Cookbook Reviews

I love to cook. Don’t let my husband fool you into thinking that I don’t. Its true that he cooks dinner as many nights a week as I do (sometimes more, depending on the week). But that doesn’t negate my love of cooking. Generally, when I refer to cooking I mean: “following an exact scientific formula, precisely measuring ingredients and creating a tasty masterpiece.” The concept of thoughtfully throwing into a pan random items from my pantry and having it come out wonderful (or terrible) is utterly foreign to me. My assumption is that the experts, having written said scientific formulas, know better than I do – their years as professional chefs, home economics teachers and food writers certainly give them a leg up on my six or seven years of 4-H cooking projects.

I can, however, read a recipe, and generally have a good feel for the potential success of a recipe. I was frustrated at the lack of “cooking” (see my definition above) I was doing on our new diet. It seemed like every night it was “bake meat, sautรฉ squash, bake sweet potato, eat.” Insert “steam broccoli” or roast asparagus” to add a little variety. In an act of rebellion against one more steamed stalk of broccoli, and in hopes of finding something resembling a cookie I could eat that would still be good for me – I headed to the local library.

I came home with a stack of books, added to some baking books loaned to my by friend & neighbor Hal. I spent a week flipping through them, thinking about tofu, egg substitutes, and way more kombu and chipotle chiles than I ever want to contemplate again. I spent a weekend reviewing more thoroughly, jotting down recipes that fit my budget, my diet, my husband’s palate, and with ingredients I didn’t have to drive three hours to find. So without further introduction – my cookbook review.

366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans and Grains, Andrea Chessman.

This book had some great recipes in it, particularly for vegetarians and vegans looking to try to round out their proteins by combining legumes and rice. My diet doesn’t subscribe to the vegetarian/vegan philosophy – and neither does my husband, a carnivore to the core. Because of the vegetarian/vegan influence, the flavorings rely heavily on ancho and chipotle chiles to substitute for the missing smoked meat flavor typical of beans – generally from pork. I love chiles – spicy foods are a particular favorite (hence a weakness for tacos and Buffalo wings) – but anchos and chipotles are probably my least favorite chiles. So I was singularly unimpressed by recipes relying on these ingredients.

This really isn’t a whole foods cookbook, either. Many of the recipes use refined sweeteners and white flour. Now – I know that there is no rule that says I can’t substitute another kind of flour or use a different sweetener. I recognize my own failings in being a little shy of trying something “off book.” But we’ll leave that for another time, and chalk it up to my love of “cooking.”

All in all – a truly useful cookbook for someone looking to incorporate new and unusual grains, rice and beans into her diet, but unfortunately limited as to what I would like to be seeing on my family’s dinner plates.

The Whole Foods Market Cookbook: A Guide to Natural Foods with 350 Recipes, Steve Petusevsky & Whole Foods Market Team Members

I was really excited about this cookbook. I love Whole Foods, even if I never shop at one because there isn’t one in my area. I know they have beautiful produce, wonderful cheeses, and plenty of items for people with limited diets due to personal choice or allergy restrictions. I was, however, sorely disappointed with this book.

The recipes were frequently impractical. Generally when I say impractical, I’m referring to an excessive number of ingredients or ingredients that can’t be found in my local grocery store – its rarely the process of cooking that frightens me off. I can’t even consider a recipe with excessive ingredients – the last thing I want is half-cans of this, and half-bags of that in my fridge or pantry, and it seemed like many of the recipes would result in just that: wasted food.

In spite of the philosophies I anticipated to be espoused by the folks at Whole Foods, I found recipe after recipe that didn’t even come close to acceptable for our lifestyle. Things were loaded with refined sugars and flours. Low-fat, high-preservative ingredients filled the gourmet dinners. I wouldn’t completely discount the book, as I found a soup recipe or two that looked promising. All in all, disappointing with a couple of bright spots.

Cooking Foods the Whole Foods Way, Christina Pirello.

I have to give her credit, Christina Pirello compiled an amazing amount of food into this book. Just not food that I would eat. She obsessively eliminates animal products (except fish), and even more obsessively inserts a phrase I have come to dread: sea vegetables.

Kombu is her ingredient of choice – dozens upon dozens of recipes apparently should never be made without this vital ingredient. She also relies heavily on Japanese ingredients – again, many of them the dreaded kelp. Even if I were interested in mirin, tofu, seitan or daikon – I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea where to find it in Northern Indiana.

Given our lifestyle, personal tastes and shopping limitations – I have to pass on this type of whole foods cooking.

Clean Foods, Terry Walters

I loved the look and feel of this book. It is beautiful and simple. The grows out of the idea that our diets should change with the available goodness of the season rather than the manipulated, harvested-early, shipped-three-hundred-miles we often look to an enjoy. The photos are clean and beautiful.

The recipes also looked great, just not as simple and no-nonsense as I need them to be on an everyday basis. This would be a great addition to my shelves (barring the sea vegetables and tofu), but one that I would mostly save for entertaining or holidays, when I want something fancy and have the day off to cook.

