29 April 2007

Cookbook Talk: The One-Dish Chicken Cookbook

The One-Dish Chicken Cookbook by Mary Ellen Evans (Broadway Books, 2006)

I made three dishes (and renewed the book twice) before I broke down and bought a copy of The One-Dish Chicken Cookbook. I knew I ought to buy one after making the first recipe, but tried to resist (I do not need to own more cookbooks – that’s one of the reasons I keep this little blog). After tasting the first recipe, however, it became clear I needed this book -- my future culinary happiness would depend upon it.

The first recipe I made -- the one that so rocked my world -- was for "Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Prunes" (pg 58). Yes, my loves, prunes. Now don't dismiss this recipe out of hand for using those dreaded dried plums -- I almost made the same mistake and what a waste that would have been! The prunes pick up and enhance the other ingredients so well that you don't taste prune so much as a marvelous hearty fruitiness. The tender chicken mixed with the meltingly soft bits of prune and vegetables and spices all work together to form the most marvelous sensory experience for the eyes, nose, and tongue. This dish was so delicious I would have eaten it morning, noon, and night for a month. For all that "tagine" sounds fancy, this dish is actually a just very simple stove top stew (which worked out really well as a make ahead dish and reheated very nicely in the microwave). I served it over a bed of couscous cooked with chicken broth and it made an excellent hot lunch all week.

Completely thrilled by immediate success, I tried "Chicken Breasts and Artichokes with Dill and Capers" (pg 102). While very elegant on the plate (and delicious in the mouth), this dish is just a very easy chicken bake. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are combined with artichokes, topped with a cream sauce, and baked. As with the tagine, this dish can be prepared ahead of time and works out quite well that way. The finished cream sauce comes out quite thin, but that could easily be rectified if you prefer a thicker sauce. I served this dish over rice which absorbed the thin sauce, regardless, and no one seemed to care whether the sauce was thick or thin.

For my third recipe I chose "Feta-Topped Chicken with Orzo" (pg 111 ) and was pretty pleased with the results. This is another baked chicken dish, but this time I made a tomato sauce which I poured over a bed of uncooked orzo, then topped with chicken and baked for a bit before topping with feta and baking until done. As with all of the above, I made this as a make ahead dish and was just as easy to make ahead of time as the others. My only complaint was that this dish was baked uncovered and it seemed to dry out a bit from all the moisture escaping. I might bake it covered for the first baking period and then remove the cover when I added the feta and bake it uncovered from there if I were to make this dish again.

While I love this cookbook, it is not without its flaws. Nutritional information and total time estimates are not provided. There are no illustrations. However, the dishes I've made (especially the tagine) have turned out so well that I do not care so much about those flaws as I otherwise might have. Definitely, this is something you should take a look at.

11 April 2007

$aving Monie$

Been skimming the household management/money saver books we have at work, because it seems our household funds might need to be managed better. However, these books annoy the shit out of me. I'm not a mom (stay at home or otherwise). Nor am I a hip singleton chix0r . I don't need to know how to balance my desire for money with my fierce love of clubbing or my maternal desire to make homemade finger paints. I am a child-free married woman who works full time while still assuming much of her traditional gender role. Advice I have received from these books which would be useful if I were someone else include:

Cut the Starbucks and the fast food to save tons of ca$h! I don't drink coffee. Ever. I don't do fast food. Fast food isn't nearly fast enough and I am more likely to get it down my front while driving than I would a banana or granola bar. Also, a banana or granola bar can be left in my car for whenever I have the hungries.

Pack your lunch! Really? Is this, perhaps, why I have a bento and haul it back and forth to work five days a week? Mind you, packing lunch is probably only cost effective if you eschew a lot of the convenience foods or buy them in bulk.

Use the library for all your media needs rather than renting or going to Borders! I work at a library and have always taken total advantage of my staff privs to get my little hands on everything I desire.

Eat out less! If, as the (unattributed¹) statistic claims, the average American family dines out about three times a week, then we are well below average. I'm not home for supper two nights a week, but we nearly always put food on the table four other nights. That's one night a week we might eat out. One.

Clip coupons and shop only on sale! I clip the bloody coupons when they're possibly useful, but frequently they aren't as they are for preposterous amounts (buy 10 and get a dollar off? wtf?) or products I don't use (unfoods/suspicious brands/weird flavors). The same goes for "sales."

Drop those memberships and subscriptions you don't use! Umm ... the only magazine I get is Cook's Illustrated and it is a gift that, I'm pretty sure, The Husband renewed for the next bazillion years. I don't belong to a gym -- I walk around the neighborhood when I need be exercizen -- and I dropped Weight Watchers Online in January (saving about $250/year), because I under-utilized it.

I think the most amusingly useless piece of advice I was given was to save the mesh bags onions come in and use them as pot scrubbers, rather than wasting money on real pot scrubbers.

No. No. And No. This is not the advice I need for household management or basic money saving. I need, I guess, something like So You've Got a Great Job Now, But It Looks Like Your Husband's Is Going Pear-Shaped And You're Wondering How to Save Some Extra Money, But In Ways That Won't Show Your Husband How Terrified You Are of Becoming The Only Breadwinner. If you find a book like that, tell me.

¹ I presume this statistic originated with the Bureau of Labor Statistics? According to the National Restaurant Association, "while restaurants continue to grow in popularity, the average American consumes 76 percent of meals at home." This means we eat 262 meals per year at restaurants? (3 meals a day times 7 days times 52 weeks is 1092 meals and 76% of 1092 is 830). Surely, that's more than three times a week? Do we not count breakfast? Am I doing the wrong math?