Canadian Living magazine has been influencing home cooks north of the 49th since its inception in 1975.
It has reflected the changes in Canadian cooking over these past forty years, during which time the nation’s culinary tastes have evolved and broadened. In the process it has become one of the country’s most trusted sources of reliable recipes.
The Test Kitchen’s ‘Tested Till Perfect’ logo means what it says.
I first encountered Canadian Living when I was a high school student back in the early 1980s. I got my first subscription when I was 18, and for the past 30+ years I’ve been saving my favorite recipes from the magazine and the cookbooks.
The Ultimate Cookbook is Canadian Living’s most recent publication and is a celebration of 40 years of Canadian food and cooking. Some of the 450 recipes have been pulled from the Test Kitchen’s extensive archives and others developed specifically for this book. Older recipes have been updated and refined as necessary to incorporate more innovative techniques or ingredients.
When I was offered the opportunity to review the book, I had high expectations. The Ultimate Cookbook met them fully.
Let’s take a look at some of the book’s features.
Layout and Organization
The Ultimate Cookbook has a standard chapter organization. Each of the 16 chapters focuses on a specific food type, starting with Appetizers, Dips and Spreads and ending with Desserts. While there is no chapter devoted to meatless meals, there is an icon used throughout the book to indicate when a recipe is vegetarian.
The index is well cross-referenced so that you can find recipes in more than one way. Slow Cooker Potato, Cheddar and Chive Soup, for example, appears under both ‘slow cooker’ and ‘potato’.
The recipes are clearly laid out with sufficient white space on the page so that there isn’t a lot of visual clutter.
The Kitchen Reference section at the end of the book includes a description of the Test Kitchen’s recipe testing process, Canadian Living’s recipe assumptions (for example, unless otherwise stated, butter is salted), a kitchen equipment primer, a list of substitutions, meat and poultry how-tos, and a produce buying guide.
Recipe instructions are clearly written and easy to follow. Ingredients are listed in the order they are used in the instructions, and cooking times include a visual description so that the cook has an idea of what the cooked food should look like, which is helpful in judging timing more accurately.
Storing instructions and make-ahead suggestions are included where appropriate, and many recipes include simple variations.
Most recipes include a brief introduction that gives some background information and sometimes additional cooking tips.
The most important aspect of a cookbook is, of course, the recipes themselves. Do they work? Do they taste good? Are the ingredients easy to find?
For all three questions, The Ultimate Cookbook gets a yes.
I tried several recipes from the book: Classic Oatmeal Cookies (p.407) and Multigrain Buttermilk Pancakes (p.272) for the first time. Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are my favorite cookies in the world, and this recipe was the best I’ve tried.
Classic Chocolate Layer Cake (p.384) is a recipe from the archives, and was already one of my favorite cakes. I came across the Reveillon Tourtiere (p.371) years ago, and it has been a part of our holiday menu since (though I’ve adapted it over the years).
While there is a good range of Canadian classics – Butter Tarts, Nanaimo Bars, Date Squares, Pea Soup, Baked Beans – at the same time the recipes reflect the multicultural fabric of our country: Tabbouleh, Naan and Pad Thai.
There are recipes to suit many different tastes, with ingredients that can be found at most supermarkets. In my less populous region, nearly all of the ingredients used in the book can be found at my local Superstore or other grocery chain stores.
The Ultimate Cookbook lives up to its name with a well-rounded selection of solid recipes.
This collection would be a boon to less-experienced cooks needing to build their confidence in the kitchen. For the more experienced, it offers excellent starting points for developing and adapting their own variations.
While I would have liked more vegetarian recipes, I like the book’s overall balance in favor of fresh foods without unnecessary additives.
Canadian Living’s 40th anniversary cookbook showcases our country’s culinary roots and updates them for a new millenium.
Publisher: Juniper Publishing (Oct 06, 2015)
Hardcover, 448 pages
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.