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 eight 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!

While we don’t eat beef often, this recipe has been in our “standard rotation” of dinners for years. It’s delicious and ridiculously easy to make. The secret to success entails getting a really good piece of meat – preferably one with a bit of marbling to ensure the end result is tender and juicy.

Pot Roast1 (2½- to 3-pound) boneless beef roast
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer or apple juice
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 (16-ounce) jar Pace mild salsa
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced (optional)

  1. Trim visible fat away from roast. Place it in a crock pot. Add beer (or apple juice), sugar, and salsa.
  2. Cook and cover on high 3 to 4 hours. Add potatoes during last 90 minutes of cooking.
  3. Remove beef from pot and let stand for ~5-10 minutes before carving.
  4. Serve beef with potatoes and generous helping of sauce.

Here’s another one of our favorite recipes to serve for dinner guests. It’s takes very little preparation, tastes absolutely delicious, and cooks in one pot!

Asian Shrimp Pasta1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons hot chili oil
3/4 pound thin spaghetti
1/2 pound green beans, stem ends and strings removed
1 pound (51 to 60 per pound) fresh shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

  1. Pour 2½ to 3 quarts water into a stock pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, make the dressing by mixing soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and chili oil.
  3. When water boils, stir in pasta. Cook, uncovered, 6-7 minutes.  Stir in green beans and shrimp.  Cook until pasta is just tender to bite and shrimp are pink, about 1-2 minutes longer.  Drain well.
  4. Return pasta mixture to pot. Add dressing, cilantro, and green onions and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with nuts.  Serves 4-5.

Pork Loin with Peanut SauceHere’s one of our favorite recipes to serve for dinner guests. It’s takes very little preparation and tastes absolutely delicious.

1 fat-trimmed center-cut pork loin (about 2½ pound)
1-1/3 cups apple cider
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp hot chili flakes
2 cloves garlic

  1. On the night before or morning of your dinner party, cut 1/2-inch-deep slits all over pork; place meat in a large plastic food bag.
  2. In a blender, combine cider, soy sauce, peanut butter, thyme, chili flakes, and garlic. Blend thoroughly.
  3. Pour cider marinade over pork, seal bag, turn to coat, then set in pan. Chill, turning occasionally, for several hours, up to a day.
  4. Lift meat from marinade and set on a rack in a 9- by 13-inch pan. Reserve marinade.
  5. Bake pork at 350° oven until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reaches ~170° (roughly an hour). After 30 minutes, baste with reserved marinade.
  6. Transfer pork to a platter and let stand 5 to 10 minutes in a warm place. As pork rests, pour remaining marinade into pan with pork juices (excluding burned parts). Stir over high heat until the sauce is reduced to ~1 cup, 6 to 8 minutes. Pour into a gravy boat.
  7. Slice the pork and accompany with sauce.
get healthy go vegan

In the introduction to this cookbook, Dr. Neal Barnard sounds the alarm for the medical crises awaiting millions upon millions of American whose dietary habits set the stage for arteriosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, and a host of other life-threatening ailments. He joins with his partner, Chef Robyn Webb, in offering over 100 “easy and delicious recipes [that] will lure with their aromas and flavors” while paving the way to a heathier lifestyle.

We sampled 75% of the book’s low-fat, low-GI (glycemic index), high-nutrient recipes. They were satisfying and easy to make. They also leverage a wide array of ingredients to give the intrepid home chef a good deal of variety in daily, weekly, and monthly meal planning.

If you are new to the whole food plant based diet, the initial chapters of the cookbook cover the science behind the diet as well as helpful tips about making foods to fit your goals. The appendices provide a three-day meal plan, shopping lists, and recommended convenience foods.

I remain a rather hard sell when it comes to breakfast recipes. I’m usually in a hurry to get on with my day and lack the patience to prepare a fancy breakfast. But I did enjoy making Sweet Potato Hash with Peppers, Blueberry Pancakes, and Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal.

