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: