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Cooking for Couples

December 5th, 2011 by Kathy

Cooking for couples
By Greg Burliuk
Posted 3 days ago

Essentials

What: Fresh and Healthy Cooking For Two by Ellie Topp and Marilyn Booth is a collection of healthy recipes for couples and which often features simple four-dish meals. The recipes are meant to be cooked quickly.

Signing: Ellie Topp will be at the Kingston Seniors Centre, 56 Francis St., for a book sale and signing Monday, Dec. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. One of the soups from the book will be served. It's also available for $24.95 at the Novel Idea and Indigo Books.

Cookbooks have a bias against couples. And don't get me started on singles. Check out just about any recipe and you'll see it's just about always meant to feed four or more people.

Just cut it in half you say? That's fine if you're talking about a cup of flour, but how do you bisect an egg, for example? There are cookbooks for two out there but not many. That is why Ellie Topp decided to rectify the situation. Together with dietician Marilyn Booth, she's written Fresh and Healthy Cooking For Two.

I first talked to Ellie several years ago when she wrote a cookbook about small batch preserving. The current one was inspired by her own empty nest situation.

"It's the way I cook now that my kids have left home," she says. "I used to spend half the afternoon in the kitchen doing something complicated but you're not as tempted to do that when there's only two of you."

There are a lot of advantages to this cookbook, other than its smaller amounts. First of all, it's designed for couples who don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. The prep time for most of the dishes is under 30 minutes, so the cookbook is valuable not only for empty nesters, but also young couples just starting out who perhaps aren't that experienced in the kitchen.

Secondly, in the mains section, Ellie has designed a whole meal around a main, including a salad, vegetable and starch. So while your meat is cooking, you can whip up the salad and veg, and set the starch to going as well.

"They're everyday meals and if you're a single these recipes divide easily," she says.

The meals may be simple to make, but Ellie takes care to slip the unusual in there with ingredients like kale, rapini and kohlrabi, which don't show up on most of our plates with let's say regularity. "Things like kale, I can use in winter and they're wonderful in soups," she says.

Sometimes she'll take favourite recipes and tinker with them to get the calorie and salt count down. Such was the case with her version of gazpacho.

"That took a while to do, but I got it down quite a bit," she says, before adding a handy tip. "When you want a tomato flavour, tomato paste has almost zero calories and no salt whereas canned tomato sauce has a lot more of both calories and salt."

Ellie often has collaborators when she writes her books. "I like to work with a dietician," she says. "I've got my masters in food science, but I like to work with someone who's always up to date on dietary matters."

I made three complete meals with the cookbook and really enjoyed the fact that I could put out several dishes per meal in less time than I usually spend doing just one dish. I started out on Friday night with the most complicated one of the three and to our minds, the most successful.

The main was Indonesian-style chicken with savoury peanut sauce, and the sides were basmati rice with chutney, steamed green beans and kohlrabi and carrot salad with orange and cumin. Correction on that, I couldn't find kohlrabi at Loblaws, the store I figured was the best bet to have it. However, there was an informative booklet in the veggie section there where I discovered that some kind of cabbage would be a good substitute and provide the same kind of crunch. I bought some savoy cabbage, which is a milder form of this veggie.

I usually hate snapping green beans so I bought a package of pre-cut ones, which were simply steamed and then tossed with olive oil. The rice was made tastier by slipping in a couple of spoonfuls of mango chutney. The great brilliance of this meal was the way the chicken was cooked. I've seen this done before in restaurants, but had forgotten. You fry the chicken enough to get a crust and then finish it on high heat in the oven. The result is a spectacularly tender chicken, the only way we'll eat from now on when not stir-frying it.

The next night, we went vegetarian with three-cheese pasta bake with tomatoes and spinach, along with a mixed vegetable salad. I still had lots of the savoy left so I used that in the salad, whose dressing was made simply by mixing mayo and salsa and didn't turn out half bad. The pasta bake was very pretty to look at, and cheese lovers will be happy with it, but truth to tell, we felt it needed a little juicing up. My wife and daughter applied ketchup and I, a couple of shakes of hot sauce and all was well.

The last meal was another chicken one, baked chicken with a sesame crust, roasted potatoes and carrots provencale. There was also supposed to be a cabbage toss, but I still had some salad left over from the first night and served that. Not having any commercial bread crumbs, I made my own by tossing some light right bread into the food processor. I was pleased with the results as the chicken was once again baked, although it wasn't quite as tender because it was baked at a lower temperature. The big hit foGregr us was the carrots, which were tossed with garlic and black olives.

When our daughter leaves on her student exchange in February, I'm pretty sure we'll be coming back to this book a lot, although I'll probably add things to the recipes because in our house, we like things spicier and more garlicky.

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