25 October 2014

Review: Coffee Obsession

I have a confession: I love coffee but I don’t drink it. At least, I don’t drink the kind that coffee snobs would approve of. I will have the occasional cup of regular drip-filtered coffee if I’m desperate for caffeine, but what I really like is a rich coffee flavor embedded in milk, sugar, and ice. Lots of ice. My current favourite is Tim’s Iced Capp with a Creamy Caramel flavour shot (addictive).

This time of year I’ve also been known to go for their Pumpkin Spice shot, which happens to be the current subject of mockery of a series of commercials that urge viewers to respect the (coffee) bean. While I think people should have their coffee in whatever form they please (with or without pumpkin), there is something to be said for respecting the bean. DK’s book Coffee Obsession is all about respecting the bean, along with the coffee traditions of cultures around the world. Best of all (for cookbook fanatics like me, anyway): there are recipes. Whether you’re a purist or prefer a little coffee with your milk and sugar, this book is an awesome resource. 

Coffee Obsession features info on the history of coffee; coffees of the world; café culture; species and varieties; growing, harvesting and processing; cupping (the coffee equivalent of wine tasting); choosing and storing your beans; home roasting; equipment; and, of course, making the best possible cup of coffee. There’s even a section on making latte art.

COFFEE FACT: Marsabit is the only area in Kenya where wild Rubiaceae has been found. The study and conservation of the coffee gene pool in these forests will benefit coffee all over the world.

Besides all the information packed into this book, it is visually stunning. DK really does excel at including great photos in all their books, and Coffee Obsession is no exception. There are also tons of illustrations—the book is fun to look at, as well as read.

COFFEE FACT: Guatemala is the 10th largest coffee producer in the world, with about 2.5% of the world market.

Recipes cover everything from the basics (Cappuccino, Mocha, Café au Lait, Americano), to more exotic and creative concoctions (Sassy Molasses, Caffe Touba—Senegalese coffee, Cherry Almond Latte, Ca Phe Sua Da—Vietnamese iced coffee, Espresso Martini). There are also recipes for syrups and flavourings, for those so inclined. As I was looking through the pages of recipes, I got more and more enthused about trying them all. I clearly have some experimenting to do.

COFFEE FACT: Nobody knows exactly how many coffee species there are, but to date, around 124 have been identified—more than double that of just twenty years ago.

One concern I did have with the book was with the editing: just flipping through I immediately noticed “Banana Split” was misspelled as “Spilt.” Besides being annoying, it does raise the concern that there could be bigger mistakes, particularly in the recipes (quantity errors, for example). Hopefully that’s not the case, but when trying recipes, keep an eye out for anything that seems off.

COFFEE FACT: Hawaiian coffees (eg Kona) are some of the most counterfeited in the world.

While Coffee Obsession isn’t exhaustive (and to be fair, it’s unrealistic to expect any book to be), overall it’s a great book on the subject, and a worthy addition to any coffee-lover’s cookbook collection. You’ll find tons of knowledge and inspiration here, and there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a whole new appreciation for this eternally popular beverage. You might even discover a new favourite way to enjoy your daily fix. DK sent me my copy, but you can get your own here (it’s on sale too). Or, click the badge to see other foodie-friendly books currently on sale:


 Coffee Obsession by DK.

08 October 2014

Review: Cooking Season by Season

I love eating seasonally. Who wouldn’t? It’s a way to ensure you get the best local produce at its peak, and usually at a better price than at any other time of the year (unless you grow your own, which is better still). With farmers’ markets popping up everywhere (in Toronto, every neighbourhood seems to have one—even City Hall has a weekly market out front), it’s even easier to get seasonal fare. The only problem is figuring out what to do with it. If fresh clams are suddenly everywhere, or venison turns up at the market, do you buy them and hope for the best? Or when you’re confronted with luscious piles of peaches or zucchini, what do you do with it all? Everyone’s probably got a couple of standard recipes for their favourite seasonal foods, but you can only eat so much clam chowder or zucchini bread before you get bored. Or what about those foods you see year after year and would love to try, but aren’t sure what to do with them? That’s why DK’s Cooking Season by Season is perfect.

This massive book is filled with information, photos, and recipes, all organized seasonally (I also love that early summer and high summer are split—perfect for gardeners). There’s even a section at the front featuring foods available year-round. Throughout, certain foods are singled out with a focus on varieties, as well as buying, storing, cooking, and preserving info (I just wish there were more of these special focus pages). The recipes are the real stars, though. There’s a great variety, simple to execute, with delicious results. For this review I tested four of them (all Fall recipes, of course):

Cajun Sweet Potato and Bean Soup
Even with a fair amount of chopping to do (my least favourite cooking task), this soup was a pleasure to make. With all the colours, it was like autumn in a pot. Besides being pretty to look at, the soup is delicious. It’s spicy and flavourful—even the SO agrees, although he deemed it too beany (knowing his bean aversion, I added only 2/3 of what the recipe called for. The beans were still quite prominent, although I didn’t find them overwhelming, so adjust according to your own tastes). Not only is the soup satisfying and filling, but it’s also super healthy; you can easily make it vegan by omitting the chorizo (add a hot pepper or extra chili flakes and a touch of liquid smoke to compensate).

