My mother has an extensive cookbook collection. As a child, I remember marveling at her cabinet full of huge and classic tomes , full of delicious things. She loves to flip through them like they're coffee table photography books, searching for dinner ideas. I've sort of inherited her love for cookbooks, but my cooking style is a little different; where as my mom will follow a recipe to a T at least three times before even thinking of altering it, I tend to look at cookbooks more as outlines for experimentation rather than strict instructions. My rule of thumb is, "I see what you're saying, but..."
The problem with my style is that sometimes things go awry, and the tendency is to blame the recipe. "How dare you not turn out as expected after I altered your delicate ecosystem!" The thing about recipe creators is they tend to test their recipes rigorously to make sure the result is consistent time and time again. Sometimes I change things because I like a bit more garlic, or because I'm not a huge fan of herbacious flavors, but sometimes I try to make a thing vegan or gluten free when it is clearly not meant to be, and that is where things tend to go wrong.
This is why a cookbook like Mark Bittman's Dinner for Everyone and expertly crafted meal kits by Peapod are great for not only culinary jerks like me, but for traditional recipe followers. Peapod, the number one home grocery delivery service, has partnered with Mark Bittman to create two shopable recipes from his book, as well as a meal kit for one of his recipes. The meal kit was created to give customers everything they need to prepare Mark's Pho with Black Tea Broth, all perfectly portioned and prepped. At only $25 for four servings, I was a little skeptical at just how much food this kit would produce, but the moment I started pulling fresh ingredients out of the bag, I got very excited. You don't even need the cookbook to make the pho, since the meal kit comes with a laminated recipe sheet!
The two shoppable recipes are for Mark's Oven Roasted Salmon and a Veggie Paella. These two recipes show up on the Peapod website, followed by a list of ingredients available on the site for easy delivery to your door step. This way, shoppers can make sure they have everything they need in one convenient spot in order to prepare the recipes, but also are able to choose ingredients according to their tastes, dietary restrictions, or budget. This was such a cool feature! I really hope Peapod does even more of these shoppable recipes in the future, even though it did sort of enable my culinary jerk inclinations (I ended up subing out the red peppers and eggplant in the veggie paella with zucchini and mushrooms, but the resulting dish was still very tasty).
Now, let's talk about the book, which features 100 classic dishes, all prepared 3 different ways; an easy preparation version, a vegan version, and a no holds barred luxury version, meant for company. I absolutely loved being able to not only pick a dish that sounded interesting, but to pick how I wanted to prepare it! Cooking for myself for the weekend? The easy prep is ideal. Ate too many cupcakes last week and now having guilt issues? Time to try some vegan meals. Unexpected visit from a blogger friend? Time to pull out all the stops with a real show stopper.
When I first received the book, I immediately gravitated towards the "Breakfast for Dinner" section... for obvious reasons. The best part was that Mr. Bittman had split that section into two: savory and sweet. I picked three different dishes from these two sections and challenged myself to prepare them all EXACTLY as they had been written so that I could get an idea of how good these recipes really were. First up, I tried the easy prep savory recipe: a take on a Welsh Rarebit. This was a very simple recipe that really was very quick and easy to prepare, and resulted in a pretty darn delicious dish (though I may have eaten it for actual breakfast and not dinner, but shhhh, don't tell anyone).
Next, I moved on to the sweet vegan recipe: Quinoa and Blueberry Griddle Cakes. Sadly, I had less success with this recipe. The prep was very simple, but try as I might, I just could not get the quinoa to the texture Mark described (he said it should resemble mashed potatoes). I tried everything: cooking it for double the time, cooking it with double the water, letting it sit over night, but the grains refused to burst. It must have just been a particularly resilient type of quinoa! I forged ahead and tried to make the griddle cakes anyway, but once I tried to flip them, they just refused to stay together. I ended up with a pretty tasty hash, but no solid griddle cakes.
Finally, I choose the showstopper sweet recipe: Mascarpone French Toast with Sweet Dark Cherries. The prep for this dish was actually extremely easy, but it did require quite a bit of a time commitment; first to dry out the bread (either by leaving it in the open air for a day, or by drying it in the oven), then to give the bread time to soak up the custard mix, and finally to bake the dish. The result was pretty good, though I can't quite imagine going through all that trouble to serve it for dinner. A spectacular Sunday morning brunch dish? For sure. But it didn't quite seem like the best option for dinner.
In summation; Dinner for Everyone and the collaboration with Peapod are a pretty awesome pairing. You can pick up Dinner for Everyone online or where ever cookbooks are sold. You can also get $20 off an order of $75 or more (that's pretty much the cost of the Pho meal kit, hint hint) and 60 days free delivery from Peapod by using the code BUNNY20 at check out. Make sure to leave me a comment below if you try any of Mark's recipes on Peapod!