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.

View this post on Instagram

Gonna slow cook some lentils

A post shared by @ awesomesauceeats on

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

Start Simple, a cookbook review

I know we’re only into February but “Start Simple” by Lukas Volger might end up being my favorite cookbook of 2020.  I know, those are some bold words! But this is the first time in a very long time that I’ve come across a book and I couldn’t find a recipe that I didn’t want to make.

In this book, Volger presents recipes that are realistic for everyday cooking.  Some recipes are for four servings, but there are also a lot of recipes for one serving or two servings to reflect those readers who are not cooking for a family of four.  These recipes are generally great for weeknight cooking. The ingredient list is often 10 ingredients or less, and nothing very exotic.

The book is divided by eleven primary ingredients:

  • Winter squash
  • Tofu
  • Hearty greens
  • Beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Tortillas
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower or broccoli
  • Summer squash
  • Dessert (not a primary ingredient but who doesn’t like a little dessert?)

 

Here is a sampling of recipes:

  • Steel-cut oats with squash and tahini
  • Peanut butter and greens sandwich
  • Spicy beans and greens over polenta
  • Grilled eggplant, scallion, and white bean dip
  • Black beans with scallion-lime vinaigrette, avocado, and spinach
  • White bean, tomato, and dill salad with charred romaine
  • Cold sweet potatoes with spiced seeds and yogurt
  • Sweet potato and tahini soup
  • Broken pasta with roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, walnuts, and pesto’d Ricotta
  • Cauliflower and kimchi sandwiches
  • Roasted broccoli sauce
  • Savory zucchini beer bread
  • Polenta and pine nut biscotti

 

For my preliminary recipe, I went with the kale-cabbage slaw with quinoa and brown sugar-dijon vinaigrette.  The recipe is pretty easy (to reiterate, nothing in the books seems to be complicated as the author promised in the introduction).  You make some quinoa. You salt and massage the kale and cabbage. You make a vinaigrette. Finally, you mix it all together.

The vinaigrette was very sweet.  I know… that’s a really obvious thing to say when it’s got “brown sugar” as part of the name.  But I’d say start with half the amount of brown sugar, and then add as needed. The amount you want is going to depend on the punch of your mustard.  I was using a homemade mustard (my first attempt at mustard so it could have been better) that didn’t have much punch, so I only needed 4 teaspoons instead of the full 2 tablespoons.

I enjoyed this.  It preps ahead really well.  Because kale and cabbage are really sturdy greens, this slaw made for great work lunches.  But as much as I liked it, I didn’t love it. Which is totally ok! It doesn’t mean that I won’t make it again.  It just means that I’ll try out some of the other salad/slaw recipes in this book before I go back to this one.

I felt compelled to make another recipe almost as soon as I finished the slaw.  Since I had some cabbage left from the slaw (and I happened to have cheese in the fridge), I made the cheesy cabbage and white bean soup.  I’m glad I did too. It was another easy recipe to put together, and perfect to eat on a February day in Boston. It was really cozy and had a lot of good flavor.  (To be fair, since I’m not vegetarian, I was using a homemade chicken broth for it.) I like it so much that this soup is definitely going into the regular rotation.  

“Start Simple” is available as of this week.  Definitely pick up this book whether or not you’re vegetarian.  (Yes, the book is vegetarian but it doesn’t feel like the intention of the book is to necessarily espouse vegetarianism.)  The collection of recipes here are just great ideas for incorporating more vegetables in your everyday diet without being overwhelming or complicated.

 

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

 

Reference Links:

https://www.lukasvolger.com/

https://www.lukasvolger.com/books

http://www.harperwave.com/

 

Home Made in the Oven, a cookbook review

I got excited when I first found out that Yvette Van Boven was releasing a new cookbook in the US.  I had the pleasure of meeting her about a year ago during her book tour for Home Made Christmas. She and her husband Oof are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  I really believe that her endearing personality comes across in her cookbooks: in the little recipe sketch drawings, and in the little stories she writes. I often skip recipe introduction when I flip through a cookbook, but I won’t skip hers.   

