Review: “Simply Bento” by Yuko Yagi and Noriko Yura

It’s been more quiet than usual around here this week, and that has two reasons. For one, I’ve started my new job, which is cutting into both reading and writing time (as jobs tend to do). Secondly, I’m a bit under the weather at the moment. The queue doesn’t simply read itself, however, and there is already another little surprise for my readers in the making, so stuff needs to get done.

I thought “Simply Bento” would be a great title for review, since I’ve been looking for easy lunch options to take with me. Authors Noriko and Yuko also run the popular blog Japanese Cooking 101, which features a huge variety of recipes, many with videos. Their new cookbook begins reasonably with an explanation of what bento is and its history. It turns out that as a meal, bento has been enjoyed for far longer than I would have thought! The seven key points in “How to Make Bento” reemphasize the fact that you are taking a meal for the senses, something that should be prepared with a bit more care than a baloney sandwich wrapped in cellophane, while keeping in mind as well that raw meats or fish and dairy require certain food safety practices.

Next, you learn about essential utensils and accessories for bento, like choices for containers, then move on to find out which staples make regular appearances in Japanese cooking. Finally, as bento aims to provide a balanced meal, there are some notes on how to create exactly that. Now you’re ready to delve into the recipes!

Altogether, there are twelve recipe chapters that cover topics like Classic Japanese Bento, Noodle Bento, Low-Carb Bento, Bento for Special Occasions, Bento at Home, and even Side Dishes. There is even a separate section on Vegan Bento, although I don’t need a whole cookbook to tell me to pack a falafel lunch. On average, the sections feature seven recipes each, some a few more, some a few less. Every recipe is laid out the same way: after a brief recipe introduction, there is a box titled “How to Make this Bento” in which you find a main dish, plus suggested side dishes. The next line tells you the estimated prep time, cooking time, and number of servings for the main dish, immediately followed by the recipe for the main. For people frequently finding themselves in a time crush, there is a very helpful box titled “Plan Ahead” to make quick assembly a snap. This layout makes the book very easy to use. The recipes are accompanied by full-page color photos.

Overall, I think this is a great book for omnivores who are curious about Japanese food. There certainly is a great variety of different dishes in here. Personally, I find it disappointing and, frankly, a bit lazy to say that a lot of the dishes can be adjusted to fit a vegan diet without concrete tips on how to do so, and that is why I would not get this book for myself. The only cookbook I have come across so far that actually tries and succeeds quite well in providing both vegetarian and vegan variations of the vast majority of recipes included, is Kathryne Taylor’s “Love Real Food.” Still, I am at least motivated to check out Yuko and Noriko’s blog for ideas.

“Simply Bento” is published by Race Point Publishing. I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

simply bento

Review: “The Vegan 8” by Brandi Doming

This past week has been a bit stop and go. Fortunately, the go bits were pretty good, if I say so myself; I have an exciting surprise coming up for you guys, and I just finished two very different but equally interesting cookbooks. One of them is what I’m reviewing today.

If you’ve been in the vegan scene in the US at all, chances are that you have at least had fleeting contact with Brandi Doming’s blog, The Vegan 8. The premise is to create easy, delicious recipes with eight or fewer ingredients, which makes them ideal for beginners and busy people. It seems almost the norm now that when a blog is successful enough, a cookbook is sure to follow (not that I’m complaining), and voila!, here we are.

It’s very hard to dislike this book, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Ms Doming just comes across as so darn likeable. She went vegetarian, then vegan, in order to optimize her husband’s diet (based on medical recommendations) to alleviate his gout, without having to sacrifice the enjoyment that comes from a good meal. Secondly, the first chapter, The Vegan 8 Kitchen, is a thorough introduction to tips, tricks, techniques, and ingredients to assure you get the most out of the recipes every time. I love that she starts out with a reminder to read the recipe ahead of time! You would not believe how many people criticize cookbooks again and again for recipes that “take too long,” have “exotic ingredients,” or require some planning-ahead. It’s called organization; hop to it and do it, people!

The recipe section is organized in a familiar manner according to meal type. Apparently, grouping recipes into meals for, let’s say, specific holidays, creates stress for more cooks than I would have guessed (read some reviews of Bryant Terry’s books if you don’t believe me), so again, for beginners and people who want to pick a meal rather than an occasion, this is just perfect! The individual chapters are: Breakfast, Scrumptious Snacks & Appetizers, Time-Crunch Lunches, Sauces & Dressings, Easy Entrees, Comforting Soups & Stews, Sides & Dips, Crowd-Pleasing Desserts, and Staples.

Every recipe has a header, telling you whether it is oil-, gluten-, and/or nut-free. Each comes with a short introduction and ends with -unusual these days, but surely much appreciated by some cooks – nutritional information. There is a useful tip or note alongside each dish, and each and every one is accompanied by a full page, gorgeous color photo that’ll make you want to zip into the kitchen and get cooking right now!

Ms. Doming loves all things barbecue, and so this particular flavor profile appears in several dishes. She’s also not very big on fruit in desserts, and so that chapter is stuffed to the gills with chocolatey yumminess. If you feel bothered by this, this may not be the cookbook for your kitchen shelf.

I have already bookmarked several recipes to try before my preview copy expires, and I have a strong feeling this might make it onto the wishlist.

“The Vegan 8” is published by Oxmoor House. I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

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Review: “Drink Me!” by Nick Perry and Paul Rosser

We all have a favorite childhood story, don’t we? One whose magic draws us in irresistibly, puts our hair on end or curls our toes, or maybe just makes us feel all warm and fuzzy for the memories connected with it. Generations of children have come to know the magic of “Alice in Wonderland” (even if Tim Burton has tried his best to ruin it), and many continue to love the story of the girl who goes down to rabbit hole -and later, behind the looking-glass- well into adulthood. “Drink It!” is directed at these grown up fans, now old enough to not only enjoy a well crafted tale, but also some well crafted tipple. Each and every cocktail in this book is inspired by an event or a character from the Alice books, like the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar’s Hookah, Pig and Pepper, or Off With Her Head.

So far, so intriguing. The book actually begins with a short introduction into the bits and bobs of cocktail mixing, from common alcoholic ingredients to handy tools and the best glassware. Then we mix. Alas, this is where “Drink Me!” immediately runs into problems. Firstly, the introduction points out that great pains were taken to create unusual cocktails, but there are no pictures of any of them. Zero! Zilch! Which I could have dismissed as an oversight, were it not for the totally redundant photographs in the third part, Batch Recipes, where you also get to create your own syrups, liqueurs, and spirits used specifically in these cocktails! I know what a silly sugar cube looks like; show me the Bread-and-Butterfly Pudding instead!

Another problem is that the authors live in London, where it is easy to purchase a specific, recommended alcohol selection. Of course, if you have a favorite whiskey or vodka, you may be good to go, but in gin-based drinks, different brands can lead to vastly different flavor profiles. I, for example, live in northern Indiana. Here, selection is rather limited, to put it politely. We are also a state that does not allow you to have alcohol shipped to you: no beer clubs, no wine subscriptions, no nothing. And if that isn’t enough, requiring different bitters for every other recipe is a bit out of my budget. Making my own turkey-flavored vodka would be merely the tiniest bit of help (actually, it wouldn’t, because as a vegan, I don’t do turkey flavor, but you get the idea).

Alas, unlike “Death & Co.,” “Drink Me!” would be one bar book that would primarily look cute and gather dust in my house instead of getting proper use. But if the above-mentioned issues are really non-issues for you, if you love “Alice in Wonderland” more than your childhood best friend, and/or you are always looking for the next far-out cocktail idea, this book is for you. I’ll clink my glass to that!

“Drink Me!” is published by Rock Point, part of the Quarto Publishing Group. I received a copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are most definitely my own.

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Review: “Happily Healthy” by Lea Lou (Lea Lüdemann)

I still don’t have a start date for the new job, so while I wait, I have time to… clean the house… sleep in… run 5 miles a day… read… yeah, ok, let’s go with read! And this is why you get three days of reviews in a row. Cool!

I had waffled about this particular book for a few weeks. Checked Amazon.com and .de. Waffled some more. Then decided to download the English language Kindle version (German Amazon has so much more selection!). Got mad while previewing: there were far too many errors in the text to make it worth keeping, so I returned it. Waffled some more. Then the price for the German Kindle version dropped six euros, and we were in business. I am happy to report that there are no repeats of the errors of the English version. Text is where it’s supposed to be. The arrangement of photos and text makes sense. There are no odd italics where none should be. This one’s a keeper.

