Friday, January 18, 2008

Chicken Provencal and the Cookbook Hall of Fame

Originally, this post was going to be all about Chicken Tikka and Chole Channa, two dishes I made Tuesday from the Food of India cookbook. Alas … yick. They were terrible - my second and third disappointments from that particular tome (see Indian Carrot Salad). I’m thinking it might be a dud. A lemon. A failure from the makers of Bad Idea Jeans.

Yet, it got me pondering. Between gifts from my family and self-purchased additions, I own 14 or 15 different cookbooks. Of these, I consistently use seven or eight, and should probably sell three or four.

To determine what to keep and what to junk, I decided to break down each cookbook’s role in my kitchen, baseball-style. I’m a gigantic Mets fan from way back, and read ESPN’s Page 2 like it’s my job. So, in honor of the impending MLB season (pitchers and catchers report to spring training next month), let’s get to it:

Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
This was a Christmas gift from the ‘rents, but I’m already intimate with it since Rachel (my old roommate) owned the book. To put it plainly, Ina has never failed us. She’s the kind of gal you could build a whole franchise around.

The Intellectuals (aka Stats Dorks or The Finesse Guys)
I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown
The Cook’s Bible by Christopher Kimball
Alton Brown and Christopher Kimball are the Mike Mussina and Greg Maddux of celebrity chefs – brilliant, reliable, and the cornerstones of my cookbook team. Younger authors could take a note or two.

The Savvy Veteran

Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today by the people behind Betty Crocker
I don’t use this baby too often now, but Betty pretty much got me through the final two years of college, when I had to learn to cook for myself. A good starter book, it will always have a place on Team Kris.

The Import
Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
Nearly every year, the large-market MLB teams (New York, Boston, etc.) enter a bidding war for the Next Big Japanese Pitcher. Though she’s Italian, Lidia’s that guy. And this cookbook is her money pitch. I need her to bolster my lineup and impress my parents.

The Savant
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Julia is to cooking what Sandy Koufax was to pitching, but truth be told, I’m a little afraid to touch this thing. I’m afraid it would spoil me for other cookbooks. Plus, there’s all that butter … not good for the booty and such.

The Hometown Favorite
My binder by my parents, a few friends, and lots of internet sources
I keep an ever-growing file of decent recipes right between Alton and Lidia. I probably use it the most, since it’s tailored to my specific tastes, and would liken it to Derek Jeter: a local wunderkind and all-around good egg that will never, ever get on my bad side.

The Utility Men

Lighten Up: Lowfat Cooking in 15 Minutes by Ginny Clark
No Diet Required by Jenny Craig
I bought these a few years ago when I was initially trying to drop some weight. The Jenny one is unintentionally hilarious (see: rich old women in foofy hats), and they’ve fallen out of my starting lineup, but both remain decent backups in case another recipe goes horribly wrong.

The Jekyll and Hyde
Fix it and Forget it Lightly by Phyllis Pellman Good
From day to day, I have no idea what this cookbook will give me. During a single week last year it produced a delicious baked bean dish, a middling chili, and a soup I would hesitate to call food. Completely hit or miss, like a streaky second baseman.

The Rookie with a Bad Attitude

The Food of India by Priya Wickramasinghe and Carol Selva Rajah
It must be said that this is a gorgeous book, and looks like a million bucks coming out of the wrapping. But the recipes … see above. It might end up traded for a player to be named later.

The Rookie with Potential
The Best 30-Minute Recipe by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
Looks great, comes highly recommended from scouts, and so far, has produced well. I don’t want to overuse it yet, but this could be the beginning of something special. In fact, the Chicken Provencal recipe attached below comes from this book. I made it last night, and it was OUTSTANDING. I can’t even explain. I haven’t made a dinner like this in awhile, and I run a freakin’ food website. The portions are big, too, so while the book calls for four servings per recipe, you can easily net six. (My calculations are for both.)

Ultimately, based on my designations, I’d probably chuck/sell the Fix it and Forget it book, as well as Food of India and Jenny Craig. There’s a three-volume Williams-Sonoma set that I’m undecided on, as well, but we’ll see.

Readers, how about you? What are your Hall of Fame cookbooks? Drop me a comment, and let’s get this discussion going.

Chicken Provencal

Serves between 4 and 6 people
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipe.

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and ground black pepper
1 slice bacon, minced
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons unbleached white all-purpose flour
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 Tablespoon minced fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped course
2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1) Sprinkle salt and pepper all over chicken and place in a single layer in a casserole dish. (Make sure it's microwave-safe.) Cover very tightly with plastic wrap. Nuke 15 minutes on half-power. Be super-careful removing dish from microwave, as it may be very hot.

