Friday, December 23, 2016

The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet to Fiery and Everything in Between

A trio of fire 🔥🔥🔥 inspired by the Chile Pepper Bible- clockwise from the right:  Dakkous (Arabian Style Tomato Sauce), Chili Dipping Sauce for Potstickers and Harissa. #vegetarian #vegetables #tomatoes🍅 #spicy #food #cooking #cookbo
Counter-clockwise, from back: Harissa, Potsticker Sauce (not from the book) and Dakkous

The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet to Fiery and Everything in Between
Author: Judith Finlayson
Publisher: (2016)

Hot, sweet or in between – however you slice, dice, roast or pickle them, peppers are one of the most personality-packed vegetables (fruits?) out there. Whether you prefer the sweet crunch of mild, raw bell peppers in a salad or the flame of habanero hot sauce in your rice, there is at least one variety out there for everyone. I’ve been a chile-head for years, but only ever relied on prepared hot sauces or pickled peppers for my fire – aside from chili, what do you do with the spicy and moderate peppers out there? Well, author and food researcher Judith Finlayson sets out to enlighten us cooks in her book The Chile Pepper Bible.

Harissa made with a load of habanero and jalapeno peppers, homegrown tomatoes and Ontario garlic.

Chile Pepper Bible is true to it’s name – this rather comprehensive encyclopedia / cookbook in one details information on dozens of chiles – hot and sweet – from their histories and growing regions to their Scoville units and health benefits. Once you’ve read up on the “whys” of the pepper world, the author opens the back end of the book up with 250 recipes that span the globe, from Chinese and Thai to Balkan, Indian and Mexican. The recipes include everything from appetizers to desserts, and include both meat and vegetarian main dishes as well as a wealth of sauces to use immediately or store for when the occasion demands. 

Piri piri sauce
Piri Piri Sauce

I couldn’t wait to get started – and with four hot pepper plants producing en masse in my garden (not to mention another 12 hot and sweet seedlings in my mom’s), I was spoiled for choice. My first creation from the book was Dakkous (p. 382), an Arabian-inspired tomato sauce flavoured not only with a hint of spicy peppers but the heady aroma of cinnamon. The combination was unexpected but no less delicious, and I not only used it for mixing into long grain rice but as a dipper for warmed pocketless pitas. I can only imagine how good it would be as a simmering sauce for chicken too. Nam Prik Num (p. 364), a Thai sauce with roasted peppers, came next – warning, if you’re cooking the peppers indoors, use good ventilation! Watering eyes aside, the spicy, chunky sauce was well worth it, and paired beautifully with roasted fish. I also had to try Finlayson’s version of one of my favourites – Harissa (p.390). This one, unfortunately, fell short of what I was hoping for (which was a recreation of one a friend brought me from Morocco), missing the rich, slightly sweet tomato notes, pop of sour from sumac (or lemon) and spicy garlic kick I knew. That said, when added to a tomato-based recipe (I used it in roasted tomato and potato soup), the flavours fleshed out somewhat and it wasn’t as obvious. I’d be interested to see how it fared in hummus too. Piri Piri Sauce (p. 314) also fared so-so on its own, but drove a ton of flavour into plain chicken breast when used as a marinade.

Nam Prik Num (Thai grilled chile salsa) made from the Chile Pepper Bible #yum #spicy #vegetarian #vegetables #tomatoes🍅 #homegrown #vegan
Nam Prik Num

Not relegated to face-on-fire Scotch bonnets or scorpion chiles, the world of peppers is vast, varied and full of flavours from around the globe. Judith Finlayson has done a wonderful job of opening the door for culinary adventurers in The Chile Pepper Bible, and I encourage you to step through and savour what she has to offer.