What had appealed to me in this particular book was Lea’s attitude. Having overcome an eating disorder, she now enjoys food, does not believe in punishing yourself through your diet (rather, she subscribes to the oft-quoted notion of 80/20, namely, that if you eat clean -read: fresh and unprocessed- foods 80% of the time, you get to treat yourself the other 20%), has a good attitude towards exercise, and incorporates mental wellness into the package. Her writing style is easy going, never preachy. She encourages her readers to listen to their bodies’ needs and act accordingly. Nowadays, a lot of people seem to have unlearned that essential skill.

Lea begins with a chapter about food: her pantry staples, where to shop for which ingredients, eating seasonally, how you can eat healthy on a budget. The next chapter is about fitness and includes a HIIT (high intensity interval training) session as an example of how to get started. From there, we move on to mindfulness and yoga, complete with a vinyasa sequence that even beginners without major mobility issues should be able to follow. There are tips on breathing techniques that can be quite helpful for stress reduction. The chapter on Happiness gives tips and tricks on cultivating a positive mindset, not as a cure-all but rather another pillar to build a happy, fulfilled life on. Each chapter up to this point includes a quickie checklist of things you can do right now to support your goals.

Finally, we delve into the recipe section. Lea is a pescatarian, but all recipes are vegetarian. Although she promises in the introduction to food to add ways to veganize the recipes, the only two times this happens are rather silly. I don’t need to be told to simply omit the egg or leave out the cheese! Luckily, if you have a little experience with vegan cooking, you’ll quickly find that all the recipes can modified without difficulty. Use chia or flax eggs in baking, substitute non-dairy milk and butter, or add commercial vegan cheeze or flavored tofu in other recipes. We just had the shakshuka for lunch, the husband got his with two eggs, I had mine with tofu simmered in the sauce. THAT is modification.

Alas, I also found a mistake in this particular recipe: it calls for a red (bell) pepper cut in thin strips, but the pepper never makes an appearance again beyond the ingredient list! Add it with the onion and garlic, and be sure to read all recipes completely before getting stumped in the middle later! Oh, and how was it? Very fast, very easy, very tasty. I’ve also had a breakfast smoothie from the book, which I enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to incorporating more recipes in the meal plan in future. There are no “weird” or hard to get ingredients in these dishes; your local supermarket should be able to supply all of them.

There are plenty of photos in this book, but not every recipe has one, so bear that in mind if this is important to you. The photos for the HIIT and yoga sections are very good and helpful.

The English version is called “Happily Healthy by Lea Lou: A Guide to Food, Fitness, Health & Happiness.” It is self-published by Lea Lüdemann. In German, the book is called “Happily Healthy: Mit Rezepten, Fitness und Yoga zum gesunden und glücklichen Leben.” It is published by ZS Verlag GmbH. Lea speaks English and German and did her own translation. She grew up in Germany and now lives in London. To learn more, also visit her blog.

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Review: “Eat Feel Fresh” by Sahara Rose Ketabi

I love food. I enjoy gorgeous photography. I practice yoga. And I feel that every day can be a good day when you learn a new thing or two. So, I was quite happy to snatch up a copy of “Eat Feel Fresh” for review. First of all, it is simply the most beautifully illustrated book I’ve had the pleasure to read this year. The colors explode off the pages and bring a smile to your face, which can only be a good thing. Secondly, it is chock-full of new spins on recipes but as always, let’s stick to the advice of the Red Queen and start at the beginning.

One thing you will likely notice right away is that Deepak Chopra is literally plastered all over this book, cover to cover and anywhere in between, having written the foreword and being quoted once or twice, as well. If you’re not a fan of Dr. Chopra’s, you won’t enjoy the close relationship he and Ms. Ketabi clearly have. Another point that didn’t take long to irritate me was the reference to an ‘alkaline diet.’ There is no evidence whatever that you can change the pH value of your body chemistry through diet, nor should you. Various parts of your body have different pH values, so what would you even be aiming at? Also, the term ‘detox’ is used, and saying something that silly even once costs you points in a review. Detoxing is done by your organs all the time, every minute of every day, and it is simply incorrect to claim that you need to change your diet to accomplish this. More correctly, you can assist your organs in their admittedly life-supporting function by avoiding to indiscriminately stuff yourself with items of questionable nutritional value. If we can agree on this, then let’s move on to the good stuff, and there is certainly plenty.

