Call us geeks, but cookbooks are one of our favorite things to give - or receive! - during the holidays. It's a gift that literally keeps on giving! This gorgeous cookbook from the editors of Real Simple would make any hassled parent or budding new cook happy. As they promise, it's full of quick dishes that will inspire and satisfy.
Title & Publisher: Best Recipes: Easy, Delicious Meals from Real Simple, edited by Lygeia Grace and Kate Merker, 2009.
First Impressions: Made of thick sturdy paper, this hardcover will definitely stand the test of time in the kitchen. It lies flat on the counter, even when open to the first and last pages. The full color pictures on every page are inviting and enticing!
The Angle: This book is a collection of the very best recipes that Real Simple has published over the years. They are intended to be easy but elegant, full of good ingredients and satisfying to eat.
The Recipes: The recipes are divided by course (appetizers, soups, salads sides, main entrées, and desserts), with the entrées themselves further divided into poultry, beef/pork/lamb, seafood, pasta, and vegetarian dishes. We counted between 7 and 10 recipes in each section.
Most recipes use a combination of fresh and pre-made ingredients with minimal added fat - they're not "healthy" recipes in the low-fat dieter sense. Rather, they use just as much fat or dairy as is needed for the recipe and no more. The recipes are clearly written in a friendly, approachable tone.
Other Stuff: Every recipe is labeled with special icons so that at a quick glance through the book, you can easily pick out which ones are quick recipes, which are considered heart-healthy, which don't require actual cooking, and so on. We particularly appreciated the "freezable" and "kid-friendly" labels!
In addition, there are tips sprinkled throughout the book to advise cooks on spices, ingredient substitutions, and how to use leftovers. Full page spreads give guided tours through kinds of pasta, cuts of meat, and types of seafood. We can see these guides being handy resources in the kitchen completely apart from the recipes. There is also a great section in the back of the book offering menu suggestions.
Strengths and Weaknesses: We love how completely accessible this book is. The full-color pictures of every recipe are a great help when first making a recipe so we know what the final result should look like and how we might plate it for our guests. It's easy to follow along with each recipe step, and the open lay-out means less confusion when trying to find our place when we turn from stove to book and back again.
We look at the recipes and think, "Yes, we can totally make this!" The ingredients are all familiar to us and easily found in any grocery store. Several of these recipes could easily become go-to weeknight staples.
The flip side of this is that the recipes are fairly standard and basic. There's nothing that's really going to challenge us or inspire us to a new culinary heights. Now, this is exactly what you need if you're just starting to cook and want a book with all the basics clearly laid out and explained. But if you're a veteran home cook, you probably have versions of most of these recipes in other cookbooks.
In general, we don't really like relying on a lot of pre-made ingredients, as many of the recipes in this book do. But we also understand that products like jarred tomato sauce and frozen pierogis have their place - especially in a busy household when the priority is getting dinner on the table.
We also wish a list of all the recipes had been included with the table of contents, or at least at the beginning of each chapter. As much as we love wandering through a book and stumbling across something new, sometimes we just like a quick glance at a list to see what we're in the mood for.
Recipes for Right Now: Spinach Salad with Warm Onions and Crispy Salami, Turkey Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes, Lasagna-Style Baked Ziti, Deep-Dish Polenta Pizza, Roasted Apple and Walnut Tarts
Recommended? Yes, particularly for people who want to start cooking more at home in the coming year. This would make a really beautiful present for the holidays!
Buy the Book: Best Recipes: Easy, Delicious Meals from Real Simple, $17 on Amazon.com.
(Image: Amazon.com/Real Simple)