Mini-Reviews: Advice/Memoirish Books

The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your LifeThe Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan
Published by Dutton

I picked up this book because I thought it might be similar to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book I loved and that I was actually able to apply to my life. And it somewhat lived up to my expectation that the two would be similar – Rubin spent a year focusing on being happier, while Kaplan spent a year focusing on how choosing to be grateful can be a catalyst for happiness and peace in your life. I liked The Gratitude Diaries well enough – it was compelling, read rather quickly, and was a good mix of interesting and funny.

I wasn’t in love with this book, though. It was one of those that was good but, weeks after reading it, I’ve forgotten most of what Kaplan had to say. In general, I try to look on the positive side of things and not let bad situations ruin my days and I do try to be mindful of being grateful for what I have and acknowledging that (sometimes only to myself) on a regular basis. So I think I may not have been quite the target audience of this book since I was already kind of buying what Kaplan is selling before I even picked it up? Anyway – I liked The Gratitude Diaries but it wasn’t the most memorable or impactful book I’ve ever read.

100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love by Lisa Leake
Published by William Morrow Cookbooks

Lisa Leake, creator of the popular food blog 100 Days of Real Food, decided one day that what she had been feeding her family for years was mostly processed, unsustainable, and unhealthy, and she and her husband gave themselves the challenge of eating (and feeding their two young daughters) no highly processed or refined foods for 100 days. This book is half the story of how they managed to do it, what they learned, and how they have sustained this lifestyle food choice over time, and half a cookbook where she shares some of their favorite recipes as a family.

I have to admit that Leake’s story is pretty inspiring. I am not sure that I could manage to do this just cooking for myself, and she managed to get her entire family eating this way. The rationale behind why she made this choice, and what exactly constitutes “real” food in her mind made perfect sense to me and is a philosophy that I can see myself at least incorporating into my diet. I can’t say that I plan on overhauling my diet completely but it’s certainly a starting point to a more healthful lifestyle.

The cookbook section has a surprising amount of variety, as well as recipes for things that I wouldn’t automatically think would fit into the real food lifestyle. There were quite a few that I wanted to make, but I only ended up making one – vegetarian chili – before the book had to go back to the library. The chili was really good, very filling, although I admit I doctored the recipe just a bit by adding canned pumpkin (hey, it’s fall and I had pumpkin to use up!). I don’t think the pumpkin made too much of a difference except maybe for the texture – it was a little on the thinner, soupy side before I added it.

I’d definitely recommend the book for anyone considering a change in eating habits or just wanting to know more about the real food thing. You can also check out her blog if you want to get an idea of what Leake is all about.

Weekend Cooking: Cooking from Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Get Real Meals

30-Minute Get Real Meals: Eat Healthy Without Going to ExtremesBack when Trish hosted the Cook It Up Challenge, which focused on using one cookbook each month, I decided to start with 30-Minute Get Real Meals by Rachael Ray. I chose this particular cookbook because it’s the cookbook I’ve had the longest (my mom bought it for me when I moved from a dorm room to an apartment in college and could start cooking in an actual kitchen), and I had only used it once or twice. I also feared I wouldn’t find much to cook since it’s focused on low-carb which I don’t really believe in (pasta, please. All the pasta!).

The book is divided into chapters for snacks, salads, soups, fondue, burgers, main dishes, pastas (I know, right!), and desserts. The first thing I made was the Indian Summer Turkey Chili. This chili was SO GOOD and possibly my favorite chili I’ve ever made (I love chili and have made many kinds). The kicker with this one is it literally tastes like summer, probably because barbecue sauce is a prominent ingredient. The one thing I can tell you about this dish is that if you make it, choose your BBQ sauce wisely – the taste REALLY comes through in the chili. I’ve made it twice since the first time, truly this was delicious and I will make it lots more times. And it makes GREAT leftovers.

The second thing I made was Pumpkin Sage Pasta. Here’s where it gets tricky because this recipe is the closest one I can find online to the one in the cookbook, and it’s slightly different. But it’s close enough that you get the idea. Yes, there’s pasta and cream in a low-carb cookbook, but she uses such a small amount of each that it’s still pretty healthy overall. I liked this okay. The taste was really good but because of the huge proportion of pumpkin puree to cream, the texture was a little off. I made it a second time using about twice the amount of cream, and while it obviously wasn’t as healthy that way, the texture was way more creamy and delicious. I REALLY liked the use of fresh sage, a herb I had never cooked with before.

