Sunday, August 17, 2008

To borrow a phrase from the authors, this cookbook is "Worth Every Penne"

I agreed to accept a review copy of Eat, Shrink, and Be Merry with some reservations. The sample recipes page alone featured so many silly puns and jokes ("Sticky Chicky: Even if your kids are picky, there’s no way they’ll call these 'icky.' Instead of saying 'phooey,' they’ll shout, 'Yahooey! These are gooey!'") that I wasn't sure that the recipes would be any good. I thought that maybe authors Janet and Greta Podleski invested more time in making the book cute than they did in creating and testing the recipes. After leafing through the book and reading the introduction, I was ready to dive in. And though the recipe names are more wacky than informative, there is a subtitle to each recipe that tells you what you're cooking (For example, "Sticky Chicky" is "baked chicken thighs in a sticky-sweet barbecue sauce").

I didn't try Sticky Chicky yet, but I did test four recipes with my husband, who is always a willing guinea pig when it comes to food projects. Last night, we made the grilled-salad version of "Bird on a Wire" (Greek chicken skewers with a cucumber-dill sauce) and "Spud Light" (very simple, very delicious roasted mini red potatoes and onions). Even though we forgot the onions in the roasted potatoes, both recipes were delicious. The chicken was very tender and juicy, the potatoes were crisp on the outside and tender inside. Tonight we had "Wok this Way" (Asian beef stir-fry with basil and red bell pepper). We had it with white rice. The sauce was sweet and a little bit hot (that might have been my husband's creative touch) and the basil flavored the whole dish beautifully. Finally, we had to try one of the desserts. We decided to pass on the chocolatey stuff and made a half recipe of "Rhapsody in Blueberry," (blueberry crisp with oatmeal crumb topping). It doesn't sound like a particularly unique dish, but the recipe calls for lemon zest and juice in the blueberry filling. Adding the suggestion of lemonade to the blueberries made this the perfect "summer in a bowl" dessert. I will definitely be making this one again while fresh blueberries are still available.

The recipes are inventive without being overly complicated. Supposedly, Greta's philosophy was, "If I can't find the ingredients in my local grocery store, I'm not putting them in the book." When choosing recipes to test, I was surprised how many of them I could make from things I already had in my refrigerator, freezer, or pantry with one or two additions. To make the blueberry crisp recipe, for example, I already had everything but the blueberries and lemons. It took us less than 10 minutes to put it together, 40 minutes to bake, and 10 minutes to cool.

The cookbook is packed with tips on recipe variations, ingredient information, and lots of interesting facts about nutrition, exercise, and health. I was fascinated to read in the tip, "What causes a beer belly?" that a beer gut isn't just extra fat, but a reaction to poor liver function and excess hormones. I appreciated that the recipes included nutritional information so that I could easily enter recipes into Fitday. Most cookbooks, even when they do include some nutritional information, neglect to include fiber content, making it hard for Weight Watchers to count the points. Never fear, there is plenty of information to let you know that the blueberry crisp is 5 points per serving (and worthy of every last point).

I finally made my peace with the puns and the cuteness when I thought about how much more fun it would be for kids to cook with their parents using a cookbook full of color, cartoons, and silly jokes. Cooking is a great skill, and it's surprising to me how many people graduate from high school without knowing how to use the stove. Maybe cookbooks like this can help.

I'm so impressed with Eat, Shrink, and Be Merry that tomorrow, despite my long-standing hatred of whole wheat pasta, I'm going to give it another try in "Worth Every Penne." I'll let you know how it goes.

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