Last fall, I wrote about my new dinner plan: I challenged myself to try one new recipe each week by focusing on one cookbook in my library for a month.
It’s time for me to report back on this month’s selection . . .
It’s a new cookbook – I Dream of Dinner (so you don’t have to) – from Ali Slagle, another of my favorite NYTimes recipe contributors. I have a lot of her simple-to-make NYT recipes in my regular recipe/meal “rotation.” She tends to combine ingredients in really interesting ways — and without a lot of fuss. The new cookbook is enticing and inviting — lots of gorgeous photos of tasty looking meals. So I bought it.
Oh . . . I’m conflicted here. I made five recipes — and each one was a total winner. But. I also have some . . . I guess you’d call them stylistic issues with the cookbook. I mean, I’m pretty flexible when it comes to cooking, and I appreciate different approaches to talking about food and making meals. But when I pick up a cookbook or read a recipe, I like it to . . . y’know . . . follow the conventions of recipes and cookbooks. And this one? Well. It kinda doesn’t.
For instance. While there are lots of great photos (I think each recipe has at least one gorgeous photo – which is a plus for me) . . . BUT . . .when a photo is at the edge of a page in this book (as they often are), there is NO PAGE NUMBER — and sometimes even for several pages in a row. (A big minus. This is a reference book after all.) Or, the recipes include an ingredients list in a sidebar next to the recipe (a plus) . . . BUT . . . it doesn’t list amounts (you have to dig through the recipe to find the amounts), AND . . . sometimes “minor” ingredients aren’t included in that sidebar at all (things most cooks have on hand in their kitchens, sure, but still . . . you need to know!). This is just baffling to me.
And I have other quibbles. Ali uses a lot of (I’m not sure how to describe this exactly) . . . “cutesy” language. Overly whimsical, maybe? But to me, it is off-putting. It made me think maybe I wasn’t “hip” enough for this cookbook; too old and stodgy maybe? And, well, since I’m being picky here anyway, while she does make substitution suggestions, she never tells you . . . oh, amounts or other little details that would help you actually revise the recipes.
So . . . there are annoyances.
Every single recipe I made . . . Every. Single. One . . . was fabulous. Interesting flavor combinations. Quick prep. Not overly fussy. Best of all — they were meals we’d like to eat again! (I guess it’s kind of like knitting something that turns out great . . . from a weirdly-written pattern?)
So. What did I cook?
The first thing I tried was called “Sloppy Lennys” (page 111) which is a meatless version of a Sloppy Joe, with lentils subbing for the meat. They were . . . pretty good, and actually really good as leftovers. (I think the flavors needed to “merge” a bit more than they had in the initial cooking.) I will probably make these again — but next time I’ll make them a day ahead, serve them on buns, and make sure I have some corn chips or tortillas to sprinkle on top. (These would be a good make-ahead for me to take up north.)
Then, I tried “Whole Grains, Chorizo & Dates” (page 188). This was oddly delicious; Tom described it as “sweet, savory, sour, and satisfying.” Which really does sum it up! I made it with farro (you can use any whole grain; we liked it with the farro), but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. This was great served warm with bread for dinner one night, and then served cold on a bed of greens another night. I’ll definitely make this again.
Next up, I made “One-Pot Puttanesca” (page 140). Again, really good, really easy, will definitely make it again. I did make a couple of subs in the making. First, I didn’t have any capers on hand, so I chopped up some green olives for that brine-y goodness capers bring to a dish — and it worked really well. Second, I didn’t use anchovies. Not because we don’t like them (we actually do), but because I was lazy.
Then, I tried “Pasta With Fried Walnuts” (page 133). I just couldn’t resist the name of the dish . . . and I was not disappointed. This was super tasty with unique flavors AND it was easy and fast enough that I could make it for a quick dinner before Tom needed to run out for curling. This will be a great repeat dinner for us this spring — as it has asparagus in it, and is light enough to be perfect for a transition-season meal.
And finally, just last night, I decided on one final I Dream of Dinner hurrah . . . and made “Green Chile Pork with Crispy Rice” (page 329). Tom says, “Fabulous! Five stars!” (Which is High Praise from Tom. He is picky about his Green Chile anything. . . ) I made a few additions to the recipe (I added a can of Mutti Cherry Tomatoes plus half an onion I had sitting in the fridge), but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. The texture on that crispy rice? Perfection!
Five recipes from this book. Five winners! (And there are so many other things I still want to try from this cookbook.) I guess I’ve got a Dance 10, Looks 3 situation here. The recipes are great; the cookbook? Kind of a mess. But I’ll be keeping it in my collection anyway!
What’s next, cookbook-wise?
This one . . . which has been on my shelf for a long time. (But I’ve only used once.)
I’ll check back in a month, and let you know how it goes.
