Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why you need The Chopped Cookbook in your kitchen.

I am a huge fan of the television show Chopped from Food Network.  It is one of the shows that I keep on my DVR at all times.  In it, contestants are given a large black wicker basket which contains ingredients they must use to make a dish that is beloved by the judges, or at least better than their fellow contestants' offerings.  If they can manage this, they get to move on to the next round and a final prize of money and the coveted title of Chopped champion.

More often than not the baskets contain oddball ingredients that the chefs may be unfamiliar with or familiar ingredients that don't seem to be able to meld themselves into a cohesive, tasty dish.  When I selected The Chopped Cookbook: Use What You've Got To Cook Something Great from The Food Network Kitchen to review for Blogging For Books, I thought it was going to be wacky combinations that had been featured on the show and that worked and taught you how to make these crazy dishes.  This book wasn't anything like I thought it would be - it turns out it was much better!

If I would have read the description rather than being so excited to see Chopped pop up on the cover of a cookbook, I would have known that this is a book about finding creative solutions to the ever present "what's for dinner?" question by using things you have on hand and making them exciting.  The excitement comes from using vegetables, proteins and ingredients already kicking around in your pantry in a broader way.  This book is great for helping you think outside the box and re-imagine common ingredients like peanuts or cream cheese into categories that help you bring unexpected changes to a dish and figure out ways things can work together to build new flavors.

This is an approachable concept even for a relatively inexperienced cook like me.  Reading the pantry list and seeing subcategories of "brothiness", "sweetness" and "crunch" and seeing loads of things I already had on hand and substitutes for things I might not made me feel as though this book is going to change dinner time into something really exciting for my family.

Many times I read a pantry list for a cookbook and I think I could never afford to buy the expensive cuts of meat or specialty cheese or just plain old unpronouncable stuff they list. I would rarely, if ever have the items on hand.  With the exception of fresh herbs many of the pantry items were in my home already and the slightly off beat items (toasted sesame oil, fish sauce) were things I had heard of and eaten before, and they weren't expensive or rare.  There were also whole sections dedicated to ingredients like ground beef or pasta that had lots of fun, inspirational ideas and the recipes encouraged you to play and experiment by adding things you liked to make it your own.  Hints, tips and tricks abound on the corners of pages about everything from how to choose and store produce (look for heavy bell peppers with smooth stems and remove the rubber bands from celery bunches before you pop it in your crisper drawer) to interesting ingredients (Geoffrey Zakarian likes to use preserved lemons and he is super hot - that last bit was from me, not from the book).

 A "ribbon" on each page tells you how many people each of the three or four recipes offered per ingredient will serve and how long you can expect to be in preparations before you can eat this lovely food.  The photos are bright and bold and the "Market Basket" sections show you several ways to use the same ingredients that I found really helpful.  The recipe I am most excited about in the whole book is for a coconut panne cotta with candied peanuts.  I know I will swap out the peanuts for cashews already because I much prefer their flavor and I have wanted to try my hand at a pot de creme or panne cotta for awhile and this one uses things I already had on hand (heavy cream, and a can of coconut milk) and has such straightforward instructions it seems like I've already made it with great success!

 I know this book is going to be living on my cookbook stand.  I give it five out of five stars and would definitely buy it as a gift for a cook with any level of experience.

I received this book from Blogging For Books for purpose of review.  Thank you for such an awesome addition to my kitchen.  My husband thanks you too!

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