Vegan Meal Prep, a cookbook review

Meal prep is a topic near and dear to my heart.  I’m often prepping 4 days of breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Sundays.  I try to go for meatless for breakfast and lunch, mostly because I know that I should amp up my vegetable intake in general.  You would think about after three years of meal prep (more or less) that I’d have it down to a science, but I really don’t.

Breakfasts tend to be the same recipe, week after week, until I can’t stand it anymore.  Lunches can go either way. They are variations of the same basic recipe or simple-but-new-to-me recipes.  Dinner is the one meal that I give myself more time and freedom for experimenting. I’m often flipping through recipes all week long, trying to decide what I am willing and wanting to make that weekend.  And sometimes, I end up in a mild panic and just use a tried-and-true recipe when I’m too indecisive and running out of time.

I’ve always wanted a cookbook that did all the thinking for me, which led me to pick up a review copy of Vegan Meal Prep by Robin Asbell.  Asbell’s latest cookbook is basically detailed step-by-step meal prep instructions, from start to finish.

The book is split into three major sections.  “Setting Yourself Up for Success: Five Weeks of Vegan Meals” is the first section.  The highlight in this section, in my opinion, is Vegan Nutrition Basics. Asbell is pretty detailed: listing sources of protein, omega-3, calcium, iron, and zinc.  It’s a pretty good one stop reference if you’re fully vegan.

The second section is “Meal Prep 101: Planning, Shopping, and Prepping.”  This is where you’ll find the overview of the five week meal plan, shopping lists, and the prepping instructions for each week.

The third section is “Let’s Get Cooking! 125 Vegan Recipes”, which is broken down into these chapters.

  • Vegan Staples
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Salads, Dressing, and Sides
  • Desserts and Snacks

Here are the recipes that I’m most interested in trying:

  • Whole Grain Baking Mix
  • Lemon Pecan Muffins with Apricot Cashew Spread
  • Smoky Tempeh Taco Meat
  • Sweet Potato Chickpea Cakes
  • Barley with Vanilla Apples and Spiced Sweet Potato
  • Blueberry Breakfast Squares
  • Farro and Kimchi Bowls with Kale and Sesame Dressing
  • Farro Salad with Apricots, Carrots, and Spinach
  • Tempeh, Brown Rice, and Roasted Veggie Wraps
  • Tempeh Pasta Salad with Tomato and Avocado
  • Black Bean and Sweet Potato Curry
  • Black Bean and Squash Chili with Dumplings
  • Matcha-Glazed Pistachio Blondies
  • Peanut Butter Raisin Cookies

The things I liked most upon first impressions were the tips, variations, and “to pack for lunch” blurbs that frequently show up on corners of the recipe pages.  I also like how the ingredient lists are generally not intimidating nor filled with hard to find items.

The only critiques I have are two.  I wish nutritional information were listed.  I’ve seen other meal prep books that do. But for the purpose of mixing and matching for people who might be trying to watch their sugar intake, etc., it would be handy to have.  The other issue I have is the order of the recipe section. The whole book is planned around the five week meal plan/schedule but the recipes are in order by course. At least within each course type chapter, recipes are back in order by schedule and marked with which week/day the recipe belongs to.  If you’re planning to mix and match, then recipes ordered by course type makes sense. But I think if you’re planning to use the book as written, then having the recipes ordered by course type makes less sense.

In neither a “pro” nor a “con” comment, all of the recipes are meant to make about 4 servings.  So while I had originally planned on following a full week of recipes for this review, it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t feasible for me.  I am not trying to feed a family of four (But you might be!),

I ended up testing two recipes: Baked Marinated Tempeh, and Breakfast Protein Cookies with Dates and Pistachios.

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Breakfast cookies

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Both were easy to make.  I’ve made breakfast cookies before but it never occurred to me to use dates and pistachios.  I tend to use a lot of raisins. (In fact, I didn’t have time to get dates for this recipe so I used golden raisins which I think are milder in raisin flavor than the more familiar thompson seedless raisins.  Please don’t hate me for substituting.)  The cookies have good protein content, due to the sneaky addition of tofu, and don’t taste too sweet.  Having said that, the cookies actually use more sweetener than my typical baked oatmeal, and I don’t think you can reduce it as the maple syrup acts as part of the wet ingredients.  (Well, maybe you could increase the tofu?  Maple syrup and tofu are the only wet ingredients in this recipe.  Vanilla doesn’t count.  And like I said, it doesn’t taste too sweet so would reducing the sweetener be a futile exercise?)  The portion size is 3 cookies, and it seems to mostly sate my morning hunger.  (But I have a really high appetite in the mornings.  Sometimes I want more food.  Your mileage may vary.)

