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I'm a writer and library worker who wears many hats. I believe a good book and a good piece of chocolate are the keys to a happy life.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Alison's Nutritious Cookbook Challenge

I had been eyeing a new cookbook I wanted to try for quite some time when I learned that there was actually some controversy surrounding it. (Note: I did not research the validity of the information I received, to me it didn’t matter from that standpoint- it just raised an interesting question for me to explore.) Apparently, two cookbooks built on the same premise came out at almost the same time. It appears that a publisher had actually rejected one title, then accepted the other a month or so later. From the publishing standpoint there are a lot of reasons this may have happened and really, that’s just business. But the whole thing made me curious so I picked up copies of both books and began experimenting.

I began cooking and taste-testing recipes from both Deceptively Delicious and The Sneaky Chef: How to Cheat On Your Man (In the Kitchen!). In case you can’t tell from the names, the premise of both books is basically sneaking “hidden” servings of vegetables (and other healthy ingredients) into your food to improve your family’s health, etc. You basically create purees of the vegetables and cook them into your foods.

For basic concepts I liked Deceptively Delicious’ approach to purees better than The Sneaky Chef, simply because DD’s purees were one ingredient. The recipe might call for a couple of purees but they’d read “½ cup sweet potato puree” and “½ cup carrot puree”, or whatever. I also preferred the spiral binding that let the cookbook open fully and stay on the page I wanted to read, rather than the traditional binding of The Sneaky Chef.

The Sneaky Chef, on the other hand, mixed up her veggies. So, what you saw in the recipe was “½ cup purple puree” and you had to refer back to the puree recipes to find out exactly what was in purple puree. That’s not a problem if that’s all you do, but I’d prefer to make single ingredient purees whenever I had a veggie I needed to use up, rather than having to make sure I had all the ingredients for my “orange puree” whenever I needed to stock my puree freezer. This can really add to your food bill otherwise. (Spinach may be cheap but it takes a lot to make a ½ cup of puree, you’re better off just learning to eat it if your not using up left-overs before they go bad or buying in greatly discounted bulk.) Also, Sneaky Chef tended to use a lot of ingredients that I choose not to use as an LDS cook. I would have loved to do more direct comparison of recipes that both cookbooks featured, but I don’t cook with coffee grounds and red wine.

The recipes in Deceptively Delicious also tend to be more basic “family” recipes. The Sneaky Chef tends to cater to more “grown-up” tastes. (Last minute note: I did not know when I was doing my comparisons that there is actually a “kid’s meals” book by Sneak Chef as well. It didn’t come up on my library searches. This does explain the weird little label on the book that said "Author of The Sneaky Chef" though. At the time I was mighty confused and did a second search under her name: nothing. Curses. If you’ve used the kid version let me know what you thought.)

One last thing I noticed: for books that tout being healthier (which they do appear to be) neither cookbook gives thorough nutritional information. The Sneaky Chef is better at this part but all she does is put bubbles touting “Fiber” or “Omega 3” or whatever. No specifics. I find this very weird.

So, how did the food taste? Um, well mostly okay. I found very few recipes (at least from the ones I tried) that carried a serious yuck factor, but none that just shouted, “this is awesome!” I guess my suggestion would be to choose the one or two foods from the cookbook that most appeals to you, but you don’t already have a favorite recipe for (you’ll just be disappointed that way) and give it a try. This is definitely a case where using the cookbooks can help improve your nutrition and it’s certainly worth trying but you’re better off with the “try before you buy” method in this case. Borrow these from your library before you run out to the bookstore.

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