Visually, Holly Erickson and Natalie Mortimer’s The Modern Proper is stunning. If what you really like about cookbooks is looking at the pretty pictures, get this cookbook. That’s a valid reason to buy a cookbook. If, however, you want a cookbook that helps you put delicious dinners on the table on a weeknight, this one is a maybe.
But first, full disclosure. The publisher sent me three chapters out of eight, so I can’t give an opinion of the whole book, only on Meatless, Pork and Beef, and Soup. I haven’t read the introduction, the section labeled essentials, or Things for Dipping, Spreading, and Dressing which appears to have some of the recipes you are supposed to incorporate into other recipes, like the Romesco Sauce and the Everything Bagel Seasoning.
There are things I like very much about the cookbook. Every recipe has a tag at the top to let you know if it’s gluten free, dairy free, kid friendly, etc. I really like that most of the recipes in the sections given to me incorporate vegetables. That’s important for a book aiming to make getting dinner on the table on a weeknight easier. And I appreciated the unapologetic use of convenience short cuts like canned beans and jarred sauce. And I really appreciated that there was a section on meatless meals that were not labeled as “sides.”
Where things fell flat for me were the actual recipes I tried.
From the Meatless section, I made the Spicy Unstuffed Pasta Shells with Roasted Garlic and Chèvre. I am not supposed to eat dairy, but I love chèvre and I decided to use slightly less cheese than the recipe called for. This was my favorite of the recipes I made. It was tasty and reasonably easy. I don’t have a problem with the recipe calling for roasted garlic. Where it gets weird is the discussion about how easy it is to buy roasted garlic at the olive bar at the grocery store. Two things about that. I haven’t seen an olive bar at a grocery store since March 2020 (when Covid-19 was elevated to pandemic status). I don’t recall seeing roasted garlic at any olive bar at any grocery store before the pandemic. I saw pickled garlic, but pickled garlic and roasted garlic are very different things. While there are no directions for roasting garlic in the recipe, how to roast garlic is explained in a recipe for Creamy Broccoli Soup with Roasted Garlic. I had roasted garlic on hand, because I love roasted garlic. If the authors didn’t rely on an ingredient that isn’t readily available, I would give this recipe an A.
The next recipe I tried gets a solid B. Everything Bagel Sausage Fried Rice is a great idea, but the rice is under seasoned making the whole dish bland. I used a standard smoked sausage, which is pretty salty, and since I didn’t have access to the authors’ recipe for Everything Bagel seasoning, I used HEB’s Bagel Not Included seasoning. It has salt in it, but I don’t know how it compares to the recipe in the finished cookbook. Fried rice is great, but there is a reason that other fried rice recipes add soy sauce to the rice while it’s cooking. Cooked rice, especially the days old, leftover rice the recipe calls for, is bland. If the rice isn’t seasoned properly, it doesn’t matter that the sausage is flavorful. Unless you like bland food. And if you do, that’s fine and you will probably like this dish better than I did.
The last recipe I tried gets a D minus. I had some really nice homemade chicken stock in the freezer so I decided to try one of the chicken soup recipes. The Turmeric Chicken Noodle Soup sounded the most appealing. I like turmeric and noodles. The initial step of sautéing green onions, cilantro stems and ginger as the flavor base looked delicious. I don’t know if I had incredibly potent turmeric or if there’s a typo in the recipe, but that was too much turmeric. By the time I got to the bottom of my bowl, everything tasted like turmeric. It was different textures of turmeric flavored things. Someday, I’m going to make that soup again, but I’m going to use much much less turmeric, because I still like chicken soup, noodles, and turmeric. Next time I hope to taste some of the ginger and garlic.
If you already like recipes from The Modern Proper website, you will probably like this cookbook. If you are unfamiliar with the site, as I was, maybe try some recipes from the site before buying the book. Again, if you like cookbooks for their pictures (valid), this would be a great cookbook.
I’m still waiting for someone to write a cookbook for busy weeknights that excites me.
I received selection of The Modern Proper in advance from Simon Element via NetGalley. My opinions are my own and voluntarily given.