Connecticut Farmer & Feast Book Review

I found the Connecticut Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty book at the library, and took a few weeks to read it.

The book opens with an introduction and I was saddened & shocked to learn that Connecticut’s farmland is disappearing at an unbelievable and alarming rate of 8000 acres a year! The author, Emily Brooks, states that it is one of the fastest in the country! In less than 20 years, CT has lost 21% of their farmland; residential and commercial building is taking over.

She also states that farms require less than 50 cents in town services for every dollar they generate in local taxes while residential development costs towns more than 1 dollar for every dollar of revenue generated.

That statement puzzled and intrigued me, so I did some research. With the cost of schools/education, police/fire, road maintenance, towns that have a choice to purchase & save open space vs allow commercial/residential development, are much better off in the long run choosing to save the open space. Real estate taxes go up for everyone to recoup the cost of more children attending schools.

Here is a great link I found while searching:
http://www.greatswamp.org/Education/anjec.htm

When I think about it though, we can’t blame the farmers for selling out to developers. The local farmer is overworked and vastly under-appreciated.

That’s why this book is so important. It shines the well-deserved light onto local Connecticut farmers.

The book is divided by county. Each farm is highlighted with a few pages, including their location info and a full description/interview with several photos.

There are many different types of farms including many that grow vegetables, several that raise animals, and some even operate a fishing/shellfish business.

I was amazed that there were also a few maple syrup producers, although the book states that only tenth of % of all maple trees in Connecticut are actually tapped for their syrup.

This is not necessarily a cookbook although there are lovely recipes using some ingredients that the highlighted farm sells. It’s more like a history book with stories from each farm with photos so you can really see each farmer and the land they work.

Some stories are heart warming and some are heart breaking. For instance, the owners of Futtner’s Family Farm (3 generations) are going through financial problems due to health issues. They are drowning in medical bills. Theirs is a sad but hopeful story of family and deep love for each other and farming.

I wish we lived just a little closer to Connecticut and some of these marvelous farms.

It’s exciting that the author is currently writing a ” target=”_blank”>similar book for NYC. I really hope she considers a Massachusetts version in the future! It’s something that could be a fantastic reference for every state!

If you live nearby to Connecticut, I recommend finding a copy of the Connecticut Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty book, even if it’s from the local library. It’s a great resource to learn more about specifically where your food comes from!

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks, which means I’d rather put my own spin on a recipe than follow it exactly. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Cook This, Not That 350 Calorie Meals – Book Review

When I first started changing my lifestyle, one of the first books I borrowed from the library was “Eat This, Not That” and then the “Eat This, Not That: Supermarket Survival Guide.”

Yeah, these books get you thinking in the right direction (and they did help me initially), but truthfully, they are really just about eating better-quality junk food; at the end of the day, it’s still junk food.

The original ETNT book was published in late 2007, and since then, the authors/publishers have cultivated this “brand” into a huge franchise, publishing new, updated versions every year, and coming up with more titles, such as “Drink This, Not That” and their “Restaurant Survival Guide.” According to wikipedia, as of Sept, 2011, they’ve sold more than 8 million books!

cook this not that - 350 calorie meals

Cook This, Not That

I was curious about the “Cook This, Not That – 350 Calorie Meals” version, so I borrowed it from the library.

As expected, it was true to the franchise formula, offering recipes to home-cook a restaurant-style dish (eat this,) while claiming they could save the reader money and calories compared to the restaurant counterpart (not that.)

Big problem though. I found some, if not most, of the book examples weren’t fair comparisons.

For example, lasagna rolls (page 196) compares itself to Olive Garden’s Lasagna Rollata al Forno. The recipe calls for 6 oz of long thin lasagna noodles, to make a 6 serving recipe. That’s only 1 oz of pasta for each person, calculating a total of 380 calories for each serving.

Come on! Do they really think we’re going to be satisfied with only one serving? Compared to the size of the Olive Garden plate, I would venture a guess that you’d need at least TWO (or more) servings, totaling 760+, coming a lot closer to the Olive Garden’s 1170 calorie plate.

A second example, the California Pizza Kitchen Original BBQ Chicken Pizza (page 180) is calculated at 1136 calories for a whole pizza (web site states current calories are less at 1055). The recipe makes 2 pizzas divided into 4 servings, at 380 calories for half pizza. How is that fair? Eating the whole homemade pizza brings the calories up to 760. A little sneaky and misleading that they’re not comparing apples to apples and pizzas to pizzas!

Most recipes were pushed down to the 350 calorie mark, but don’t be fooled, because in order to reduce calories, they weren’t giving you complete meals. Most so-called meals were only proteins. No carbs, no vegetables.