In the meantime . . . have you tried any good recipes lately?
Past cookbooks I’ve unpacked:
Dinner in One (Melissa Clark) – February 2023
Bittman Bread (Mark Bittman and Kerri Conan) – January 2023
Go-To Dinners (Ina Garten) – December 2022
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Mark Bittman) – November 2022
These all sound great although my meat-and-potatoes husband might balk at them! I made miso soup in jars for lunch this week and it was very good – and I didn’t get sick of it even though I had it 3 days in a row!
I might have to actually look at this book before I decide. While the 5-star recipes are a plus, if I end up irritated while making them because all of the information isn’t readily available in a concise format, then that’s not a good thing. (But I haven’t ever had fried walnuts before!) Tonight I’m trying a new recipe, Mongolian Beef (except I’m making it with venison). This is a recipe from Vera: https://12tomatoes.com/rc-slow-cooker-mongolian-beef-next/
I think I’m going to use your idea. I have *a lot* of cookbooks that I always intend to use but then revert back to my usual dishes. I’m a retired nutrition professional, so home cooked meals have always been a big deal for me. And I like to cook. So there is really no excuse for me not delving into some of those cookbooks. I consider your post the kick in the pants I needed to just do it!! 🙂
I am so envious! None of those would fly here. 🙁 I did braise some short ribs to make ravioli this week though…kind of exciting!
This is turning out to be a really fun and fruitful project, I can tell! I love a meal that gets better the next day–esp. one that offers a ‘new’ version of itself as a leftover!
Mmm…walnuts in the frying pan. My favorite way. (Hate them raw but love them toasted!)
I keep anchovy paste in the fridge these days–not only to avoid the messy tin and oil, but also to avoid having leftover anchovy fillets in the fridge! (I know they keep. I just hate moving them around and wondering when we’ll use them. Then discovering them shoved in a back corner…!)
Loving this series. Recipe/cookbook formatting is one of my sticking points… I have rewritten recipes so they can be read and make sense. I’m reminded of a cookbook I bought when my mom was trying to get back to eating real food — The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen — a gorgeous cookbook with great recipes but the dumbest index I’ve ever run across. I made a chicken soup and wanted to make it again… flip back to the index and look under SOUP (nope), CHICKEN (nope), ok POULTRY (nope). It was under “T” for Thai Chicken Soup. How stupid.
I’ve come across that same issue with no page numbers and side bars that don’t have everything. It’s annoying. BUT, all of these recipes sound so delicious to me Kym. I may just need to look for that cookbook. I already have a recipe for Lentil Sloppy Joe’s (we don’t usually make sloppy Joe’s but eat it with garlic bread and a bunch of green veggies or a salad). The fried walnut dish is intriguing and the green chili pork with crispy rice (is it like fried rice but even more so?). I’m really enjoying your cooking posts Kym – thank you! Puttanesca is a favorite of Colin & Mailing’s and they make it ALL the time…but now minus the anchovies – I will suggest the olives to him!
I’ve been really bad about cooking, relying on old standards. Easy on the mind. BORING on the plate.
It’s just been kind of blah over here.
YOUR meals, on the other hand, look FABULOUS. Dare I say “smackingly delicious”?
Wow, Kym… these all sound amazing! (Especially that Green Chile dish!) My new recipe try this month… I tried KAF’s Detroit-style Pizza recipe… and it needed some… ummm… work. But via the magic of the internet, I found someone who had the same issues I did and they worked out some solutions. So I will try their recipe and see if that is an improvement!
I made tarragon Chicken this week from a recipe on The Modern Proper website – It turned out well and wasn’t too much bother, either. On the other hand, I got a cookbook I asked for for Christmas and I think I’ve made one thing from it — need to take a page from your (cook)book.
I know you are great about taking notes when you make a recipe (and we can see some of them in your photos), so I’m assuming you remedied some of your issues with this book, like writing in the amounts. I can understand no page numbers on some pages if there’s a full-bleed photo on it (one benefit of working with designers who often think more about how something looks than about how it functions), but not having amounts of ingredients is a big no-no in my book. I think copying you and committing to five new recipes from a cookbook would be a great activity to do with my kid this summer. I’m trying to get her to be a bit more adventurous in her eating, and she’s typically more willing to try something if she’s cooked it herself. Plus it would be great to have someone else to help cook dinner every night!
The meals look delicious and I like the vegetarian slant on the dishes. I might have to think twice though if I had to hunt for recipe amounts in the text. At least for me, that would lead to a few missteps. I make lentil sloppy joes now and then and serve them over toasted ciabatta rolls. My recipe makes a generous amount so I often freeze half for another quick meal on a busy evening.
I am REALLY interested in next month’s cookbook – I have it as well and have barely looked at it.