I had never heard of Ms. Ketabi before, but apparently, she is an expert in the field of ayurveda, the ancient Indian ‘science of life,’ a system of medicine that encompasses far more than simply treating symptoms of illness. “Eat Feel Fresh” gives you a semi-thorough introduction into ayurveda and the three doshas, or elements, that form a person’s body type and personality, frequently in a unique combination. The way you eat can help balance the doshas, leading to increased wellness. I find Ms. Ketabi’s writing personality quite accessible.  “Eat Feel Fresh” aims to bring a new, modern approach to ayurvedic principles so that they can be more easily integrated into the Western lifestyle. There is a spiritual component to this approach, as ayurveda is a holistic system. Some may find this esoteric, others refreshing and insightful.

Once you have determined your dosha, head right into the recipe part of the book which offers tridoshic meals, meaning there is a base recipe with variations, according to what you have learned in part one. All recipes are gluten-free and plant-based, and the number of recipes containing what some might consider exotic ingredients is very, very small. We love experimenting with food and frequently cook Indian dishes, so our kitchen is well stocked in that regard. If you are only starting to branch out into international cooking, the initial investment could possibly seem daunting, but you will use most spices and staples over and over.

There is good basic information about stocking your pantry, meal planning and prepping, what to do with leftovers, and how to prepare basic staples, like grains and legumes. The recipe section ecompasses everything, from breakfasts, bowls, dinners, snacks and sides, to desserts and potions (which actually means teas, mylks, and juices). You won’t be eating endless varieties of curry, either: there are colorful soups, burgers, pizza, shepherd’s pie, tacos, grain-free chapatis and naan, creative variations on hummus, delicious Indian sweets like kheer, and intriguing twists on American favorites, like Raw Rose and Pistachio Cheesecake, Chickpea Chocolate Crunch Bark, and several versions of brownies.

As is common these days, there is no nutritional information given for any of the dishes. Would I get a copy for myself? Likely. I am intrigued by the idea of maximizing my personal health and wellness, based on ayurvedic ideas, and most certainly fascinated by a lot of the recipes (I’ve bookmarked a couple to try but have not had the chance yet). I did find some of the information on balancing your doshas a bit confusing, though, and on days when I’m more skeptical than spiritual, the ‘esoteric babble’ would likely bug me to a point.

“Eat Feel Fresh” will be published by DK, a publisher with a huge catalog of informational and educational titles. I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. It should be fairly obvious that all opinions are my own.

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Review: “The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book” by Nadine Horn and Jörg Mayer

Another review already! I must be on a roll… or maybe I’m just trying to knock out the remaining titles on the review list before I start my new job in August. Could be, could be. Anyway, this translates into more reading fun for you, dear readers. Incidentally, you could add some reading fun for me by leaving a comment below. Tell me if you found a review helpful, if your opinion differs from mine and why, or if you have any books you’d like me to take a look at. You know, that kind of thing. Variety is the spice of life.

Which brings me to today’s book, which, as the title reveals, is a cookbook with recipes for vegan breakfasts. Astute readers will have noticed that the authors are German; in fact, Nadine Horn and Jörg Mayer run an enormously successful food blog, Eat This! and have co-authored several books, two of which (including this one) have been translated into English.

I love breakfast. I am also notoriously unawake in the morning, so I greatly appreciate people writing down instructions to make tasty dishes with, so that I don’t have to crank up the still woozy brain cells too early just to come up with new smoothie ideas myself. Apart from the fact that any cover photo featuring a huge stack of syrup-drizzled pancakes is extremely appealing to me, I also quickly discovered several intriguing recipe ideas inside the book. Of course, that is not how things begin, because it never is, is it.

There is a lovely table of contents all the way up front to help you get your snoozy self geared up for your first meal of the day. Also helpful is the plethora of gorgeous photographs, and there are plenty. ‘A Perfect Start to the Day’ offers some ideas how to make the best of your morning, followed by some foods that will help you with that (no recipes yet). Next up are two excursions into everyone’s favorite brekkie drinks, coffee and tea. You’ll learn how to choose great tea (or coffee), how to store it, prepare it, and generally get the most bang for your buck. Personally, I disagree with Jörg on cold brew; I find it overrated and overpriced, be it store-bought or home-made. But I used the term ‘personally’ on purpose; you may love your cold brew for a variety of reasons. It is said to be easier on the stomach. The coffee and tea sections are the only ones that mention kitchen tools, and that’s a bit sad, because it requires me to place the usual caveat here: be sure to read all recipes and instructions before beginning. Some require a blender and/or a juicer, and unfortunately, no allowance is made for those who do not own either (but fear not, I do have a couple of tips for you… read on). Before moving on to the recipe section, you’ll find a page on Tips and Tricks, which is not particularly abundant, but does explain in a side bar why Nadine and Jörg have opted to leave out nutritional information.

