two cookbooks to beat the January cooking blues

It happens each January, I get bored with everything in my cooking repertoire and I start looking for something new to shake things up. While there are a vast amount of recipes available at my fingertips, I enjoy flipping through cookbooks. Two that I recently found at my public library attempt to solve that common weekday cooking challenge: after a full day of work, you want a tasty, healthy, and easy-to-cook meal.

A Modern Way to Cook: 150+ vegetarian recipes for quick, flavor-packed, meals

by Anna Jones

I love the premise, in as quick as 10 minutes you can put quite an array of delicious and healthy meals on the table without sacrificing flavour. I think it must go without saying that the photographs are divine, I loved most the plates that looked partially finished (either in preparation or in enjoyment). The care taken in layout and styling comes through.

However, despite years of cooking experience, and dutifully following the reminder to mise en place, I felt that the time estimates are not accurate, or at least don’t take into account the prep work. I also wish there was some indication of the number of pots and dishes required, several dishes were definitely fussier than I expected when I first read through them.

However, the flavours! I’ve spent most of the past two weeks cooking an array of dishes from this book and definitely enjoyed the taste of every single one. I’m not sure if I can identify one great recipe though I think the flavours of the tomato, miso, and sesame soup were just right after the gazpachos of this summer and my standard tomato soup felt lacking. Even with my frustrations as to time estimates and fussiness, I could see this quickly becoming a well used book in my year-round rotation.

Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavours

Simple by Diana Henryby Diana Henry

This title follows a similar premise to Jones’, simple and flavourful dishes. Organized traditionally by dish type: eggs, salads, pulses, etc, know that this is a book for omnivores! Pork and shellfish are featured along with many other ingredients. Beware some hidden fussiness, the dishes will be worth it, but read through carefully before you make an assumption on how long it will take, there aren’t useful time estimates. The dishes are strong on sophistication, and flavour. My recipe review has focused on the pulses, while I’ve made many of these dishes in some variation before, there’s sometimes something about seeing it in a new format that makes it something different. The red lentil & pumpkin dal was easy and the house smelled amazing and definitely hit the spot. The photos are beautiful and I get hungry reading through it.

Is there a new cookbook that excites you? Please let me know!

three great meals from the Thug Kitchen cookbook

Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ckAs I wrote last week, I borrowed Thug Kitchen from the library based solely on this instagram post. I made three meals directly from it and used it as inspiration for many more. The recipes are varied and for once not reliant on eggplant and mushrooms, something I find unique and welcome for a vegetable-focused cookbook. The instructions are straight forward, though geared toward those not comfortable in the kitchen and not really used to cooking whole (real) food meals. The instructions will help teach you how to get an honest feel for cooking. For example when they say use your hands to mix up something, there’s a reason. I’m at the point in my cooking experience I rolled my eyes at much of those notes and did it my way, but that is experience and because I finally acquired a spring-loaded cookie scoop that is much faster and better than rolling with my hands. There are more recipes I plan to make and I do highly recommend this book.

I made:

wedding soup with lentil bean balls

This was the first recipe I made from the book. It’s a bit more time consuming than the others, but not fussy. It’s a very hands-on dish (and the one that had me pulling out the cookie scoop). I made it for Shabbat dinner and it was very good. The flavours do meld together “wedding”. As my scoop is small next time I’ll probably halve the lentil balls as we had way more than we wanted for the soup and I snacked on them … they’re a great snack, but there were definitely more than we could use.

vegetable pad thai
I’m sorry there aren’t any images of this simple and very tasty meal. I haven’t looked how it was different from how I normally make pad thai, but it was quick to put together. I topped it with some chunky peanut butter.

pumpkin chili

A nice easy chili and more important, different from the chili’s I’ve been making in the slow cooker. It was good and I made it less spicy by just halving spices clear across the board. With canned pumpkin puree and beans it comes together very quickly.

Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ckThug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck
Published 2014 by Rodale Books

some thoughts on food and planning

2015-01-08-BakedPastaI drafted this post standing at the kitchen counter waiting for tonight’s dinner to need my attention again. I stood there more because I sit too much than because I made an elaborate meal. I make just about every single meal we eat, though I don’t do much at breakfast, and I don’t (often) do fussy cooking. Yes, I complain about figuring out what to make for the picky-eater and adding in lunch for both of us now that we both work from home took me about six months to figure out, but it doesn’t take a lot of time or money to do it and do so in a healthy way.