For Example, 360 calories for Chicken Pizzaioli (page 222) is compared to 1090 calories for the Olive Garden’s Chicken Parmigiana. Well, they kind of left out the fact that their version gives you a much smaller portion of chicken and doesn’t include any pasta, so in reality, it’s really not such a mind-blowing difference, is it?

Same with Herb Roasted Turkey Breast (page 228) compared to Bob Evans Turkey and Dressing. The recipe just calculates the turkey at 140 calories, but remove the dressing and gravy from the Bob Evans plate, and I bet it comes in just about equally. Very sneaky!

Don’t Waste Your Time and Money on this Book

Don’t waste your time with “Cook This, Not That – 350 Calorie Meals“, you’ll only be disappointed; their low 350 calorie meals are unbalanced and incomplete. They will not fill you up, and you’ll be searching for something else to eat, adding more calories to your daily total.

When you need a special treat, isn’t it better to splurge on something decadent? No, living a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t include a visit to the Olive Garden or Wendy’s very often, but sometimes you just want a good plate of junk food from a chain restaurant. Don’t worry about calories for ONE crazy treat meal, just enjoy and savor it while it lasts! :)

Recommendations Instead of This Book

If you need help to cook healthy, satisfying meals at home, borrow a Jamie Oliver book from the library; I especially love to recommend Cook With Jamie.

Also highly recommended is Hallmark TV channel’s “Mad Hungry” with Lucinda Scala Quinn. I love her down-to-earth, simple recipes!

There are also countless amounts of instructional cooking videos on youtube, and even many cooking podcasts on iTunes.

These are all much better choices than anything offered from the Eat This, Not That franchise. Good luck!

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks, which means I’d rather put my own spin on a recipe than follow it exactly. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes Cookbook Review

jamie's meals in minutes by jamie oliver

I borrowed the book Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast from the local library.

I was looking forward to reading this book. I love Jamie Oliver. His books are so helpful for beginners and I love watching his tv shows and internet videos. I’ve learned so much from him.

But unfortunately this book bored me, which pains me to admit, because I’m such a fan. I did read it all the way through, but it was a quick read. I just flipped pages for a couple of hours, and when I was finished, I promptly put it on the shelf by my front door, waiting to be returned to the library.

So, what’s wrong, exactly? Let’s start with the recipes.

Recipes Too Complicated

The book includes 50 complete meals: each meal includes 3 or more recipes on one page. The concept sounds great in theory, until you actually start to read them.

Like prior Jamie Oliver books, his recipes are written in paragraph style, but with 3+ dishes on one page, it’s very difficult to read & cook and then try to find your place again on the page. You’re switching from one dish to another and back and there’s just too much going on at once.

I realize Jamie wants to get people back in the kitchen, cooking homemade meals. He strives to give the reader as much information as possible to succeed, but cookbook recipes aren’t meant to read like a novel with paragraph after paragraph of detailed text. I wish he wrote the book using simple steps with bullet points.

Not So Easy Ingredients

Besides the complicated format, a lot of the ingredients are not items that the average home cook has in their pantry or even has access to at their local grocery. If you’re gonna include something like halloumi, you need to also include some sort of food product definition so people know what the heck they’re cooking!

Unnecessary Mandatory Kitchen Gear

And it’s not just ingredients that bugged me, he actually has a section in the beginning introduction titled “You Need this Equipment” – naming 2 columns of absolute “must-have” kitchen gear that he priced out at $550 – a hefty chunk of change for someone that is just starting out in the kitchen.

Yes, I have most of the recommended tools, but it’s gear I accumulated over time, not in a few days. It’s disappointing because Jamie Oliver has always been a minimalist (naked) chef, informing us that we don’t need no stinkin’ ice cream scoop or electric kettle. But now he is pushing a page of mandatory tools, but only because they’ll help you stick to the book’s promise that you can cook these meals in 30 minutes or less. That’s a silly reason to buy a garlic press, 4 cutting boards, a 3-level steamer, or an expensive food processor with extra blades and discs.

And to boot, it looks like the speed of the recipes has been greatly exaggerated anyway. It’s been reported that some recipes take upwards of 90 minutes instead of 30, as promised in the book, while others complain that it’s too stressful to try to keep up the 30 minute time crunch. If cooking is hurried and frantic, then it’s not fun; I don’t think that is the message that Jamie is trying to get across to people, is it?

Free Range and Cage Free Are NOT What They Seem

I’m also dismayed that he’s still recommending animal products labeled with out-dated “cage free” and “free range” misnomers. People are so easily confused by all the misleading terminology. I wish for once someone of his fame and influence would get it right!

Videos Are Better

Now, on a more positive note, check out the corresponding “30 Minute Meals” videos online instead. You can find a bunch on YouTube.

cook with jamie - by jamie oliver

I think newbie home cooks would learn so much more with visual instruction, but if a book is needed, I highly recommend one his previous books:

I know a lot of time and effort went into the book and Jamie has made it his lifework to get people cooking at home; maybe this book will work for some people. It just doesn’t work for me.

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks, which means I’d rather put my own spin on a recipe than follow it exactly. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half (America’s Cheapest Family) Book Review

cut your grocery bill in half with americas cheapest family

I borrowed the book “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family” from the library, and wow, what a learning experience!

The book has been a tremendous help with getting me back on track with a budget & saving money! A few months ago, I set up a preliminary spreadsheet budget, but now I have a more detailed budget. It’s become an obsession now!

Although not all of the suggestions and tips apply to every family’s situation, this book could be helpful for anyone wanting to learn how to spend less on groceries, as well as help to organize your kitchen and pantry. Even if you implement one or two of their suggestions, you will win!

The chapters are as follows: Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half (or More); The Power of the Plan; Shopping to Win; Couponing-One of the Many Ways to Save; Cooking That Will Save You Time, Money, & Sanity; Stocking Up & Organizing-Store It, Find It, Use It; Economizing Equipment-Powerful Money Saving Tools; Family Dinnertime-Building a Stronger Family at the Table; Feeding Your Kids for Less; Where and How to Eat Out for Less; Gardening-Grow It Yourself & Be Healthy; Bag Up the Savings; Bonus: More Ways Singles & Empty Nesters Can Save a Boodle; Recipes.

I decided to read it in order, from cover to cover, and try to implement their advice as I read along.

Meal Planning

The book stresses the importance of a solid menu plan, which is probably the area in which I need the most help.

I would love to get into a routine of planning specific meals and building a shopping list that works together with the meal plan. That will be my biggest challenge.

Just last week, I tried to create a dinner menu for the week, but something always changes and I end up off track again. But the book is encouraging, explaining that changes to not happen overnight. It takes time and practice to get things right!

I’m also trying cook extra meal portions to “feed the freezer.” I already do that to some extent, but it needs to be kicked into high gear with better organization and planning. I started keeping an inventory list of what’s in our freezer, because unless you know what’s in the freezer, you won’t use it!

It’s really an awesome feeling knowing that on busy nights, I can rely on a freezer full of ready-to-reheat homemade meals, that just need to be defrosted that morning or the night before. It’s the art of planning ahead!

Shop Less, Spend Less

The authors propose that to save money on groceries, it’s essential to shop less often; they shop only one night a month at 2-3 stores offering the best sales. Once a month would be impossible for me, as I rely too much on fresh produce, but I am aiming for once every 7-10 days. It’s difficult because I do enjoy grocery shopping, but I’m going to give this a try and see if it helps to keep spending within my budget.

The book also teaches some of the tricks & mind games that grocery stores play to get you to purchase more. I learned that stores WANT you to impulse buy, and they make tons from shoppers just stopping to buy “just one thing”!

And I passed my first “test” last week. I wanted to make muffins, but I had no milk (dairy or non-dairy) in the house. I wasn’t planning on grocery shopping until this week, so I really didn’t want to go to the store for one item, and I kept thinking about the advice in the book. Just make due and substitute what you need with something you already have. So, I used my brain-power (whoo hoo), and realized that in place of milk, I could use yogurt, which I had plenty of. Problems solved! I was so proud of myself!

I’m definitely going to try to stick to my shopping list, and not give in to impulse buys! One tip from the book is to keep any impulse items in the grocery cart top rack, and when you are all done shopping, look again at each item and decide if it’s worth adding to your grocery total.

My Personal Tip for Smart Phone Users

I have a tip of my own for smart phone users: The Grocery IQ app is not so “smart” anymore has been indispensable when I’m shopping. IMPORTANT UPDATE: On May 8, 2012, Grocery IQ updated their app removing the ability for product pricing, thus making the app utterly useless for anyone on a budget! I don’t know what their motivation was, but the app was totally redesigned, also removing my customized aisles and history.

I’ll be writing a detailed review of Grocery IQ app soon, but to summarize, the app keeps used to keep a running $ total of items in my grocery cart as well as what’s left on my shopping list. That way I know There is now no way to know exactly how much I’m spending and it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to use than I might as well just use a calculator!

Rainchecks

I loved the tip in the book about rainchecks. I ask for rainchecks all the time at Whole Foods when an item is out of stock. I never thought about asking for a raincheck for an item that might actually be in stock, but perhaps you would like to purchase at a later date for the sale price.

Prebagged Produce Weighs More

I think my favorite tip in the book was to buy prebagged produce.

Months ago, my sister told me how much she loved buying the 2lb bags of organic carrots at Whole Foods. I always thought it was silly because the price for loose carrots was $1.29/lb while the bagged carrots were $1.25/lb. Why not pick and choose your own carrots for a few more pennies?

Well, I’ll tell you why. The book states that prebagged produce by law must contain at least the weight claimed on the bag, and most manufacturers will err on the side of caution and add more ounces to the bag.

