Simply Laura Lea, a cookbook review

“Simply Laura Lea” is the second cookbook by certified holistic chef, recipe developer and writer Laura Lea.  I remember perusing her first book and thinking that it looked gorgeous and sounded delicious, but I’ve never used her recipes before, not even from her website.  So I was happy to take the opportunity to cook from her newest book.

The book is divided into:

  • Beverages and Smoothies
  • Breakfasts
  • Bakery
  • Snack-itizers
  • Sides
  • Lunch and Dinner Entrees (subdivided into red meat, seafood, poultry, and veggie)
  • Soups and Salads
  • Desserts
  • Spice Mixtures, Dressings, and Sauces

 

Recipes get a helpful symbol to show if they are vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, keto-friendly, gluten-free, and/or paleo.  Another feature that I like is that the recipes mark if there’s a “secondary” recipe in it. For example, in the Breakfast chapter, there’s a recipe for Grain-Free Biscuits with Miso Mushroom Gravy.  The gravy is the secondary recipe. The ingredients for it and its instructions are still on the page, but if you’re ever interested in just making the gravy, you don’t have to look in the Breakfast chapter.  You can go straight to the Spice Mixtures, Dressings, and Sauces chapter. I think it’s a handy reference as sometimes I don’t like making a recipe where half of it is completely listed elsewhere in a cookbook.

Here are some recipes I’d like to try:

  • Coconut Lime Macadamia Smoothie
  • Miso Mushroom Gravy
  • Oil-free Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars
  • Gooey Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
  • Blueberry Peanut Butter Crumble Bars
  • “Hot” Honey Cheddar-Stuffed Sweet Potato Skins
  • Sun-dried Tomato and Walnut Pate
  • French Dip Calzone
  • Sun-dried Tomatoes and Basil Falafel with Green Tahini Sauce
  • Buffalo Tempeh Wraps with Avocado Ranch Dressing
  • Sweet Potato, Peanut, Black Bean Burgers
  • French Onion and Kale Lentil Soup
  • 5-Layer Magic Bars

 

Seeing as my state was (and still is) under Stay-At-Home policy because of Covid-19, I was limited in what I could actually make.  It narrowed my scope down to the BBQ “Baked” Lentils recipe. The quotes is because the recipe gives instructions to cook in a pressure cooker or in a slow cooker.  There is no baking.

You start by mixing your own BBQ spice rub from coconut sugar or monkfruit sweetener, and spices like paprika and cumin. For the rest of the recipe, you use dried lentils, ketchup, molasses, and vegetable stock.  I did not need to make any substitutions for this recipe, but since I was running low on coconut sugar and I had some monkfruit sweetener randomly on hand, I went half-half.

I chose the slow cooker route as I do not have a pressure cooker, electric or stovetop (but if anyone wants to send one to me, I won’t say no – I’m open to do product testing).  It’s essentially a dump and cook recipe that takes about 3.5 hours to 4 hours on low.

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Gonna slow cook some lentils

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When it first finished cooking, I thought it was flavorful but a little too sweet for my liking.  But then as it sat, it somehow lost all its flavor. It was really bizarre.

I haven’t used monkfruit sweetener much so I don’t know how it behaves in cooking.  To be honest, most monkfruit sweeteners are erythritol with monkfruit extract blended in.  I bought it on a whim to make some diabetic friendly desserts and just never did. (FYI, the small bag in my kitchen is Lakanto.)  Real monkfruit, aka luo han guo, is a bit pricey and therefore harder to get. Lea does not make any mention about monkfruit sweetener affecting food flavor,  only that it’s been tested as safe, has no effect on blood sugar, and that she uses it in cooked foods as the heat helps with dissolving.

Since the other ingredients in this recipe are fairly normal and I’ve cooked with coconut sugar plenty of times, I think it was the monkfruit sweetener that ruined the dish for me.  At some point I’d like to try this recipe again with just coconut sugar and see how it tastes. (But that’s not going to be right now. There are more important things in life right now than restocking my coconut sugar.)

I originally served the lentils with some bell pepper and grana padano because I had them, but also because I thought the flavors would pair well enough.  But it was really messy to eat, so I’m not doing that again. And then, since I had leftover BBQ seasoning, I roasted some cabbage wedges lightly seasoned with it.  This worked out much better. I still thought the lentils were blah, though.

