Several years ago, when I was still learning how to cook many basic recipes, I signed up for The Good Cook to take advantage of their four free cookbook offer. One of the books I selected was How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I've since picked up copies of The Best Recipes in the World (very useful and the best one, I think) and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. What I like about Bittman's books is that they're solid, simple recipes that usually work out very well. I tend to treat them as "base" recipes, adding my own twists and usually a lot more spice.
When I was at the library last, I saw a copy of Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating on the display. It, like many other books coming out lately, professes to instruct the reader on how to eat more sustainably and reduce one's footprint, particularly in the area of meat. Bittman's no vegetarian and many of his ideas are good ones, such as reducing the amount of meat consumed and drastically increasing veggie intake. I've been using a reduced portion of meat for several years now in my cooking -- I usually use about 3 ounces of meat per person, though I often use 3 ounces total for two when I make stirfries.
Still, the book is strongly colored by his own medical problems that caused him to change his diet radically. He notes this throughout and advises the reader to take this into account. What he doesn't note is that it's very biased towards what he's comfortable eating each day. One of my problems is thinking up good lunches to make or have. This book is very heavy on salads for lunch which is great for many people besides me (salad every day is too much salad for me).
The recipes included were tilted heavily towards "base recipes", calling only for a large quantity of veggies. This is one aspect I liked and thought was a good idea for many folks who don't go "off recipe" very well. Since I already shop and cook this way, it wasn't as useful as it could have been. One of the other valuable aspects of this book were simple basics everyone should be able to do, like making roasted red peppers.
One of the recipes in particular sounded really interesting. I love spinach and I've been wanting to use sweet potatoes more, so I decided to make Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing for dinner the other night.
The things I loved: Roasted sweet potatoes are really, really good and don't need much to shine. A bit of olive oil, some salt and pepper, that's it. When it was combined with bacon and onions, it was even better.
The things I wasn't happy with: The dressing overall, the liquid parts that is, I wasn't happy with. I love citrus-y dressings, but this was just so.. bland. Boring. It needs pep and pizazz to really be great. Next time I'd add some crushed red chile flakes and some oregano to pep it up. But if I were just making something soft and warm and comforting, easy on the tummy.. this would be a great start.
Don't get me wrong. It was good. It just wasn't great. There were aspects I adored, like the roasted sweet potatoes that are going to go on the menu next week, and aspects I think need work. Overall, it's worth a shot.
As for the book... I'd recommend it. Everyone should incorporate at least these points: eat less meat, eat more veggies, eat foods that you prepare or have been simply prepared, stay away from overprocessed "food" and especially high fructose corn syrup. Eat primarily around the edges of your grocery store. Read the labels. Know your food, how it's been handled and where it comes from when possible. Your body will thank you.
Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad with Bacon Dressing [printable recipe]
Adapted from Mark Bittman in Food Matters
Best as a lunch or a side salad with dinner
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt, pepper
- 4 slices turkey bacon (or 2 thick slices bacon)
- 1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
- 1 small red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed or 1 tbsp ginger, minced or grated
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp crushed red chile flakes
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Juice of one orange
- Zest of one orange
- 1 pound fresh baby spinach leaves, washed
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss potatoes with 2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper, then spread evenly over a sheet pan. Roast, stirring occasionally, until browned and soft, about 35 minutes. Remove and let cool on pan until serving.
Cook bacon in a nonstick/nonreactive skillet over medium heat, turning once or twice, until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Pour off fat if desired, adding remaining 2 tbsp olive oil if needed. Add bell pepper, onion and garlic to the pan. Cook for 5 - 6 minutes, then add spices, zest and bacon. Cook for another minute. Stir in juice. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, toss spinach with dressing and sweet potatoes. Adjust seasoning as needed. Serve.