• fresh produce
  • fresh produce
  • fresh produce

marenIn September 2015, I pulled out the most intimidating (and least used) cookbook on our bookshelf and challenged myself to make every recipe in the book, come hell or high water. Ten months and two days later, I crossed the finish line. That quest fanned a flame that inspired me to move on to the next cookbook… and the next one after that… and you get the idea.

It’s not as hard as I imagined to prepare complex recipes, and it’s OK to invite people over for dinner when trying new ones. The fellowship is wonderful, and I’ve yet to hear a complaint about the food. Quite the contrary, our friends have been really supportive and complimentary. And they don’t care whether or not the house is neat and tidy.

So, if you’ve got a hankering to experiment in your kitchen, I’ve provided reviews of the ten cookbooks that I’ve explored to date with pictures of the individual recipes. I’ve also shared some of my own recipes along with features on favorite foods.

Bon appétit!

Thug Kitchen

The folks behind Thug Kitchen have issued a wake-up call to America. They tell us that the average American eats 270 pounds of meat annually, more than twice the recommended protein allowance. It makes us four times more likely to die of cancer – and 74% more likely die of any cause – than a whole foods plant based diet. They also claim that we spend 42% of food budget outside the home, where who-knows-what ingredients/chemicals find their way into our bodies.

The Thug Kitchen Cookbook is an invitation to elevate our nutrition and kitchen game. The authors want eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, prepare our own food, and have a bit of fun while we’re at it. And just in case you think that only high-brow, elitist snobs or hopelessly earthy granola types eat this stuff, Thug Kitchen chefs have the tattoos and potty mouths to change your mind.

It’s a good cookbook if you’re just starting out with this style of eating. The authors help you stock up on supplies (staples, herbs, spices) and equipment. They provide cooking basics for beans and grains, and the recipes are easy to follow. They also provide these words of wisdom:

  • Read the recipe all the way through so that you can be prepared for what you’ll be asked to do. It saves a lot of stress mid-cooking.
  • Pay close attention to required quantities. To that I’d add: Go easy on hot sauces, cayenne pepper, etc. You can always add some heat; you can’t take it away!
  • Change the recipe to suit you. Just don’t add weird ingredients or leave out major ones.

As this cookbook was our tenth exploration, we did not feel the need to make every recipe in the book. We opted out of desserts as well as most of the bread- and pasta-based dishes. We also passed on several been-there, done-that recipes. The remaining options proved to be some of the best recipes we’ve tasted on our cooking adventure. We will definitely make them again!

It was nice changing things up a bit for breakfast. The Basic Maple Granola is very good and quite easy to make. The Breakfast Greens and Tofu Scramble Tacos work well for starting the day or ending with a light dinner.

Quinoa Oatmeal
Quinoa Oatmeal
Mixed Veggie and Tofu Chilaquiles
Mixed Veggie and Tofu Chilaquiles
Basic Maple Granola
Basic Maple Granola
Breakfast Greens
Breakfast Greens
Tofu Scramble Tacos
Tofu Scramble Tacos
Brown Rice Bowl with Edamame
Brown Rice Bowl with Edamame
Cornmeal Pancakes with Strawberry Syrup
Cornmeal Pancakes with Strawberry Syrup
To-Go Breakfast Bars
To-Go Breakfast Bars
Oat Flour and Griddle Cakes with Blueberry Syrup
Oat Flour and Griddle Cakes with Blueberry Syrup
Fruit Salad Smoothie
Fruit Salad Smoothie

There are lots of good options for sides and snacks here. Though not pictured, Thug Kitchen provides three recipes for tofu marinades that are quite good (Ginger-Sesame, Smoky Maple, and Sweet Citrus). We’ve used them several times to flavor crumpled tofu and then stir-fry the whole mixture with braised greens. The result is really healthy and really delicious.

