September is here, which means that soon our Bibliobites group will again be reading, cooking, and reporting back on their culinary adventures. Some of you may have noticed the lack of a review about our June meeting; and much as I’d like to blame my omission on an extended vacation to an exotic location, I’m afraid I don’t have such an enticing excuse—but let’s just pick up where we left off…….
Grain bowls, it seems, are everywhere these days. You can find them in small cafes, breakfast diners, fast food outlets, coffee shops, and fancy bistros. They are ubiquitous for some of the same reasons that their cousin, the salad bar, is so popular: you can mix and match a wide range of fresh ingredients to suit yourself, and assemble a complete meal in one tidy package—or bowl, as it were! And our June title, Bowls of Plenty by Carolynn Carreno, aims to show us how simple it is to make a wide range of bowls at home for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. But were we bowled over by the possibilities, or did Ms. Carreno roll us a gutter ball?
The book itself generated one universal complaint: the print is tiny! I could just envision everyone at home, squinting over the page (as I was) as they tried to decipher an ingredient list. To add insult to injury, the type isn’t a crisp black; it’s a soft gray that further reduces readability. On the plus side, the teensy type meant that many of the recipes fit on one page. The numerous photographs depicted the bowls artistically, beautifully displaying a recipe’s multiple components. And the book was a nice size, big enough to stay open easily, but small enough to hold comfortably.
Once we were actually able to read the recipes, there were some definite hits. The Baja bbq shrimp bowl with corn rice was quite tasty; the sauce for the shrimp was especially good. Warm chicken Caesar bowl featured quinoa for its grain base, which combined well with the marinated chicken. Three people tried Chinese chicken salad, and all thought the directions to toast the bowl’s cooked rice until crispy just didn’t work. It didn’t improve the taste or texture of the finished dish. Otherwise this was a refreshing melange of ingredients; but just use regular cooked rice! Five spice riblets with sticky rice and apple slaw was excellent; the ingredients played well together and the whole thing was fairly simple to make.
Rainbow carrot salad with millet was a hit and a miss—the millet was a bit fussy to cook, though the overall combination was colorful and enjoyable. And spiced rice and lentils with seared halloumi suffered from “bland” rice and lentils, though the halloumi was good, if a bit salty. The baba ganoush served with it was a delectable version of this well-known side dish. The farmers’ market bowl, despite its pleasant assortment of veggies, was kind of boring, though its accompanying green goddess dressing was first-rate and could easily be put to many uses.
There were some definite opinions about this title, and grain bowls in general. It can be time-consuming to prep vegetables and/or protein, to make sauce, cook whole grains, etc. Once you have several components ready in your fridge, you’re golden—you have the makings for multiple quick meals. In fact some do this already with leftovers, assembling a meal from bits and pieces hanging around in the fridge. But to make a bowl from scratch, all in one go, means spending some quality time in the kitchen. Perhaps this is why bowls are so popular in restaurants—you can pick and choose without having to do it all yourself. Bowls can therefore also be a good choice for a party or a family—everyone chooses the parts they like best, and hopefully everyone helps with prep. Another consideration (I’m talking to you, Mr. Fussy) is that some people don’t like foods all mixed together, which is pretty much what bowls are all about. So while most said they enjoyed this style of eating and understood why it was popular, not too many wanted to “go bowling” at home.
We ended our meeting with a potluck lunch, where we enjoyed so many delicious dishes, including some of the recipes mentioned above. Thank you to all for your efforts, and for your participation over the past year. I look forward to seeing everyone on Friday, September 28 at 11 AM in the Fireplace Room, when we’ll be discussing Jessica Seinfeld’s Food swings: 125 recipes to enjoy your life of virtue and vice. Copies are available at the main desk.