Monday, July 28, 2008

Cooks and Cookbooks

My friend and I were visiting in my kitchen the other day when she said she would love to have a cook more than any other kind of help around the house. Just coming up with something for dinner, she lamented, day in and day out, for a husband and two small children gets to be a chore. All she needed, she said, were some good ideas and recipes for a few new meals to satisfy everyone, and she might enjoy cooking more. "Well," I said, "that big bookcase full of cookbooks is just a few steps away and might be a good place to start your search!" It was one of those slap-your-forehead moments when we both realized something incredibly obvious.

Would you want a cook, if you could have one? I'll admit that there are a lot of times when I would be tempted, but what would I do the rest of the time? Hang the cook on a hook in the pantry?

After my recent week of dining my way through Chapel Hill, Pinehurst and Southern Pines, I know that life would be better if someone cooked for me and I ate seafood everyday -- and believe me, I could -- especially when the serving size is inverse to the size of the restaurant bill. It's amazing how a three or four course meal, with wine, can leave you pleasantly satisfied -- and probably a little lighter at the end of the week -- if the food is light and the portions are reasonable. I guess the weight would disappear, right along with my wallet! Turning the cooking over to someone who could create light and delicious meals for me everyday would be a big help!

In real life, not vacation life, I'd like to eat lighter all the time. Another "Aha! moment" and there I was standing in front of the my own bookcase. I've got wild sockeye salmon, fresh from Alaska, in my freezer and the Co-op stocks several good fish choices too. My friend, Anna, also tells me she finds nice frozen fish at Aldi's. If I invested a little time in finding a few fresh and simple recipes, I could be a "new cook" in my own kitchen, and follow my own advice!

Cooking doesn't need to be complicated or time-consuming everyday. Summer is a great time to take a vacation from cooking and maybe spend a little time researching and getting in touch with your inner cook. Assuming you've come here for some inspiration in answering the "What's for dinner?" question, my library is at your service.

Cooking 1-2-3, by Rozanne Gold - How would you like to make great meals with only three ingredients? This books has simple recipes for everyday cooking, and even some for more sophisticated tastes.

Fast Fish, by Hugh Carpenter - A cookbook full of wonderful fish recipes and beautiful pictures to tempt you. I would love to eat like this everyday!

More Chicken Breasts, by Diana Rozas - Have you ever heard a chorus singing "not chicken breast again" at the dinner table? Here are some recipes for fresh ideas with chicken to make your taste buds sing.

Fresh and Simple 5 O'clock Grill, Better Homes and Gardens - Recipes for year-round fresh food from the grill, every night of the week, most requiring little or no embellishment to become a complete meal.

Keep It Simple
, Bon Appetit - A novice cook might argue with the term simple here, but there is no doubt that these are delicious recipes for simply prepared fresh foods. There are detailed instruction, with pictures, and lots of good tips for specific techniques. All in all, this might be the perfect place to look for recipes to take you to the next level.

Grill Every Day: 125 Fast-Track Recipes for Weeknights at the Grill
, Diane Morgan - OK, I'll admit I appear to be obsessed with the grill, but it is summer! This is a terrific book filled with enough vegetable and fruit recipes to please the non-meat lovers when it's grill night. Also includes lots of recipes with international flavors.

The Best American Recipes 2005-2006, by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens - Although American cooking may be a little difficult to define as a cuisine, there is no doubt that it extends beyond hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie. The recipes in this series of cookbooks -- yes there are others! -- are culled from sources like magazines and newspapers and represent the best of the best, at least in the opinions of McCullough and Stevens, who are two people you can truly trust in these matters.

Many of the books on this list are still in print and available at local bookstores. For older titles, just glance over to the right-hand column where you can find all these books and more. I buy a lot of my cookbooks used from and I couldn't be happier with them. It gives me access to a wider variety of recipes, saves me money, and finds a good home for deserving books.

Check out some books like these, and maybe you will find a new cook in your kitchen when you return from some well-deserved vacation time.

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