Healthy Eats, a cookbook review

“Healthy Eats” is the latest cookbook from Six Sisters’ Stuff.  I’ve reviewed one of their books before, with some mixed feelings.  I loved their pulled pork recipe, but wasn’t into the amount of pre-made stuff being employed.  (To be fair, the book was called “Six Ingredients”, and cooks often have to cheat an ingredient to get the best flavor when they’re not working with much.)  Since healthy eating is a different concept than minimal ingredients, I was curious about the contents of this new book.

Chapter breakdown is much like their previous book:

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Main Dishes
  • Side Dishes
  • Snacks and Desserts

 

Things to I’d like to try:

  • Hearty breakfast cookies
  • Red potato turkey bacon bake
  • Protein packed egg salad sandwiches
  • Shredded beef and sweet potato tacos
  • Honey lime grilled chicken
  • Avocado sour cream
  • Salisbury steak meatballs
  • Garlic lime sweet potato fries
  • Healthy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
  • Skinny frozen strawberry bites
  • Flourless banana bread

 

Initial impression?  The recipes are straight-forward.  Most of the ingredient lists are 8 ingredients total.  Some are more.  Some are much less.  None of the recipes are exotic, all are fairly familiar North American fare.  In fact my mom, who is an excellent home cook but not very adventurous, really liked the look of the recipes here whereas she’s shown much less interest in some of my other cookbooks.

Since my location is still under self-isolation/quarantine advisory, I was limited at what I could recipe test with little to no changes.

The original recipe I picked out was the egg rolls in a bowl.  Ingredients consist of sesame oil, olive oil, rice wine vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, ground chicken, black pepper, coleslaw mix, and scallions.  I didn’t have coleslaw mix per se, but I had green cabbage.  And honestly, coleslaw mix is mostly cabbage with some carrots.  Not a major ingredient replacement in my opinion.

How did it turn out?  Initially under-seasoned.  I also thought the cooking instructions were odd.  I like the idea that you make the sauce directly in the pan, and then add the meat but the recipe has you cook the ground chicken on low for about 12 minutes.  And then you add the veggies and cook for about 3 minutes more.  That is overcooked chicken in my opinion.  I added my cabbage earlier.  However, that wasn’t enough to improve on the dish.  There’s no garlic.  Not even onions.  If you’re going to use ground chicken, you really need more flavor.  I tried not to fuss with the recipe but, in the end, I added garlic powder and onion powder to make this edible by my standards.  At least it tasted better the next day, but I’m still going to give this particular recipe as it stands a failing grade.

I try to be a fair person, so I decided to test a second recipe.  This time, I went with peanut butter protein bars made of quick cooking oats, shredded unsweetened coconut, peanut butter, honey, apple sauce, chocolate protein powder, chia seeds, vanilla, and semisweet chocolate chips.  I had to make two substitutions in this due to my kitchen inventory.  I swapped the chocolate protein powder with vanilla protein powder, and chia seeds with hemp seeds.  I’m happy to report that my results were tasty!  I don’t think the flavor of protein powder is very important as the dominant flavors are peanut butter and coconut.  

But then how does one go about reviewing a book when the scorecard is 1 pass and 1 fail?   I kept mulling this over when I decided that there was still one more recipe that I could try with very little change.  On a whim this past Sunday, I decided to make the blueberry protein pancakes.  This time my ingredients were rolled oats, banana, eggs, baking soda, vanilla protein powder, milk, and frozen raspberries instead of blueberries.

The pancakes were good, but not great.  Solid passing grade.  I liked that they were easy to put together.  This particular recipe is a blender batter recipe.  I recommend letting the batter sit for at least 5 minutes if you can.  I found that my first pancakes were quite thin but my last pancakes were fluffier.  Flavor was pretty good.  They are just sweet enough to eat without syrup if you want but it won’t be disgustingly sweet if you add syrup.  My only issue was general texture.  They are on the dry side, probably because of the protein powder.  The recipe doesn’t specify a whey protein powder or vegan protein powder, so I wonder if one would do better than the other.  Most likely though, the texture would benefit from cutting back on the protein powder some.  Syrup would definitely help cover up the dryness, but if you don’t want to use syrup then maybe some fresh fruit?  I’m not sure.