The recipe section starts with easy smoothies, juices, and other refreshing drinks. We have tried the ‘Tropical Energy with Grapefruit and Coconut’, the ‘Super Antioxidant Shake with Blueberries and Goji Berries”, the ‘Pear Oat Shake’, and the ‘Strawberry Chia Smoothie’. The juice was a tad on that tart side for my better half, be sure to adjust the sweetener to your personal taste and to not use a very large lemon. I don’t have a juicer, so I used a simple hand juicer/fruit squeezer and mixed everything together afterwards. If you like pulp, leave it in! If you don’t, strain through a sieve or some cheesecloth or a nutmilk bag. For the blueberry shake, I tossed all the ingredients in the blender because I find the taste of goji berries somewhat unfortunate otherwise. I did the same for chia smoothie since I hate waiting for breakfast. The method worked well for both. The pear oat shake was sadly overpowered by the ground cardamom. One entire teaspoon is a bit much, so tone it down a bit, unless you’re a cardamom freak. If like me you enjoy beets, the ‘Beets and Berries’ smoothie is tasty and easy.

Next up are ideas for breakfast to go, containing mostly sandwiches, muffins, and similar handhelds, but also an interesting recipe for two varieties of ‘Wake-Up Popsicles’ which I might test before the review copy goes bye-bye. We did try the ‘Overnight Buckwheat Porridge’ and enjoyed it. You’ll also find an ‘”Egg-Salad” Sandwich’ and a ‘Swedish Bagel’ among the wonderfully unusual ideas, most of which would also make great additions to a lunchbox.

From here, we wander into bowl territory. Whether you prefer a sweet or a savory breakfast, you are sure to find something here. The ‘Quinoa Porridge’ was delicious, even if it didn’t exactly look like the photo. The ‘Miso Oatmeal’ sounds intriguing, but I usually lean towards the fruitier side early in the morning, so I dig the variations of porridge and smoothie bowls, especially. There is even a chocolate porridge for those soul food emergencies.

Following this, we finally arrive at the delicious ‘Poppy Seed Pancakes’ from the cover. You prefer omelets? Waffles? Crepes? A good scramble? This section has you covered! If your morning doesn’t get off the ground without a lot of coffee and something sticky-sweet, you’ll enjoy the treats from ‘The Sweeter Side of Mornings’, like donuts, cupcakes, or carrot cake (yes, please!). For those leisurely weekend brunches, check out ‘Weekend Brunch’ where you can find delicacies like ‘Earl Gray’s Poached Pears’ next to brunch staples like frittata and a full English breakfast.

Closing this merry collection of recipes are hot drinks. I am especially intrigued by the Kamilli Vanilli, which is based on chamomile tea. This will have to make an appearance of a morning soon, I think! For you cold brew fans, there are instructions on how to get your cold brew base on, as well.

My special appreciation, however, must go to the very last section, pantry staples. Many German ex-pats bemoan the fact that our American brethren are hopelessly lost when it comes to good (or even decent) bread. If you’ve ever wondered what all the moaning is about, you get the chance to make German-style bread and rolls at home now! Rounding out the pantry section are some sweet and savory spreads, a quick granola, a couple of plant-based milks, and some ideas for plant-based breakfast ‘meats.’

Most recipes make two servings, unless otherwise indicated. These servings are smaller (read: more reasonable) than some other cookbooks’ offerings, so either plan in a snack for later in the morning or opt not to share. Every single recipe comes with a glorious, mouthwatering photograph. I must strongly reiterate the fact that you should read the recipe you’re planning to make ahead of time, because a few require more time than others. Obviously, it will take longer to make a cake than a scramble or be quicker to fix a smoothie bowl than a full English brekkie.

Would I get this? Erm, yes! In yesterday’s review, the author advised us to personalize as needed, and even in my extensive collection there are only a tiny handful of cookbooks I trust to deliver 100% every time, no matter what I opt to make. I love the variety offered in the “Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book” and can see myself going back to it frequently.