2) As chicken is cooking, heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook for about 2 minutes, until it begins to give up its fat. Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook 5 minutes, until onion is soft. Add garlic. Cook another 30 seconds or so, until fragrant.

3) Add flour to pot. Stir and cook "until lightly browned, about 1 minute." Add wine slowly, scraping up brown bits from the bottom of the pan as you go along. Add broth, tomatoes, and oregano. Bring to a simmer.

4) Knock heat back to low. Very carefully (it might still be hot) add chicken and any juices from dish to pot. Cover pot and cook another 10 minutes, until chicken is tender and fully cooked.

Approximate Calories, Fat and Price per Serving

4 servings: 443 calories, 17.7 g fat, $2.07
6 servings: 296 calories, 11.8 g fat, $1.36

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs: 1081 calories, 35.5. g fat, $3.95
salt and ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 slice bacon, minced: 43 calories, 3.3. g fat, $0.37
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil: 124 calories, 14 g fat, $0.06
1 onion, minced: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.10
4 garlic cloves, minced: 18 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.20
2 Tablespoons unbleached white all-purpose flour: 57 calories, 0.2. g fat, $0.01
½ cup dry white wine: 97 calories, 0 g fat, $0.40
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth: 43 calories, 1.5 g fat, $0.12
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes: 82 calories, 0 g fat, $1.29
1 Tablespoon minced fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped course: 180 calories, 16 g fat, $1.40
2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley: 3 calories, 0.1. g fat, $0.20
TOTAL: 1774 calories, 70.8 g fat, $8.14
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 443 calories, 17.7 g fat, $2.07
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 296 calories, 11.8 g fat, $1.36

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Jennie said...

This looks good - I have this cookbook, too, and love it. My favorite is the Unstuffed Chicken Cordon Bleu. I, too, have the Fix It and Forget It cookbook...however, after several failures, I think we've pretty much followed it's own advice and forgotten it. =)

SJ said...

I'm of the Cook's Illustrated fanbase, so the recipes I make most often come from that magazine or it's sister, Cook's Country (more often Cook's Country these days - easier with a family)
However for cookbooks, my veteran is the Better Homes and Garden cookbook, and the other one I use often is Quick Recipes from the Cooks Illustrated folks.
We've been trying the Six O'Clock Scramble ( for the past month and a half, and I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised - about 2/3 have been we'd make this again, and only a few have been not good at all (after trying about 30 recipes).

Meags said...

I have the first Fix It And Forget It cookbook and it's one of my favorites! I also stand by the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook - it's got a recipe on just about anything and usually comes out great.

If you can't get a good price for your books on or wherever you were planning to sell them, you could try swapping them on and get new cookbooks. It's been invaluable to me (for more than just cookbooks, but there's a lot of that on there too).

Lady Di said...

If you're looking for a good Indian Food cookbook, look for anything by Madhur Jaffrey (I think I spelled that right, I don't have any of her books in front of me at the moment). You should be able to find a few of her recipes online, especially at any British (BBC especially) website.

My Go-To's? The cookbook that I made for my sister when she got married (she was the dessert maker, I was the entree maker so she needed the entree recipes and I needed the desserts). I collected all the bits and bobs that my mom had written down or cut out and shoved everywhere and put them into a word document. It's been given to quite a few relatives now too. I actually use my Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook quite a lot since I'm doing WW. Veganomicon and Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World (hence the WW on that one?) get used quite a lot still, even though I am definitely a true omnivore now. Julia Child's The Way to Cook gets used a lot while baking, but not as much as I used to (see WW above). I also have a McCall's Cook Book and a complete Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cooking like my mom's. And two other books that I don't use as much as I used to anymore: White Lily Sunday Best Baking and Martha White Southern Traditions. I couldn't get the paper booklets like my mom had so I found out that the flour companies now had books out.

Milehimama said...

I have the Joy of Cooking - man, if you need a recipe for ANYTHING it's in here. (Aspic? Squirrel? Candied rose petals? It's all here.) It was my first cookbook and faithful friend when I was learning to cook (and didn't even know how to make coffee.)
It's really good now that i have to cook most things totally from scratch (we can't even use cream-of-stuff soups around here). Really, really good recipes for candies, breads, and more with tons of useful info on why muffins go wrong (with illustrations), how to preserve food, how to heat different foods, pictures of cows so you know what cut you are cooking, and more.

My Better Homes and Gardens FELL APART I used it so much. I still have the remnants. My mom sent me America's Test Kitchen Cookbook to replace it, and that's my new love.