Available on Amazon

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Eat Wheat: A Scientific and Clinically-Proven Approach to Safely Bringing Wheat and Dairy Back Into Your Diet

Eat Wheat: A Scientific and Clinically-Proven Approach to Safely Bringing Wheat and Dairy Back Into Your Diet
Author: John Douillard
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing (2016)

From LifeSpa

Eating gluten and dairy-free has taken the health food industry by storm. Food manufacturers are realizing that unless they offer a gluten-free version of their product, it is increasingly difficult to be competitive. Studies show that within a single year, as many as 100 million Americans consume gluten-free products. Non-dairy foods and milk substitutes have also become increasingly common: in 2015, the U.S. dairy alternatives market was worth 2.09 billion, and growing.

Eat Wheat is a book that invites even the most skeptical wheat- and dairy-phobes to begin exploring the roots and realities of popular food sensitivities. Starting from the ancestry of the human diet (humans have been eating wheat and other grains for 3.4 million years, making flour for the past 30,000) and continuing with the trends of gluten-free / dairy-free diets today, Douillard asks the question repeatedly: "Are these types of elimination diets really necessary?"

Much like my own beliefs (developed through years of nutrition school and practical practice), the author reasons that it is the refining and processing of the common foods we eat today (not the least wheat and dairy based items) that form the root of most chronic health and digestive concerns, not the basic food item itself. After all, when was the last time you ate wheat berries for dinner, or drank whole, raw milk?

Building on a background of  600 scientific studies, Douillard sets out to retrain the brains and bodies of modern man, beginning by changing attitudes towards "bad" and "good" foods, followed by flushing the lymphatic system so as to "reset" it to the way it was at birth, balancing blood sugar by following digestive cycles and providing self-care instructions to keep your overall health at its peak. While I've never liked the "fad diet" theme of whole food group eliminations, this book further solidified my belief that unless there is a concrete medical (i.e. autoimmune) disorder contributing to the need for avoiding wheat, dairy, eggs, etc, there is always a way to "have it all", including your well-being inside and out.

Available on Amazon

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

250 Best Beans, Lentils & Tofu Recipes

250 Best Beans, Lentils & Tofu Recipes
Publisher: (2012)

Beans, lentils and tofu…for most people, seeing these in someone’s grocery cart is a signal that they are a card-carrying vegetarian. After all, why would anyone who ate meat need to pick up these alternative proteins? Well, in 2016, the reasons can be much more than ethical in nature. Economics and health concerns are pushing more and more people away from meat-centric meals, forcing them to confront the previously outré ingredients seen only in Asian restaurants or chili pots. What was missing was a comprehensive guide to making legumes worthy of a dinnertime staple. Judith Finlayson’s book 250 Best Beans, Lentils & Tofu Recipes is designed to fill that niche, with meals for all occasions both with and without meat.

Beans, Lentils & Tofu is a library’s worth of inspiration, and whether you’re a bona fide vegetarian or just want to reduce the meat you eat you’ll find something to tempt your palate. Most of the main dishes are hearty enough to satisfy even the most ravenous eaters and generally store and/or freeze well, making eating “on the cheap” even easier. I was pleased to see some of my favourite veggie staples – notably Harira (p. 64) and Caribbean Chickpea Curry with Potatoes (p. 161) – as well as some tempting ideas for the family like Cheater’s Cassoulet (p. 194) and Roasted Vegetable Lasagna (p. 230).  For the baked bean addicts out there, Finlayson has included no fewer than six variations – five of them containing meat, which was a bit of a disappointment. While I understand the desire to appeal to the greatest audience possible, there are so many hearty, delicious and nutritious meals that can be made completely vegetarian. By giving the book a title such as 250 Best Beans, Lentils & Tofu Recipes, I expected the author to place more emphasis on those ingredients for main courses and less of the “well, let’s toss in some lentils to fit the book” approach. Also missing are any legume based desserts – of which there are many, and I expected to see at least a black bean brownie or tofu cheesecake in the pages. However, the meatless recipes that are mentioned sound delicious – and while photos are fairly scarce in the book, if they taste as good as they look readers will be well fed and loving it.