I grew up eating at home, if I wanted to eat then my parents or I made it. Yes, money was tight but it wasn’t difficult or expensive to eat at home. Meals were not elaborate, nor were they highly processed, with the exception of a few canned soup based recipes. TV dinners were an exciting treat and thinking back, as exciting and rare as eating out! We ate local and in-season for the most part, not for any idealistic reason, but because that was how it was. My mum spent a few summers working at a farm stand, so that added even more to our local eating.

Over the years as I’ve gained my own experience, I’ve improved at this part of life management. We’ve increased the number of meals at home, I’ve reduced what we spend at the store and believe we eat (for the most part) better and definitely waste less food. For example, last year (aka 2014) we spent 30% less on groceries than the year prior, we spent on average $67 a week for two adults. There’s still room to improve, but overall I’m impressed that I reduced spending last year, E joined me in the home office club so lunch was added to the list (I used to just scrounge whatever) and I still spent less on groceries!

I still rely a bit too much on a few processed foods that I could replace with some small planning changes but I’ll get there. Last year I finally figured out how to replace hot chocolate mix (the issue was long-expired cocoa). My current biggest cooking crutch is a little embarrassing, I rely on pre-made broth that sits in the pantry until I need it, I go through 2-4 quarts a week and don’t have freezer space or a pressure canner to make it easier to store my own. Could I make those 2-4 quarts with a bit of scheduling? Yes, but I’d love to make more than that in a crazy huge batch on a Sunday and meet my needs for a few weeks not just one.

It isn’t hard to plan healthy meals that don’t cost a fortune, and it doesn’t take that much time each week once you get used to it, however I discovered it’s not easy for me to write up what I’ve learned over the years. Today I want to discuss a beautiful and thoughtful cookbook and a new menu planner service that does a nice job at teaching how to meal plan.

. . .

The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Foods Lifestyle Featuring Bone Broths, Fermented Vegetables, Grass-Fed Meats, Wholesome Fats, Raw Dairy, and KombuchasThe Nourished Kitchen
by Jennifer McGruther
star star star star unstar
book source: Netgalley & public library

I first discovered this book through Netgalley, and yes, it’s taken me over 6 months to write up anything about it, so I borrowed a copy from the library to refresh my memory. I think the delay is because every time I’d flip through I’d get really hungry. The photos are absolutely gorgeous and make me want to make just about everything! I find I like McGruther’s philosophy – cooking with an eye to choosing the sustainable, balanced to enjoy food mindfully, unprocessed and unrefined, prepared in traditional ways (fermenting), and being involved in the community. I really do wish I could do more than I do currently do. One year I hope to join a CSA and I try hard to support the tiny local fair-weather farmer’s market in my community. Within the eight chapters there are recipes that cover the spectrum of foods over the seasons, the list of things I want to make is quite long! There are helpful suggestions, tips, and detailed information throughout including choosing ingredients such as olive oil, how to source fish, and a helpful bean and lentil cooking chart. I think this cookbook is most helpful for those looking to learn more about cooking real wholesome seasonal food.

. . .

I’ve kvetched for years about meal planning yet I enjoy the time I set aside on Thursday mornings when I look at the extended weather forecast, flip through my cookbooks, and try to divine what we want to eat for the next week. In the beginning of my adventures for improving my meal planning skills it was nice to subscribe to a service that showed how to put together a week of diverse meals that didn’t necessarily use 100 different ingredients each night. Way back when it was a new service, I used saving dinner and it worked well as I learned how to plan better. I still go through phases when I wish someone would make all the decisions for me, E’s a picky eater who doesn’t want to answer the question of “what might you like for dinner” until about 3p that day. I also tend to fall into a rut during the winter when I get tired of root vegetables and winter squash.

A friend introduced me to Frugal Real Food Meal Plans and I downloaded the two-week trial. While I’ve decided I don’t need the plans right now, I was impressed enough to want to share it with others. What do I like? It provides a full month of planning. That gives options and lets swapping out happen easier than if there’s just 7 different meals to choose from. There are breakfast and lunch options. Where was this a year ago? There are suggestions on how to budget, how to inventory, and how to plan and substitute. It really it is what I do. I’m excited someone has figured out how to write it up in a easy-to-follow manner. I am also impressed with the variety of meals and that it’s easy to convert the recipes to be vegetarian or kosher. I also like the weekly, daily and nightly planning suggestions. Everything about the planning system impressed me.

I didn’t feel right talking about this plan without making something, so the other night I made the Tortilla Soup that was included in the free 2-week sample. It was amazing and there are more than enough of leftovers for lunch. I wish I had further cut the spices for my picky eater, but that’s ok, more for me. Please, check it out, and let me know what you think.

Tortilla Soup