Thursday, February 4, 2016

Light-year Cookbook Reviews: A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden

Cookbook reviews shouldn't take a year, in my speed of light summaries I'll do it in less than 365 words! Even if you read one word a day, you will have at least .25 days left. I give you the "skinny" for every cookbook on some key points:
  • What is the aim of the book
  • How pretty it is
  • How readable the recipes are
  • How feasible the recipes are
  • How well the book supports good health (the horrible pun comes back around!)
  • Is the book good for vegetarians? 
  • Is the book good for vegans?



    Today we have A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden by April Bloomfield.



    Aim


    The author, a professional chef, shares her favorite plant-centered dishes. The book is made to be accessible and mostly based on vegetables, but also adding polish and sophistication to add interest.

    Look


    The book has stunning artistic recipe photos. Recipe pages also have adorable yet quirky vegetable-themed illustrations, which have a watercolor/fingerpaint feel. Fonts are nice and comfortable, though I could skip the page footer font.

    Readability


    The ingredient lists have a bit of a chef-like specificity (specific brands/types of simple ingredients) which aren't too pretentious but make it harder to read the lists quickly. Instructions are short, but jammed together a bit. The recipes are easy to understand but hard to quickly reference.

    Feasibility


    Despite the ingredient specificity, the dishes are actually all relatively easy to make. Nothing is overly complicated technique wise. Instructions are very specific, which I think can actually be very helpful for less experienced cooks. Some dishes have long cook times, but there are plenty of quick weeknight affairs too.

    Health


    This is about taste, healthy side effects are incidental.

    Vegetarian


    Almost all of the dishes are vegetarian, or could easily be made so. There are certainly some meat dishes but most use it more as a condiment. Cut the bacon and substitute vegetable broths and you'll still make some tasty meals.

    Vegan


    There are some shining stars in here that make the book worth reading for an aspiring vegan chef. That said the heavy use of cream and eggs may create some barriers. That said there is a ton in here ripe and ready for some simple substitutions, but it will be a do-it-yourself arrangement.



    If you would like to buy this book, please consider using the links in this post, a small bit trickles back to me if you do.

    Sometimes I receive complimentary copies of books I review, in this case I did not. I will always disclose this, but all opinions are always my own.

    Suggestions? Want to point me toward a book? Feel free to comment here, or ask me on twitter @RedHealthPotion.

    Monday, February 1, 2016

    Light-year Cookbook Reviews: Vegan under pressure

    Cookbook reviews shouldn't take a year, in my speed of light summaries I'll do it in less than 365 words! Even if you read one word a day, you will have at least .25 days left. I give you the "skinny" for every cookbook on some key points:
    • What is the aim of the book
    • How pretty it is
    • How readable the recipes are
    • How feasible the recipes are
    • How well the book supports good health (the horrible pun comes back around!)
    • Is the book good for vegetarians? 
    • Is the book good for vegans?



      Today we have Vegan Under Pressure: Perfect Vegan Meals Made Quick and Easy in Your Pressure Cooker by Jill Nussinow



      Aim

      This cookbook aims to set up a corpus of vegan dishes that can be made quickly and simply using a pressure cooker. It is designed for the home chef.

      Look

      The book has nice photography and a clean visual style with simple lines and pleasing colors. Visual cues are used frequently. There are call-outs for cook times that are in the same position for every recipe.

      Readability

      Fonts are large enough to read and in legible fonts. Recipe instructions are clearly numbered with relatively short entries. The tables for cooking single ingredients are exhaustive but easy to read.

      Feasibility

      Nothing in the recipes are too complicated. Most recipes involve prepping vegetables, a short saute of onions, and then pressure cooking. Aforementioned cook time call-outs make it easy to check how long to set the timer from a few feet away

      Health

      Health is not the central focus, but pressure cooking recipes are naturally lower in fat--here the author uses at most 2 tablespoons of oil in any recipe. The simple trick to saute onions in water instead would remove 90% of the oil.

      Vegetarian

      See vegan, below.

      Vegan

      The central focus of the book is a vegan diet. All recipes are vegan, including the use of naturally-derived sugars. Most recipes are edible meat eaters would eat, but aren't adding lots of heavily processed fake meats. Clearly these recipes were built up from scratch, instead of trying to convert meat-centric recipes.




      If you would like to buy this book, please consider using the links in this post, a small bit trickles back to me if you do.

      Sometimes I receive complimentary copies of books I review, in this case I did not. I will always disclose this, but all opinions are always my own.

      Suggestions? Want to point me toward a book? Feel free to comment here, or ask me on twitter @RedHealthPotion.

      Sunday, January 24, 2016

      Light-year Cookbook Reviews: 400 Calorie Fix: The Easy New Rule for Permanent Weight Loss

      Cookbook reviews shouldn't take a year, in my speed of light summaries I'll do it in less than 365 words! Even if you read one word a day, you will have at least .25 days left. I give you the "skinny" for every cookbook on some key points:
      • What is the aim of the book
      • How pretty it is
      • How readable the recipes are
      • How feasible the recipes are
      • How well the book supports good health (the horrible pun comes back around!)
      • Is the book good for vegetarians? 
      • Is the book good for vegans?



      First up we have 400 Calorie Fix: The Easy New Rule for Permanent Weight Loss!



      Aim


      This book provides a way to calorie count without stressing out and counting every chip you eat.

      Look


      The photography in the book is excellent. The large photo spreads throughout the book are paired with visuals of nearly every recipe, which enhance the reading experience.

      Readability


      Title and ingredient fonts are large and legible. Every recipe is straightforward, although the directions often could have been broken down into smaller steps.

      Feasibility


      None of the recipes are challenging. There are extensive sections covering quick meals, fast food, restaurants and social gatherings.

      Health


      Within the 400 Calorie Fix there are several tools to help very realistically help the reader make improvements in their diet. Calorie counting is a reliable way to lose weight. However, if it is the only tool you use it can lead to unbalanced nutrition, reliance on processed meals, and stress over exact counts. These issues, when combined, can lead to cheating and abandoning a diet. Each of these issues is addressed in the 400 Calorie Fix. Every recipe in the book has a rating of how well it addresses basic nutritional needs with a detailed nutrition panel. Quick meal recipes help break the rut of frozen diet lunches, but there is also advice for making the healthiest snack machine and packaged meal selections. The daily target of 4-5 meals of 400 calories allow for the reader to build meals tailored to their needs. Once these are rote you do not have to tick off each ingredient in a calorie diary. The author also knows that staying on a plan is hardest at an office party or buffet. There are sections that outline how to eat enough to be satisfied without missing out on your favorites entirely. Success stories with photos of real people reinforce that you can lose reasonable amounts of weight at safe speeds.

      Vegetarian


      Excellent vegetarian suggestions are present nearly everywhere. Many meat recipes use the meat as a seasoning, and can easily be omitted.

      Vegan


      There are only a couple of recipes that are vegan, and only a handful more that could be converted. The sections on food pacing and visual guides are still helpful.



      If you would like to buy this book, please consider using the links in this post, a small bit trickles back to me if you do. Sometimes I receive complimentary copies of books I review, in this case I did not. I will always disclose this, but all opinions are always my own.

      Suggestions? Want to point me toward a book? Feel free to comment here, or ask me on twitter @RedHealthPotion.

      Friday, August 21, 2015

      Pumpkin Waffles


      "But guys, the plague of pumpkin and pumpkin spice everything hasn't even started yet!  Don't you want to wait until our nostrils and taste buds are assaulted by pumpkin spice Doritos, tampons, and toothpaste?!"  Ummm, how 'bout no.  Ubiquity breeds contempt, and in the fall, nothing is more contemptuous than the siege of pumpkin spice commodities that have NO RIGHT BEING PUMPKIN WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?  At any other time of year though, load me up, mofo.  These have an amazing crispy outside and a creamy pie-like inside, good with or without syrup.  To make them non dairy-free (dairy filled? pro-dairy?  legend-dairy?), just replace soy milk with regular.  Hypothetically could also be pancakes, though may rip a hole in the space-time continuum.  You have been warned.


      Pumpkin Waffles


      Makes 4 servings (1 waffle) at 315 calories / 15 g fat / 40 g carbohydrates / 6 g protein

      Wet Ingredients
      3/4 cup soy milk
      2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
      3/4 cup canned pumpkin
      1/4 cup canola oil
      1/4 sugar or maple syrup
      1 tsp vanilla extract
      Dry Ingredients
      1 cup flour
      1 tbsp baking powder
      1 tsp salt
      1 tsp ground cinnamon
      1 tsp ground ginger
      1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
      1/4 tsp cloves


      Directions
      • Start by pouring your milk substitute into a measuring cup. Add the apple cider vinegar to the milk and let it sit a minute. This adds a more buttermilk taste and interacts with the baking powder to give the lift you are missing from no eggs. Don't worry it won't taste like vinegar.

      • The next part couldn't be easier, plop in the flour first and the put all the dry ingredients after. Separate bowls and sifting is for people who don't have a stack of tumblr to read or daily quests to burn through.

      • Mix up the ingredients with a whisk. Avoid going at it like Ryu on a compact car, just enough to get it smooth, one or two times past just incorporated. You'll get something a little thicker than your standard batter. 
      • Waffle makers differ in how they cook, so follow your specific instructions/experience, but there are a few universal truths (no, no not the kind from the Church of Universal Truth). Give your iron plenty of time to heat up, use a generous amount of cooking spray on all the inside surfaces, then pour the batter in a gentle circle around the center of the iron. After that, press the iron down and let it cook without messing with it. 

      • How long do you cook it? If you have an expensive maker it will probably tell you with temperature sensing technology and on-board emf detectors when your waffle is done to precise crispness. If you're like me you have the thrift store model that's seen three generations of service. The best indicator, other than trial and error, is that the waffle is usually done enough when the wispy phantasmal steam has been fully exorcised from the interior. I was the old priest, Munchkin was the young priest.
      • Plate the waffles and try not to eat the first one before you have cooked the others. 



      Vegan Superpowers 

      There is some debate as to whether granulated sugar is truly vegan as some companies use bone char in the refining process. If you'd like to avoid that in your diet you can substitute maple syrup.

      From a more general health standpoint you can improve the recipe by buying organic canned pumpkin to avoid problematic BPA interior can linings--I doubt you will gain much in terms of pesticide reduction. You can also cut the oil out of the batter and reduce the sugar at the cost of floppier waffle (you nearly halve the calories and almost all the fat), but I'd keep the spray on the waffle iron unless you want a catastrophe on a Battle of the Blackwater scale.

      Wednesday, August 19, 2015

      Eowyn Challenge

      One does not simply walk to Mordor...

      So of course, I have decided to run there instead!

      Photo by Themeplus
       The Eowyn Challenge by Karen Wynn Fonstad is a distance challenge where you retrace the steps of Frodo and Sam, along with the rest of the fellowship, from Hobbiton to Mt. Doom. It has been a number of years since the huge surge of popularity of the movie trilogy, but I've always loved the travel descriptions from Tolkien's novels.

      A goal is a great way to keep up an exercise program and not put off workouts. With my first marathon a little over six weeks away, I know I'll need something to keep me going afterwards. A great way to hold yourself to a plan is to make yourself accountable to others, so I am planning to keep updating on our twitter (@RedHealthPotion) as I progress along Frodo's path. I'll also toss in a few tips on endurance running that I have picked up progressing from couch to recreational runner. 

      The first leg of the trip is to journey from Bag End to Rivendell, so stay tuned for hairy-footed hijinks!

      Photo by Rob Chandler

      Monday, August 17, 2015

      Inventory Item: Habit RPG

       
      What is it?

      Anyone remember playing those old 8-bit pixel video games and wishing they were real?  That's what Habit RPG is.  Only instead of quests like obtain and fly a zeppelin or kill the dragon plaguing the village of nosy loiterers, its cleaning up the dish monster of Washed-Up Lake.  I know, it sounds dumb, but bear with me.