The third dish I made was a white chicken chili that I can’t find online. Which is fine, because this chili was nothing to write home about. It was okay the night I made it, but it lacked that something special and wasn’t very good reheated the next day for lunch.

In the end, while I liked one thing I made and loved another, I ended up donating this cookbook. There are just too many things in here that don’t interest me – I don’t make fondue, am not a huge fan of burgers, and never make salads at home (my hubby doesn’t eat salad). While I’ll definitely be making the chili again and again, and will experiment more with pumpkin puree in my cooking, overall I’d only recommend 30-Minute Get Real Meals to people looking for fresh and new low-carb options to add into their cooking repertoire.

Weekend Cooking is a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Stop by and check out other posts related to food and cooking!

Mini-Reviews – End of 2014 Reading part 2

Dinner: A Love Story: It All Begins at the Family TableDinner: A Love Story: It All Begins at the Family Table by Jenny Rosenstrach
Published by Ecco

Blogger Jenny Rosenstrach has finally decided to put together the story of how she came to be the incredible cook she is, why she values family dinner time so much, and how the average person with a million things to do and a job and a life and kids can make it happen, too.

I feel like it’s not even fair for me to review this book because I haven’t actually cooked anything from it (yet) but I LOVED it so much that I have to share it with all of you! There’s a lot more to this book than family recipes – although there are a ton of those, of course. It’s full of advice and helpful hints and tips and tricks and ways to simplify cooking and dinner so that it’s doable for any family of any size and any level of busyness. Also, the author tells her own story, allowing the reader to get to know Rosenstrach herself – and she seems like a pretty awesome person, I must tell you. I unfortunately got this from the library and had to return it before I could cook something from it, but I plan to check it out again very soon and make something. All of her recipes are in the easy-to-medium range and I feel confident that I can make just about anything in this book. I’m very excited to try something!

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's EliteWithout You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim
Published by Crown
Review copy provided by Netgalley

Journalist Suki Kim went undercover as a missionary/teacher at one of North Korea’s most exclusive and elite universities, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, for six months. Her memoir of her time there is fascinating and incredibly sad. I am honestly shocked and baffled that there is a country in the world, that RIGHT NOW, is this way. These people are so repressed, so completely in servitude to their Dear Leader, so unknowledgable about the world around them, it truly baffles the mind. I don’t have much to say about this one other than that it should be required reading for anyone who cares at all about the world, and please read it for yourself to understand what I mean. Craziness, folks, is what this is.

A Share in Death (Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James, #1)A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
Published by Avon

This book is the first in a long series about Scottish detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. Everyone raves about this series so I thought I’d finally give it a try. A Share in Death takes place at a vacation cottage where Kincaid is trying to relax and take his mind off work, when a gentleman who works there is killed, and of course Kincaid can’t help but get involved in trying to solve the murder.

I liked this book well enough but wasn’t wowed by it. I think because so many people LOVE this series I was expecting a little more. It was your average mystery to me, nothing too special. I liked the characters, though, and I can see how there will be chemistry between Kincaid and James going forward, so I may continue with the series at some point. It’s just disappointing when you go into a book expecting to be blown away and it doesn’t happen.

Mac & Cheese Please! by Laura Werlin (Weekend Cooking)

Mac & Cheese Please!Mac & Cheese Please! 50 Super Cheesy Recipes by Laura Werlin
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

From the publisher:

No one knows cheese better than Laura Werlin, and now she’s applying her expertise to everyone’s favorite macaroni dish. Inside, you’ll find 50 recipes organized by fun topics, such as Classic and Almost-Classic Mac n’ Cheese, Porky Mac n’ Cheese, Decadent Mac n’ Cheese, Lighten Up Mac n’ Cheese, Veggie Mac n’ Cheese, Party Time Mac n’ Cheese, and Breakfast for Dinner Mac n’ Cheese. The 50 recipes are presented in a fun format, like her previous title, Grilled Cheese Please! She even includes an appendix that includes info on all the food trucks and restaurants that specialize in mac n’ cheese.