I liked the baked marinated tempeh too.  It never occurred to me to use apple juice as part of the marinade before.  I decided to mix up the baked tempeh with leftover marinade (which I cooked with cornstarch thinking i could use it as a sauce) and some cauliflower rice.  The natural tempeh flavor was not too strong in this recipe, so I think I’ll use it again in the near future. (However, the cooked marinade plus cauliflower tasted like… fish?  It’s a subtle enough flavor that I will push through it, but yeah, I’m never doing that combination again. lol!)

Overall, I recommend this book for anyone who wants to do more meal prepping, want a reasonable food budget, and have more than one mouth to feed.  Oh, and if you’re just trying to up your veggie intake (like me). I do have the minor reservations as listed above, but that might not bother you as much as it does me.

 

Reference Link:

https://www.robertrose.ca/book/vegan-meal-prep-5-week-plan-125-ready-go-recipes

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

 

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Fit Men Cook, a cookbook review

I don’t watch a lot of traditional television anymore, but I do watch a lot of Youtube videos.  Some of the channels that I regularly keep up with are Bon Appetit, You Suck at Cooking, NPR Music, and (yes) Fit Men Cook.

I love Kevin Curry’s onscreen personality, and his content.  I’ve mentioned this in passing before, but the thing I love next to food is fitness.  I’m not a total gym rat, but I workout regularly for both general health and mental health. “Healthy cooking” at that point is a natural intersection of interests, which is how I found Curry’s Youtube channel.  I can’t remember if I was looking for a certain recipe, or just for meal prep ideas (most likely the later). And later when the FMC app was made available, I immediately downloaded it onto my tablet.

Hilariously, I never got around to making any of his recipes until the release of his new cookbook, which is also named Fit Men Cook.  I’m not sure why. A few of his recipes are on the to-do-list but I guess “out of sight, out of mind”? (This is the main reason why I will never give up my physical cookbooks.  I easily forget all the things I want to make if I’m just bookmarking a web page.  I’m more likely to flip through a cookbook when I’m looking for ideas.)

The recipe section is broken down into these chapters:

  • Breakfast
  • Poultry
  • Land and Sea
  • Salads, Soups, Sauces
  • Grass Fed AF
  • Comfort Food Makeovers
  • Sides
  • Sweets and Snacks


Every recipe has flags for:

  • Blender
  • Dairy free
  • Follower favorite
  • Gluten free
  • High Protein
  • Keto friendly
  • Low carb
  • One skillet/pot
  • Quick and easy
  • Slow cooker
  • Team #nowaste
  • Plant based

More importantly if you’re tracking your food, every recipe comes with nutritional information for calories, protein, carbs, fat, fiber, sugar, and sodium.

It also is comforting that, like his onscreen personality, none of the recipes sound intimidating.  

The recipe I was going to make for this review was his Chicken Crust Pizza (also available on his website at the time of this post).  But then the coldest week this season hit the Greater Boston area, and I quickly changed my mind. I tried the Lean Tex-Mex Turkey Chili as my inaugural FMC recipe.  

The ingredients are fairly common for a a chili: garlic, bell pepper, chili powder, cumin, oregano, a can of chopped green chilies, broth, and tomatoes.  This particular recipe uses ground turkey, but Curry mentions 95% lean ground beef, ground chicken, or TVP as substitutes. I did not make any substitutions.

It was very easy to make and the results were tasty.  I do think that it was more watery than what I was accustomed to in a chili, but it proved to be a minor detail for me.  I chose to bulk my bowl up with half of a roasted sweet potato… and consequently made it less healthy by adding queso fresco.  (Ooops?) But in all seriousness, the sweet potato and cheese paired great so I don’t have much by way of regrets. That is to say that this chili is more on the basic/fundamental side of things but it’s easy to tweak it to your liking and with little extra effort.