Not willing to admit defeat or give this book a bad mark based on one recipe, I went through the book again to see what I could make quickly with what was in my pantry.  Enter Lea’s recipe for Chamomile Ginger Turmeric Latte. Technically, I didn’t have almond milk in my house, but I went with the hack of 1 Tbsp almond butter blended with 1 cup water, and proceeded with the recipe.  And, OMG, I loved this drink. Somehow it never occurred to me that the flavors of almond and ginger pair really well together. The chamomile tea is to help tame the turmeric flavor, which I also approve of. (Am I the only one who thinks that the internet’s use of turmeric is excessive?)  

I loved this flavor combination so well that I’m trying to decide what other dishes I can use it in.  It also made my lentil disappointment an easier pill to swallow.

Overall book impression?  If you’re into healthy eating, I recommend it. I like that it’s not purely paleo, not vegetarian, not keto, etc.  It has a little of everything. It’s just approachable cooking to cooking with whole foods.

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Blue Hills Press for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  

With COVID-19 self-quarantine in effect, my scope of recipe-testing was limited.  Some modifications may have been made. I apologize that I could not recipe-test better.

 

Reference Links:

https://llbalanced.com/

https://www.simplylauralea.com/

https://www.bluehillspress.com/shop/simply-laura-lea-signed-edition

https://www.bonappetit.com/story/nut-milk-hack

Power Spicing, a cookbook review

One skill that I constantly feel like I am trying to develop is flavor combining.  Growing up, the flavors I was most familiar with were soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and scallions.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves only made their appearance in a spiced apple cake that my mother would make on occasion because it was my favorite.  Anything beyond that can easily feel alien to me.

I think it’s the main reason why I am a tad obsessed with spices and spice mixes.  Power Spicing by Rachel Beller would have been the perfect book for me when I was getting into cooking.  It’s a cute cookbook with only about 60 recipes, and an overview of 25 spices. This is not Spice Master Lior Lev Sercarz level of cooking.  But that doesn’t mean that this book doesn’t have any value. One could argue that maybe it has more relevance to the average home cook.  

In the spice introduction, Beller mentions potential health/medicinal benefits of the 25 spices she chose to highlight.  For example, “studies show that cinnamon may help regulate blood sugars, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce hemoglobin A1C levels.”  She also includes some general helpful information on each spice that varies from where you can find a certain spice to flavor substitutes.  She also offers from spice pairings based on absorption enhancers, synergistic actions, or doubling potential health effects.  

The book has seven main chapters:

  • DIY spice blends
  • Daily power beverages
  • Spicy and sweet breakfasts
  • Mains that pack a punch
  • Sizzling up your sides
  • Dressings and dips
  • Snacks and sweets

A lot of the recipes are plant based, but not all of them.  Some recipes that were of interest to me are:

  • Red-hot chili cocoa
  • Butternut squash and apple bake
  • Apple-zested muesli
  • Tzimmes oat crumble
  • Lentil salad with spicy vinaigrette
  • Vegan creamy brussels sprout Caesar
  • Warm fennel salad
  • Green goddess fenugreek tahini sauce
  • Spiced nut and date bars

Since the temperatures are dropping here in New England, I was mostly interested in the spiced warm drinks.  I made three of them (but only remembered to take photos of two). The first one I made was the golden choco-latte. The purpose of this drink is to help soothe inflammation and to balance your blood sugars.  Honestly, I just thought that it was pretty tasty.

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spice blend 🙃

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The second drink I tried was the saffron and cardamom latte.  This was the recipe that caught my eye first when I initially received the cookbook.  Made with saffron, green cardamom, cinnamon, and fennel, it’s supposed to boost your mood, strengthen your immune system, and help with bloating.  I was mostly curious about using saffron and cardamom as a blend. (I use cardamom today when I’m making masala chai.) Sadly, I was disappointed in this one.  Also, my efforts looked nothing like the photo. It just didn’t taste interesting enough to me. Maybe the fennel is a little too strong? I think I would have preferred just plain fennel tea (which is something I do from time to time).  Maybe I’ll play with the ratios of cardamom and fennel next time (if there is a next time).

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Matcha, cinnamon, ginger

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So then I made the stabilizing matcha in hopes that it would make up for the latte.  The stabilizing matcha says that the “combination of ginger, cinnamon, and matcha has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of diabetes.”  I was a little worried that the cinnamon and ginger would completely overwhelm the matcha, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The spices hit the tongue first, but I think the matcha lingered afterward the most.  Final review? Yeah, I think this made up for the latte. I’m normally a plain green tea kind of person, but I think I can make an exception for this recipe from time to time.

While I recommend taking health claims with some skepticism, I don’t think there’s any harm in experimenting with whole and natural foods to try to increase benefits.  Especially if those experiments are tasty. Anyone with an interest in general spice blending or looking for a starting point in spice blending will find Power Spicing to be useful.

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Clarkson Potter for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.