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on September 27, 2012
Let me start off by saying my husand and I are 47 and 41 years old, respectively. I am a vegetarian (no poultry, fish or seafood, but I am not a vegan), and my husband is a meat eater. We have no children, and like to entertain, often trying out new recipes and using our guests as "guinea pigs". While we are certainly not high-class gourmet chefs, we can be adventurous in our food choices and are usually pretty successful in creating delicious cuisine. I have been searching for a new cookbook to give me new inspiration. I had never heard of the Canal House Cookbooks, until I was reading a magazine interview with a known celebrity, and she thought these books were the best thing since sliced bread! After following up with the reviews on Amazon, I figured I couldn't go wrong. I received the book last week, sat down with a cup of tea on my comfy couch, ready to be inspired by the recipes and dazzled by the amazing photography that supposedly graced this book. I really, really wanted to like it. But, I was majorly disappointed. The book started off good, with the Welcome to Canal House page. Very descriptive, I could picture myself in this kitchen, with the wood stove burning, overlooking the canal, delicicious aromas coming from the apartment sized old-fashioned get the picture. The first "chapter" is a 2 page read called Getting Drunk, by Coleman Andrews. I have no idea who Coleman Andrews is, and wasn't sure if the story was supposed to be funny, or factual or both, but it basically was about his drinking habits, alcohol in general, how it feels to be drunk, driving drunk, the smell of liquor, etc. I just didnt' "get" the whole article, and the 2 cocktail receipes that followed, were not appealing to me (Negroni and Jack Manhattan). So, at this point, I was getting a little concerned that this was not going to be the book I was hoping for, but I continued on. The next section was the appetizer section, with 4 recipes. Fried Zucchini was the first one. I mean, I don't really see what is new or exciting or inventive about that. The next was Beans with Sausage and Tuna. I don't really picture that as an appetizer, and a few pages in, I was now getting to view the supposed GORGEOUS photography. These photos are BLAND! Everything is monochromatic. Beige or white background, beige, white or earthtone serving pieces, similar colored food. Some of the food (like the Tuna in the above mentioned recipe) looks dry. I'm a very visual person, and my husband is actually a part-time professional photographer (although his specialty is photographing people, not food, and I do recognize the difference), but there is NOTHING in these photographs that is making me want to run out and create these dishes. I get that they are supposed to be simple, made in a simple kitchen, presented in a simple serving dish, with a simple table setting, but unappealing and bland are different than simple. I got to feeling that they were going for the Little House on the Prarie look - simple little beige linen dishcloth, draped over a very used copper kettle, with perfectly placed beige food inside. URGH! I made it through the rest of the book, and unfortunately, there is just nothing here that grabbed my attention. About 4 recipes using duck. I'm not even sure I can get duck in my local chain-grocery store, and really don't have many friends that like it. One recipe for veal, which as a vegetarian I have a real issue with, (many restaurants around here don't even serve it anymore) and again, none of our meat eating friends eat it. The recipe for lobster stew has you plunging a sharp knife into the lobster before cooking right behind his eyes. I suppose that is quicker and more humane than boiling him to death, but I don't even know if my husband would do that. There were a number of ingredients that I am not so sure would be easy to find unless I were shopping at a specialty (expensive) gourmet grocery eggs? juniper berries? Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkin? ... Maybe I am just not sophisticated enough for his cookbook, or maybe my ideas of simple cooking are much different than what is suggested in this book. So, unfortunately, I cannot recommend it, and tomorrow I will be bringing it to sell at my local used bookstore. Hope they are interested!
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on November 23, 2009
When last we left Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, they had triumphantly self-published Canal House Cooking Volume No. 1 --- and we had adopted it as our never-fail summer cookbook. Now our tans have faded, the leaves have fallen and they're back with Canal House Cooking Volume No. 2, the second of their three-times-yearly seasonal cookbooks.

I could not be more surprised.

For those just tuning in, the Hirsheimer/Hamilton collaboration is a classic, on the order of Lennon/McCartney --- they're completely complementary talents. Hirsheimer's photographs are food porn of the highest order; on the side of her photography career, she was executive editor of Saveur and co-authored four cookbooks. Hamilton co-founded our favorite restaurant in Lambertville, New Jersey, and worked with Martha Stewart and Cook's Illustrated. In 2007, they acquired a red brick studio overlooking a canal in Lambertville --- just across the river from the artist-and-tourist colony of New Hope, Pennsylvania --- and became missionaries for a special brand of cookbook: "home cooking, by home cooks for home cooks."