Overall, I’m recommending with reservation.  Like all cookbooks, some recipes are better than others but I think the home cook using this book should heed their instincts, and treat the recipes more like guidelines.  Having said that, this is probably also a good book for someone who wants to cook healthier but doesn’t want to stock a large pantry of ingredients.  Because while I might be willing to use more effort in a recipe, I recognize that not everyone may feel the same.

 

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Shadow Mountain for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is available for sale now.

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://www.sixsistersstuff.com/

https://shadowmountain.com/

Chinese Street Food, a cookbook review

I grew up on simple, home-cooked Cantonese food.  I remember a lot of soups, stir-fried gai lan, fried rice, stir-fried noodles, stir-fried bok choy, etc.  If my mom was feeling particularly ambitious, she’d make squid or fried fish.  But there were somethings that my mom would never make like joong (aka zongzi) because “it’s too much of a pain in the butt.”  (Totally her words, not mine.)

In short, there’s a lot of Chinese food that I missed out on.  And now that we’re all older, my mom is honestly kind of tired of cooking the same recipes over and over again.  (But not so much that she’ll acquiesce to my requests to make joong together.  lol!)

I’ve been looking for some fun cooking projects that she might like and I think I might have finally hit the jackpot.  “Chinese Street Food”, by Howie Southworth and Greg Matza, is a collection of recipes that try to capture popular street food across China, food that is the equivalent of Western casual take-out.

The book is divided into these chapters:

  • What’s in a Name?
  • Good Morning, China
  • Muslim Street
  • When Ma met La
  • You’ll Love This, We Promise
  • Simple Poetry
  • What Came With the Camels
  • Chinese Hospitality
  • Now That’s One Express Panda
  • Sweet Street

Personally, I’m not in love with these titles.  For the most part, I can’t remember what recipes are in most of the chapters.  But I’ll forgive it because I want to try all the recipes anyway.

The recipes probably most recognizable are mantou (steamed bread), biangbiang mian (table slap noodles), jianbing (pancake wraps), youtiao (fried dough stick), and (cong youbing (scallion pancakes).

But there are a lot of recipes that I completely don’t recognize and my mother doesn’t either.  The book is in English, but the recipes also come with titles in Chinese characters.  I’m not sure if they’re traditional or simplified characters, but I think they look more like traditional characters to me.  It’s enough Chinese that it sparked joy and interest in my mom.  I didn’t get a chance to ask her which ones she most interested in, but I really, REALLY want to make la niurou (cured beef), which starts off the Muslim Street chapter.  It’s basically corned beef but with Chinese seasonings.  As someone who was raised in Greater Boston and loves a good New England boiled dinner, this is a must!  (Fact!  I make corned beef every year.)

In fact, I was planning on making la niurou for this review, but I had trouble getting my hands on beef brisket in a short amount of time.  (But since the Jewish High Holy Days are around the corner, I’m hoping I’ll have an easier time of picking up some brisket this weekend or something.)

(Too bad though, I bet it would have tasted fantastic with the vegan ramen leftovers.  *blinks innocently*)

Anyway, some of the recipes that I want to make at some point are:

  • Steamed brown sugar-filled triangle buns
  • Baked sandwich buns
  • Sesame Millet Porridge
  • Red bean filled zongzi
  • Stewed pork sandwiches

While I did not make the cured beef, I did try out one of the simpler recipes in the book.  It was for peanut butter pancakes from the sweets chapter.   The ingredients were straight-forward: all purpose flour, yeast, milk, sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs, oil, peanut butter, and soy sauce.  I really liked this recipe!  I’m not a huge “condiment” person so I only made a half-batch of the peanut filling which kind of reminded me of salted caramel.  I’m also not a sweet and salty person because I’m weird like that.  So when I make this again (and I *will*), I’ll probably just fill the pancakes with peanut butter or almond butter.

The pancakes themselves were easy to make.  They do require a little bit of planning because they are yeasted pancakes and need 90 minutes before cooking to bubble and rise.  But that yeast gave it a spongy texture that I really liked.  The yeast also adds a bit to the flavor.

The only thing about the recipe that I didn’t like was I wasn’t sure how big these pancakes were supposed to be.  I only knew that the recipe served 4-6, and I was supposed to use a small skillet with a lid.  (Yes, a lid.  These pancakes are not supposed to be flipped over.  You use the lid to trap steam and help cook up the top.  That was something that took me a bit to realize.)  In the end, I used two small ladles worth (as in salad dressing ladle) and made about 8 pancakes.

