Cookbook Review – Food 52 Genius Recipes

Cut to the chase – I like this cookbook very much.  It has a high concentration of recipes that I want to cook for dinner.  But are they genius? 

The tagline is “100 recipes that will change the way you cook.”  Here’s my breakdown: some of the recipes are those you’ve seen or heard about a million times and probably already have pinned to your Pinterest.  Like Jim Lahey’s no knead bread.  Not only do I have that recipe but I’ve also pinned a food blogger’s attempt to simplify this already simple recipe.  Other famous recipes are included like Marion Cunningham’s yeast waffles, Rao’s meatballs, and Barbara Kafka’s roast chicken. Other recipes seem to have been included so the author could cover the bases on making sure every famous chef was represented.  Pretty much every chef you can think of has a recipe in this book and does it really make sense that all of them would have a genius recipe that changes how we cook? 

Some of the recipes are genius. The cooking method for Chicken Thighs with Lemon produced crispy, juicy chicken with practically no effort. Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion? You literally combine canned tomatoes, butter, an onion that has been halved (no chopping!), and salt and simmer it for 45 minutes. That’s it. You ditch the onion, which has given its life to the sauce and you end up with thick, oniony, buttery tomato sauce. There’s an eggplant pasta dish where you cook the heck out of the eggplant with some stock until it’s soft enough to mash and you end up with this creamy eggplant pasta sauce.  Salt-baked herb salmon — kind of genius, kind of weird. Genius in that the salmon cooks on a bed of salt – it stays moist, has a lightly salty flavor, and very easy clean-up. But then how hard is it to cook salmon – why this weird method?

Other recipes are not so genius. Rao’s meatballs call for the secret ingredient of…..water. The meatballs were very moist, but tasted bland. The Spicy Tomato Soup, with just onions, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and basil was meh. The Caesar salad dressing that calls for mayo instead of raw eggs was pretty genius but I came up with a very similar recipe on my own that’s simpler and which I like better. Crispy-skinned fish sounded promising but was definitely not genius.  It called for dusting the fish with Wondra to get it crispy.  Maybe I’m just lazy but I can’t get my fish dry enough for the Wondra to not get gummy. You know what’s a genius way to get crisp skin on your fish? Heat. Sear at high heat and then finish cooking in the oven.  That has always yielded me crisper skin than the Wondra method did.

Other recipes are not genius in that they’re not changing the way I cook, but they were just tasty recipes that I would make again. Mushroom Bourguignon was deliciously hearty, Spiced Braised Lentils & Tomatoes with Toasted Coconut – yum. Gratin of Zucchini, Rice, and Onions with Cheese was good although used way too many dishes, including: a grater for the zucchini, a pan to boil the rice, a pan to fry the onions and the zucchini, a pan to warm the milk, and a baking dish.

Critiques aside, I like this book alot. It gives me lots of dinner options and I like that it includes many vegetarian recipes. This has become one of my go-to books for weekly menu planning.

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A Shameless Plug

This is a shameless plug for my new companion blog, Good Enough Life Coach.  Like Good Enough Gourmet, it will provide hacks for getting through life the easy way.  However, while I’m actually pretty good at cooking, I’m not all that great at the things I plan to write about on Good Enough Life Coach.  But that just makes it more fun, right?

Citrus Salad

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Here’s another fruit salad that seems fancy but is simple as anything.  Pick out a variety of citrus fruits.  Here I have a grapefruit, a Cara Cara orange, and some other type of orange.  Here’s a handy-dandy article about peeling, or rather, not peeling oranges.  I thought it might only work on tangerines (which are easy to peel in any event) but it kind of worked for my oranges and grapefruits.

Peel the citrus and separate the segments and cut them in half.  Add a drizzle or two of honey and a few drizzles of balsamic vinegar.  Once I added some chopped tarragon because I had some on hand. It was good, but I prefer it unadorned.  Super refreshing.

