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Cookbook Review: Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas by Brenda J. Ponichtera, RD

Posted Sep 22 2008 11:05am
This cookbook is perfect for where I am right now. Being a student (fingers crossed I'll be moving into an apartment with my sister on September 1st!), I need to have recipes that are non-fussy and tasty. Between work and school I won't have a great ton of time to devote to cooking and sorting out meal plans so having this book will be incredibly useful. It details the nutrition information, size and number of servings for each dish, offers options to cook the meal several different ways (for example, using the oven or the microwave), and it also has tips on each page which suggest what other dishes to pair this one with or how to store certain vegetables etc. If you don't know too much about cooking (Me! Me! Ooh, pick me!), then this style of cookbook is your go-to for understanding the strange and complicated world that is the kitchen. Notice the number of green stickies poking out of the top of the book- those are all of the recipes that I thought looked really interesting and yummy and wanted to review. You're sure to find loads of recipes in here with ingredients that you like!

The coil binding of this book is great. The book falls open flat onto the required page, and each page is also very splatter-friendly. Its a book that you won't be afraid to use. It has an enormous wealth of recipes, among them the staples like spinach salad and vegetable stock, as well as more interesting and unusual dishes like chicken stuffed in biscuits. At the front of the book is a suggestion for a 20-week meal plan, with 2 of those weeks offering recipes that do not require an oven (perfect for a hot summer day when you don't want to be slaving in the kitchen).

There is a huge quantity of recipes in here (ranging from sandwiches, gravies, soups, appetizers, beverages, ground meat dishes, seafood, meatless dishes etc), but the first hundred or so pages have grocery lists and explanations regarding artificial sweeteners, food exchanges, and the macronutrients. There's chapters on how to reduce fat, cholesterol, and sodium, brief exercise ideas and a number of really quick meals that you can make within about a minute for days when you're really time-pressed. Among these quick "no recipes needed!" ideas are Breakfast Yogurt (mix fat-free or low-fat ogurt with fresh fruit and add high-fiber cereal) and Tossed Salads (top with kidney or garbanzo beans for protein): basically, this section of the book are the really obvious recipe staples that use ingredients we all will have stored at the back of the pantry but might forget about. Simplicity is best when you need to throw a meal together within seconds!

The recipes themselves are fairly easy to throw together and many of them call for ingredients you'll likely already have on hand (or ones which could be substituted for something that you do have). I made the Fruit Milk Shake first, which is basically what I have for breakfast every morning (fat-free milk or yogurt with sliced fruit), except that this blends it all together and you add some vanilla extract (and sweetener, if desired). It was nice to have it in drinkable form, although I find cleaning blenders to be a royal pain so I'm not sure that I would make it into a drink again. However, its nice to know that if I'm ever craving a milkshake then I've got a recipe for one!

Chicken in a Pocket with Spinach Salad (and sauteed mushrooms on the side)

The Chicken in a Pocket was a delicious mixture of chicken, fat-free cream cheese, and green onions stuffed inside warm buttermilk biscuits topped with a sauce made of low-fat cream of chicken soup and water. The recipe uses store bought canned biscuits and canned soup, but both of these could easily be homemade for a really spectacular gourmet meal (especially because finding trans fat free canned biscuits is just about impossible). I would definitely make this one again.

We had the Chicken and Spinach Salad without the chicken alongside this meal, and it is your basic spinach salad that will go well with most other light dishes. It isn't anything of a spectacular nature, but if you're just looking for a simple recipe for spinach salad then this would work just fine (ie. its a good one for us students). It also has the nice addition of fruit and you could always throw on some nuts if you like to have those in your salad for extra crunch.

Basil Tomatoes

We used fresh basil rather than dried- just toss the tomatoes and basil with some chopped garlic and black pepper and you're good to go! Makes for a nice veggie side dish, and it looks pretty. The recipe also recommends serving it on a lettuce leaf for a classy flair.

Cheese-Stuffed Potatoes

This is a photo of them before we put them in the microwave to bake. I loved this version of healthy cheesy potatoes, but the directions aren't entirely clear. It calls for "medium baked potatoes, still warm", which you then stuff with the cheese mixture and then pop in the microwave for 5 minutes on high. So, we cooked the potato in the microwave to get it to the warm stage and then after we had softened them and prepared them (see above photo), we popped them in the microwave to finish cooking them. Because 5 minutes seemed a little long, we just put them in for 3 minutes... but I guess even that was too long, because when we took them out they looked like this:

Oops! They still tasted really good (mashed potatoes rather than baked?), but the directions for this recipe weren't all that clear. Even so, I'd try this recipe again and either have it in mashed form or else try cooking it for a much shorter period of time.

Oriental Noodle Soup

This was all around incredibly disappointing. There just wasn't any flavour to it, and I'm not even sure what could be done to really give it good flavour. It only cooks for 5-10 minutes so the ingredients don't have enough time to all meld together, I suppose.

Even though some of the directions are a bit iffy and the soup wasn't all that tasty, I still think that this book is a wonderful addition to anyones cookbook collection. You'll likely have to fiddle with the recipe by adding more spices than it calls for and perhaps use trial and error when it comes to the exact timing (as with the potatoes), but if you're living alone or have no time to cook this book is very handy. I am sure that I will be putting it to excellent use when I move out next month! Most of these recipes aren't going to really WOW you, but they are great for everyday meals, especially when you're wanting something of a healthier variety. I can see myself using this book a lot for cooking for myself or family, but I'm not entirely sure that I would want to experiment with a new recipe from here if I were having guests over (although that Chicken in a Pocket would be well-received by everyone, I should think! You've just got to find the recipes that are really wonderful in here between the other more regular ones).

*Updated: Last night we had the Crispy Potato Chicken for dinner:

...and it was great! Easy to put together but it looks rather fancy; its basically grated potato baked over chicken. Yum yum. My sister suggested that some crushed prosciutto would taste great mixed into this dish and add just the right hint of flavor.
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