Cookbook Review: Starters, Salads, and Sexy Sides

Side dishes can take a meal from good to great, in my opinion. In Caren McSherry’s cookbook Starters, Salads, and Sexy Sides you’ll find inspiring starter and side dish recipes for every occasion!

Blue Corn Madeleines stacked in a small metal dish on a red & white checkered cloth.

I received a review copy of this cookbook. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Menu planning for a party, family gathering or cocktail event can be stressful. Should you go with the standard recipes & dishes that you’ve made before or should you try something new?

I like to mix it up and try one new recipe each time along with a tried & true dish, and with the variety of recipes in the Starters, Salads, and Sexy Sides cookbook it’s easy to find something that goes along with the rest of the meal.

Starters, Salads, and Sexy Sides book cover

What to expect from this cookbook

The cookbook is laid out in easy to explore sections: a quick overview of pantry ingredients & tools, starter or appetizer recipes, salad recipes, side dish recipes and a final section containing some staples recipes that you may want to have on hand for everyday cooking.

Pantry Ingredients

This section is a short overview of a handful of high quality ingredients that you may want to keep on hand in your pantry for special occasions or even everyday cooking.

Kitchen Tools

Caren McSherry walks us through some kitchen tools that would be useful when making the recipes from the cookbook. Some items, like silicone baking mats, you may already have in your kitchen while others, like a madeleine pan, you may need to purchase. While you don’t need to purchase everything on the list, it’s helpful to take a look before you start planning which recipes to make.

The recipes

The recipes themselves fall into their respective categories of starters or appetizers, salads and side dishes. What I really like is that you’ll find quite a variety of dishes under each category.

The starters range from light and simple items like warm olives to heartier options like mini halloumi sliders.

In the salads section you’ll find recipes with a base of leafy veggies or more unique items like forbidden rice or farro.

Some of the side dishes can be a meal unto themselves. I would be happy with a bowl of four cheese mac & cheese for a weeknight dinner!

Staple recipes

This section of this book is dedicated to recipes that are great additions and flavour enhancers, some that you can make in a big batch and save in the pantry or fridge to use whenever you want to add some pizzaz to a dish.

Overall, I think the recipes in the cookbook provide a wide range of delicious dishes that you can make to accompany a special occasion dinner, serve for a cocktail party or combine several recipes for a fun meal.

Blue Corn Madeleines

I was given a review copy of this cookbook from Appetite by Random House, and the first recipe I tried was the Blue Corn Madeleines. As it’s written, the recipe is for a savoury starter topped with cooked shrimp but I opted to make just the madeleines that I served with salsa and guacamole for dipping.

Blue Corn Madeleines on a wire cooling rack

The biggest challenge in making this appetizer was finding blue cornmeal, the main component of the recipe. It’s not an ingredient that is readily available at grocery stores in my area but I was able to find in a Latin American market. The cornmeal is a light blue when uncooked but when cooked in this recipe it loses most of the colour.

The first time I made these savoury madeleines the taste was great but they didn’t look quite as I’d hoped. My second try was better, but I so think I need a new madeleine pan with more defined grooves.

Close up of blue Corn Madeleines on a wire cooling rack

The madeleines were quite easy to make and can be prepped ahead of time, then assembled with the shrimp just before serving. With just a hint of sweetness, it’s a delicious small bite that would be great for passed appetizers or a plated starter. The blue corn and smoked paprika add a unique flavour that would stand out amongst the usual starters.

The cookbook photos

The photos in this cookbook not only provide a visual portrayal of the recipe, but it’s a great resource when you are plating your dishes. Most of us tend to fuss over plating more when we are cooking for a crowd on a special occasion like Thanksgiving, New Years Eve, or for a party. Take some cues from the photos to help you create a dish that is as beautiful as it is tasty.

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