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updated: 4/25/2012 1:01 PM

New cookbooks for busy families

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  • This low-fat, colorful salad is the perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken, steak or burgers.

      This low-fat, colorful salad is the perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken, steak or burgers.
    Courtesy of Spice Islands

  • Video: 10 quick kitchen tips

 
 

We've all been there. We walk in the door after work or after a day of errands and carpooling with no clue what to put on the table for dinner. (If you haven't been there, please keep your smugness to yourself and play along.)

Sure it would be easy to fall back on baked chicken breast, again. But if you're like other moms, 83 percent of moms in fact, you want more variety to serve at dinnertime (so says Survey.com). A batch of new cookbooks can help you break mealtime monotony.

First up, "Easy, Delicious Home Cooking" by the editors at Real Simple ($24.95).

I love that this book (the largest Real Simple cookbook yet) categorizes its 250 recipes by season first, then by starters, poultry, pasta, desserts, etc. I can't wait to try the Pork Chops with Tangy Rhubarb Chutney or the cover's Pesto Orchetti with Chicken Sausage. More than 100 of the recipes can be made in 30 minutes or less.

The book includes nutritional info for every recipe, pan substitutions and tips for upgrading store-bought essentials like mixed nuts and leftover candy.

In "Home at 7, Dinner at 8" ($19.95), Sophie Wright, a rising star on the British culinary stage, shares 80 simple and satisfying recipes that don't sacrifice quality or flavor.

Her recipes for Basil, Pine Nut and Parmesan Risotto, Seared Tuna with Grapefruit, Pepper and Basil Salsa and Braised Sausage with Gorgonzola Polenta are just a few that will please families on this side of the pond.

Wright provides timesaving cheat sheets, pantry advice and helpful menu solutions that will have you dumping your takeout menus into the recycling bin.

Last, but not least, is "The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket" by Cookstr.com founding editor-in-chief and mother of two Katie Workman. Workman promises no meal will be boring ever again with recipes like Modern Greek Salad and Tarragon Mustard Crusted Filet of Beef.

She provides solutions to the 20 most common cooking dilemmas that every modern mom faces, like getting the kids out the door in the morning and pleasing picky eaters.

You can meet Workman and pick up a copy of her book ($16.95) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday during the WINGS, Taste Takes Flight charity event in Rolling Meadows. She will be demonstrating recipes, giving out tastings, chatting and signing books.

Workman is among the more than 15 restaurants/caterers at the event at The Meadows Club, 2905 W. Golf Road. The International House of Wine and Cheese from Richmond will be on hand pouring nearly 30 wines for you to enjoy with your tasting plates.

Tickets cost $50 in advance or $60 the day of the event. VIP tickets cost $100 (advance purchase only) and include access to premium wines paired with cheese and chocolates. Get tickets at the WINGS website, wingsprogram.com.

Spring cleaning: My house is still in the throes of spring cleaning, and while I've been focusing most of my effort on closets, I didn't neglect the pantry. Sadly I found instant potatoes that expired in late 2010 and canned chipotles from the Bush era.

The spice cabinet is a whole other story. Some jars now have dates on them, but others don't. If you're unsure, like me, if your spices are still fresh, follow these tips from the folks at Spice Islands:

• Check the color. Green, leafy herbs will fade as they age. Red spices such as paprika, red pepper and chili powder will turn brown in color; so make sure your spices and herbs are still bright and radiant for the fullest flavor potential.

• Take one of your ground spices and place a small amount in your palm and gently rub with your thumb to check the aroma. The aroma should be rich, full and immediate. If not, it's probably lost potency. For whole spices, break or crush to release their full fragrance. Then scrape with a knife or grater to determine freshness.

• If you're in doubt about the freshness, throw them out. Herbs and spices are some of the least expensive ingredients in any entree. If you question their freshness, it's worth it to replace them.

• To keep spices and herbs fresh, store them in cool, dry surroundings, away from direct light, heat or humidity. Keep them in airtight glass jars and close tightly after each use.

• Don't shake over a boiling pot. Moisture from steam may diminish the potency of spices or herbs remaining in the jar. Instead, pour a small amount into your hand and then add to dishes.

Try this recipe for Lemmon Pepper Garbanzo Salad while your herbs and spices are at their peak.

In a large serving bowl, combine 1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans (drained), 1 cup canned reduced sodium black beans (rinsed and drained), cup celery diagonally cut in -inch slices, 1 cup each finely chopped red and green bell pepper and cup finely chopped red onion.

In another bowl mix 2 tablespoons dried cilantro, 2 teaspoons lemon pepper seasoning, teaspoon each dried minced garlic and ground cumin, 2 tablespoons each apple cider vinegar and lime juice and 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Pour over bean and pepper mixture; stir to thoroughly combine. Cover and chill at least 1 hour before serving.

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at food@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at Facebook.com/debpankey.dailyherald or follow her on Twitter @PankeysPlate.

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