Photography ©2017 Faith Mason.
When I was first given a copy of Recipe Shorts: Delicious Dishes in 140 Characters (by Andrea Stewart, © 2017 Kyle Books, hardcover, 6 x 8", 160 pages, with color photographs, $16.95), I was skeptical. I mean obviously this is a riff on Twitter and I figured it would be just a gimmick.
I was wrong.
Instead this is a collection of easy recipes that are appealing, accessible, full of flavor, versatile, and mostly quick to cook. The fact that they're written in only 140 characters is a metaphor for how home cooking doesn't need be complicated to be good.
Recipe Shorts is a small, slim volume with 80 recipes, each with an appetizing photograph by Faith Mason. And yes, each recipe is written like a Twitter post. But Canadian chef and author Stewart, who was trained at the Ecole de Gastronomie Française Ritz-Escoffier in Paris and worked in kitchens in Toronto and New York, has used an intuitive shorthand, not unlike that which chefs and recipe writers use when taking notes. And should you need any deciphering, she included a glossary at the front of the book to help you quickly get literate. For example, w/ means with, EVOO is extra virgin olive oil, smkd means smoked, marin8 means marinate, C is a cup, T is a tablespoon and t is a teaspoon, and avo is avocado. And so on.
The book covers breakfast, soups and salads, supper, entertaining, sides, and what is called sweet endings -- even ice cream. The recipes are largely healthy but there are also treats. For example, there is Jewelled Freekeh, Peachy Burrata, Fire Shrimp, Corn Soup, BLT Bowl, Figgy Piggy (pork chops with a fig/mustard sauce), Cheesecake Tart, Kale Chips, Vegetable Tian, Stilton Paté, and Deb's Choc Delight, which is a cross between a brownie and a cakey-pudding. Stepping past the 140 character limit, Stewart adds a helpful little note for each, as pointing out that the topping for Creamy Radish Bagel also makes a good dip, or that adding a swirl of crème fraiche to her Red Pepper Soup will make it pretty for company, or that the Balsamic Buttons (i.e., mushrooms) work well when tossed in a spinach salad.
Some of the recipes depend upon pre-made elements, like the recipe for Meatball Pho that uses ready-made meatballs, or the fish sticks for the Fish Stick Tacos, or Croissant Perdu that's made with stale croissants (as if you really going to make your own). Plus with most of the recipes being relatively spare, it puts an emphasis on buying the best possible ingredients, which you should be doing anyway, right?
But just like Twitter doesn't make for good communications in all circumstances, Recipe Shorts is not a cookbook for all cooks. There's not enough room in 140 characters for tips on technique, cooking times, temperatures, or measurements for every ingredient, which means most of the recipes need some judgment from a practiced cook. For example, here's the recipe for Stewart's Cavolo Nero Burrata:
"Sauté cavolo nero w/slcd grlic til tendr. Portion in pan,top w/torn burrata, cvr 2 warm, drizzle w/EVOO, S&P."
Besides the fact that there are no quantities noted (although its photograph is helpfully suggestive), I also knew from my own experience that this sturdy kale takes a bit of cooking -- certainly more than a sauté -- to become tender enough to eat. So what I did was first sauté the garlic in a little olive oil and then I added the just-washed kale, which I had cut into large pieces. I then covered the pan, let it steam on a low heat until it softened, gave it a toss, and then followed the recipe to divide the whole into portions, add the burrata, and cover the pan until the cheese warmed and melted. The result was quite good and even with adding my steaming step, it was simple to make.
Likewise when I made Tandoori Lamb Cutlets, I needed to know how long to broil my lamb steaks to get them to medium rare and where to buy tandoori paste (online, in many Asian markets, and in NYC at Kalustyan's). Here's that recipe:
"Mix 1/2C tandoori paste w/1/2C plain yogurt. Add 1lb lamb cutlets, marin8 24hrs. Best on grill or broil hot oven".
This recipe was terrific and packed a lot of flavor with very little effort. Plus it comes with instructions for making Tzatziki: "Mix 1/2C gr8'd cucumber, 1/2C plain yogurt, 1 clove chop'd grlic, 1t dried mint, 1t lemjuice. S&P".
Add a little rice and a simple green vegetable and you have an excellent weeknight dinner (you can even get away with only a couple of hours for the marin8 if you forget to start it the night or morning before).
I think Recipe Shorts -- described fittingly by a friend as "adorable" -- would be a good choice for a millennial or otherwise younger cook who may need some inspiration in a familiar format to take flavor risks, busy parents, or anyone who is getting brave in their kitchen and wants to explore simple, everyday cooking that is both appetizing and healthy.