Tag Archives: cookbooks

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.

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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 – How to Cook Everything & Bon Appetit’s Fast Easy Fresh

10 Nov

How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food, 2nd Edition by Mark Bittman & The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh: 1,100 Quick Dishes for Everynight Cooking by Barbara Fairchild

By Stephanie Dickison

They arrived at my doorstep with a big enough thud that the cat and I both jumped.  A big box containing two looming cookbooks meant that I was going to have to rearrange the bookshelves -again.  These were the mightiest cookbooks I’d ever seen outside of my lovely food and cooking encyclopedias that I cherish so deeply.

The one good thing about their size and weight is that really, if you are just starting out or are looking for big, basic cookbooks to cover a little bit of everything, these have got it.  All of it.

And while I know a lot of you have your own go-to cookbook like The Joy of Cooking, I’m highly recommending these.

They are so vast in knowledge and so easy to use and follow that really, no kitchen should be without them.

Here are my thoughts on each one:

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A little while ago, I told you how much I loved Mark Bittman’s Recipe Cards.  Well, the book, How to Cook Everything, 2nd Edition, just knocked my socks off.  Really.  I mean, it’s got everything: illustrations that you can follow along with, like tying meat or preparing tomatoes.  Easy-to-make recipes that are neither tired or repetitive (unlike my roster of dishes).

And here’s the best testimonial of all – On Saturday night, I stopped by the grocery store to get meat.  I had been to 2 others, but hadn’t seen anything of excitement.  However, at my third stop, I came across a fairly good sized beef tenderloin roast for $5.86.  Now, I had only ever made 2 roasts before this, so it’s not something I usually get, but it was so inexpensive and beautiful that I couldn’t resist.  However, I had no idea how to cook it.

That is, until I got home and turned to page 735, where the Roast Tenderloin with Herbs recipe awaited me.  I marinated the meat for only an hour as my Mom had stopped by for a visit.  It turns out neither Mom, me or my fella have roast beef outside of weddings and funerals, so I felt a little pressure for it to turn out well.

The recipe was an easy mixture of oil, balsamic vinegar and herbs and the only thing I had to do was check the meat with a thermometer after 20 minutes.

Folks, while it is not the best roast I’ve ever had, it was absolutely wonderful.  And I truly couldn’t have possibly done it without this book.  Later this week I’m going to tackle 22 Picnic-Perfect Salads and How to Season Simply Cooked Seafood.

This is my new cooking bible and yes, you can borrow it anytime…

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The title, The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh: 1,100 Quick Dishes for Everynight Cooking says it all, doesn’t it?  It’s from Bon Appetit, so you know it’s trustworthy (and probably anything you make from this will be better than if you’d gone it alone) and it’s all about making quick and easy dinners, which let’s face it, at the end of the workday, can be one of the most challenging meals to make and make well.

I mean, I would never in a million years think to make Crabmeat, Corn and Cumin Salad in Endive Spears, but doesn’t that sound absolutely lovely?  And what about Oaxacan Chicken Mole?  That sounds much better than the usual roast chicken breasts that I make!

My favourite thing about this cookbook is the recipes never include more than a handful of ingredients and instructions, so I can actually make pretty fancy fare in a short amount of time, which is really what I strive for most every night I cook.  And now thanks to this cookbook, I can actually rev up my own standbys.  So instead of my usual steamed spinach, I’m going to make Pesto Creamed Spinach and instead of my usual orzo, I’m pumping it up to Carrot Orzo.  Sure, they are simple changes, but I find that these suggestions and ideas really get me out of my usual cooking rut and go-to items.  It helps keep things exciting in the kitchen and I remain excited about cooking and making dinner every night, which I’m sure you know can be a challenge at times!

I am so excited by all of the new possibilities that I’m off to get some ingredients for dinner tonight!

These are the best books and really, a must have for anyone who spends anytime at all at the stove.  And hey, they’ll make the very best presents this holiday season.  I mean, there are recipes in each of these to please everyone!