Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cooking Experiment or What Have I Gotten Into?

Saturday, June 6, 2009.....

When I realized that I had to change my eating habits and incorporate more vegetables into my diet, I wasn't ready to become a vegetarian nor was I ready to eat just steamed veggies and salad for the remainder of my life. Instead, two thoughts popped into my head:

1) Why not meal plan and use my cookbooks that I've collected over the years; and

2) How many cookbooks do I actually own?

Most people would probably answer the second question by just counting them, but not me. Instead, I decided to embark on an interesting experiment which I alluded to in an earlier post.

I decided to choose 5 cookbooks per month and 1 cooking magazine to plan my meals from. I choose 4 recipes from each and then cook them. Sounds simple. Yes and no.

I forgot to factor in the days I don't want to cook; or days I've forgotten to read the recipes and see that you have to chill it for 3 hours prior to cooking. Needless to say, I have 2 more recipes that I'm finishing up from May.

Even though I'm learning that cooking times are off and chopping/mincing takes longer than I planned, I'm loving this experiment.

Over the years, I've cooked a lot of things, but simple techniques (e.g. clarifying butter) is something I haven't tried till this month.

For the month of May, I selected the following cookbooks:

1). Martha Stewart, Cooking School: I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about this book. I was given one of her books years ago, when I first really started cooking, entitled something like 'Quick & Easy', but quickly learned shredding chicken for enchiladas is not a quick task. Although I loved the dish, I hated that I was deceived from believing that recipes would actually be quick to make.

Now, I can easily spot tasks within a recipe that will require time and am not bothered by the misuse of the word 'quick'.

I had to admit, of the cookbooks selected this month, this was probably my favorite in terms of reference.

I now owe my forever going forward rice recipe to her. Sure, the Rice Pilaf recipe she posted may be known by others, but I was raised believing soy sauce goes into rice pilaf (personally, I'm beginning to believe that was my mother's only seasoning).

I also referred to her book when the french cookbook I used was a bit sketchy on directions.

2) Glorious French Food (James Peterson): If you're a novice cook, I wouldn't recommend this book. Many of the ingredients were left to sight and taste. I would also have to say the directions given (e.g., clarifying butter) weren't the clearest. I would turn to Martha's book when in doubt.

Some dishes hit the mark, but then again, butter and cream can make any dish tasty.

I'd cook from this book again, but wouldn't use everyday because I'd probably die from all the fat in less than a year's time.

3)Ten (Sheila Lukins): Years ago, my sister and I took a class where Sheila was demonstrating some dishes from another cookbook she had written. Everything was incredibly tasty so I was excited to cook from her book this past month.

Unfortunately, sometimes reality doesn't live up to expectations. I've learned that any recipe with fish sauce, soy sauce (even though I used reduced sodium) and chicken broth creates an inedible dish. I love salt, but that dish was insane.

I also tried quinoa for the first time and thought the orange zest made the dish bitter. I haven't given up on quinoa, but would never make this recipe again.

In all fairness to Sheila, I finally know the exact roasting time for asparagus. Typically, I keep them in the oven too long and have one more recipe Lemony Roasted Potatoes to try.

4) The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook (Nancy Harmon Jenkins): I'd give this cookbook 5 stars, but whomever edited this book was a bit off on cooking times. Luckily, I cook a lot and recognized this.

I loved Italian Frittata with Tomato and Peppers, Baked Fish with Capers and Olives and this lentil dish I made last night which changed my husband's opinion of lentils FOREVER.

All the dishes I made left you feeling light but satisfied. I'd definitely cook from this book again.

5)Healthy Appetite (Gordon Ramsay): I have to admit, I selected his book because I watch Hell's Kitchen & Kitchen Nightmares and wanted to see if he had the right to scream his head off.

Well, he does.

What I've made from this book has been good. We've loved the Flatbread and Chicpea Salad converting my husband and I into official chickpea lovers.

The recipes I've made are also light and satisfying. I still have the Stuffed Chicken Breasts Wrapped in Prosciutto, but can't imagine that being anything, but tasty.

I really was hoping to find fault with this cookbook since he's such a vocal critic, but couldn't.

6) Bon Appetit (June 2009): I decided to include cooking mags into my experiment because every month I get a collection of them, skim them, fold the pages of recipes I want to try and nothing.

I believe this issue was to be about quick & easy recipes and admit it really lived up to its mission. I wasn't crazy about the Herbed Balsamic Chicken recipe, but the Pasta with Goat Cheese and Shrimp Scampi with Green Onions and Orzo is a definite solution to dinner fast while still having yummy flavors.

What have I learned this past month:

1. I now know how to clarify butter and appreciate it.

2. Good recipes can change your opinion about foods (e.g., lentils & chickpeas)

3. Jury still out on quinoa.

4. Read, read, read a recipe for timing reasons.

5. I prep all recipes before I start to cook. I don't care if the recipe states 'while simmering chop 3 lbs carrots'. Inevitably all liquids in my dish will evaporate and I'll have only chopped a 1/2 lb.

6. Tasty dinners make tasty lunches (good thing since I have a ton of lentils leftover)

7. I love the bay leaf and finally remember that the CA bay leaf is twice as potent as the Turkish one.

That's it for this month. Next month I plan on trying pasta with lettuce and eggplants, zucchini as pasta and more chickpea and quinoa dishes.


Sunshinemeg said...

Totally agree with you about "tasty dinners, make tasty lunches." It made the entire morning better knowing leftovers are waiting for you. I've noticed some leftovers taste better after being reheated.

LiLu said...

I always see "clarified butter" and have absolutely no clue... you've got me beat on that!

And once again, Martha proves that she is queen. Damn!

Optimistic Pessimist said...

There's always that issue that I forget to factor in too...not wanting to cook. That's my biggest problem!

Lora said...

that sounds so good! I'm so lazy that when I decided to add veggies into our meals recently, I just made Mondays into Raw Night, I have a huge plate of cut up veggies and some hummus to dip them in and that's dinner!

Little Ms Blogger said...

Sunshinemeg: leftovers are the best and I agree, sometimes tastier (Chinese food comes to mind)

LiLu: Clarified butter = patience. Something that challenged me.

OP: I have that 'not wanting to" issue with cleaning.

Lora: Another quick night - cheeses, bread, fruit & wine....or take out...

maria.palermo said...

LMB, having grown up on the Mediterranean diet, it's the absolute best, I hated lentils as a kid, but can totally appreciate it now and couldn't live without it. Now if I could only give up the carbs---but tell that to an Italian!

lacochran said...

Which recipe was your favorite of what you made?

I cut back the fat in almost every recipe and it still turns out great. (Calls for 4 TB? I'll try 2.)

And you are SO right about prepping. It's so much easier when you don't have to worry if something is boiling away while you chop!

Little Ms Blogger said...

Maria: I have to admit, I would have starved as a children if my parents were Italian. I'm not a huge fan of pasta.

Lacochran: I'm not sure about fav recipe, but I'll go with chickpea recipe because I was surprised that it tasted good. I expected a yucky dish.