The latest book (available Oct. 15th) by Van Boven is “Home Made In The Oven: Truly Easy, Comforting Recipes For Baking, Broiling, And Roasting.”  There’s over 80 recipes, I believe, all meant to be cooked in the oven. The book is simply broken down by:

  • Vegetables
  • Fish and Meat
  • Baking

Each of these sections have recipes that are categorized by month, but don’t assume there’s an equal amount of recipes for each month. There are five January recipes in the Vegetables chapter, and nothing for July or August.  To be fair, those are hot months in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore turning on the oven is the last thing anyone wants to do. The reality is there are only three July recipes and one August recipe in the whole book.

Each recipe comes with a sketch of how to make it, and a little photo in the top right hand corner.  And I do mean little.  Without grabbing a ruler, I estimate the photos are a little more than an inch by an inch and a half.  The sketches are cute, and the recipes are fairly simple and straightforward (that does not equate to boring).  

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

  • Sweet potato and spinach gratin
  • Leftover focaccia
  • Cupboard cannelloni
  • Smoky butternut squash and papaya salad
  • Oven asparagus with cashew cream
  • Stuffed autumn portobellos
  • Comforting meatballs (I’ve never seen a beef meatball with shrimp in it before)
  • Salmon, fennel and lemon with spinach miso-mayo
  • Apple almond crumble
  • Clementine yogurt cake
  • Almond apple cake
  • Baked apples with blueberries
  • Royal carrot cake muesli bars
  • Peach scone pie
  • Blackberry ricotta cake
  • Yogurt cake with lemon and ginger
  • Chocolate nut cake

 

For now though, I made the veggie filo pie (which is technically a May recipe even though it’s currently October – but it’s fine!  There’s nothing very seasonal in this dish). I’ve never bothered making a filo pie on my own before so recipe testing seemed as good a time as any.  It has leeks, garlic, spinach, chickpeas, egg, ricotta, nutmeg, smoked paprika, and crumbled feta. You make the filling, pile some filo dough strategically in a pan, and then bake.

It was so easy to make!  It’s not unhealthy either, since Van Boven’s point to this dish is to eat more vegetables.

It seems pretty easy to customize.  Since I have some leftover ingredients, I plan on making a second time this weekend.  But I’m tempted to change the spices. While I love nutmeg and smoked paprika, I felt like nutmeg was the dominant flavor.  I have an overwhelming urge to try curry powder or ras el hanout? I haven’t decided yet. (Your comments will be considered if you have other ideas.)

In general, the whole book is very approachable.  I can’t really think of a recipe in it that’s too intimidating.  If you’re picky about high quality glossy cookbook photos, then maybe this book isn’t for you, but I think everyone else will enjoy it through and through.

 

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

https://www.instagram.com/yvettevanboven/

https://yvettevanboven.eu/

https://www.abramsbooks.com/

Umami Bomb, a cookbook review

Umami…  One word with so many expectations!  Or rather, I tend to have high expectations when I see it thrown around.  The last time I reviewed a cookbook with the word ‘umami’ in it, I was underwhelmed by the recipe testing result.  Would “Umami Bomb” by Raquel Pelzel be equally underwhelming or will it pass expectations with flying colors?

The chapters are sorted by the main umami ingredient of the recipe.  The chapters are:

  • Parm and Other Aged Cheeses
  • Soy Sauce
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Caramelized Onions
  • Miso
  • Smoke
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Fish

What sets this book slightly apart from other umami focused cookbooks is that this one is (lacto-ovo and pescatarian) vegetarian.  For better user experience (ok, that’s the nerdiest thing I’ve said on this blog), recipes are marked if they are vegan, vegan-optional, and with a rating system based on the number of umami ingredients.  What makes this book possibly better than the other umami book I’ve reviewed in the past (based on appearance only) is how approachable these recipes are. Pelzel’s book isn’t asking for any specialty ingredients if you’re living in an urban area.  It’s not asking you to build a pantry of DIY pastes, seasoning, or sauces.  

And… there’s a wealth of recipes I want to try.  I just didn’t have time to make more than one in time for this review.