My overall impression of the book?  I love it.  And once you have what I consider to be the pantry ingredients, you are pretty much set to make a lot of the recipes.  There’s a lot of repeat use of dark soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, sesame paste (or tahini), soy sauce, star anise, etc.  The recipes also don’t look too intimidating.

I think the next recipe I make, I’ll let my mom pick it.  (Well, if I don’t make the la niurou first.)

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of Chinese food, or someone who is looking for a fun new cooking project.

 

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

A cold weather summary

dsc00408

Eek! I have several photos to share and yet I have been so lazy about making a post.

My punishment? Doing one big post as concise as possible. gah!

Well, let’s do it in months:

October – the household and a couple of friends went to Mack’s in New Hampshire for apple picking and squash overdosing. Personally I purchased four squashes: a delicata, two sweet dumplings, and a sunshine (which I later learned is a variety of kobocha, aka Japanese pumpkin).

sushine squash

sushine squash

I liked the delicata fine, but it wasn’t anything special. I adored the sweet dumpling, but maybe that is because I stuffed it with spiced apples. The sunshine was definitely a favorite, but I was sad that I had stuffed it with apples too. The sunshine squash had a flavor a lot more like chestnuts than like your normal squashes.

November – I started to make a lot of batches of what I like to call “pancake muffins.” They are exactly like what they sound like. Pancake batter cooked in an oven instead of on the stove top. So much faster and cleaner! And in easy to grab serving sizes too.

I have been using the Bisquick Healthy mix (because I am too lazy to even mix together basic pancake batter) with yogurt as my liquid to simulate a yogurt pancake batter. I’ve tried blueberry yogurt (the house favorite), strawberry (also pretty good), apple with cinnamon (very disappointing flavor-wise), and mixed berry. Last night, I made a batch with raspberry yogurt. Basically, the more flavorful yogurts work best for this. Once the batter was mixed, I plopped it into a muffin tin at 375F for about 15 minutes.

They taste best straight out of the oven, but keep well in the freezer. The only downside to storing in the freezer is that they seem a little drier after you reheat them.

Seriously though, pancake muffins have become my latest addiction. They also seem to keep me full longer than my favorite healthy cereals.

pancake muffins

pancake muffins

December – the new obsession? Challah bread. I made my first loaf last weekend and I’m making my second loaf as we speak. I nearly freaked out when I was in the middle of making my first loaf. In a moment of ditziness, I used water from my Brita filter… the same Brita that I keep in the fridge for cold water. Three hours later, the dough had barely budged.

I was worried that I had ruined it. Luckily, I’ve had some introduction to slow fermentation using colder temperatures, I didn’t think all was lost. So I decided to warm up the dough in a slightly warmed oven. Once all of the chill was gone, I left my bread bucket with my dough on my kitchen counter. Three hours later, it had doubled beautifully. I went about braiding it (also my first time) and let it do it’s final rise (and skipped the second rise completely because it was getting rather late).

My propensity for laziness reared its ugly head again, and I used a milk wash instead of a proper egg wash. When everything was said and done, the challah tasted wonderful but it just wasn’t shiny. I have nothing to compare it to, but I was pretty satisfied with my first challah attempt. (The recipe I used was from Beth Hensperger’s “Bread Made Easy” book, if you’re curious.)

With the slow fermentation accident, I wondered how it would turn out if I did a proper slow fermentation challah bread. On top of that, I had been watching bread videos featuring no-knead techniques which is basically a slow fermentation (http://foodwishes.blogspot.com/).

Couldn’t the two be put together? I thought I was onto something interesting.

I realized today that I wasn’t all that original. Googling “no kead challah recipes” spit out more responses than I had expected. Eventually, I came across a post on Steamy Kitchen (http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2008/01/13/challah/) that seemed to have exactly what my head was thinking of experimenting with. I thought about re-using Beth Hensperger’s recipe, but decided to go with what was on the Steamy Kitchen blog. Overall, the measurements weren’t too different. My only substitution was to use oil instead of butter.

So now, I have a dough just hanging out in my fridge, waiting for tomorrow when I will actually shape and bake it.

In the meantime, here are photos of the challah loaf I made last weekend. It only lasted a few days before I had eaten it all. (Photos of challah loaf no. 2 later.)

~ Mikan

dsc00516

dsc00513dsc00510