I received a copy of At Home With Lynn Crawford for review from Penguin Canada. Nevertheless, all opinions are my own.
You may have noticed this jaunty Christmas penguin on my front page. He’s there because I’m participating in Penguin Canada’s Daily December Delights Campaign. Every day in December, there’s a new featured book, with surprises, extras, or contests running for each selection. There’s also $750.00 worth of Penguin titles up for grabs. You can enter and explore, here.
I came late to discovering the joys of Food Network Canada, so for years I had no idea what people were talking about when they were raving about their favourite celebrity chefs. Then, when my parents started downsizing, I went to stay and help out and discovered my television kryptonite. Not only did I finally see Iron Chef and Chopped, but I got to know my first Canadian celebrity chefs since the Urban Peasant was on air. Today’s chefs are a little more sophisticated (I still love the Urban Peasant’s version of 40 cloves of garlic chicken) and I’ve come to love watching Anna Olson, Michael Smith, and Ricardo Larrivée. One of my favourite shows, though, is Lynn Crawford’s Pitchin’ In, with its wacky premise, Chef Lynn’s endless curiosity about ingredients, and the fantastic meals she serves at the end of each episode.
At Home with Lynn Crawford is her second cookbook. The first, Pitchin’ In, was inspired by her television show and replicated the fine dining at home ethos of the meals she served to her hosts on the show. Many of the recipes in her first cookbook were quite technically challenging, especially for inexperienced cooks. Her new cookbook takes a different tack, focusing on easy home recipes, including a wealth of recipes for ingredients like stocks, marinades, spice rubs, and flavoured butters. As a result, this book is perfect for a new cook. Chef Lynn also includes her take on a number of basic recipes like baked beans, potato salad, and chicken noodle soup that make a good starting point for someone learning to cook. There are classic recipes like Coq au Vin, Cioppino, and Porchetta that might seem familiar to older cooks, but will be brand new to many young people. Her recipes run across many cuisines, including Asian, Caribbean, and Indian flavours, which is another good point of entry for new cooks.
But, it’s not all slow lane cooking. Her Sweetbreads recipe requires some finesse and techniques like salt-baking certainly piqued my interest. Most of all, it’s her chef’s eye for detail which makes her recipes interesting. The ingredients are given as much attention as the whole. Something as simple as steak and mushrooms becomes much more sophisticated in her hands, with a rich marinade to start and red wine butter to finish. I like the way that the recipes cover so many categories, too – not just appetizers, mains, sides and desserts, but also jams and spreads, seasoning salts, and a cocktail section that might even get Trevor’s attention.
The book itself is beautiful, with lovely photography and a clean, spare layout. However, this brings me to what I didn’t like about it, which is how space is used in parts of the book. Serving champagne merits two pages and variations are often presented as separate recipes. It’s not a huge problem, but it can promote more hunting around for things you’re trying to find fast. With its emphasis on easy recipes, I’d also like to see more detail in the instructions, which would help new cooks when they might be unfamiliar with even the more simple techniques. But, those are really the only two issues I had with the book.
I’ve only had a chance to test drive one recipe so far, but I think I chose well. Chef Lynn’s Sweet Potato Bourbon Cake is full of rich ingredients, but it bakes into a cake that’s both substantial and light. The bourbon glaze reminds me of sucre à la crème, but with some smokiness from the alcohol. (I may have to try a boozy version of sucre à la crème this year.) I used squash and Canadian whisky in place of the sweet potato and bourbon, but as Chef Lynn mentions in the recipe, these substitutions work just fine. It’s a big cake, made for sharing, but I suspect that it will keep well, too. You can find a more elaborate version of this recipe here.
I plan on working my way though some of the other recipes, and I might just be handing out a few jars of Chef Lynn’s Old Bay Seasoning at Christmastime, too. If you head over to today’s square on Penguin’s calendar, you can find some sample recipes from the book. And if you’d like to get a taste of Chef Lynn in action, her Pitchin’ In Christmas special is running right now on Food Network Canada.