Spiced Chickpea Wraps with Tahini Dressing
Spiced Chickpea Wraps with Tahini Dressing
Moroccan Spiced Couscous
Moroccan Spiced Couscous
Roasted Broccoli and Millet Pilaf
Roasted Broccoli and Millet Pilaf
Lemon-Mint Quinoa
Lemon-Mint Quinoa
Roasted Potato Salad with Fresh Herbs
Roasted Potato Salad with Fresh Herbs
Braised Winter Cabbage and Potatoes
Braised Winter Cabbage and Potatoes
Roasted Beet and Quinoa Salad
Roasted Beet and Quinoa Salad
Barley-stuffed Peppers
Barley-stuffed Peppers
Sweet Corn and Green Chili Baked Flautas
Sweet Corn and Green Chili Baked Flautas
Apple Baked Beans
Apple Baked Beans
Creamy Peanut Slaw
Creamy Peanut Slaw
Yellow Spilt Pea and Green Onion Lettuce Wraps
Yellow Spilt Pea and Green Onion Lettuce Wraps
Wilted Greens
Wilted Greens
Baked Spanish Rice
Baked Spanish Rice

The Pozole Rojo is the most flavorful way I’ve found to prepare tempeh to date. A great recipe! The Minestrone and Tortilla Soup get honorable mentions.

Lemony Lentil Soup
Lemony Lentil Soup
Pozole Rojo
Pozole Rojo
Minestrone
Minestrone
Summer Squash Soup
Summer Squash Soup
Pumpkin Chili
Pumpkin Chili
Tortilla Soup
Tortilla Soup

Quite a few taste treats here for cocktail hour. Our latest Zoom call drew quite a bit of interest in the Roasted Sriracha Cauliflower Bites with Peanut Dipping Sauce.

Cumin-Spiked Pinto Bean Dip
Cumin-Spiked Pinto Bean Dip
Creamy Black Bean and Cilantro Dip
Creamy Black Bean and Cilantro Dip
Baked Zucchini Chips
Baked Zucchini Chips
Spicy Pickled Carrots
Spicy Pickled Carrots
Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Onions
Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Onions
Pine-Apple Guacamole
Pine-Apple Guacamole
Roasted Sriracha Cauliflower Bites with Peanut Dipping Sauce
Roasted Sriracha Cauliflower Bites with Peanut Dipping Sauce
Watermelon Hibiscus Coolers
Watermelon Hibiscus Coolers
Ginger-Lime Sparklers
Ginger-Lime Sparklers

The Lentil Tacos with Carrot-Jicama Slaw and Sweet Potato, Squash, and Black Bean Enchiladas have already found their places in our regular rotation of favorites. Delish!

Black Bean Torta with Coconut Chipotle Mayo
Black Bean Torta with Coconut Chipotle Mayo
Lentil Tacos with Carrot-Jicama Slaw
Lentil Tacos with Carrot-Jicama Slaw
Vegetable Pad Thai with Dry-Fried Tofu
Vegetable Pad Thai with Dry-Fried Tofu
Sweet Potato, Squash, and Black Bean Enchiladas
Sweet Potato, Squash, and Black Bean Enchiladas
Mango Curry
Mango Curry
Roasted Chickpea and Broccoli Burrito
Roasted Chickpea and Broccoli Burrito
Quick Lime and Cilantro Slaw
Quick Lime and Cilantro Slaw
Tempeh Peanut Noodles with Blanched Kale
Tempeh Peanut Noodles with Blanched Kale
Root Veggie Fries
Root Veggie Fries
BBQ Bean Burritos with Grilled Peach Salsa
BBQ Bean Burritos with Grilled Peach Salsa

beets with greensI’ve been a fan of beets for as long as I can remember. Mom used to cut off the greens, wash the skins thoroughly, and then simmer the roots for 20-25 minutes. (A large beet may take up to 45 minutes.) Once the little darlings softened up, she’d gently peel the outer skins off, slice the red juicy flesh, and add a little butter for extra flavor. (Note: They’re so sweet that they don’t need much of anything to increase their deliciousness!)

Beets are rich in Folate, Potassium, and Manganese along with a respectable amount of Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorous, and Copper. Beet greens serve up more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than the beet root and are lower in calories, fat, and sugar. So, I make a point of eating the greens and the roots.

