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REVIEW – Optimal YOU, Christine Gingerich

24 Aug

IMG_20140815_203054_hdrWe love food festivals at YYZ because it’s an opportunity to meet all sorts of food producers and experts in drink in one place. Sometimes, you don’t even get to meet them in-person because there are too many great vendors, as was the case with the #WFDS, but they come and find you anyway!

Christine Gingerich is the enthusiastic (you can literally feel her energy radiate off your web browser when your read her emails) creator of Optimal YOU. She emailed us after the show and wanted to share her self-published cookbook. A Stratford native, she now makes her home in New Hamburg, ON, which is located just outside of Waterloo. She’s a teacher, life coach and health enthusiast. Like many people who re-invent their approach to food and eating, Christine’s health-concious recipes were born out of necessity.

We love cooking at YYZ and we’re trying to be healthier so we were eager to read her book.

Organization: This book is more than recipes – Christine teaches you a whole new strategy in the kitchen. Optimal YOU has tips for essential appliances, how to stock your pantry, and create meal plans. Christine does a mini lesson on healthy ingredients for those who don’t know the difference between your Kamut and Spelt flours. Fun fact: Christine uses her own blend of “healthy flour” (Rye/Oat/Barley) and a local mill is now producing the special blend for sale in-stores. How convenient! We also like the “tips” throughout the book designed to save you time and teach you facts about the foods and dishes you’re preparing.

Tested Recipes:



Happy Hallelujah Hummus (p.60)- pretty simple, We didn’t have the dried parsley called for in the recipe so substituted with fresh. Pretty flavourful. Will add less salt* and more lemon juice next time. *Christine recommends using salted canned chickpeas and not adding any salt.

Pesto Perfection (p.61) – Christine offers an alternative to exorbitantly priced pine-nuts: hemp seeds. It tasted like regular pesto! Slathered over tomatoes, it made a delectable and satisfying lunch.

Fresh Living Salsa (p. 68) – Salsa isn’t something that needs improving necessarily. The addition of grated apples was an interesting concept but not to our taste. We do agree, however, that making your own is preferable (in terms of health and taste) to store-bought.


Frijoles Refritos

Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans) (p. 119) – We’ve always wanted to make re-fried beans. The recipe was simple and her suggestion of using pickled hot peppers added a delightful kick. We would make this again for burritos. There’s not much left in the picture … because we ate all of it before we took a photo.

We loved her flavour combinations for the salads – great way to jazz up regular ol’ greens. Her tip for using a frozen bananas in smoothies was also a winner because it gives it a milkshake like consistency.

We wholly endorse her liberal application of beans in her recipes. Beans are underrated in terms of health and flavour. Everyone could use more beans in their diet.

We would have loved to see even more veggies/ superfoods like kale, beets and chard, which are now readily available at your local market. We can’t wait to try out the roasted butternut squash soup when they’re ready to harvest!

Conclusions: While we can’t comment on the health claims made in Optimal YOU, we do think her emphasis on using fresh produce and incorporating lots of veggies in your diet is a great idea. The variety of recipes also shows that one does not have to sacrifice flavourful and interesting food just because you’re watching what you eat.

The book is visually appealing. One of the things we look for in cookbooks is pictures – something for us to shoot for. Nearly every recipe in this book is accompanied by a vivid photo that looks good enough to eat. This book is a testament to individual enterprise! We love seeing foodies who love food share that passion with the world.

Toronto readers – take note, Optimal YOU is available at Noah’s Natural Foods (Bloor St.) and Book City (384 Danforth Ave). Go and check it out for yourself this weekend.


REVIEW – Michael Smith, Family Meals (Penguin Canada, 2014)

17 Aug


Full disclosure: the Gourmandes at YYZ don’t have kids so we don’t know what it’s like to have to navigate the different preferences in tastes, dietary restrictions, or how to include everyone in the cooking process. We bet it would be challenging.

We last reviewed Michael Smith Back to Basics in December. It was clear that he had special insight into working efficiently in the kitchen. He also knows how best to keep things running smoothly in his home kitchen. Some recipes, for example, like the “Weekend Pancakes” (p.12) have the tasks broken up for each individual kid in the family. Result: no fighting. I bet these tips would help you put your friends to work for a weekend brunch or dinner party. Eh, Cherry? He also offers organization and planning strategies that will make it easy to incorporate  healthy food options into any hectic work week.

The book is divided in “breakfast”, “lunch”, and dinner-type meals with a substantial section on “meatless” options. There’s a great section on slow/ pressure-cooked meals, which features classics like lasagna and “Rosemary Apple Braised Chicken” (p.144).  The lunch section was especially intriguing. Kids (or big kids like us) would LOVE the idea of a “tuna chip seaweed sandwich” or “lettuce wraps” in our lunch box.

