Christine Cushing, a Torontonian with a history as a restaurant cook and food educator, hosted Christine Cushing Live on the Food Network and Dish It Out on the Life Network. She also produces a line of eponymous specialty food products. Trish Magwood’s Food Network show, Party Dish, provided viewers with instruction on entertaining. Both of these TV chefs bring their respective talents to the pages of new cookbooks this season.
In Pure Food, Christine Cushing aims to help people understand how to shop for, and cook with, fresh ingredients. She also wants readers to have fun discovering new ingredients. To this end, she provides a helpful primer at the start of her book on less commonly used produce, such as Japanese eggplant, kumquats, fennel, blood oranges, and king oyster mushrooms. She also details methods of organizing and stocking a pantry. And, perhaps most importantly, she provides excellent practical advice on choosing fish, meat, and poultry.
Cushing’s recipes are grouped according to main ingredients, such as fish, meats, grains, veggies, and fruit. Her instructions are clear and precise. The emphasis is on vibrant and slightly offbeat cooking, in recipes such as Sweet Potato, Orange, and Belgian Endive Salad; Penne with Pumpkin Seed Pesto; Miso-Crusted Rack of Lamb with Pear-Blueberry Glaze; Parsnip and Brussels Sprout Roast; Spicy Chive Cornbread; and Coconut Rice Pudding.
In Dish Entertains, Trish Magwood aims to guide readers through the sometimes tricky task of cooking for parties. She divides her book into sections by courses, with each section subdivided between “everyday simple” recipes (such as Fig, Arugula and Prusciutto Rolls; Quick Marinated Flank Steak; Mocha Brownies) for less formal gatherings, and “special occasion” recipes (Lobster and Citrus Salad on Endive; Herb-Crusted Beef Tenderloin; Frozen Lemon Soufflé) for fancier affairs. Though the simple recipes require less work, even Magwood’s most complex recipes should still be fairly manageable for the average home cook. Instructions are clear and admirably concise. Like Cushing, Magwood draws from an international palate, focusing on food that is light and fresh, while paying great attention to the integrity of ingredients.
The books themselves are each beautifully produced. Magwood, for whom this is a first book, receives cloth covers and a jacket embossed with metallic print, while Cushing, who has produced two previous cookbooks, must settle for a very pretty oversized trade paperback with a matte cover and French flaps. Graphically, Cushing’s is the more interesting volume, with designer Patricia Papadakos’ use of bold colours, simple layouts, and playful fonts creating a lively and fresh feel. Magwood’s book aims for a simpler graphic style that one imagines was meant to be elegant, but instead leans toward the anemic.
Photographically, Dish Entertains offers a more dynamic range of images, with cleanly styled food shots, posed pics of Magwood, and colour instructional photos. In Cushing’s book, Bill Milne’s otherwise excellent food shots are sadly burdened by a repetitive focal depth and static cropping. More variety in layout and framing would have better suited the book’s playful sensibility.
Either of these books would be perfect for an amateur home cook looking to go beyond the can opener and frozen peas to a more dynamic cooking experience and more flavourful food.