Soup: A Way of Life, Barbara Kafka

I adored this cookbook as well. I love soup. I love cooking up a big pot of something warm, and I love snuggling up in front of a classic movie with a big bowl of something tasty. This book had a little bit of everything, practical homecooked goodness, right next to exotic gourmet. I felt like I didn’t have enough time to really soak in all the goodness of this book, like it needed to simmer for days while I contemplated the whole yumminess of soup.

There were quite a few things that didn’t fit my bill: too many ingredients and lots of shellfish, namely. I would, however, purchase this book in a heartbeat for the heartwarming family memories that come along with the tasty, intriguing and unusual recipes.

The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook: Two Hundred Gourmet and Homestyle Recipes for the Food Allergic Family, Cybele Pascal

Of all the cookbooks I’ve read in this recent reading spree, I have to say this is my favorite. Practical, down-to-earth, palate-friendly foods made from non-frightening ingredients with names I can pronounce. Ms. Pascal has two little ones with severe food allergies including wheat, eggs and dairy – I can’t imagine that trial!

Of course, we can have eggs and dairy (the good stuff), and occasionally wheat as well. But her no-nonsense approach to practical, healthy foods even supplied ways of substituting back in the allergens – for those of us who don’t have them or for those who have been allowed to reincorporate them into their diets again. She had some tremendous recipes that even sparked my husband’s interest. Our favorite? Oatmeal cookies. I’ve made them twice already. They incorporate whole grain spelt flour, oats, molasses, maple syrup, and any extra goodies (we like coconut and ย carob chips) into this molasses-y, chewy, real-food-tasting delight. No sugar, no wheat or enriched flour, nothing fake. This one is a definite smart addition to your healthy cookbook collection.

Baking Books

Baking is one of my guilty pleasures – way more than cooking. I love to bake – cakes, cookies, pies, brownies. The even guiltier pleasure? Eating the baked goods. I needed something to get me going in the kitchen bakingwise and friend Hal came to the rescue. Here are some of the books he loaned me.

Recipes from the Old Mill: Baking with Whole Grains, Sarah Meyers & Mary Beth Lind

There were so many great recipes in here. There was also a lot of refined sugar and flour. Most people enjoy adding whole grains to their baked goods – and why wouldn’t they? They add a great depth of flavors and textures that simply can’t be found with refined flours.

Most bakers, however, don’t want the lightness of their pastries and breads destroyed by the heavy, whole grain flours. So instead of choosing wholegrains as a lifestyle choice, they choose them almost like a condiment: a tasty addition to the refined, flavorless baked goods that we all know and love.

A great baking book for someone looking to experiment a little bit with whole grains, just not what I need to fit into my lifestyle.

Bob’s Red Mill Baking Book: More Than 400 Recipes Featuring Whole and Health Grains, John Ettinger and Bob’s Red Mill Family

Again – what a great book! I could come to love this book almost as much as I love my King Arthur Flour Baking Book (the sovereign of baking books, if I can be forgiven the pun). I also love Bob’s Red Mill products, I’ve been particularly enjoying his buckwheat cereal in this crisp fall weather.

The greatest joy of this book for me were some of the gluten free recipes. Finding the ones without xantham or gaur gum was like a treasure hunt, but they were there. The greatest difficulty with most gluten free recipes is the addition of not only this difficult to spell ingredients, but also things like potato starch and four or five different kinds of flours – many of which cost $4 a pound. There were gems in this book, however, and many of the recipes were delights to read.

The Power of Flour: Cooking with Nontraditional Flours, Tiffany Haugen

Also published by Bob’s Red Mill, there were some great gluten free recipes in here as well. This was probably the most useful to me in terms of baking, but also the most limited in selections.

While the quinoa muffins I made turned out to be a flop (I loved my husband’s description: “they taste like nothing, with an aftertaste of quinoa), I’m really excited to try to the quinoa tortillas. Why? Many reasons – first off, they won’t flop like the muffins because they use quinoa flour instead of whole quinoa; second, I love Mexican food, and I mean love; third, quinoa is one of the world’s healthiest grains, with a higher protein content than any other grain. What’s not to love?

I hope this post has been helpful to you as you’re looking for health recipes to prepare for your family.

Wishing you good reads!





6 thoughts on “Cookbook Reviews

  1. If those cookies mention in conection with the Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook were the ones that I tasted this evening (and I believe they are)…They are MARVELOUS!!! Thanks for sharing you adventures in food, and the cookies. You really need to get more confident in making subsitutions in recipes. It’s really fun and sometimes funny.

  2. ooooooooh! this is super helpful! ok and also, for a second i thought kombu was the same as kombucha (which i recently drank.) i am glad to know they are indeed not the same, seeing as kombu looks REAL gross ๐Ÿ˜›

    also, just a good tip that i learned this week from my bff who is quickly turning into more of a health freak than me… coconut oil is the best face moisturizer! (unrefined and extra virgin only.) i’m telling the WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. I’m starting to realize that healthy, real food doesn’t have to boring. And it doesn’t mean vegetables all the time. I’ll definitely be checking out some of these books! Especially the baking ones ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I’m starting to realize that healthy, real food doesn’t have to boring. And it doesn’t mean vegetables all the time. I’ll definitely be checking out some of these books! Especially the baking ones ๐Ÿ™‚

    P.S. Thanks for the muffin taste! So good!

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