By Trish Magwood
Reviewed by Robin Currie,
for The Inquirer
Dish Entertains, by Trish Magwood, was the sort of book I might easily bypass at the bookstore. The Stepford-wife cover and the initial flip-through left me uninspired.
But after trying a few recipes, I found that Magwood wasn't a Stepford wife at all: she was much more like a perky friend helping me in the kitchen.
Magwood, a Canadian Food Network star who runs a popular Toronto cooking school, catering business, and cafe, provides the formula for her fresh, informal approach to cooking and entertaining, dividing up her chapters into "Everyday Simple" and "Special Occasions."
Most recipes include chatty little intros, with helpful tips and suggestions for fun parties, like how to set up a burrito bar for friends to fix-their-own.
I gravitated toward the simple dishes, as they fit my casual (read: life with children) lifestyle. I love recipes that can be put together quickly but produce impressive-looking results.
The sun-dried tomato and feta dip perfectly fit that bill. It was literally tossed into the food processor and, in a matter of minutes, a rich balsamic-laced dip emerged. Served on toasted baguette slices with a piece of Kalamata olive on top; it made a simple, sophisticated - and tasty - hors d'oeuvre.
Magwood suggested using the dip as a sandwich spread. It became a delicious panini on Tuscan bread with sliced chicken. And that's not all - it can also be used on pasta!
The sweet-pea mash, flavored brightly with lemon and parmesan, was equally simple to prepare and delicious on crostini.
I also loved the lemon orzo salad with baby spinach, feta, and caramelized onion. The onions lend a subtle sweetness to the dish that takes it to a higher level than other recipes for similar salads I have tried.
Pistachio-dusted chevre and date "truffles" were beautiful and delicious. The chevre-cream cheese mixture with a hint of port and sweet date rolled in chopped pistachios makes a lovely savory dessert as well as a nice starter. I took these to a party and people raved.
Yes, these "truffles" are a bit labor-intensive, but not hard to master. Take her suggestion and use plastic wrap to form them. The recipe states that these can be made two days in advance - but I found that the nuts softened too much. Wait til the last minute to roll in the nut mixture.
The Indian spiced chicken skewers with cool raita were a minor disappointment. The dish was rather one-dimensional, with the curry powder overpowering the fresh ginger and garlic. I love curry, but even I thought it was too much. Try reducing the curry powder and amping up the ginger and garlic or more balance.
Spanish Cake with maple cream icing with all its cinnamon goodness is apparently a favorite of the comic actor Martin Short and was served to Tom Hanks and the Spielbergs for Hanks' birthday. (Funny thing: there is not a lick of maple syrup in this recipe. It's more of a caramel icing.)
The upside down chocolate cake was also good and, surprisingly, not too sweet.
This James Beard Foundation Book Award winner is a perfect book for the first-time entertainer as well as the seasoned host. Dish Entertains offers clearly written, simple to follow recipes with excellent results.
So prepare a few dishes, grab a glass of wine and enjoy your guests.
MarketBasket: Pistachio-Dusted Date and Chevre "Truffles"
Makes 20 hours d'ouevres
4 ounces chevre, softened
2 ounces cream cheese,
2 tablespoons cassis or port
Salt and pepper, to taste
10 dates, pitted and halved
1/2 cup pistachios, lightly
toasted and ground
1. In a bowl, mix together chevre and cream cheese with a fork. Add cassis and a pinch of salt; mix until smooth. Chill for 30 minutes.
2. Measure out about one tablespoon chevre mixture. Press a date half into mixture. Cover date and chevre with plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to help you evenly distribute the cheese around the date to create a little ball with the date half inside. Remove plastic wrap. Continue with remaining mixture and dates.
3. Spread ground pistachios on a small plate. Season with a touch of salt and pepper. Roll each chevre "truffle" in pistachios to coat evenly. Refrigerate, covered, until serving.
Per serving (based on 20): 58 calories, 2 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 4 grams fat, 6 milligrams cholesterol, 30 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.