I went to the main library downtown last week. It is cookbook heaven. Aisles and aisles of nothing but food related volumes. It's amazing how all those authors feel that they have valuable input on the subject. True, food is one of the few common denominators we all have. Everyone has to eat, and everyone wants to eat well. Write a book about it - you have a built-in market. You are bound to get your share.
That being said - a lady recently sent me a cookbook to review. (Yeah I am willing to prostitute myself for my art - are you?) The book is "I Want My Dinner Now!" by Renee Pottle and is published by Hestia's Hearth Publishing and Design. The book is 144 pages long and is soft bound (aka paperback). It retails for $12.95 and can be purchased from their homepage or from Amazon.
While the cover touts this tome to be “Simple Meals for Busy Cooks”, it is really a beginner’s cookbook. It covers basic cooking tasks such as how to boil an egg or cook bacon. There are also pantry lists, discussions on basic spices and some unusual ingredients the average American may not be familiar with. The one thing that I thought was missing was a discussion of basic kitchen ware. If I am not familiar with cooking, how am I going to know what pots and pans to buy? Sure, you can buy a big set, but who needs a tiny skillet if you are feeding a family of six? (On the other hand, if you have a family of six, you are probably concentrating on something other than cooking.)
The recipes are fairly basic as well. While there are recipes such as Vegetable Curry and Paella, the recipes have been altered to fit American palates and pantries. For example, the Vegetable Curry calls for sour cream to be stirred in at the end. There is a heavy use of canned goods and dried herbs as befits a book that extols the virtues of a well stocked pantry. The one thing I found really disturbing is the use of dried garlic and onion in lot of the recipes. It only takes a couple minutes to peel and chop some onion and garlic, and those items are things that I was taught to always keep in my pantry. Plus, basic knife skills are always a good thing to practice. Just ask Jason Vorhees.
I do like how the recipes are formatted. Each one has measurements for 2 and 6 people. If you need to cook for 4 - just double the ingredients for 2 servings. Each recipe also spells out a grocery list, what items should be in your pantry and what you will have to buy at the store. It makes it easy to plan a week's worth of meals while leafing through the book.
So in all fairness, I should make something from the book to test it out. Problem is, most of the recipes held no real appeal for me. As an established cook, I have a repertoire of recipes and my dishes have been honed to meet my family's tastes and my cooking style. I just don't use canned mushrooms. Bleck. And I definitely don't put sour cream in my quick potato and chickpea curry. So I decided to let a member of my kitchen posse, Debbie, take a whack at producing some of these recipes.
Debbie chose to make Better Than a Burger Meatloaf. The description of the recipe says “The version of our favorite comfort food includes all the usual burger trimmings". I would amend that to say "everything but lettuce." I hear it doesn't do well in the oven.
When I was growing up – my mom would say to me, “Why don’t you like meatloaf? It’s just like a hamburger, but baked instead.” Well, my mom’s burgers were pretty dry and tasteless, and her meatloaf even worse. The title of the recipe did not really instill a whole bunch of confidence in me, but I trusted Debbie’s judgment.
There was my first mistake. Did I mention Debbie could cook? She does, and rather well at that. That is a problem though. An experienced cook can’t help but toss in a little of this and a little of that, improving and experimenting along the way. Debbie’s first attempt at the meatloaf was really good. But it wasn’t the recipe in the book.
Feeling a little guilty, Debbie made the recipe again the following week. This time she followed the recipe exactly. The recipe ended up rather bland and the texture was dry. Most meatloaf recipes call for some type of vegetation, such as onions, that will exude moisture into the mix as it cooks and help replace the fat lost during baking. I mean it wasn’t as bad as my mom’s meatloaf (nothing could be that bad), but it wasn’t all that great either.
If I were a student in college or a widower just learning how to cook, I would have been impressed with my first attempt at meatloaf following the recipe. But as an experienced cook, it left a lot to be desired. Of course, top anything with enough ketchup…
Over all, "I Want My Dinner Now!" is a good book for a novice cook. It contains basic recipes with easy to follow instructions, ingredient lists and variable serving sizes. Will it be coming off of my cookbook shelf any time soon? Nope, but that is because I am experienced cook, not because the cookbook is bad. However, when my daughter goes off to college in three years, this book will find its way into her household, because she is going to need all the help she can get.
P.S. I have attached a pdf of the recipe to this review so that you can see the formatting of the book as well as the recipe.
P.P.S. The side dish that Debbie made to go with the meatloaf was peas and artichokes from a Greek cookbook her sister in Chicago gave her. It was fantastic. I will have to wrestle the recipe from her soon...