Two recent cookbooks demonstrate a trend that’s becoming more popular with those who have little time to cook, yet still want to put something fresh and delicious on the dinner table. They are “The Harvest Eating Cookbook” (Running Press, $29.95) by PBS chef Keith Snow and Giada at Home (Clarkson Potter, $35) by Food Network celebrity Giada De Laurentiis.
What they have in common is that they are both tie-ins to TV shows and feature plenty of pretty pictures of food. Yet neither has little writing in them to rob you of an extra second to spare.
So don’t look for a lot of technique here. Instead look for sound recipes that come together quickly. Snow even provides prep times as well as cooking time, so you can have Roasted Cauliflower on the table in no time. Snow says you should be able to prep the vegetable in two minutes and cook it in 15, so it’s ready in 17 minutes. Whip that up while you’re working on Sautéed Shrimp with Margarita Sauce, which takes 10 minutes of prep time and 25 minutes of cooking.
What is Harvest Eating? Snow answers in his brief introduction: “Harvest Eating is not a fad diet. Rather a lifestyle of cooking and eating using methods that have been practiced for centuries all over the globe. The method is simple: Buy foods that are fresh and in season; then prepare them using whole, natural ingredients produced by farmers, not chemists. If your second-grader can’t read it, you definitely don’t want to eat it.”
Snow breaks down his recipes into the seasons, using an icon to differentiate among the dishes. That doesn’t always work here in South Texas; the better advise would be to use whatever is freshest at the farmers market, mixing and matching what is available now, no matter what the rest of the country is eating.
If I prefer Snow’s work to De Laurentiis’, it could be because so many of the recipes and few tips that the Food Network star seem old hat. “Chimichurri is the A1 sauce of Argentina,” she writes as a preface to one recipe. “Italians love lentils and cook them in lots of creative ways,” she burbles in another. Some of her information is helpful, though: “Leftover caponata will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to a week. Toss with warm pasta, serve on top of meat, chicken or fish, or simply serve it with some toasted bread or crostini.”
Essentially, though, the usefulness of “Giada at Home” boils down to whether you like De Laurentiis’ Cal-Ital approach to cooking. After leafing through the book on several occasions, I came to the conclusion that I don’t. A few recipes were intriguing, but more often than not, I kept flipping pages hoping to find something I might make. For every Bibb, Basil and Mint Salad or Red Snapper with Fava Bean Purée, there were too many dishes like the sickly sweet sounding Honey-Balsamic Lamb Chops or the yawn-inducing turkey meatloaf.
No amount of photos of De Laurentiis in her kitchen or dining with friends could make up for the cavernous gastronomic pauses.
Your tastes could be wildly different. Just take the time to leaf through the both books before deciding.