This month we present two books that make life in the kitchen a joyful experience while offering delicious dishes with diversity and ease of preparation. Having written numerous cookbooks, both authors have gained invaluable kitchen know-how and are able share the fruits of their experience.
The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without
Recipes and Drawings by Mollie Katzen
Flip to any page beyond the title, and you'll quickly recognize the omnipresence of author Mollie Katzen's artistic expression that encompasses not only her attractive pen and ink vegetable drawings, but also her amazing hand lettering of the entire book. Creative in a multitude of ways, Mollie draws her vegetables into the forefront through her passion for cooking and her love of illustrating.
The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without was inspired by the vegetable paradise that surrounds the author partly with a lush garden complete with worm bins and fruit trees and partly with a family who contributes constant inspiration.
Mollie recognizes that " most of us, no matter how earnest and well meaning, don't eat quite enough vegetables." While the book is a dream of a recipe collection for vegetarians, it is also an invitation to meat eaters to think beyond salad. Mollie suggests trying even one new vegetable dish a week as a way to begin developing an appreciation for the myriad of colors, tastes, and textures vegetable cookery offers.
As you browse the book, you can't miss the multitude of mini illustrations that surround each recipe title. One example is the pixie size mushrooms that accompany the recipe title for Mushroom Stuffed Mushrooms with Wild Rice and Goat Cheese. The title for Dry-Sautéed Braising Greens with Layers of Garlic is surrounded by two layers of mini leaves, while the opposite page shows Mollie's pen and ink leaf illustrations.
Arranged alphabetically by vegetable, the recipes are innovative and offer great diversity, yet are easy to prepare. The numbered directions are clear and leave no question about what comes next to assemble the dish.
Tempting among the carrot creations is Coated Carrots Afrique du Nord, an intriguing recipe that begins with a stovetop toasting of a hefty blend of cumin seeds, ground cumin, and cinnamon in olive oil before adding the carrots, garlic and other seasonings. After a light sauté, the dish finishes in the oven, and is served with a sprinkle of lemon juice and optional garnishes. With tasty treatments like this, carrots will no longer be just carrots, but creatively enhanced to make them truly special.
Braised greens may not be on everyone's list of favorite vegetables, but give Mollie's Flash-Cooked Frisée with Shallots, Mushrooms and Crispy Seasoned Bread Crumbs a whirl and discover a taste sensation. Topped with Crispy Seasoned Bread Crumbs, the sautéed chickory greens come to the table wearing a delectable coating that make them look inviting.
Though vegans may take exception at the occasional mention of butter, eggs, cheese, yogurt, or Parmesan, they will soon discover the book is dominated by a banquet of unique vegan recipes. Mollie's flair for the kitchen is apparent in the way she pairs vegetables with herbs and seasonings that turn the ordinary into the spectacular.
Following the last zucchini recipe is an unlabeled appendix that includes three brief sections: Ten Ways to Sneak a Few More Vegetables into Your Diet, Stocking Your Pantry, and Kitchen Equipment. Ten Ways offers innovative suggestions to encourage vegetable consumption like putting them into Wraps, stuffing them into potatoes, combining them with pasta, creating vegetable soup or vegetable juice, and serving them with dips.
Stocking your Pantry is a checklist of staples to keep on hand that make vegetable cookery imaginative. A few of the items she favors include extra virgin olive oil along with a variety of nut and seed oils, nut and seed butters; a selection of vinegars, onions, garlic, and ginger; "Some Nice Salt and a Full Pepper Mill;" bread crumbs, soy sauce, and dried mushrooms.
Mollie's Kitchen Equipment section lists her six essentials as an excellent knife, wooden or synthetic cutting boards, a wide 12-inch heavy-gauge skillet with stainless steel or enamel finish, a colander, spring-loaded tongs, and a set of storage containers. She also recommends a number of additional tools she uses frequently like a food processor and a citrus zester.
The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without should be every vegetable lover's kitchen companion. Veteran cookbook author Mollie Katzen knows how to bring the fruits of the garden into the kitchen and make vegetables the true heroes of the plant kingdom.
The Quick-Fix Vegetarian:
Healthy Home-cooked Meals in 30 Minutes or Less
By Robin Robertson
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2007
People are busier than ever as multitasking has become a way of life today. Yet, no one should have to resort to unhealthy fast food when Robin Robertson's Quick-Fix Vegetarian cookbook shows experienced cooks and novices alike how easy it is to spend only a short time in the kitchen to provide nutritious foods for the family.
Robin spent many years working as a professional chef, an endeavor that provided her the challenge of preparing tasty foods quickly. Having done the kitchen time, she has mastered the art of putting a meal on the table at nearly lightening speed. Such experience has helped her amass a knowledge base of kitchen savvy she shares with her readers. She is also the author of about 15 vegetarian cookbooks. You might say she has earned her lettuce and tomato wings.
She clarifies the less than-thirty-minute feature of her recipes to include only the prep time and actual cooking, not time spent foraging in the pantry for the recipe ingredients. To save time, she washes and dries her produce on her return from shopping with the exception of fragile produce like mushrooms and berries. While some of the recipes can be assembled in thirty minutes or less, they may require extra time for chilling or a few hours in the slow-cooker.
Her past experience has taught her to pay close attention to organization. Highly recommended is her practice of measuring out all the ingredients before assembling the recipe. She says, " read and reread the recipe you will be using." It's her way of avoiding mishaps like leaving out ingredients, or burning items in the skillet while searching for an ingredient in the pantry.
Like many cookbook authors who advise having a well-stocked pantry. Robin is no exception. While she prefers cooking with fresh organic ingredients, she falls back on pantry items when she's in a hurry. Those pantry items also make good substitutions when you're short on a particular fresh vegetable. She provides a list of her suggested pantry and refrigerator items as well as condiments she labels meal enhancers.
Also covered are shopping and menu planning tips, suggestions for marathon cooking, planning for convenient leftovers, and purchasing frozen vegetables when fresh ones are out of season and very costly.
Because Robin is a proponent of planning ahead, her basics section includes recipes that allow the quick-fix cook to be spontaneous and innovative. With items like vegetable broth, mushroom gravy, basil pesto, tapenade, pie dough, roasted bell peppers, and already toasted nuts and seeds on hand, she's ready to serve a meal within thirty minutes.
An appetizer that perfectly illustrates a quick-fix dish is Robin's Tapenade Pastry Twists. With some homemade or commercially prepared tapenade and a sheet of thawed frozen puff pastry, anyone can serve an impressive starter in minutes.
Robin's sandwiches are new-fashioned comfort foods that take only moments to prepare. Using a few handy pantry items, anyone can become the revered hostess with tempters like Lemon-Braised Tofu-Hummus Wraps or Mediterranean Muffuletta Sandwich.
Combining pre-shredded cabbage and a package of vegetarian sausage links, this clever chef offers a dish with multiple options. Sautéed Cabbage and Onions with Veggie Sausage Links could come to the table with pasta for a hearty one-dish meal or might be served with crusty bread and applesauce.
This author-chef even mastered dessert in a hurry with tasty treats like Chocolate-Cherry Truffles, Pineapple-Apricot Couscous Cake, and Lemon Sorbet Pie with Toasted Almonds and Fresh Berries.
People who rarely cook but wish they could put more time into homemade meals will find Quick-Fix Vegetarian a genuine treasure. While newbies to the veg world would find this book invaluable, die-hard from-scratch cooks will appreciate some fresh tips for putting meals on the table quickly. Robin Robertson's Quick-Fix Vegetarian cookbook is a perfect fit for today's busy households.
Reviewed February 2008