The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 30, 2012

Lisa Brown: Cookbooks filled with tasty ideas

By Lisa Brown
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I have a weakness for cookbooks.

The colorful pictures, recipes and reliance on fresh ingredients call to me, so much so that nearly every evening you will find me in the kitchen making dinner from scratch. A vegetarian for 19 years, I want to know what’s in my food, and to be able to pronounce its ingredients.

Although I am fond of my own cookbooks, the Joplin Public Library offers an excellent and diverse collection that encompasses multiple cuisines, techniques and special diets. The new cookbooks I’ve highlighted below are just a few of the many you will find on our shelves.

“Easy Chinese Recipes: Family Favorites from Dim Sum to Kung Pao” by Bee Linn Low

“Easy Chinese Recipes” is basic and approachable Ñ perhaps too much so for me. I was hoping to find inspiration within its pages, but I’m afraid that wasn’t the case.

In an attempt to make the recipes simple, I fear the author dumbed them down to the point that more serious cooks won’t bother. It seemed almost everything was made with oyster sauce, soy sauce and chicken bouillon.

What about black bean paste, hoisin sauce and garlic chili paste? These ingredients add depth of flavor, and are available in most stores.  

However, “Easy Chinese Recipes” offers variety for people new to Chinese cooking, from restaurant favorites such as sweet and sour pork to the more exotic salt and pepper squid. And the photos adequately demonstrate the steps required for more labor-intensive dishes like pot stickers or green onion pancakes.

I’m sure many people will get something from this book. It just wasn’t for me.

“Weeknights with Giada” by Giada de Laurentiis

Giada de Laurentiis has never been one of my favorite Food Network personalities. I find her perfect teeth, low-cut shirts and less than stellar knife work distracting. Yet I always seek out her cookbooks because I find them accessible and full of good ideas.

Her latest book, “Weeknights with Giada,” doesn’t disappoint. Although she still features several traditionally Italian dishes such as pizza, risotto and pasta, she really branches out here.

The salads, such as couscous with watermelon, watercress and feta cheese, sound scrumptious. For the meat eaters, the filet mignon with rosemary and mushroom gravy might hold some appeal. I’m intrigued by the ricotta cheese, lentil, and brown rice rolls, served wrapped in Swiss chard.

Overall, the recipe selection is impressive. “Weeknights with Giada” is one of the more vegetarian-friendly mainstream cookbooks I’ve seen in a while, and I think readers will find it particularly useful this summer, when gardens and farmers markets overflow with fresh ingredients.  

“Meals in Minutes” by Jamie Oliver

I heart Jamie Oliver. I’ve been a fan since his early days as the young, upstart “Naked Chef.” At first I just thought he was adorable, zipping around on his moped while wearing his dorky little helmet and messenger bag and flashing the camera a cheeky grin.

But I grew to love his approach to food. He’s passionate about tasty, healthy, home-cooked meals for people of all ages and skill levels. He emphasizes turning to fresh, seasonal, locally grown ingredients instead of just opening a can or popping something pre-packaged into the microwave.

The premise behind “Meals in Minutes” is simple: These are meals you can quickly throw together for your busy family. I don’t know that all the recipes lend themselves equally well to this concept, but it’s worth a shot.

Most, if not every meal, includes a main dish, a salad and/or vegetable side and a dessert or beverage. Oliver offers methodical, step-by-step instructions in getting everything ready at once. The accompanying photos are gorgeous and worthy of a book in their own right.

I’ve already tried several of the recipes in the book, and I had no problem adapting them to suit my vegetarian diet. The salads are simple and delicious, especially the tomato salad and the arugula salad.

The dan dan noodles, which I added tofu to and ate as a main dish, are spicy, yummy goodness, perfect for a dreary day. And the wonky summer pasta is to die for. Its ingredients: An egg yolk, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and juice, fresh basil and lasagna noodles. (I used fettuccine.) So basic, but such a palate pleaser.

I hope to revisit “Meals in Minutes” this summer, when locally grown produce is bountiful. Until then, you can find me in the kitchen. Or the cookbook section of the library.


Lisa E. Brown is the Administrative Assistant at the Joplin Public Library.