Quill and Quire

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Book Reviews

The Wild West Cookbook

by Cinda Chavich

Tin Fish Gourmet: Great Seafood From Cupboard to Table

by Barbara-jo McIntosh

Wrap & Roll

by California Culinary Academy

Seductions of Rice

by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid

Heartsmart Flavours of India

by Krishna Jamal

As a bachelor, I find satisfaction in quickie meals prepared around midnight. By preparation, I mean opening a few cans and producing something only a single man could love, and that hopefully hits all the basic food groups. Men, by nature, are big fans of pizza for this very reason: A loaded pie keeps us satiated and nutrient complete for the better part of the day. That, along with the odd care package from mom – and in my case they are indeed odd (pickles, pancake mix, chocolate syrup, pork ’n’ beans) – and the world as we know it, at least where food and water are concerned, is complete.

Yet, I’ll admit that I have been known to cook. In fact, I actually enjoy cooking. When girlfriends have dared to live with me, they have discovered my passion for the culinary arts and taken perverse pleasure in telling people that not only do they have a great cook at home, but in a pinch I’ll even do the laundry and darn a few socks. Given the chance, I like being domestic, but during my years of singledom, I’ve amassed a grand collection of canned goods that I’m quite proud of.

Barbara-jo McIntosh’s Tin Fish Gourmet: Great Seafood from Cupboard to Table allows me to affirm my status as The Canned Goods King. It’s a book I can use to press my argument that much good can come out of a can of tuna or salmon. McIntosh’s recipes for “Crab Risotto,” “Nugget Potatoes with Tarragon Shrimp and Avocado,” and “Tuna and Corn Relish Pita” proves my point – and her claim that canned fish isn’t just for casseroles. I found every recipe simple to follow and the ingredients were almost always at the ready, or within a few blocks of home – no need to battle the crowds at the local fish market for a few grams of seafood.

Tin Fish Gourmet is filled with interesting (if only duotone) reproductions of old canned seafood labels, but unfortunately I have no idea whether my creations looked anything like they were supposed to because there are no photos of any of the finished dishes. That could be a blessing, however, as nothing I have ever tried to duplicate from a cookbook has looked anything like the picture.

Cinda Chavich’s The Wild West Cookbook takes the usual beans and beef menu of the cowboy and updates it for those more in tune with the times. Like a Henry Wienhard’s Beer commercial – in which the ranch cook introduces a few things “not on the regular menu” – Chavich takes the reader on a range ride that veers off the beaten track. “Wild West Bean Caviar with Roasted Potatoes” and “Trout Primavera in Parchment” are a couple of dishes that might seem out of place at a cookout, but are worthwhile variations on standard fare. Similarly, such staple items as bread, muffins, and pancakes are transformed in Chavich’s hands into “Smokey Red Pepper and Cheese Scones” and “Dill Beer Bread.” Preparing these dishes is simple, and I had no trouble getting fine results, as I did from most of the recipes I tried. Chavich’s straightforward step-by-step instructions are a plus, as are the accompanying mouth-watering colour photographs on every 10th page or so.

Burrito places are still rare on the West Coast, but the wrap is flourishing. Wrap & Roll by the chefs at the California Culinary Academy features 100 wrap recipes for those, like myself, who need food that requires little skill or time to prepare. Unlike the numerous wrap restaurants in Vancouver that merely jazz up basic flour or corn tortillas with the odd spinach or sundried something, Wrap & Roll crosses the spectrum, using crepes, pastry, vegetables, and thin oriental rice wrappers in a variety of recipes. Tips on wrapping are given in the beginning of the book for those who have little knowledge of the proper technique. (My approach has always been that if the guts – so to speak – all end up inside, then all’s well.)

Another variation on the wrap idea is the empanada. I’ve always been a big fan of this a-few-small-bites-gets-you-done pastry that can be eaten cold and is often served as a dessert. The “Carmelized Onion and Smoked Trout Empanada” gets a full thumbs up as does the “Truffled Banana Fritters,” served inside a spring roll wrapper. Even though one wrap, for arguments sake, looks much like another, pictures, other than the how-to illustrations gracing the first few pages of the book, would have been helpful.

For anyone who hasn’t experienced rice beyond Uncle Ben’s Converted, Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid will broaden a few horizons with Seductions of Rice, a book about the humble grain that is about as big as a NASA lab text.

Alford and Duguid offer an intense education on subjects ranging from rice cultivation, cleaning, and grading, to sizes and varieties. There is even a rice dictionary. Who knew there was so much to know about rice? Highly scientific in its layout, the book’s initial impression is that of a “Bob Vila Guide to Rice.” Separated into sections, each focusing on different regions of the world, the book is an encyclopedic introduction to this little white or brown (and sometimes black) treat.

The recipes in Seductions of Rice often call for specific kinds of rice and exotic ingredients unavailable at the local Safeway or corner store. For those heavily into rice, or looking for new and interesting ways to prepare it, this book comes highly recommended. Those who like their rice plain and simple may want to overlook the lengthy textbook-like history lessons, and simply try the recipes – some of which can be used without rice. “Tofu and Slivered Scallions and Ginger,” “Chinese Kale,” “Red Chicken Curry,” and “Lamb and Peanut Stew” fit into this category.

When I was a kid, the mere suggestion of hot or spicy food sent me into a frenzy – a meal spiced with anything other than oregano or garlic, and I was off to the local 7-Eleven for a ham-and-cheese hoagie. I have matured, however, and so have my tastes, which makes Krishna Jamal’s Heartsmart Flavours of India – endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada – a useful cookbook to have.

As with Seductions of Rice, a little work to locate hard to find ingredients is in order, but the results are well worth the effort. Included in the book, along with a short introduction focusing on eating “heartsmart” (Indian style), is a short glossary and pantry guide for those thinking of devoting a corner of their cupboard to all spices Indian. All the dishes, such as “Cassava with Meat,” “Curried Black Beans” and several chutneys, are simplified for easy preparation and made my house smell like a million bucks, even if my neighbours did all decide to visit me and take home whatever they couldn’t finish. As for pictures – which were at a premium in the other books reviewed here – Jamal’s Heartsmart Flavours of India has enough mouth-watering images to make anyone feel like one of Pavlov’s pooches.

Fed, fat, and happy, I’m ready for my winter hibernation even if it is, at this point, a world away.