My friends and family clearly know me very well. For my 30th birthday I received a new camera (I hope you can tell with my new and improved pictures below!) and several amazing cookbooks. One that stood out - Feast by Lindsay Anderson & Dana Vanveller - was launched in the spring of 2017 . Definitely worth a look...OMG the bagel recipe!
Feast was developed with perfect timing (I am sure on purpose) as July 1st, 2017, Canada celebrated its 150th birthday. The book is a collection of recipes and stories that the two authors found and compiled during a Canadian cross country road trip. It sets out to present the diversity of Canada's food culture. Each recipe starts with a short story about who and where the recipe came from - a unique feature of the book.
In order to properly review the cookbook, I tested 4 recipes to get a feel for the quality of the recipes, instructions and end results. This was done over the course of a several weeks. One recipe was made for a very special event. The 4 recipes I chose were:
- Montreal-Style Bagels
- B33R Waffles
- Nanna Maria's Fiori Fritti
- Sour Cherry & Ricotta Perogies
As I was born in Montreal (my mom grew up there), I can definitely appreciate a good Montreal-Style Bagel. So when the opportunity to try and make my own bagels appeared in the cookbook, I had to take the plunge. Having worked with dough many times, I feel that success on the first try is a true testament to the cookbook it came from and this cookbook delivered just that.
Review: Overall the ingredients were standard kitchen staples so they were pretty easy to find and not overly expensive. From start to finish the instructions were very simple to follow and within probably 2 hours or less I was munching on a delicious fresh bagel straight from the oven. My only challenge was that some of the bagels had fallen apart (came out of their circle shape), so my only criticism would really be to have some picture instructions showing exactly how to seal the seam. With some dough experience, I know what to look for in terms of the texture of dough, but I am confident that even someone who is pretty novice could have very successful results. The bagels were absolutely delicious and I will 100% make the recipe again.
For my birthday I bought myself a Oster Waffle Iron with an Amazon gift card I received because...well why not! I had never made waffles before and never really order them in a restaurant, but after having such great success with the Montreal-Style Bagels from this cookbook, I figured the recipe would be good and I might as well give it a shot. Plus, there was a left over can of beer in the fridge, which felt like a sign from above 🙂
Review: I served the finished waffles to my husband (a tough critic) and his brother and we all agreed that they were some of the best waffles we have ever had. Granted, we haven't had much experience eating waffles, but they were delicious all the same. Light and fluffy in texture, we all gladly helped ourselves to seconds. The recipe was a breeze (although a bit more work with the separation of egg yolks from whites) and the waffle iron made cooking them almost too easy. I didn't try their suggestions to add to the batter this time, but I definitely will in the future. The only thing I will say about the recipe is I am not entirely sure what the beer adds to it (perhaps it's fluffiness?), but it does indicate you can substitute it for milk if need be which is great.
Nanna Maria's Fiori Fritti
In early summer at the market, farmers bring out beautiful boxes of zucchini flowers and I can't tell you how many times I have bought them and had them sit in my fridge unsure what to do with them. I was thrilled this cookbook had what seemed to be a simple recipe for stuffed zucchini flower fritters.
Review: Be forewarned that the main ingredient is most likely not at a grocery store (found more commonly at farmers markets) and is really only available late spring and into summer, but if you get your hands on some, this is a great recipe to try. It was a relief to find that these flowers are pretty durable and that breaking them is perfectly fine when making the recipe (as indicated in the instructions). One thing I really liked was the instructions let you know how to determine if the oil is hot enough. An easy rookie mistake is to either have the oil too hot or not hot enough, which can drastically change the texture and taste. The rest of the ingredients, aside from the flowers, were easy to find. I think I accidentally overstuffed the zucchini flowers, but other than that they turned out great. My husband and I scarfed them down as a fun summer lunch.
