I’m a huge fan of books, but cookbooks, in particular, hold a special place in my heart. I can often read a new cookbook cover to cover. Though, I do have one strict requirement: A cookbook is worth keeping only when you can open any page, make the recipe on it and have it turn out delicious. There is nothing more disappointing than going through the effort to follow a recipe, only to produce mediocre or worse bad food. That’s why I was thrilled to get my hands on Recipes Worth Reading compiled by the organization Room to Read.
“Founded in 2002 on the belief that World Change Starts with Educated Children, Room to Read’s innovative model focuses on deep, systemic transformation within schools in low-income countries during two time periods which are most critical in a child’s schooling: early primary school for literacy acquisition and secondary school for girl’s education.
Room to Read’s Recipes from Around the World
So, my family put the cookbook to the test, and we randomly chose three recipes to try for dinner. Here are the recipes we tested:
Mama’s Apple Cake
- 1 cup cooking oil
- 2 eggs, beat until foamy
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 cups apples, peeled, cored and chopped
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup nuts or raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine oil and sugar until very well mixed. Add the eggs and vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients and blend in. Blend in the apples. Pour into a greased and sugared Bundt pan. Bake for one hour. Let the cake cool thoroughly before removing from the pan.
Lemon Chicken 2 Ways
- 1/2 -2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch strips
- 1 scallion, trimmed and chopped
- One 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, optional
- 1 teaspoon rice wine or dry sherry
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- corn or grapeseed oil for deep frying
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- salt to taste
FRIED: Place the first 7 ingredients in a bowl and combine thoroughly. Cover, refrigerate and marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Pour 2 inches of the oil in a deep skillet or saucepan and heat to 375 degrees (if a pinch of flour added to the oil sizzles, then oil has reached the correct temperature.) Remove the chicken from the marinade and coat with egg, then flour. Carefully slide chicken into oil. Cook in batches if necessary. Cook, turning once, until golden brown and cooked through about 7 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the lemon juice, chicken stock, sugar, and cornstarch and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture thickens. Taste and season with salt, then turn the chicken pieces in the sauce and serve.
STIR-FRIED: Omit the egg and flour. Heat 3 tablespoons neutral oil in a wok or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until it loses its pinkness. Stir in the ginger and cook until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, wine, pepper, lemon juice, stock, sugar, and cornstarch. Mix everything together thoroughly and cook until the sauce thickens. Season to taste with salt, garnish with scallion and serve.
Ginger Fried Rice
- 8 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- kosher salt
- 2 cups sliced leeks
- 4 cups day-old cooked rice
- mild chili powder
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
Heat half the oil in a small nonstick skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon each of garlic and ginger. Cook until crisp, 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add remaining garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds. Add leeks and cook until they begin to soften about 2 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring often, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chili powder. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet. Add eggs and fry. Sprinkle each with a pinch of chili powder. Place rice on a platter and top with fried eggs. Sprinkle with fried garlic/ginger mixture then drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce.
Each of the recipes turned out delicious, and my family gobbled them down. The ginger fried rice was an easy version of everyone’s favorite take out food. Lemon chicken had two options for the cooking method. We choose to stir-fry instead of deep frying the chicken. The hands-down favorite dish was the apple cake. My mom said that it reminded her of a recipe my grandmother would often make.
Whether you’re someone who cooks every night or only on a holiday, it is good to know that you have an excellent resource to use. The recipes submitted in Recipes Worth Reading are from home chefs, local chefs and restaurants in New Jersey (tons are from Princeton!).
Interested in getting to know more about Room to Read? On April 20th from 3-5 pm, Dr. Cory Heyman will be at the Princeton Public Library to discuss the organization and their commitment to helping 5 million more children in the next three years.
Room to Read’s cookbook can be purchased at Savory Spice in Princeton or on Barnes & Noble.com