Then in a rare move, I made another FMC recipe during my following meal prep day.  This time, emboldened by the chili results, I made the Chicken Crust Pizza. (Also, the weather isn’t as miserably cold this week.)   

It smelled amazing when it was cooking. It looked kind of amazing too when it was done. However, I’m not sure this recipe is really my thing as I generally despise (DESPISE) chicken breast which is used as the crust in his pizza recipe.  I think it has a lot of potential and I think I need to experiment some more.  My chicken crust was too dry.  (For this recipe, I did not follow strictly as I wasn’t intending to add it to the review.  Next time I will add more sauce and hope for the best.) But if you’re counting macros or just trying to meal prep a healthier version of pizza, then I would recommend this recipe.

 For me, I’m glad I started off with the chili recipe as it was the better of my two results.

Other recipes that I want to try (probably after the holidays… when I’m trying to get off the junk food wagon):

  • Quick protein granola
  • Slow cooker banana chai oatmeal
  • Thyme cheeseburger breakfast casserole
  • Pulled chicken mole
  • Spicy un-Texan black bean chili
  • Cold coconut curry in a jar
  • Tempeh and butternut squash ginger fry
  • Red coconut Dahl
  • Mac and chili bachelor(ette) bowl
  • Chocolate-crusted strawberry cheez-cake
  • Nut butter cookies

 

Overall, I’m really enjoying this book and wish Kevin Curry continued success with his Fit Men Cook brand.  I highly recommend the book to anyone who looking of meal prep ideas, or anyone who needs to be a bit more careful with their eating habits.  I’m not sure if I’d recommend this book to someone who is a complete beginner in the kitchen, but with a few basic skills, all of the recipes are very accessible.

 

Reference Links:

https://fitmencook.com/

https://www.youtube.com/user/fitmencook

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Fit-Men-Cook/Kevin-Curry/9781501178726

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

 

Cook90, a cookbook review

Have you heard of the #cook90 challenge?  I hadn’t until very recently. It’s a cooking challenge put forward by David Tamarkin and Epicurious.  I’m not 100% sure, but I think this was Tamarkin’s first post on it:

https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/how-to-cook-every-single-meal-in-january-article

The rules, as stated online, are:

1. COOK EVERY MEAL YOU EAT THE ENTIRE MONTH
If you’ve transformed raw ingredients with heat, you’ve cooked. Likewise, if you’ve taken two or more raw ingredients and combined them to make something greater than the sum of their parts (a salad, a sandwich, etc), you’ve also cooked. On the flip side, heating a frozen pizza in the oven, or warming a can of soup on the stovetop—these things are not cooking.

2. NEVER COOK THE SAME THING MORE THAN TWICE…
That’s right, you can’t make cacio e pepe night after night (though that does sound sort of nice). Forcing yourself to cook new recipes is exactly the thing that will earn you new skills, new favorites to put in your repertoire—and maybe even some new accolades from your family.

3. …EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES TO BREAKFAST
Breakfast is its own beast—you can eat the same thing for breakfast for the entire month. As long as you’re preparing your own breakfast and not buying it—no BECs from the corner deli, no McMuffins—you’re good.

4. RELY ON LEFTOVERS, BUT NOT TOO MUCH
#Cook90 is all about fitting home-cooked food into a hectic, busy life. Leftovers—and nextovers (more on that here)—are key to the strategy (half the point of making a killer chicken parm is so you can eat it again for lunch the next day). But also key to #cook90 is branching out and really flexing those cooking muscles. So eat leftovers once. Eat them twice if you need to. But after that, it’s time to move on.

5. TAKE 3 BREAKS
You get three passes on #cook90—three meals that you can eat at a restaurant, order in, or just have somebody else cook for you. You don’t have to use these, of course, but #cook90 will probably go easier if you do.

6.COOK WITH OTHER PEOPLE!
Making dinner with friends and family totally counts, and it can prevent you from feeling isolated in the kitchen. So plan a few dinner parties , or just invite a friend or two over on a Tuesday night. As long as you cook a reasonable amount of the food (we’re working on the honor system here), it counts.