 

Stepped-up Fruit Salad

IMG_2805Over the Thanksgivukkah weekend, I had several family events to attend.  To counterbalance the loads of heavy food, I brought fruit salad.  Although fruit salad can be the dull dish that everyone passes over at a potluck, a few simple tricks can elevate it.

First, use whatever fruit is in season and looks good to you.  Forget the tired watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew unless it’s summertime.  In this salad, I used apple, pear, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and grapes.

Then for the coup de grace.  Squeeze a lime or two over the salad.  Then add chopped mint.  Everyone will come up to you and ask you what you put in the salad, or they’ll ask, “did you put mint in the salad?” like it’s the most original and clever thing to do.  Which of course it is.

 

Good Enough Gourmet Joins a CSA, Part 2: Obsession

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So I’ve been obsessed by my CSA.  As I said in my last post, my first delivery came on a Sunday and I panicked a little, wondering what I was going to do with all that produce.  Sunday is my meal planning day so receiving the produce, planning my menu, and shopping in half a day was stressful.  Then I got smart.  The CSA posts what’s going to be in the boxes on the Wednesday prior.  So first thing Wednesday, I check online and then proceed to check every, uh, two or three minutes until it was posted.  Once it was posted, I copied the list onto paper, separating the list into fruits, vegetables to be used in a main course, and vegetables to be used as a side dish.  And then spent pretty much every minute thinking about what to make with these ingredients.  It was like being on the TV show Chopped or Master Chef, where you get a basket of ingredients and have to use them all.  Seriously, I’d be sitting in meetings at work thinking, “swiss chard and parsnips, hmm.”

Later that day, I received an email with the contents of the farm box.  It was different from what was posted in my online shopping cart earlier!  Help!  How can I make the Salade Nicoise I was planning without green beans?  Which list was right?  So I called the CSA…..and didn’t get a call back.  They probably have me on a “do not call” list for being a crazy lady.  (About a week later they did call me back and apologized profusely for temporarily misplacing my message and said that I could call as often as I wanted.)  So I changed my whole menu plan based on the new list, and lo and behold, when I received the basket, the first list was right and I got my green beans, but too late to make the Salade Nicoise.

My obsession is the antithesis of what getting a Farm Box is all about.  It’s about working with what’s fresh and in season, being flexible, rather than constructing rigid meal plans.  However, I’m a full-time working mom and weekends are my only time to grocery shop.  If I don’t plan out our meals in advance, we don’t eat.  So I’m ok with my obsession. Plus, it’s like a game, figuring out how to use every piece of produce.  Here’s what we had in CSA week 2:

  • Roast chicken with roasted purple potatoes and heirloom carrots
  • Chicken caesar salad and citrus salad with tarragon
  • Butternut squash soup and artichokes with garlic aoili
  • Omelets with tarragon, shallots and goat cheese; roasted beets, and sauteed beet greens
  • Quiche with swiss chard, broccoli, and zucchini
  • Risotto with green beans and heirloom carrots; green saladIMG_2812

 

 

The Good Enough Gourmet Joins A CSA

Rhymes. Nice.

CSA stands for Community-Sponsored Agriculture, and by joining I get a box of fruits and vegetables delivered to my doorstep every week, sourced from local farms.

I’ve thought about joining a CSA in the past, but rejected the idea. I live within walking distance from a farmers’ market; CSAs can be expensive; and most importantly, I’m big on meal planning and thought it would be too complicated to work around what’s in my farm box. But when a friend posted a picture of her farm box on Facebook, I decided to give it a try.

My first delivery came on Sunday. I was excited when I unpacked, and then……mild panic attack. What was I going to make this week with all this random produce? After much scouring of my recipes, the internet, and my cooking muscle memory, along with a few deep, cleansing breaths, I made a plan. And went shopping, delighted with how little I had to buy (which would have been much less if it weren’t Trader Joe’s holiday specialty item season – hello dark chocolate star cookies and white chocolate peppermint bark-coated pretzel slims).

