cookbook review: one pot

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Remember when Martha Stewart took the internet by storm with her one-pan pasta? It was a magic trick: five minutes of prep and nine minutes of boiling turned a few ordinary ingredients into a savory, craveable dinner. I can’t name another recipe that wound up so many bloggers, including us. This fall, the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living released the One Pot cookbook, promising “120+ easy meals from your skillet, slow cooker, stockpot, and more.” A whole book of recipes in the model of the prep time-zapping, dirty dish-erasing one-pan pasta?! How thrilling!

I was skeptical.

It seemed too good to be true. There couldn’t possibly be that many special recipes requiring just one piece of cookware. My hunch was that Martha threw together previously published recipes—some that worked as one-pot meals, others that were a stretch—and planned on using the one-pan pasta buzz to sell books. I bought the book so I could prove my point and save you $26.

But you know that underneath my huffing and puffing and skepticism I was hoping for at least one more one-pot magic trick.

clockwise from top left: loser chicken leg, heart-breaking mac and cheese, sweet-savory sausages and squash, ho-hum black bean soup

clockwise from top left: loser chicken leg, heart-breaking mac and cheese, sweet-savory sausages and squash, ho-hum black bean soup

After testing eleven recipes, I can’t declare the book a waste of paper. Far from it. Many of the dishes were previously published in Living, Everyday Food, or one of Martha’s other outlets, but the recipes have been refreshed. Surprisingly, the vast majority truly need only one pot, excluding prep tools. Martha schooled the competition on this point. I flipped through other authors’ “one pot” cookbooks at the library and they’re all cheaters. They deem a recipe “one pot” if it finishes in one pot, even if you have to use a baking sheet, a saucepan, and a stock pot before dumping everything into a dutch oven. Martha’s only cheat was not providing for rice with the curry and stir-fry dishes.

herb butter loves roast chicken

herb butter loves roast chicken

Of the eleven recipes I tried, nine worked. I’d make eight again—they were satisfying, foolproof, and relatively quick to prepare. This is a book filled with regular weeknight meals cooked with fresh ingredients. None of the recipes knocked my socks off—sometimes that regular food was a tad boring. As can be expected from Martha recipes, there is minimal spice, no exotic ingredients, and occasionally not enough salt.

But was there any magic? Yes, a little. I was tickled to bake cheddar drop biscuits right on top of a skillet of turkey chili. Now I’ll look for any excuse to put a biscuit on my dinner. Beyond that, though, the recipes are fairly ordinary.

magic biscuits

magic biscuits

The upshot: if you like weeknight workhorse cookbooks, then you’ll use and enjoy this book. I’ve been happy to have a collection of easy recipes with ingredients I can find in my suburban midwestern grocery store, even if I have to crank up the salt, pepper, and other spices. Does it merit the 4.5 stars it’s pulling in on Amazon right now? No. It’s not nearly that exciting. This isn’t a book that’s going to expand your culinary horizons, but it will definitely expand your weeknight dinner arsenal.

The recipes I tested:

Each chapter is devoted to a piece of cookware: dutch oven, skillet, roasting pan/baking dish, stockpot/saucepan, slow cooker, and pressure cooker. I don’t have a pressure cooker, so I couldn’t try any of those recipes, but I tried at least one from the other five sections. There’s also a chapter on desserts, which felt like a throw-away (aren’t most desserts cooked in a single vessel?) and nothing caught my eye. Where available, links to online versions of the recipes I tried are in the titles below.

Dutch Oven

Chicken with Creamy Corn and Bacon: this was a big fat fail. As instructed, I browned the chicken, then braised it in milk along with the couscous. The chicken skin turned slimy during the braise and the couscous clumped together in a chewy, milky mess. The flavors were flat and fatty.

Cajun Stew: simple to make, warming, tons of veggies, shrimp, and sausage, but so boring. If I make this again, I’d add more garlic, more cayenne, and use fire-roasted diced tomatoes. I’d also brown the sausage before adding the tomatoes.

Skillet & Sauté Pan (this chapter had the most appetizing recipes)

Linguine with Tomato and Basil: the recipe that started it all. A lifesavingly easy pasta dish worth memorizing. You might want a side of sausage, though.

Shrimp with Tomatoes and Orzo: a favorite—it has the same flavors as the Linguine with Tomato and Basil, but now there’s no need to make a side of sausage. Score.

Turkey Skillet Pie: the turkey chili is plain—it needs more spices and would probably be better with ground beef, but it’s saved by the sharp and savory cheddar-buttermilk biscuit topping. The biscuits are exactly as delicious as you’re imagining them to be.

Skillet Macaroni and Cheese: this one still hurts. Martha’s classic macaroni and cheese is my all-time favorite. It uses three pots and a casserole dish, so when I saw she had a one-pan version, I couldn’t grate my cheese fast enough. Something went very wrong, though—it could’ve been the gruyère I used or it could have been because I had to switch pans mid-recipe (use a HUGE skillet), or it could’ve been the 1/2 cup of flour used in the cheese sauce, which is a lot. The texture was not smooth and the flavor was dull. I will try again, though, because I know Martha knows mac and cheese.

Baked Rice with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe: a hearty oven-baked rice with sausage and peppery greens (I had to substitute mustard greens for the broccoli rabe). This was easy and filling.

Slow Cooker

Classic Pot Roast: I don’t usually like pot roast, but this was tender, juicy, sharply flavorful, and perfect for cold weather. Massaging chuck roast with four cloves of garlic first thing in the morning is a bracing start to the day, but it was worth it.

Roasting Pan & Baking Dish

Roast Chicken with Herb Butter: ideal roast chicken made even better with pockets of herb butter under the skin. It also made incredible chicken salad the following day. Next time, I might salt the skin to get it to crisp while roasting.

Sausage with Acorn Squash and Onions: a sleeper hit. Links are roasted with acorn squash slices, red onion, sage, Asiago, and…dried cherries. The result was a unique, flavorful dish at once carmelized, tangy, sweet, and salty.

Stockpot & Saucepan

Black Bean and Almond Soup: this recipe worked as expected, but it was not substantial enough for a meal. The toasted almonds are a unique complement to the black beans, but the texture of the partially mashed beans and the chopped nuts was grainy and unappetizing.

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