Wednesday, January 16, 2019

One-Pot Pasta

Sorry for the photo ... this was dinner and I was hungry!
Here's a book with an interesting concept. It's called One-Pot Pasta, and it's written by Sarah Walker Caron. Not only is everything cooked in the same pot so you don't have to dirty everything in the kitchen, but a large number of the recipes have you putting all the ingredients into the pot at the same time.

Versions with meats rather than all veggies sometimes have you browning the meat first and adding it later, while seafood recipes tend to add the seafood at the end, since it doesn't take a long time to cook. But for the most part, the pasta doesn't get cooked in a separate pot. It goes right in with everything else.

In a way, it makes a lot of sense (and it's kind of genius, really), since you're cooking your pasta in something flavorful rather than plain water. On the other hand, you have to make sure the amount of liquid is exactly right, and everything needs to be finished cooking at the same time. It's not a project I would have embarked on.

But I was more than happy to cook from it.

My first try was a basic mac and cheese, because the idea of tossing it all in the same pot and letting it go sounded like a great time saver. It nearly made a heck of a mess on my stove, though, because when you boil milk, it likes to boil over. Keep an eye on that, for sure.

And then my cheese wanted to separate into clumps instead of melting smoothly, which wasn't optimum. I stirred a lot at the end and when the liquid was mostly gone the cheese decided to get more melty.

Next time, I'll try a different cheese, perhaps, and see if it's more willing to melt.

One little glitch in the book, too ... the recipe calls for parmesan cheese in the instructions, but not in the ingredient list. I added a small hand full, and contacted the author after I ate. She said there should be no parm in the recipe. But, you know, it's a mac and cheese recipe, so a little extra cheese isn't a bad thing. Sprinkle some on top, if you want. It's your dinner!

Then I tried the Saucy Spaghetti Marinara. I mean, when I make pasta, I add the sauce to the al dente pasta so they can marry a bit - but this takes it to a whole other level, cooking the pasta in the sauce from the beginning. And since you're only cooking for as long as it takes to cook noodles, dinner is done in no time. Obviously, this isn't nonna's long-simmered sauce, but that's fine. And, once you've made this, you can adjust the spices to your taste.

I used mini penne instead of spaghetti, because I had half of a one-pound box, after using the first half to make the mac and cheese (scribbles a note to add pasta to the shopping list).

When I put the noodles into the pot with the tomatoes and water and spices, I was skeptical. I thought I was going to end up with tomato soup instead of a pasta dinner. In the end, the pasta absorbed enough liquid so it was actually a pasta dish. If you have an Italian nonna in your family, she might not entirely approve, because this is not at all the way Italians would dress their pasta. This is a super-saucy American version.

I was glad the recipes I tried called for 8 ounces of pasta rather than a full pound. I try to cook recipes as they're written the first time, but ... when a recipe serves 8 people, that's just a LOT of food to cook for little ol' me. So, I try to cut them in half, which is a great thing until I run into the dreaded recipe with 3 eggs. Sigh. When a recipe starts off a little smaller, people who want more can simply double the recipes.

But enough about me.

This book certainly has an interesting hook, and it's going to be a time-saver for folks who want dinner on the table in the time it takes to cook the noodles. I'm definitely going to browse the book some more and see what other amusing ideas I can find.

I got One-Pot Pasta from the publisher at no cost to me.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Tex-Mex Diabetes Cooking

I'm not usually a fan of diet cookbooks of any type, but when I was offered a Tex-Mex geared toward diabetics, I decided to give it a whirl. The book is Tex-Mex Diabetes Cooking by Kelley Cleary Coffeen.

As I browsed through the book, the substitutions to make them friendly for diabetics were pretty simple. Whole grain tortillas were used instead of white tortillas, for example. There were also quite a few lower-fat items that were used. I've got to say that some lower-fat cheeses are perfectly fine, but I've tried low-fat cream cheese and I doubt I'd use it again unless it was well hidden in a recipe.

But ... if you need the low fat versions for health reasons, it's great they exist.

There are recipes for everything from drinks (yes, even alcoholic drinks) to desserts. It even has recipes for making your own tortillas. But to be honest, I was more interested in the main dishes and sides. Chicken Tortilla soup sounded pretty good, as did the pork carnitas tacos. I adore tacos. And I'd be happy with pretty much any of the enchiladas.

The book also includes instructions and recipes for making tamales. I've made tamales, and it can be quite a project if you make them in quantity - which you should, because they freeze really well. The red chile tamales looked pretty familiar. On the other hand, the spinach and asparagus tamales were unusual. I'm still not sure I'd love them, but I'm pretty curious about them.

While there were soooo many recipes that looked good, the one that stopped me pretty quickly was the chopped Mexican salad with lime. It just looked so pretty in the picture. And I adore salad. I might make the dressing all by itself and use it with my usual clean-out-the-crisper salads that happen pretty regularly here, and when I happen to have most of the ingredients for the actual salad, I'll assemble it the way it's supposed to be.

