How to Judge a Cookbook? Use It!!

Two cookbook classics...Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.

Two cookbook classics…Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.


Cookbook reviews can be a funny thing. Even if you aren’t a professional food writer, how do you judge a cookbook? By the cover? By the photos? Or, by the recipe?

I have lots of cookbooks in my collection. Many are new. Others are tried and true favorites that were published thirty years ago. Without a doubt, I think the best way to judge a cookbook is to COOK from it firsthand. This was my philosophy when I was charged with the task of writing a cookbook review for The Wall Street Journal many years ago. When I started the process, it was a no brainer that I would have to get the books and then cook from them in order to judge them. No one told me this, I just knew it intuitively.

This seemingly sensible approach has guided me ever since. Let’s be realistic, here. How can someone judge a cookbook simply by flipping the pages and spouting their opinions? I suppose they can, but does that review provide a real public service to trusting cooks? I don’t think so.

So, like I said, how do you judge a cookbook? By the photos? The writing? The fancy byline? Or by the success of the recipe??

Kitchen Garden Tips: Washing and Spinning Salad Greens

Seattle's mild maritime climate allows me to have a wonderful winter garden each year. This Arctic Butterhead always survives the winter and springs to life in the spring. The slugs love to hide in the crevices so it's important to wash it WELL!

Seattle’s mild maritime climate allows me to have a wonderful winter garden each year. This Arctic Butterhead always survives the winter and springs to life in the spring. The slugs love to hide in the crevices so it’s important to wash it WELL!

Without a doubt, a bountiful garden is indeed an awesome way to control the family food budget. But, I know from my own kitchen garden experience, that a garden glut can easily overwhelm the cook. It’s a pleasure to have lots of fresh homegrown vegetables to work with, but if you don’t know how to prepare them quickly and efficiently, all of your green thumb effort will be pitched right back into the compost heap when the items deteriorate in the fridge.

With that in mind, I am going to discuss how to wash and dry homegrown lettuces, greens, and spinach. Although organic mesclun mixes are widely available in produce departments, lettuces are some of the easiest and more rewarding things to grow. The supermarket lettuce mixes can’t compare to a diverse selection of homegrown greens destined for the salad bowl. And, of course, freshness is unsurpassed.

It’s well known that slugs and grit take refuge in the leaves’ crevices, so the greens need to be washed properly. Cleaning is generally done by plunging the greens into a bowl of cold water, swishing them gently, removing them and pouring off the dirty water. It can take a few rounds to completely remove the grit and slugs, and once the lettuce is clean it needs to be dried properly so you don’t have a soggy salad once dressed.

Kitchen towels can work, but the best tool for the task is a salad spinner. Both the rinsing and drying can be done in the spinner, so the task is simplified. I like the Oxo Good Grips Salad Spinner. The three piece dishwasher safe device has a bowl, a perforated basket, and a lid with a non slip knob. It’s easy create the drying centrifugal force by pumping the large knob on the lid. The patented pump mechanism features a brake button that quickly stops the spinning process.

The large spinner has a bowl capacity of 6.22 quarts. The mini spinner is suitable for small families and for drying fresh herbs.

So, getting to the root of things, it’s obvious that having the right tool can put a whole new spin on dinner!

This blog post originally appeared on Amazon’s Al Dente blog in May 2009.

Slimmer Smoked Salmon Dip

Slimmer Smoked Salmon Dip

Slimmer Smoked Salmon Dip

My husband and sons love to fish in the Puget Sound throughout the summer. As a result, we enjoy locally caught salmon-King, Coho, and Pink-year round.

We freeze lots of it using our Food Saver but we also cart quite a bit of it to Jensen’s Old-Fashioned Smokehouse here in Seattle where it is cold and hot smoked, vacuum packed and flash frozen to our specifications. We have a fair amount of that smoked salmon in the freezer, and I’ve decided it’s time to start cranking through it. Afterall, summer IS just around the corner!

Just before New Year’s Day, I decided to redesign my favorite smoked salmon recipe, one that I clipped from a magazine years ago. Basically, that one is a traditional cream cheese based rendition. Over the years,  I adapted the technique so I could make it in the food processor. I also tweaked the basic ingredients according to whim.