In No. 1, the ingredients are few and the recipes are simple. With reason: They're working largely with vegetables in season. The surprise of No. 2 is that it's a seasonal book, and the season is filled with holidays --- Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year's. And that calls for them to trade jeans for party frocks and get a little...fancy.

The good news: They have not forgotten their mantra. There may be more ingredients, there may be more steps in the preparation, but the results are out of all proportion to the effort. And there are plenty of entry-level recipes that are pure home cooking: turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie. Boeuf bourguignon becomes boeuf aux carottes, with vegetables strained at the end to make the sauce "smooth and silky" --- this will be in heavy demand chez nous very soon. And I see the family baker smearing the recipe for Chocolate Gingerbread with butter in the near future.

I don't need to say that the photographs will make you want to start cooking. Or that the writing is as warm and welcome as a just-made cheese puff. Or that No. 2 is the second reason these women are --- despite their make-do equipment in their off-the-beaten-track kitchen --- the hottest news in the cookbook trade.
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on December 21, 2011
I wasn't sure what to expect, as I have never seen Canal House Cooking before. However, I was very pleased to find detailed recipes for a wide variety of foods as well as menus for both Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. The recipes do not require lots of trips to tiny specialty markets - they rely on staples that are reliably found in most full sized grocery stores (or your garden!). Some recipes have pictures...but I do wish every recipe had a photograph. All in all it was a great find and I am pleased with the down-to-earth nature of this cookbook.
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on November 15, 2011
This was my first Canal House book and I was very pleased with the recipes featured. It's a very warm book and I appreciated the way it was bound, which makes it easier to travel with. Great book, looking forward to all future volumes!!
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on September 22, 2010
Canal House Cooking is like having a best friend who is a fabulous cook and shares her recipes with you!
The recipe using duck eggs was the first I have ever seen anything about using them, and we have plenty every spring.
My only critism is that I would have liked the book to lay flat when opened for ease of use when cooking.
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The Canal House book are arranged by season--this is Fall and holiday cooking. In particular, there is a recipe for dry-brined turkey that works well. Several of the menus are for big holiday feasts such as the popular Feast of the Seven Fishes, a Christmas Eve tradition around here (we're not that far from Lambertville, where the Canal House is located.) If you want to make prime rib, duck, lamb shoulder or heavy, long-cooked meat ragu spaghetti sauce, this is your book. If you want light vegetables with no butter, salads, and a lot of variety, this isn't it. This would be a go-to book for big dinner party feasts but for daily cooking, you wouldn't start here. Spackled here and there, you can find drink recipes like a Negroni (campari, vermouth and gin) and a Ramos fizz, a cold milk-based cocktail, a hot toddy with composed spice butter (the batter for hot buttered rum, in essence) and a Jack Daniels Manhattan. So this is a party book, for more traditional, heavy dishes.
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on June 21, 2013
I like this book but don't love it. The recipes all sound wonderful the book just doesnt engage me the way many of my favorites do.
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on December 11, 2014
What an honest cookbook! It's simple and straightforward from beginning to the very end. Home cooks writing for home cooks is so appreciated - I loved a few recipes so far (making them) - my favorites Rosti & Pommes Ana since I can't seem to be creative when it comes to potatoes! I also want to try most recipes, especially the duck recipes because I can never seem to find simple ones except for Canal House. Including a chapter called "Pears, apples & chocolate" (how can you go wrong?!) made this cookbook really exciting for me to study :)
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on December 18, 2014
The recipes in this book sound amazing! I love the article "Getting Drunk" by Colman Andrews. It's brilliant! The email from one author to the other was pretty great too! Even though most of these recipes are not what I would consider "every day" food, they still look and sound delicious!

Received a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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on January 2, 2015
I loved this Canal House Cookbook! Volume 2 is my first experience and I'll definitely be checking out the rest of this series. I loved the sample menus for the holidays and appreciated the wide variety of classic, hearty recipes.
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