And . . . we’re back! With a brand new season of Unpacking My Cookbooks!
You may recall that last winter, I decided to shake up my (not exactly hum-drum, but certainly predictable) dinner menus by challenging myself to choose and prepare one new recipe each week. My plan was to pick a cookbook (preferably one I had just sitting on my shelf already, although I did stray from that a bit and purchased a couple of new ones) . . . and focus my efforts on that cookbook for a month. Reporting back here with my results, of course.
It worked quite well, I think. I tried a lot of new recipes, spiced up my repertoire, and had fun trying new things. But then . . . summer rolled around. And in the summer, my entire planning/cooking/eating routines change rather drastically. I don’t tend to cook from recipes much at all in the summer months, and I rarely crack open an actual cookbook.
But, come fall, I’m ready to plan meals and peruse my cookbooks and . . . make dinner again. So I’m picking up where I left off. Welcome to Season Two of my cookbook challenge.
In my last episode (“the cliffhanger,” I guess you could call it), I announced that I’d be checking out this cookbook during the summer . . .
I . . . did not. But I decided that’s where I would begin . . . with Mina Stone’s Lemon Love & Olive Oil . . . as my first challenge for the new season (“episode 1,” I guess you could call it).
I had never heard of Mina Stone before picking up this cookbook (which I did way back in 2021), but she’s pretty fabulous. She is a chef and until recently ran a restaurant (Mina’s) in New York. She is also a regular contributor to Bon Appétit magazine (you can find some of her recipes here). She’s known for her Mediterranean “fusion” style cooking, which leans heavily into her Greek heritage. What appealed to me about this cookbook? I’m always on the lookout for interesting flavor combinations — and ways to bring more whole grains and vegetables into our diet . . . and Mina Stone’s recipes do just that.
So. What did I cook?
The first meal I made actually combined two of the recipes from the cookbook: Tuna Salad With Fennel, Apple and Parsley (p 71) and French Lentils With Caramleized Fennel and Golden Raisins (p 125). The tuna salad appealed to me because (wouldn’t you know it) the weather was extremely warm as I re-started my cookbook challenge, and I was looking for something that would require zero cooking. (I did have to cook the lentils, but that was easy and I didn’t serve them hot.) I chose the lentils because Mina mentions in the tuna salad recipe that it’s great served with the lentils, and since we love lentils, I just . . . had to, y’know? These recipes in combination created an excellent meal. I served the tuna salad over undressed mixed greens, with the lentils on the side. Awesome flavors. Easy to prepare. 5 stars from both Tom and I. (And those lentils? They were excellent, and will become a go-to side dish for me. They’re easy, tasty, and generous enough for plenty of leftovers.)
Next, I made Pulled Chicken With Coriander and Cumin (p 88) as filling for tacos (I served the tacos with red cabbage, picked jalapeños, sour cream, and black beans as toppings). This was so good that Tom has already put it on the menu for his birthday dinner in December. I made the recipe exactly as described . . . except . . . I added some freshly roasted Hatch chiles (because I had them) along with the onions in the first step. This recipe does take a bit of planning ahead because you need to let the chicken cook for an hour (although pretty much unattended). Excellent results. Easy to prepare. We did have leftovers for 1 more meal. 5 stars. (Note: I did make this a second time a few weeks later and it didn’t work out quite as well. It was much “soupier” the second time, although the taste was still excellent. Lesson learned: sometimes you need to allow the chicken to cook for more than an hour. . . because for taco filling? You really need it to be Not Soupy. I have made notes in my cookbook for next time.)
Next, I tried Pappardelle with Chickpeas, Lemon, and Toasted Walnuts (p 154) with . . . mixed results. It was tasty, for sure. Tom and I both loved the lemon in it. But. There were things about this recipe that made me cranky, and according to Tom, my assessment is probably not altogether fair because I had a Bad Attitude about the whole thing. (It happens.) What made me cranky? First, the pappardelle. I really don’t like pappardelle. I find it hard to work with – and hard to eat. (If I try this again, I’ll substitute rotini for the pappardelle.) Second, I think the chickpea-to-pasta ratio was off. There were just too few chickpeas for all that pappardelle! (If I try this again, I’ll double the chickpeas.) Third, the recipe was quite easy . . . but all the “activity” happened at the same time and it just . . . made me cranky that particular night. We did serve this with grilled chicken thighs, and that was a nice addition. Good flavor. Needed more chickpeas. Plenty of leftovers (pappardelle for days!). Tom gave it 4 stars, but I’m going with 3. (It has potential, but will need work if it’s to be in my “regular dinner rotation.”)
Then, I tried the Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Greek Yogurt, Pistachios, and Cilantro (p186). (Look! You can see I served this with leftover pappardelle. . . ) YUM! These sweet potatoes made for a great veg side dish, and will definitely become a go-to for me as we head into fall and winter cooking. Super easy. Very tasty. And the sauce was absolutely perfect with the sweet potatoes. (I did have the crushed pistachios all ready . . . but forgot to add them as a garnish. It was fine without them, but I’ll remember them next time, for sure.) We had plenty of potatoes for leftovers, and they re-heated very well. 5 stars.
So. That’s five recipes . . . and four definite keepers. (I will probably just let the pappardelle go. . . ) There are lots of other recipes I’d like to try from this cookbook — especially as we head into colder weather. I’m especially eager to try some of the veggie and whole grain side dishes.
What’s next? I really don’t know. As of this morning, I have not been able to settle on my next cookbook. So . . . It’ll be a surprise for you next month!
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this quote from Mina Stone . . .
“I’ve seen cooking soothe and strengthen people during times of crisis, and I’ve seen it serve as a form of activism and dissent. Cooking and eating are, after all, a glue that holds us together in tough times and gives our days hope. It is the place we come back to in order to replenish. It is how we honor the essence of ourselves, and it is how we show love.”
— Mina Stone in Lemon Love & Olive Oil
How about you? Have you tried any good recipes lately? And have you shifted back into fall/winter mode when it comes to making dinner?
Past cookbooks I’ve unpacked: