Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks and Recipes for More Than 40 Irresistible Mini
By Bakerella
Raincoast/Chronicle 2010, hard cover, 160 pages; $22.95

The book offers instructions on how to make these cute snowmen.

The cupcake craze has pretty much passed me by, perhaps because I no longer have kids at home and the bake sales, birthday parties and other sundry cupcake friendly events have long ceased to involve me. And most cupcakes I’ve eaten haven’t really inspired me to love them enough to keep baking them.  In fact, there’s been only one one cupcake in memory that left me lusting for more, and that was one made about a year ago by Terra Breads baker Mary McKay, a Vancouver legend who could make cardboard taste good. I don’t know what she did, but those cupcakes were rich and tender, yet light enough to make me swoon, with frosting as ethereal as an angel’s wing.

I’ve now had to rethink my cupcake aversion, only because I adore Cake Pops, a new book by Bakerella, aka Angie Dudley. Dudley is not a professional baker — in fact she has no compunction whatsoever about telling the world that she’s still fond of yellow and chocolate cake-mix cakes and actually suggests you use boxed mixes for best results. She does provide several from-scratch recipes, but on the whole, this is a decorating book, not a cookbook. Bakerella doesn’t even really make cupcakes. These are whole cakes she bakes, then turns them into crumbs, mixes them with frosting and uses that to mold cake balls around lollilop sticks

It all started as a lark, Dudley says. She’s never been interested in baking, but she took a cake decorating class and was immediately hooked. She started a blog to keep track of her baking and decorating attempts, and as a result of her finesse with frosting, she’s now a cupcake star with a new cookbook and cake pops orders from Disney.

She calls them “fascinating tiny treats”, and even I could be convinced to try one despite knowing her penchant for boxed cake mixes. That’s because they look like so much fun, like toys you can eat.

I don’t know if I’d have the patience to attempt the ladybugs and pirates, the puppies, pumpkins, pandas and pussycats Dudley painstakingly shows you how to make with everything from edible ink to cookies and candy sprinkles. There are lots of photos showing her technique and there’s even a video at where she demonstrates her sweet specialty. It’s actually quite fun to watch Martha fumble her way through making one of the simpler pops, but her clumsiness also serves as a reminder that even the queen of “I do it all myself and so should you” isn’t an immediate pro when it comes some things. If, however, you’re at all crafty and enjoy baking, you’ll have hours of fun with this one. And the nice thing is, you can always eat the mistakes.


The Best of Chef at Home: Essential Recipes for Today’s Kitchen

By Chef Michael Smith

Published by Whitecap, 2009; softcover, $29.95; 258 pages.

Michael Smith is one of those people you wish was  your friend, or at least your neighbour. The mild-mannered Food Network star has no need to shout, eat questionable things or set fire to whatever he’s cooking. He’s like the Mr. Rogers of the kitchen, and that’s a good thing.

When Mr. Rogers, er, Mr. Smith wanders on set in his popular Food Network Show, Chef at Home, he brings with him an air of friendly excitement and discovery about what he’s doing (“Oh good, there’s some fresh rosemary in the fridge. I can use that!”), but it’s never in your face or scary, just comfy enough that you want to stand next to him and watch what he’s doing and hear what he has to say about it.

This same jolly ease comes through in his latest book, which has been on the B.C. best-seller list for a number of months now. (more…)

Emeril 20-40-60: Fresh Food Fast

By Emeril Lagasse

Published by HarperCollins Canada 2009, $32.99; softcover, 257 pages

Emeril Lagasse has kicked up fast food quite a few notches here with his latest book, which focuses on dishes you can cook up in, yes, 20, 40 and 60 minutes.

The beauty of it all is that you are cooking something fresh and tasty, rather than digging into another bucket of chicken or tearing out a slice of takeout pizza. Even deli food doesn’t ever compare to something home-made because, quite frankly, who knows how long ago it was made.

Lagasse doesn’t take a lot of space yakking about non-essentials. The book is primarily one recipe after another and most sound pretty darn good and pretty easy to pull off. The recipes that take an hour require the time mostly for cooking, not for prep, so you can take care of all those millions of other things on your to-do list while dinner simmers.

I made the Oven-Crispy French Fries with Paprika-Parmesan Salt tonight and served them with lemon/roast tomato mayo as a side to roast salmon with braised greens. Delicous! I used a Creole seasoning mix I had in the pantry for the potatoes instead of  Emeril’s Original Essence. Sounds like a perfume, but it is actually one of countless Emeril products available on the market, though to give the man credit, he does provide a recipe for the mix, which I’ll include below. He calls for it in a lot of the recipes, so you know you are in for kicky flavour when it’s among the ingredients.

Starters, soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta, rice and beans, veggies, seafood, poultry, meat and desserts all get the Emeril treatment. Among those that sound tantalizing: Sweet Pea Soup using fresh or frozen peas with lemon, mint and spinach; Fish Tacos with Black Bean Salsa; Spicy Pork Stirfry with Green Beans; Potato and Turkey Hot Dog Soup with Herbs, okay, maybe not company fare but the kids will love it; Shrimp and Zucchini Fritters with Roasted Red Pepper Mayo; Spicy Pork Wraps with Creamy Coleslaw; Bacon Braised Green Beans; Crispy Pan Roasted Chicken with Thyme Butter; Glazed Radishes, an unusual side dish; Country Fried Steak with White Gravy, a southern comfort food; and Emeril’s New-Style Caldo Verde. None are particularly difficult and all promise big flavour.

Here are some recipes from the book, including the Emeril spice mix. (more…)

Sanity has returned and I am once again able to focus on my favourite subject, great food!

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are over and have been deemed a success by most people, myself included, though being tropical-born, I’m not crazy about winter and, unfortunately, am not a true-blue (red?) hockey fan either. But I have to say, even the chickens were quiet during those few overtime minutes when we were all afraid to breathe, in case the puck went into the American fire instead of the Canadian frying pan.

So that’s my excuse for being absent from this blog for so long — way too many distractions! I return with a neat trick I learned by having lunch at Market Restaurant earlier this week. Market is New York uber-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vancouver outpost. I ordered the Soy Glazed Short Ribs with Apple – Jalapeno Purée and Rosemary Crumbs.

The meat was perfectly seasoned, tender and delicious. But what took it over the top wasn’t the apple – jalapeno puree, which, to be honest, was a little too mild; I expected more fire. But those rosemary crumbs. Wow! They sat in a little hillock just north of the meat, waiting to do their thing. Ribs are slow braised, and once they’re perfectly cooked, they become deeply flavoured, but while you’re blissing out on the flavour, you don’t expect much more than meaty velvet in the way of texture. Enter the crumbs. Dip a morsel of the rib in those crumbs and heaven happens. The happy intersection of tenderness and crunch is outstanding. And it occurred to me that this might be something you could do with any juicy but tender meat or seafood, for example pot roast, a simple wine-based beef stew, or even a mild-flavoured, tender grilled salmon (think pink). Serve the crumbs in a small dish alongside the main plate because the crunch will fade quickly in the presence of liquid. (more…)

What with the amazingly mild winter we’re having (the garden is already screaming at me!), plus the huge distraction of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, I’ve almost lost track of Valentine’s Day, which is only moments away.

To me, Valentine’s means chocolate, fine wine, maybe diamonds (okay, pearls are good, too) and even lovely scented bubble baths. Well, today we’re focusing on the top of the list, with the addictive dark stuff that has the power to make you feel in love (mmmm, dark, milk, sea-salted, creamy, melted — here I’m a commitment-phobe when it comes to choosing).

Two books that feature chocolate have come my way, so let’s get right to it.

Chocolate Cakes: 50 Great Cakes for Every Occasion
By Elinor Klivans
Published by Chronicle/Raincoast 2010, $26.95; hardcover, 143 pages

Okay, so there are really only 33 actual cake recipes featuring chocolate. The other 17 are variations on the basic recipes Klivans provides for Devil’s Food Cake and White Chocolate Cake. But that still leaves lots of choice for chocaholic cooks, whether it’s easy snack bread and pound cake, fancy multi-layer cakes, ice cream cake or cheesecake.

Need more tempting? There are recipes for Milk Chocolate Chip-Chocolate Loaf, Hot Chocolate Pudding Cake, S’Mores Cake, Chocolate-Marzipan Crunch Cake, Raspberry and White Chocolate Truffle Cake, Chocolate and Peanut Butter Mousse Cake, Chinese Five-Spice Chocolate Chiffon Cake, Banana-Butterscotch Upside-Down Chocolate Cake, Chocolate-Apricot Pudding Cake with Chocolate Toffee Sauce, Brandied Chocolate Cheesecake with Chocolate-Dipped Figs, Mocha Whipped Cream Truffle Cake, and White Mocha Tiramisu.

Klivans also provides plenty of tips for choosing and handling chocolate, making chocolate decorations, baking equipment you’ll need, and storage guidelines for your precious treats. A recipe is included at the end of this post.

Chocolate: More than 50 Decadent Recipes
By Dominique & Cindy Duby
Published by Whitecap, 2009, $19.95; softcover, 128 pages

The Wild Sweets Wizards are at it again with their latest book, this time featuring their favourite ingredient.

The Dubys, based in Richmond, B.C., are pioneering chocolatiers widely known for their Wild Sweets products, particularly their amazing chocolates. But they are also  teachers and culinary scientists, delving beneath commonplace ingredients and experimenting with  taste, texture and temperature to come up with intriguing flavour combinations and tasting experiences that could baffle the average person who might only crave a good caramel or truffle.

Here, teaching hats firmly in place, they’ve produced an accessible book for anyone wanting to increase their chocolate-making skills. They include a detailed chapter on selecting and tempering chocolate   plus they offer flavour-matching charts and wine-pairing suggestions. They also suggest that such mass-market chocolate as Lindt is a quality product suitable for their recipes, as long as it is the right type.

