Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen

After a week of baking bliss, it was time to lean into the healthier shelf of cookbooks. I’m kicking things off with an oldie – Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen.  Around 2002. She had a cooking show on the Food Network back in the early days before food competitions took over and chefs like Emeril, Sara Moultin, and Jamie Oliver were rocking it old school with a live audience and average lighting. Chef Kathleen has an interesting story – she was overweight, took a new job in Hawaii, and discovered that she was going to be the executive chef for a spa. Keep in mind this was the mid 90s, when going to the spa was more than pulling into a strip mall for pedicures and a massage. (Not that there’s nothing wrong with that…..because I do it too.) It’s Canyon Ranch style spaaing (is that a word?) when you have a schedule with sunrise yoga, meditation breaks, cucumber water, treatments of choice, and of course – delicious yet low calorie food. So she lost weight while she was learning how to cook for her new job. There’s an authentic-ness to this I like – and the first 77 pages of the cookbook tells the story with tips on how you can do it too. After all, I could use a little spa-like detox after enjoying Flour for a week. But will the kids like it?

The Recipes
Sweet Potato Bread with Cranberries, Currants, and Pecans
Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Onion, Tomato, and Arugula
Apple, Cucumber, and Tomato Salad
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Cold Pasta Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Mozzarella, and Mango
BLT Salad
Fast Fried Chicken Tenders
Asian Noodle Salad
Flank Steak and Roasted Vegetables with Crispy Potatoes
Fresh Fruit Sorbets
Crazy Crunch 

The Good
Probably my favorite thing about the cookbook is that there is little to no flash in it. It’s plain yogurt before greek took over. No silly tricks or gimmicks – very practical recipes that taste pretty good. I especially liked some of the main course salads – hearty enough to feed both kids and adults, but easy, healthy, and fast to pull together. The BLT salad was my favorite, but the asian noodle salad with chicken fingers was also a hit with the kids. The family also really liked the flank steak salad with veggies and potato “chips.”  I did a lot of deconstructed salad plattering this week – it’s been my most successful strategy in getting the kids to enjoy salad. They won’t eat it when it’s composed, but when I put the parts on their plate separately, it’s generally a go. The fruit sorbet was a HUGE hit with the kids – it’s going to be the go-to popsicle recipe for summer. In fact, I’m about to order popsicle holders from Amazon to be ready.

The Bad
While the cookbook was good overall, there wasn’t anything that was outstanding. Chef Kathleen trimmed calories from recipes by reducing egg yolks – but after a week of separating eggs like crazy for bakery treats, I didn’t want to deal with leftover yolks so I always threw in the full egg. I fully acknowledge that we blew off the caloric benefits, but to be honest, I really didn’t care. I need some easy right now. The kids liked the meatballs, but I found them to be average at best. I really like my meatballs spiked with parmesan, and again – losing the calories in this case meant losing my favorite flavors. You could definitely see her tropical influence with many of the recipes and a big section on veggies, but those salads really do require peak produce to reach greatness. Unfortunately Minnesota has a late grow season, so the flavor wasn’t as good.

The Ugly
The chicken fingers required a MAJOR save. It was probably chef error – I used breadcrumbs out of the freezer that were still cold, so they did not adhere to the chicken and it made a total mess in the pan. I threw in more olive oil and did a second sear to give the chicken some color. The pasta salad tasted ok, but it was not an attractive dish. I was SURE that C would love it because it was cold and had mango. Nope. He refused the mango and said he only liked white cheese sticks, not white cheese. (We’ll start logic lessons for him soon.) And my behavior with the crazy crunch is embarrassing. Chef Kathleen isn’t lying when she talks about the addictive nature of caramel corn. Her recipe is good but I see it as a baseline…I plan to build on it adding nuts, Malden salt, and other stuff to make something that is worthy of my addictive snacking habits.

Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
My issue with this book is that nothing is really great. It’s simple, basic, clean cooking – and for some, that’s absolutely perfect. There are some good practical tips throughout the book, but it lacks pictures, so I know my mom would never use it. If you’re looking for no frills cooking that includes a lot of approachable vegetable and simple main dishes, then look for this one at a used bookstore.  I’ll definitely make the fruit sorbet and the BLT salad again, will probably riff a bit from the flank steak salad and the chicken asian noodle salad, but beyond that, it will go back on the diet/healthy cooking shelf.

Interesting Quotes of the Week
Upon trying the sweet potato bread: H took a bite and thoughtfully commented “Hmmmm – I taste a little blueberry in here.” Me – Blueberry? Maybe that’s the Craisins?” H – “Nope, definitely blueberry. I don’t think you’re telling me everything.” And the fruit sorbet: C: “Can I have more ice cream? How about that one?” Me – “No, that one’s mine.” C: “Nice mommies share.” Now we all know what category I fall in.

 

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