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Sara Moulton: Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals

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I wanted to like this book...

I like Sara Moulton's show on the Food Network. I like her low-key, straightforward style. (The Food Network apparently is no longer interested in a no-nonsense, educational approach to cooking programs; they're changing their focus to "entertainment," and Sara Moulton will be moving to PBS.)

Unfortunately, Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals lacks a cohesive focus. It's all over the place, with recipes that are so simple they barely deserve to be written up (fried eggs and refried beans wrapped up in a tortilla -- does anyone need a recipe for that?), and recipes that require 2 or 3 days of advance preparation.

There's room in the world for books like that, of course; we all need different things from cookbooks at different times. But the problem with Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals is that a lot of the recipes have serious issues. The Braised Short Ribs were fatty; the Asian Spiced Roasted Baby Carrots were muddled; the Salmon with Black Bean Sauce was bland. I had nothing but trouble with desserts: Quick Grape Crumble had messed-up proportions; Basic Yellow Cake was serviceable, but boring; Baked Alaskan was utterly bizarre; and Pecan Pie Squares was a disaster.

There are some recipes in the book that work just fine: Green Posole with Chicken is a very tasty soup that's easy to make, and the idea is clever. But these kinds of recipes are few and far between. Moulton's pasta dishes (such as Fusilli with Broccoli and Prosciutto) are good, but also pretty standard. There's nothing there that you couldn't find in another book, especially if you own a basic Italian cookbook, such as Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian.

At the end of the day, the main problem I had with Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals was there's no compelling reason to turn to this book. There aren't any great ideas that leap off the page and say, "Try me!" I was going to review a couple of other recipes before I moved on from this book, but after the mixed bag of results I'd had from my tests, I honestly couldn't find a single thing that looked appealing to me. "Chicken Livers on Garlic Toasts"? No thanks. "Turkey Cutlets Milanese"? I trust Everyday Italian to give me better results with something like that. "Edamame and Bulgur Salad"? Well, let's see...it contains edamame, bulgur, pimientos (!) and chow mein noodles (?!) Maybe it's good, but truthfully, it sounds weird. A lot of the ingredients lists in Sara's Secrets read that way -- you'll be looking at the list, thinking "okay, sounds right...what!? Dried potato flakes? Really?" It's disconcerting, and after all the failures I had, I just don't trust that some of the weirder-sounding recipes in the book will actually work.

On a practical note, I found a couple of typos (a recipe for "Farfalle with Cauliflower and Sautéed Bread Crumbs" refers the reader to another recipe on page 000) and bizarre terminology (nachos are made from "tacos" and melted cheese? I suppose perhaps she means "taco chips.") The recipes are printed in green and orange type, which looks pretty but is difficult to read. And with so many recipes that are a bit off the beaten track, there should be more photos. The pictures that do appear in the book are, in almost every instance, pictures of things that we already have a good idea of what they should look like. I don't need a photo of a burger, or an egg-and-biscuit sandwich, or pancakes. However, I would have really liked a picture of "Baked Alaskan." But no go; even though it's an unusual recipe and the instructions aren't crystal clear, there's not a handy picture of the final product to help the cook at home.

I hate to pan the book, since I believe Sara Moulton is a good cook, and I wish her great success in her new venture on PBS. But Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals isn't a book that I'll be turning to in the future.

 

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©2005 Colleen Flippo. All rights reserved. Contact the author.