“The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book” is published by The Experiment, which is funny because I did not realize that until I had posted yesterday’s post. I received a free copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

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Review: “Clean Enough” by Katzie Guy-Hamilton

Let’s go back to what I love doing best: dissecting cookbooks. I chose this particular one because I found both the title and the cover photo appealing, and because ‘katzie’ in German is a pet name for a cat (sympathy points!). The beautiful photography continues inside the book and really gets you revved up for cooking… unless you’re a beginner. One recurring problem with cookbooks authored by professional chefs is that they love to be very specific with ingredients and, unlike most normal people, think nothing of a twenty-five-ingredient spice list. Ok, I slightly exaggerated that number, but you get my drift.

But let us start at the beginning: Ms. Guy-Hamilton’s introduction to “Clean Enough”, alongside her story, pretty much makes it clear that this book is yours to customize, which is a very important point to bear in mind later. I like her holistic approach to food and life, and her relaxed attitude about occasional indulgences. After all, eating clean enough should be good enough, and sweets can play a stress-free part in one’s diet, as well. Please note that when I say ‘diet,’ I use the word in its original meaning of ‘way of eating,’ not in the sense of ‘trying your darndest to make your body comply to shed those x number of pounds you keep trying to lose whenever you come back from vacation.’

The reader receives an invitation to examine his or her own lifestyle to maximize wellness with some helpful pointers, then it’s on to the recipe section…

…and we’ve circled back to the beginning where now some people will start crying at terms like “oat flaker,” “Sicilian pistachios,” “pine pollen,” and “raw licorice powder” (I did at that last one, primarily because I find licorice disgusting and would never want to ruin a perfectly good breakfast with it). Ignore all those terms and skip straight to the various recipe notes that tell you that you can SUBSTITUTE whatever you have on hand or simply leave things out that you don’t have/don’t want to use. Phew. Ok, deep breath and on with it…

I’m not sure if anyone really needs a recipe for hot lemon water, which contains, gasp!, hot water and lemon. Or instructions to cook a runny, five-minute egg (cook egg for five minutes, plus some extraneous stuff that’s not really necessary). But if you’ve never made eggs before and feel a bit lost, there is a section on preparing eggs in a variety of ways that will assist you in becoming more kitchen confident. You may have guessed from my lingering on this particular part of the book that this is a vegetarian cookbook. Ms. Guy-Hamilton enjoys eggs and cheeses, and that is one reason why I personally would not get a copy but still recommend it to anyone wishing to go meat-free more often or looking for new spins on cooking for their veggie lifestyle.

I notice that, as most other hip chefs these days, Ms. Guy-Hamilton is a huge proponent of Himalayan Pink salt, to which I will repeat my remark from an earlier review: salt mining is not environmentally friendly, nor is salt a sustainable resource, and nobody should go digging around in sensitive areas like the Himalayas just so people can use pink salt that nobody will be able to see in the finished dish later, anyway. As a second concern, unless you eat a lot of seafood or sea vegetables, reliance on “raw” salts will leave you with low levels of iodine. This is why regular table salt has iodine added to it, and as much as it is en vogue to poo-poo anything labeled ‘processed’, you need iodine in your diet. Eat it, hipster!

In the second recipe section, Enough, you are immediately reminded that the author is a trained pastry chef. If your mind wasn’t boggled before, it will be now as you peruse the rather extensive list of recommended equipment. A bit less scary and possibly more useful are the explanations of various preparation techniques. The treats themselves are as simple or extravagant as you choose, from cookie varieties to tortes, tarts, cakes, pies, and an assortment of small baked goods like muffins, scones, brioche, and even hot cross buns. Merengue lovers will find a fine selection here, but the good old chocolate pudding makes an appearance, as well, as do custards, sorbets, and ice creams. A selection of sweet pantry staples rounds out the book.

Please note that it is absolutely essential to read every recipe through before you spontaneously discover that it will take fourteen days to prepare certain parts in advance and that your pantry is lacking a key ingredient, because I make fun of people like you who leave angry ranting reviews like that. I repeat, some recipes do require you to make parts of it in advance, then assemble the whole later, like the Israeli breakfast.

In short, if you can get over your fear of long lists and feel comfortable enough to make substitutions to accommodate your cooking style, this is a lovely book to add to your shelf.

“Clean Enough” is published by The Experiment, whom I love for their variety of titles. I received a free copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Stuffed!” by Marlena Kur

Maybe you’re one of those people who loves the idea of stuffing fillings into vegetables, but you’re running out of ideas. Maybe you enjoy surprising your guests (or yourself) with amazing-looking, easy-to-make dishes. Maybe you collect gorgeous cookbooks. If you recognize yourself in any of these statements, “Stuffed!” is for you.