Tested Recipes

Barley Kale Tabouleh

The Barley Kale Tabbouleh (excerpt here) salad is simple, elegant and so fresh tasting! It’s the perfect side dish to brighten up your favourite protein. I’m a fan of tabbouleh with a conventional smoother texture than in this salad but the use of kale and barley (as Michael says, you have “whole grain responsibilities” as a family chef) is so on trend.

Weekend Pancakes These are fluffy and healthy as 2/3s of the recipe consist of whole wheat/ whole grains. I also enjoyed using honey as a sweetner. The best part of this recipe: strategies on how to minimize the amount of dishes so that you don’t dirty every bowl and whisk in the kitchen … which is how *I* tend to make pancakes.

The recipes in Michael Smith’s Family Meals are mostly quick (except for the slow cook chapter), delicious, and satisfying meals. As I leafed through this book, I couldn’t imagine any tiny people revolting against their parental units over this food! There’s no sneaking in greens here or dressing up food to make it “friendly for kids.”  Kids, like people, respond to good food prepared with some precision and love. FYI: this is how you start raising your own gourmandes.

Thanks to Penguin Canada for making this review possible!

EXCERPT – Michael Smith, Family Meals (Penguin Canada, 2014)

17 Aug

Barley Kale Tabbouleh (Michael Smith, Family Meals, 2014)

This Barley Kale Tabbouleh recipe is simple and perfect for picnics, litterless lunches, and just a relaxing Saturday afternoon on the patio with a glass of wine. Enjoy! Make sure you check out the full review for more!

Barely Kale Tabbouleh (p.75)

Serves 4 to 6, with leftovers

For the salad

4 large kale leaves, tough center stems trimmed away

1 cup (250mL) of any barley

1 teaspoon (5mL) of salt

A handful of finely chopped parsley

Leaves from 1 bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped

4 green onions, thinly sliced

1 pint (500mL) of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 large dill pickle, minced

For the dressing

The zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons (30mL) of olive oil

1 tablespoon (15mL) of honey

1 tablespoon (15mL) of your favorite mustard

½ teaspoon (2mL) of salt

½ teaspoon (2mL) of your favorite hot sauce

  • Stack the kale leaves, then roll them up tightly. Slice them as thinly as possible, forming fine threads. Cram into a small saucepan and add ¼ cup (60mL) of water. Cover and cook over high heat until the kale softens, just 2 or 3 minutes. Drain and spread out on a plate to cool.
  • Measure the barley into the same saucepan and add 3 cups (750mL) of water and the salt. Bring to a full boil, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Cover tightly and continue cooking until the grains swell, absorbing the water and tenderizing, about 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until emulsified. Throw in the tender barley, the kale, parsley, mint, green onions, tomatoes and pickle. Toss the works together, evenly mixing the flavors, textures and colours. Serve and share!

Thanks to Penguin Canada for providing the excerpt!


REVIEW – Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, Unveiling the Rituals, Traditions and Food of the Hutterite Culture, Mary-Ann Kirkby

16 Apr
Penguin Canada (April 2014)

Penguin Canada (April 2014)

Our book review this month takes us away from pristinely decorated kitchens, rustically styled food, and perfectly coiffed home chefs. Mary-Ann Kirkby has followed up her 2007 bestselling I Am a Hutterite with an exploration of Hutterite traditions and communities through their food with Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen (2014, Penguin Canada) I know, not exactly an obvious choice for a food blog about the hip, happenin’ food scene in Toronto BUT I promise you it will all make sense in the end.

Our interest in this book stemmed from all the cooking we’ve been doing at home. We’ve come across cookbooks that are complicated, comprehensive, simple and quick, as well as labour intensive. Some recipes are written for a home cook and some just lend you insight into how a genius works (*ahem* Thomas Keller). We were eager to read about the enduring traditions of food preparation in an ordinarily closed community.

Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen reveals that while traditions persist, the community has adapted and incorporated modern/ mainstream tastes. The Davenport community uses an industrial sized oven (a $55,000 Rational also used in the White House) and commercial deep fryers. There is not, however, a dishwasher because it’s an opportunity for the women in the kitchen to chat. They often serve popcorn salad and Chinese stir fry for the crowds. The kitchen is the domain of women and they take pride in feeding the entire colony well.

