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Monday Review: I Know How to Cook

18 Jan

I Know How to Cook by Ginette Mathiot

Reviewed by Stephanie Dickison

There are few things better than a hefty cookbook that’s alight with possibilities.

One of the best I’ve ever come across is Phaidon’s I Know How to Cook by Ginette Mathiot.

This bible of tradition French home cooking is one of those treasured books that you will continually go back to no matter what the trend or star chef of the moment.

In fact, it’s been a best-seller since its first publication in 1932, so it’s already stood the test of time.  Now that it’s available in English for the first time, just imagine how many years you’ll be relying on it for homemade meals, celebratory party dishes and everyday snacks and desserts. There are more than 1,400 recipes here so it’s going to take you awhile…

The only drawback?  It’s going to take up some room on your cookbook shelf.  But trust me when I say it is damn worth it!

There are many things to love about the book:

The layout – It’s organized by subject and then ingredient, so it’s easy to navigate and also fantastic for those times when you say, “Okay, I’ve got some eggs that need using up.  What can I make for supper?”

The recipes – Despite being a French cookbook, somehow Mathiot has made the recipes accessible,with most of the recipes containing only a handful ingredients and steps. It’s amazing how short the directions are – often just one small paragraph.  For French food, no less!

Nothing too complicated, yet there are indeed fancy dishes to be found.  You can impress your guests without having to spend all day in the kitchen – finally!

The design – The subject pages are colourful and fun images of food, but the photos are what’s going to excite you!  Simple, clean photos showcase dishes such as Eggs with Truffles, Shoulder of Lamb Provencale and Four-berry Gelatin that will inspire you to create dishes that you have thought up until now, were completely beyond you.

The recipes too are laid out spaciously so that you can whip up Creamy Coffee Mousse without feeling overwhelmed or have to squint your way through it.

What I love most about the book is that I’ve always thought that you had to be European or classically-trained or damned patient and have all day to cook French food well.

It turns out that all you really need is a passion for food and cooking and this book, which now resides proudly in my cookbook collection.  I plan on working my way through these classic dishes in the next couple of years.  In fact, I’m going to try for doing one a week.  Why don’t you join me?

I know that we can do it – thank to the lovely Ginette Mathiot and this truly extraordinary book.

Book Review: The Ski Country Cookbook

10 Jan

Ski Country Cookbook Cover

The Ski Country Cookbook by Barbara Scott-Goodman

Reviewed by Chris Garbutt

I remember driving on the highway through snow covered forests until we reached our chalet by the slopes. We didn’t waste any time – it was straight to the lift for us. After a long day skiing, there was nothing better than returning to our temporary home in the snow and sipping spiced apple cider then eating chili that had been heating all day in the slow cooker.

Okay, I made all that up.

I have only gone downhill skiing once in my life, and I was a train wreck. I don’t think I’ve ever set foot in a ski chalet, But if you, unlike me, are someone who hits the slopes all winter, The Ski Country Cookbook has been created just for you. “The combination of cold mountain air and vigorous activity naturally makes us crave warm and restorative food,” says the Barbara Scott-Goodman in the introduction.

But I think this book is for me, too. I mean, a brisk walk in the city will make me want warm and restorative food. Heck, just sitting here writing this makes me want a good, hearty meal. Besides, Scott-Goodman is from New York, so she knows that her recipes are going to appeal to people who don’t even live near mountains.

So I’m going to ignore the gimmick and consider this a “Best of Winter” cookbook. There are classics like Corn Chowder, Baked Ham, and three different kinds of Chili. There are a couple of new things I want to try, such as Stir-fried Coleslaw and Wild Mushroom, Chicken and Orzo Soup. And all times of day are covered, including a section on cocktails and warm drinks. Mulled Pinot Noir and Brandy sounds good from my house in the city, but perhaps it’ s extra-special on the side of a mountain. I’m going to skip the Rum Raisin Cider, though. I’m not a raisin fan, so I’ll thank you to leave it out of my drinks.

The photography depicts dishes in the book, but also idyllic chalets, buried to the rafters in snow. As long as I could get out to get my groceries, I think that would be a pretty fine way to spend the winter. Just don’t ask me to go skiing.

Book Review: The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever

1 Dec

Cover of Casserole bookThe Best Casserole Book Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas

Reviewed by Chris Garbutt

The cover of this book goes against the usual “food porn” type – you know what I’m talking about. Photos on most cookbooks or food magazines are designed to make you slobber lustily after a perfectly staged dish. Here, we see a casserole almost empty, giving the feel of a meal well enjoyed.

It worked on me. My memories of casseroles are not pleasant. In my childhood, they were mushy excuses to get rid of leftovers – throw them all in a pot, maybe with some canned tomato soup or chicken broth, and bake. Ugh – I can still taste the canned peas and nearly dissolved carrots.

