Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cookery Bookery: Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals, by Caroline Wright

Title: Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals: For Four People
Author: Caroline Wright
Publisher: Workman Publishing
Publication Year: 2013
Read: June 2013
Where It Came From: Complimentary copy from Book Expo America*
Genre: Cooking
Rating: 3.5 Stars

And now for a cookbook review! This little guy (well, okay, not LITTLE little, but small for a cookbook. It’s about the same size as a trade paperback novel) was sent to me by Susan, and she acquired it at BEA. It doesn’t appear to be an ARC—looks like the real thing! I’ve had it for a couple months now and have had time to peruse it and make a couple of the recipes, and feel comfortable talking about it.

If you’re strictly a meat-and-potatoes sort of person, this may not be the cookbook for you. A lot of the food in here is to the tastes of the new guard of cooking, popularized by prominent cooking blogs and such—kale, goat cheese, broccoli rabe, things like that. Yuppie food, some might call it. I’m all for this sort of thing (the more interesting ingredients, the merrier!), but it’s probably not the sort of thing most of our grandmothers would go for. Unless you have a really hip grandmother.

It’s got all the hallmarks of modern home blog cooking (different from the camp of celebrity chef home cookbooks, dontcha know)—beautiful photography, interesting ingredients in unique combinations, and a friendly, informal voice. (The one hallmark it seems to be missing is the personal storyish header notes that often introduce recipes in the cookbook-coffee-table-photography-book-personal-food-writings-all-in-one type of cookbooks very popular on the market today. This makes sense, though, as its goals are for delicious, but also speedy meals). So let’s move on to…

The Positives

As I mentioned before, the photography is gorgeous. That, combined with the recipe titles, resulted in a Pavlovian drool response to just about everything in the book. Even foods I don’t normally like (like the evil eggplant) looked good!

Another good thing is the range of recipes. If you want to make some awesome cakes you’ll probably buy a book specifically about cakes with only cake recipes CAKE CAKE CAKE, but if you’re looking to make quick, inexpensive family meals, you’re going to want some options. And this book has got a little of everything—salads, soup, sammiches, pasta, pizza (!), eggs, meats, vegetarian, and desserts. And let's talk about those desserts for a moment…burnt caramel pudding with toasted almonds? Toasted brioche with lemon curd and black peppered berries? Dark chocolate gelato buttermilk milkshakes? Yes, PLEASE.

Another thing I really like is that below most recipes, there are suggestions for another version of a recipe, substituting slightly different main ingredients. For example, for the recipe for tomatillo huevos rancheros, the author suggests also trying it with plum tomatoes (filling in for tomatillos), pinto beans (subbed in for black beans), and cheddar cheese (instead of pepper jack). Sure, one could probably invent variations like that on their own, but it’s a nice time saver to have some already thought up and written out for you, too.

And lastly, the ingredients themselves are a big positive, for me at least. I love kinda weird and unique ingredients, and am lucky enough to live in a big city where I can usually locate them without too much trouble. If you’re into more standard, less adventurous food, or live in a place where it’s hard to come by more unusual ingredients, this might not be a positive for you. And that’s okay! I do think this book contains a lot of recipes that could appeal to that sector of the eating populace, and also ones that are just different enough that it could push less adventurous eaters in the direction of trying some different kinds of food, but the recipes might not appeal to everyone. I mean, there aren’t any chicken feet or animal innards recipes, but there is a lot beyond your standard fare in here.

The Less Positives

As I’ve said, depending on your personal tastes, this might not be the one for you. That being said, for me there were even some ingredients I’d never heard of and would have no idea where to find. I am not the foodiest of foodies, so I had no idea what ramps are, or bresaola, or Szechuan peppercorns. But in most cases where there was an ingredient I hadn’t heard of, there was an arrow indicating a good, more pedestrian substitute (green onions for ramps and prosciutto for bresaola, in case you were wondering). And sometimes there are indications about where to look for certain ingredients (you can find haloumi, a kind of hard cheese, at specialty food markets, apparently). So I guess this less-positive is actually a real positive. Good work, author!

