21 May 2007

Cookbook Talk: Betty Crocker Win at Weight Loss

Betty Crocker Win at Weight Loss: A Healthy Guide for the Whole Family by (Wiley, 2005)

I like Betty Crocker cookbooks -- they're always nicely illustrated with good indexes and lots of uncomplicated recipes -- so I was pleased to discover Win at Weight Loss: A Healthy Guide for the Whole Family miss-shelved in the 614s (gremlins, I tell you). I made six recipes from this cookbook and, in general, was quite pleased with the results. While I'm not sure these recipes are necessarily more nutritious than recipes found in other Betty Crocker cookbooks, they're nicely framed with lots of healthy tips and weightless information which might make this book very handy for families interested in easing into a more healthy and nutritious diet. This book is, basically, everything you need to know to live healthy.

For my own amusement, I've calculated out the Weight Watchers Points per serving for each recipe I prepared. In some cases, as I expected, these recipes were not safe Weight Watchers choices. Still yummy, though, and I will probably keep eating them.

The first recipe I made was "Tomato-Basil Chicken Casserole" (pg 158). This is a basic tomato-based chicken and pasta casserole padded with zucchini and olives. It went together quite quickly and cooked fine even though I prepped it all a day ahead. This dish is so basic that it would be easy to adapt to please most any palate by using different vegetables or meat (or omitting the meat and doubling the veg). The finished dish was reasonably tasty, but it didn't knock my socks off. It's definitely an easy week night supper, though.

Next, I made "Easy Bean Salad" (pg 196) and "Marinated Carrot Salad" (pg 210) to take to work for lunch one week. The bean salad was a total failure. Greasy and bland, I ended up throwing half of it out. Happily, the carrot salad was so good it made up for the bean fiasco. I should warn you that the marinade is made up of honey, cider vinegar, dijon mustard, and condensed tomato soup ...

Yes, soup. I thought it sounded weird the first time I read the recipe, but weird in a "I must try that!" rather than an "ICK!" way and I am please I did try the recipe out, because it was so very good. The marinade gave the carrots a delicious sour sweet tang rather like Catalina++

After the fantastic carrots, I made "Sage Chicken and Potatoes" (pg 159). As with the "Tomato-Basil Chicken Casserole," I made it a day ahead and it cooked up just fine. Also like the previous casserole, this dish was very basic and yielded spectacularly unsurprising results. Still, it's worth repeating and easy enough to doctor so that it doesn't get boring.

One Sunday, I made "Nutty Salmon and Rice" (pg 147) for supper. I wasn't paying proper attention and ended up tossing the parsley in with the glaze rather than garnishing the finished dish with it. It still tasted fine even if it looked a little sad. The pecans gave the rice a nice crunch and the marmalade/soy glaze worked well with the salmon. We eat a lot of salmon in my house and we will certainly be eating this preparation again.

Most recently, I made "Barbecue Chicken and Bean Casserole" (pg 162). As with the other casseroles, I made it the day before and it still baked up just fine. The bean-barbecue-chicken combination made me expect some kind-of cowboy chuck wagon stew (something hearty you'd cook in a cast iron dutch oven in the coals of a campfire), but what I ate was much better than that. It was like a fast and delicious cassoulet. I used Heinz (English style) baked beans so probably got a runnier and more tomato-y cassoulet than you'd get using New England or Boston style beans. I also omitted the crunchy onion topping.

13 May 2007

Too Much Chicken? Make Enchiladas

When the world gives you too much chicken, make ... faux enchiladas. In this case, I had leftover chicken from last week, but I've also poached frozen breasts to make this dish.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Warm three ounces light cream cheese until softened. Stir in two cups chopped cooked chicken, half a cup of spicy salsa, and half a cup of shredded reduced fat cheese. Spoon a third of a cup of the mixture onto a warmed tortilla, roll up, and place in a baker. Repeat three more times. Top with additional salsa and shredded cheese. Cover and bake 15 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes more.
I usually make this ahead of time and have The Husband pop it in the oven while I'm on my way home from work. We have it with salad and green beans and it's pretty nice. Good for lunch the next day, too.

11 May 2007

Cookbook Talk: Cool Kitchen: No Oven, No Stove, No Sweat!

Cool Kitchen: No Oven, No Stove, No Sweat! 125 Delicious, No-Work Recipes For Summertime Or Anytime by Lauren Chattman (Morrow: 1998)

Cool Kitchen: No Oven, No Stove, No Sweat! 125 Delicious, No-Work Recipes For Summertime Or Anytime presents over a hundred recipes for dishes best served cold or at room temperature. While Chattman cheats occasionally by calling for previously cooked pasta and meats in her dishes, she sticks to the "no cook" shtick pretty well. Her groupings are not particularly surprising -- slaws, salads, sandwiches, fruit desserts, etc -- but each recipe still manages to sound pretty, elegant, and refreshing.

Disappointingly, my library's hardcover first edition contains no photographs. The paperback edition does have some rather nice photographs on the cover to tempt sweaty summer cooks, but that’s about it. No interior photographs. Who thought that was a good idea? "Vodka-Spiked Cherry Tomatoes with Cumin-Cilantro Dipping Salt" sounds so simple, elegant, and refreshing, but without on accompanying photograph to give the recipe that extra edge, I am not inclined to waste my vodka on tomatoes.

I made four recipes from Cool Kitchens and was mostly pleased with the results. I think the sandwich recipes came out best, but the salads were nothing to sneeze at. My biggest complaint, probably, is that most of the recipes are meant to be served immediately. While this is fine for some people, it doesn't really work for me. In hot weather, I prefer to go to the fridge and pull out a Big Bowl of Something Cold and Immediately Satisfying. No faffing about with chopping and mixing.

Recipes I made from Cool Kitchen:

"Cheddar and Apple Sandwiches with Honey Mustard" (pg 75)Must admit I did not really follow the recipe too closely for this one. Substituted whole grain bagels for white bread and used radish sprouts instead of the bean sprouts called for. Does that make a big difference? I don't know. I suspect, because this dish is so basic, its success is very dependent on the quality of ingredients selected. Anyway, the apple/cheese/sprout/mustard combination was very nice on whole grain bagels -- so nice, in fact, that I ate it for breakfast five days in a row. In cold weather, I might toast the bagels so the Cabot Extra Sharp cheddar warms and melts a bit on the apples. Yum.

"Minted Chickpea Salad" (pg 44) Made this to take to work so kept the cucumbers separate until I was ready to pack my lunch (although the recipe says to chill it for no more than 6 hours I knew I would be chilling it longer and didn't want squishy cucumbers). The salad had a nice refreshing zip to it -- a definite spring flavor. It kept well and I would make it again, but I might reduce the amount of oil (the chickpeas at the bottom were quite afloat) and add some ground pepper.