To be honest, I'd probably skip the sweets in this book, since I'm not a huge fan of artificial sweeteners, but that's really the only thing I wasn't fond of. But if you don't mind the taste of those artificial sweeteners, you'll probably be happy with the selections here.

If you're cooking for someone who is diabetic, or you're just looking for recipes that are lighter and healthier, this book would be a good fit for your bookshelf.

Why yes, I did get this book at no cost to me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Basket of Books: Something Different to Chew on

If you're looking for ideas for books for gifting, these have recently landed here thanks to their publishers or publicists. Yup, free.

None of 'em are cookbooks, although some are food related.

The Devil's Dinner by Stuart Walton

This one is all about peppers, from mild to mind-numbing. It starts with the biology of the pepper plant and the fruit, then moves into the history of peppers.

There's a handy list of peppers would be useful for anyone who wants to use a wider variety of peppers, but who isn't sure what the varieties are. That was actually one of my favorite parts of the book, and I have to say that even though I cook a lot, I wasn't familiar with many of the peppers on the list.

Finally, we get treated to the cultural and symbolic aspects. There's a reason so many hot sauces reference the devil, right? While this wasn't as compelling a read as a novel, it did tell its story, and while it was the result of a whole lot of research, it wasn't a difficult read.

If you've got a friend or relative who's a chili head and likes to read, this could be a lovely stocking stuffer.

Grits by Erin Byers Murray

Although I was raised in the midwest and didn't event taste grits until I was an adult, I totally adore them, so it was fun to dive into the history of them.

While this does travel the history trail, the author is right in the midst of it, talking about the research and the people she met along the way so it's kind of a personal journey as well as a whole lot of information about corn and grits.

The grain itself doesn't get a whole lot of story time, with the book focusing more on the more modern history of the milling and the cooking. Although ... the different mills themselves include history of their own.

This book also has some recipes. It's not a cookbook by any means, but there are recipes using cornmeal and grits, so when you get hungry, you can stop reading and start cooking and eating. This was an interesting read, and I loved that a few recipes were included. I don't know if I'll ever make the sweet grits, but I'm always willing to try a new recipe for cheesy grits.


Wild Wine Making by Richard W. Bender

While this is essentially a recipe book, it's also kind of a hobby book, since you won't be making wine after work and serving it for dinner. The book assumes that you're fairly new at wine making (good assumption) and starts off with lots of information about the equipment you'll need. Fortunately, it doesn't assume that you're starting a winery, so the requirements are reasonable.

If you're worried about the "wild" part of the title, you won't need to go foraging in a scary forest for suspicious fruits, leaves, and roots. Instead, you should be able to by your ingredients at a grocery store. However, some of the ideas are a little off-the-beaten-path when compared to the more usual grapes. There are recipes that include everything from apples to bananas to cayenne ... and most of the rest of the alphabet, too. And if you're really ready to be wild, there are wines that include cannabis, as well.

While these wines aren't going to be as easy as the ones you can make with a wine kit, they look like a really good next step for someone who wants to take off the training wheels and have a bit more fun.

The Art of Doodle Words by Sarah Alberto

I'll admit it. I doodle a lot when I'm writing. But I'll also admit that my doodles aren't quite like art. So I was amused by the idea of a book that could turn my crummy doodles into something a little better.

None of the letter doodles in this book are particularly difficult, but when the doodling added things that were supposed to look like something else, I decided that I really didn't need to embarrass a burger that way.

These ideas and techniques would be great for people who want to try their hand at crafty things, like making greeting cards, doing fancy lettering in scrapbooks, or even just to add something fun to store-bought cards.

While I don't know if I'll ever really get that crafty, doodling with letters is kind of fun, just for amusement.

Kawaii Doodle Cuties by Zainab Khan

When it comes to doodling, I'm not that great at drawing things that are recognizable as whatever they're supposed to represent, but this book might change my tune. A little bit. Maybe.

It starts out super-simple, like drawing a very basic kiwi fruit or macaron, then adding a cute little face that's pretty much just eyes and a smile. Yup, I can do that.

Each chapter starts with simple stuff, then the complexity increases. I can do a shamrock, but a cute Great Barrier Reef might be just slightly beyond my current capabilities. Although I agree it would be fun to try.

And that's kind of the point, right? It's fun. It's not art class, and there is no grade.

This would be a fun book for adults who want to do a little more than color in adult coloring books, but would also be fun for kids who want to learn how to draw more than stick figures and lolliop trees.

Although I make fun of my own drawing skills, I might actually spend some quality time with this book, just to see if I can draw the panda. Because it's freaking cute.

Why yes, I do get a lot of books for free from publishers. Yup.