You don't necessarily need crazy ingredients to make a delicious meal. Although the hit Food Network reality competition, "Chopped," uses a multitude of out-of-the-box foods like goat brains, hibiscus flowers in syrup and preserved duck eggs, The Chopped Cookbook helps you put a restaurant-quality meal on the table with everyday ingredients.
As an avid fan of the show, I had hoped the cookbook would include successful recipes from the competitions, and admittedly was disappointed when I discovered that that was not so. After reading through the recipes, though, I came to appreciate its resourcefulness for turning ordinary ingredients into something downright awesome. Although I still wish there was a recipe using gummy worms...maybe I should just experiment with that one.
Recipes or food porn: While most of the recipes have photographs (and they are quite beautiful), this cookbook is all about the ingredients and easy preparation. The introduction includes a list of basic and staple foods to stock your kitchen just like "the Chopped Pantry," so you might have most of them already. The remainder of the cookbook is divided into sections based on a specific food, such as pasta, fish, chicken, grains and vegetables, each with more than ten recipes varying in cuisine and flavor. Some sections include a "Market Basket," featuring four or five ingredients and three inventive recipes; don't worry, there aren't any organ meats or obscure fruits and vegetables.
Ease of use: Take a look in your refrigerator or pantry and determine the base ingredient you want to use. Then read through the recipes in the appropriate section to choose what you'll cook. Most recipes are simple and don't require many ingredients. In fact, if you don't have all of the ingredients, you can easily make a simple substitution, such as the recipe for skirt steak soft tacos which calls for refried white beans. If you only have black beans or pinto beans, you can use those instead. The instructions for most dishes take up a portion of one page, and are divided into sections clearly explaining the major tasks. It's simple and straightforward.
Difficulty of finding ingredients:Again, the purpose of this cookbook is to use foods you already have in your kitchen, or can easily purchase at any grocery store. Some recipes that use "breadcrumbs" show you how to make them out of pulsed corn tortillas. All in all, it's a more of a resource book rather than a cookbook. The section on purchasing and storing vegetables explains what you should look for in produce, how you should properly store it and its nutritional benefits.
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Production value: For those who don't want to make multiple trips to the grocery store, or spend more time than necessary in the kitchen to make a simple breakfast or weeknight family meal, this $27.50 cookbook is definitely worth it. Aside from offering more than 100 recipes, The Chopped Cookbook also provides 18 salad dressing and vinaigrette combinations, as well as ten pan sauces, each with simple instructions.
Recipes I want to try: I make vegetable-based dishes on a daily basis, so I was drawn to the recipe for blistered cherry tomatoes with Parmesan sour cream, capers and toasted bread. But, since Memorial Day is right around the corner, I think I'll make grilled chicken with peach pickle BBQ sauce -- the combination of peach preserves with dill pickles, chili powder, onions and ketchup sounds like an incredibly sweet and tangy coating for the chicken. Maybe I'll pair it with the warm salted caramel banana pudding.
Verdict: Amateur cooks and standard home cooks can easily make any recipe and won't have to break the bank when purchasing ingredients, or go on an endless goose chase searching for strange items.
Stats: The Chopped Cookbook Food Network Kitchen Photographs by Armando Rafael Moutela 240 pages $27.50