Book Review – 400 Recipes: Three & Four Ingredients

Like many people, I’m a sucker for cookbooks and the pretty, pretty pictures in them. I can spend hours in cooking section of the bookstore, and I have already checked out all of the food related books from the library.  While I love being inspired by Bobby Flay or Ina Garten’s creativity, I hold out on buying these books because I can find plenty of recipes – from Ina and Bobby even – on the web. Money’s tight and I’d rather spend it on a bottle of wine or a basket of fresh produce. I recently caved though, while walking through Border’s going-out-of-business sale (it felt a little morbid, but I tried not to think of it). Sitting there, in front of me was a book that claimed to contain 400 recipes, all of which require only 3 or 4 ingredients – and it was less than $5! There is something very appealing about the simplicity of a recipe with a tiny ingredient list, so I snatched the last copy, and put it in my stack.

The book, by Jenny White and Joanna Farrow, is called 400 Recipes: Three & Four Ingredients and appears to be a part of a series of cookbooks by Jenny White that contain 3 and 4 ingredient recipes. The book is split into 22 sections, with the first, and longest at 54 pages, being and introduction that includes information about equipment you may need and different types of food you will be using, such as a breakdown of different types of hard cheese or leafy greens. I didn’t spend much time in this section, but what I did read was interesting and informative. The next 21 sections are chapters of recipes like breakfast recipes, appetizers, meat, breads. The types of recipes is extensive, but the breakdown in categories at times seems a bit much – do we really need to breakdown desserts into “hot desserts,” “cold desserts,” “ice creams and frozen desserts,” and “cookies and sweet treats”? At the very back of the book, the nutritional information for all of the recipes is listed, which I greatly appreciate, even if I rarely look at it.

The recipe layouts are lovely and elegant in their simplicity with half of the page taken up with a well staged photo of the finished product. The main ingredient list is never more than 3 of 4 recipes (duh!) although on many of the recipes there is a second ingredient list titled “from the storecupboard” which is usually salt & pepper or some type of oil or butter. Although some of the oils aren’t something many people keep on hand, like lemon-flavored oil, the storecupboard ingredients are basic ingredients that I can imagine most people keep in their pantry. The recipe instructions are always simple, usually 2-3 steps, never more than 5, and a few small pictures of the recipe being made.

The end result is a cookbook I’m happy I bought and I’ve marked over 2 dozen recipes to try. Since I  won’t be able to make all 400 recipes for you, I would definitely recommend picking up the book.  It was a bit difficult to find the exact cookbook I bought, but I would imagine any of the three & four ingredient cookbooks would be just as great a buy. To hold you over until you can buy your own copy, here is my first dish from 400 Recipes: Three & Four Ingredients.

Summer Berry Frozen Yogurt
(adapted)

3 cups frozen berry mix, left to defrost just a little (about 5-10 minutes)
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lavender simple syrup (The cookbook lists 1oz/1tblspn powdered sugar, if you don’t want to make simple syrup.  See below for instructions on making simple syrup.*)

1)      Put all of the ingredients into a food processor or blender and process until well combined, but the fruit is still chunky. Spoon the mixture into 6 small (2/3 cup) ramekin dishes. (I chose 4 one cup Tupperware dishes, so I would have a lid for the freezer).

2)      Cover the dishes with a well fitting lid or plastic wrap and freeze for 2 hours or until firm.

3)      To serve: dip the ramekins very briefly in hot water, invert them on to serving plate and garnish with leftover frozen berries and fresh lavender sprigs (if available).

* Lavender Simple Syrup

2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers (these can be found at specialty stores or World Market)

A)     In a small sauce pan heat water over medium-high heat. Just as it begins to boil, add sugar and stir until fully dissolved.  Add 2 tablespoons lavender flowers, simmer for another 2 minutes on low.

B)      Remove from heat and allow to steep until the syrup is cool.

C)      Strain syrup through a cheese cloth or fine mesh strainer.  Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.

I really enjoyed the flavors of the final product, especially with the hint of lavender in every bite. However, the frozen yogurt was still a bit sour, so I might add a an extra ½ – 1 tablespoon of the simple syrup next time a I make it. I also left it in the freezer for most of the day, so it was frozen solid when I took it out. If you are serving this for a dinner party, try to stick to the 2 hour chill time or take them out and put them in the fridge for 10 minutes to let it soften a touch. I’m also thinking I might try this with other fruits and flavors – peaches and ginger simple syrup sound delicious right now.

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