02 April 2008

On My Shelves: Dish Entertains

During my hiatus I received a number of wonderful cookery books from publishers. I'm working my way through the backlog and will post reviews from time to time .

Many thanks to the good people at Harper Collins for sending this book to me. In interest of full disclosure: I've met Trish, taken classes at her cooking studio and was part of a group recipe testing for this publication. My photos of that cooking session can be found here.

Dish Entertains: everyday simple to special occasions
By Trish Magwood
256 pages; $44.95

I think a telltale sign of a good cookery book author is how they position food. I’m not talking about food primpery, nor anything along the lines of food politicking, but instead for me it boils down to feeding your loved ones—friends, family—tasty food that combines familiar dishes with interesting flavour twists in a way that doesn’t make you resent the efforts spent feeding them. I don’t tend to return to recipe writers who over analyse food or seemingly place an almost clinically prescribed regimen that borders on ceremonial fuferah on the acts of meal preparation than the finished food itself. Instead, I prefer making foods under the direction of those who enjoy feeing people. Trish Magwood, owner of Toronto’s Dish Cooking Studio and host of Party Dish, realises the social and familial importance of food; because of this, her first tome, Dish Entertains: everyday simple to special occasions, is a book I happily return to time and time again.

Dish Entertains celebrates people who gather around food, ranging from informal weekday family suppers to larger gatherings where you want to socialise and not be chained to a hob. It also recognises that not all parties are planned weeks or days in advance, but can be impromptu gatherings with just a few hours to whip up nibblies or a full meal for your guests. She also reminds you of the all important fact that entertaining need not mean a crowd of people, but “can even take the form of a meal at the kitchen counter with your spouse.”

Magwood collects more than 120 recipes to take you through many levels and layers of eating. Most of her chapters (hors d’oeuvres, soups, salads, mains, sides and desserts) are further divided into two parts: everyday simple and special occasion. Everyday simple is, as its title indicates is food that can easily be prepared during the week, after you’ve come home from work, school or wherever your day-to-day commitments send you rushing home from. Special occasion recipes are foods that are just as easy to prepare as everyday simple ones, but are a bit grander and easily lend themselves to your own individually defined bit of zhuzhing.

The book is simply designed—large, clean white pages with an unfettered typeface. Magwood’s language is just as uncluttered. Her well-written and logical recipes along with her suggestions and observations (“Who really likes their broccoli raw anyway?”) are direct and informal and read as if she is speaking to you and not at you. She also provide very good cooking and entertaining tips (including portioning food, party rentals and staffing for cocktail parties, and basic information about stocks, fats and tools for soups) and what I call “unrecipes” such as the how to put together a pizza bars—quantities aren’t given, but suggestions as to how to combine flavours on shop-bought breads are just as useful as fully measured and timed recipes.

The recipes are well written and logical and many are accompanied by gorgeous photographs. Magwood provides what she’s become known for: stylish food made with flare. Elegant Cremini Mushrooms Stuffed with Chèvre and Leeks (p28) easily transforms itself to an easy mid-week pasta supper. Her Fresh Pea Risotto (p146) includes key tips to making risotto, along with five just as easy and very tasty looking variations.

Quite honestly, I can’t find much—if anything—to fault with this book. All the foods I prepared at home and during a recipe testing session at Dish Cooking studio about a year and a half ago worked incredibly well and were absolutely delicious. Because I was involved with testing some recipes prior to print, I only cooked a couple of recipes for this review.

Sweet Potato Chipotle Soup (p86)
The only problem I had with this recipe was in finding chipotle peppers in adobo sauce—I went to several shops and finally found a tin tucked away. It was definitely worth the hunt. The soup was easy to make, hearty and combined sweet, smoky and slightly spicy flavours. I served this to friends and they all loved it.

Sautéed Winter Greens (p190)
Incredibly quick and adaptable to any dark winter green that normally scares small children. I made it with rapini and it was devoured by those gathered…

Here are the hors d’oeuvres I worked on during the recipe testing session:

Easy Smoked Trout and Avocado (p 34)
Quite honestly, “easy” is the word for this. Mash the avocado and other flavourings, and then plop onto a cracker and top with the smoked fish. I recall the flavour combination: relatively mild avocado, spiked with heat, paired with the deep, rich smoky trout. Very, very good.

Asparagus Wrapped with Crispy Pancetta and Parmesan (p20)
Easier to do than turning on the tap for a glass of water. Normally I’m not much of an asparagus person, but I’ve made this several times since, preferring the spindly baby spears than the thicker ones.

Here’s what the other testers worked on:

Sourdough Rosemary Boule (p 56) and Baked Olives with Orange and Oregano (p66)
Highly, highly addictive…

Cremini Mushrooms Stuffed with Chèvre and Leeks (p28)
Again, easy and elegant.

Baby Arugula with Baby Beets, Feta and Pistachios (p126)
The colours are gorgeous and the sweetness that emerges from roasting the veg is amazing. When paired with the briny feta, this salad can easily be turned into a dinner.

Quick Marinated Flank Steak (p 142)
This very simple marinade provides so much flavour. I remember thinking this steak tasted better than many restaurant steaks I’d had.

Chocolate Pots (p 224)
Normally I shun everything made with rum because of an allergy, but I had to try the teeniest little bit…which, if I recall correctly, turned into me finishing the dessert. Swollen tongue be darned, it was that good.

Regardless of which section or part you cook from, Dish Entertains lets you easily attain delicious food you would be happy to feed family, friends or pretty much anyone who shows up on your doorstep, napkin tucked under chin.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 4.5/5

The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4.5/5
Writing: 4.5/5
Ease of use: 4.5/5
Yum factor: 4.5/5

Kitchen comfort-level: Novice-intermediate
Pro: Good selection of easy, stylish and very tasty dishes

Con: People in smaller communities may have difficulties sourcing some ingredients.


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Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

This definitely looks like a book to add to my cookbook library!

Anonymous said...

Ooo, I've added that to my wishlist, if only for the Boule and olive recipes.
I've had to, unfortunately, cut cream pots from my diet. There was an intervention, I don't want to talk about it. :)

glamah16 said...

How fun to test and review books. One day for me perhaps....

Deborah said...

Sounds like another book I need to add to my want list!

Sara said...

This does look like a great book, especially that bread...
I enjoyed this show when it was on the food channel.

Annemarie said...

nice range of recipes you made from the book, Jasmine - I'm not sure if I've ever made that many dishes from one book, including my most favorite books!

Anonymous said...

Terrific! I'm looking forward to more book reviews!

Anonymous said...

I so know the feeling! I have a shiny new copy of a book I'm supposed to review sitting here as well, but I just haven't had the time to go through it and actually make anything!

In the end I may have to review it on the merits of the descriptions and photography, but I think that would be doing the book and the chef who wrote it a disservice.

Helene said...

Yep, the boule and olives...for sure! Everything looks wonderful!