I was toying with the idea of sharing my thoughts on cookbooks here for the past few days (I had been taking pictures to send friends and family), but I figured few — if any — people would be interested until I opened up my feed reader and saw several posts contributing to the Cook It Up! Challenge hosted by Trish of Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity.

I don’t technically own any cookbooks that need to be dusted off, which the whole point of the challenge, but after a whole week of eating spaghetti with either chicken or ground beef for dinner almost every night and the leftovers for lunch, I checked out seven cookbooks covering varying types of food from my local library and dived right in.

I spent most of July trying the recipes from Just Married and Cooking by Brooke Parkhurst and Jamie Briscione, which I selected not because I just got married but because I was on the hunt for the ever elusive cooking for one cookbook. I thought this would be a compromise since “just married” lends itself to the idea that the recipes would be for two people, but apparently I didn’t read the subtitle close enough because the vast majority of the recipes are for eight people. Apparently, married couples are supposed to entertain. A lot.

But I have a freezer and the ability to do basic division so I went through the book and flagged the recipes that sounded most appetizing to me: Beefy Southwestern Chili, Chicken and Mushroom Burgers, Grilled Chicken Panzanella, and Popovers.

Beefy Southwestern Chili

The city I live in experience a bout of cooler days in mid-July, and I was craving some comfort food as I deal with a bout of homesickness. Although I managed to catch the detail about letting the black beans soak overnight, which wasn’t actually listed a step in the recipe, it didn’t click as I read the authors’ introduction about how the key to good chili is making sure to season the beef at the beginning when it’s raw not after it has been simmering for an hour that I would actually end up having to cook the chili for an hour. I ate a bowl of ice cream while I waited and laughed about how I’m such a rookie chef, but the wait was well worth it. I loved this chili and was so glad I made enough to freeze for a few days.

I’ve actually never had chili with beans in it before since my mom won’t eat beans, and I think they needed to soak much longer than Parkhurst and Briscione suggest. I dumped mine in a bowl with water during my lunch break the day before I made this recipe and they still came out kind of chewy rather than tender, but cooking time issues seem to be a common problem with this cookbook. I also thought it was odd that the authors put corn on the cob in their ingredients list when you were just going to cut it off the corn. I understand it would be fresher than frozen corn, but why put in all that effort?

Chicken and Mushroom Burgers

Personally, I prefer beef hamburgers over those made with ground chicken, but the idea of mixing mushrooms into the patty was too tempting to pass-up. It was surprisingly delicious; on par with anything I could buy at a local burger restaurant. Parkhurst and Briscione say you can use chicken stock or white wine when making this recipe. I used chicken stock since I had some leftover from making the chili (above), but I think white wine would make it more flavorful. Certainly the way I’d go when I make this recipe again.

The recipe also says those without a grill should bake them for about twelve minutes in a 425-degree oven. No dice. Underdone, I switched the oven from bake to high broil (my oven only has a low or high broil setting) and cooked the burgers for another fifteen minutes. Thankfully, the burgers weren’t too overcooked and dry this way. Yet another example of how questionable the cooking instructions are for this book.

Chicken Panzanella

I made the grilled chicken panzanella right before my book club meeting thinking it would be a nice summery salad and ended up showing up to the meeting smelling like semi-burnt chicken because the stove-top cooking instructions were not exactly accurate. The recipe also says that the onions should marinate in vinegar for at least fifteen minutes before mixing in the bread chunks and tomatoes. Admittedly, I was in a rush to get out the door, but everything was pretty bland when I sat down to eat dinner.

That said, I had enough for leftovers and after sitting in my fridge for a day or two, I could really taste the olive oil, garlic, and basil and the onions were very tender. If I was to make this again, I’d make it in the morning and then having for dinner that night in order to really get all the taste it is supposed to have.

Popovers

I don’t have a popover pan, probably because I haven’t had a wedding registry, so I made mine in a muffin pan and they weren’t very tall or impressive looking, which the book said would be the case. But they still tasted pretty good. I used a cup of Colby Jack cheese instead of Monterey Jack or Gruyére since I already had it on hand, and I think I needed to do a better job of mixing it into the batter. The popovers were cheesy on top but doughy on the bottom so it’s a good thing I skipped adding the Parmesan cheese on top. This is the only recipe I tried where the baking time was exactly right.

Besides the issue with the cook times, the other odd thing about this cookbook is that it has no pictures other than an insert like you would find in biographies with colorful photographs of sixteen of their 200 recipes (none of which I made). This actually really bugged me at first because I wanted to know what I was making; food is more enticing when I see pictures of it. But as I went through the recipes and had a few mishaps here and there, I actually appreciated not knowing how my food should look. It was what it was and, most importantly, it was delicious.

Book Mentioned:

  • Parkhurst, Brooke and James Briscione. Just Married and Cooking: 200 Recipes for Living, Eating, and Entertaining Together. New York: Scribner, 2011. Print. 323 pgs. ISBN: 9781439169988. Source: Library.

Cook It Up!

I read this book for the Cook It Up! Challenge hosted by Trish of Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity, which encourages participants to dust off their cookbooks and put them to us. Participants make their own rules as to how they have “completed” a cookbook — I try to cook at least four or five recipes in a month — and post about their progress on the first Saturday of each month, if they choose to do so.

 
Book Cover © Scribner. Retrieved: August 2, 2014. Photographs © Ardent Reader.
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