Cooking the Book: Good Cheap Eats

Good Cheap EatsGood Cheap Eats: Everyday Dinners and Fantastic Feasts for $10 or LessGood Cheap Eats: Everyday Dinners and Fantastic Feasts for $10 or Less by Jessica Fisher by Jessica Fisher

Years ago there was a meal-planning service that I wanted to make work. I loved the idea of it, I loved the idea of the recipes, and the library had their books so it was easy to try. Except the recipes almost never worked for me. They didn’t match our tastes, and the few times I found one that I liked, my husband didn’t care for it. A menu plan where none of the recipes are ones you’ll want isn’t much of a help, and I finally admitted that trying to tweak their plan wasn’t worth the effort.

Jessica Fisher’s recipes? Now those fit our tastes. I’ve got all of her cookbooks and everything I’ve tried has been a hit. So it’s not that surprising that with her latest book I happily pre-ordered it and impatiently waited for it to be released.

And I’ve had it for a month now and have already made one recipe from it twice (the Chicken, Black Bean, and Rice Soup), as well as flagging many more to try.

This book is structured a bit differently – there aren’t sections for beef, or chicken, or soups. Instead there are menus, arranged thematically. For example, section one is “Going Meatless.” There are also sections on “Company Dinners” “Make-Ahead Meals” “Breakfast for Supper” and more. So if you’re in the mood for soup, it could be in almost anywhere in the book. That’s ok, because there’s a great index, but the organization does mean you can’t flip through one section and find them all.

I actually really like how it’s structured – it gives great ideas on accompanying dishes. As I write this, I’m planning on making the Poblano Chile Enchiladas this week. The other recipes grouped with it are for South of the Border Slaw, and Zesty Mexican Rice. Both of those sound good to me, so I’ll just use her entire plan!

There are lots of money-saving tips scattered throughout the sidebars. Some of them are familiar, but there were many that were new ideas for me. I wouldn’t get the book just for them, but they’re a nice bonus in a cookbook that I think will get heavy use in my house.

Unlike her book Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze CookbookNot Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook (NYM Series) by Jessica Fisher (which I also use and love), this new book includes photographs for many of the recipes. That was my main complaint with her freezer cookbook, so I’m very happy to see this change.

How I Made “Chicken, Black Bean, and Rice Soup”:

(very slightly modified from Fisher’s recipe)

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups water (because I didn’t have another two cups of broth)
2 – 3 cups shredded cooked chicken (I never measured this, just dumped some in from a bag of frozen chicken)
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 medium zucchini, shredded (the second time I didn’t have this, and skipped it. It was better with it.)
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 cup long grain white rice
juice of 1 lime (I used about 2 drops of lime oil)
1 teaspoon chile powder (she uses cumin here; I always sub chile powder for cumin in recipes)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (I upped this amount)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I upped this amount because I wanted more zip)
salt and pepper
fresh cilantro, chopped (to garnish)

In a large stockpot, cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil until tender, about 5 – 10 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, except for the cilantro. Simmer until the vegetables are tender and the rice is cooked, about 20 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro.

My verdict:

So good. Super easy too, and it makes a ton, so there are plenty of leftovers. And it’s freezable so I won’t be facing the same soup for days on end. My husband loved it too.

The kids’ verdict:

My kids do not like soup, but that’s not specific to this one. 🙁

See all the Cooking the Book reviews and recipes I’ve shared..

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Cooking the Book: Best 100 Juices for Kids

Best 100 Juices for KidsBest 100 Juices for Kids: Totally Yummy, Awesomely Healthy, & Naturally Sweetened Homemade Alternatives to Soda Pop, Sports Drinks, and Expensive Bottled JuicesBest 100 Juices for Kids: Totally Yummy, Awesomely Healthy, & Naturally Sweetened Homemade Alternatives to Soda Pop, Sports Drinks, and Expensive Bottled Juices by Jessica Fisher by Jessica Fisher

I don’t actually own a juicer. That means many of the recipes included in this cookbook I can’t actually try. But I still found lots to appreciate, enough so that I’m seriously thinking about getting a juicer.

My first tests from the book were the Peaches ‘n’ Cream Yogurt Smoothie, and the Strawberry Colada. I thought they were both delicious, my daughter hated them both, and my son liked the strawberry one, but disliked the peach one. My husband wasn’t home when we tried the peach version, and he wanted his strawberry one with a banana added to it. Once I did that, he loved it.

