Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cookbook Review: Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers

There are two saboteurs when it comes to making dinner:  fatigue and boredom.  Sometimes, you can't help the fatigue -- some days are just more exhausting than others and the thought of spending any more time in the kitchen is overwhelming.  Then there's the boredom -- you've made the same recipes over and over again. Sure, they're tried and true, but variety is also the spice of life, right? 

How do you fight against these dinnertime woes?  For me, a new cookbook can go a long way. They pull me out of my cooking rut and get me excited to cook again.

For this reason, I've decided to start a new feature on this blog: every so often, I'm going to introduce to you to some of my favorite cookbooks - to the ones that have broken spines, splatters on the pages, and wavy dust jackets from spills and to the others I've recently added to my collection. While I will heartily suggest adding the cookbooks in these reviews to your collection (cookbooks are a weakness of mine, especially when you can get them cheap on Amazon), you can also find them at the library. I actually cross-checked my favorite cookbooks with the catalog at my local library (which I'll just say is definitely - and frustratingly - limited compared to other libraries) and I found just about all of them there. 

So, without further ado, the first cookbook review...Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers.

I actually just rediscovered this cookbook. For reasons unknown, I haven't used it that much lately.  Then the other day I pulled it off the shelf and as I flipped through the pages, I kept thinking, "Oh yeah, I remember...this cookbook is awesome!" 

I bought this cookbook a few years ago, back in our vegetarian days. Even though those days are in the past for us, I still make meat-free meals 2-3 times a week. Going meat-free, even just once a week, is a great way to cut your grocery budget.  And, seriously, the recipes in this book will make you not even miss the meat.

So what do I love most about this cookbook? The title sums it up perfectly -- these are the recipes you want to make on a weeknight, for those times when you want something delicious, but you don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. The recipes in this book are really simple, both in terms of ingredients and preparation.

There are plenty of recipes in here that cover the whole meat-free spectrum - pasta, grains, eggs, soups, curries, salads, beans, tofu, sandwiches, and more. There are also sections devoted to dressings, seasonings, sauces and spreads so you can dress up any kind of dish, whether it's a recipe from this book or one already in your dinnetime repertoire. There's even a seafood section. On almost every page, with almost every recipe, there are also variations (just in case you don't have something on hand or you want to tweak the recipe a little), serving suggestions, and menu ideas. You can open up to a recipe and it will tell you what other recipes in the book work well with it. The book does part of your meal planning for you!

Another thing I love about this cookbook is that the ingredients aren't fancy or hard to find. You'll find everything you need at your local grocery store. The book even has a list at the end of the book to help you keep your pantry adequately stocked so that you can whip up these recipes at any time. No extra trip to the store needed. The book isn't afraid to use wholesome convenience items like canned tomatoes, canned beans, or bagged slaw mix. This cookbook is all about how to make delicous dinners easily and quickly.

Last week, I made one of our favorites from the cookbook - since it's a great example of how simple and uncomplicated recipes in the book are I thought I'd share. I realize that it's not one of the meatless recipes, but it could easily be so. Instead of the shrimp, just add some more vegetables (see the variation noted in the recipe below). 

Shrimp Curry with Snow Peas from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers

1 lb. peeled and deveined large shrimp (I cut back and only used 1/2 lb. since the shrimp I used were huge)
1 large onion, thinly sliced (about two cups)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
5 ounces snow peas, cut in half on the diagonal (about 2 cups)
3 tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups) -- (I've also used a 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes in the past. Worked just fine.)
1 14-oz. can of coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or basil

If your shrimp is still frozen, put it in cold water before you start. It will thaw out and cook completely in the coconut milk later.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté the onions in the oil for about five minutes or until softened. Add the shrimp and the curry powder. Cook for a couple minutes, stirring constantly so the shrimp doesn't stick.  Add the snow peas and tomatoes and cook for another couple of minutes, turning the shrimp to cook on both sides. When the shrimp are mostly pink, pour in the coconut milk, salt, and lemon/lime juice, and bring to a simmer. Stir in cilantro/basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.

The variation section on the page says that you could add more vegetables, like bell peppers, baby spinach, or mushrooms. The serving suggestion is to serve it on plain rice or on top of Lemongrass Rice or Green Rice (both recipes are in the side dish grains section of the book).  Simple enough. That dinner only takes about 20 minutes, prep and cooking time, and it's really tasty.

You don't have to be a vegetarian to benefit from a vegetarian or even a vegan cookbook. There are tons of great meat-free recipes out there. Honestly, I think you'll be surprised how you really don't need meat at center of your dinners. Best of all, you'll save some money and enjoy some delicious meals in the process.

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