Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cooking the Books: The Great Chicken Cookbook

Well, I try not to cook my books most of the time, but that doesn't save them from splatters and stains. For a blog that mixes cooking and books, I've been truly remiss for not including any cookbooks in my weekly books reviews.  I know, cookbooks aren't usually something you sit down and read (or so I've been told, but I already knew I was weird).  Nevertheless, knowing which cookbooks are worth having around is valuable information, especially given the hefty price tags some cookbooks carry.

The Basics
The Great Chicken Cookbook. Ultimo, Australia: Reader's Digest, 2010. Print.

Gosh, what to say? This is a book about chicken.  Chicken is a tasty, tasty bird. This cookbook promises over 230 recipes that will appeal to a wide variety of tastes.  It claims to have easy-to-follow cooking instructions, as well as indicating cooking and prep times and labeling low fat and quick meals.  So, does it live up to the hype and achieve true greatness?

The (Cook)book
Yes, to make a long story short, it does.  But, let me give you some specifics.

Pick this book up and give it a quick flip through, and you'll soon realize that it has excellent photographs and lots of them.  This is a must have in a cookbook for me. I want to see what I'm making before I go to the trouble of cooking it.  I don't need a photo for every single recipe, but I do want an abundance. I mean, what if you get super-excited and cook a nifty looking recipe only to discover that it both looks and taste like... well, something not so pleasant.  Admittedly, pictures only assure me of the looks side of things, but for me that's part of the joy of preparing and consuming food.

While usually, I'm kind of meh on the introductory section to cookbooks, this one has a great one.  It details how to skin and bone the various parts of a chicken as well as how to cut a whole chicken into parts. This is super-useful and very cost effective, since buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts, etc, costs much, much more than doing it yourself. Even better? The book provides clear photos for each step of the process with detailed directions.  This section also contains some very useful and important information on the safe storage, handling and disposal of raw chicken (Salmonella is not your friend, even if it offers you candy).

Now, let's get down to the recipes.  The cookbook does indeed offer a huge variety, with various ethnic influences.  I like the Curried Chicken Turnovers (p30), Quick Chicken Laksa (69), Chicken with Orange Sauce (100), Chicken Braised in Red Wine (124), Mustard-Tarragon Chicken Saute (139), and Lemon-Basil Chicken with Pita Pockets (306).  And those are just the ones I've gotten to so far. Each recipe indicates number of servings (the only time that gets confusing is on some of the appetizers), and nutrition information. I especially like the latter, since I want to know if what I'm putting in my mouth is a day's worth of calories.  While most of the recipes were fairly light, some weren't, so pay attention. Most were middle of the road, and you wouldn't want to pair them with any heavily caloric sides (but you were going to eat green stuff, anyway, right?).

While most cookbooks I recommend borrowing from your local library (they'll be in the 641's in Nonfiction), this one is actually worth owning.  If chicken is a routine protein in your household, this cookbook will help you get some variety and extra mileage.  None of the recipes seem overly complex, which makes the book ideal for the savvy and not-so-savvy cook alike.  Best of all, it's not particularly expensive.  The original hardcover was $24.95 and I recently saw it online for as little as $6.99.  It's well-worth the money.


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