Monday, May 4, 2009

STI: Eater's Digest

May 3, 2009

Eater's Digest

By Ong Sor Fern 

One-pot dishes are a fast and furious way of making a hearty meal with minimum fuss since everything is thrown into one container. Or are they? We look at three cookbooks that purport to make life easier for the busy cook with one-dish recipes.


Cover And Bake

By Cook's Illustrated Magazine

2009/America's Test Kitchen/hardcover/

338 pages/$50.02 with GST


The people who run America's Test Kitchen, the venerable publisher behind the magazines Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country, are obsessive compulsive demons. That makes them the perfect testers for recipes because they attack and deconstruct every recipe with terrifying zeal. The results are Nazi- strict recipes: Follow every single step in a Cook's Illustrated recipe, and you will produce a perfect dish every time. Perish the thought of deviating even the tiniest bit from the dictatorial directions.


So I approached this cookbook with a mixture of awe and trepidation. My first attempt at chicken cacciatore was reassuring in more ways than one. The dish turned out perfectly since I am the prototypical Singaporean student who takes orders well.


More importantly, I discovered that America's Test Kitchen staffers are not infallible. They forgot - gasp - to specify whether the Dutch oven should be covered or not while it was in the oven. Yes, the book title says Cover And Bake but not every dish in this book requires covering in the oven.


The Chilli Mac recipe I tried also turned out beautifully. The only problem with this book is that although the end dish might be a one-pot meal, the processes specified by the writers often dictate a mindboggling array of other pots and pans. The Chilli Mac, for example, was baked in a 9x13 casserole dish but needed cooking in a Dutch oven. The Chicken Enchilada recipe demanded two Dutch ovens, two baking sheets as well as a 9x13 casserole dish.


So while this book is great for idiot-proof cooking, be warned that it is also labour-intensive and demands unquestioning obedience from its readers. The payoff is in foolproof recipes that turn out perfectly every time.


All In One

By Sumi Glass and Lincoln Jefferson

2008/Parragon Books/hardcover/

222 pages/$28.84 with GST


The recipe for laksa is a joke. Carrot in laksa? No coconut milk? More sacrilegious - no laksa leaves. But I was willing to mark that one disaster down to the fact that this British cookbook has been tweaked for British tastebuds, hence the wildly unauthentic recipe.


Thankfully, the rest of the book sticks to fairly tried-and-tested recipes. The Chicken Noodle Soup packed a flavourful fragrance, thanks to the addition of cloves and star anise to the broth. But I would use chicken thighs rather than skinless breasts the next time I make this recipe as the latter turned out rather bland after an hour of simmering. The Sausage And Bean Casserole was also a breeze to throw together.


More importantly, this book sticks to the one-pot rule where the dish is assembled, cooked and presented in the same utensil.


The home economists who wrote this have also taken pains to offer a very international selection of cuisines. Other than the ignominious laksa recipe, the Thai green curry recipe is fairly authentic and there are plenty of other options ranging from Indian dishes to Mediterranean fare.


One minor quibble I have with this is that because it is a British cookbook, some of the ingredients such as juniper berries and monkfish are nigh on impossible to find in Singapore. But adventurous cooks with a bit of experience under their belts can use the recipes as a springboard for culinary improvisations.


101 One-Pot Dishes, Tried & Tested Recipes

GoodFood Magazine, BBC Books


For the first time ever, a dish I made looked exactly like the photograph in the cookbook. Okay, so it was a humble Macaroni Cheese With Mushroom recipe and the one-pot concept means that all the ingredients get chucked unceremoniously into one container. But there was no denying the thrill of accomplishment.


This handy pocket-sized book, part of BBC Books' ever reliable 101 Tried-And- Tested Recipes series, delivers what it promises - dishes assembled and cooked in just one utensil with the minimum of fuss. And the results are surprisingly tasty too. The Sausage And Leek Hash was so easy and delicious that I made it twice in two weeks.


A few recipes do resort to bottled sauces and ready-made frozen packs, which I have no problems with, especially on a workday when you want homecooked meals but not the hassle of making everything from scratch.


Despite the authors' inordinate fondness for leek, which shows up in quite a few recipes, this book offers a wide variety of fast-to-cook, good-to-eat meals. And like the best of British cookbooks, this one is international in flavour with a generous helping of Mediterranean- and Asian-inspired dishes.


Unlike All In One, however, the recipes here are not brazenly offbeat but relatively authentic. This is a tough balance to keep in a cookbook where convenience is key, so hats off to the writers who keep it simple and real.


Out of the three books reviewed this week, this is the one that offers real value for money and I can foresee myself reaching for this one far more often than the other two books.

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