Here’s what I’m making this week:
1) lentil soup (uses the leek, carrots, and a bit of sweet potato) and salad (uses the baby mustard greens, carrots, tomatoes, and an avocado)
2) sausage and vegetable stew (uses the other leek, sweet potato, carrots, and parsnips)
3) roasted fish and salad with roasted heirloom beets and goat cheese (uses the baby mustard greens and the beets)
4) lamb burgers with sautéed beet greens and baked potato chips (uses the rosemary, the shallot, the lemon, the beet greens, and the potatoes)
5) rice and quinoa bowl with vegetables and tahini sauce (uses the shallot, the sweet potato, the kale, the carrots, and the other avocado)

You might think these vegetables sound boring, but when I say carrots, I’m talking tiny, colorful heirloom carrots that you don’t have to peel and are super sweet and have a more carrot-y flavor than other carrots you’ve had.

We’ll see how it goes. So far, I’ve made meal #1 and it was quite good. Pictures and possibly recipes to come.

Martha Stewart

I have a love-hate relationship with Martha Stewart.

I discovered her (yes children, there was a time when Martha Stewart was not ubiquitious) when someone gave me her cookbook for a wedding present.  I cooked a few recipes and thought, meh.  I soon scorned her as more interested in “lifestyle” and not a serious cook.  After all, professional women like me don’t have time for crafts.  Imagine my surprise when I went to a dinner party filled with professional women who confessed to loving Martha Stewart, secretly watching Martha Stewart marathons on holiday weekends.

Fast forward a few years.  I needed a spice rack and was not finding one that I liked.  I have a lot of spices and didn’t want one that came with spices or jars.  After much searching, I checked out the Martha Stewart collection at K-Mart. (yes children, there used to be a Martha Stewart collection at K-Mart!) As a side note, my daughter, who was around 7 or 8 at the time, said “Martha won’t let us down” and a man at the other end of the aisle started snickering.  Lo and behold, Martha did not let us down.  I found the perfect spice rack and am still using it many years later.

This made me change my opinion of Martha.  I loved the fact that people of all income levels could go to K-Mart and buy beautiful home furnishings, courtesy of Martha Stewart.  I kept my good opinion of her even when she went to jail for insider trading.  Hey, at least she did her time and got it over with, unlike most others on Wall Street.  I even briefly subscribed to Martha Stewart Living, Whole Living, and Everyday Food (which is now available for FREE for mobile devices).

And then there was the time I tried the Martha Stewart cleanse.  For New Year’s, Whole Living magazine sponsored a Mind-Body Challenge which involved giving up caffeine, alcohol, sugar, dairy, gluten, and processed foods for three weeks.  The kicker (for me) was that you could start a community blog on the Martha Stewart site about the cleanse.  I took the plunge, secretly hoping my blog would be discovered by Martha’s people and I’d instantly be offered a regular gig for one of her magazines.  Did not happen.  I held up my end of the bargain, feeling hungry and tired for lack of my staples — coffee, bread, and wine — and blogging about it. But Martha’s people ignored the community blogs, instead creating their own cheery blog where they talked about making smoothies together with the office Vita-Mix.  Must be nice.

I decided that Martha and I needed a break.  I recently got irked when she criticized food bloggers for publishing untested recipes.  Feeling a little insecure, are we?  Guess what, Martha?  I’ve made many dishes from published recipes that were supposedly tested and they came out terribly.  I wonder how these recipes passed out of the testing phase.  By contrast, all the recipes I blog about have been made for dinner and passed muster with my family.

Lately, I’ve been getting emails from Martha.  I didn’t subscribe to anything – they just started showing up in my in-box.  Some of the recipes looked intriguing, so I tried them and now Martha’s back on my good list.  I like that she makes easy and interesting recipes available on her website for free, even if her website is a little overwhelming if you’re just trying to decide what to have for dinner.  You’ll be seeing adaptations of some of these recipes over the next few weeks.  But don’t expect to see me doing crafts any time soon.