Book reviews, part 2: healthy eating this spring, from breakfast to dessert

An assortment of vegan treats from Heather Saffer’s latest cookbook

Too stuffy clothes, too long a winter, too many chicken wings (see my previous post 😉) – put these together and the first few months of 2018 have been a real downer for a sun-loving Chicagoan like myself. Add a pregnancy with swollen legs and plenty of food restrictions, and the question becomes even more stressful: what should I eat to stay healthy and well nourished this spring? Part #2 of my book review (you can check out part #1 here) focuses on this topic because I believe it’s important not just to me – the ever-tired mommy-in-waiting, lol – but to many of you as well. Want to discover tips and recipes to help you stay well-fed and energized? Read on 🙂

If you’re into healthy eating as a lifelong choice, Devin Alexander’s You Can Have it!: More than 125 Decadent Diabetes-Friendly Recipes fits the bill perfectly. Having made her mark as a weight loss expert and a celebrity chef on NBC’s show The Biggest Loser, Devin is on a mission to help people eat healthier without sacrificing flavor, and she has recently turned her focus to the 1 in 3 Americans that have either type 2 diabetes or are in a state of pre-diabetes. Devin‘s latest book however is not just for those living with diabetes, but for anyone who cares about what they put inside their bodies, allowing “all people, including those with diabetes, to live full, rich, fit lives.” Each recipe conforms to the nutritional guidelines recommended by the American Diabetes Association and clearly specifies the calorific content and the grams of carbohydrate, fiber, sugar etc. per serving.

There are no diabetics in our household, but I do have diabetics in my family, and I vividly remember my uncle struggling to find flavorful diabetic recipes when I was little. Thankfully, the days of tasteless diabetic dishes are long gone, and books such as Devin’s are a case in point. As non-diabetics, we found the recipes we tried brimming with flavor and easy to make.

First off, I made Devin’s German Chocolate Overnight Oats recipe (page 14) for breakfast, and it was a great success. The cocoa and the coconut added exciting flavor dimensions to the earthy oats, while the dish on the whole was creamy yet light and easy to eat, thanks to the almond milk. My mom in particular thoroughly enjoyed these oats for breakfast, with a cup of coffee to get the day off to a good start. She also asked me to make this recipe for dinner a few times, to eat alongside a cup of fruit yogurt.

Moving on to lunch recipes, I made Devin’s Thai Lime Quinoa Salad (page 73). The veggie matchsticks, lime juice and cilantro added a wholesome layer of freshness to the quinoa, while the peanuts provided a pleasant texture my family appreciated.

For a more filling lunch option, I decided to pair this salad with Devin’s Potato Chip Crusted Chicken (updated recipe, on page 97). The chicken soaked in buttermilk overnight was unbelievably tender, while the inclusion of the potato chip crust (rather unusual to me) proved to be a resounding success: simply put, the flavor and texture of the chips were just what the chicken needed.

I can recommend this quinoa salad & crusted chicken combo to those who are looking for ways to spice up their lunches – as a matter of fact, DH liked this combo so much he took it to work the following week, and he has asked me to make it again several times ever since. Excellent flavors, enduring freshness – and all of that good for you 😉

Such a scrumptious meal deserves an equally enticing dessert, and this is where Heather Saffer’s Crazy Easy Vegan Desserts comes in handy. Heather has been a hit on ABC’S Shark Tank and Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, and is now CEO of Dollop Gourmet, a company that makes and sells vegan frostings. In her latest book, Heather has developed party-friendly desserts made from premium non-GMO, dairy free, and gluten free ingredients, which are designed to charm vegan and non-vegan guests alike. The recipes are categorized in several ways – from sweets that take less than 20 minutes to prepare, to sweets made with only three ingredients, and sweets that require no baking at all. As a non-vegan, I have always thought of vegan baking as difficult to manage in terms of ingredients and flavors, and as such I greatly appreciated Heather’s reassuring bits of advice throughout the book. I especially liked the fact that she provided a thorough list of alternatives to buttermilk, eggs, milk and butter – who knew you could use aquafaba (aka chickpea water) as a binder instead of eggs?

Raspberry Crumble Bars (page 23) and Apple Pie Blondies (page 29) were the first two desserts I made from Heather’s book. All of the recipes in the book use gluten-free flour, yet Heather encourages the readers to use regular flour if they want to and to report back on their experience. The raspberry & oat bars turned out delicious yet a bit too crumbly for my liking – could it be because I used regular flour instead of gluten-free flour? I was able to cut them into pieces and to serve them as bars, but I think a better way to eat these would have been crumbled in a glass or cup with vegan ice cream on top, as per Heather’s second serving suggestion.

Raspberry crumble bars and apple pie blondies

Heather’s apple pie blondies were, without a doubt, the highlight of my vegan recipe testing experience. The bits of fresh apple in the blondies were perfectly balanced with the cinnamon sugar on top, and the overall flavor resembled apple pie (minus the butter, of course!). I kept these blondies in a container in the fridge and they got softer and more flavorful as the days went by. They were my young daughter’s favorites – she has good taste, that’s for sure 🙂

Lastly, I made Heather’s Dark Chocolate Bars (page 94) and they were very good as well. I poured the warm chocolate into baking cups and decorated it with chopped nuts and candy (as per Heather’s suggestion). I was surprised with the depth of flavor in the chocolate, which I think was due to the inclusion of the pure maple syrup and vanilla extract. I highly recommend this recipe. Who knew vegan chocolate could be so easy to make?

As with my previous book review, I hope this post has provided you with useful tips and suggestions on how to revamp your spring menu, from breakfast to dessert. Many of us (myself included) might feel stuck in a rut when it comes to our cooking & eating habits. This doesn’t have to be the case, however – change is possible, if only we keep an open mind and embrace new recipes and ingredients. Change can be good – that’s what I always tell myself 🙂


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