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Making It Easy (Food Network Kitchens) Hardcover – August 17, 2004
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Each recipe in their collection relies upon one of four strategies to help one cook better and faster with max results: Pantry Picks; Double Duty; Real Quick; Cool Tools.
In addition, each recipe usually includes: Game Plan for organization tips; ShopSmart and Know-How. These will help all cooks to heighten their skills and make it more enjoyable for cook and cookees.
Their is some really cool recipes here, which as one who has large and growing cookbook collection has not seen before: Goat Cheese Nut Log with Chile; Blasted Balsamic Chicken; Anipasta Pizza; Grilled Trout in Grape Leaves; Steamed Sea Bass with Citrus and Herbs; Turkey Enchilada Casserole; Crispy Pork Medallions with Apple-Horseradish Sauce; Saucy Orzo with Summer Squash; Quick and Easy Berry Tart; Cocunut-Lime Pudding Cake; Little Cheesecakes with Strawberry Sauce.
This won't fill the bill likely if you're looking for exotic, multi-layered, most-of-the day consuming and most-of-your kitchen tools consuming recipes. But for those other moments when you want to provide wholesome, creative, delightful and minimal effort with max results food, this would be a great volume to own or give, or better yet, do both.
Photos are nice, and the nice Two-Color spreads e.g. Ice Cream sundae bar, et al pages are neat and clever idea, just for the thought starters unless you just follow their advice.
Making food fast is a very popular topic for cookbooks and for culinary personalities, lead by the Food Network's own Rachael Ray who, I believe, does this subject as well or better than anyone else. It is important to note that this book is not about `fast', it is about `easy', which seems to me to be a much more realistic subject, as one of the requirements to doing `fast' cooking at home is that you have good kitchen skills, especially with a knife, which will cut down on prep time and especially cut down on tracking down your mandoline, food mill, or stick blender from behind the flour canister or the salad spinner.
The book does not turn its back on special equipment. In fact, `cool tools' is one of the four primary categories, joined by `pantry picks', `double duty', and `real quick'. Each recipe is identified as falling into one of these four categories. I think it is extremely odd that every recipe would fall into one and only one of these categories. A slow cooker recipe will easily do `double duty' recipes and a pressure cooker recipe would certainly be a good candidate for `real quick', unless the authors considered that breaking out, cleaning, and stowing this special equipment disqualifies recipes from `real quick'. Anyway, this is just a missed opportunity for carrying a theme to its logical conclusion, not a demerit against the recipes in the book.
The `pantry picks' recipes are meant to be made from items the authors expect you to keep on hand in the cupboard, fridge, or freezer. Pastas, canned fruits and vegetables, nuts, durable vegetables, and frozen staple meats are the stars of these recipes.
The `double duty' recipes are meant to create two meals from a single session in the kitchen, or, recipes to make the best use of leftover protein such as the 8 pounds of white meat left over from your 20 pound holiday roast turkey. For these situations, the authors provide recipes for a casserole, a Hoppin john, and turkey turnovers.
The `real quick' recipes are meant to go from the fridge to the serving table in 30 minutes or less. The stars of these meals, as with every fast cooking protein dish, are seafood, boneless chicken breasts and beef and pork filets. For the penny pinchers, there are no veal recipes in this book.
The `cool tools' label is applied to recipes using the slow cooker, the pressure cooker, and the microwave, all tools which can either reduce cooking time or at least reduce the time you have to spend fussing with the food as it cooks.
All of this reminds me that I have yet to see any recent cookbook done on cooking economically. I think this is a huge untapped need that, if done really well, will sell lots of books. The last author to make a point of this aspect of cooking was Jeff Smith, and he was never really frugal, after his first book. And, economy with food is something professional kitchens do really well, so I would think the Food Network staff would have a good inside track on these techniques. Especially since I really don't expect Mario Batali or Bobby Flay to do a book on cheap eats. Alton Brown, on the other hand ...
Like their first book, this volume covers recipes from around the world. They even go so far as to include my favorite Filipino dish, chicken adobo. Almost all recipes for established classics are done with a little twist to give you something a little different from the dozen or so other recipes you may have for a summer tomato bread salad, whether it be panzanella or the Southern classic dish with bacon.
The book has lots of tips, some quite fresh, such as the idea to take your cell phone to the megamart with the market's telephone number on the speed dial, so you can call them when you are looking for something instead of trying to track down a store employee who may or may not know where the item is. Even though the authors were compelled to give us a recommended list of pantry items, they were wise enough to say that your best pantry strategy is to get what you need as you need it and build up your stockpile from recipes you really make.
Like the first book, I find virtually all the recipes to be of high quality and fitting of the label applied to them. The cost of creating good food fast and easy is commonly paid in both money and in the use of especially flavorful ingredients that may not be that easy to find. Not every supermarket has red currant jelly, sambal oelek, lemongrass, prepared gnocchi, or shiitake mushroom soup broth.
The battalion of authors and editors missed another opportunity when they did not put in an index of dishes by their four bullet points or at least menus of complementary recipes all either fast or pantry or long cooking times. But, prep times are given for all recipes as well as special equipment and times for slow cooking.
If you do not wish to get Jacques Pepin's new book on fast cooking plus a River Café book for easy Italian recipes and a Patricia Wells book on Provencal cooking for easy French recipes, this good book of easy recipes with lots of upbeat tips and it is available at an extremely reasonable list price.
Although my aforementioned technique is not in this book, it does have a slew of terrific recipes. Among my favorites is the "two-way eggplant salad" one with "lemon oregano dressing" (not my favorite) and the other "garlic and ginger dressing" (a real favorite.) I not only use it with the eggplant salad, but have adapted it using honey, flaxseed oil, and Braggs vinegar replacing the soy and oyster sauces to make a ginger dressing for cooked veggies as well as fresh salads. The "stir-fried napa with shiitakes and tofu" is also a favorite. Since, my husband is not fond of spicey, hot foods, I leave out the jalapenos. The smashed potatoes are still another favorite. Instead of the milk, I use chicken broth and instead of olive oil, I stir in, at the end, a little flax seed oil with a bit of organic yogurt. Lastly, I add less than an eighth of a teaspoon of stevia. Such a small amount adds a bit of sweetness, that's almost undetectable, but enhances the taste.
I've tried most of the veggie side recipes and a few of the meat recipes. I've added my favs to my recipe file. This book is a winner.