For Mother's Day, we invited one of our favourite mother-daughter duos to spend time together and do something they love. Jenna and Cheryl from Two Kooks in the Kitchen run a lovely blog, and we thought it only fitting to let them loose on one of our new cookbook arrivals and write one of their "Kookbook" reviews. Check out their culinary adventure, below.
Kook Jenna speaking here, with my mom looking over my shoulder (ahem). She's my closet editor (well not closet anymore). Love you anyways mom!
With Mother's Day around the corner, perhaps you are beginning to feel the pressure of finding the perfect gift for your mother that says "thank you for everything you've done for me". After years of wandering malls and co-conspiring with my dad, I finally gave in to a simpler approach than sourcing out a material representation... just giving my mother exactly what she always wants, that is, to spend some quality time together.
This year, a really fun opportunity fell into Two Kooks in the Kitchen's laps. We were approached by Labour of Love (an incredible Cabbagetown gem of a gift store...check out our piece on them on Fabulous Foodie Find) to do a cookbook review on one of the books they carry, Leon Happy Salads by Jane Baxter & John Vincent. We were thrilled. Not only would it make for a great blog post, but we were given a complimentary copy of the book from Labour of Love (thank you!), and most importantly, it provided the perfect experience of spending time together - planning, taking pictures, cooking and blogging. 'Best gift eva!' my mom says.
In order to properly review the cookbook, we tested 3 salad recipes to get a feel for the quality of the recipes, instructions and end results.
Crab with Pink Grapefruit
We chose the Crab with Pink Grapefruit Salad for a few reasons. First, we both loved the vibrant colours - a huge attraction for us in the food we like to make. Second, it looked easy and quick (no cooking involved) - another big plus in our book. And finally, there are a few crab lovers in the family so we knew it would be a hit.
Review: The recipe came together in no time as promised in the cookbook. The cookbook authors found a beautiful pairing of tart grapefruit with sweet crab meat. The crunchy pea shoots and creamy avocado added some nice textures. We thought the amount of sauce would not be sufficient, but in fact it was just right - it added flavour but let the other ingredients shine through. All in all, a solid and tasty recipe. And the dish was beautiful, plated on a black surface that contrasted the gorgeous pink, green and white of the salad.
Fried Halloumi & Avocado
We chose this recipe because it was a vegetarian option (something I could actually eat) and it again offered a beautiful variety of colours and textures. We also liked the fact that this salad could be transformed into a pita sandwich, something a bit more substantial. Oh, and did I mention fried cheese as the star of the dish - one of my favourites!
Review: When all the ingredients were layered together and the leaves were all dressed, the flavour profile really showed its true delicious colours. We had to make a few substitutions as we couldn't find piquillo peppers or Gem lettuce, but we found the closest alternatives and felt we got a great impression of the dish nevertheless. We would definitely make the recipe again. One suggestion: it's important to serve the Halloumi warm to bring out its creamy texture (once it cooled, it became rubbery). This would make a great dish served at a family-style dinner party, where each diner gets a half pita and can take the salad from a large communal plate.
We sometimes get flak from the men in our lives (and even my mom) that salads simply aren't substantial enough. “Where's the meat?” they would ask, but clearly they just haven't seen the light! So we chose the Wasabi Steak salad with marinated sirloin laid on a bed of greens to keep them happy. Don't let the meat fool you though. The recipe calls for less than a pound for 4 servings and the base of watercress, shaved asparagus and edamame beans is super healthy. We were also intrigued by the how the wasabi would taste in the dressing used in this salad.
Review: We were unable to find black sesame seeds and, instead, just added more toasted white seeds. Again the salad was easy to prepare, even though marinating the meat for an hour or more required more time than the other recipes. Needless to say, the cook usually has a few other things to do in the meantime so no big deal. We followed the recipe closely for purposes of the review. Every cook with a bit of experience will typically make a few tweaks to their own style and tastes and we are no different. For example, we would have added, say, some julienne red pepper for a bigger pop of colour (or perhaps the black seeds would have done the trick after all?). And, we would have patted the meat dry before frying it and perhaps cut it a bit thinner. Or even better yet, grill the meat to medium rare, then slice it thinly to lay on top. The wasabi came through loud a clear - perhaps a tad overpowering for our guests, but they enjoyed it nonetheless.
