Pros: Fantastic concept
Cons: No photos; poor layout; mediocre results; inconsistent information; flawed recipes
Rating: 2 out of 5
First published 4/13/2004
I wanted to like this cookbook. I really did. I started a garden last year, and the idea of having a cookbook that would help me make use of the ubiquitous zucchini harvest sounded great. “Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans, and Other Good Things: a Cookbook for When Your Garden Explodes,” by Lois Landau and Laura Myers, promises to help you use up all those excess vegetables. I figured it would also be great for taking advantage of sales at the store and the local farms. Sadly, the cookbook hasn’t stood up to real use.
Each chapter includes notes on growing and harvesting a vegetable, yield information, a few nutritional notes, information on storage, freezing, cooking, basic preparation, and complementary herbs. This information isn’t always consistent across chapters. For example, the cooking info for asparagus lists out the various useful cooking methods. The beans chapter, however, just explains that you can cook them whole or sliced (it’s really hard not to say, “well, duh”).
The freezing information is perhaps the most useful, I believe. The one truly great piece of information I got out of this cookbook is that you can freeze and then reheat potato dishes, as long as you don’t thaw them first; most cookbooks will just tell you that you can’t freeze and then reheat potatoes of any kind without the texture of the potato becoming too mealy. However, the book doesn’t give any instructions as to which sorts of dishes work well for this and which don’t–and believe me, some work much better than others. Let’s just say that if you want to freeze potato dishes, freeze ones in which the potato is in as mashed and creamy a state as possible, with few chunks.
Recipe Appropriateness–the Function of the Cookbook
Since the recipes deal with fresh vegetables, you’d think it would have a large amount of appeal to both vegetarians/vegans and dieters. Unfortunately, the authors have failed to take this into account. Most of the dishes rely heavily on fatty dairy products for their flavor (cream, cheese, butter, sour cream…). The fact that they rely so heavily on fat means that if you try to substitute lower-fat ingredients, the recipes turn out very bland (and many of them turn out bland even if you don’t substitute).
Most of the recipes also don’t use a huge amount of the vegetable in question (and don’t provide any hints for doubling or tripling the recipes), making them of dubious value in attempting to use up large amounts of a vegetable quickly. Neither do the recipes mention whether or not they freeze well, and if so, how the cooking instructions should be altered to compensate for that. This means that these recipes aren’t any more useful in using up an unexpected amount of a vegetable than the recipes in most other cookbooks. Sure, this cookbook groups each vegetable’s recipes in one chapter, but then most cookbooks have indexes that serve this function.
Where this cookbook really shows its weaknesses, however, is in the quality of the recipes–both their write-ups and their execution.
For instance, there’s the potato recipe we made that had so much salt in it, it was inedible (and I like over-salted foods). Our best guess is that the recipe probably meant to call for one teaspoon rather than one tablespoon of salt–but we aren’t eager to experiment with the recipe to find out for sure.
Normally we adore potato recipes. It’s awfully hard to go wrong with a potato recipe that calls for cheese and other forms of dairy, and yet the recipes in this cookbook repeatedly tasted… mediocre. Eh. I liked the concept of the cookbook so much that we kept trying more recipes, hoping to find that the so-so ones were the exception rather than the rule, but even the recipes we liked were just good, not great. And the good ones were in the minority compared to the mediocre ones.
Because of the way the recipes are written up, sometimes it’s tough to tell which groups of ingredients go with which instructions. Although the recipes look incredibly simple, sometimes that’s because they under-explain things or leave out steps, which means that the kind of cook who’ll appreciate having simple recipes will probably have problems with some of them.
The concept of this cookbook is wonderful, so I hate to give it such a poor review. However, you can get all the basic information in this cookbook from other places. The Joy of Cooking has cooking information and recipes for pretty much every vegetable under the sun, and the quality of those recipes is much more consistent. As for gardening and harvest information, you’re better off with a simple book on vegetable gardening that will have more than a paragraph or two of information on the topic.
If this cookbook produced decent results it might be worth paying to have all that information in one place, even if it is covered in a very desultory manner. However, since the recipes are pretty uninspiring, I really can’t recommend buying it.