What’s Cooking Blog – Entry #23: Something to Simmer…

This month’s What’s Cooking blog was inspired by a short grocery list of equally conscious motivators.

Dinner needs to be on the table in the weeks leading up to and following holiday meals.

A quick dinner, versatile enough to be the main course or served as a side 2-3 nights a week can be just as sustainable as using ingredients before they expire.

Timing is everything. After reading the phrase Cook What You Have, I was determined to use perishables that I’d harvested from garden boxes after winterizing the yard, items from the pantry and leftover ingredients from the refrigerator. Broadly thinking, employing a little creativity could $ave time and make just enough room in the refrigerator for the holidays. Note: I haven’t actually held this cookbook in my hand; the title alone inspired me to request a copy and gave my mind permission to begin imagining the possibilities.

Title of Cookbook: The Complete Book of Sauces, Salsas, Dips, Relishes, Marinades & Dressings.

Author of Cookbook: Christine France.

What prompted you to check out this cookbook? 

For years I lived alone and avoided preparing some recipes because I couldn’t justify buying family-sized portions of said ingredient(s) for one dish. This practice evolved to include periodically rotating the contents of the refrigerator to use comestibles in their entirety, preferably before their expiration date. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.

Like the TV series, Chopped, I tasked myself with upcycling leftover heavy cream from the Orange Buttercream frosting highlighted in October’s blog entry, a jar of homemade heirloom tomato sauce and the tiny scallions I questioned growing in a window box all summer. Hoping to cash in a little more beginner’s luck I decided to try Vodka sauce despite reading in Sauces : Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making (pg. 67) that “Vodka is useless in sauce making because it is a completely neutral-tasting product containing only alcohol and water.” If vodka is so impractical for this purpose, why do they sell vodka sauce at the grocery store?

What did you like about this cookbook? This was one of the only cookbooks I found with an unbiased recipe for Vodka Sauce. This recipe was super easy and took less than 30 minutes from start to finish (partially because I used baked chicken intentionally leftover from the night before).

*The science behind adding a nominal amount of vodka to sauce is similar to cooking with wine. The oversimplified explanation is that the alcohol cooks off as the sauce simmers often creating a fuller body – or flavor – profile.

What didn’t you like about this cookbook/website?

Since the cookbook was published in 2000, the layout and method of presentation is more instructional than artistic. This isn’t necessarily something to dislike, but the cookbook may appear a little outdated.

Favorite recipe (that you tried from the cookbook/website): Shrimp and Vodka Sauce with Pasta (pg. 88).

Did you alter the recipe or make any substitutions? If so, what were they? To repurpose what was already in the refrigerator, I combined the recipe in this review with The Best Vodka Sauce Recipe / by Jenny Park.

  • Onions/shallots were substituted with scallions that were grown in a window box and supplemented with additional chopped scallions stored in the freezer.
  • Tomato paste was substituted with a small (water-bath canned) pint jar of homemade heirloom tomato sauce.
  • Less heavy cream was added than called for, just enough to produce the desired thickness. Shrimp was substituted with lightly seasoned chicken breast baked the night before, cubed and then added to the sauce just before serving.
  • Sautéed cremini mushrooms were added to the sauce then left to simmer.
  • The pasta was cooked separately then added before serving.

Would you recommend this cookbook/recipe? If you like Vodka sauce, yes, I would recommend this. However, there are plenty of recipes available for heavy or light cream sauces and tomato-cream sauces that don’t call for alcohol. Any of those recipes would have worked just as well. With a little research you may also find gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan variations.

*Although this dish produced leftovers, the sauce was creamier the first night. In hindsight, it may be a good idea to reserve a portion of sauce for future servings.

Enjoy all that you’re thankful for this holiday season.


Books –

The Complete Book of Sauces, Salsas, Dips, Relishes, Marinades & Dressings  / Consulting editor, Christine France.

Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making / James Peterson.

Websites –

The Best Vodka Sauce Recipe / by Jenny Park (SpoonForkBacon.com)

The Reason Why Tomato Sauce with Vodka Tastes So Good

(Spoiler alert: it’s the alcohol). / by Noel Christmas. (AllRecipes.com)

Tomato-Cream Sauce for Pasta / allrecipes.com

Quick Subject links to the Library catalog:

Low budget cooking. – (Sorted by Date)

Cooking leftovers.

Sauces. (Vega, New Catalog)