Organization of the Book
The book is organized into unique categories including: Classics (well known salads), Naturally Fast (20 mins or less), Lunchbox (perfect for 1 serving), Food for Friends (dinner party winners) and Food For Family (crowd-pleasers). Following the salad recipes are a few pages on Crunchy Things (unique items to add texture) and Dressings (although most recipes have dressing recipes included on their page). It is an interesting breakdown and good for figuring out what type of meal you are looking to create and, if you are looking to use a specific ingredient or make a vegetarian salad for instance, there is an excellent index in the back that makes it pretty easy to find relevant recipes.
The book also includes, in the front half, a section on essential items to have in your fridge/cupboard for "sexing up any basic salad" as they say, and also some great tips on prepping for salads such as how it is best to toss a salad using your hands given that we have a more delicate touch than forks and spoons.
Overall some great content and well organized to find recipes specific to your needs.
Ingredients – Obscure or Common?
For the most part the ingredients were fairly easy to find although there were a few substitutions that we needed to make (like the piquillo pepper). I also happen to cook a wide variety of ethnic cuisines and live in a very multicultural city with accessible specialty stores, but some may be more challenged with a few of the ingredients. For those who are more adventurous or avid home-chefs, they will find the ingredients to be pretty familiar whereas novice cooks might be a bit more overwhelmed. Another key point to note about the book is that because it is originally from the UK, the measurements are done by weight (grams or oz) instead of cups. Both my mom and I have digital kitchen scales, which we use frequently. They are easy to find, small and easy to store. If you plan on expanding your cooking, I would highly recommend getting one of these.
The majority of the recipes have only a few sentences for the instructions. In some cases, however, this can be slightly deceiving as some of the ingredients include prep work. For example, the Wasabi Steak recipe called for cooked edamame beans, which means that there is a cooking process here and not in the instructions themselves. It either assumes you can source cooked edamame beans (which personally I have not seen before) or that you know how to cook them.
Aside from that, we found the recipe instructions easy to follow, but there is an assumption that you know your way around a kitchen at least somewhat, so probably not for complete novice cooks.
One of the things I love about this book is that each recipe indicates if it is wheat free, gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian or vegan. When we first got the book, I figured that the majority of salads would be vegetarian, but I was surprised to find out that was not the case. I would say about half or just less were vegetarian (so still a substantial amount) and many others could easily be made vegetarian by leaving out the meat/fish and substituting vegetarian options.
For the most part, the cookbook is fairly easy to follow, however a more intermediary chef (above a novice) would have an easier time understanding the ingredients/flavour profile and 'filling in' some instructions. I would not gift this to someone who is just starting out in the kitchen, but absolutely to anyone who has at least a basic cooking skill level/knowledge set.
Buy or Leave on the Shelf?
Lots of great tips, tons of variety, great food philosophy and beautiful pictures is why we would give this cookbook a "buy". Many people think (like our husbands) that salads just don't cut it, but this book really turns that notion upside down. We also really loved their 5 principles behind their recipe choices which includes: the food must taste fantastic, it must be remarkably good for you, you must feel good after you eat it, it has to be kind to the planet and it has to be affordable. Great philosophy!
Recap on our Mother's Day Cooking Adventure
At the end of our rather long day, we were able to sit back and enjoy a few bites of salad together, recapping what we learned, how well we worked together in the kitchen and how we should approach our review of Leon Happy Salads. I will let my mom take over from here to say whether she felt this was a good Mother's Day overall/good Mother's Day gift....
My dearest Jenna, partner, kook,
Best Mother's Day Eva! What a wonderful gift you have given me in becoming my Two Kooks In The Kitchen blog partner and all the conversations, strategizing, analyzing and problem solving that entails. Cooking together for this cookbook review was the icing on the cake. Watching you organize the shopping list and tackle the recipes with ease was nothing short of inspiring, knowing that just a few short years ago you barely knew the difference between boil and sauté. I was blown away by how well equipped your kitchen was with beautifully sharp knives, all the newest gadgets and a huge variety of both common and obscure condiments and seasonings. I am bursting with pride to witness your new confidence and savvy not only in the kitchen but also in life. Your zest for personal growth and trying new things is simply a joy to watch. Thank you for this wonderful Mother's Day adventure.
Love you Kooks,