So, I have to be honest here. Macaroni and cheese is one of my absolute FAVORITE comfort foods. But only if done right – I’m a mac & cheese snob. No Kraft for me. I like it with real cheese, onions, maybe some panko sprinkled on top, baked, you get the picture. So I was super excited about this cookbook because what better than fifty new recipes dressing up one of my favorite things?

And for someone looking for exactly that, this cookbook really delivers. The crazy variety of mac & cheese recipes Werlin thought up and provided to the reader boggles the mind. There are some strange combinations here, but they all sound strangely good too. Plus she does a good job with some extra tidbits, such as explaining how best to reheat homemade mac & cheese, how to take leftovers and make fried mac & cheese, and giving ideas on what cheeses work best for which flavor combinations. All very, very helpful.

So far I have made only one recipe from this book and that’s her standard macaroni and cheese. It was somewhat similar to others I have made, with a few minor changes, and it turned out quite delicious. I made it for my hubby and his sister and they both loved it (although I had to omit the onions, an ingredient I love, because hubby hates them and won’t go near them).

The only negatives about this cookbook is that these are not recipes for those watching weight or calories. These aren’t exactly what you’d call healthy recipes. BUT for a special treat, or for a kid who loves mac & cheese, or maybe for a side dish at a holiday get-together, many of these recipes would work great.

Recommended for mac & cheese lovers like myself!

A Moveable Blog – “Field to Feast”

Welcome to A Moveable Blog “Field to Feast” presented to you by Sandy, Heather, Jill, and I, with the cooperation of Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, and Heather McPherson, authors of the lovely Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans. Today I’m featuring a recipe from Chef Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant, here in Orlando – Sautéed Florida Snapper with Succotash and Lemon Thyme Butter. Here we go!

Ingredients:

Lemon Thyme Butter:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh lemon thyme
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Succotash:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon diced shallot or red onion
3 cups fresh sweet corn kernels
1 cup fresh beans, such as limas or pink-eyed peas
1/2 cup chopped ripe tomato
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Snapper:
4 (7- to 8-ounce) snapper fillets
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter

Let’s make it!

Prepare the Lemon Thyme Butter:
Combine butter, lemon thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Make the Succotash:
1. Heat oil and butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat until golden brown. Add shallots or onion and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.
2. Add corn and saute 2 minutes. Add beans and saute 1 minute. Add tomato, parsley, and chives, stirring to combine. Cook until mixture is hot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat to low to keep warm.

Cook the snapper:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Sprinkle snapper with salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter in a large ovenproof saute pan over medium-high heat until butter turns golden brown. Reduce heat to medium and place fish in pan. Saute 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until fish is golden brown.
3. Place pan in oven and bake 10 minutes.
4. Place 1 tablespoon lemon thyme butter on each fish fillet and return pan to oven for a few seconds to melt butter. Place 1 cup warm succotash on plate. Top with sautéed snapper.

And … the finished product (with my crappy phone camera):

So, a few things about this one. First of all, it was DELICIOUS. Even my meat-and-potatoes hubby loved it and went back for more succotash after being scared to try it at first. (TBH, I did have to give him a baked potato on the side – guy needs his starch with every meal – but I was good with just the meal as pictured.) A few things I did a little differently than the recipe states, first I couldn’t find lemon thyme, so I used regular thyme and added a little lemon zest, which was perfect. Easy substitute. Also you can see in the picture that the snapper isn’t “golden brown” as the recipe suggests, well I guess I didn’t get my pan hot enough first because that’s the color that it became after sauteing for 2 minutes on each side. No problem, it was still delicious.

Also, I know this sort of defeats the purpose of the book, but I used frozen corn and lima beans. Because, well, it’s November, and if you can get fresh corn in November, I certainly don’t know where. But I fully plan to make this again in the summer when fresh corn is abundant and I’m assuming fresh beans as well. Honestly, it was really great and I’ll be cooking this again and again, maybe doing a little experimenting with the type of fish I use. I loved the snapper but the recipe says you can also substitute tilapia, and I ALWAYS have tilapia in my freezer because it’s incredibly affordable. So if you are interested in this one and on a tight budget I suggest you try it with the tilapia. It also suggests you can do this with shrimp or scallops, and I always have frozen shrimp so I may try that too. The possibilities are endless!

