Publisher: Countryman Press (September 30, 2004)
Reviewed by Kieran B. O'Brien
In response to the skyrocketing popularity of eating plans such as The Zone, The South Beach Diet, and Atkins; Eating Well Magazine compiled three-hundred-fifty recipes that stood out from the thousands featured in the publication. One of the credentials to be included was that these recipes were requested repeatedly by readers. Another qualifier was that members of the staff brought them home for personal use.
To guide the intrepid reader and health conscious cook through its four-hundred-sixteen pages, the book utilizes a star system to describe features of the recipes. There are three categories of stars: Healthy Weight, Lower Carbs, and High Fiber. The Healthy Weight recipes have reduced calories, carbohydrates, fats, and saturated fats. Twenty-two grams of carbohydrates or less are the characteristics of the recipes that feature the Lower Carb star. The High Fiber star is won by recipes with five grams or more of fiber. A bonus tool is the Nutritional Bonus. This accolade is bestowed upon recipes that have fifteen percent of the daily value of a nutrient as determined by the Food and Drug Administration.
To assist the burgeoning chef, there is a Notes and Tips section. It is training wheels for new flavors and techniques used in healthy eating. I was introduced to flavors such as Chile-garlic sauce which is "A thick puree used as a base in many Chinese sauces." The notes section also explained ingredients I had heard of but was wary to try. The flavor and textures of Edamame (fresh soy beans) and Bulgur (precooked cracked wheat kernels) have been added to my repertoire as a result. The Techniques Section instructs on a range of skills from the simple bouquet garni to the complex pomegranate molasses. The foremost tool in the Essential Eating Well Cookbook is the Essential Eating Well Pantry. The goal of this list is to stock your pantry refrigerator and freezer well enough to prepare any of the book's recipes or adapt any others with ease. For ready reference, there are two sub-indexes that precede the main index of the book. The Healthy Weight-loss Index contains recipes that meet current nutritional requirements for healthy weight loss. Lower carbohydrate recipes are noted with a diamond. One diamond denotes thirty-three grams or less of carbohydrates, while three diamonds reference that the recipe has twelve grams of carbohydrates or less. Fiber content is represented with a plus sign. One plus sign means that the recipe has two point five to four point five grams of fiber. Ten grams and over are indicated by three plus signs. For the chef in a rush, The Swift & Simple Index lists recipes by genre that can be prepared quickly after work or between errands. To qualify for this index is simply to be made in fifty minutes or less.
Before it tackles the everyday meals that people ponder, The Essential Eating Well Cook Book offers a solution to a major gastronomic dilemma for the reader. How does the health conscious chef survive? They serve up foods from an elegant spring brunch to a holiday open house and everything in between. For the chef who has to feed just everyone there are two alternative Thanksgiving feasts, one quite traditional yet healthful and the other Vegetarian.
The Breakfast and Brunch Chapter offers selections from elegant fare to the everyday staples. The Artichoke and Red Pepper Frittata is perfect for brunch with the girls or a quick supper when you want something but are unsure of what that exactly is. The freshly grated parmesan cheese is warmed up by the crushed red pepper. Both flavors are rounded out by fresh minced garlic. This flavor triple threat perfectly accentuates the artichoke, red bell peppers and eggs. The taste is fattening while the reality won't add inches to your waistline. For a quick and tasty pick me up on those cold winter mornings, the Banana-Walnut Oatmeal is the ideal combination of nutrition, speed, and of course taste! The quick oats are made deliciously creamy by using both water and one percent milk. All of the sweetness stems naturally from a very ripe banana and real maple syrup. The walnuts at the right amount of crunch to top off the cereal. This is a just the thing to send you and your kids off to work and school. To continue our breakfast banana theme, if you require a breakfast on the go, Eating Well has the solution. Banana-Berry Smooth is a conglomeration of orange juice, berries, and banana. These ingredients are kicked into high gear by silken tofu. It gets tossed into a blender, blended and poured into your favorite travel mug for vehicular enjoyment. Just don't forget the straw!
Random acts of snacking are widely known to be this writer's downfall. Chapter two is a veritable survival guide to (your own) cocktail parties and makes the world of snacking not so dangerous. I don't know anyone who can resist a bowl of nuts. The Cumin Roasted Almonds were the perfect addition to my appetizers when I was having some low-carbing girlfriends over. It is a combination of my three favorite qualifications for a recipe; great spicy taste, quick preparation, and best of all easy cleanup. The recipe is versatile enough to be adapted to a variety of spices. Another quick and easy yet impressive recipe is that of Black Bean Dip. Black beans come together with prepared salsa and cumin. The fresh lime juice and cilantro ad a twist of brightness that can't be beat. It is scrumptious scooped up with the homemade tortilla chips. At eight calories per chip it is a win-win situation. For low carb kings and queens, the snack Eggcetera is right up your alley. Slices of hardboiled egg are complemented with extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and paprika. This egglicious delight is a satiating answer to your snack food woes. On the other hand, if carbohydrates make you happy and you know it, pass the popcorn; the Cheesy Popcorn that is. Hot popcorn marries well with parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil and a spicy pinch of cayenne. This is an appetizing alternative to that folded up bag in your microwave.
What would dinner be without salad? The Big Salad has so much happening in it; it could easily be a meal in and of itself. This veggie fest is jam packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Most importantly, every bite bursts with flavors and textures. Carrots, chick peas, red onions and red bell peppers, combine with the stand up flavors of Kalamata olives and feta cheese. Mustard-Balsamic Vinaigrette dances over the salad with the ideal balance of sweet and bite. The toasted walnuts are a warm cozy finish to this multicolored delight.
One of my favorite gastronomic guilty pleasures is French fries. The Oven-fried Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes scratch my itch for one hundred fifty-nine calories and two grams of fat. Admittedly, one of the best components of fries is the taste and mouth-feel of grease. This healthy alternative tricked my taste buds. Olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper mixed together for a great flavor and a fantastic crunch.
If my oven is geared up for "frying" am I going to stop at fries? That answer to that question my dear friends is a resounding no. Just the title Picnic Oven-fried Chicken had me salivating. For six hours my skinless chicken legs soaked in a bath of mustard, garlic, hot sauce and buttermilk. Then they were ready to be enrobed in the crunchy coating. Within the confines of a zip top bag all the coating took place. Thyme intertwined with paprika and sesame seeds and they found their destination on my waiting drumsticks. I shared this delicious delight with my grease loving husband. While it was hard to gauge his reaction, I think that was because his mouth was full. The chicken was gone within ten minutes flat and it has been requested numerous times.
We have come this far so I feel that I must confess. While I can make meat magical and make vegetables a veritable delight, I am not the best baker. In finding a dessert in this cook book, there were two credentials that had to be fulfilled before I warmed up my oven; delicious and decidedly easy. Lemon pudding cake caught my eye. Not only did it look simply delicious, every component was already in my pantry. Lemon zest and juice made the cake bright and fresh. Delicious and light, it would pair delightfully with hot herbal tea for a fantastic late night treat or be a superb finish for a luncheon.
Indispensable is the best description for this book the product of the Eating Well test kitchen in Charlotte, Vermont. Patsy Jamieson is not only part of the test kitchen; she is the editor of the book. A graduate of La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris, Jamieson brings all her experience and talent to the table in this book that will live and work in your kitchen for years. To those who dispute that healthy can't possibly be delicious, read the book.
Kieran B. O'Brien, a member of the 3FC Community, is a freelance writer and holds a degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.