14 November 2008

On my rickety shelves: The Food You Crave

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House Canada, a copy of this month's cookbook selection was delivered to my kitchen.

The Food You Crave: Luscious recipes for a healthy life
By Ellie Krieger
Taunton Press/Random House Canada
320 pages; $33

Admittedly, whenever I hear any combination or derivation of the terms detox, recipe low-fat, low-salt, low-cholesterol or healthy I cringe. Years of reading about this diet and that lifestyle, vilified foods, praised foods, not to mention the eventually contradictory nutritionism conditioned me to block out most of the good-for-you, you-should-eat-this-way noise that bombards us daily. My personal eating mantra is pretty simple…and very reminiscent of Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” along with avoiding packaging that tries to convince you of the contents’ edibility.

Granted, it can be difficult finding food (and yes, it depends upon what you declare “food”—My Dear Little Cardamummy is convinced lobster isn’t food). Finding food-like things is easy. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for food-like things—I fervently believe a healthy diet does include the occasional Swedish berry—but too many food-like things can be an issue: hence the proliferation of the above, cringe-worthy-to-me terms.

The thing is, food (by my definition food is healthy) should taste good. Unfortunately, it seems as if many of the healthy-monikered foodstuffs I’ve eaten don’t taste good—they are bland, soggy, mealy...boring.

I’ve never understood it.

Shouldn’t one reward good behaviour? As in: if you avoid overreliance on polyhydrogenatedsalisucraloseinatified foods by eating (umm…) real ingredients, the food should not only taste good, but also make you feel good and hopefully happy.

Take the vast majority of the Milk Calendar recipes I’ve been cooking through this year: they were developed to use dairy and have some sort of nutritional balance. Well…some weren’t bad, but others tasted so horrid, I wonder what on earth happened to the recipe developers’ and taste testers’ mouths (and brains) to ever declare those recipes…tasty.

So when I flipped through this month’s cookery book selection, I was a little nervous. Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave: luscious recipes for a healthy life had the warning signs of a book that “meant well”—earnestly written with an eye towards nudging readers towards the healthy lifestyle du jour. She is a registered dietician and hosts Healthy Appetite, on the US’s Food Network.

Her expository was heartening to me…in fact, Krieger won me over in the introductory paragraph to her food philosophy:

“In my food world, there is no fear or guilt, only joy and balance. So no ingredient is ever off-limits. Rather, all of the recipes here follow my Usually-Sometimes-Rarely philosophy. Notice there is no Never.”

Here’s a compliment: Quite honestly, if it weren’t for her tips on things like building a better muffin and Mediterranean-inspired eating and boxes of nutrient numbers that accompany each recipe, I’d not think of this as a healthy eating book. I’d think it was a “normal” general-purpose cookbook. Really. The unappetising nature of many “healthy” or “diet” recipes is pretty much absent in her suite of recipes. Breakfast can include Poached egg with herb-roasted turkey breast and sweet potato hash, dinner can be Spinach with warm bacon dressing, and supper can be Tuscan roasted chicken and vegetables. And dessert? Banana Cream Pie. Need I say more?

The book itself is fresh and light. Well-written and easy to follow recipes punctuated with the occasional (lovely) photograph. The entire book itself is simply designed and, well, inviting.

Every recipe I tried worked really well produced delicious food that made me feel…good. What more can I ask for?

Curried Butternut Squash Soup (p 78)
Incredibly easy and very tasty, and (like many good soups) was incredible the next day. I used a the hot curry powder I have in my pantry…probably should have reduced the quantity a bit.

Sage-rubbed pork chops with Warm Apple Slaw (p 195)
The chops were so intuitive, I wouldn’t call it a recipe…but it was a good reminder of how tasty simply prepared food can be. Apart from the unending chopping, the slaw was easy to pull together. I think it could have used a little sugar or honey, but otherwise was very tasty.

Mocha cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting (p 282)
This was a very good and moist cake. As I’m of the school that believes cake should have a tender crumb, so the whole wheat nubblies in the crumb turned me off. I’m not a fan of dolloped frosting, so the relatively thin layer was just perfect for me.

The Food You Crave is exactly that. The food you crave.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 4/5
The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Ease of use: 4/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test: Lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Novice
Pro: Easy and delicious healthy foods
Con: Can’t think of any.


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NKP said...

I avoid so-called healthy recipe books as well. (I find they are filled with odd, tasteless recipes with lots of "substitutes".
But I did pick this one up on the recommendation of others'. It is indeed an easy to follow, ingredients first, type of book.
I love the sound of that warm apple slaw, I'll have to check that one out.

Lisa Turner said...

Excellent review. Balance without hysteria or snobbishness is key. I'm looking up this cookbook after I hit publish.

Anonymous said...

I love your reviews because they really do tell me what I want to know. Much as I am tempted to head over to Amazon right now and order it, I have to redo my kitchen before Christmas so this will have to wait until 2009 :(

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, that mocha cake looks like something I'll have to try. I've watched her show a few times and haven't really taken to it, but the book does look interesting.

Shaun said...

Jasmine, honey ~ I have this book marked on my Amazon page. I have seen a few episodes of Healthy Appetite and think Ellie is a good host. I'm glad to read such a positive review of the book, and the nod to nutritional labels is useful for the careful shopper.

I, too, need to watch what I'm eating, for I have not been controlling my portions lately.

By the way, the crumb on your Mocha Cake is fantastic - just the way I like it, too.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good book -that chocolate cake certainly looks like a more than sometimes food to my eye but I bet it fell into the Rarely chapter, right?

Anonymous said...

Everything you've made looks good!


K and S said...

I love her black bean dip recipe so easy and tasty!

Unknown said...

I had a hard time bringing myself to make recipes from her book because they actually struck me as not "healthy"! They were really delicious, but the recipes tended to be pretty heavy on the calories and fat. It's interesting, though, that it brings up the question of what IS healthy cooking? REgardless, it's definitely great as just a regular cookbook.