The Davenport Hutterite community bakes fresh bread every week, they make preserves, and hand-make fresh noodles. On a visit to the Misty Acres Hutterite Colony (Saskatchewan), the head gardener playfully remarks to Kirkby, ” Who knows what kinds of tronk (slop) you eat in your English life… You’re probably full of fillers from all da store-bought food…” Does any of this sound familiar? It’s ultra fashionable at the moment to offer artisan baked goods, to grow your own organic vegetables, feature snout-to-tail menus. This traditional approach to food, however, is how Hutterite communities eat every day! Hipsters the world over are now writhing in jealousy.

Kirkby has also collected a bunch of Hutterite recipes in her book, which is special because these are normally passed down through the oral tradition. While we normally test recipes in cookbook reviews, these were written for VERY large crowds. The Katufel Totschelen (Potato Pancakes with Cream Sauce, p.193), for example, called for 18-cups of ground potatoes and 16 eggs. We’d be eating potato pancakes for a month! These recipes do, however, lend insight into the flavours of Hutterite cooking and we’d love to experiment for smaller portions. As well, good food (that feeds hundreds and generations) doesn’t have to be overly complicated or require back-breaking work.

A fascinating read. We think it’d make a great gift for those who have read and loved Miriam Toews’ Complicated Kindness (note: the characters in Toews’ book are Mennonite) or anyone who loves learning about food culture and traditions.

Thank you to Penguin Canada for making this review possible!

(PREVIEW) A Girl Called Jack – Jack Monroe (Writer, Cook, Activist)

28 Feb
Jack Monroe (Penguin UK, 2014)

Jack Monroe (Penguin UK, 2014)

Here at YYZ, we celebrate food and indulgences in life. We are admittedly privileged in our experiences. Without sounding trite, not everyone gets to run around the city noshing at the most fabulous restaurants or cook with organic produce. Some people can’t even afford to stock their fridges. In Ontario, 375,000 people use their local food banks.

I’ve been reading a lot about Jack Monroe lately in the UK papers. She’s a writer/ blogger, mother, activist for Oxfam and poverty, and a cook. Jack isn’t the newest celebrity chef. She was featured in a Sainsbury ad recently (a UK supermarket) for their budget range and she donated her fee to Oxfam. Her work is much more relatable and important.

Her writing and cooking were borne out of necessity. She was unemployed and found herself using local social services like benefits and the food bank. Already ashamed of her situation, she felt doubly crushed by how the current Tory government and Daily Mail-type media vilified those (in her case single moms) who found themselves needing state assistance. She attended local council meetings and started writing a blog (“A Girl Called Jack“). Her post, “Hunger Hurts,” (July 2012) described clearly what it was like (struggle, humiliation, depression) to have to slowly sell off possessions to make rent or to go to bed hungry because there was only enough food for her son.

She started documenting her efforts to feed herself and her son on reduced benefits. How much money did she spend on food? £10 a week. Using current conversion rates, that’s $18.32 CAD a week! I just spent $17 on cocoa powder, 6 boxes of jello, 2 cartons of broth … How did she do it? Shopping from value ranges in supermarkets and making her own food rather than relying on frozen/ pre-made processed meals. Her message: delicious and nutritious food is absolutely necessary and can be achieved ON A BUDGET with creativity and planning. She became a phenomenon.

We’re looking forward to Jack’s book, available in Canada as an e-book, Feb 27th and in paperback April 1, 2014. Until then, Penguin UK has graciously allowed us to provide our readers with an excerpt. We thought these turkey meatballs sounded delish!

A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe (Penguin UK, 2014)

A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe (Penguin UK, 2014)

At first glance, the book has great potential: great photos accompanying each recipe, a clear list of ingredients and directions, not too much text, and a tip on how to serve leftovers!

Jack Monroe’s concept is great. It reminds me of how women and families ate on rations during wartime in the early twentieth century. It’s also striking to me how dire the situation is for those who need benefits in Britain. Really, £10 a week?! 

Her experiences with food also sheds light on two issues with which Canadians and North Americans can relate. First, obesity rates are sky rocketing in this country and much of it is linked to poverty. It’s cheaper and less time consuming to feed a family on fast food than to cook a meal. But, Jack (and to a certain extent, Jamie Oliver has done this too with his specials on school dinners) shows us that we need a change in mentality to correct this type of thinking. It’s cheaper and healthier to make your own food. There’s also the matter of being a conscientious consumer. This isn’t about a fancy all-organic diet, which as we know can be expensive. When HoM and I cook, we eat seasonally and, as much as we can, from local food producers.

I’m not saying we get poverty like that experienced by Jack Monroe. We’re lucky in Canada that the recession didn’t hit us too hard. BUT, I think she brings a much needed reality check to our habits in eating/ consuming.

Thanks to Katya Shipster from Penguin UK for the excerpt from Jack Monroe’s book.