They’re right! I weighed the 2 lb bag of prebagged carrots I bought at Whole Foods and it was 2.33 lbs. That brings the cost per pound down to $1.07, saving over 20 cents per pound vs the loose carrots. No, it’s not a budget shattering savings, but it made me feel good, and at the same time, it made me think of my sister, whom I love very much! <3

Know Your Prices

Following the advice in the book, I set up a “best price” spreadsheet for regularly purchased items, along with an additional spreadsheet to compare bulk pricing. Yes, it is time consuming, and the book warns you about that, but once I researched prices from Whole Foods, Amazon.com (subscribe & save) and iHerb.com, it was amazing to see the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in price.

I keep a pdf copy of the list on my iPhone, and also a printed copy if needed.

I still have a long way to go with price organization, but I’m off to a great start!

Buying Used Appliances

The authors suggest buying used vs new when it comes to some appliances, but you must be informed before purchasing. Know the value of the item, check sales to compare to how much it costs as new. Research the brand name for reliability. Is the seller the original owner, do they have the sales receipt and instruction manual? Visiting the seller’s home can tell you a lot about the integrity of a person.

It’s okay to haggle to get the best price, and again, that’s where researching fair market value is helpful.

It’s very important to know the item’s serial number and either call the manufacturer or research on www.appliance411.com/service/date-code.php to find out the age of the product. Sellers notoriously under-age their products, and it’s always a good idea to know beforehand if a product truly is 5 years old or if it’s 25 years old. They suggest a cap of 4-5 years old when purchasing used items. If a serial number plate is missing, it could be stolen.

Get a receipt when purchasing used with date, amount paid, serial number, and buyer & seller names.

Miscellaneous Tidbits

There are great suggestions in the book concerning organizing your freezer, including placing the contents in paper bags – something I’m going to try!

They also warn against keeping your freezer in an area that has temperatures less than 55° – I did not know that! We have our chest freezer in the workroom downstairs, and I’m not sure if it gets colder than that in the winter. I’ll have to check into it.

Another great tip is to use table linens/cloth napkins actually made of linen not polyester. Linen lasts a very long time and is stain resistant, but it needs to be ironed. It’s also lint-free, which also makes older, warn linens great for cleaning windows and glass. Estate sales are a great place to find linen table cloths and napkins for very cheap prices.

Cheap Food is Not the Answer

One strategy that I strongly disagree with is their advice to purchase cheap food, especially meat, dairy and eggs. Purchasing beef at $.99/lb is NOT a healthy choice.

Cheap meat is directly related to factory farming which abuse animals and destroy our environment; I would rather pay more for better-raised meats and just eat less of it.

The more we encourage “cheap” food, the worse our nation and our economy will become.

It’s not just animal products, cheap produce encourages pesticide usage, which affects the health of farm workers, as well as the health of those consuming the produce.

Farmers can’t afford to keep growing responsibly, because the public demands low cost food! Organic is not always the answer, but at least it protects the environment and farm workers from being exposed to toxins.

It’s unfortunate, but we’ve become a nation that is dictated by the thrill of a “bargain.” I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to save money when grocery shopping, but we shouldn’t expect rock bottom prices either. There’s a reason that it’s so cheap, and we’re paying the price with our health and our environment, while big food companies are gaining huge profits!

But I don’t have a large family to feed (there’s just two of us) so I really can’t blame the authors for purchasing “cheap food.” I consider myself lucky that I am able to have that choice, and realize that other families cannot afford to.

Admittedly, there are occasions that even I can’t stop myself from buying something that I know is not humanely raised, like a block of good cheese. And there are moments (especially after reading this book) that I think about how much I’d really be saving if I just gave in and purchased cheap food on sale in the weekly fliers. But until the day that I’m desperately in monetary straights, I will continue to eat as I do, knowing that yes, I am probably spending a lot more, but it’s worth it!

And THAT is the beauty of the book, you aren’t forced to do as they do, unless of course you want to. There were plenty of other ideas that I found extremely beneficial.

I encourage everyone to grab a copy of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family

And to boot, the book is at a bargain price of under $7 brand new shipped from Amazon! – but if you want to save even more cash, then borrow it from your local library like I did! I promise either way, you will learn something that helps your food budget!

Web Resources:
America’s Cheapest Family website – lots more tips, and videos of their appearances on various TV and radio shows. This family is marketing genius!
America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money – their first book, which I have on order at the library. Looking forward to reading it!

Sage Spoonfuls By Liza Huber – Book Review

I became interested in the book, Sage Spoonfuls – Simple Recipes, Healthy Meals, Happy Babies when I saw the author, Liza Huber, and her mother Susan Lucci (All My Children’s Erica Kane) on a morning talk show. Liza was promoting her book, and she spoke about how important she thought it was to make your own homemade baby food.

I am not sure why I gravitated to her and this subject matter, seeing that I do not have any any children, nor will I in the future, but I am passionate about healthy food, and I agree that good nutrition has to start as early as possible, especially when we are seeing soaring rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in young children. Maybe the subject struck me because my niece recently had a little baby girl, and I am hopeful that maybe she could be raised with wholesome healthy homemade food.

So, long story short, I was fortunate to receive a review copy of Liza’s book, and I’m so glad I did!

Sage Spoonfuls by Liza Huber book review

Now, again, I can’t speak from personal experience, but Liza states that for only 1 hour every two weeks, you can have a freezer full of homemade healthy baby food!

She created Sage Spoonfuls as a complete homemade baby-food system, of which the book is part of. The “system” includes storage jars, blenders, freezer packs, coolers, totes, etc. and the book does promote her products, but her ideas are 100% doable without any additional purchases, unless of course you want to. Well, I should clarify that you will need to buy some sort of small storage containers or baggies if you want to freeze your baby food, which is the whole point of the book, but most of the other necessary tools are items you probably already have in your kitchen: veggie peeler, strainer, cutting board, knife, spoon, cooking pot with steamer/lid, skillet/fry pan, baking sheet, immersion blender or food processor, fork, glass bowl, spatula, & sauce pan.

So let’s start with what I liked about the physical aspects of the book. It’s spiral bound, so it lies flat on your counter; that’s so helpful when you’re trying to read while cooking. The pages are thick & glossy, which I assume could resist staining (again, so helpful in the kitchen!) There’s bold bright colors on every page, with easy to read fonts and graphics. Lot of big detailed photographs throughout.

There is a lot of information to read and if you are new mom, it might be a good idea to read it once then go back and read it at least one more time to really understand the process. I dog-eared many pages and highlighted text that I thought was important!

So, there are 5 chapters in the book: Food for Thought; the Essentials; Let’s Get Started; a Homemade Lifestyle; and Recipes. Each chapter is loaded with tips, hints and details that will give you all the information you need to feed your baby homemade food. There is a 2 page “index” at the back of the book, and it’s easy to find each vegetable or fruit, along with the general subjects she mentions in the book, like Foods to Avoid, Reheating, Infant CPR.

Liza covers every aspect of how to prepare homemade food for your baby, including nutritional facts (vitamins, minerals, fats, etc) and allergies. I love that she encourages adding herbs and spices to your baby’s food. Again, I might be totally experienced in this area, but I always thought baby food should be bland. Not so! In fact, she states that the more flavors your baby is exposed to, the more “adventurous” an eater he will be, and the less “picky” he will be later in life.

Sage Spoonfuls really is a A-Z book on EVERYTHING you need to know. What is the best way to reheat the baby food? How to quickly defrost the food from freezer? What do you look for when shopping for produce or meat? What to expect when going on an overnight trip to a location with a fridge? Liza covers that, along with other scenarios like day trips, and overnights without a fridge.

My favorite chapter is Recipes – it covers each stage in a baby’s life, starting with 4-6 months, then 7-9 months, and 10-12 months. I suppose you could say that these are technically not really “recipes”, but a directory of ingredients appropriate for that specific age group.

There is also a section on Family Favorites, simple recipes that the entire family, including adults, babies, toddlers, and older children, will enjoy.

The first three age-centered recipe sections each start with a FAQ, which answers just about every question you could have concerning feeding your baby at that particular age. Liza encourages you to keep trying if at first your baby doesn’t respond. She makes every “problem” sound completely normal and that you are not alone; there are other moms that went through the same, and it’s okay!

Each single ingredient is highlighted on two pages. The first page includes helpful tips for cooking/preparing along with nutritional data plus the appropriate age at which you should start feeding the particular ingredient. She also lists if the ingredient is suitable for freezer and/or fridge and how to store “on the go”.

sage spoonfuls sample pages

The ingredient’s 2nd page focuses on yummy food combinations, again, appropriate for that particular age group. This is my absolute favorite aspect of the book. I don’t know why, but these food combinations just thrilled me. I just love the knowledge that banana can be easily combined with apples or pears & parsnips – I mean, what commercial baby food manufacturer offers a jar combining potato, pea and pear? I guess that’s what makes homemade food so exciting. The endless possibility of yummy tasty combinations!

Another favorite part of the Sage Spoonfuls book was the realization that you can indeed make homemade baby cereal! Okay, it could be my lack of child rearing experience, but I think it’s so cool that you can easily make your own rice, oatmeal, barley and millet baby cereal and it will be tons better than anything you buy at the store!

My complaints about the book? I wish she shared more about the why’s of some of her tips. For example, why you need to peel vegetables and fruit? Is it because it is more difficult to puree or could it cause choking? And why she didn’t mention using a microwave to warm the food? I’m assuming her belief is that perhaps a microwave kills nutrients, but I would have loved to have read her official opinions on both.

