Most of the new cookbooks released in January and February tend to fall into the "healthy" and "diet" arenas. Luckily, we live in a time when healthy cooking can be so delicious and filling that we hardly know we are dieting. Not in the mood to diet? There is a short list of dessert cookbooks included below as well.
For dinner last night, I made mini cauliflower soufflés from Ivy Manning's Weeknight Vegetarian: Simple, Healthy Meals for Every Night of the Week. (Not pictured: the other two soufflés that we gobbled down before I thought to snap a shot.)
The soufflés couldn't have been easier. Made with a base of cottage cheese, they didn't require the vigorous beating and careful baking of the usual fancy-pants soufflé. I might call this more of a rustic soufflé. The recipe quite lived up to the concept of being easy to make on a weeknight. Local author Ivy Manning can always be counted on for a thoughtful cookbook. Her recipes are nutritionally well-balanced and sometimes include unconventional ingredients that turn out to be a perfect blend: masa dumplings in chili; a mushroom and chestnut strudel; and, my favorite, apples in a Welsh rarebit!
From Katrine van Wyk, the author of Best Green Drinks Ever, we now have Best Green Eats Ever. I appreciate that Countryman Press has kept the pricing below $20 on this series. This is a rarity in the cookbook world. Author van Wyk includes enough eating-green information to get a beginner started, and there may be a thought or two new to the seasoned hand at healthy eating. (Antinutrients — what are those? See page 20 in her book.) Recipes are simple and well-designed, and almost every recipe comes with a picture. Best Green Eats Ever is a well-rounded and solid cookbook entry into vegetarian eating.
A great concern in a vegan and a vegetarian lifestyle is getting sufficient protein. Fortunately, there have been a few recent cookbook releases that highlight protein. Out last December: The High-Protein Vegetarian Cookbook: Hearty Dishes That Even Carnivores Will Love. Just out in February: The Great Vegan Protein Book: Fill Up the Healthy Way. It's not always easy to find seitan recipes; The Great Vegan Protein Book has a whole chapter on this "wonder wheat." Gluten intolerant folks: don't be turned off; authors Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes have earmarked the many recipes that are gluten free. In addition to seitan, there is a wonderful gamut of proteins — legumes, grains, tofu, and tempeh, and delicious-delicious seeds and nuts.
If you know America's Test Kitchen, you know you can NEVER fail with their recipes. If you don't know America's Test Kitchen (and their magazine, Cooks Illustrated), you are in for a treat. I keep a number of their cookbooks on my shelves at home. Even when I'm not using them for their recipes, I refer to them for their culinary knowledge. Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution is the latest in their slow cooker revolution series. Unlike the above vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution is filled with meaty options. So many cookbooks are dreamt up and printed without anyone ever testing the recipe to see if it really works. America's Test Kitchen actually tests (after all, testing is their whole shtick!) each recipe to get it right. A lack of proofing is glaringly obvious in the slow cooker. You can't take a regular recipe and just toss it in a slow cooker and expect goodness. The long cooking process will bleach out the seasoning and leave a bland and tasteless meal behind. A good slow cooker cookbook (like this one!) will have seasonings measured more often in tablespoons than in teaspoons (like this one does!). As with all America's Test Kitchen books, they explain why the recipe works. You'll probably learn something about cooking.
While this is most likely not a healthy book, it's a current favorite of mine: The Home Distilling and Infusing Handbook. Gorgeous photos are mixed with promising recipes. Don't expect much instant gratification; it will take weeks to months before the infusing is ready to drink. Almond Coffee Vodka? Smoked Bacon Bourbon? Pineapple Basil Cordial? The shockingly beautiful Gummy Bear Vodka? (The bears will swell as they absorb the vodka and can be served as tiny hors d'oeuvres.) I'd be happy to give all of these a try, especially the tiny drunk bears.
Oh, the heck with healthy cookbooks. Here is a sampling of recently released dessert cookbooks:
Chocopologie: Confections and Baked Treats from the Acclaimed Chocolatier
Dessert for Two: Small-Batch Cookies, Brownies, Pies, and Cakes
Sweet Paleo: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Delights
To finish on a healthy note, here is a recipe from The Soup Club Cookbook! Soup Club was the brainchild of four friends who banded together a few years ago with a soup-sharing plan. The intent of their soup club was to lighten their chores by taking turns cooking a large batch of soup one day a week, and then sharing with others. Their recipes have that tried-and-true feeling of meals made often and honed to perfection. Not ready to make 8 quarts of soup? When it comes to cutting down a recipe, soup is one of the most forgiving of foods, where broadly rounding up or down works out just fine.
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Makes 8 quarts
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 carrots, roughly chopped
3 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 head of garlic (about 10 cloves), chopped
6 celery stalks, chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, crushed
3 fennel bulbs, white parts finely sliced, fronds finely chopped and reserved
5 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, with their juice
2 whole sprigs rosemary, tied with kitchen twine
3 bay leaves
7 cups cooked chickpeas (from 1 pound dried), cooking liquid reserved (may be made up to 2 days in advance)
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups crème fraîche
Pesto, made with kale, parsley, and fennel fronds or with basil and pine nuts
Red pepper flakes, for serving
In a stockpot, heat the oil and sauté the carrots, onions, garlic, and celery for 7 minutes, or until soft. Add the oregano, fennel seeds, and two thirds of the sliced fennel. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the fennel is soft.
Add the tomatoes, rosemary, bay leaves, 2 quarts of the chickpea cooking liquid, wine, if using, and the salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 40 minutes, loosely covered. Remove the soup from the heat and fish out the rosemary sprigs and bay leaves. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.
Add the remaining sliced fennel and the chickpeas. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the fennel is tender but still crisp. If the soup is too thick, add water as desired. Season with salt and pepper.
(Presentation: Top with a spoon of crème fraîche and pesto and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Add croutons to taste.)
Recipe reprinted from The Soup Club Cookbook. Copyright © 2015. Photograph copyright © 2015 by Annie Schlechter. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.