      First, you create a customized 8-bit avatar.  Then, by creating a to-do list and daily tasks and completing them, you get in-game money, experience, equipment, and pets.  You can join guilds and parties to take on quests for extra prizes.  You can also set up real life rewards to work towards in the game.  

      I expected to try this out once for nostalgia's sake and never pick it up again.  The tongue-and-cheek humor and adorable graphics have kept me using it for everything from tracking healthy habits to managing chores.  We even started our own party, the Jaegermonsters (cause ve have nize hatz, ja?).  Habit RPG is available as a browser game, iOS App, and Android App

      Why does it work?

      Habit RPG is based on the same behavior principles that make video games so addictive: continuous, variable positive reinforcement.



      Remember how people complained about how Diablo 3 was basically a pinata disguised as a video game?  You basically hit things with sticks to get pretties to fall out?  Did that stop you from playing it? Me either.   



      This is because Habit RPG and Diablo 3 both give players randomized rewards for doing something, known in the behavior business as  variable positive reinforcement.


      Experimental trials have shown that this is the most powerful way to get someone to do something.  So, if you find yourself spending hours ordering your Sims to do housewhork while your own dishes sit rotting in the sink day after day, Habit RPG may be for you.

      BREAKING NEWS: Habit RPG just rebranded to Habitica, new name, same great app!

      Monday, August 10, 2015

      Strawberry Shortcake

      Its summer, strawberries are cheap, and strawberry short cakes are NOM.  We made this recipe lactose free, but if you don't give a hoot about that just replace the coconut cream with heavy whipping cream.  And if you can't find coconuts hand picked by virgin Olympic gymnasts by the light of the summer solstice moon and hand whipped by your personal retinue of back-biting and scheming Downton Abbey-esque servants, store bought is fine.

      Strawberry Shortcake



      Makes 6 servings at 525 calories / 27 g fat / 60 g carbohydrates / 9 g protein

      Strawberry Filling
      1 lb strawberries, quartered
      2 tbsp granulated sugar

      Shortcake
      2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
      2 tbsp granulated sugar
      2 tsp baking powder
      1/4 tsp baking soda
      3/4 tsp salt
      1 can (14 fl. oz.) coconut cream or coconut milk (not light)



      Coconut Whipped Cream
      1 can (14 fl. oz.) coconut cream or coconut milk (not light)
      1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
      1/2 tsp vanilla extract



      Directions
      • Stick one can of coconut cream or milk in the fridge the night before. If you forget, like me, stick it in the freezer for an hour (don't let it explode though).
      • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
      • Wash, trim, and quarter the strawberries, combine with the sugar and stir vigorously. Slip it in the fridge till ready to serve. At the end of the recipe this will develop a syrup.

      • In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the room temperature coconut cream until it just combines. You want the dough to be a little lumpy- don't over mix.

      • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, divide the dough into six parts, and scoop into roughly circular lumps. Put the sheet in the preheated oven and cook until golden brown, about 16 minutes.

      • While that cooks, open up the cold coconut cream can, scooping the solidified cream on the top into a bowl, discard any clear liquid on the bottom. Add the confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract, and beat with a whisk forever or on low with a hand mixer for around 4 minutes. It needs less time than whipped cream, if you've made that before. Stick this in the fridge till you're ready to assemble the dish, if it stays cold it will keep its shape for a week or so.




      • Remove the shortcake when they are done, and let them cool for about 10 minutes. Cut them in half with a serrated bread knife. Place a scoop of the strawberry filling on the bottom half, put about two heaping spoonfuls of the coconut cream on the filling, place the top half over that and top with more filling. Sneak a taste of cream that you accidentally spill on the counter.

      Om nom nom nom!


      Vegan Superpowers 

      There is some debate as to whether granulated sugar is truly vegan as some companies use bone char in the refining process. If you'd like to avoid that in your diet you can make a few substitutions. You can use raw whole cane sugar or a similar organic sugar (check the package) with good results in the strawberry filling and the shortcake. For the coconut whipped cream I would recommend a thick syrup, like agave or maple syrup, and add a 1/4 tsp of cornstarch.