When I first began flipping the pages of Globe and Mail columnist Lucy Waverman's new cookbook "A Year in Lucy's Kitchen" (Random House Canada), I was skeptical I would be able to select recipes to review.
As I've mentioned before, my life has dramatically changed with the birth of my son more than 10 weeks ago and I am relying more heavily on processed frozen foods and take-out. It's the stark truth and I am being honest despite the criticism or backlash I expect to hear.
And it's the truth for most young families, I suspect, despite the much-heralded return to seasonal, local cooking that is driven not only by the desire to preserve the environment but by financial need in these more expensive times. Indeed, the book's menu for an Economic Gastronomic New Year's party reflects Waverman is tuned into these more frugal times.
Sure, buying seasonal is the way to go. It's cheaper, it's healthier, and seasonal food tastes better. But are seasonal cookbooks just a timely gimmick? And can everyday home cooks buy seasonal and eat local on a regular basis?
After trying my hand at four recipes from this book all within a week's span, I am convinced the answer is a resounding yes.
My quick and dirty review of the recipes I tried:
Halibut with Spiced Moroccan Sauce (recipe below): This recipe comprised coriander, parsley, cumin, paprika, cayenne, tomatoes, and green olives. In short, a powerhouse of flavours. In the words of my foodie husband who is more picky than me when it comes to fish: "This is the best fish I have ever eaten." I can't say I agree with his assessment as I prefer simpler recipes that let the flavour of the fish speak for itself, but this was a delicious - and yes, easy - recipe I would even serve to the most discerning guests.
Moroccan Chicken with Prunes and Figs: Now this, this is a recipe you can really sink your teeth into. If you're anything like the average Canadian, you are probably bored of the chicken dishes you rotate regularly throughout your dinner menu. I know we sure are. Thai roast chicken; chicken fingers, chicken with Dijon sauce; chicken Picatta, chicken Marsala. The same thing over and over again can get tiring, and I was looking for something a little bit different. This is the recipe to help you break out of your chicken rut. If you find the recipe a bit too sweet, like I did, boost the amount of cumin and lemon juice.
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple Glaze: No matter how many times I've tried to bake sweet potato fries, and recipes have assured me that they will be crispy, they never turn out the way they are supposed to. This recipe, on the other hand, was divine. And easy. Score, and score.
Hazelnut Bark: I have tried, God knows I have tried, to make bark time and time again. But for whatever reason, I can't find my candy thermometer and perhaps that is the reason why past attempts at making bark have ended up in a gelatinous, squidgy mess. But this recipe didn't call for the use of a candy thermometer and I was immediately hopeful the few lines of instruction would be easy to follow. Alas, this recipe was no exception. Though I followed the instructions, waiting for the syrup to turn the colour of a light amber over 8-10 minutes time, it never did. I waited longer, still nothing. I have to admit, though, that this squidgy mess was delicious (I was forced to lick it off my finger after poking it to see if it hardened, obviously).
Despite, the failure of my hazelnut bark experiment, my verdict is that this book is a worthy investment. If you buy this book for one reason alone, and that is to make Waverman's Firecracker Chicken (a fiery, aromatic grilled chicken recipe I found years ago in a magazine and that I turn to whenever I need to tantalize taste buds and have them screaming for more), that will be enough.
The book breaks down the recipes on a month-by-month basis, and offers specific menus under each month. For example, "Chinese New Year," "Paris in the Spring," "New Indian" and "Deconstructed Hanukkah." Admittedly, the book is aimed at more of a Globe-and-Mail demographic rather than a Drudge Report junkie but herein lies the charm.
Waverman doesn't try to be all things to all people. Instead, she does what she does best - give the reader the confidence to try something new through her expertly-written recipes and personal anecdotes.
From a production standpoint, some of the menu introductions are printed on coloured paper and the white font is hard on the eyes. And some of the photos of herbs and veggies used in the book scream "file photo gallery" used to fill up white space rather than professional photos of Waverman's recipes. But it's obvious the publisher has considered its audience as this book stays open and flat at the page you are reading -- scoring big, big points with this cookbook lover.
This book would make a great Christmas gift for your favourite foodie.
Below you will find the recipes for Halibut with Spiced Moroccan Sauce; Carrot, Parsnip and Celeriac Stir-fry; and Spicy Green Beans.
Halibut with Spiced Moroccan Sauce
The combination of spices and colours makes this a real taste treat and feast for the eyes. I make it with fresh tomatoes in summer and good-quality canned tomatoes in other seasons.
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh coriander
1⁄4 cup chopped parsley
2 tsp chopped garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1⁄4 cup lemon juice
1⁄2 cup white wine
2⁄3 cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
4 halibut fillets (about 6 oz/175 g each)
1⁄2 cup cracked green olives
PREHEAT oven to 425°F.
CHOP coriander, parsley and garlic in a food processor. Add oil, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper and puree. Add lemon juice and combine. Reserve 2 tbsp spice mixture.
COMBINE wine, tomatoes and remaining spice mixture in a baking dish. Place halibut in baking dish in a single layer, skin-side down. Spread reserved spice mixture over fish.
BAKE for 15 minutes. Add olives and continue to bake for 5 minutes, or until white juices appear on fish. Serve fish with sauce.
Spicy Green Beans
The deep-frying changes the texture of the beans and makes them as addictive as French fries, and a perfect foil for the fish. This dish can be prepared ahead and then quickly stir-fried to reheat before serving. You can also spread the deep-fried beans on a baking sheet and reheat them at 400°F for 5 minutes.
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp hot Asian chili sauce, or to taste
1⁄4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 tsp finely chopped gingerroot
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
2 cups vegetable oil
2 lb (1 kg) green beans, trimmed
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
MIX together soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil and chili sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
COMBINE shallots, ginger and garlic in a separate small bowl and set aside.
HEAT a wok or deep skillet over high heat. Add vegetable oil. Heat to about 350°F, or until a cube of bread browns in 15 seconds.
ADD beans in batches and fry for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until crisp and wrinkled. Place a strainer over a bowl and carefully transfer beans to strainer with a slotted spoon as they are ready. Let sit to drip until cool.
REMOVE all but 2 tbsp oil from wok. Add shallot mixture and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add beans and sauce and stir-fry for 1 minute, or until beans are coated with sauce and heated through. Drizzle with vinegar and season with salt.
Carrot, Parsnip and Celeriac Stir-fry
Substitute other vegetables to suit your taste—turnips, rutabaga and sweet potatoes or squash are all good choices.
2 cups celeriac, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups parsnips, peeled and cut in 1/2 - inch pieces
2 cups carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 tbsp butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped chives
COMBINE celeriac, parsnips and carrots in a pot. Cover with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Drain.
HEAT butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetables and stir-fry for 5 minutes, or until browned and heated through. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chives.
Excerpted from A Year in Lucy's Kitchen Copyright © 2009 by Lucy Waverman. Photography by Rob Fiocca. Excerpted by permission of Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved.