Hye Thyme Cafe: Noodlemania! 50 Playful Pasta Recipes - by Melissa Barlow

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Noodlemania! 50 Playful Pasta Recipes - by Melissa Barlow

Cover Photo


This is the downside of doing cookbook reviews - I received this book from the publisher and sadly, being honest, there is more I dislike than like about it.  I understand that a lot of work goes into these things, but as cute and clever as it may be, I'm just not a fan.  Let's start with the positive ...

Aside from the recipes and photos, many of which sport additional illustration, as evidenced by the cover shot above, there are also illustrations of  various types of pasta scattered throughout the book for your little ones to learn from, and interesting trivia blurbs such as:
"PASTA TRIVIA: The first industrial pasta factory in the United States was built in Brooklyn in 1848 by a Frenchman. He spread his spaghetti strands on the roof to dry in the sunshine!"
Some of the silly titles are sure to capture kids' attention and imagination.  Here's a sampling of what they'll find:
  • Dinosaur Mountain
  • Funky Chicken Salad
  • Gloppy Green Frog Eye Salad
  • Gnome Home Pasta
  • Little Lady Bug Salad
  • Robot Parts
  • Spider Cookies
  • Super Stuffed Monster Mouths
  • Under the Cheesy Sea Shells

So what is my problem with the book?  Well, let's start with the fact that more and more attention is being focused on teaching kids [all of us really] to eat more healthy meals. Practically every recipe in Noodlemania contains either ramen noodles, chow mein noodles, pudding cups, food coloring, boxed macaroni and cheese, canned soup, canned chicken, bottled dressing or some combination of those items.  I understand that these are convenience items and easy for kids to work with.  I would just hate for them to read or flip through the entire book and be left thinking that everything they make should start with those items.

As with other cookbooks I have reviewed, this one provides information in the forward, such as how to properly cook pasta, that would not be useful if the child just opened to the recipe and started from there.  If they did read the forward first, they might be confused when it comes to food coloring - here we are told that 8 to 10 drops is a good rule of thumb, yet when you look at the recipes, most call for a few drops.  Is 8-10 a few?  Others just say to add the food coloring - I wouldn't want the child to think the intention was to add the entire bottle.  We are also told that, in addition to trivia, the book contains neat math facts - I found one:
"MATH FACT: SIMPLE SUBTRACTION  1 1/4 cups - 1/2 cup = 3/4 cup."
Totem Pole Tortellini
Totem Pole Tortellini
Another thing I find disturbing is the prospect of a child choking on a toothpick or wooden skewer.  I notice a lot of cookbooks and blogs posting fruit and veggie kebabs for kids, which always makes me nervous, but Little Ladybug Salad has the kids making a pasta dish garnished with ladybugs made out of cherry or grape tomato halves and black olives held together with toothpicks (not pictured in the photo).  I could see using the toothpicks to form the ladybugs and set them into place, then sliding them out, but I wouldn't want your little chef to forget about them or, worse yet, serve them to an unsuspecting sibling.

Funky Chicken Salad
Funky Chicken Salad
Or how about teaching kids to make a sandwich filled with pasta??  As a carbaholic myself, I'm pretty sure that's not a good idea!  The filling would be great on its own as a pasta salad.



Even the illustrations made me raise an eyebrow here and there.  For instance, the Gnome Home Pasta, which is a pasta salad with a gnome home made out of a hard boiled egg topped with a tomato end cap and diced egg (makes you think of Willy Wonka's garden) includes an illustration of what looks like a martian.  Why not a gnome??  Unless your kids are fond of Travelocity commercials, they might think that's what a gnome looks like.

A number of recipes do not include photographs, which is an issue I have with many cookbooks.  I always like to know what the end product should look like.  I find that especially true with kids, who might not be great at following instructions - those visual cues can come in very handy.

There is also a recipe for Homemade Pasta, which I thought was a great addition until I read "Cook according to your favorite recipe and enjoy!" That might pose a problem since most recipes do not start with fresh pasta but do indicate in the instructions to cook according to package - you have no package to refer to here.

One FUN FACT provides synonyms for NOODLE.  That's great, but they are synonyms for the definition of noodle as "a stupid or silly person," not for the pasta definition.  Hmmm, maybe your kids will be asking for Numskull and Meatballs for dinner next week.

On the publishing end, Quirk isn't left out here.  The last page suggests that you navigate to QuirkBooks.com/Noodlemania to:
  • See fun photos that didn't make it into the book
  • Download extra recipes
  • Read Q&As with the author, photographer, and illustrator
  • Share your own crazy noodle photos and creations
The problem?  I did go to the webpage but did not find any of those things.  I was hoping to include a link to a recipe or glean more info from the Q&As.

All in all, there are some fun recipes with cute names, but personally, I would think of this as more of a "check out of the library" type of book to try one or two items with the kids, or maybe a book best left at Grandma's house as a special treat when visiting.

Whenever possible, I like to actually try out and include a recipe with a review post.  In this case, I went with the Little Birds' Nests.  With very few ingredients and nothing overly-processed, this is one option I could recommend - with one caveat.  It can sometimes be difficult to cook birds nest pasta so that it remains intact.  Rather than pouring out the pot like with other pastas, I recommend gently removing each nest from the pot with a slotted spoon, like a poached egg.

I already had kale in the fridge, so I substituted kale for the spinach called for.  Also, regarding the mini mozzarella balls, it appears that what is pictured (and what I was pleasantly surprised to find at my local market) is actually mozzarella pearls.  The mini mozzarella balls are fine if that's all you can find, but the pearls are smaller.


LITTLE BIRDS' NESTS

Little birds' nests - cookbook page pictured with my renditionINGREDIENTS:
1 package birds' nest pasta
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup shredded spinach leaves
12 mini fresh mozzarella balls



  
Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain.  Mix melted butter with garlic powder.  To serve, drizzle each nest with a little melted butter, top with a little pinch of shredded spinach, and then carefully place fresh mozzarella "eggs" inside.

Little Birds' Nests

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

As always, a big thanks for Quirk Books for providing me with the review copy.  

Photography by Zac Williams
Illustration by Alison Oliver


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