For those new to a life of legumes and who still want to include meat in their diet, 250 Best Beans, Lentils & Tofu Recipes by Judith Finlayson is a great place to start. While it’s not a book for the die-hard vegetarian or vegan, for the flexitarian or omnivore each page holds a delightful option for that day’s nosh.

From the publisher:

A collection of delicious recipes that offers not only good health but great food.
Everyone knows that beans, lentils and tofu are good for you, but did you know that you can enjoy tantalizing gourmet food using these very ingredients? You absolutely can, and this enticing collection of recipes compiled by bestselling author and editor Judith Finlayson proves it.

These varied and internationally influenced recipes will give you a whole new perspectiveon the humble legume. Bean recipes range from elegantly continental dishes to authentic meals that take you back to the days of the Wild West. You’ll discover appetizing expressions with lentils, which are a staple of Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. And tofu? Sure, it’s not much on its own, but paired with other ingredients, it becomes something magical.

In a single collection, you can enjoy 250 of the best recipes created by the bestselling authors of Robert Rose, along with nutrition information, preparation tips and serving suggestions. These recipes will appeal not only to vegetarians and vegans, but also to the ever-growing number of people who simply wish to eat less animal protein in favor of healthy alternatives. You’ll no longer have to prepare several different meals for one family — everyone, regardless of their leanings, will enjoy this incredibly satisfying food.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ethiopian Cookbook: Pinnacle of Traditional Cuisine

Ethiopian Cookbook: Pinnacle of Traditional Cuisine
Author: Konjit Zewge (Translated by Mesrak Mekonnen)
Publisher: Xlibris (2015)

I found this book fascinating, as I love African culture and cuisine, however in practice this book is confusing and impractical for most home cooks. A beautiful coffee-table paperback, but not a truly usable cookbook for North American lifestyles.

Traditional Ethiopian Cuisine for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
New cookbook translates recipes passed down for generations

SAN FRANCISCO – Helping to pass along the recipes used for generations by the women in her family, “Ethiopian Cookbook” by Konjit Zewge includes traditional Ethiopian cuisine for meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans.
The book was originally written in Amharic and translated to English by Zewge’s daughter, Mesrak Mekonnen.
This book shares the ingredients and preparation methods for a style of cooking that characterizes Ethiopian cooking. The book also includes a glossary to explain important terms for cooks of all skill levels.
Ethiopian dishes are usually prepared in stew forms and almost always served with ‘injera.” The main ingredients are meat, grains, and legumes. Red meat and chicken are prepared with butter, while fish, legumes, and grain dishes are prepared with oil.
“My mother has written the dishes she loved to prepare and serve,” Mekonnen said. “It is her sincere hope that you will enjoy cooking and serving these unique dishes as much as she does.”

About the author
Konjit Zewge, at the age of 89, documented her succulent dishes in her book “Yemouya Kouncho.” She wrote her book for the sole purpose of passing the art of preparing traditional Ethiopian cuisine to the next generation. Her parents' home was always filled with extended family, neighbors and other visitors who delighted in the savoy dishes. Running the household was traditionally the women's job and learning how to prepare food started at an early age. As an ardent student, Zewge made it a point to write down procedures, the various ingredients and amount used in recipes. Her book has been translated to English by her daughter, Mesrak Mekonnen. Mekonnen lives in San Francisco.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Gluten-Free Baking Book: 250 Small-Batch Recipes for Everything from Brownies to Cheesecake

The Gluten-Free Baking Book: 250 Small-Batch Recipes for Everything from Brownies to Cheesecake
Publisher:  Robert Rose (2011)