Another thing some people might not like is that there is no listing of ingredients—they just appear highlighted in yellow within the recipe itself. There is also no total cooking time or serving number/size listed, but that’s probably because it is listed in the title itself—20-minute meals for 4! Which brings me to my last less-positive…

It took me much longer than 20 minutes to make the dinner recipe I tried. Granted, I am not the fastest chef in the world. I like to take my time. But still! Some of the recipes, yes, I think 20 minutes is enough time to get them done. Others? If you’re not a kitchen pro with all your ingredients prepped and ready to go, I think it might be difficult to get a them done within that time frame. Also, the meals for 4 thing—these are probably the FDA-approved meal sizes we’re talking about here, but in reality I think the portions might be on the small side for the hungrier of us humans.

Overall, I am happy to have this cookbook in my arsenal. It probably won’t become part of my core cooking references, but it will be fun to dip into from time to time to liven things up. Especially with those fantastic sounding desserts!

And now for recipe time!

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Sweet Sausage, Bean, and Kale Stir Fry

(Adapted from Caroline Wright’s “Roasted Sausage with Warm Bean + Kale Salad” in Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 pkg. (or 4-5, if you’re buying them fresh) sweet Italian sausages
1 bunch of kale
2 garlic cloves
1 can (15 oz.) cannellini beans or great northern beans
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

  1. Heat the 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a frying pan large enough for all the ingredients to fit in together. The kale will shrink, but you still want there to be enough space to stir everything around without sending anything overboard into the no-man’s land beneath the burner.
  2. Add the sausages (defrosted first, if you bought them frozen), and fry them until brown on the sides and cooked most of the way through.
  3. While those are sizzling, wash the kale and strip the leaves from the thick center rib. Discard that rib, and rip the kale up into bite-sized pieces. After that, you can slice the 2 garlic cloves and drain and rinse the beans. (Note on beans: I couldn’t find cannellini beans and used great northern instead, but the beans ended up turning to mush. Tasty mush, but mush nonetheless. Cannellini beans are better able to hold their shape while being cooked, so given the choice, those would be the better of the two.)
  4. When the sausages are pretty much done, you can remove them from the pan and set them aside for the moment. A lot of grease will probably have come out of them, and that is what we will fry the veggies in. Add the garlic and stir over heat until fragrant, and then add the kale. Once the kale turns bright green and a little wilty, you can dump the beans in, too.
  5. While that’s warming up, slice the sausages diagonally across into bite-sized pieces. You can then add these back to the pan and stir everything together.
  6. Continue cooking until the sausage is finished cooking through (no longer pink in the middle) and the veggies are warm.
  7. Remove from heat and dress with the lemon juice. Serve and enjoy!

While it may have taken over 20 minutes, this one did indeed cost less than $20 to make. There were a couple extra steps involving more oil, an anchovy, and baking in a oven that I altered or skipped for simplicity’s sake. Very tasty! Even my anti-kale cousin said the other flavors sent the kale-iness of the kale into the background enough for her to be able to enjoy the dish.

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Also, just for fun, here is the lemon posset I made from the recipe in the book! Very refreshing for summer. I think it would also taste good in a pink grapefruit version. Mmm…

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*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

1 comment:

Susan said...

KALE!! I'm a fan. I'm putting this (with veg sausage substitution) on my to-try-when-the-weather-stops-killing-me list.

My thinking on the 20 minute optimistic title is that authors allow themselves to call for ingredients like "cut kale" and claim that any time spent prepping before starting the recipe is not part of it. Because it never takes me as short a time to make something as a cookbook says, either.

Halloumi is like mozzarella but able to be grilled/fried/baked without losing its shape (umm AWESOME). Since it's a Cypriot cheese, it's much cheaper to buy it in Europe than the States. (I brought back 3 blocks of it from England in my luggage and only wish I had thought to stock up more!)

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