I’m sure most of the book content can be found in various books or other “mommy” web sites, but it’s really handy to have ONE book that explains all aspects of preparing homemade baby food!

I recommend Sage Spoonfuls – Simple Recipes, Healthy Meals, Happy Babies to new moms, or moms without a lot of cooking or nutritional knowledge. I’d even recommend this for grandmas that want to give their grandbabies healthy homemade food when they visit.

This is the way I wish all children could be raised, eating wholesome homemade food! We could eliminate so many chronic illnesses and especially childhood obesity problems! If only parents would take the extra time to cook for their families! It is probably the best gift they could give!

(Disclaimer: Even though I received a free copy of this book, my opinions are truthful, and I tried my best to give an fair evaluation.)

Jamie At Home cookbook review

Jamie At Home cookbook review

I love the Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life cookbook! It’s not just a cookbook, it’s got great tips for growing your own a veggie garden and raising your own chickens! It’s also the companion cookbook to Jamie’s TV series of the same name (“Jamie At Home” on the Food Network and Cooking Channel)

It was so touching to read about his decision to take in flocks of abused chickens from egg factory farms and raise them with his free range chickens.

I also learned more about lamb and exactly what mutton is. Did you know that sheep over a year old are mutton and that the flavor is much more complex than younger lamb? Of course mutton must be cooked low and slow, but that’s how Jamie likes to cook!

He writes that mutton has gone out of style and that it would help farmers if more people requested it because mutton usually comes from breeding sheep. I don’t remember the last time I ate lamb and I don’t know that I like the flavor. But I keep wanting to try it especially when there’s chefs like Jamie Oliver inspiring me!

One complaint about the actual book is some pages are difficult to read due to pages with darker background colors.

And although his recipes are “dead simple” as he likes to say, with rustic homey ingredients, they aren’t always something I’d want to cook. But the recipes are always totally Jamie and you can hear his voice speaking through the words on the page. Very English! Very seasonal! BRILLIANT!

He works with a lot of ingredients that might be intimidating to some home cooks. Items like pork belly, rabbit, squash flowers scare me but it’s nice to know he’s on your side holding your hand inspiring you to try new techniques and ingredients.

No, I don’t know if I’ll ever seek out a partridge bird or cook up venison stew but Jamie was instrumental in bringing me to a deeper understanding and respect for animals and how it’s okay to hunt animals as long as it is done with total respect and without waste. No, I’m never going to kill my own food but I’m not so against others doing it anymore.

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

(review originally authored on Dec 17, 2010)

Almost Meatless – Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet – Book Review

I found the Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet by Joy Manning & Tara Mataraza Desmond book at the local library.

It is impossible to continue to feed ourselves and the world, unless we reduce our consumption of animal products. That includes local humanely raised animal products, as well as inferior cheaply-raised Big Food animal products.

Eating as a “flexitarian” is so much better for your health and especially good for the environment. AND it’s good for your food budget too!

almost meatless book review

We eat several meatless meals each week, but when I do cook meat, poultry or seafood, I really try hard to limit our portion to no more than 4 oz (raw) or 3 oz (cooked). It really helps to view animal products (including dairy, poultry, eggs, meat, and seafood) as an enhancement to the dish, not the main attraction. Adding more plant based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and nuts, to make those the centerpiece of home cooked recipes.

And this is where the “Almost Meatless” book comes in handy for inspiration. From inside the book’s dust cover: A little meat can go a long way…. So true!

Keep in mind, this is not a vegetarian cookbook, all the recipes include animal products, but they are not the main component of the dish. Meats are used sparingly, but wisely, to build layers of flavors in the recipes.

The book is sectioned by each animal product (chicken, turkey, seafood, pork, beef, lamb, eggs, and broths), not by recipe subject. While browsing through the book, like I love to do, reading it cover to cover, it’s wonderful to see all the chicken recipes or all the beef recipes together, but for the home cook, it might be confusing not to be able to find one chapter for all soups, or pastas, or sandwiches, salads, or side dishes, especially when meats can sometimes be used interchangeably with each other. It might be more difficult to find what you’re looking for unless you know how the recipe is categorized in the index in the back of the book.

But that is really a small price to pay for the benefits of the book. It’s packed with loads of inspiration and ideas! I especially loved the tips on making your own stocks and broths on page 130. They tell you WHY you need to use cold water and why you only want to simmer (not boil) and why you should skim the foam. Stuff I never really understood!

At the beginning of each “meat” section, there is a terrific explanation. What to look for when purchasing (ie labels like “free range” which mean nothing in today’s terms), why and how to avoid the factory farmed version and find a local farm that raises their animals with care and respect.