Fewer than five years ago, a diagnosis of Celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder requiring a lifelong abstention from gluten) meant suffering through endless meals of rice, corn or potato side dishes and eschewing baked goods altogether. Bread, cookies and muffins did exist, but they were either hard as rocks, turned to sawdust upon handling or were worse than old kitchen sponges in both taste and texture. Thankfully, for those of us forced to live gluten free (or who love those who are), things have drastically improved in the baking world – hundreds of flours, mixes, starches, gums and recipes have become more or less commonplace in the market (especially on the internet). The science of those ingredients and how they work together has also grown by leaps and bounds, leading to a wealth of cookbooks. One of the books that caters exclusively to the bakers amongst us is The Gluten-Free Baking Book: 250 Small-Batch Recipes for Everything from Brownies to Cheesecake by Donna Washburn and Heather Butt, and it strives to let the gluten-avoidant enjoy the craft again.

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Muffins
Chocolate Chip Muffins (p. 161)
Washburn and Butt know their baking well, both professional home economists who own and operate the site as a companion to their company, Quality Professional Services. Based on reviews of their previous book The Complete Gluten-Free Cookbook: 150 Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free Recipes, Many with Egg-Free Variations they wrote the recipes in Gluten Free Baking to make smaller batches. This not only keeps costs down when experimenting with the new lifestyle (many gluten-free products are still more expensive than “standard” ones), but accounts for the fact that many gluten free recipes are only eaten by those living with the condition, as opposed to other family members and friends.

The recipes in this book are easy to understand, and contain nutritional information. They call for ingredients that people familiar with a gluten-free diet will recognize and likely stock in their pantries, and if not are available at many grocery and health food stores. The recipe pages are comprised of 250 bakes ranging from No-Knead Yeast Breads (p. 33) to Cakes & Cupcakes (p. 193) and even the conventionally challenging Pastry & Tarts (p. 233). A medley of recipes perfect for special occasions (yet don’t necessarily fit anywhere else) find a perfect home in Gluten Free Baking’s Holiday Baking section (p. 279) – readers will find items such as the decadent Individual Pavlovas (p. 286), which are a treat for the whole family and fun for kids to help make too. On the savoury side, bite-sized Broccoli Cheddar Mini Quiches (p. 295) are perfect for brunch buffets or as passed canapes at a cocktail party, and again will appeal to all ages as well as both gluten free and non.

"Cranange" - Millet Muffins
Orange Millet Muffins (p. 156)
Many of the recipes lend themselves well to adaptation and substitution, though the authors don’t provide suggestions outright. I achieved delicious results making the Chocolate Chip Muffins (p. 161) both as written as well as switching the pricey amaranth flour out for millet and the tapioca starch for cornstarch, and the Orange Millet Muffins (p. 156) turned out just fine when using an egg replacer as well as switching the ratios of amaranth and millet flours. Unfortunately, unless readers already have some prior experience in the gluten free kitchen, they may fall victim to sticker shock when purchasing some of the flours!  I did appreciate the authors including “master mix” style recipes for things like Cupcakes (p. 212), Oatmeal Muffins (p. 135-138), Cornbread (p. 107-108) and Biscuits (p. 121-122), which are handy to keep in the pantry as cost-savers – especially if you buy the flours in bulk.

To satisfy your brain’s hunger, the authors included an in-depth, 20 page primer on the various ingredients, equipment and other jargon used in Gluten Free Baking. This is a must-read for complete gluten-free newbies, but is worth a scan even for the seasoned pro. A well-done index makes finding almost any baked good in the book a breeze as well, and most of the recipes have their own tips in the sidebar. Photos are encapsulated in two “blocks” within the book – a fairly common Robert Rose practice), and reflect the actual foods readers can make, rather than appearing as stock photos.

