Since I'm in losing-the-baby-weight mode, I decided to add a few new cookbooks to the kitchen, all with healthful overtones. Having some new books around, and new recipes, always helps motivate me. I thought I'd post a brief review of the books I checked out from the library and decided to buy. Two are nutrition/diet books with a recipe section, one is a cookbook through and through.
The Flexitarian Diet, by Dawn Jackson Blatner.
I've been eating "flexitarian" for a couple of years now, without knowing it. The term "flexitarian" is variously defined. Some say it means "flexible vegetarian," i.e., you're basically a vegetarian but you're flexible enough to graciously accept a meat dish when it's offered to you. Others say it simply means a reduced-meat lifestyle: vegetarian most of the time, meat some of the time. At our house, we love meat and eat it frequently; but we have learned to use it in smaller quantities. I generally serve it either as a flavoring, or as a dish served in modest portions as part of a meal.
Blatner's cookbook/diet book offers five full weeks of controlled-calorie menus, plus recipes. The recipes are all given for single-serving portions, use a lot of convenience food, and come together quickly. Canned beans feature prominently. This book is especially good for those who are looking for some new ideas for quick and simple, healthful meals; those who'd like a lot of one-person recipes; and those who would like a pre-written meal plan. Like most diet books these days, it stresses low-fat eating more than I like, but that's easily fixed.
One that doesn't stress low-fat eating at all, and so suits me very well, is Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less by Mollie Katzen and Walter Willett, M.D. Yes, that Mollie Katzen, of Moosewood Cookbook fame. I have had Walter Willett's book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy on my shelf for a long time -- his nutrition work comes from the comprehensive Nurses' Health Study. The writing is very compelling and common-sense, and earned my respect because he was not afraid to write "We don't know" where necessary. Anyway, when I discovered recently that he had collaborated with uber-food-writer Mollie Katzen on a diet book with recipes and meal plans, I snagged it. And I'm very glad I did.
Mollie fesses up: she is not a vegetarian after all! Here we have recipes by Mollie with meat in them. (not very many -- most are vegetarian...) And not just recipes, but meal plans. There are three weeks of controlled-calorie meal plans, plus one week's worth of a "portable plan" that can be eaten on the go or prepared with minimal kitchen equipment.
The nutrition advice is sound. There are nine "turning points" (things like "eat lots of vegetables" and "stay hydrated"); a new-and-improved food pyramid with veggies on the bottom where they belong and a special slot partway up that's just for dark chocolate; and a score card for ranking how your habits are improving with time. I wholeheartedly recommend this one. It's one of the best diet books I've read. Oh, I should add that many of the recipes are of the sort that are easily adapted for allergies and food intolerances -- swap one grain for another, that sort of thing.
Finally, a pure cookbook: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman. I hesitated before buying this because I already have How to Cook Everything. I thought there'd be so much overlap that it would be a waste of money.
It's true that there is some overlap: the pizza sections in the two books, for example, are very similar, and both books contain lengthy discourses on cooking basics (which makes sense, given the title). But there is enough new material in here to make it worth buying the new book, I think. There are several techniques that are new to me in this book -- have you ever heard of "stuck-pot rice?" I hadn't -- think a sort of stovetop paella with a crispy crust -- and lots of new recipes, even in sections that you might think would just overlap, like desserts. And there is plenty of new material of the sort that Bittman does best: lists of variations on a theme, menu suggestions, charts that show you how to put together combinations of ingredients. Plus there's lots of good technique instruction, and introduction to some more exotic things like making your own seitan (that's mock duck) or cooking with sea vegetables.
What all three books have in common is this: they will help you cook and eat with less meat, while refraining from moralizing about it. And that is something I really appreciate.