For instance, what do the terms organic or grass fed for beef mean? It’s on page 84!

The “Bring Home the Bacon” blurb on page 37 was an eye-opener for me! I don’t ever buy bacon (turkey or pork) from mainstream Big Food companies anymore, but if I did, I’d certainly not want to buy one that included “mechanically separated turkey” as an ingredient!

There are a lot of beautifully detailed photographs in the cook book, only a few recipes do not have an accompanying photo. On the negative side, some of the photos are useless; for example, page 127 displays a yummy bowl of seeded tomatoes instead of the actual finished Pizza Strata dish. Same problem on page 95, instead of showing the finished Chimichurri Fajitas, there is a lovely eggplant photograph. Lovely yes, but not helpful for those of us cooking the dish. For the most part though, the photos do compliment the recipes, and really show great detail on what to expect for the finished recipe.

One other small complaint, I wish they didn’t use so much white flour and/or white bread as ingredients. I’m NOT dead set against never using white flour or white sugar, but after all, we’re eating less meat for the health of our bodies and the planet, so give us more healthy whole grains.

But I loved that they really encouraged finding local food, especially local animal products! That’s so important!

I recommend the Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet cookbook. It’s a beautiful detailed book and even the more experienced home cook will find something inspiring in the recipes as well as the tips and information. I enjoyed reading through it!

Some favorite recipes that inspired me:

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Williams Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers’ Market Book Review

I borrowed the “Williams Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers Market” cookbook from the library. It’s a lovely hard cover book, with loads of colorful, high-qualtiy photographs.

williams sonoma cooking from the farmers market cookbook review

The book begins with tips for local seasonal eating and shopping at the farmers’ market. There is a 4 page “graph” listing each vegetable and fruit and its season. For instance, delicate lettuces are normally grown in the spring and autumn, while sturdy lettuces are grown in the winter. Garlic is a summer veg, while apples are found in the autumn and winter. It gives you a rough idea of what produce to expect at a given time of year.

The book is then organized by each vegatable/fruit “group” – for instance, Beans & Peas, Cabbages & other Crucifers, Leafy Greens, Roots & Tubers, Squashes, etc.

At the beginning of each veg/fruit section, there’s a quick “table of contents” listing which produce will be covered in that section and a descriptive summary. Onions & Cousins: onions, sweet onions, garlic, green garlic, leeks, green onions.

Then there’s more detail on each specific vegetable/fruit, like growing history, variations, growing season, and other helpful tips for buying and cooking it. Not unlike a quick encyclopedia reference for produce! There was also a fantastic photo available for each vegetable/fruit which is helpful if you aren’t sure what it looks like.

The produce are listed in two’s, with their specific recipes following. Recipes are grouped three to a page, with one fantastic photograph of a finished dish on the opposite page.

Each vegetable/fruit has a color reference, and the recipes are color coordinated. For instance, there is a section for Brussels Sprouts (orange) and Broccoli Rabe (blue) – the recipes that follow are highlighted in either orange for Brussels Sprouts or blue for Broccoli Rabe.

The recipes themselves are inspiring and creative. I’m not a big recipe follower, but I love gaining knowledge by reading through cookbooks, learning new techniques, and how to put different flavors together. There are some unique ideas in this book and some classic! I think everyone can learn a little something, whether you’re a newbie cook or experienced.

If you don’t need a permanent reference, then consider borrowing the “Williams Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers Market” cookbook from your local library.

If you are new to healthy cooking and need a general Vegetable & Fruit guide, then this would be a great addition to your cookbook collection. It’s also helpful for inspiration if you frequent your local farmers markets or receive a hefty share of veggies from your local farm CSA.

One issue to keep in mind, recipes are not categorized by type, so if you’re searching for a soup, you won’t be able to browse through a chapter of soups. You’ll need to refer to the detailed index at the back of the book, to find all “soups” of which there are plenty!

But if you return from the market with some eggplant, and don’t know what to do with it, open the book to the eggplant section and you might energized with an idea, like Rolled Eggplant with Sausage and Mozzarella (a recipe I’m looking forward to trying)

A few of the other recipes that jumped out at me were

  1. Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Champagne Grapes
  2. Sauteed Spinach with Feta & Pine Nuts
  3. Avocado, Bacon & Tomato Tartines
  4. Baked eggs with spinach and cream
  5. Blueberry-Vanilla Panna Cotta

Note: I noticed most of the recipes that included a photograph in the cookbook, were indeed available online at the Williams Sonoma web site. Plus a few recipes were available from other bloggers.

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Cooking from the Garden Cookbook Review

I borrowed the book Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from Kitchen Gardener from the library, and was thrilled to find so many fun unique recipes I was dying to try.

The cook book is based on the many recipes and tips that were published in the magazine “Kitchen Gardener” during 1999-2001. (You’re able to find many recipes online at Vegetable Gardener.