Sweet Potato Hash with Peppers
Sweet Potato Hash with Peppers
Banana-Ginger Pancakes
Banana-Ginger Pancakes
Spicy Spinach Frittata
Spicy Spinach Frittata
Spanish-Style Scrambler Wrap
Spanish-Style Scrambler Wrap
Blueberry Pancakes
Blueberry Pancakes
Soy Yogurt Fruit and Granola Parfait
Soy Yogurt Fruit and Granola Parfait
Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal
Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Brunch Burrito with Salsa Fresca
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Brunch Burrito with Salsa Fresca
Marvelous Mango Smoothie
Marvelous Mango Smoothie
Peachy Keen Smoothie
Peachy Keen Smoothie

I’m nearly as lazy about making lunch as I am about fixing breakfast. Our usual midday fare consists of leftovers from prior nights’ dinners. But I really enjoyed the Black Bean and Corn Salad with Lime, the Pear and Sweet Potato Soup, and the Spicy Gala Apple, Chickpea, and Mango Chutney Soup.

Udon Noodle Salad
Udon Noodle Salad
Black Bean and Corn Salad with Lime
Black Bean and Corn Salad with Lime
Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Chowder
Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Chowder
Black Bean Soup with Orange
Black Bean Soup with Orange
Edamame and Quinoa Salad
Edamame and Quinoa Salad
Very Gingery Pear and Sweet Potato Soup
Very Gingery Pear and Sweet Potato Soup
Hopi Corn and Chili Stew
Hopi Corn and Chili Stew
Basmati Rice Burgers with Pinto Beans
Basmati Rice Burgers with Pinto Beans
Cajun Bean Soup
Cajun Bean Soup
Quinoa and Carrot Salad
Quinoa and Carrot Salad
Tempeh Burger with Pineapple Salsa
Tempeh Burgers with Pineapple Salsa
Tempeh Sloppy Joes
Tempeh Sloppy Joes
Black Bean Tartines
Black Bean Tartines
Cream of Asparagus Soup
Cream of Asparagus Soup
Lemony Lentil Vegetable Stew
Lemony Lentil Vegetable Stew
Spicy Gala Apple, Chickpea, and Mango Chutney Soup
Spicy Gala Apple, Chickpea, and Mango Chutney Soup
Chickpea Patty with Mango Chutney
Chickpea Patty with Mango Chutney
Minty Black Bean, Jicama, and Cucumber Salad
Minty Black Bean, Jicama, and Cucumber Salad
Red and White Quinoa Pilaf
Red and White Quinoa Pilaf
Wild Rice Pilaf with Roasted Garlic and Spinach
Wild Rice Pilaf with Roasted Garlic and Spinach
Black Bean Cake with Mango Salsa
Black Bean Cakes with Mango Salsa
French Country Stew
French Country Stew
Fire-Roasted Tomato Black Bean Chili
Fire-Roasted Tomato Black Bean Chili
Winter Vegetable Potage
Winter Vegetable Potage
Toasty Tortilla Soup
Toasty Tortilla Soup

This cookbook’s dinner recipes are being tasty and relatively easy to make. Our favorites include Asian Broth with Mushrooms, Tofu, and Ginger, Polenta with Zesty Mushroom Sauce, Trinidadian Curried Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Peas, and Three-Layer Tortilla Casserole.