I also have 3 beautiful books on Chinese and Japanese cooking, but they are my husbands. I've got a couple of little spiral bound ones that the Ladies Guild of Somewhere or Another sold as a fundraiser- they are one of those hit-or-miss recipes (Guacamole made with MAYONNAISE? Really?)

I used to love Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely but now I know how to menu plan all by myself so I could probably chuck that one.

Chief Family Officer said...

I love The Joy of Cooking (or the New Joy of Cooking or whatever my version is called). My mom always had a copy, so I felt I should have one too, but it's been marvelously handy for those basic recipes that I want to whip up on the spur of the moment (like when my 2-year-old wanted to make blueberry muffins earlier this week).

But most of the recipes that I make come from a divided folder where I keep recipes torn out from Cooking Light and other sources. The keepers go into a two-inch binder that is becoming unwieldy.

Jaime said...

I am a devoted internet recipe cook. Mostly because I've been seriously recipe-cooking - as in, beyond teriyaki stir-fry - for such a long time, but the price, compared to hard-copy cookbooks, just can't be beat. Your site, 101cookbooks, and a couple of vegan places keep me pretty busy.

I do love me some Alton Brown, though. "Good Eats" is like the perfect cooking show for science dorks who grew up on Mr. Wizard. I heart AB.

Pam said...

For sure The Joy of Cooking, but since others have already suggested that classic, I would have to have at least one Moosewood cookbook in my top 10 list. This Christmas, I was given Simple Suppers and another Moosewood with mainly soup recipes. Great recipes even for the non-vegetarian and usually super frugal. Love it!

kazari_lu said...

Two big favourites for me:
Donna Hay's 'Off the shelf' and
Australian Women's weekly 'Basic Cooking Class'
The first has brilliant recipes that always, always rock (and cope with my sometimes bizarre substitutions).
The second tells me how to dress, stuff and roast a chicken, how to make scones and muffins, and best of all conversions for oven temps and imperial/metric measurements. can't live without them.

plonkee said...

Anything by Nigella Lawson, but especially The Domestic Goddess. For reasonably easy stuff, my bible is The Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith. My sister swears by some Jamie Oliver cookbook, and everything I've eaten from there has been pretty good.

Kris said...

Jennie: Totes on the FAFI cookbook. I'm really hesitant to make anything else because I don't want to waste food.

SJ and Meags: Better Homes and Gardens. Sweet. I really like having a basic cookbook around, just for reference, and I think the BHAG one is a good one.

Lady Di: How is the WW cookbook? Are there recipes in it that aren't available online? I have to knock about five or ten pounds off (...holidays...) and am considering grabbing it.

Milehimama: GUAC WITH MAYO? My heart just stopped. Why would anyone do that to an innocent avocado?

Pam and CFO: Joy of Cooking is another good one. Have either of you guys tried Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything? It comes highly recommended, but I wonder if I need it in addition to the other stuff.

Jaime: Alton just signed with Food Network through 2010. We are saved.

Kazari_lu: Metric conversions are so important over here. I think I'm starting to get the hang of them (and having a kitchen scale helps), but still.

Plonkee: Good call. I have a big fat girl crush on Nigella. I want the woman's food and her wardrobe. There's a pea soup on this site somewhere that comes from her, and it's divoon.

Lady Di said...

We like the WW book, I actually have the older one and the newer one, the have some of the same recipes and some newer ones, enough so that I thought it was worth buying (I got it at Costco so it was also cheap enough that I thought it was worth getting too). I even made Thanksgiving dinner out of it once a few years back. And I love the oven "fries". You soak them in a salt-sugar solution first and then oven bake. They just seem to bake better. The note in the recipe says it helps to draw out some of their moisture so they brown rather than steam in the oven. *shrug* I don't know but it does seem to work.

Pam said...

Regarding Mark Bittman's book--no, I haven't tried it, but my other sggestion is that cut out the recipes in the cookbooks that you aren't using too much and put them in your binder. Of course, if you can still sell them on Amazon, so much the better.

I Heart Kale said...

Word on Madhur Jaffrey cookbooks. World Vegetarian is her best, I think--organized by ingredient, 600-plus pages, and still surprising me with new stuff.

Cam said...

I swear by Moosewood! Simple Suppers gets a lot of use in my house, as does the soup and salad one. I also really enjoy Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, and Garlic, Garlic, Garlic gets a bunch of use in my house (in case you couldn't tell by the title, it uses a lot of garlic, so beware).

Kris said...

Oh, wow. So it looks like Madhur Jaffrey is the Indian food winner by a long shot. Thanks for the suggestions, everybody.

And Lady Di, thank you for the WW review. I'm back three days OP and already close to panic.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. When do the olives go in? Last step?