Don’t miss the rest of our Moveable Blog Feast!

Monday and Tuesday – Sandy is featuring drinks and appetizers
Thursday – Heather is featuring sides
Friday – Jill is featuring a dessert

Field to Feast by Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, & Heather McPherson

Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans by Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, & Heather McPherson
Published by University Press of Florida
Review copy received at SIBA

From the publisher:

Florida offers more to savor than merely seafood and citrus. Name an ingredient and you’re likely to find it here. To research Field to Feast, authors Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, and Heather McPherson traveled thousands of miles, tasting some of the freshest ingredients along the way. They found world-famous chefs who eagerly shared their best recipes to highlight those flavors. The result is a cookbook like no other; a delicious celebration of Florida food and cooking that’ll lead you from the kitchen to the farmers’ market and home again.

When I received this book at SIBA, I was practically drooling over the gorgeous photos and delicious-sounding recipes inside, all while I was supposed to be listening and paying attention as another author spoke. It was with much anticipation that I finally tore into the book, and I read the thing cover-to-cover the other night, excitedly perusing the recipes and the inspiring stories of farmers and chefs who, in some cases, live right here in my own city and participate in this awesome farm to table movement that I know almost nothing about.

So, the cookbook is full of recipes using local, fresh ingredients, and I think while it features Florida farmers, no matter where you live there are a myriad of ways you can take advantage of the recipes in the book. They are great recipes even if you don’t have the ability (financially or location-wise) to shop farmers’ markets. Many of them are very easy and most are healthy – especially given the fact that using fresh ingredients boosts the health factor a ton.

Each recipe is accompanied by a profile of a Florida farmer, chef, or artisan and I loved reading these stories. I was surprised to learn that a few restaurants that I already knew of here in Central FL were committed to the farm to table style of cooking and eating. That fact makes me even more intrigued to try these restaurants, and reading about all the farmers was incredibly inspiring. I don’t ever see myself farming, but I’m fascinated by the concept of farming, and learning about real people who do it definitely held my interest.

And the photographs! Oh my goodness, the photographs in this book are beyond gorgeous. I cannot even explain how pretty the book is.

Stay tuned this week because bloggers Sandy, Heather, Jill and I will be doing A Moveable Blog “Field to Feast” where we will each be featuring a recipe from this book throughout this week. Here’s the schedule so you can follow along:

Monday Sandy will feature a drink
Tuesday Sandy will feature an appetizer
Wednesday I will feature a main course
Thursday Heather will feature two sides
Friday Jill will feature a dessert

Please come along with us as we journey through this awesome cookbook this week. And in the meantime, get yourself a copy! I promise you will not be disappointed.

Weekend Cooking: Honey-Pecan Chicken Thighs

One of the cookbooks I received recently at SIBA was the very intriguing Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook by Kathleen Purvis. I say intriguing because I do enjoy pecans quite a bit but cook with them almost never. So I was excited to tear into this cookbook and try a few of the recipes. The only recipe I’ve tried so far, I loved, so I decided to share it with all of you today! The Honey-Pecan Chicken Thighs were super easy to make, they turned out delicious, and paired beautifully with the baked sweet potatoes I made to go with them. I highly recommend you try the recipe for yourself!

Honey-Pecan Chicken Thighs
makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons olive oil
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Warm the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place the chicken thighs in the skillet skin-down. Cook for about 8 minutes, until the skin is browned. Turn and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove the thighs from the skillet with tongs and place in a baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer.

3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the vinegar, honey, and cayenne to the skillet, stirring up any browned bits, and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

4. Combine the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water in a small dish, stirring to completely dissolve the cornstarch. Stir the cornstarch and water into the sauce in the skillet, cooking for 2-3 minutes until thickened. Add the salt and pecans. Pour the sauce over the thighs in the baking dish.

