Monday, October 16, 2017

Three New Cookbooks: Cook Beautiful, The Dinner Plan, and Simple Fare

With the holidays approaching ... first comes the spooky candy holiday, followed by the overstuffed bird holiday, and finally the gift-giving holidays ... it's time to start a wishlist. Or maybe a gift list. These three books have come to me through the Abrams Dinner Party - they're sending me their complete library of new cookbooks for this season. Lots of books. So many recipes.

There are so many new cookbooks to choose from, which is great, because there's something for everyone. On the other hand ... since there are so many cookbooks, it can make it hard to decide just which book is the perfect present for each of your cooking cousins.

Cook Beautiful by Athena Calderone is filled with pretty photos, but they aren't over-styled to the point where you'll decide the recipes are impossible to achieve.

One of my favorite photos is of Yogurt Panna Cotta with Strawberries and Saba. It sounds fancy, but there are only seven ingredients, plus saba or syrupy balsamic vinegar for drizzling. This would be an elegant dessert for any occasion, but easy enough for everyone.

Other photos show plating that's pretty, yet rustic. Not overwrought restaurant dishes, but food that belongs on the family table. It's something to aspire to ... be still very possible.

The book is arranged by season, which is great for those who prefer local, fresh, seasonal foods, but some of them can easily transcend seasons. Zucchini and Feta Fritters with Avocado Cream, for example, could be made just about any time of the year, since zucchini is always available. The scallions might be a little harder to find in some markets, but could easily be replaced by some onion and chives.

This would be the ideal gift for someone who loves to browse through books, who enjoys lovely photos, and who wants to cook dishes that aren't super-complicated.

The Dinner Plan by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion (the authors also wrote Keepers) is both a cookbook and a planning guide to make weeknight dinners a little easier. Of course it is, because the tagline on this one is Simple weeknight recipes and strategies for every schedule.

Each recipe is tagged, to let you know if you can make it ahead or whether it's something you can whip together from pantry ingredients. Maybe it's extra-fast, or a one-dish meal or something that you can cook in stages.

All these helpful hints let you plan better for those days when you'll be getting home from work late or for that day when you meant to go to the grocery store, but now you've got to shop from the pantry.

While the planning feature is great for cooks who need that help, this book stands on its own, even if you don't need to plan. Recipes like BaLT salad, with bacon, avocado, lettuce, and tomato, would be great for lunch (with less bacon) or for dinner with a tad more bacon. Pasta e Fagioli is a hearty dish that can be made ahead from pantry ingredients. Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Mustard and Herbs is easy enough for a family dinner, but lovely for a celebration, too.

The table of recipes by category is handy, so if you happen to come home from the store with chicken that was on sale, you have your choice of recipes, or if you're in the mood for soup or pasta, you can look for those instead.

This would be a wonderful gift for new cooks who might be having trouble getting dinner on the table, or for anyone who's a little disorganized. But it's also a great book for people who are looking for interesting new recipes to try.

Simple Fare Fall/Winter by Karen Mordechai is part of a series, but this is the first of these books I've seen. The format of the book is a bit unusual - it's a large paperback book. And by large, I mean height and width, rather than thickness.

The choice of text sizes is different, too, with some sections in very large type and others in more normal sizes. There's a lot of white space (great for people who like to take notes in their books) and the beginning of each chapter is blank, except for the chapter name. It's decidedly quirky.

Recipes range from light and simple, like toasts, to hearty and more complex, like braised brisket.

For people who like recipe variations, you'll find those, too. The Everyday Fish recipe calls for salmon with parsley, cilantro, mint, and lime, but variations are suggest for halibut with thyme, basil, lemon verbena, and meyer lemon, or sea bass with oregano, tarragon, purple basil, and lemon.

Because of the many variations suggested, this book is great for people who want to learn how to experiment with recipes, but who might not be ready to venture out on their own. Those variations also make the recipes easier for those who don't have easy access to a lot of ingredients or who are particularly choosy about flavors and combinations. If you don't like quinoa in your risotto, you can opt for the white or brown rice versions with a simple swap.

Friday, September 15, 2017

F*ch, That's Delicious #AbramsDinnerParty

No, that's not my opinion of a recipe, that's the title of another book from the Abrams Dinner Party. They're sending me a whole bunch of new cookbooks at no cost to me. Wheeee!

First of all, Action Bronson, the author F*ck, That's Delicious, seems to be someone famous. Apparently, I'm not quite hip enough to know who he is, but that's fine. I don't know much about most of the authors of books that I read.

Yes, I said read.

While this has recipes, it's not really a cookbook in the traditional sense. The subtitle on this one is "An Annotated Guide to Eating Well." Okay then. 

In this book eating well does not have anything to do with wellness, or with drinking kale smoothies, or with eating quinoa casseroles. Instead, it's about what the author likes.