Times have changed. Beatrice Ojankangas defines casseroles as broadly as imaginable. I never really thought about it, but I guess a casserole is any meal cooked all in one dish. Here’s the Wikipedia entry.

I’m going to have to jettison my stereotypes. How about a Swedish Lingonberry Pancake Casserole? Or a Black Bean Tortilla?  This is not your mother’s casserole cookbook. The book brags more than 500 recipes, which means you could have a different comfort dish every day for the entire winter, and that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner (and dessert!).

For some reason I was attracted to the vegetarian chapter. I considered the Spiced Brown Rice and Vegetables, or the Black Bean and Red Pepper Casserole before finally settling on the Barley and Mushroom Casserole. There was little prep, and the joy of the casserole is that once its in the oven, you can go off and do other things while it bakes. The flavour of the mushrooms got a boost from homemade chicken stock (the recipe calls for vegetable stock, so it’s veggie-friendly), and a touch of white truffle oil, which I’d bought for another dish last week. And if you haven’t tried truffle oil, do it. It costs $10-20 a bottle, but a few drops will fill your mouth, and it’s amazing with mushroom dishes, or if you need to liven up a chicken breast or piece of fish.

It took a little longer than expected – either too much stock or not enough barley, so the liquid didn’t absorb the way I had hoped. But well worth the wait.

Comfort food is my default. If I’m stuck for what to cook, it’s usually a soup, stew, chili or maybe a roast chicken. But because of my particular past, casseroles were never on my radar. That has all changed.

Review: Fresh From the Farmer’s Market

27 Oct

Fresh from the farmer's market book cover

Fresh From the Farmer’s Market

By Janet Fletcher

Reviewed by Chris Garbutt

It’s been a slow year for farmer’s markets for me, which is sad, because I’m as crazy about farmer’s markets as any downtown foodie. (Hey, I grew up in rural Southern Ontario, a town which had its own stockyards and vegetable stands  every Saturday, so I come by this love of markets honestly.) But for some reason, I just didn’t incorporate the markets into my routine.

Maybe it was the fact that the one on my way home was located next to an outdoor rink that doubled as a garbage dump during the municipal strike. Still, I was pretty loyal to my favourite grocery store, called Fresh From the Farm, which is just as good.

Janet Fletcher’s Fresh From the Farmer’s Market is all about how to make those markets a regular part of your life. It’s divided seasonally, with recipes based on the ingredients of the moment. Of course, since it’s an American book, you can’t always translate those seasons up here: the winter farmer’s market in most of Canada won’t have much fresh that didn’t grow in a barn or a greenhouse. Citrus and cabbage in winter? Yeah, that’s gonna be coming from south of the border.

It being autumn and all, we tried a seasonal dish – butternut squash risotto with white truffle oil. The squash came from Fresh from the Farm, but I got the arborio rice from Organic Abundance around the corner and the truffle oil* at a nearby Italian shop that sells olive oil, balsamic vinegar and premade pasta dishes. Not exactly a farmer’s market extravaganza, but still a seasonal delight.

And a delight it was. Though I overcooked the squash a little, and the constant stirring gave me cramps in my upper arm, the  final product was worth it. Next stop: winter. Something with citrus and cabbage, I’m sure.

* The first place I went to offered a truffle oil bottle for $51. A little out of my price range. The bottle I settled on was a mere $18.



UPDATE: Here’s a similar recipe with less stirring and actual truffles!

Review: Fresh Food Fast

1 Jun

freshfoodfastCooking Light’s Fresh Food Fast: 5 ingredient, 15 minute recipes

Edited by Mary Kay Culpepper

Review by Chris Garbutt

My wife and I have a new game  – I pick a cookbook, and I have to cook any recipe she chooses from it. When I gave her Fresh Food Fast, she had her work cut out for her. There are more than 250 recipes, which all look easy and delicious.

So, would it be the Turkey Burgers with Cranberry-Peach Chutney? Or the Scallops in Buttery Wine Sauce? Pork Medallions with Spicy Pomegranate-Blueberry Reduction?

Wait a minute. I didn’t notice that one before. That last recipe has both of our favourite fruits (pomegranates – hers, blueberries – mine). Well, some other time.

My wife settled on the Halibut with Quick Lemon Pesto, served with Grilled Zucchini and Red Bell Pepper with Corn. Our fish place didn’t have halibut, though, so we went with black cod. And we had run out of propane so our grill pan had to replace the barbecue. This was a quick and tasty meal, served on a weeknight, with little cleanup. My kind of meal.