  • Killer Chocolate Cake (just because I want to put soy sauce in frosting)
  • Grilled Pan Con Tomate with Miso Butter
  • Tomato ‘Nduja
  • Sick Day Tomato Soup
  • Savory Mushroom Breakfast Porridge
  • Veg and Cornbread Bake
  • Falafel-Spiced Grilled Mushrooms with Miso-Tahini Dressing
  • Mushroom Gravy
  • Caramelized Onion Korean Pancake 
  • Miso Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Polenta with Smoked Cheddar and Kale
  • Eggplant “Meatballs”

In the end, I decided to make Toasted Sesame Granola with Coconut, Orange, and Warm Spices.  I’ve never tried using sesame oil in my granola before or fresh ginger. Or soy sauce for that matter.  I try not to meddle with recipes for review, but I had to leave out the orange for this. I forgot to pick it up at the store.  Another note, cinnamon is one of the ingredients, but Pelzel suggests smoked cinnamon if you can get your hands on it. And now that I’ve made this granola, I’m seriously considering sourcing some smoked cinnamon.  The flavors in this recipe are really bold, some of the other ingredients are sesame seeds, shredded unsweetened coconut, ground ginger and ground coriander. My taste buds couldn’t really taste the sesame flavors but the amount of saltiness from the soy was perfect.  For me, the main flavors were ginger and coriander so smoked cinnamon would have matched really nicely.

View this post on Instagram

Mmmmm granola

A post shared by @ awesomesauceeats on

Unadorned, the granola is almost overwhelming but I couldn’t stop eating it anyway.  (Isn’t that kind of the point of umami anyway?) But when I topped my plain yogurt with it, it was perfect in every way. Pelzel also suggests pairing it with chocolate ice cream so obviously I need to go pick up some chocolate ice cream, sooner rather than later.

Overall, I really appreciate how unique the granola recipe is.  It makes me excited to experiment with the other recipes.

The book doesn’t have photos for everything, but that’s ok.  The photos that are there are bright and appetizing.  I think the array of recipes nicely covers a little of everything from breakfast to dessert.  I also appreciate how approachable and functional the book appears to be.  It’s all very appealing.  I definitely recommend giving this book a try if you can.

Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Workman Publishing for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.  The book is released September 3, 2019.

Reference Links:

http://www.raquelpelzel.com/recipes/

https://www.workman.com/

 

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.

View this post on Instagram

Breakfast cookies

A post shared by @ awesomesauceeats on

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.

 

Rice with Green Peas and Almonds

See that photo? I took the photo, but I didn’t make the rice. My friend Dawn did for Tammy’s dinner party. Dawn dropped the rice at my house earlier that day because she knew she was going to be late for dinner. I really can’t complain though – this gave me time to whip out the heavy digital camera and a chance to smell the rice all afternoon.

And when I say this smells amazing, I mean it smells AMAZING.

The recipe for this dish comes from a Hari Krishna book (seriously!). No, Dawn is not a Hari Krishna. She is very, very Italian American. However, she is a “part-time vegetarian” (as I like to call it). Stealth_eater is also a part-time vegetarian but for very different reasons. Dawn loves fish and chicken, but doesn’t really care for the taste of red meat at all. Stealth_eater does it for “health” reasons… but seeing as her health hasn’t changed for the better , she is thinking about putting some red meat back into her diet (the omnivore and the cook in me rejoices). But anyway, since Dawn is a part-time vegetarian, she loves the recipes in her Hari Krishna book. And it didn’t hurt that the book only cost her a couple of bucks.

Rice with Green Peas and Almonds
source: The Higher Taste
serves 4-5

1 cup basmati rice
3/4 tsp salt
4 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
2 cups water
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ghee or oil
1 cinnamon stick, about 1 1/2″ long (but Dawn used a 3-4″ stick without problem)
6 whole cloves
1/3 cup sliced raw almonds
1 cup fresh or frozen peas

Bring the water, salt, and turmeric to boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Keep the pan covered.

Heat the ghee/oil in another medium saucepan over low-medium heat. Fry the cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom pods, and almonds until the almonds turn a pale golden-brown. Add the rice and saute for about 2 minutes or until the grains turn translucent.

Pour in the boiling water, and if using fresh peas, add them now. Stir, increasing heat to high, and bring the water to a full boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and gently simmer (no stirring) for 15-20 minutes, or until the water is all absorbed and the rice is tender. If using frozen peas, quickly sprinkle them over the rice halfway through the cooking time. Turn off the heat, and allow the rice to steam for another 5 minutes.

Serve while hot.