The blurb on the Contents page probably explains it best: "My list of one hundred amazing things - the moments that got to me, the meals I ate, the places, the people, the artifacts, and the accessories." Each of the 100 things are food related. Some are recipes, some are about restaurants or places he's had meals, and some are other reminiscences. There are some odd bits and pieces, too, like his thoughts on toothpicks or on reading while on the toilet.

This is a book that's kind of hard to classify. The recipes that are included look interesting (although I'll admit that I haven't tried any of them yet) and the reading matter is certainly quirky. The language can be colorful (as you might have guessed from the title) and there's good information and even a little science thrown in. There's slangy language and there's some that's more straightforward. There's a little of everything.

The one thing it isn't, is boring. If you don't like one thing you're reading, move on to the next page, where there's probably something completely different. and possibly delicious.

This post is sponsored by ABRAMS Books, as part of the ABRAMS Dinner Party.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chicken with Red Rice from Slow Cook Modern #AbramsDinnerParty

The Abrams Dinner Party isn't really a party ... it's a group of bloggers who are receiving free cookbooks from Abrams for the next couple months. Since I'm a cookbook fiend, I'm giddy happy about participating in this.

I just got Slow Cook Modern by Liana Krissof, and dived right in.

The hook with this book is that it tells you want to toss into the cooker in the morning before work and then there's usually another step after work, usually adding ingredients that cook quickly or need to be warmed.

I've made one recipe so far. It was called chicken with red rice. The rice was red from tomatoes, not the naturally red rice. It wasn't a particularly pretty dish, but it was comfort food for sure. I mean, chicken, rice, tomatoes and spices ... yeah, that's good. There was a cilantro-lime topping that was included as a garnish, but I didn't make that. My cilantro plants were ... very dead ... so that wasn't going to happen.

That was probably the most simple recipe in the book, but I had leftover rice and I had chicken thighs, so it was a perfect fit. Basically, it was skinless chicken thighs, cumin, oregano, paprika, crushed tomatoes and salt going into the slow cooker for the first part of the process. When the chicken was done, it was tasted to adjust seasoning, and the the rice was added so it could warm up for serving.

It wasn't the prettiest dish on the block. That green garnish would have made a huge difference in the presentation. Or even some slices or chunks of avocado. But it was dinner time, I was hungry, and I wasn't about to run to the store for cilantro. I devoured it. YUM! This was a keeper. But my presentation was ... ugly.

Also, the lighting wasn't great. But ... yeah ... not pretty.

See! Even food bloggers eat ugly food sometimes. Gah. That's really ugly.

However, I got smarter with the leftovers. I still didn't have fresh cilantro, but I pulled out a bottle of cilantro-jalapeno-lime sauce that I happen to love. I artfully garnished ... uh ... not-so-artfully poured some sauce on top of my reheated leftovers, and it looked a lot prettier.

You want this. You really really want this.

The flavors also enhanced the chicken and rice, so I completely endorse the original garnish. A couple of sprigs of fresh cilantro would have made this photo even better ... but remember that dead cilantro? Yeah, still dead. And I haven't been to the grocery store today.

So, now that I'm not hungry any more, let's talk about the book a bit, mkay?

The recipes in the book don't shy away from using ingredients you'll probably have to shop for. Most of the vegetables are fresh, so you'll be shopping for those, right? At that point, you can pick up the fresh herbs or other things you don't have. However, most of the ingredients are common enough that a well-stocked grocery store should have most of them - no need for scouring obscure websites for odd things that you've never heard of. So ... it's not pantry cooking, but it's also not project cooking where you have to plan weeks in advance. It's good for weeknight dinners.

There's also not a lot of processed food in this book, except for the occasional frozen vegetable or canned tomato products, like the crushed tomatoes in the recipe I made. The chicken stock (or other stock) occasionally called for in recipes could be your own homemade stock, or you could buy it, whichever is better for you. But otherwise you can assume you'll be shopping for individual. mostly-fresh ingredients rather than canned soups or packaged mixes.

While slow-cooked food tends to be sort of monochrome as everything cooks together, this book pays attention to eye-appeal, suggesting side dishes or garnishes that will add some color and punch to the plate.

Some of those side dishes aren't cooked in a slow cooker - like cornbread or pesto or quick pickles - but it gives you a good idea what sides or garnishes to use with the dishes. I mean, if you happen to pick up some corn muffins at the store or you open a jar of mixed pickles instead of making every bit from scratch, that's fine, too.

The recipes in this book aren't your basic soups and stews. Sure, there's chili and chicken soup. But there's also Herb Butter Braised Turkey Breast, Jungle Curry Stew, Lamb Harira, and home made Quark. Lots of recipes that are pretty darned creative. Tarragon and Creme Fraiche Chicken might be next on my list.

Or maybe the Caldo de Pollo, because sometimes chicken soup isn't just chicken soup.

This post is sponsored by ABRAMS Books, as part of the ABRAMS Dinner Party.