One of the things I most appreciated about the smoothie chapter is that every smoothie doesn’t include a banana. I hate bananas in smoothies, and it seems like every smoothie recipe I find includes bananas. Sometimes omitting them works, sometimes the smoothie tastes like it’s missing something, and I don’t always want to have to figure out what that is. Apparently one of Fisher’s sons doesn’t like bananas either, so that worked out well for me. 🙂

There are still plenty of ideas for me to try. My kids love slushies (and I hate the versions sold in convenience stores, so a homemade one is fantastic as far as I’m concerned). There are more smoothies that sound delicious. There’s a homemade sports drink, as we enter the season where my husband wants it on hand. But what I want to try next is the Lime-Mint Cooler – in other words, it’s like an alcohol-free mojito. While I look forward to having a mojito again eventually, for now that one will hopefully quench my lime/mint cravings.

I didn’t follow her strawberry colada recipe exactly; I didn’t have canned coconut milk, so I used some coconut extract and coconut water. And as already mentioned, after I removed my share, I added one banana for my husband’s portion.

How I Made “Strawberry Colada”:

2 cups frozen strawberries
1 small can pineapple chunks (from the refrigerator, so they were cold)
1/2 cup water
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon coconut extract (I didn’t measure it exactly)
honey (added it to taste to get the sweetness where we wanted it)
1/2 cup crushed ice
banana

Blend it all together.

My verdict:

Delicious. I would happily drink this every day.

The kids’ verdict:

My son drank his share and his sister’s, and still wanted more. He’s a fan.

See all the Cooking the Book reviews and recipes I’ve shared..

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Cooking the Book: Keepers

Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion | Roasted Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Farfalle with Gorgonzola and Peas recipes tested by @SheilaRCraigKeepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the KitchenKeepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion | Roasted Chicken Breasts with Potatoes and Farfalle with Gorgonzola and Peas recipes tested by @SheilaRCraig by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion

I shared a blurb about this book in my latest Twitterature post, where I also promised that today I’d share more about The Smitten Kitchen CookbookThe Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman by Deb Perelman. So let’s just get that out of the way: I promised it, and it’s not happening. I’ve had plans to try 3 different recipes from the book, and life has gotten in the way from me trying any of them. So I’m conceding, and will try again to write more about that book next month.

Instead I’m subbing in the other cookbook I’ve been using lately, one where I haven’t run into … complications trying the recipes (not the fault of Perelman’s book – the fault of produce freezing in the fridge, and snowstorms keeping me from the store, and when I finally replaced the frozen component, I didn’t repurchase the other items, only to discover that they had gone bad during the delay. Plus an inability to locate beef short ribs. Am I looking in the wrong stores? Looking for the wrong name from how they’re packaged in this area? I will figure it out, but it hasn’t happened yet.)

Anyway, that long intro should not detract from this book. Most of the recipes seem like they’re super easy (appropriate for a weeknight-dinner-themed book), and the two I’ve tried have been winners.

First I tried the Farfalle with Gorgonzola, Ham, and Peas (although I made several modifications) for my lunch one day. I adore pasta, but while my husband likes it, he doesn’t want to eat it as frequently as I do. This is the recipe I’ve featured below, with my modifications listed.

I also tried the Roasted Chicken Breasts and Sweet Potatoes, although I once again changed things slightly and used Yukon Gold potatoes in lieu of the sweet potatoes. As much as I’ve tried to like them, I’ve finally admitted to myself that I just do not like sweet potatoes, so I’ve stopped using them.

My usual chicken purchase is boneless skinless breasts, so as simple as the recipe is, it was still new to me. In many ways, the bone-in, skin-on breasts were even easier to use (no need for me to trim them more), and the hardest part of the dish was chopping the potatoes into uniform cubes.

The verdict? My son ate the chicken and potatoes happily, my daughter refused to try any of it, and my husband didn’t mind it (that counts as a victory in this situation; long story). I liked the chicken a lot, but wasn’t crazy about the slight lemon flavor the potatoes picked up. I’d still happily make it again as it was so easy and provided a lot of leftover chicken I can use for future dishes.

Photographs are provided for both dishes I tried, and many of the other recipes included in the book. I always appreciate that!

Below is how I modified the pasta recipe – cut it in half, changed the pasta shape, used a domestic blue cheese, used extra peas, and omitted the ham.

How I Made “Farfalle with Gorgonzola, Ham, and Peas” and turned it into “Orecchiette with Blue Cheese and Peas”:

1/2 pound orecchiette
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 ounces blue cheese
3/4 cup frozen green peas, thawed
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

While the pasta cooks, heat the cream and blue cheese over medium heat in a high-sided pan (you’ll be adding everything to this pan, so you’ll need room to stir it all together). Simmer, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth (took about 4 minutes for me). Stir in the peas and set aside.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and add to the sauce (reserve some of the pasta water in case it’s needed to thin the sauce). Combine pasta and sauce, and taste for seasoning (I added lots of fresh ground black pepper, and a tiny bit of salt, as the cheese is fairly salty already).