5. Bake for 15 minutes, then spoon the sauce and pecans over the chicken thighs to glaze. Continue baking for 15 minutes, or until the thighs are done.

I wish I had a picture of this deliciousness to show you, but unfortunately the hubby and I were too excited to start eating for me to remember to take a picture! You’ll just have to trust me that these looked amazing and tasted just as good.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn
Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publicist

Chef Kathleen Flinn was innocently shopping in her local grocery store when the idea came to her to begin a cooking class for beginner cooks – women (and men, if interested, although none were) who didn’t believe themselves capable of cooking, who relied on fast foods, frozen foods, and boxed hamburger-helper type meals to feed their families. She started her cooking classes with nine women, and in this book she details the weeks she spent with these women and how each one of them were able to grow into confident home cooks.

I have to say, I loved The Kitchen Counter Cooking School! Not only is this a memoir – a well-written one at that – but it’s also a cookbook. Flinn has an easy, fun writing style that kept me interested and highly entertained. I love the idea for the book and I connected to many of the individuals’ struggles to feel confident cooking healthy, delicious meals for their families. Although I have developed quite a bit over the last few years in my own cooking abilities, confidence in the kitchen is something I still really struggle with. So it was great to read about these women who were WAY less skilled than myself in this area improve so much in just a few weeks. It was inspiring, actually.

Also, this book taught me so much! I honestly can say that I will use many of the recipes provided in The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Not only are there simple recipes like Alfredo sauce, but there are more complicated ones that I previously would have been nervous to attempt. But Flinn’s cooking philosophy really resonated with me, and much of the advice she gave the women in her class I plan to take to heart and apply to my own cooking endeavors.

I have to say that if you are an amateur foodie like myself, or interested in developing your own cooking skills, I highly recommend The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Not only is Flinn clearly a talented chef, she has excellent writing abilities as well.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and takes place every Saturday. Drop by her blog for more foodie/cooking posts!

Weekend Cooking: 400 Calorie Fix by Liz Vaccariello and Mindy Hermann

400 Calorie Fix: The Easy New Rule for Permanent Weight Loss! 400 Calorie Fix: The Easy New Rule for Permanent Weight Loss by Liz Vacariello and Mindy Hermann
Published by Rodale Books

Research shows that the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to control caloric intake while maintaining an overall healthy diet and exercise plan. 400 Calorie Fix has a new secret to controlling calories – keep all meals at or around 400 calories. By doing this, a person can eat anywhere from three to six meals each day depending on individual needs. This book explains the science behind this rule, explains how it can be applied to any person’s individual situation, and then gives tons of examples of 400 calorie meals, in terms of restaurant meals, frozen food type meals, and meals to cook.

I hesitated to review this book because I don’t actually believe in diets, nor am I actively trying to lose weight. But the reason I was attracted to the book in the first place was the beautiful color photographs and healthy-looking recipes, so I should at least talk about it for those reasons. The whole concept of eating 400 calorie meals does make sense to me, and I can see how it would be helpful if trying to control calories to keep 400 calories as a general rule. Personally, this approach means nothing to me because I typically don’t eat huge portions anyway and most of the suggestions they made for what really is in a 400 calorie meal is about what I would eat without thinking about it. So while I didn’t love the concept of the book, I did enjoy several things about it.

The section on fast food/restaurant food was helpful to me, but not overly so. I think it does have a lot of information that other readers might enjoy, though. Basically what this section does is explain what types of meals fit roughly within the 400 calorie framework at various restaurants and fast food places. Personally, I don’t eat much fast food and when I go out to a restaurant I’m looking to enjoy my food and not count calories, so I doubt I’ll be using this section. But for people who don’t do a lot of cooking, for whom eating out is the go-to meal option, this section looks to be very helpful. What is nice is that there are specific choices one can make from tons of restaurants, and this section is very detailed in that way.

The cooking section is what I found the most value in. I found several recipes to try, and it is always nice when I find a cookbook I know will include healthy, relatively easy recipes. The vast majority of the recipes in this book fit that criteria, which I loved. I would like to share with you one of the recipes I made, which was delicious (my hubby even liked this and he is the most picky eater I know) and fits in the 400 calorie framework for those interested in following this diet/lifestyle.

