Food writer and recipe tester Linda Avery reviews cookbooks.
Marketing cookbooks has to be more difficult today than it was 10-15 years ago. Not only are there so many platforms available, but there’s more competition. If you’re old enough to remember when The Food Network began in the mid-90’s and Ready, Set, Cook debuted, you know there weren’t the plethora of nationally or internationally known chefs there are today – or bloggers!. Over the years that world became smaller with the availability of the internet and so many jumping into the fray. We’ve seen the James Beard Foundation adding award categories to recognize and respond to the added media.
Also in response to that, cookbook authors look to make their book unique and appealing while not gimmicky. We saw Hiroko Shimbo build her book, Hiroko's American Kitchen: Cooking with Japanese Flavors, on six sauces and in Tyler Florence's newest, Tyler Florence Fresh, he arranged his table of contents by ingredient with John Lee’s virtually unplated (fabulous) food photos.
In Australian-born celebrity chef Curtis Stone’s fifth book What’s For Dinner: Delicious Recipes for a Busy Life, he recognizes how hectic our lives could be and helps the busy cook by taking it a day at a time. There is a chapter for each day of the week: Motivating Mondays, Time-Saving Tuesdays (dinner on the table in 15 to 40 minutes), One-Pot Wednesdays, and so on.
It’s clever and he delivers all the way to Family Supper Sundays. (I’d bet his recognition of busy lives became even keener after he and his lovely wife, Lindsay, had son Hudson at the end of 2011).
His recipes are interesting and approachable. Each lists the prep time and cooking time. The active prep time of most recipes is 15 minutes or less (with the exception of Asian Crab Cakes with Mango Chutney -- under the Dinner Party Saturdays’ chapter). Still, you’d never consider any of these stylish recipes “fast food.”
Peppered through the book are two categories of footnotes: Curtis’s Kitchen Note, e.g., an explanation of olive oil, how to toast nuts, cooking in season; and, Rounding Out the Meal,which adds a suggestion to complement the recipe such as Corn with Sage Brown Butter for Grilled Tri-tip with Green Bean and Red Onion Salad.
The final chapter, Something Sweet, delivers 15 dessert recipes from Oatmeal Coconut Butter Cookies to Banana Cream Parfait with Gingersnap Streusel. I’ll enjoy having this book to turn to when I need inspiration for dinner.
Here’s a recipe from Five-Ingredient Fridays. Ahem, five ingredients not including “the staples oil, butter, flour, salt, and pepper.”
Brown butter is butter that is cooked until it takes on an amber brown color and nutty flavor. There's nothing to it, but you'll be amazed at what this extra step does for a simple pasta dish. Of course, the basil -- which has the ability to take a good recipe and make it better -- doesn't hurt, either. Cooked shrimp or chicken can be added to the pasta.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
13 ounces broccoli florets with 1-inch stems (about 6 cups)
1 pound orecchiette
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli and cook for about 2 minutes, or just until bright green. Using a mesh spoon or sieve, scoop the broccoli out of the water, draining it well, and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
2. Return the water to a boil. Add the orecchiette and cook, stirring often to ensure it doesn't stick together, for about 8 minutes, or until tender but still firm to the bite. Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the orecchiette.
3. Meanwhile, heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and stir for about 2 minutes, or until it has turned hazelnut brown. Add the broccoli and cook, stirring often, for about 1 minute, or until hot.
4. Add the pasta to the broccoli mixture and stir gently to combine. Stir in the basil, pine nuts, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in enough of the reserved cooking water to moisten the pasta as necessary.
5. Divide the pasta among four pasta bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.
Curtis's Kitchen Note: DELICATE HERBS Using a large knife, chop herbs just before using, because the more delicate ones, like basil, will oxidize and turn brown soon after chopping. Make sure your knife is sharp -- a dull one will bruise the herbs.