It’s surprising, but I mean, really, how can you make vegetables new and exciting? But yep, they do, at least for me! Even though the recipes are not fancy and exotic, I learned so much, which is one of the main reasons to love a cookbook or not. If I can be inspired by a cookbook, then I’m hooked!

And the details! The details for each recipe is outstanding. There’s no question how high (or low) your stove heat should be, or what type of cooking vessel you should be using. It’s in the recipe details!

Unfortunately, there are no photos in this cookbook, but I understand they need to keep costs down. There are chapters for appetizers, breakfast, sauces, salads, sandwiches, soups, side dishes, pastas & grains & beans, main dishes, desserts, preserving along with seasonal menus.

It’s very helpful that basic nutritional data is included with every recipe, calories, fat and sodium are listed. Yes, a lot of recipes are higher in fat that some would like, actually some are too high even for me, but the oil can be easily reduced if necessary.

I think this book is perfect for someone that wants to get out of a vegetable rut and experiment with something different. I know it’s difficult to keep coming up with new ideas for the vegetables I’m picking up at my weekly CSA share. It’s given me a lot of inspiration! For instance, I need to use more bread crumbs, which are so easy to make with my day-old homemade bread!

It’s great when you want meatless or vegan meals too! Instead of a conventional meal of meat, starch and vegetable, it might be refreshing to prepare 3 different vegetable or grain “side dishes” that don’t necessarily work as a whole meal on their own, but put together, they could nicely blend into a complete meal!

I’m going to be disappointed to return the book to the library. It was one of my favorites for sure!

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.

Heirloom Beans Rancho Gordo Cookbook Review

Book review: Heirloom Beans: Great Recipes for Dips and Spreads, Soups and Stews, Salads and Salsas, and Much More from Rancho Gordo

I’m really loving cooking my own beans! And I’ve been learning more about wonderful heirloom beans. There’s a well-known highly regarded California heirloom bean company named Rancho Gordo. They sell their beans locally at farmer’s markets as well as through online orders.

It got me thinking about finding my own local stash of heirloom beans and I think I did find one! Baer’s Best Beans is one of the last heirloom bean growers in Massachusetts.

But anyway, I digress. This post is a review of the Rancho Gordo heirloom bean cookbook!

I think what really opened my eyes wider to how little Americans really know and understand about food was what he wrote in his Introduction. The author, Steve Sando opens with the line “Are these beans vegetarian?” and proceeds to tell the story of a woman who actually asked him that question (presumably at a Farmer’s Market). He thought he misunderstood her, that perhaps she meant to ask if the beans were organic. Nope, she wanted to know if they had “no meat, vegetarian?” – he had to assure her that yes, his heirloom beans were vegetarian.

Wow, can our country really truly be in that bad of shape, not knowing that dried beans in a bag were actually vegetarian!?? It’s very sad that so many people have no idea where real food really comes from!

But that’s what made me love this book even more! That story made me laugh and want to eat more beans!

Beans are a tremendous super food! High in protein, and loaded with fiber. And don’t forget the iron, vitamins B & A, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and zinc. And cooking them yourself instead of buying a can is not that difficult!

To be truthful, I wasn’t always a bean lover! I always aspired to be a bean lover though, and I think that is what kept me working at it.

It’s definitely an acquired taste….if you start off gently and slowly, you can grow to enjoy and even love beans! My DH is living proof as well. He was dead-set against beans, and no, he doesn’t ADORE them now, but he does like them. He enjoys the food that I prepare with beans, and cookbooks like this with interesting and inspiring recipes are very helpful in getting to that place.

So anyway, the Rancho Gordo cookbook is loaded with all kinds of recipes. From appetizers, soups, & salads to side dishes & main dishes. There is a section that lists some of Steve’s favorite heirloom bean varieties with a short description of each. Lots of incredible photos too.

Then there is the section for “Basic Cooking Techniques for a Simple Pot of Beans”, which covers everything you need to know about soaking, flavoring, and cooking beans, along with several variations.

There’s tips on storing, along with tips and techniques on other cooking methods, ingredients, and equipment.

I’ve already read it once, and now I’m going back and reading it a second time! It’s really a great encyclopedia of beans! And it’s not just about heirloom beans, because not everyone has access to them. The tips and recipes can be applied to most any type of dried bean.

Oh it’s making me hungry for beans! Going to have to cook up a little pot tomorrow!

And for those that want to learn more about growing their own heirloom beans, Steve Sando has also written another book called “The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide: Steve Sando’s 50 Favorite Varieties

Disclaimer:
I love reading cookbooks, like some people love reading novels! I am inspired by recipes, and enjoy learning ideas from cookbooks; I like putting my own spin on a recipe rather than exactly following it. Please keep in mind that my opinions might be completely different from the other home cooks.