• 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!

Growing up, the family dinner typically consisted of meat, vegetables, and a starch. With great regularity, rice filled the starch bill. White rice. The kind that took very little time to cook on the stove top. Unfortunately, white rice doesn’t pack much of a nutritional punch. Here’s how 1 cup of cooked white rice stacks up against a comparable amount of brown and wild rice:

Glutinous
White Rice

Medium-Grain
Brown Rice

Wild Rice

Calories
Protein
Dietary Fiber

169
3.5 g
1.7 g

218
4.5 g
3.5 g

166
6.5 g
3.0 g

% of Recommended Daily Allowance

Thiamin
Riboflavin
Niacin
Vitamin B6
Folate
Iron
Magnesium
Phosphorus
Potassium
Zinc
Copper

2%
1%
3%
2%
0%
1%
2%
1%
0%
5%
4%

13%
1%
13%
15%
2%
6%
21%
15%
4%
8%
8%

6%
8%
11%
11%
11%
5%
13%
13%
5%
15%
10%

wild riceThough I don’t eat much rice these days, I generally opt for wild rice. It’s second only to oats in protein content and adds a respectable amount of dietary fiber to a meal. It has 10 times the antioxidants of white rice. It contains phytonutrients (phenolic acid and sinapic acid) that are protective against heart disease, stroke, and cancer. It’s also alkaline-forming and gluten free.

Nutrition makes the case for wild rice, but taste and texture seal the deal. When cooked properly, it has a chewy outer sheath that covers a tender inner grain with a slightly nutty taste.

When serving wild rice with a meal, give yourself a lead time of roughly 50 minutes for preparation. You won’t be fussing with it much, but it needs time to cook.

Put 3 cups of water on the stove top with a bit of salt and get it to a rolling boil. Add 1 cup of dried rice, put a lid on the top, turn the burner to low, and simmer for about 45 minutes until fully cooked. Fluff it up when finished.

Once cooked, wild rice can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week or for a few months in the freezer.

As a general rule, I really enjoy cooking. It’s especially gratifying when I can invite friends over and share fellowship over a delicious meal. But now that we’ve been in COVID-19 quarantine for 7 months, my enthusiasm for this activity has waned. So, I’ve looked for ways to create an easy-peasy, healthy meal that gives me a break from kitchen duty. A quesadilla with a side of fresh veggies does the trick!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 package of tortillas: Use gluten-free if you’re gluten-sensitive. I generally use a corn-flour blend.
  • 1 can refried beans: We use either the Wild Harvest organic vegetarian refried beans or their organic refried black beans.)
  • 1 package of shredded cheese: We use Miyoko’s Creamery Pepper Jack cultured vegan cheese; it’s the tastiest of the vegan cheese that we’ve sampled. (Check out nutritionfacts.org and search for “dairy” to see why we prefer vegan over dairy cheese.)
  • Broccoli florets
  • Salsa
refried bean quesadilla
Ready to go into the microwave.
refried bean quesadilla
Ready to eat with steamed broccoli and salsa.

Place the broccoli in a glass container with  a small amount of water on the bottom. Cover and cook in the microwave for ~3-4 minutes until just cooked. You may need to experiment with timing on your microwave to vary cooking time based on the quantity of broccoli you’re cooking and the relative strength of your microwave. You want your al dente broccoli, not mushy broccoli. Set aside when finished.

While the broccoli is cooking, lay your tortilla flat on a microwave-proof plate and spread 1/4 can of the refried beans on the top. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Microwave until the cheese melts. (It takes about a minute in our microwave.)

Add a little salsa to the cooked quesadilla and fold it in half. (Note: If the salsa has been in the refrigerator, add some to the quesadilla about halfway through cooking to heat it up.) Place some broccoli florets on the side and add some salsa to the top of the quesadilla and broccoli.

Enjoy!

I began my cooking adventure five years ago this month. To date, we’ve sampled ~1,500 new recipes from 10+ cookbooks, a handful of magazines and websites, and recommendations from friends. Suffice it to say, I’m feeling rather comfortable in the kitchen.

ready to cookI’ve learned that there’s no end-all-be-all cookbook. Each has its relative strengths and weakness. I’ve generally found no more than 25-35% of the recipes in a given cookbook worth repeating. The others weren’t bad. (Only two recipes proved inedible and wound up in the garbage disposal!) Rather, we opted to set the bar high with respect to taste and level of effort in preparation. Nonetheless, I remain a proponent of cover-to-cover cookbook exploration. That commitment creates an opportunity to explore a lot of ingredients and recipes that you otherwise might bypass. It makes dining more interesting and improves skills and confidence in the kitchen.

With all this experience under my belt, I’ve ventured into Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) this year. These arrangements support local farmers by providing advanced funding for a weekly allotment of fresh fruits and vegetables, generally over the course of 18-20 weeks. By looking at posts from past seasons, you can get a pretty good idea of what you’ll get each week. However, things may vary a bit depending on how the crops fare during the current season. As such, it has been helpful to have a lot of proven recipes on which to draw when each week’s bounty comes in.

Given this year’s pandemic quarantine, I’ve opted to be less adventurous with cooking. I’m limiting visits to the grocery store to every other week. And, of course, we can’t entertain as we once used to do. I miss cooking for others and the companionship that came with enjoying good food. I’ll admit that the rigors of eating every meal at home has worn a bit thin, too. But I’m grateful for all the farmers, wholesale distributors, and retail grocers who make it possible for us to continue eating healthy food. Thank you so much for your hard work!

fava beans in the podMy husband and I signed up for a share in Love Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program this Spring. Every Monday afternoon from June through mid-October, this share entitles us to receive 8-10 servings of farm-fresh vegetables. Of course, week-to-week, we never quite know what we’re going to get.

Fava beans arrived a couple of weeks ago. Until Dr. Hannibal Lector’s infamous line in The Silence of the Lambs (i.e., “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”), I’d never even heard of them. I’ve since made a few recipes with dried fava beans, but I’d never had my hands on the real deal right off the vine… until now.

I was smart enough to know that the beans had to be liberated from their pods. Then, I consulted good old Google. I learned that I needed to drop the little darlings into boiling, salty water for one minute. Then, I drained the hot water and put the beans in ice water to stop the cooking process. Finally, I removed the tough outer skin to reveal the vibrant green beans. Yep – it’s a bit time-consuming, but you can always check out The Silence of the Lambs while doing it!

fava beans
Fava beans right out of the pod.
fava beans
Fava beans after they’ve been boiled and peeled.

Now I was ready to actually make something! Here are the details:

Make a Smoky-Maple Sauce in a small bowl using 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup vegetable broth, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon liquid smoke, 1 tablespoon lemon (or lime) juice, 1 tablespoon tomato paste (or Thai Red Curry paste), and 3-4 cloves finely chopped garlic, and set it aside. (Note: If you really like the sauce, you can up the recipe by 50%.)

fava beans in the podChop an onion and sauté in oil until translucent, about 5-8 minutes.

Add boiled, peeled fava beans and sauté for an additional 2-3 minutes. Pour in the Smoky-Maple Sauce.

Add 1 good-sized bunch of fresh kale with ribs removed and leaves torn into small pieces. Continue cooking until the leaves wilt.

Serve immediately.

The resulting dish is high in nutritional content and quite delicious!

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