Fettuccine with Roasted Peppers and Zucchini
Fettuccine with Roasted Peppers and Zucchini
Italian Fusilli with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Artichoke Hearts
Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Artichokes
Cajun Corn and Edamame Sauté
Cajun Corn and Edamame Sauté
Udon Noodles with Shiitake and Cremini Mushrooms
Udon Noodles with Shiitake and Button Mushrooms
Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas in Chili Sauce
Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas in Chili Sauce
Asian Broth with Mushrooms, Tofu, and Ginger
Asian Broth with Mushrooms, Tofu, and Ginger
Caramelized Onions with Lentils and Brown Rice
Caramelized Onions with Lentils and Brown Rice
Cassoulet
Cassoulet
Curried Tempeh Kabobs
Curried Tempeh Kabobs
Grilled Tofu with Smoky Barbecue Sauce
Grilled Tofu with Smoky Barbecue Sauce
Italian Beans and Greens
Italian Beans and Greens
Mixed Vegetable Curry with Whole Wheat Couscous
Mixed Vegetable Curry with Whole Wheat Couscous
Multi-Mushroom Sauce
Multi-Mushroom Sauce
Polenta with Zesty Mushroom Sauce
Polenta with Zesty Mushroom Sauce
Pretty Stuffed Pepper
Pretty Stuffed Pepper
Quinoa Timbale
Quinoa Timbale
Springtime Asparagus and Tofu Stir-Fry
Springtime Asparagus and Tofu Stir-Fry
Stuffed Portobello Mushroom with Brown Rice and Tomatoes
Stuffed Portobello Mushroom with Brown Rice & Tomatoes
Trinidadian Curried Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Peas
Trinidadian Curried Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Peas
Spiced Squash Bisque
Spiced Squash Bisque
Moroccan-Style Pilaf
Moroccan-Style Pilaf
Three-Layer Tortilla Casserole
Three-Layer Tortilla Casserole
Brown Rice, Chickpea, and Vegetable Soup
Brown Rice, Chickpea, and Vegetable Soup
Spicy Red Beans and Brown Rice
Spicy Red Beans and Brown Rice
Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Enchilada Sauce
Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Enchilada Sauce
Sweet Potato and Green Pea Curry over Brown Rice
Sweet Potato and Green Pea Curry over Brown Rice
Vegetable Paella
Vegetable Paella
Ginger Tofu
Ginger Tofu
Black-Eyed Pea and Brown Rice Pilaf with Browned Onions
Black-Eyed Pea and Brown Rice Pilaf with Browned Onions
Cinco de Mayo Black Beans and Rice
Cinco de Mayo Black Beans and Rice
Pan-Grilled Tofu Steak with Spiced Tomato Sauce
Pan-Grilled Tofu Steaks with Spiced Tomato Sauce
Ancho Chili
Ancho Chili
Sweet and Sour Tofu
Sweet and Sour Tofu

Not surprisingly, a physician associated closely with diabetes treatment serves up a rather thin selection of dessert recipes. They were all quite satisfying.

Creamy Fruit Smoothie
Creamy Fruit Smoothie
Fruit Kabobs with Peach Cream Dip
Fruit Kabobs with Peach Cream Dip
Chocolate Cherry Nirvana
Chocolate Cherry Nirvana
Raspberry Cake
Raspberry Cake

I was pleased to find a section at the back of the book geared toward entertaining. Each collective of recipes adhered to a different culinary theme and proved enjoyable for our guests.

Italian Feast

Spinach, Beet, and Orange Salad with Ginger-Agave Dressing
Spinach, Beet, and Orange Salad with Ginger-Agave Dressing
Whole Wheat Pasta with Zucchini and Herbs
Whole Wheat Pasta with Zucchini and Herbs
Multicolored Peppers with Thyme
Multicolored Peppers with Thyme
Grilled Peach with Sweet Balsamic Glaze
Grilled Peached with Sweet Balsamic Glaze

Tapas

Roasted Pepper Bruschetta
Roasted Pepper Bruschetta
Garlic Mushrooms
Garlic Mushrooms
Chickpeas with Onion and Tomato
Chickpeas with Onion and Tomato
Eggplant Salad
Eggplant Salad

Summertime Party

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Saffron Risotto with Peas and Asparagus
Saffron Risotto with Peas and Asparagus
Fennel and Tomato Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette
Fennel and Tomato Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette
Strawberries in Marsala
Strawberries in Marsala

Asian Twist

Lemongrass and Mushroom Soup
Lemongrass and Mushroom Soup
Mixed Greens with Miso Dressing
Mixed Greens with Miso Dressing
Vegetable Lo Mein
Vegetable Lo Mein
Fresh Strawberry Pie
Fresh Strawberry Pie