"Cooking Light: Annual Recipes 1997"

Pros: Good healthy food; lots of interesting recipes; quick & easy recipes
Cons: Could be better quality dishes; not organized perfectly
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

First published 5/23/2001

Since these recipes are collected from the “Cooking Light” magazine, they aren’t organized well. They’re pretty much shoved in exactly as they appeared in the magazine. This means that first they’re organized by month, or magazine issue. Then within that, they’re organized by grouping, where a grouping is designed around a technique, ingredient, or other theme. (Each theme includes a few paragraphs about that particular ingredient, technique, or whatever.) Most themes have a sort of cutesy pun-name, so you won’t always be able to tell what a theme is about from the table of contents.

Some examples of their theme names: “My Heart Belongs to Patty” (patties & croquettes), “Star Light, Star Bright” (meals by Hollywood chefs for celebrities), “Culinary Chameleon” (tofu), and so on. You get the point. Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m deliberately showing you the worst offenders. Some of the others are much more obvious: “I Dream of Panini,” “Waiting for Gateau,” “Banquets of Imagination…” It would be nice, though, if they put the actual subject in parentheses in the table of contents.

Of course, now I’m going to tell you that it really doesn’t matter that much after all. Why? Because so many of these recipes look delicious and easy to make that you can easily just flip through the cookbook and find something. With many cookbooks you can’t do that because not a large enough percentage of the recipes are worth making.

In addition, there’s a very thorough index, as well as a month-by-month index and a menu index. You’ll also find one nice, short set of color photos for each magazine issue.

The Instructions

These are very quick and easy recipes. No multiple pages of instructions for a single recipe here, and everything is broken up into simple chunks. My only complaint is that these recipes often use the dreaded instruction: “Add the next 8 [or whatever] ingredients.” Ick. This means that unless you have an awfully good memory, you have to keep re-counting out the ingredients as you go. It doesn’t take up that much more space to say, “add everything through the parsley,” or “add the sour cream, mayo, onion, pepper, and parsley.”

The Quality

These dishes are not consistently excellent. However, neither are they consistently mediocre, and there are plenty which are quite good. The Oriental Flank Steak, for example, was so-so. The only flavorings are 1/4c soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 2 cloves of garlic, and that really wasn’t enough.

The Baked Potato Soup with Bacon, on the other hand, is very good – although I recommend that you add a few spices (things like white pepper, a little pureed chipotle pepper in adobo sauce if you can get it, garlic powder). The Garlicky Brown Rice is wonderful, using chicken broth and plenty of garlic to add flavor. The Mexican Cobb Salad, which includes avocado (yum!) and reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese, is absolutely fabulous! There are Lamb Chops with Garlic-Peppercorn Crust (good but not amazing – try coarse-ground mustard mixed with honey, white pepper, salt, and chili powder instead), an absolutely amazing and stunningly easy Hamburger-Mushroom Pizza, some Santa Fe Stuffed Chiles (good but not amazing), and a Sausage-and-Egg Casserole that’s really more like a savory bread pudding, and very very good.

The Inside-Out Tomato Salad, which includes such marvelous flavors as balsamic vinegar and lemon zest, is perfect served with French bread. The Mexican Chili-Cheese Burgers are wonderful, moist with just a little bit of bite. Try serving them with slices of pepper jack cheese instead of regular Monterey Jack. The Oriental Berry-Beef Salad? Oh, wow, amazing, although it doesn’t refrigerate terribly well. There’s an Almond Creme Caramel that’s fabulous, and I’m pretty picky about my creme caramel. And the Overnight Eggnog Bread Pudding with Apricot Whiskey Sauce is wonderful. I’d use a little more sugar and slightly fewer raisins, however.

I think you get the point. More good recipes than so-so; plenty of wonderful ones. I probably wouldn’t make the Curried Artichoke Dip again (bland as all hell), but there are few recipes like that.

This book tends to make use of such things as the aforementioned cooking spray, egg substitute, skim milk, and reduced-fat cheese. But they do it well enough that you’ll almost never notice the lack of fat. Occasionally I think they don’t do enough to add flavor to the dishes to make up for the fat, but if you’re confident of your use of spices you can always liven things up yourself.

Ultimately, one of the best ways to express how useful this cookbook is, is to point out that it’s one of the few we haven’t packed yet in preparation for moving. The recipes are simple & easy. They’re quick. There are enough yummy-looking recipes that you can sit down in a few minutes, flip through the book, and find something to make. There are a lot of cookbooks you can’t say that about. I’m wavering between a 3.5 and a 4 for rating. For a cookbook in general it’s probably a 3.5; for a healthy, low-fat cookbook it’s probably a 4.

Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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