I will say that very few of these recipes have the titular five ingredients (most have eight or nine). And some of the “ingredients” feel a little like cheating – calling for Parmesan and roasted garlic dressing “such as Newman’s own” doesn’t seem fair. I mean who just happens to have that exact kind of dressing in their fridge?

On top of that, I suggest that you never believe a cookbook that offers you 15-minute recipes, unless the instructions end with “remove from microwave.”

Still, our meal, while not ready in 15, was still on the table in less than a half-hour, and I can’t argue with the taste. Fresh food fast, indeed. This one is destined to be a regular on the kitchen shelf.

Review – Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea

12 May

Edible Schoolyard

Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea

By Alice Waters

Review by Chris Garbutt

Those who know about Alice Waters are familiar with her celebrity. Chez Panisse, her restaurant in Berkeley, California, is one of the most famous in America. The restaurant was started in the sixties, based on the idea of making good French food with local ingredients. She’s an advocate for local eating, and the author of eight cookbooks, including The Art of Simple Food, which sits on the prime cookbook shelf in my kitchen.

What you might not know is that before becoming a chef and foodie hero, Waters was a Montessori schoolteacher. About 15 years ago, she brought together these two careers, which is what Edible Schoolyard is about.

Waters and some dedicated staff at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley decided that it was time for the crumbling facility to be rehabilitated. The school sat on a relatively large piece of land, much of it covered by concrete. The concrete was torn up to make way for a garden, which grew year by year, and was supplemented by a renovated outbuilding that became the school’s kitchen classroom. Students were given the responsibility, for credit, for tending the garden and cooking the fruits (and vegetables) of their labour.

“It’s a way of making sure that children grow up feeling the soil with their own fingers, harvesting the bounty in the American sunshine, and watching their own hands make the kind of beautiful, inexpensive food that can nourish the body and the spirit,” Waters writes.

I’m not sure what the book is trying to be, exactly. The text is pretty thin, though the story is pretty inspiring. There are pictures of the kids working the garden, and cooking in the kitchen. There are a few recipes – cucumber-lime cooler, carrot-raisin salad, spring vegetable ragout, bread salad, red bean stew and potato smash with kale (that’s all of them). There are also images of the children’s reflections on their experience eating, which even for a food-lover like myself, provide a stark reminder of how out of touch we can be with where our food comes from. These notes are moving in their transformative power.

But at 80 pages, I was left wanting more. More stories, more recipes, or more photographs. It feels like a coffee-table book, but it’s not big enough to display. Waters has moved me here, but not quite enough for a prized place on my bookshelf.

Monday Review: Sunday Soup

12 Jan


Sunday Soup: A Year’s Worth of Mouthwatering, Easy-to-Make Recipes by Betty Rosbottom

By Stephanie Dickison

One of my favourite things about Fall and Winter is making soup on Sundays.

I started this tradition many, many years ago.  I don’t know what kicked it off, but it remains a big part of my weekend.

The thing is, that my repertoire is really small.  I can make some amazing soups, but only a limited few.  And as the winter drags on, I start to crave more variety.

That’s why I am besotted with Sunday Soup.  It has seasonal soups with a reasonable amount of ingredients that are easy to prepare and yet, they are simply sublime – and much better than anything I could come up with on my own!

There are many reasons to love this book:

1.  This is one of the few cookbooks, soup cookbooks no less, that actually says it’s okay to use store-bought broth!  I know!  How incredible is that?  I know my lovely Co-Editor Chris will be flabbergasted that people do such things when making it from scratch is so easy, but I am one of those folks at the supermarket with a cart full of veggies, meat and a few tetras of broth.  Please don’t hold that against me…  And I am grateful to the authors for their Shortcut Chicken or Beefstock Recipe that gives life to store-bought broth.  This makes me feel a little better about not being as authentic as others.

2. The photos are enough to start your saliva glands go into overtime.  I dare you to look at the photos and not crave a big steaming bowl of homemade soup!

3.  The simplicity of the ingredients and the recipes means that you can make one or two soups in an afternoon or evening and have enough to eat through the week.  This means, more time doing what you want to do instead of hovering over complicated recipes, trying to figure out how to deglaze a pan or braise leeks.

4.  Unlike most soup cookbooks, Rosbottom has given thought to what we eat with our soup and included a vibrant selection of salads, toasts and sandwiches.  What a fantastic idea!