The recipes include chocolate-based drinks, mousses and creams, baked treats, and ganaches and creams for enrobing with tempered dark or milk chocolate. There’s no hand-holding here, however, no chatter about the method or what the end-product might look, smell or taste like, which I always find helpful as well as conducive to trying a particular recipe. Each recipe does include a photo clearly showing what you’re supposed to be making, but it would have been nice, for example, to hear a little about why they paired fresh ginger with milk chocolate in a panna cotta, or what fresh lime zest adds to the flavour and/or texture of dark chocolate pots de crème.

If you are looking to increase your repertoire of great home-made chocolates, there are recipes here for the following fillings: Cigarette Cookie Almond Praline; Fleur de Sel Soft Caramel; Almond, Sesame & Vanilla Praline; Maldon Salt Ganache; Candied Orange Marzipan; Passion Fruit, Coconut and Cardamom Ganache; Crystallized Ginger Ganache; Lemon Macadamia Praline; Espresso, Fennel and Sambuca Ganache; and Four-spice Cocoa Nib Truffles.

Here are two recipes, one from each book. Happy Valentine’s Day! (more…)

French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating
By Laura Calder
Published by HarperCollins 2009, $39.95; hardcover, 309 pages

If you think really good French food should be left to five-star chefs and followers of Julia Child’s masterworks, you need to meet Laura Calder. The Food Network star has nailed it for anyone who wants to prepare tasty French dishes without the need to have either tons of time or several assistants to do all the prep work.

In fact, the subtitle sums up what I know about French food from my travels there. I ate mostly at home tables, and the food was prepared by ordinary French cooks, not chefs. All of it seemed simply prepared, and maybe it had to do with the French vibe around the table — the “passion for pleasure,” as Calder describes it, that infuses French life and sets its food apart as special — that made those meals so fabulous. Interestingly, most of those home-cooked French meals ended with sublime bakery-made desserts, not hard to understand since there’s a fabulous bakery there every 10 feet or so. Why kill yourself whipping up a gorgeous apricot tart or chocolate mousse cake when the bakery’s only minutes away? That seemed to be the general consensus. (more…)

C Food
By Robert Clark and Harry Kambolis
Published by Whitecap Books 2009, hardcover, $40; 165 pages

This starkly beautiful book hides a number of elegant yet accessible recipes, rare for something coming from a top-rated chef of a top-rated Vancouver seafood restaurant.

It’s C’s style to challenge, surprise and even put off, something the book does in spades. When I first began leafing through it, I thought the photos were strange, not like the yummy pictures you’ll see in many other books. They are artfully lit, mysteriously arranged, and it’s sometimes difficult to separate what is food and what is prop. (more…)

Araxi: Seasonal Recipes from the Celebrated Whistler Restaurant
By James Walt
Published by Douglas & McIntyre 2009, hardcover, $45; 250 pages

I’m hungry and dinner is still several hours away.

I’ve been reading Araxi Executive Chef James Walt’s cookbook and drooling over photos of some of the dishes by photographer John Sherlock, who could make Dayglo KD look good (did I say I was hungry?).

Araxi is easily Whistler’s top restaurant, a judgment reinforced by that master of judgment, Gordon Ramsay, who has declared it the best restaurant in Canada. The book’s timing is good, as the world turns its attention to February’s Olympic Games, with Whistler playing the role of beautiful princess to Vancouver’s brawnier prince. Let the Games begin. Araxi is ready. (more…)

The $10 Gourmet: Restaurant Quality Meals That Won’t Break Your Budget
By Ken Kostick
Published by Whitecap Books 2009, softcover, $24.95; 177 pages

I’m always a little fearful of cookbooks that try to squeeze themselves into a corner with a promise — a hard-and-fast time line, a limited number of ingredients, or in this case, a dollar figure.

Such gimmicks — and, really, that’s what they are — do have great appeal at first, but they lose their lustre because, for whatever reason, they don’t hold up in the real world.

Today’s obsession is the economy and we’re all pulling in our shopping horns, buying less of everything, cutting out what really isn’t necessary.

Everybody’s got to eat though, but going out to eat on a regular basis is no longer an affordable reality for a lot of us. That’s why celebrity chef Ken Kostick’s latest book has such great appeal. The idea of cooking up your own restaurant-quality meals at home for $10 or less means you don’t have to give up fine dining. You just have to be more resourceful about it. (more…)

Kitchen Scraps: a Humorous Illustrated Cookbook
By Pierre A. Lamielle
Published by Whitecap Books 2009, softcover, $29.95; 197 pages

Who knew cooking could be this much fun — or this funny.

From the teasing title — I overheard someone ask if the book was about composting — to the  whimsically hilarious illustrations and surprisingly sophisticated recipes (well, most of them are, but we can probably safely exclude blowtorch s’mores from this group), Pierre Lamielle’s first cookbook is a delight. Surreal Gourmet Bob Blumer is one of his heroes, so that gives you a hint of what’s to come.

Dudes —  in Lamielle’s tongue-in-cheek lexicon, I’m guessing it means someone hip, young and probably good-looking — who like their soup and sandwich with a little satire will immediately take to this book. Check this explanation in the recipe for Totally-Baked-Out-Of-Their-Minds Potatoes: (more…)

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