Marlena Kur, the author of this book and the website Zest My Lemon, has a passion for beautiful food that is also good for you. Presenting fruits and veggies as ‘boats’ loaded with yummy stuffings is how she expresses it here. Most people are familiar with stuffed tomatoes of some sort, stuffed peppers, and probably zucchini, but have you tried stuffed mushrooms, eggplant, sweet potato, or even fruit? There are hot and cold stuffings, some including meats, some seafood, some simply veggies, with or without grains and/or cheese, and no repeats. All ingredients should be easily available at the supermarket, although some may be seasonal, depending on where you live. Although not every single recipe comes with one, the included photos are appetizing and attractively arranged. This is definitely not a diet book and thus does not include nutritional information for the recipes. If this is an important consideration for you, now you know.

Because it is not suitable to my own dietary lifestyle, I wouldn’t get this book for myself, but I can see myself getting a copy for my stepmother who is an enthusiastic cook and for whom presentation is nearly as important as the dish itself.

“Stuffed!” is published by Race Point Publishing, a subsidiary of the Quarto Publishing Group. I have reviewed a few titles from them on this blog and can honestly say that a lot of care goes into their books. I received a preview copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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Review: “Go Dairy Free” by Alisa Fleming

There are many reasons to forgo dairy products: you may suffer from an intolerance or a full-blown allergy, you may have other health concerns or ethical reservations, or you’re simply not interested (some of us aren’t). Alisa Fleming was born with a severe milk allergy which she never outgrew. Ten years ago, when the first edition of “Go Dairy Free” was released, there were far fewer non-dairy food options than there are today, and of course research has advanced, as well, so now seemed like a good time for an updated version.

Sure enough, whether you actually want or have to skip out on dairy, or whether you’re merely curious, this book is filled to the margins with interesting information. In part one, you’ll learn the difference between an intolerance and an allergy, what the latest medical findings are, what dairy really is and which bits the body needs for what, how you may substitute these important bits, and much more. In part two, you will find more than 250 recipes to accommodate the dairy-free lifestyle, from simple staples like non-dairy mylks and butter replacements to breakfast favorites like muffins, breads, and even French toast sticks, soups, entrees, and desserts, and again: MUCH more. All recipes are vegan-friendly, as well, listing modifications where required to replace eggs (which are not in fact dairy products, no matter how cuddly they get with milk at the grocery store).

I found the information presented interesting and written in a very accessible format. The recipes span a huge variety. For people wanting even more, Ms Fleming also operates a webzine called Go Dairy Free, in which you could easily get lost for days.

There are two caveats I noticed: one, Ms Fleming mentions borage oil in the section of butter replacements. In recent years, experts have warned people away from the frequent use of borage (the plant) because it contains parts that act as carcinogens. I do not know if this also applies to the oil, but do exercise caution, if you can even find borage oil for a price that will not send you to the poor house. Secondly, red palm oil is gaining in popularity, but I for one am not buying into the claims made by virtually every company on the planet these days that their palm oil is sourced sustainably. The two biggest palm oil producing countries still destroy swaths of precious wildlife habitat every single day to accommodate the market. The trees from which red palm oil is made naturally grow in Africa, so if you can find oil sourced from there vs. Latin America or Southeast Asia, you’re better off using that. And then, of course, the debate is ongoing whether the saturated fats in palm oil are any better than those found in animal-derived products. You can do your own research on that.

“Go Dairy Free” is published by BenBella Books. I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

dairy free

Review: “Vegan Yack Attack on the Go!” by Jackie Sobon

If you’re a vegan, and especially an American vegan, chances are you have heard of Vegan Yack Attack. Maybe you’re a fan of Jackie Sobon’s excellent blog, or perhaps you already own her first book, “Vegan Bowl Attack!” Possibly, you follow her column in VegNews magazine. As a food photographer, she has also illustrated some of my favorite cookbooks, like “NYC Vegan” and “Superfoods 24/7.” Many readers value illustrated recipes, and as we say in German, ‘das Auge isst mit’ (‘the eye eats, as well’). In any case, you know you’re in good hands with Jackie.

Requesting books by popular authors is a game of chance because publishers get TONS of requests, and so I consider myself particularly lucky to receive a preview copy of “Vegan Yack Attack on the Go!” Many, many people online have expressed frustration when it comes to putting meals together quickly, or coming up for lunch ideas for school and office. In this book, you will find answers in form of dishes that come together fast, can be made ahead, or both.

