Here’s one way to spot a cookbook you’ll actually use: Short lists of ingredients. And if you can get all of those ingredients at any well-stocked supermarket, chances are good you have yourself a keeper.
But don’t be fooled. Easy, common ingredients aren’t an advertisement for simple flavors. They’re just an author doing her due diligence to make sure her recipes actually get used by home cooks. At least, that’s what cookbook author Lee Clayton Roper says of her second cookbook Fresh Tastes.
I spoke to Roper about her motivation behind the cookbook — a follow up to her first, A Well-Seasoned Kitchen. But talking about one cookbook inevitably leads to talking about the other, as well.
“She couldn’t remember who the president was or what day of the week it was, but she could remember her recipes,” said Roper of her mother, the inspiration for her entry into the world of cookbook writing.
“The first book started as a way for me to spend quality time with my mom. She was getting older and couldn’t do the things she used to,” said Roper. “But she always loved to entertain. My dad would bring people home from work all the time, and as us kids got older, we would show up with friends. So she had all of these quick and easy recipes of things you can make from items in your pantry because my mom had evolved to cooking like that, since the number of people showing up to dinner could change at any minute.”
Roper’s second book, Fresh Tastes, includes many more of her mother’s recipes, but has a more modern influence, as well. Dining trends changed a bit in the years since her first book, and Roper became influenced by the fresh foods movement.
“We are all much more aware of where our food comes from, and we want to eat food that makes us feel good. That became the priority. Using basic cooking techniques and readily available ingredients to create simple and creative dishes.”
Fresh Tastes comes with an online guide for how to make nearly all of the 170 recipes gluten-free (visit seasonedkitchen.com and click on Kitchen Guides).
Don’t let Roper’s pretty recipes convince you that they’re complicated. Once you dive in, you’ll realize you totally got this. Grilled Rosemary-Dijon Chicken Breasts, Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pie, Spicy Pork Chops with Argentine Chimichurri Sauce — the recipes are the kind you could impress your friends and family with on a weekend, yet still have time to make on a busy Tuesday. But if the former is your mission, Roper compiles menus with her Fresh Taste recipes to come up with spread ideas for events like “Mexican Fiesta Dinner,” and “Concert in the Park Picnic.”
With inspiration and guidance like that, my next outdoor concert picnic basket might finally have more than just wine.
Here is one recipe from Fresh Tastes.
ITALIAN SAUSAGE, SPINACH AND ORZO SOUP
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound uncooked Italian sausage, casings removed if necessary
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2/3 cup dry white wine
- 7 cups chicken broth or stock
- 2 cups seeded and diced fresh tomatoes, or 1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes undrained
- 1 cup orzo pasta
- 5 cups packed shredded fresh baby spinach
- 3/4 to 1 cup (3 to 4 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and sauté until browned, breaking up meat with a spatula. Drain and discard oil.
Stir in onion, garlic, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the wine; reduce heat to low and simmer, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan, until wine is almost evaporated. Stir in the chicken broth, tomatoes and orzo. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 to 12 minutes or until pasta is cooked.
Stir in spinach; cook about 3 to 5 minutes or until wilted. Ladle in to soup bowls and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Tip: If using canned tomatoes, don’t drain and reduce chicken broth about 1/2 cup.
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