Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Geoffrey Zakarian's My Perfect Pantry: 150 Recipes from 50 Essential Ingredients

I'm a fan of Food Network.  You'll often find it tuned on the television in our home on any given evening.  I have a love/hate relationship with many of the hosts who appear on the shows and game shows featured on the network.  It often depends which side of the table they are on.  If they're hosting or judging I like the stars I consider the most fair and who have the best advice to offer the aspiring chefs.  Geoffrey Zakarian is often a judge on Chopped which is a favorite show of mine.  He isn't afraid to tell a chef the food they made is terrible, but he tempers it with suggestions of what they could do to improve if they move forward in the game.  As an Iron Chef he displays a wonderful imagination and always comes up with creative uses for the theme ingredients and is very competitive and fun to watch as a contestant as well.  I was happy to have the chance to review this cookbook by Chef Zakarian because I really enjoy watching him in his roles as a competitor and as a judge/mentor and I was sure I would find his advice on stocking a kitchen pantry helpful.

My Perfect Pantry: 150 Easy Recipes from 50 Essential Ingredients by Geoffrey Zakarian (with Amy Stevenson and his wife Margaret Zakarian) begins with a list of essential spices and flavorings it is helpful to have on hand in any kitchen.  Of the list I was happy to see I had 16 of the 19 on hand, and one (kosher salt) was something I just had run out of and hadn't replaced yet.  I felt like I was off to a good start since whole cloves and celery salt weren't everyday staples in our kitchen, but the rest of the items (like garlic powder, cumin and vanilla extract) were all spices I was comfortable using.  This was a short list that made up the "ground floor" of the flavors in several recipes and that were used often in the book.

The list of 50 essential ingredients was accompanied by a page number where you found all kinds of helpful information and tips about each item in his perfect pantry.  It included how long you could store the item, if it needed to be refrigerated after it was opened, and often a brief history of the food or condiment and where it originated.  Chef Zakarian is also great at letting you know his preferred form of the ingredient and the reason behind his choice.  For example, he suggests using tuna that is packed in olive oil to compliment its flavor and to use canned chick peas and black beans rather than the dried versions to save time and effort.

Almonds are the pantry staple featured in these pork chops, salmon and bark candy.
I found out tons of facts about the ingredients themselves (cinnamon bark is from an evergreen tree in the laurel family and ketchup was first sold by H.J. Heinz in 1876), and truly appreciated that the accompanying recipes were "very doable even for someone new to cooking" as the author states in his "note to the home cook" at the start of the book.  Most if not all of the recipes seem approachable and there are a few that sounded so incredibly delicious I was sad that I didn't have the fresh produce and proteins needed to make them readily available.  I am sure I will enjoy the almond crusted pork chops with apples, the savory spiced bean dip and the maple brown sugar rice pudding recipes when I make them.  The ingredients are simple and the instructions are precise and easy to understand so I will feel confident trying my hand at them.

Yellow mustard is used in deviled eggs, a sweet vinaigrette and classic New England pot roast. 

Of the 50 ingredients I have 31 waiting to work their magic on my pantry's shelves.  There wasn't a single item that was unfamiliar to me even if I didn't have it at the moment.  Of the 19 I was missing, I can honestly say there were only three I have never purchased.  Those were instant espresso, white wine vinegar (I never knew these existed although I have have instant coffee and rice wine vinegar already which could be substituted for these in a pinch), and anchovies.  I never imagined myself buying these salty fish.  When I was a teenager I worked in a church and helped one of the priests make the most delicious Caesar salad dressing I had ever tasted.  It used whole anchovies in the recipe and I am excited to buy some and try my hand at the dressing that is featured in this book.  I hope it tastes as good as the one I remember, and I am excited that the suggestions will help me to branch out and try new things.  There were also some really unexpected uses of the pantry ingredients.  The gelatin recipes include a meatloaf that relies on the gelatin to give it texture without the use of additional binders.  This and the popcorn soup and ice cream recipes were some of the biggest surprises.  It will be a joy to test these out and be a little adventurous.  There is also a recipe for Chicken Vinegar with cinnamon candies that Zakarian made on an episode of Iron Chef.  I loved that he included these interesting and fun ideas to show the versatility of the pantry ingredients.

I am truly looking forward to shopping for some additional pantry ingredients this week and I am sure Andy will be happy for me to practice my cooking skills on these new recipes.  Thank you to the kind folks at Blogging For Books for providing me with this copy to review.  My husband's belly thanks you in advance!

The same good folks also provided me with a copy of Sweet a cookbook from the editors of the Food Network Magazine to give away.  There's still time to enter if you haven't yet, and if you like to bake as much as I do you won't want to miss your chance.  One reader of my blog will win when you fill out the entry form.  The details are in my previous entry here.  Good luck!

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