Sour Cherry & Ricotta Perogies
Perogies have always been a favourite of mine, but I have to be honest, I have never tried a cherry version (I usually stick to onions, potatoes and cheese). I was excited to see that this book offered a recipe that used some fresh seasonal ingredients on the sweet side in addition to savoury.
Review: For my best friend's engagement party I decided to make a batch of these seasonal perogies as my food contribution. I have to admit, of all the recipes I did from this book, this was by far the most labour intense and took the most amount of time. This is mainly due to the fact that there are really 3 subrecipes to make the full recipe. The first time I attempted the recipe, I grabbed sweet cherries instead of sour, which I quickly learned have a drastically different flavour profile, so be aware the recipe will come out different than intended. The pitting of the cherries is quite tedious so I just sat in front of the TV to pass the time. I learned long ago from a Polish friend that the key to a good perogie is making sure your dough isn't too thick...you want the right ratio of dough to filling. Rolling out the dough was quite taxing, but worth it in the end. Overall I was very happy with the result and it seems the guests were too as they went so quickly I didn't even get a chance to try one. From what I hear though, they were delicious!
Organization of Cookbook
While the cookbook offered some fun section headings (like Grazing, Field Trip, Sweet Stuff, etc) it was organized like a typical cookbook. It starts with breakfast, offers some appetizers, mains and sides and ends with dessert. Some fun additions included a section on preserves, pickles and sauces and drinks, which was a great touch and I will definitely try in the near future. If you are looking for something specific, there is an index located in the back.
I also loved how at the beginning of the book the authors give a breakdown of some key tips for Using This Book including choosing ingredients, alternative ingredients, baking, doughs and canning. This can be very helpful, particularly for the unseasoned home cook. Also, throughout the book was a brief write up on some of the different Canadian provinces the authors visited and some of the food they experienced which added more depth and a nice read. The cookbook was very well laid out with beautiful photos of each recipe.
Ingredients – Obscure or Common?
I would say that most of the ingredients are not obscure, but many are seasonal. For the recipes I did, the zucchini flowers and sour cherries are only in season for a certain time of year, however the rest of the ingredients were all pretty well kitchen staples or, at the very least, easily found at your local grocery store. Gratefully, substitutes were often given for the less common ingredients (eg. for the Reindeer Meatloaf recipe they say you can use elk, bison, or lean beef instead of reindeer/caribou). The ingredient lists for the most part were short or medium in length and nicely divided up if there were different steps (or recipes within recipes).
The instructions are written in paragraph form, but very step by step. The authors give good tips throughout and are clear on what to look for as you are making the recipe (eg. the loaf is firm to the touch, the dough should be pliable enough to roll out, etc). Probably my only comment on how the instructions could be improved is by providing a few more visuals on how to do more complex steps. Otherwise the instructions were clear, well thought out and easy to follow for all 4 recipes I attempted.
There is a section for vegetarian mains called "From the Garden", but peppered throughout the book are plenty of other vegetarian friendly recipes or recipes that could be adapted. The only section to stay away from if you are a vegetarian is "Feathers & Tails" and "Fins & Scales" so this cookbook is still a great gift if you are giving it to someone who doesn't eat meat.
I feel the instructions and ingredients in Feast are easy enough that a more novice cook could still enjoy this cookbook. Some of the equipment used, however, is definitely more for intermediate or advanced level cooking (this would include things like a stand mixer or waffle iron). Plus, when it comes to doughs, even though they describe the feel and give great instructions, I think some experience will lead you to a more successful first time result. So, with all that in mind, I would say that as long as you are a novice with a bit of experience then you should be good to go trying out these recipes. A more intermediate or advance cook will also enjoy the great, seasonal, fresh recipes too.
Buy or Leave on the Shelf?
A ton of great recipes, seasonal ingredients and easy to follow instructions is why I would give Feast a definite BUY. I am so happy to have received it myself and would definitely gift this to anyone looking to expand their cookbook library. The stories are fun and I am thrilled I made some of my all time favourite dishes including homemade bagels thanks to this recipe. A great book to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday!