Lessons from Cooking through 31 Cookbooks

At the end of 2014, I set off on a journey to cook at least 5 recipes from every cookbook in my collection. To keep the mission even more focused, I tried to avoid buying new cookbooks until the task was complete. Although I wasn’t 100% strict about the shopping part, I have been diligently cooking through my collection for the past 2+ years, and am finally pleased to report a mission accomplished.

One thing I learned is that I am not a huge fan of baking. Ever the cliché dietitian, I am constantly tempted to forgo most of the butter and sugar, and then I get frustrated when nothing turns out right.

However, I also learned that I am a huge fan of plant-based recipes, as the ingredients are refreshingly affordable (no expensive meat or cheese!), and yet completely full of flavor. In fact, my favorite, most-cooked-from cookbook was Food52 Vegan, by Gena Hemshaw. This cookbook is from the folks behind the popular recipe and food website, Food52, so it’s no surprise that nearly every recipe from this book was a hit. However, it is surprising that a vegan cookbook stole the heart of this grilled chicken and Greek yogurt loving girl.

Food52 Vegan gets top billing, not only because I made more recipes from this book than any other (9 and counting), but because nearly every dish was so crave-worthy that I kept scooping them up into my regular rotation. Below are some of my favorites:

  • French Lentil and Arugula Salad with Herbed Cashew Cheese, from Food52 Vegan
  • Orecchiette with Creamy Leeks and Broccoli Rabe, from Food52 Vegan
  • Roasted Cauliflower and Freekeh Salad, from Food52 Vegan
  • Roasted Ratatouille, from Food 52 Vegan (I like to toss this with whole wheat pasta)
  • Zucchini Quinoa Cakes, from Food52 Vegan (I served mine atop kale tossed with avocado)

Honorable Mentions (cookbooks that I had lots of success with and highly recommend)

If you purchase or borrow any of the books above, the recipes listed below are a great place to start. All the following recipes are ones I have tested and would highly recommend! 

  • Avocado, Citrus, and Radicchio Salad, Kitchen Express
  • Basic Hummus, Good and Cheap
  • Black Bean Soup, Kitchen Express
  • Broiled Eggplant Salad, Good and Cheap
  • Chicken Curry with Raisins, Kitchen Express
  • Chicken and Vegetable Biryani, Everyday Whole Grains
  • Creamy Bulgur with Honey and Tahini, Simply Ancient Grains (this also tastes dreamy with millet instead of bulgur)
  • Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich, Kitchen Express
  • Minted Summer Couscous with Watermelon and Feta, Simply Ancient Grains (I use often bulgur instead of couscous)
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies, Everyday Whole Grains
  • Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Hazelnut Buckwheat Stuffing, Simply Ancient Grains
  • Super-Fudgy Teff Brownies, Everyday Whole Grains

Other Favorites

Part of the reason this journey took more than two years is that I was often tempted to revisit recipes, rather than constantly trying something new. Below are a few other recipes I fell in love with while working through my collection.

Breakfast

  • Family Favorite Granola, from You Have it Made, by Ellie Krieger

Mains – Fish

  • Garlic Basil Shrimp, from So Easy, by Ellie Krieger
  • Mussels Provencal, from So Easy, by Ellie Krieger
  • Salmon Cakes with Lemon-Caper Yogurt Sauce, from Weeknights with Giada, by Giada de Laurentiis

Mains – Chicken

  • Black Rice Chicken Congee, from The Grain Bowl, by Nik Williamson
  • Chicken-Farro Salad, from True Food, by Andrew Weil

Mains – Vegetarian

  • Curried Red Quinoa and Peach Salad, from The Oldways 4-Week Vegetarian and Vegan Menu Plan
  • Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, from Barefoot Contessa Parties, by Ina Garten
  • Thick Crusted Greens, Onion, and Feta Pie, by Aglaia Kremezi, from The Oldways Table (I sub whole wheat flour for the AP flour)

Soups & Sides

  • Butternut Squash and Apple Soup, from Barefoot Contessa Parties, by Ina Garten
  • Honey Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt, from Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi
  • Stewed Lentils & Tomatoes, from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten
  • Swedish Pea Soup, from Plant-Powered for Life, by Sharon Palmer

Dips & Dressings

  • Tofu Green Goddess Dressing, The I Hate Tofu Cookbook, by Tucker Shaw
  • Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip, from The Food You Crave, by Ellie Krieger (I replace the sour cream & mayo with nonfat plain Greek yogurt)

Dessert

  • Baked Fruit with Ricotta, from Giada’s Feel Good Food, by Giada de Laurentiis
  • Cardamom Currant Snickerdoodles, from Food52 Baking
  • Summer Fruit Crostata, from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten (I sub whole wheat flour for the AP flour, and cut the sugar from the fruit filling)

What next?

Now that I have given my existing cookbooks sufficient attention, I’m allowing myself to browse the food section of Brookline Booksmith and Amazon to add to my collection. Here are some cookbooks that are at the top of my shopping list:

For another sneak peek into my cookbook & coffee table book wishlist, check out my related Pinterest board.

– Kelly

Rental Kitchen Makeover (Under $330!)

I’ve eagerly devoured a steady diet of HGTV since early high school. And if I’ve learned anything from Sarah Richardson, Jonathan Scott, or Joanna Gaines over the years, it’s that the most budget friendly way to achieve the look you’re after is to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.

Living in an expensive metropolitan area certainly puts a damper on home ownership prospects, but with a little bit of elbow grease, and a lot of creativity, renters can also make a space their own. In fact, this is even true in a room with seemingly little opportunity for personalization, such as the kitchen.

With a dishwasher, garbage disposal, natural light, and generous square footage, the kitchen in our cozy attic apartment is fabulously functional. But widespread visible clutter and slightly disjointed color scheme (a purple wall, a yellow wall, and a red door) had me dreaming of a more tidy, Nancy Myers inspired aesthetic.

The primary source of clutter was the lack of built in storage, which had been addressed by previous tenants with a mismatched array of bookcases overflowing with mugs, mixing bowls, and foodstuffs. The second ‘before’ photo does not fully illustrate the direness of the situation, as I didn’t think to take before photos until I had already put two of the white cabinets in.

With my landlord’s blessing, and roommates who are willing to humor my creative whims, I set out for a miniature home improvement project over the long weekend of Columbus Day. A fresh coat of paint and a few new accents can make a world of difference, but the best part is that the entire makeover cost less than most dining room tables.

If you think that all budget-conscious renters are stuck living in drab apartments, I’ve got a paint stained t-shirt and two happy roommates that beg to differ.

beforeafter1

After:

Rental Kitchen Makeover

beforeafter2

After:

Rental Kitchen Makeover

rental kitchen makeover

Rental Kitchen Makeover

Rental Kitchen Makeover

beforeafter3

After:

rental kitchen makeover: chalkboard door

Cost Breakdown:

  • Target Cabinets (3 @ $35 ea.) — $105
  • Target Shelves (3 @ $25 ea.) — $75
  • Brass Hardware for Cabinets ( 6 @ $5.79 ea. + shipping) — $42
  • 1 gallon of blue paint — $33
  • 1 quart of chalkboard paint — $17
  • Supplies (rollers, brushes, tray, drop cloth, spackle, primer, etc.) — $55
  • GRAND TOTAL: $327

Sources:

– Kelly

Welcome to Our Garden

Dinner on a rooftop garden, Brookline, MA

^^ Dinner in the garden

While I’m perfectly content lugging my grocery basket up and down the tiny aisles of my minuscule but much loved Whole Foods Market, there is something incredibly rewarding about growing your own food.

As a lover of local, organic foods and CSAs, having a small vegetable garden has been on my bucket list for years. I first acted on this agricultural impulse several years ago, when I enrolled in the Citizen Gardener Certification course from the Sustainable Food Center in Austin. The program consisted of two classroom & field lessons and required 10 hours of volunteer work in community gardens. At the end of the summer, the training then culminated in a beautiful potluck feast at the Barr Mansion in Austin, where students brought dishes created with their homegrown produce.

Despite all of the education and volunteer work, I completely wimped out on the actual act of starting a garden, still too daunted to put these lessons into practice. At the potluck, I sheepishly put my farmers market vegetable tartine on the table (at least it was homemade!), and quickly deflected all questions about my summer in the dirt. So much for that!

In the years since, I’ve been much more enthusiastic about buying plants, and have subsequently let several herb starts and an embarrassing number of succulents perish on my watch. This year, however, marked a turning point in my gardening adventures, as our cozy Brookline abode came complete with a spacious rooftop patio, which I am determined not to take for granted. Plus, our newest roommate is from the Pacific Northwest, and is using all of her quirky Portlandia knowledge to spearhead this project. (Admittedly, I am mostly only contributing dirt and curiosity.)

Garden1

garden4

Cultivating the seedlings into strong plants was a challenge, but apparently, that was only half the battle. Our third floor elevation protects us from most predators, but we’ve dealt with a few heartbreaking run-ins with a rather malicious squirrel, as well as an infestation of aphids.

After several months of care, we are finally starting to see some veggies springing up. We started peas, carrots, green beans, zucchinis, basil, Thai basil, Chinese chives, sunflowers, and cucumbers from seed—a particularly rewarding endeavor. We also have tomatoes, strawberries, oregano, mint, rosemary, and sage, which we grew from starts.

garden2

garden3

If you’re looking to start your own garden, here are some tools we found particularly helpful…

Starting an Outdoor Container Garden in Boston

  1. Smart Pot // Amazon ( Assorted sizes, $8.72 for 5 gallon)
  2. BirdBlock Netting // Amazon ($8.35 for 7 ft x 20 ft)
  3. Neptune Harvest Organic Fertilizer // Amazon ($12.74 for 18 oz)
  4. Foxfarm Potting Soil // Amazon ($24.37 for 36.8 quarts)
  5. Seed Starter Pots // Amazon ($5.98 for 50 cells)

Are you growing anything this year?

– Kelly

World Hunger: 10 Myths

Frances Moore Lappe and Kelly Toups with World Hunger 10 Myths

World hunger is not a traditional area of study for dietitians, but one thing I love about dietetics is that it has allowed me to explore food and nutrition issues from so many different perspectives. Following a passion for food and nutrition policy, I landed at the Small Planet Institute in 2013 working as a research fellow on Frances Moore Lappé’s newest book, World Hunger: Ten Myths.

For those of you not familiar with Frances Moore Lappé, she is often credited with being one of the early pioneers of the food movement. Diet for a Small Planet, her 1971 classic that has sold over 3 million copies, was among the first works that helped people make the connection between the food we eat and the health of our planet.

Today her latest book, World Hunger: Ten Myths, is finally being released! I am so grateful to have been a part of this project, even if only for a year. Anyone interested in hunger and food insecurity, food justice, food and nutrition policy, sustainable agriculture, GMOs, and more should definitely pick up a copy. You can order it on Amazon here.

World Hunger 10 Myths Cover

– Kelly

Current Obsessions

Long time, no see, my friends! As summer craziness flickers out and we settle into fall routines, here are some of the things that I can’t get enough of lately.

Tomato Ricotta Toast

Tomato & Ricotta Toast

Toast is definitely becoming a “thing” now, but mashed avocado aside, this seasonal combination is definitely my favorite. Forget the cold, flavorless orbs you find on salad bars year round. Cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden are a food like no other, and their puckering sweet flavor promptly puts an end to the fruit vs. vegetable debate that haunts this ubiquitous crop. The best way to enjoy these summer gems is to pile them on crusty whole grain toast that’s been slathered with part skim ricotta, lightly drizzled with olive oil, then topped with a handful of fresh basil and a tiny sprinkle of salt and dried oregano.

Fastachi Mixed Nut Butter

Fastachi Mixed Nut Butter // $7.99- $15.99

Different nuts and seeds each have a unique nutrient profile, which is why it’s important to have a variety of these superfoods in your diet. This is also why I get paralyzed in the nut butter aisle at Whole Foods every couple of weeks. Thankfully, I came across this mixed nut butter, which boasts an impressive lineup of roasted nuts (hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, cashews, and walnuts), without the unnecessary added oils or sugars. All of the women that sit near me at work keep a stash of it, as it’s conveniently sold at the Copley Farmers Market (Tuesdays and Fridays) and at their charming Beacon Hill storefront. For those outside of Boston, you can also order online, or try making your own.

Biking in Back Bay, Boston

Biking to Work 

Yes, I wear a helmet; yes, there are bike lanes (most of the way); and yes, it can be scary. But it’s also really, really fun, not to mention the fastest way to get around the city. I got my bike in July, but it wasn’t until I moved to Brookline this September that I really started getting brave about riding on Boston roads. Now it’s my primary mode of transportation to and from work, and increasingly for other trips as well. If the FitBit registered pedaling, we’d be golden.

Produce Candles

Produce Candles // $20

Pretty much anything produce themed is an instant hit with me, and these charming candles are no exception. I first spotted them while browsing Milly & Grace in Nantucket, but was delighted to find them at my happy place (Brookline Booksmith) at a slightly cheaper price. The rhubarb scent smells phenomenal, although I’m also smitten with the earthier ones like kale (how could I not?!) and mint.

What’s on your radar lately?

– Kelly

Bicycle Season

Bike Season

After nearly a year of romanticizing leisurely bike rides to the farmers market and around the Esplanade, I finally took the plunge and purchased a bicycle. Reality set in quickly, as it’s a bit of a struggle to shove the bike into our small, creaky elevator, and I’m still too nervous to ride on city streets alone. Nonetheless, I’m over the moon about my purchase!

So far I’ve only biked to Tatte Bakery in Beacon Hill, and done part of the Esplanade and the Battle Road Trail in Lexington, but I have lots of bike trips in the works (including Burlington, VT and the Cape Cod Rail Trail).

Cute Bicycles

^^Luckily, I was able to snag both the bike and the basket on sale

When deciding on a cruiser, I scanned the web a lot (including Craigslist) and ended up narrowing my search down to the four bikes below (hand brakes were mandatory), all around the $150 price range. (Keep an eye on the price — they were nearly all on sale when I was looking about a month ago.) I’ve also included a roundup of cute bike accessories, including helmets and baskets.

These bikes aren’t necessarily intended to power you through iron man races, but they do encourage just the sort of enjoyable daily activity that is so closely linked with health and longevity.

Best Bikes and Bike Accessories

1. Schwinn Admiral Hybrid Bike (Wal-Mart, $159) – this is mine!

2. Front Handlebar Wicker Bike Basket (Amazon, $27.95) – this is mine!

3. Nutcase Mini Dot Helmet (Amazon, $69.99)

4. Huffy Fresno Cruiser Bike (Target, $139.99)

5. Huffy Sportsman Cruiser Bike (Kohl’s, $179.99)

6. Schwinn Pattern helmet (Target, $26.99)

7. House of Talents Oblong Bike Basket (Amazon, $49.94)

8. Schwinn Perla Cruiser Bike (Amazon, $177.75, also seen at Academy, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart)

Any favorite bike routes in New England? Do tell!

–  Kelly

Weekend Web Roundup

It’s been awhile since my last web roundup, so today I’m sharing a few fun features that recently caught my eye. What sites have you been bookmarking lately?

Mediterranean Diet Manifesto

Mediterranean Diet Manifesto // I love this punchy infographic from registered dietitian Elena Paravantes. For those of you that have trouble picturing what a “real food” or “whole foods” diet looks like, print this graphic out and stick it to the refrigerator or pantry door. A few of my favorite snippets of advice are “Talk During Meals,” “Eat Beans at Least Twice a Week,” and “Eat Fruits and Vegetables that are in Season.”

Obesity & Food Policy Infographic

How Food Policy Can Help Curb Obesity // My concentration in grad school was Food Policy, so I love nerding out over these sorts of public health analyses. This graphic from The Lancet is a great jumping off point to brainstorm solutions for obesity prevention and public health nutrition.

Menu that Encourages Healthy Choices

Restaurant Menu Layout that Encourages Healthy Choices // Speaking of public health… In this article for The Atlantic, Cornell researcher Dr. Brian Wansink shares strategies for restaurants to use that subconsciously encourage diners to choose healthier options, by simply tweaking the menu design. If you enjoy these types of health hacks, you’ll love Wansink’s books, Slim by Design, and Mindless Eating. (I wrote a bit about Slim by Design here.)

Wright Kitchen, by photographer Brittany Wright

Food Gradients // Seattle photographer Brittany Wright became an Instagram sensation after posting captivating pictures of food neatly arranged by color. Her prints are available in limited edition runs on her website, so if you see one you like, snatch it up quickly! For a regular dose of Brittany’s shamelessly OCD food styling, be sure to follow her on Instagram (@wrightkitchen).

50 States of Food from Fooddiggity

Foodnited States of America // Ending on a lighter note, I just had to share this delightful collection of punny food art from the folks at Foodiggity. They creating each of the 50 states as visual food puns, and are posting the project on Instagram (@foodiggity) using the hashtag #foodnitedstates. Follow along with the project on Instagram (they have about 40 states so far), or read more about the project on Foodiggity and Yahoo.

– Kelly

Desktop Wallpapers to Inspire Healthy Living

Pike Place Market

^^ This photo that I took at Pike Place Market in 2013 has been my long-time desktop background

The home should be a sanctuary that inspires healthy living, and screens (computer + phone) are no exception to that. Other than my own personal collection of farmers market photos (I know, I am such a cliche), there are two sites that I like to browse for free desktop wallpaper backgrounds: Design*Sponge and Nutrition Stripped. Design*Sponge is one of my favorite design and lifestyle sites, which features home tours, city guides, entrepreneurship stories, and the occasional downloadable wallpaper. Nutrition Stripped is a nutrition blog, run by Nashville-based dietitian McKel Hill. She introduces a new downloadable wallpaper on the First Friday of every month for a “Style Your Screen” series. Here are some of my favorite designs from these two sites:

Alexia Toussaint for DesignSponge - free desktop background

Alea Toussaint for Design*Sponge // Available for both desktop and cell phone backgrounds. Click here to download

Julie Lee for Design Sponge

Julie Lee for Design*Sponge // This is my current desktop background at work. Click desired size to download: 1280 x 800, 1440 x 900, 1680 x 1050, 1920 x 1200, 2560 x 1440, iPhone option A, iPhone option B

Eat Healthy Designs for Nutrition Stripped

Eat Healthy Designs for Nutrition Stripped // Click here to download.

Eat Healthy Designs for Nutrition Stripped

Eat Healthy Designs for Nutrition Stripped // Reminds me of my favorite shirtClick here to download.

DBuerli for Nutrition Stripped

DBuerli for Nutrition Stripped // Click here to download.

DBuerli for Nutrition Stripped

DBuerli for Nutrition Stripped // Click here to download.

Maria Schoettler for Design Sponge

Maria Schoettler for Design*Sponge // Click desired size to download: 1600 x 1200, 1920 x 1200iPhoneAndroid

Maria Schoettler for Design Sponge

Maria Schoettler for Design*Sponge // Click desired size to download: 1600 x 1200, 1920 x 1200iPhone, Android

Nutrition Stripped style your screen

Nutrition Stripped // A great reminder to give your body what it needs! Click here to download.

Helen Dealtry for Design Sponge

Helen Dealtry for Design*Sponge // Not directly healthy living related, but a fun and colorful way to be reminded of nature! Click desired size to download: 1024 x 768, 1600 x 1200, 1920 x 1200cell phone

What’s on your desktop right now?

– Kelly

Fashion Friday: Commuter Shoes

I still consider myself a fair weather exerciser, so the main component of my active lifestyle is walking around the city (including to and from work). Unfortunately, although many of my dress shoes are quite comfortable, they just can’t take five miles a day on the Boston sidewalks. Thus, I’ve finally resorted to wearing commuter shoes. This puts less wear and tear on my fancy footwear. Plus, I’m motivated to get more steps in, since tennies are so darn walkable!

Commuter Shoes

L to R: Caradona, Memorandum, Hello Fashion, Atlantic-Pacific (for more sneaker styling, see here)

New Balance for J CrewLuckily, sneakers don’t have to scream goofy American tourist. In fact, when done right (see photos above) they can actually look quite chic. My trusty mint green Keds are filthy beyond repair (note to self: Scotchguard the next pair), so I splurged this red pair of New Balance kicks from J. Crew to achieve that urban-chic/woman-on-the-go look captured in the photos above.

If you’re in the market for new commuter shoes, check out a dozen of my favorites below. They’re perfect for springtime strolls!

Best Commuter Shoes

1. Keds (sale $24.95)

2. Bergdorf Goodman ($195)

3. Anthropologie (sale $69.95)

4. Finish Line ($69.98)

5. Keds (sale $34.95)

6. Anthropologie ($109.95)

7. Keds (sale $24.95)

8. Bergdorf Goodman ($195)

9. Keds ($50)

10. Keds ($50)

11. Zappos ($50)

12. Finish Line ($79.99)

Which pair is your favorite?

– Kelly

P.S. I love my Toms, but they’re just not a practical option for walking around the city, as I tend to bust through the heel after less than ten wears.

Apps I Love: Map My Run

Best Running App - Map My Run

The long awaited signs of spring (blossoming magnolia trees in Back Bay, sailboats on the Charles, pleasantly cool temps) ignite an uncharacteristic urge to lace up my Nikes and soak up the sunshine on a scenic jog. With the Boston marathon in town this week (yesterday, actually!), running seems to be contagious throughout the city, inspiring me to kick up my mileage and pace. With these goals in mind, I’ve been especially happy with a new app I just downloaded: Map My Run (the #1 running app).

Simply press start when you begin running (and stop when you finish), and the app will map your route, keep your time, and calculate your pace, along with a host of other features and statistics. It’s an excellent tool to monitor the progress of your workouts, especially if you’re training for a race. 

I’m fairly certain I’ve used a primitive, web-based edition of Map My Run a few years ago, slowly plotting my route on a computer to track my mileage, but this weekend was my first experience with the app, and I absolutely love it! In fact, I just might be inspired enough to make this running thing a habit. No promises, though 😉

– Kelly