Overall, Donna Washburn and Heather Butt accomplished the goal of making The Gluten-Free Baking Book: 250 Small-Batch Recipes for Everything from Brownies to Cheesecake an accessible, approachable, and inspiring resource for every baker. Gluten free or not, preferring savoury or sweet, cookie-holic or cake star, you’ll be able to find a wealth of temptations between the covers.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

150 Best Spiralizer Recipes

150 Best Spiralizer Recipes
Authors: Marilyn Haugen and Jennifer Williams
Publisher: Robert Rose (2015)

I’ve owned my share of kitchen gadgets over the years. Some, I use regularly – my microplane, a food mill, canning set (tongs and funnel) and a spice grinder, to name a few – not to mention my mini-arsenal of small appliances, including my heavy duty stand mixer and food processor. Other stuff I either bought or was gifted but almost never use. Things like our garlic press, julienne peeler, egg separator, icing comb and pie divider make honourable mentions there, no doubt. Then there’s the awkward “middle children” of my culinary collection – the motley crew of mandolin, potato ricer, cake leveler and instant read thermometer that are used just enough to warrant their existence in my household but not enough to be included in my most convenient cupboards or on my counter. I’ve had to become nothing short of nit-picky when selecting new items to buy, trying to anticipate just how much I’d use them and how versatile they’d be, given that I cook and bake both at home but also as a Home Economics teacher. When the Spiralizer (and it’s various spinoffs) became a craze, I initially held off – at least until our garden started mass-producing zucchini. Suddenly, veggie-noodles didn’t sound too bad! Luckily, about the time we had ratatouille and zucchini-breaded ourselves out of existence, my review copy of 150 Best Spiralizer Recipes by Marilyn Haugen and Jennifer Williams showed up on my doorstep.

Spiralizer is true to it’s title, being filled with 150 (mostly delicious-sounding) recipes suitable for almost everyone. The book is organized largely by diet style, rather than recipe type – from Paleo and Raw to Gluten Free and Vegetarian / Vegan. For those of you who are completely new to the art of making vegetables into twirly works of art, Haugen and Williams have compiled a 13 page primer in the book’s beginning. Spiralizing Basics (p.8) covers the parts of a generic machine as well as listing a few other tools that are handy for most applications. Next is The Spiralizing Pantry (p. 10), a comprehensive listing of how to spiralize what as well as suggestions for preparing and storing finished spirals. The Pantry also includes suggestions for flavourings and oils as well as a basic tip-sheet, all of which combine with the rest of the intro to create a “safety net” that will let any reader break out their machine with confidence.

Japanese Sunomono - a light and refreshing #vegan cucumber salad perfect for #summer (and #SundaySupper )! #yum #food #vegetarian #glutenfree #vegetables
The recipes are easy to read, with bold titles and a standardized format that includes introductions, metric and imperial measures. I say the recipes are “delicious-sounding” because, in Robert Rose fashion, there aren’t photos available for all the recipes. Two pockets of full-colour pictures were slotted in – albeit a bit randomly in the middle of a recipe section rather than in between chapters. The text of each recipe is no-nonsense, with easy to follow, numbered directions and handy “tip boxes” accompanying most items. The directions themselves are a clear sign that the authors took their proofreading and editing seriously, even as a new reader skimming through.

On the cooking and eating side, the Spicy Shoestring Jicama Fries (p. 184) were amazing and crisp, albeit a bit too salty for my taste and a true struggle for my Spiralizer to manage. Sweet Potato Noodles with Mushroom Marinara (p. 152) sounded delicious but a trial to spiralize, a tad salty and with a very oily – I found myself wanting much more mushroom. If I made it again, I would add some dried mushrooms and let them soften in the sauce. I haven’t attempted any of the “dessert-style” offerings yet, but it is good to know that the gadget’s not just for savoury things. It’s important to note, as well, that these authors are not doctors or nutritionists, and that many of the recipes, while technically “fitting into” the category they’ve been assigned to, are imbalanced. For instance, most of the vegetarian and vegan recipes lack protein – a key fact they will realize but those trying such a diet as a “fad” may not. When in doubt, researching any or all of the listed eating styles will help readers modify the recipes t suit themselves.