I did have a slight issue with the directions, which instruct to partially puree the soup. We prefer our soups chunky in this household, so I’d skip this step anyway, but it does seem somewhat unappealing to puree meat and beans. Maybe that’s just me. But if you plan on pureeing the soup, I suggest cooking the sausage separately, then adding it and the beans after the rest of the soup has been through the blender.

Seared Halloumi Cheese with Figs
OMG—I loved this. The dressing ingredients (a combination of red wine vinegar, cilantro, hot pepper, and garlic) scared me a bit—at least the thought of them combined with figs and cheese did—but it was fantastic. Everything melded together brilliantly—this is probably one of the best salads I’ve ever had. It was so good that my SO—who claims to hate cheese, salad dressing, and wilted/cooked veggies—thought it was great. Part of its appeal for him might have been that the dressing reminded him of Thai flavours. Whatever the case, this was easy to make and will definitely become a regular addition to our table. Even better, if you want to omit the cheese and figs (which can be pricey and hard to find), the dressing would still be fantastic with plain greens (or maybe greens and different types of fruit and salad veggies). This is worth making and experimenting with again and again. I’m including the recipe so you can try it for yourself:

Seared Halloumi Cheese with Figs

10 oz (300 g) halloumi cheese, cut into ¼” (5 mm) slices
8 large ripe figs, cut into quarters lengthwise
Large handful of mixed salad leaves
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Small handful of cilantro, finely chopped
1 red chile, deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Drizzle of olive oil, to serve

Put the halloumi and figs in a large, nonstick frying pan over medium heat and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until they start to brown. Once cooked, place on a platter with the salad leaves [I placed the warm cheese and figs on the salad leaves, which is how I got the wilted effect.]
Pour the red wine vinegar into the same pan and increase the heat slightly. Add the cilantro, chile, and garlic and simmer over med-high heat until the sauce has reduced in volume by three-quarters. Pour sparingly over the figs and cheese [I poured it all over the entire dish]. Splash the salad with the oil and serve immediately.
Serves 4

There’s also a seared pancetta and feta variation, but I’ll let you get that with the book :)

Stuffed Mushroom with Herbs
Stuffed mushroom are something of a pain to make (although it’s much easier if you use a food processor) but well worth the effort. These ones were no exception. Herby, nutty, garlicky, and lemony—they’re tasty and pleasantly light. The SO wasn’t as thrilled with these, though—he wasn’t a fan of the lemon or the lack of meat (he’s the real reason I can never be a vegetarian). I, on the other hand, had no trouble polishing off four of these babies. The wild mushrooms are a nice addition but not strictly necessary, so if you want to make these at a different time of year, just use cremini or even white button mushrooms instead of the wild ones.  I think next time I might also try toasting the walnuts first.

Crispy Sweet Potato with Zucchini and Chive Mascarpone
Unfortunately, the last recipe ended up being a disappointment. The sweet potato was nice (and it did get crispy) but the zucchini was meh and the cheese is super bland (the addition of salt and maybe garlic might have improved things). It was an easy dish to put together, though, and if you like really simple flavours, this could be the recipe for you. I’ll probably make the sweet potatoes again, but I’ll skip the other components.

I didn’t plan to make mostly vegetarian recipes, but as a vegetable lover (yes, we exist) it’s nice to know there’s a good variety of veggie-focused recipes in this book to choose from. To give you an idea of what other types of recipes you can find in Cooking Season by Season

Spring: Pork and Clam Cataplana; Cheesy Bacon and Spring Onion Muffins; Thai Fish Cakes; Roasted Quail and Pea Shoot Salad; Pan-Fried Ham with Pineapple Salsa; Rhubarb and Ginger Upside-Down Cake

Early Summer: Battered Haddock with Lemon Mayonnaise; Herb and Garlic Artichokes; Curried Vegetable Pies; Chicken Fajitas with Tomato and Avocado Salsa; Strawberries and Cream Macarons; Cherry Jam

High Summer: Mini Chicken Burgers with Tomato and Chile Sauce; Spicy Sausage and Tomato Skewers; Brandied Lobster Chowder; White Fish with Spinach and Pine Nuts; Peach Tarte Tatin; Plum and Rum Jam; Green Bean and Zucchini Chutney

Fall: Beef with Beets and Spinach; Grilled Squid Salad; Rosehip Soup; Venison Wellingtons; Butternut Squash Stuffed with Ground Beef; Black Olive and Pepper Ciabatta; Blackberry and Apple Cake; Spiced Pear Pickle

Early Winter: Mussels in Coconut and Lemongrass Broth; Roast Pork with Bacon and Chicory; Shredded Turkey, Mint, and Pomegranate Salad; Stuffed Roast Goose; Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pancetta; Salsify Fritters; Chocolate Orange Truffle Cake; Apple Butter; Cider (that's right--it’s a recipe for how to actually make cider)

Late Winter: Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Saffron and Thyme; Crispy Bacon and Avocado Wraps; Chicken and Cornmeal Cobbler; Wasabi Beef and Bok Choy; Fish and Leek Pie; Lemon Cheesecake; Rosemary Jelly

Of course there are way more recipes in this book than I could possibly share here, everything from appetizers to pizzas, to desserts, drinks, and preserves. Basically, you’ll never again be able to use the excuse that you don’t know what to do with X veg/fruit/fish/meat. I owe huge thanks to DK for sending me this book to review. I highly recommend it, and lucky you—it happens to be on sale right now. Click on the button below and go on and get cooking!