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A Collection of Sarah McLachlan's Favourite Recipes
by Sarah McLachlan with Jaime Laurita
Madrigal Press Ltd.; Reissue edition (April 20, 1999)
Reviewed by Adam Hiller
On a snowy Saturday evening (not the best type of night for a turnout, but still with good attendance), the Cookbook Review Committee gathered in a sleepy suburb of Wilmington, Delaware, to critique the cookbook Plenty. As most fans are aware, this purports to be a cookbook of singer-powerhouse Sarah McLachlan’s favourite recipes, compiled by her chef, Jaima Laurita.
From the recipes in this cookbook (not to mention her figure), it
is clear that Sarah McLachlan is a “vegetarian that occasionally eats fish.”
I usually find that recipes in cookbooks geared towards such audiences
are only attractive to a vegetarian who occasionally eats fish. But
this book is definitely the exception. The recipes that fill these
fu1ly indexed 125 pages are so attractive, one might not even notice that
there are no meat dishes. Consider the recipes we prepared:
There was no dish that the Committee did not like. By and large, we found each of the dishes to be a little less spicy than one would have expected, possibly owing to the fact that the recipes were designed to be prepared en masse. For those who acquire and refer to this cookbook, we would probably recommend using a bit extra of the spices called for. Also, the recipes struck us, on the whole, as having a bit less salt than would be expected. Obviously, this can be corrected to taste, at the dinner table.
Among our favorite dishes was the Portabello Mushroom Stack. The photograph of this dish was perhaps the most elegant in the entire cookbook and, unlike many recipe photographs in the cookbook world, was also very similar to the finished product in the kitchens of “amateurs.” The recipe was not difficult to follow, although cooking the portabello mushrooms was not without some difficulty—eight portabellos take up a lot of surface area. Our Committee member used a griddle, which she indicated, in hindsight, was probably not the best choice. Apparently, when she sealed the mushrooms together in a plastic bag to bring them to the review site, they finished cooking each other. The Committee was very impressed with the chef’s method of adding the herbs and grated cheese to the eggs. The result is a “stack” of portabello mushrooms, spinach layers, and tomatoes the height of a fully-stocked burger. There was also a delightful cherry tomato garnish. All of the ingredients work well together, both in taste and appearance.
The samosa, an Indian appetizer, is a potato-stuffed pastry with peas and herbs. The recipe in this book was somewhat challenging to prepare, even for a more seasoned cook. The instructions were easy to follow, but the dish itself takes a lot of time to prepare and does not yield a great quantity. The results were tasty, albeit a bit bland. (Also, for those who care about such things, they do not reheat well.) One can make the dish a bit more manageable by using puff pastry (rolled thin and brushed with melted butter) rather than phyllo, although ours split open. Some technical changes may make this dish easier for the novice cook, such as mixing certain ingredients separately before adding to the potatoes (such as the lemon juice, honey, and molasses) and adding the peas last to keep them from being pureed by all the mixing. Our tester made the filling a bit more flavorful by adding some extra ground toasted mustard seed and a lot more lemon juice. Although fine in their traditional role of appetizer, we found that the samosas worked well as a side dish.
The Black and White Salmon Teriyaki may have been the favorite dish of the Committee, both for taste and preparation purposes. They were absolutely delicious, crisp but not overcooked, because the recipe calls for broiling followed by high temperature roasting (475 degrees). The marinade was easy to prepare, once the ingredients were assembled. A warning about this one: plan to visit an Asian grocery store (or a normal grocery store with a good Asian food aisle) at least a day before preparing this recipe. You will need mirin (a Japanese rice wine ), sake, bok choy, dark sesame seeds, and sushi rice. The sushi rice balls, rolled in two-tone toasted sesame seeds, are a nice adornment to the salmon steaks, and we would consider preparing them to accompany other dishes.
The cannelloni was appreciated by all. It took a lot of preparation, according to the Committee member who prepared it, but was not especially difficult and could be done by a cook of any level given sufficient time. This dish reheats well.
The caprese salad was also delicious, although its success may rise or fall based on the quality of the ingredients (which is probably true of all caprese salads).
The Committee’s consensus regarding the Smoky Poblano Pasta was that it was not as flavorful as it appeared. We would recommend doubling the spices and “flavor ingredients” (such as the poblano, onions, colored peppers, cilantro, and liquid smoke) or halving the non-pasta starch ingredients (beans and corn). The version we prepared was a bit too bland. But it certainly looked gorgeous.
A word to the wise on the Tequila Salsa: It is very good, but the recipe yields enough for a small army. The recipe indicates that it makes enough for “one party bowl.” Our largest punchbowl held maybe half of the total product, which means that not only are you going to use every sealable plastic container in your house, you will have to combine the ingredients in batches. However, if you have enough people to eat it, the recipe is definitely worth it. The salsa is a bit “crisper” than commercial salsas, because it uses a lot of fresh vegetables. Although it uses a quarter cup of tequila, the tequila is not noticeable and should not be a deterrent to the tequila-frightened. Also, if you have any leftovers, I found that it also makes a nice vegetable mix that can be stir-fried with cubed chicken, or it can be mixed with a little cream and tossed with pasta.
Both desserts turned out well. The streudel was difficult to prepare, not because of the recipe instructions (which were very clear, according to the preparing Committee member) but rather because of the phyllo. The first instruction calls for soaking the cherries in brandy—so how bad could it be? We were all so stuffed after dinner, few of us could have more than three or four helpings of the streudel.
The love cake was a little unusual, in that it was not unusual at all. The recipe calls for a quarter-cup of beet juice, as well as a small amount of vinegar, which we thought would give the cake a very distinctive taste. Surprisingly, it tasted like cake—good cake, but cake. Also, the recipe was a bit confusing on what exactly “beet juice” is, and where exactly one obtains it.
Most of the recipes use ordinary household ingredients, but certain of the ingredients (especially the Asian ingredients) can be difficult to find without a specialty store. Also, the “chef on a budget” should be aware of common substitutes or omissions that will not greatly affect the taste or texture of the dishes, because some of the optional ingredients can be somewhat pricy.
The Committee agreed that many of the recipes reflected this particular chef’s present position: caterer to a company on tour. Many of the fancy dishes, such as the portabello mushroom stack, are “layered” to enable the chef to lay out fresh ingredients on a table and construct them assembly-line fashion. In small quantities, the recipe is nearly the same amount of work. This makes the cookbook more useful to someone hosting a large dinner party than to the chef making dinner for a family of four, although there are some exceptions.
The half- and full-page color photographs are beautiful portrayals of plating suggestions, and it is not too difficult to discern how even the amateur chef might duplicate the serving styles in the home kitchen. The appearance of this cookbook—even in its paperback form—is a definite plus, although it is probably more of a utility cookbook than a coffee table piece. All in all, the Committee gave it seven thumbs up.
The photographs also include several snapshots of Sarah and her tour
company, and the Committee agreed that it was a definite “must have” for
Sarah McLachlan fans, whether or not they cook.
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