After a blissfully short introduction (I’m not big on intros), new vegans especially will find the first chapter, Vegan Eating Made Easy, a huge help for creating a kitchen well stocked with basic necessities. The Helpful Tips and Tricks are helpful indeed to ensure maximum enjoyment of your culinary creations and also a word on oil-free cooking. I would like to point this out in particular, because all too often comments show up by reviewers who have neglected to actually read the entire book and then complain that they ended up returning it for not accommodating an oil-free lifestyle!

But on to chapter 2, Quick Breakfasts, Snacks, and Treats. Here you find 14 recipes to suit your preference, from smoothies and floats to bars, cheesecakes, and chickpea scramble to burritos. Chapter 3, Prep-Ahead Recipes, contains all-purpose items like trailmix, overnight oats, crackers, popcorn, and even mushroom jerky. As a huge fan of overnight oats, I have put the Overnight Peach Pecan Oats on my “must try” list before the preview expires. This chapter isn’t all sweets and snacks, though: you’ll also find a recipe for Freezer Black Bean Burritos and Millet Sweet Potato Soup Bags, for example. Please note that from here on out, recipes may require several steps to prepare different components; be sure to read the entire recipe ahead of time and plan accordingly. Then, you will have a fridge and freezer filled with dishes that will reheat or can be assembled in no time at all.

Chapter 4’s Lunchbox Stuffers primarily consist of wraps, sandwiches, and salads, but there are also empanadas, spring rolls, and even a Veggie Sushi Bento Box. Chapter 5, Meals in 30 Minutes or Less, has the wonderful subtitle ‘Home-Cooked Meals for the Hangry’, people like me who sometimes (or maybe as a general rule) want dinner RIGHT NOW! Whether you crave a filling stew or chilli, a hefty burger, or your favorite comfort food, chances are you’ll find something here. Personally, I have been experimenting with exotic -read: beyond crumbles and lentils- taco fillings, so I am looking forward to testing the Sheet Pan Squash Tacos. If you’re a fan of the pressure cooker, try the Pressure Cooker Pesto Spaghetti Squash. Chapter 6 addresses Bulk Cooking, featuring an international potpourri of recipes, like kluski, pierogi, and Middle East-inspired dishes, and even a seitan roast made in the slow cooker.

My favorite chapter, though, is Chapter 7, Food on the Move, because it contains loads of things that can go on the grill. It is, after all, finally summer, even in Indiana! Because these recipes are quite portable (even if the caveat Some Assembly Required is given), these can go with you when you’re invited and not sure your host will be able to accommodate your dietary needs. There are quite a few dishes I’m itching to try, like the Cauliflower Curry Grill Packets with Yogurt Sauce, Campfire Banana Splits, and Beer Can Pulled Cabbage, which is why this book has been placed on my wishlist: I need my own copy!

In the final chapter, Chapter 8, you will get ideas on creating your own staples. Besides the usual suspects, tomato sauce, pesto, cheeze sauce, and mayo, you’ll also get some out-of-the-ordinary variations, like Berry Rhubarb Chia Jam (so psyched to find the far-too-neglected rhubarb here!) and Buckwheat Taco Meat. The latter found its way into my frying pan last night: it was easy to put together, smelled heavenly, and tasted quite good, although the buckwheat I have seems to have a peculiar flavor that doesn’t entirely go away even among all those spices. As I have noticed this in a buckwheat-based smoothie bowl before, I can honestly say it’s the grain, not the particular recipe, and results may vary. Still, I’m looking forward to taco night!

If my math is correct, you get a total of 107 recipes to keep you well fed and happy. The vast majority comes with a photo, so there is no guesswork as to what the final result might look like. Each recipe has a sub-heading with useful information, like ‘under ten ingredients’, ’30 minutes or less’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘soy-free’, etc. Most come with helpful notes at the end. Haters of “exotic” ingredients will love the fact that everything can be bought in a regular supermarket, at least here in Podunk, IN, with the exception of kala namak, which I found at the local Indian grocer without any fuss. And of course every recipe tells you how many servings you’ll end up with. What I really appreciate is the table of contents at the beginning of every chapter. As is common in vegan cooking, you will not find nutritional information for the dishes included.

“Vegan Yack Attack on the Go!” is published by Quarto Publishing Group – Fair Winds Press. I received a preview copy in exchange for a review via the publisher and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

On the Go