My verdict:

An easy pasta dish I can make for myself and still not mind cooking dinner later = winner already. It was super simple to make, although very rich (not surprising with the heavy cream). I halved the recipe, and enjoyed it both the first day, and then reheated for lunch another day. My kids weren’t crazy about it thanks to the blue cheese, but I loved the flavor.

The kids’ verdict:

Dislike. Why are you messing with the beauty that is pasta with butter or pasta with cheese sauce? Especially by putting peas in it??

See all the Cooking the Book reviews and recipes I’ve shared..

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Cooking the Book: Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook (Gnocchi)

Welcome to Cooking the Book, a new feature I’ve been wanting to start since beginning the blog. I love reading cookbooks, and I love trying new recipes that I find. I hope to share a cookbook review monthly, where I talk about the cookbook in general, and give the results of trying one recipe from it.

I Love Trader Joe's Vegetarian CookbookThe I Love Trader Joe’s Vegetarian CookbookThe I Love Trader Joe's Vegetarian Cookbook: 150 Delicious and Healthy Recipes Using Foods from the World's Greatest Grocery Store | No-Nonsense Gnocchi recipe tested by @SheilaRCraig by Kris Holechek Peters, is, not officially affiliated with Trader Joe’s. And don’t fear if you don’t live near a Trader Joe’s – many of the recipes can be prepared without access to their branded products (there are a few that might be hard to replicate exactly).

I love Trader Joe’s. That’s why I requested this cookbook from the library. Trader Joe’s and vegetarian ideas? Yes please. If it were just a little bit more convenient, I’d probably make it my regular shopping location, instead of the monthly excursion it currently is.

If you’re a super creative cook, many of these ideas may disappoint you – they’re fairly obvious. However, when I need help with dinner ideas is when I’m not feeling creative, and having some normally obvious ideas in front of me is a HUGE help. So the simple salads, soups, and sandwiches didn’t bother me at all. There are also vegan options for every recipe, although that usually just means swapping out vegan milk and cheese options for the regular ones.

I’ve tried several of the recipes listed, and liked to loved them all. Sadly, I’ve forgotten to take a photograph of any of them, remembering only after everything was devoured. My favorite recipe, the one that had me planning to remake it as soon as possible? Super simple, nothing special required, requiring only pantry ingredients. Love love love. No-Nonsense Gnocchi, I will be revisiting you often.

How to Make No-Nonsense Gnocchi:

1 package dried gnocchi (about a pound, depending on the brand. I did not use TJ’s brand.)
3 Tablespoons olive oil (I eyeballed it – enough to cover the pan generously)
6 – 7 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (I do not chop garlic, so I added a big spoonful of preminced garlic.)
1 Tablespoon dried basil. (Yes, I used dried. I didn’t have fresh, and the recipe even called for dried. It worked just fine.)
1/4 cup drained and chopped sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (I used the TJ’s brand, but any sun dried tomatoes in oil would work.)
3 Roma tomatoes, cored and chopped (I had no fresh tomatoes, so I used a 16 ounce can of diced.)

Cook the gnocchi according to package directions.

In a large saute pan, heat the oil and then add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add basil and both types of tomatoes. Stir together and let simmer.

Once the gnocchi is cooked, add it to the saute pan and stir it all together, and let it cook 5 – 10 minutes more, stirring often. (The book says the edges of the gnocchi will begin to brown. That never happened for me, but I was perhaps too impatient.)

I added Parmesan cheese to the top, because, yum, cheese.

It makes just enough for two generous servings, at least when one of those diners is a pasta fiend.

My verdict:

Super quick and easy. Pantry ingredients only, assuming you don’t mind making it with canned tomatoes. And I absolutely loved the taste of the sauce – the pieces of sun-dried tomatoes were fabulous.

My husband, not a huge pasta fan like I am, liked it, and has eaten it twice now without complaints. Win!

The kids’ verdict:

They think gnocchi is a torture device and clearly I hate them by serving it. Not a winner for them.

Book Details

Title: The I Love Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook: 150 Delicious and Healthy Recipes Using Foods from the World’s Greatest Grocery StoreThe I Love Trader Joe's Vegetarian Cookbook: 150 Delicious and Healthy Recipes Using Foods from the World's Greatest Grocery Store | No-Nonsense Gnocchi recipe tested by @SheilaRCraig
Author: Kris Holechek Peters
Category: Cookbook
My Rating: 4 Stars

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