For 2014, I decided to do a complete overhaul by removing the cream cheese and replacing it with Fage Nonfat Greek yogurt. After numerous attempts and adjustments, I’ve finally landed on a slimmer smoked salmon dip that can be made quickly and easily in the food processor and weighs in with a minimum of belly busting fat. For my Slimmer Smoked Salmon Dip, I also added red onion, fresh dill, and capers…most of the basic components found in myBristol Bay Sockeye Platter recipe.

The recipe was “family tested,” which means it was served in the midst of kitchen chaos with spouse and kids at hand. Everyone gave it their seal of approval and said it was better than the original. Reviews included commentary on the freshness, the lightness, the flavor factor and the ease of use. It was served on crackers, dolloped onto sliced fresh tomatoes, and swiped into celery sticks. It could easily just be served with crudité or used with whole grain bread and lettuce to make a quick healthy sandwich rich in Omega Three fatty acids.

It’s worth noting that when I entered my new recipe into the Weight Watchers recipe tracker online, it revealed that a 1/4 cup serving totaled only 1 point in their Points Tracker. So, indeed, it’s a lighter leaner version.

Slimmer Smoked Salmon Dip

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 5 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Slimmer Smoked Salmon Dip

¼ small red onion, cut into chunks

1 Tablespoon capers, drained

2 Tablespoons fresh dill

8 ounces hot smoked salmon, skin removed

1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

Juice of one lemon

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

Put onion, capers, and dill in a food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse 10 times to chop and combine. Crumble salmon and add to food processor. Add yogurt, lemon juice, and horseradish. Process for 30 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary to combine.

Yield: About 2 cups or 8 servings.
Source: Melissa A. Trainer http://www.melissatrainer.com

Chill with Frozen Fish!

Frozen Bristol Bay sockeye. A super healthy and convenient superfood!

Frozen Bristol Bay sockeye. A super healthy and convenient superfood!

So, what’s your opinion on frozen seafood? Do you think it is inferior to the fresh seafood that you can purchase from the fish counter? Have you perused the freezer case in the seafood department lately? Do you regularly stock frozen salmon, cod, or other fish for quick weeknight dinners at your house?

Admittedly, I am quite picky about my seafood, but over the years I have learned that seafood in the freezer is an amazing asset! To be quite frank, keeping seafood in the freezer saves me time, money and the hassle of heading to the grocery store at the dreaded five o’clock hour.

In my household, we regularly keep wild salmon fillets as well as cold and hot smoked salmon in the deep freeze. I often just head to the freezer and pull out a few fillets for dinner. It works for me and it leaves me free to do other things. When defrosted, my previously frozen seafood often looks far better than the seafood kicking around the seafood case.

Even though I have salmon in the freezer, I decided to buy a whole sockeye fillet at QFC last night. I’ve been eyeballing these fillets for some time now, so I thought it would be a good idea to do a little consumer research myself. The wild Alaskan sockeye was from Peter Pan Seafoods and was caught in the FAO area 67, which is Bristol Bay. The sale price was $8.99 per pound and the fillet that I chose set me back about $12, which is a good deal.

Having toured many of the processing facilities in Bristol Bay, Alaska, I know that many of the sockeye fillets are promptly processed and frozen right after harvest. I know this, because I sported hair nets and stood there watching those freshly caught wild salmon race along the slime lines towards the freezer! This rapid processing, of course, protects many of the inherent characteristics of the salmon and brings a very hiqh-quality product to the market. The processors up in Bristol Bay work quickly because the wild salmon arrive in force over the course of about six weeks.

Frozen fish is a fabulous time saver.  Often frozen promptly after harvest, frozen fish, particularly salmon, is widely available and is a great time saver for busy cooks.

Frozen fish is a fabulous time saver. Often frozen promptly after harvest, frozen fish, particularly salmon, is widely available and is a great time saver for busy cooks.

Last night, I decided to simply let my sockeye fillet defrost slowly in the fridge. Today, I have to figure out what to do with it. Weighing in at less than two pounds, there really isn’t an excess of salmon for my family of five. I’m just perplexed on what to do with this amazingly bright red wild salmon. Grill it whole? Cut into chunks and pan sear? Cure it into an affordable yet luxurious gravlax for a weekend dinner party ?

So, do you buy the frozen seafood found at your local markets? If so, what do you choose and how do you use it? I have more to say about frozen seafood and will report back on my sockeye fillet, so stay tuned, folks!

Originally published on Amazon’s Al Dente blog on May 02, 2012

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