Guides and Lists

Review: Secrets of a Skinny Chef

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They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and in this case I’m glad that I didn’t. I’ll be honest: Secrets of a Skinny Chef probably isn’t a cookbook that would catch my eye if I was browsing around Barnes and Noble. The cover is a dull yellow-green color (I couldn’t even take a decent photo of it!), the cartoon is kind of hokey, and there’s something about the word “skinny” that really turns me off. But the description pulled me in – Jennifer Iserloh and I share a similar food philosophy that includes moderate portions of real foods, lots of veggies, and not falling victim to food fads. Plus, her recipe for mac and cheese loaded up with cauliflower sounded really good (ever since I made that gratin, I’ve been obsessed with the combination of cauliflower and cheese).

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In terms of layout, the book is very no-frills. Although there is a small insert of photos in the middle, the rest of the book is printed simply in two colors with a few small illustrations here and there. So you’ll have to use your imagination and actually read a little to decide which recipe’s you want to try. Which might be a good thing because, if your like me, you probably don’t usually bother to cook the recipes that don’t have photos. And you just might be missing out on some good ones.

The book covers a really wide range of dishes, with chapters dedicated to everything from breakfast to side dishes to desserts. There are also some really cool extras, like a “skinny shopping list” and a section dedicated to using up leftovers. None of the recipes call for “diet” foods or specify that you use a specific brand of something, and all of them include nutrition information. The recipes are straightforward and easy to make — not intimidating at all for those of you who aren’t “cooks.” They don’t involve complicated or expensive ingredients, and they’re fast to cook up.

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The first recipe that I made was the shrimp and corn fritters with sweet chili sauce. It was incredible!! The fritters were light and fluffy in the center, but crisp on the outside, and the seasoning mixture in them was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten. The sauce was a lot spicier than I expected, but it was full of flavor and paired perfectly with the fritters. The sweetness of the corn also went really nicely with the spicy sauce. One serving didn’t look like much on my plate, but the three fritters (302 calories) and a side of asparagus was more than I could finish. I plan to make these again soon!

The second recipe I made was the mac and cheese that I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, this recipe and I didn’t get along very well. It was most likely my fault – I was in a horrible mood when I started cooking and it was late and I was cranky. But my pasta turned to mush and my sauce was more solid than creamy.

The last recipe I tried was the pork lo mein, hold the grease. While I wouldn’t call this dish lo mein (the sauce wasn’t what I was expecting) it was, again, an excellent dish. It was packed full of filling vegetables, and the sauce had a ton of flavor. I also really enjoyed the use soba noodles in this recipe. For 293 calories, this dish was not only much tastier than take-out, but much healthier too.

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The verdict: Secrets of a Skinny Chef contains 100 healthy recipes that are easy and accessible to make. It may not appeal to the more experienced cook that is looking to be challenged and inspired, but it’s a solid collection or recipes for more casual home cooks who are looking to eat healthier without sacrificing flavor. The recipes are family friendly, and I think they would also be great for parents who are trying to encourage their children t eat more vegetables (you might just have to tone some of the spicier recipes down a little).
Would I buy this book? A few years ago, I not only would have nought the book, but I would have cooked from it almost every day. I wouldn’t buy it today, but only because my cooking skills have evolved and the books that I buy tend to be more specialized or “gourmet.” I’ll still refer to it though, and I have marked a few more recipes that I want to try. While I wouldn’t buy it for myself, I would have no hesitation recommending it to a friend who was looking to lose weight in a healthy way or just wanted to learn how to cook without relying on processed foods.
Secrets of a Skinny Chef is available at Amazon.com for $13.49.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this cookbook to review, but the opinions are my own.

Review: Michael Symon's Live to Cook

I thought would try something different today – a cookbook review! If you’re anything like me, you plan to use some money that you got for Christmas for a new cookbook or two, but with so many out there it can be a bit daunting to figure out which ones are worth the money.

Before I received a copy to review, I don’t think I would have ever thought about buying Michael Symon’s book. I love iron Chef, but I’m always slightly disappointed when he’s the one picked. We joke that the challenger picks him when they want someone who will take it easy on them. This book changed my opinion of him though, and I have a new respect for Michael Symon.

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First though, let’s talk about the book itself: as you can probably tell from the blog, I’m a very visual person. I like pictures. And I most likely won’t look at a recipe in a cookbook twice if there isn’t a picture to go along with it. I was very happy to see that this book is full color and loaded with mouth-watering photographs. Not all together in a little section in the middle either- the photo is right there with the recipe. And a lot of recipes even have multiple photos! That’s my kind of cookbook.

The second thing that I noticed about this book were the chapters – in addition to standards like “meat,” “soups and sandwiches,” and “salads” there are categories for things like “charcuterie” and “pickles.” Fun! But it also demonstrates that this isn’t your everyday cookbook. Certainly some of the recipes can be made easily on a weeknight, but others – like cuing your own bacon and pancetta – are pretty involved and not for those of you who are easily intimidates in the kitchen. other recipes looks awesome, but are pretty impractical for the home-cook – I’m not sure where I would find ingredients like beef cheeks or suckling pig head.

That aside, this cookbook is pretty awesome. I tried a few recipes from it, and they were huge hits. First I made braised pork belly, which took a long time but was very easy to make (95% of it was inactive time that it spent in the oven). The pork belly was great on it’s own, but even bette when used to make pork belly croutons to go on a salad with an egg and Symon’s Sherry Vinaigrette! This was a really fun play on bacon and eggs and we loved it. The flavors went beautifully together. I’ll be making the vinaigrette a lot.

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The next recipe I tried knocked it out of the park though, and is what really changed my opinion about Symon. The recipe for Crispy Gnocchi with Morels and Spring Peas is easily worth the price of the book. Love, love, love! I had to use porcini mushrooms and frozen peas, and it was still awesome – I can only imagine how great it would be with the right ingredients! the gnocchi was light and fluffy, with a crispy exterior and a bright lemon flavor. The brown butter sauce was amazing with the mushrooms and peas. AND it was easy enough to make on a weeknight. I can’t say enough about this dish. Seriously buy this book and make it ASAP.

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The verdict: This isn’t a book for the casual home-cook, but if you’re a little more adventurous in the kitchen it’s a great addition to your cookbook collection. None of the recipes are particularly difficult, but some are pretty involved and have multiple steps or use hard-to-find ingredients. You likely won’t be able to (or want to) make every recipe in it, but its a beautiful collection of solid recipes that will inspire you to try new combinations of ingredients and think a little differently about some old standards.  

Would I buy this book? While I never would have given it a second look before, I would definitely buy this book for myself or for a food-loving friend.

Michael Symon’s Live to Cook is available at Amazon.com for $23.10.