The Meal Planner

It's getting a little ridiculous how long I have been taking to do a cookbook review, and I apologize to those of you who have totally lost interest.  I had it in my mind, that to truly review a cookbook I needed to test a wide variety of recipes (at least 8-10) from different sections of the book to get a real sense if the cookbook is a keeper or not.  While I do still feel this is totally valid, it's unnecessary for me to post every. single. one. of those recipes for you.  Next cookbook review will be a little different.  In the mean time, let me tell you how much I LOVE  Everyday Food: Great Food Fast.

If you've never heard of it, the book comes from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living and the recipes  are meant to be fast, easy and simple.   They are definitely that.  Most recipes run around the 20-30 minute mark to prepare, while a few others are up to an hour (a lot of that is hands off cooking time).  A bonus is that each recipe has a statement of the total prep time needed as well as the total cooking time.  As I tested the recipes, I made sure to keep track if my preparation time was accurate to the cookbook and I was pleasantly surprised that it was.  The ingredients are easy to find in regular grocery stores, and the ingredient lists for the recipes are short (which I never realized how much I loved until this book) making the recipes simple to prepare, but still able to deliver flavor.  

Each recipe has a concise description of what it is, and some have suggestions for what to serve with the dish along with page numbers of where to find it, like the Lemon-Parsley Pork Chops suggested to be served with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes.  Both recipes were excellent and tasted wonderful together.  As a meal planner, I loved that the guesswork was taken out of the equation for me.  It made my meal planning that much quicker and easier.

A feature I found interesting, but may not be everyone's cup of tea, was the organization of the recipes by season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.  The point of this is because there are different produce in season at different times of the year as well as most people like to cook differently throughout the year like grilling in summer, soups and stews in winter, etc.  Again this helped with meal planning since I knew in the spring that the stores would be bursting with fresh asparagus, peas, beans, etc, and all I had to do was flip to the Spring section to find inspiration waiting (like delicious Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan).  This does mean that you may have difficulty finding recipes if you are specifically looking for Chicken dishes, or Soups or something since they are interspersed throughout the cookbook.  Even though the recipes are separated by season in Martha's introduction she points out that "because the ingredients are readily available, you can really try any recipe on almost any day." 

 For the most part that was true for me, with the exception being the Spaghetti with Three-Tomato Sauce.  The three tomatoes being fresh, canned, and sun-dried this totally didn't work for our family as I made it in the middle of winter.  There was no richness or sweetness, just acidic tomato flavor. I won't write off the recipe just yet though, because I think it could be pretty spectacular with sweet garden fresh tomatoes in the summer time.
 Most of the recipes I tested were incredible, with winners like Indian-Spiced Chicken Burgers with a cumin yogurt sauce served in pitas, Favorite Turkey Burgers, Salmon with Hoisin Glaze, and Chicken in Mustard Cream Sauce with Sauteed Mushrooms in Thyme on the side.  I really loved every one of those recipes.  Another lovely one I tried was the Braised Chicken in Mushrooms which was as simple as browning some chicken breasts and mushrooms with garlic, adding some wine and chicken stock and covering with a lid to let braise.  It was so simple yet the flavors were homey and comforting.  
The only recipes that fell flat for me were the Spaghetti with Three-Tomato Sauce being too acidic with not enough flavor, and the Mushroom Ragout with Pasta.  I can't even say what we didn't really like about that dish, other than the mushrooms are never able to brown in this dish, which maybe causes them to miss out on some depth of flavor.  
After trying a wide variety of main dishes from pork to chicken to seafood and a range of side dishes, I thought I better also try a salad, as well as a dessert to really round out my experience with this book.  The Spinach Salad with Dried Cherries had a nice bit of texture from the thinly sliced purple onion and raw pumpkin seeds, and great sweetness from the dried fruit.  The dressing counter-balances the sweet cherries with a tart vinegar-mustard dressing.  I also whipped up some Glazed Lemon Cakes which my guests swooned over when I served them with tea one evening.

I know that a lot of people look for not only great photography, but for each recipe to be accompanied by a photo.  That's hard to come by, but I'm happy to say this book serves that up for you.  EVERY recipe has a full page photo (although some of the side dishes are 4 photos to a page) helping you to drool and salivate and earmark recipes to try as well as reference what the finished product should look like.

There are many things to love about this cookbook, but the flavor of the food is definitely the reason you should love it the most.  It's so dang good!  After testing 13 recipes and loving all but 2, I'm confident in the quality and flavor delivered.  We've found some new family favorites in here and I have a TON more recipes bookmarked to try!  I still salivate when I flip through the pages of this book.  I currently don't own this cookbook, but it's on my "must buy" list.  I have borrowed it from the library 3 times, only to renew it and renew it until my renews are maxed out and the book is overdue.

I just can't part with it.

Stumble Upon Toolbar
6 Responses
  1. We have had this cookbook for a few years, and I absolutely LOVE it as well. The chicken with mustard cream sauce is wonderful! Also, the chicken with mushrooms & wine sauce is one of our family's favorites! I also make the asparagus w/ parmesan recipe several times a month to go with other dishes. I would HIGHLY recommend this book also. :)

  2. Shawn Birss Says:

    Hey Mealplanner,

    Your photo of asparagus reminded me of my side dish last night. I want to share.

    I made everything on the barbeque. We had fish and stuffed apples. The asparagus really surprised me, though. It was probably the best I'd ever had. Very simple, too.

    Twenty-five stalks. Woody ends cut off. wrapped in aluminum foil with two teaspoons margarine and (here's the kicker) two thick slices of orange that had been soaked in lemon juice for about five minutes. They were on the barbeque until they were just cooked. Al dente, so to speak. They tasted hot, fresh, and sweet. They "popped".

  3. Kris Says:

    Hi! Just found you on DailyBuzz Moms and the picture of the cookbook caught my eye.

    That book is MY VERY FAVORITE. I use it all the time. In fact, I just made the turkey burgers last night.

    Our all-time family favorite is turkey meatballs.

    All of my daughter's friends request it when they come over.

    Love your site.

    I'll be back!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    The pasta with three tomato sauce is actually one of my favorite go-to recipes in this book! I am glad to see that you will give it another try. I make my own tomato sauce at home, so I am picky about the taste (so don't think that I'm a fan of Ragu thinking this recipe is

    I have used both dried sun dried tomatoes and the ones in oil and have had good results with each. Lightly toasting the red pepper flakes is a must. I think the acidity comes from the cherry tomatoes; I typically use plum tomatoes because by me they seem to be the best quality tomato in the store. Give that a try. Or, honestly, just ditch them altogether-- there's no rule saying you have to follow the recipe to the letter! :)

  5. Unknown Says:

    I've had this cookbook for a few years and LOVE it. Everything I've made in it has been fabulous--the family favorite so far is the Mediterranean Chicken Stew with Polenta.

    I regularly give this cookbook as a house-warming gift and everyone I've given it to has raved.

  6. I'm happy to see that you all agree with me about the awesomeness of this book!

    Kris - a friend of mine recommended the turkey meatballs so I will DEFINITELY give those a try!

    Anonymous - thanks for your tomato suggestions! I'm thinking your are right about the cherry tomatoes. I'll either leave them out or try fresh plum tomatoes this summer. Thanks!

    Laura - LOVE the idea of giving this book as a house warming gift! Oooh and thanks for your suggestion for the Mediterranean Chicken Stew...I'll have to try it.