Imperfection still tastes good
Fraiche Food, Fuller Hearts: Wholesome Everyday Recipes Made With Love
by Jillian Harris and Tori Wesszer
Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2023
$45.00 / 9780735240780
Reviewed by Rebecca Coleman
There’s a shelf in my living room bookshelf dedicated to cookbooks. These are mostly hardcovers, brightly-coloured; every bit as much décor as they are utilitarian. One of the books on this shelf is Jillian Harris and Tori Wesszer’s Fraiche Food, Full Hearts.
Cousins by birth, but more like sisters, Tori and Jill have turned their sizeable Instagram followings into big businesses. Their signature bright white images and drool-worthy food jump off the page, whether that page is on your phone or in a book.
And they’re not just pretty pictures. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t visit my friend Chantal in Victoria, and she didn’t make either the scones or the waffles from Fraiche Food, and the Butternut Carbonara is a staple here at my house.
The duo’s signature is food that’s plant-forward (which, as a vegetarian, I appreciate, because there is less waste when buying a cookbook that has whole chapters I’ll never get into), kid-friendly (they both have young families), relatively simple (as busy working moms), but still tasty, and featuring whole foods as much as possible.
Their second cookbook, Fraiche Food, Fuller Hearts, Wholesome Everyday Recipes Made with Love, has just recently been published, four years after the first. It’s substantial; there are 135 recipes, and it covers the gamut, from breakfast to dinner and all the snacks in between. There’s even a section of “basics,” essentially how to make recipes that go into your recipes, like applesauce, bread or tomato sauce. Every recipe is accompanied by a photo done in their signature style.
I made four recipes from Fraiche Food, Fuller Hearts: one appetizer, two mains, and a dessert.
We started with the Sweet and Spicy Vegan Lettuce Wraps, meant to remind you of the dish made famous by the Cactus Club Café. For mains, we tried the Ginger Beef, and also the Baked Crispy Cauliflower Sandwiches. The dessert we tested were the Blender Blondies.
Both the Lettuce Wraps and the Ginger “Beef” rely on soy curls as the main source of protein, or the substitute for the meat. I don’t really have a problem with this, as I seem to be a vegetarian in a minority—I don’t really like tofu. I see it as more of a necessary evil; it’s cheap and a great source of protein, but no matter what I do to it, I don’t seem to be able to make it taste good. Like tofu, soy curls take on the flavour of whatever you pair them with, but unlike tofu, they have a more meaty texture. They come dried, in a packet, which is shelf-stable.
Both recipes used the same method to cook the soy curls. You start by soaking them in hot water to activate them, then you drain them, squeeze out all the water and dry them. Then you toss them in cornstarch (a step that did not work for me, as the cornstarch didn’t absorb), drizzle with a little oil, and bake them. Once baked, you toss them in a sauce to coat.
They’re then served in a lettuce cup with various garnishes for texture, like crispy chow mein noodles, peanuts, cilantro, and green onion. This was a really tasty dish, but if I made it again, I might add additional vegetables to the “meat” mixture to add a little more texture and to extend the dish a little.
We tried the Ginger “Beef” on a bed of stir-fried broccoli and rice, and it made a comforting mid-week dinner.
The Baked Crispy Cauliflower Sandwiches, coated in panko, were giving vegan fried chicken sandwiches. I find cauliflower to be a bit hard to work with, though. You have to cut them into “steaks” and the coating doesn’t always stick. It’s also a challenge to get the right filling-to-bun ratio. In this case, our cauliflower filling was quite a bit bigger than the bun, but overall, a fun and tasty veg recipe.
For dessert, we tried the Blender Blondie. I was excited about this recipe—I’m all for any recipe that calls for me to just dump all the ingredients into my blender, then pour the batter into a pan and bake. It’s super simple, and makes for a great weeknight dessert.
Additionally, this recipe is both vegan and gluten free, which is a bonus.
However, this recipe was the one all of my half-dozen taste-testers liked the least, and universally, it was the addition of the peanut butter that they had a problem with. To be clear: I love peanut butter. I eat it every single day, and I bake with it often. While I think it was included as a binder in the place of eggs, it just seemed out of place here, both flavour- and texture-wise.
Overall, I liked the recipes, and I’ll return to this book to try others in the future.
But it brings up a bigger question for me: have cookbooks just become decoration for most people? Personally, I own many shelves of cookbooks, and I cook from them often. But I think I might be the exception to the rule. How many people who purchased this cookbook bought it for the recipes, and how many bought it as a coffee table conversation piece? A way to own a small piece of a lifestyle that is untenable to most people (myself included).
The photos in this book are perfection, and their family gatherings look unlike any family gathering I have ever attended. I understand that that’s the game—people buy into the Fraiche Food lifestyle because they want their lives to look like the shiny pages of these books. It’s aspirational.
And while it’s great to dream, it’s great to learn new things, and try new things, I’m wondering why we are still pursuing unattainable standards.
Me, personally? I like my messy little life and my messy little kitchen.
Should you buy Fraiche Food, Full Hearts? Absolutely. It would make a great gift, as well. But just don’t expect that your food will look like the photos in the book. And that’s okay. It’ll still taste good.
Rebecca Coleman is a content creator, foodie and 2x cookbook author. She specializes in vegan/vegetarian food, and is always on the hunt for the world’s greatest donut. Rebecca lives in Vancouver, BC, with her son and their tuxedo cat. She has previously reviewed The Five-Bottle Bar: A Simple Guide to Stylish Cocktails by Jessica Schacht. Visit her website at: https://cookingbylaptop.com/
The British Columbia Review
Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.
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