Much like Bon Appetit’s Food-Lovers Cleanse, the challenge and its curated recipes were popular enough and printed into a book.  The book is divided into three main sections:

  • Part One – Welcome to Cook90 (Introduction, Rules, Fatigue, 12 Questions, etc.)
  • Part Two – The Four Part Plan for Cooking Everyday (Meal Planning, Shopping, Pantry, “Nextovers”)
  • Part Three – A Month of Cooking Everyday (Suggested Meal Plans, Recipes, Breakfast, Lunch, Weeknights, Weekends)

There is also a front recipe index is divided into 30 min or less, 15 min or less, and main ingredients, which makes recipe perusal easy when you’re not sure what you want to make.

Things to I’d like to try:

  • Blueberry – Tahini – Oatmeal Smoothie
  • Ricotta with Tomatoes, Lemon, and Mint
  • Savory Yogurt Bowl
  • Mojo Chicken with Rice and Beans
  • Quick Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Quick Sesame Chicken with Broccoli
  • Sweet Potatoes with Chorizo, Mushrooms, and Lime Cream
  • Braised Rotisserie Chicken with Bacon, Tomatoes, and Kale
  • Vietnamese Port Patty Salad with Rice Noodles
  • Smoky Beans and Greens on Toast

I can’t comment on any recipes that I’m not interested because the review copy of the book I have is not the final copy.  There might be misprinting, and there is a little bit of missing content. So, I cannot make any criticisms in good conscience.

For the purpose of this book review, I made the grain bowl with spiced squash, mushrooms, and curried yogurt.  (I did not realize until just now that the same recipe is available on the Epicurious website.)  I used some quick cooking Trader Joe’s farro for the grain portion, acorn squash (because I couldn’t find delicata), and used arugula over watercress because it was already in my kitchen.

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Pre-oven

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It was a simple recipe but not boring.  My kitchen smelled amazing the whole time the veggies were in the oven.  Regarding the final results, I found the flavors to be a little busy.  I felt like the mushrooms, arugula, and curry yogurt dominated all other flavors.  But still, I feel like I won some random non-scale victory here. I’ve used the curry yogurt on other things, and I’m now tempted to cook acorn squash with onions and cinnamon more often.

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Post oven

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Do I think this is a fun book?  Yes. I’m not sure I’d ever do the real challenge, but aspects of it appeals to me.  I cook all my own meals Sunday through Friday, and have done so for the last couple of years. I pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast everyday because Tamarkin is right on the mark – breakfast can be a beast!  I technically don’t cook the same thing in one month, but I have been known to cook the same protein twice in a row with different dry rubs (just enough of a difference so I don’t get completely bored).  I go out to eat maybe only twice a month. Probably against the rules, my family likes to meet up once a week for dinner and it’s typically my mother who does the cooking. Sometimes, family meals is take out from Chinatown.  lol!

But the one rule I know I’d have trouble with not breaking is no. 4 for “don’t rely on leftovers.”  I cook just for myself, so I’ll typically cook a standard 4 serving recipe and eat it throughout the week.  Tamarkin might call it leftovers but I prefer to call it meal prep. A lot of nights, I’m starving and not getting home until 6:30p.  I can’t wait to cook and then eat. Getting “hangry” is not an option.  So, food has to be re-heated quickly, which means employing some help from Chef Mike (“Mike” as in microwave).

Overall though, the recipes aren’t intimidating and they shouldn’t be because the authors want you to succeed.  The recipes are also good meal prep recipes.  Tamarkin and the Epicurious team isn’t totally against meal prep. They just call it “nextovers.” That is to say that “the portions you don’t eat are your nextovers—ready for you to turn into something different than tonight’s dinner the very next day.”  I’m just… unlikely to do that.

Pick up a copy of Cook90 if the challenge is something you want to tackle.  Or pick up a copy if you’re just looking to expand your arsenal of “everyday friendly” recipes.

The book is officially released on December 11th but, in the meantime, you can and should check out the related content on the Epicurious website.

 

Disclaimer – I received this book from Little, Brown and Company for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/grain-bowl-with-spiced-squash-mushrooms-and-curried-yogurt

https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/cook90-2017-week-1-article

https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/the-official-cook90-2018-meal-plan-gallery

https://www.littlebrown.com/titles/david-tamarkin/cook90/9780316420136/