If you don’t mind getting red dye all over your fingers, go ahead and dive right in! Otherwise, wear gloves or buy the orange beets instead of the red ones. They’re just as tasty.

Here’s what I do:

  1. beets with greensCut off the beet tops and wash them thoroughly. Get rid of the center spine and slice into strips.
  2. Wash the beet roots and simmer them on the stove top until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool briefly and then remove the outer skin and slice.
  3. As the beet roots near the end of their cooking time, stir fry the beet greens in oil or vegetable broth until they wilt.
  4. Place the beet greens and sliced roots on the plate and drizzle with an oil, vinegar, and spicy brown mustard salad dressing.

Yum!

I love to eat a great, big salad for lunch. It’s a great opportunity to score a good chunk of my daily 5-7 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables while keeping me sated throughout the long afternoon.

healthy saladWhile I don’t follow a specific recipe, I choose vegetables with vibrant colors – e.g., diced bell peppers (usually red, yellow, or orange), shredded carrots, shredded purple cabbage, multi-colored kale pieces, and chopped tomatoes. If I’ve got them, I’ll add blueberries to the mix. Bright colors signal the presence of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals like carotenes, polyphenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanidins. These ingredients are also jam-packed with insoluble fiber that helps food move through the digestive track.

I typically use beans as a protein source, though I’ll add whole grains if I have leftovers with no other use. Beyond their gaggle of nutrients, these items provide soluble fiber that supports healthy digestion and feeds the good bacteria in the gut.

If I haven’t had my tablespoon of ground flax seeds in my morning oatmeal, I’ll add it to the salad. Flax seeds are a great source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids that aid in the absorption of vitamins A, D, and E, all essential for immune health.

I make my own salad dressing. It takes very little time and avoids ingestion of all the chemicals, sugar, and fat that the commercial brands contain. Again, I don’t really follow a recipe other than to combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a generous squirt of brown spicy mustard, and a splash of agave nectar. We lean a little heavily on the balsamic vinegar to provide ample coverage without adding calories.

By including a wide variety of plant foods in my salad, I’ve bolstered my immune system’s ability to respond to viruses and other pathogens that seek to make a home in my body. And, of course, I’ve delighted my taste buds while I’m at it!

laurels kitchen

Laurel’s Kitchen made its debut in 1976 as a hand-bound publication from three dedicated foodies who were as concerned about the health of their patrons as the health of the planet. The diet they support protects against cancer, diabetes, diverticulitis, obesity, tooth decay, and osteoporosis. It does not harm animals, birds, or fish. And it focuses on whole, unprocessed foods.

By 1986, the book had made its way into a publishing house with support by a broad network of enthusiasts. That edition includes a gaggle of scientific data on nutrition, detailed information on the ingredients (e.g., vegetables, grains, legumes) and how they’re prepared, and some delightful essays on embracing a lifestyle that extols the value and sacredness of kitchen work.

The recipes come from daily living. We sampled about a quarter of them, largely in deference to my dairy and gluten sensitivities. We found them to be less complex than ones we sampled in other cookbooks, but that’s a good thing if you’re a cook who wants to master the basics. If you work through this cookbook systematically, you’ll learn to prepare delicious foods without having to refer to a collection of recipes.

The food guidelines that underscore all of their recipes include:

  • Reduce or eliminate meat, processed foods, and fried foods. Focus on whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Explore ways to flavor food without fat: parsley, lemon juice, exotic vinegars, citrus peel, yogurt, cottage cheese, shoyu, herbs, horseradish, spices. When planning dinner, allow for 2 teaspoons of oil or equivalent per person maximum.
  • Choose lower-fat milk products, and substitute them for higher fat ones in cooking.
  • Make your own salad dressings. (It’s not hard!) Commercial options are loaded with fat and chemicals.
  • Reinvent sandwiches by using bean and pea spreads instead of mayonnaise, cheese, and nut butters. They’re delicious with fresh or grilled vegetables.
  • When planning a meal, aim for balance. If you want to serve a rich dish, make the rest of the items on the menu especially low in fat.