5.  The combinations selected for each season are intoxicating.  Take a look:

FALL – “Cool Nights” Chili with Chicken, Corn, and Chipotles; Fall Brodo with Acorn Squash, Swiss Chard, and Bacon; Wild Mushroom Melange; Pumpkin Soup with Toasted Walnuts and Rosemary; French Lentil Soup with Garlic Sausage

WINTER – White Bean Soup with Chorizo and Kale; Cauliflower Soup with Crispy Prosciutto and Parmesan; Cream of Chicken and Fennel Soup; Ribollita – The Tuscan Minestrone; Celery Bisque with Stilton Toasts; Tomato, Dill and White Cheddar Soup

SPRING – Cream of Parsley Soup; Carrot Soup Scented with Sesame and Chives; Spring Risotto Soup; “Just Greens” Soup; Emily’s Springtime Salmon Chowder; Watercress Soup with Pan-Seared Scallops; Thai-Style Lemongress Soup with Shrimp

SUMMER –Avocado Soup with Fresh Tomato Salsa; Icy Cucumber Soup with Smoked Salmon and Dill; Victorine’s Gazpacho; Cold Curry Creams; Chilled Melon Soup – Two Ways; Zucchini Vichyssoise; Summer Squash Minestrone with Pistou.


And guess what I did yesterday?  Yep, I made soup for my fella and I – and not my usual Curried Butternut Squash Soup or Minestrone.  And now we’ve got exciting lunches or dinners for throughout the week as well.

I am so inspired by these delectable dishes that now I want new big and deep soup bowls to enjoy them in!

Monday Review: He Said Beer She Said Wine

15 Dec

BD536 HeSaidSheSaid_PLCJ.indd

He Said Beer She Said Wine by Marnie Old & Sam Calagione -DK Books

By Stephanie Dickison

If you are looking for a fun, offbeat foodie present this holiday season, this book certainly fits the bill.

He Said Beer, She Said Wine guides you on pairing all types of foods with beer and wine – something that will come in handy with all those hosting gigs you’ve got coming up these next few weeks.

Marnie Old, an esteemed sommelier, and Sam Calagione, owner of the renowned craft brewery DogFishHead are the experts, but they let you know what to look for in simple, easy to understand language.  This means that you’ll be able to not only learn the guidelines, but you’ll be able to navigate the wine and beer landscape on your own soon enough!  They also make sure that the book comes across as a fun guide for beginners and not a heavy-handed serious tome for seasoned oenophiles.  Marnie and Sam introduce themselves and give you their philosophies in a very lighthearted fashion, with step-by-step instructions.

There is a beer primer, wine primer, pairing each with different foods such as cheese, vegetables, poultry and desserts.  But my favourite part is the last one – The Great Debate at Home.  This is where they give instructions on hosting your own beer versus wine party and have the most wonderful recipes for you to make at home and have a photograph and description of both a wine and a beer that pairs beautifully with the dish.

For the parties that we are having this season, I’m going to make the Fig Compote & Red Onion Confit, Vegtable Samosas and Merluza Salsa Verde (or Cod with Green Sauce).

And now thanks to this book, I’ll be able to pair them beautifully.

And just think about how much fun that will be – and how many different wines and beers you’ll get to try along the way!

It’s the best kind of homework, wouldn’t you say?

Monday Review: Salad Days

8 Dec


Salad Days fromThe Australian Women’s Weekly

By Stephanie Dickison

I know that many food outlets and publications will be focusing on comfort food cookbooks at this time of year, but I am still craving salads – almost as much as during summer months.  And there are heartier, bolder salads that are just as suitable in winter months, so I thought I’d share this book with you.

First of all, the photography and layout is gorgeous.  It has the clean Donna Hay look that so many British and Australian magazines and books have.

Secondly, the salads are to die for – there are starters, sides, mains and dressings, along with a glossary and conversion chart.  There are 100 recipes that have been tripled tested, which means that you can make these quickly before an event or party and know that it will turn out just right.

This week I’m going to make a number of the starter salads: Crab and Green Papaya, Avocado and Prawn, Fennel and Ruby Red Grapefruit.  At this time of year, along with wanting the creamy comfort of shepherd’s pie, mashed potatoes and roast chicken, I also want piquant, sour and fresh tastes that bring my tastebuds alive.

These ought to do it.

The best thing about this cookbook, along with the variety of salads that it offers, is that each salad’s ingredients are pretty minimal, yet the recipes are quite decadent, restaurant-quality.  So I can make the Beetroot Salad  with Honey Balsamic Lamb without feeling intimidated or beyond my limits.

This is one of those cookbooks that you go back to time and time again no matter what time of year.

I’m off to make tonight’s dinner – Thai Beef Salad with Chili and Lime.

I can’t wait!

Buy My Book – The 30 Second Commute: A Non-Fiction Comedy About Writing and Working From Home!

27 Nov

bookcover-30-second-commute-stephanie-dickison1I have written a book about my career as a pop culture, book and restaurant critic. It will be available in just a few months – February 2009 – but you can reserve a copy for you (and everyone you know!) RIGHT NOW!

Many thanks for your support!

Warmest wishes,

Stephanie Dickison