vegan, non-dairy chickpea dish called channa masala. My whole family loves this dish, and if done right it can feel downright gourmet.

Click here for my version of channa masala

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.