Pictures don't do this Pasta-touille justice. TONS of #vegetables, split peas and a teeny bit of #chicken, laced with goat and fresh mozzarella #cheese ! #yum #food #cooking #baked #SundaySupper #tomatoes #foodie #dinner
Possibly the best part about this whole book is that it’s a fantastic source of inspiration. While it’s not a recipe given in Spiralizer, I dreamed up (and devoured) a version of a Japanese cucumber salad for my Home Economics class to try. They loved the salad, and the gadget, and it’s given me reason to bring it out again for other treats. At home, the device mowed through zucchini and red pepper to make a version of ratatouille pasta that was filling but light on the waistline. While the appliance is still not a “must have” fixture in my kitchen, the book makes using it more approachable and I won’t be throwing it out anytime soon. No, like many hidden gems, it will remain one of my “middle children” until I find the right way to make it (and lots of assorted veggies) bloom.

Available on Amazon

Sunday, January 31, 2016

For the Love of Food and Yoga: A Celebration of Mindful Eating and Being

For the Love of Food and Yoga: A Celebration of Mindful Eating and Being
Publisher: (2015)

I can’t tell which I fell in love with first – yoga or food. There’s a certain zen to each craft – be it working towards inner peace through daily asanas or allowing the flavours of a perfectly balanced meal dance across the tongue. While many people think the practice of yoga is ascetic and the enjoyment of delicious cuisine is overly decadent, separating each other with a distinct wall, the fact is that the two can work in glorious harmony. Authors Liz Price-Kellogg, a trained yoga instructor, and her student Kristen Taylor, embody this philosophy in their book For the Love of Food and Yoga: A Celebration of Mindful Eating and Being.

Food and Yoga is a combination of photo album, yoga guide and cookbook. The pages are packed with 100 recipes, each either vegan or vegetarian, and are peppered with inspirational quotations (“YogiBites”) from the likes of people such as Einstein, the Dalai Lama, Julia Child and even Steve Jobs. Asanas are shown in glorious full-colour photographs taken along the St. Lawrence River and are titled in both Hindi and English, with an (English) description as to the benefits of that pose. For instance, one of my favourites (Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose (p. 161)) “strengthens upper body, elevates mood, opens heart center” and is photographed with a glorious view of the river and its shores. Recipes are also artfully captured by either the authors, Blake Price-Kellogg or Jonathan Taylor, each enticing readers to try the cleverly-titled recipes like Restful Rosemary Potatoes (p. 80), Seated Spinach (p.134) and Chakra Fruit Salad (p. 254). In fact, even non-foodies will find this book is worth buying for the photography alone, more suitable for keeping on coffee tables or open shelves rather than closed-door pantries.

Vasisthasana III (Advanced Side Plank) - All Rights Live Yum LLC

The recipes themselves are a great combination of simplicity and complexity – both in ingredients and flavours. Realized Roasted Tomatoes (p. 68) call for only a handful of ingredients and steps, but lend considerable depth to a simple pasta dish or warm grain salad. Likewise, Buddha Brussels (p. 64) will turn almost anybody onto the flavour of roasted sprouts thanks to their perfect marriage of garlic, Dijon and just a hint of cayenne. The innocuously named Liberating Lentil soup (p. 108) is full of complexity thanks to a generous helping of both umami, tart and sweet ingredients – each in harmony with the other and creating a satisfying, yet crave able, bowl of comfort. It’s impossible to pick just a single favourite from the book, but both the vegan Asian Style Wealthy Wonton Purses (p.230) and the Sinfully Sublime Mousse Mountains (p. 244) are in demand with those who taste them!

Napoleon - All Rights Live Yum LLC

For those days when body and soul nourishment is lacking, Liz Price-Kellogg and Kristen Taylor’s book is more than satisfying food for the soul. Whether you’re a Zen master, five-star chef, master photographer or simply someone who loves the art of balance, you’ll find something to love in the pages of For the Love of Food and Yoga: A Celebration of Mindful Eating and Being.

Available on Amazon