Oven-Baked Chicken Fingers

Ingredients:

1/4 cup lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 cup panko
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 egg
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch thick strips

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Chop the peanuts in a food processor until find. Place the peanuts, panko, and chili powder in a large resealable plastic bag or container. Shake to mix.
3. Whisk together the egg and mustard in a large bowl. Add the chicken and combine until all strips are covered. Place the strips in the plastic bag or container with the panko/peanut mixture. Seal and shake until all strips are well coated. Place the strips on the baking sheet. Bake until the coating is crisp and the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

The recipe suggests serving the chicken with baked sweet potatoes, which I did, giving this meal a total calorie count of 410. It was super easy to make, very quick, and I was able to whip it together without complaint after a long, exhausting day at work. It was delicious and filling and such a great alternative to regular chicken tenders. My husband and I both loved it. I love to dip my chicken into ranch, so I used a low-fat ranch dressing as my dipping sauce. Keep in mind if you are trying to count calories to add the calories for whatever you dip the chicken in and also whatever you add to the sweet potato! (I just use a little butter on mine.) But overall, I would recommend taking a glance at this book if you want to look into a more healthful, low-calorie eating and cooking philosophy. And definitely make this recipe if you like chicken tenders!

The Skinnygirl Dish by Bethenny Frankel

The Skinnygirl DishThe Skinnygirl Dish: Easy Recipes for Your Naturally Thin Life by Bethenny Frankel
Published by Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Bethenny Frankel, star of the Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of New York City, creator of the Skinnygirl Margarita, and bestselling author of Naturally Thin, has a no-nonsense approach to eating and cooking and in The Skinnygirl Dish, she lays it all out there for her readers – what to eat, how to cook it, basically how to make eating and cooking an easy, fun part of life. She teaches readers how to start with the basics, cook with what you have, and make recipes that are uniquely yours. And, of course, she teaches readers how to be a Skinnygirl while loving food and cooking.

I have been a fan of Bethenny’s since she was on Martha Stewart’s version of The Apprentice and I have watched her on The Real Housewives as well as on her new show, Bethenny Ever After. I think she is hysterically funny, the kind of sarcastic funny that I like to think I am on my best days, and also extremely smart and has a great attitude about life. I don’t personally love the phrase “Skinnygirl” mostly because I know that a  person does not have to be skinny to be happy, but I get where the concept is coming from. Most women want to be thin and in shape, and Bethenny’s goal is to show women that you can be those things without starving yourself or exercising for hours upon hours each day. You can be “Naturally Thin” as she puts it.

What she does in this book is give women (and men, I suppose, although the book is geared toward women) the tools needed to eat healthfully without it being this huge, complicated ordeal. She talks about how she creates meals for herself and her family, how she works with whatever ingredients she has in the house, and how she shops intelligently so that she will have important ingredients on hand for when she needs them. All great tips – and I found many tips in here that I plan to use for my own cooking.

She also provides recipes in the book, and while there weren’t a ton of recipes, the ones that she did include seemed easy and delicious. Many of them were lower-fat, lower-calorie versions of foods many people love to eat (such as Spinach and Artichoke dip and Macaroni and Cheese), and others were new-to-me flavor combinations and interesting ideas. I’ll be making several more of her recipes in the months to come, but immediately after I finished the book, I did make a soup she had featured. It turned out delicious – much more tasty than I would have expected for such a healthy meal! The recipe will be featured below.

I definitely enjoyed reading The Skinnygirl Dish. Bethenny Frankel has a great attitude about cooking and eating and she does an excellent job passing that attitude on to her readers. This is a must for any beginner cook trying to cook and eat more healthfully.

For more about Bethenny Frankel, including more recipes and information about her other endeavors, check out her website.

White Bean and Spinach Soup (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups fresh chopped baby spinach
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste

Directions:

1. In a nonstick pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and bell pepper and saute until the pepper softens, about 5 more minutes.
2. Add the vegetable broth, white beans, spinach, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the soup is hot. Remove the bay leaf and the garlic with a slotted spoon and throw them away.
3. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until it is completely smooth or leave some of the beans chunky if you prefer. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot.