July 5, 2009

Friday Night Dinners


I’m doing a summer cookbook series for CBC Radio that starts tomorrow. Needless to say, I am quite excited about it. Any excuse for me to research cookbooks at work is pretty amazing.

The first book I chose is Bonnie Stern’s new cookbook, Friday Night Dinners. My friend emily in Toronto (of the Palacsinta) told me about it. Her mother had bought it and she couldn’t stop raving.


Cookbooks instil a certain kind of love in me – I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about. When I went to pick this up from the library I literally clutched it to my chest and grinned. I was so excited to take it home and browse through it.

Friday Night Dinners is lovely, rustic and cozy, and most of the recipes are simple with easy ingredients and steps. Bonnie Stern’s focus here is on family meals, so the book is divided up into many kinds of dinners. There are different types of ethnic cooking, South African and Australian being the two I found the most intriguing.  There are celebration and holiday dinners. And there are a few extras, like Nostalgia Dinner and Al Fresco Dinner. Personally, I love it when cookbooks break away from the standard Soups, Salads, Poultry, Vegetables etc. chapters. It makes the book a lot more interesting to read. And the index is great if you are looking for a specific ingredient.


I made the red lentil soup with caramelized onions, the roasted asparagus, and the green salad with sweet Israeli dressing. All of them were delicious. I never have the urge to make soup, and whenever I make it I find it lacks flavour. This red lentil soup was the opposite. It’s extremely easy to make – a blend of caramelized onions, lentils, carrot, celery, garlic, water and spices – but the taste is deep and full. I think a lot of it is because of those onions. They take time but it’s worth it. A sprinkle of chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lemon on top also adds freshness.

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There are so many more recipes in this cookbook that I’ve bookmarked to make. But I think they’ll have to wait. The next book in the series is already calling my name. I’ve chosen Everyday Indian by Bal Arneson. It’s also a new book (although I’m not only doing new cookbooks) and Arneson is from Vancouver. It looks very exciting, and I can’t wait to attempt her samosas, her no-butter chicken, and her spice mixes.

You can hear my cookbook series tomorrow and every Monday after that on CBC Radio one (740 am, 93.9 fm) on Radio Active, from 3 to 6. It should be on at about 4:10. I’ll also post the link to the audio file here once it’s up.

Do you know a cookbook you think I should profile as part of the series? Let me know in the comments!


Matthew Sigal said...

Hey Isabelle!
It is pretty awesome that you are going to be on the CBC! Congratulations!
As for cookbooks, the series that I always think deserve more attention are the Tassajara books. The classics were written by Edward Espe Browne at the Tassajara Monastery in California. There are three: the bread book (the traditional recipe yields the most amazing bread I have ever eaten), the cook book (kind of a cooking primer, with chapters on ingredients. i think it is superneat) and the guest recipe book (with their more put together concoctions).
A recent book was published from Tassajara maybe last year? It was written by a lady whose name escapes me now... It is a really pretty book and the recipes look delicious, but it is a very different read than the old books.
Good luck with your broadcast!

Court said...

Oh I love cookbooks too! I don't have one that I use all the time, in fact I turn to the internet most of the time, but I just love looking at recipes and pictures when I do get my hands on a new one.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about buying Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson (from www.101cookbooks.com).

Lesley said...

Hi Isabelle,

It's Lesley here (Mackenzie's friend!). On the off chance that you are not already intimately familiar with the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook, I think you should add it to your list. I have made more than 60 recipes from it and have only been disappointed in one. All the others have been fabulous.

I also baked out of Richard Bertinet's Dough: Simple Contemporary Breads quite a bit last winter. It might be worth checking out too.

I'm looking forward to hearing your series!

Isabelle said...

Nice to hear from you Matt! I've never heard of the Tassajara series so I got their most recent book from the library and it looks great.

bruleeblog - I don't know why I didn't think of Super Natural Cooking! I love 101 cookbooks and I've been meaning to read her cookbook as well. Thanks.

Hey Lesley! Yes, the Rebar cookbook is definitely a contender. I don't have it but everyone I've talked to about it says it's a winner. Good to hear you agree!

Maki said...

I'm a fan of Bonnie Sterns cookbooks too. I've trying many recipes and they are all really good.

Anonymous said...

Country Mash

This is a delicious blend of root vegetables that goes well with any roast or braised dish. Even people who don’t think they would ever eat a parsnip seem to love it. It also makes a great topping for shepherd’s pie.
If you make the mash ahead, transfer it to a 13 X 9 inch (3 litre) baking dish and reheat, covered, at 350o F (180o C) for 30 to 40 minutes.

· 2 lb (1 kg) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
· 2 lb (1 kg) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
· 1 lb (500 g) parsnips, peeled and cut in chunks
· 1 lb (500 g) carrots, squash, turnip, celery root or parsley root, peeled and cut in chunks
· ½ cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil
· ½ cup (125 ml) chicken stock or cream, hot, approx.
· 2 tsp (10 ml) kosher salt
· 1 small bunch chives, optional

1. In a large pot, cover sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, parsnips and carrots with plenty of salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain well.

2. Add oil, stock and salt. Mash coarsely. (I like to leave it a bit chunky.) Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Spoon into a serving dish.

3. If using chives, cut into 2 inch (5 cm) pieces and sprinkle ofver vegetables.

The preceding is copied directly from the bootleg Xerox My Darling Wife yoinked somewhere. The single page says it is page 52 of a book called “Friday Night Dinners”. I’m pretty sure it is the book by Bonnie Stern, although I can’t find this particular recipe anywhere on the internet. If you go to http://www.searsadvantage.ca/SearsAdvantageCMS/recipes.aspx?ContentId=3596&LangID=EN you’ll see her recipe for Shepherd’s pie and it looks like the mash topping is pretty much the same as this.

A few notes on the version I made.

· I don’t have kosher salt, so I did not use Kosher salt. (We don’t keep Kosher here, ‘cause it interferes with our ham and cheese sandwich on leavened bread tradition.)

· I used Campbell’s chicken broth (in the rectangular packages) and I think I not only had ½ cup of that but ½ cup of cream as well. (There are few foods that are not improved by adding cream).

· I almost certainly added about ¼ cup of butter instead of or along with the olive oil. (Any foods that are not improved by the addition of cream will undoubtedly be improved by adding butter).

· My sweetheart is not fond of turnips, whether you call them swedes, rutabagas, turnips or skunk lumps, so I included none of them.

· My chives were barely out of the ground, so there were none of them.

· I did not measure the weights exactly.

· I did not cook the recipe exactly as long as they said. I went for the “or until tender” approach.

Other than these few points, I followed the recipe exactly, as I am wont to do. Bonnie, and more importantly MDW “like to leave it a bit chunky”. My preference would be to pass the whole works through a potato ricer, but I have found it best to accede to her wishes. As I have told MDW so many times, my philosophy for a good marriage is “I want to want whatever you want me to want to want.”