Books That Cook: 'Fix, Freeze, Feast,' 'Sweet Chic' and 'Reinventing Weeknight Cooking'

TITLE: Fix, Freeze, Feast by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik (Storey, 250 pages, $14.95)

GENERALLY SPEAKING: This cookbook has great basic information in the introduction. There are basics on make-ahead meals, making your shopping list, getting organized and more. The large-portioned recipes are family-friendly and most preparation is easy. The authors use many fresh ingredients rather than prepared foods. It's a bit like making your own convenience foods at home. Each recipe tells how many entrees it makes, plus the number of servings. Make a few dishes over the course of a couple of days and you have a month's worth of meals in your freezer.

FOR: Families who buy in bulk. Families who have busy schedules. What could be easier on a busy night than to take a dish from the freezer before you leave for work, thaw it in the fridge and pop it in the oven?

RECIPES: Beef fajitas, garlic studded pork loin, chicken a la king, French onion soup, granola, berry roasted chicken, ginger cookies, Spanish rice, Salisbury meatballs, cream of asparagus soup, cheesy chilada bake, mini chicken pot pie, shrimp curry, maple portobello mushrooms, cheese steaks and cheese bites.

TITLE: High Flavor Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking by J.M. Hirsch (Ballantine Books, 268 pages, $24)

GENERALLY SPEAKING: These recipes appear to be full of flavor. Lots of spices and herbs are used in many of them. Some recipes are more conducive to a busy weeknight than others. Save the more labor-intensive recipes for the weekend.

FOR: Those in a rut. There are some nice recipes in this cookbook but not all will appeal to everyone.

RECIPES: Chicken mole, mustard thyme chicken with white wine pan sauce, child's play spice and brown sugar-rubbed pork tenderloin, panko crusted salmon croquettes, broiled chilled gazpacho, orecchiette pasta with wilted greens, peppery pumpkin risotto, four mushroom penne with goat cheese, red curry falafel, grilled cinnamon-sugar breadsticks, horseradish and dill cream cheese mashed potatoes, and stove-top broccoli mac and cheese.

TITLE: Sweet Chic: Stylish Treats to Dress Up for Any Occasion by Rachel Schifter Thebault (Ballantine Books, 194 pages, $28)

GENERALLY SPEAKING: The photos in this cookbook will make your mouth water. This cookbook is for someone who has experience with baking. The introduction does a fair job explaining the baking process but may be foreign to a novice. There is no doubt these are classy, beautiful desserts that will make any occasion special.

FOR: Bakers, plain and simple. If you don't enjoy baking you won't enjoy this cookbook. Every recipe is made from scratch. If you're a seasoned baker you'll have some of the things you need like a candy thermometer to make caramel.

RECIPES: Strawberry "shortcakes," chocolate mint cookies, fudgy brownies, mint swirl brownies, lime-glazed tea cookies, s'mores cookies, mini s'mores cupcakes, rich chocolate ganache cake, blueberry cheesecake, banana cake, peanut butter icing, carrot cake, peanut butter and jelly cupcakes, cinnamon-glazed tea cookies, mini black and white cookies, chewy caramel candies and cranberry almond bark.

Notes: To tackle many of the recipes in this cookbook you will need patience. In almost every section there is a basic recipe from which the others in the chapter are derived. For example, to make the peanut butter and jelly cupcakes you will need to refer to another page for the vanilla cake batter and yet another page for the peanut butter icing. Many bakeries do this; they have a master recipe and develop varieties from there.

Ellen Folkman's cookbook review column runs montly in Taste.

>>EASY

Chicken a la King

2 whole chickens, 8 to 10 pounds total

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

1 pound fresh white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 cup all-purpose flour

6 cups half-and-half (or light cream)

3 cups water

2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules

1 teaspoon black pepper

4 green bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 (1-gallon) freezer bags, labeled

Clean and roast both chickens.

Cool and pull meat from bones. Discard skin and bones. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. (A whole chicken will yield about 1 cup of meat per pound of chicken.) Divide chicken evenly among freezer bags.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring until soft. Add flour; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Mixture will be lumpy. Gradually add half-and-half, then water, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Whisk to make a smooth sauce. Stir in bouillon and black pepper. Cool sauce.

Divide cooled sauce evenly over the chicken. Divide bell peppers evenly among the bags of chicken. Seal and freeze.

To heat one entree:

Completely thaw one entree in the refrigerator. Simmer the chicken and sauce in a large skillet over medium heat until warmed through. Do not boil.

Serve over mashed potatoes, rice, noodles or biscuits.

Makes 4 entrees, 6 servings each.

Source: Fix, Freeze, Feast by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik (Storey, 250 pages, $14.95)

>>EASY

Fudgy Brownies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

11/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or 8 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch square metal baking pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

Heat the butter and chocolate in a bowl over a double boiler. Stir constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the butter and chocolate are fully melted and combined. Remove the bowl from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugars, vanilla and salt and continue to whisk until they are all combined. Slowly add the melted chocolate, whisking until it is incorporated, about 1 minute.

Once the chocolate is incorporated, sift the flour into the bowl and gently stir with a rubber spatula until the flour is combined, about 1 minute.

Pour brownie batter into prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, rotating the pan once, halfway through. Before removing from oven, gently shake it; if the middle of the brownies remains still, they are done. Run a knife along the sides of the pan and allow the brownies to cool in the pan to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Once cooled, the brownies can be sliced and served immediately, kept in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week or wrapped tightly and frozen up to 8 weeks.

Makes 2 to 3 dozen.

Source: Sweet Chic: Stylish Treats to Dress Up for Any Occasion by Rachel Schifter Thebault (Ballantine Books, 194 pages, $28)

>>MODERATE

Peppery Pumpkin Risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 3/4 cups arborio rice

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Pinch cayenne pepper

½ cup white wine

1 quart chicken or vegetable broth, plus extra, if needed

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

In large skillet over medium heat, combine the oil, butter and onion. Saute until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the rice, ginger and cayenne; saute for 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the wine. Stir constantly until the wine has been absorbed.

Add half of the broth, stir once, then simmer until the liquid is mostly absorbed, about 7 minutes. Continue adding broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring frequently and adding more liquid as it's absorbed. Once the rice has absorbed all the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low.

Taste to check the texture. The rice should be firm but cooked through. If it is too hard or dry, add additional broth, ½ cup at a time.

When the rice is ready, stir in the pumpkin. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Stir in the cheese, then season with salt and pepper.

Serves 6.

Source: High Flavor Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking by J.M. Hirsch (Ballantine Books, 268 pages, $24)

Books That Cook: 'Fix, Freeze, Feast,' 'Sweet Chic' and 'Reinventing Weeknight Cooking' 11/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 3:30am]

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