Since I've recently rejoined the gym and am on a bid to get healthier and lose some weight this book seemed like a natural choice for June's Cooking the Books. Pretty Delicious by Candice Kumai is a cookbook filled with recipes that keep calories to a minimum but don't skimp on flavour. The Chapters are divided up into different courses such as Brekkie & Brunch, Soups and Salads but also into categories including Fins & Shells, Veggie Mains and Lean Mean Protein. And since this model-turned-chef believes that nothing should be off-limits there is also a chapter on Skinny Sweets & Splurges.
Finally just when you thought it couldn't sound any better the book has a big emphasis on how to be budget conscious and is full of tips on how to make your money go further when shopping for food – a big bonus with today's economy.
Since the book claims to be full of “lean and lovely recipes for a healthy, happy new you” I was excited to start testing the recipes and see whether they delivered or if it was just too good to be true!
The Tested Recipes:
TDF Sliders with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms
Beverley Hills Fries with Honey-'Cue Sauce
Skinny Tofu Pad Thai (with Asian Almonds)
“Creamy” Tomato Soup
Totally Un-Croque Monsieur Fingers
Potato & Herb Gnocchi
Toasted-Almond Sticky Buns
Albondigas (Meatball) Soup
Up first were the TDF Sliders with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms. Not only were they called TDF Sliders (To Die For!) but she also claims for it to be the “recipe of the century” so I had to try these mini burgers. They were incredibly easy to make and although both hubby and I were worried about the lack of egg to bind it all together, they held together fine while cooking. We did deviate slightly and cooked them on the BBQ rather than in a frying pan but that to me is even more of a challenge which they passed! They were super juicy and moist, full of flavour and enjoyed by everyone! I especially liked them since I often find a burger too much since I like to enjoy mine with fries and a salad so it was the perfect size, especially cause I teamed them up with the Beverley Hills Fries with Honey-'Cue Sauce.
The Beverley Hills Fries were also super easy and worked well cooking them at a high temperature. I did have to cook them for a bit longer than the recipe suggested but it was worth it. Unfortunately though the Honey-'Cue Sauce was not so successful. I understand where she is coming from with this recipe but it really did just taste like tomato puree with a lot of paprika and unfortunately was a big no-no for us. The texture was cloying and the taste just not good so instead we resorted back to our classic ketchup which perhaps isn't so healthy but definitely a lot tastier!
Next up and I couldn't resist trying the Skinny Tofu Pad Thai because it looked so good in the picture and I love any type of Asian noodle dish. That being said as I started to make it I was a little hesitant.... The sauce calls for tomato paste/puree again (rather than tamarind) which I have never seen before for a recipe for Pad Thai and after the failure of the Honey-'Cue Sauce which was based on tomato paste I was worried this recipe was going to go the same way. Still having bought all of the ingredients and keen to find a slimmed down Pad Thai I continued. Thankfully all was ok and I thought it was delicious. I did add quite a lot of Sriracha to mine since I like it spicy but by the time I had everything on it I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hubby thought it was a little bland but wasn't sure if it was the dish or because he had a cold(!!) and Wee One really liked it (although he didn't have the Asian Almonds which are deliciously spicy) which is definitely a bonus. Once everything is prepped this is a super fast meal to make so great for a mid-week meal. The only thing I would change in future is to use less sesame oil for cooking the egg in. Although it was fine by the time everything was mixed it, by itself it was far too oily and overpowering with the sesame flavour. As part of this recipe you also have to make the Asian Almonds which are really easy and packed with flavour. A little goes a long way as they are strong and definitely spicy but we both really liked them.
The recipe to be put to the test next was “Creamy” Tomato Soup which I served with the Totally Un-Croque Monsieur Fingers as she suggests. The soup was really easy to make and uses tinned tomatoes which I always have in the pantry so it makes for a perfect year-round soup. It also takes no time at all which is another bonus especially because it tastes so great. I love how it tastes like you are eating a creamy, indulgent tomato soup but by using almond milk and fat-free Greek yogurt you get way less calories. I did have to add a touch of sugar (½ tsp) but that could have been down to the tomatoes I used or just my personal taste but it was a minimal amount which worked perfectly to balance the flavours of the soup. This is a soup I will make time and time again throughout the year and in fact from now on when I want creamy soups I will use this method instead of using cream. The Totally Un-Croque Monsieur Fingers were pretty much just your typical cheese and ham/turkey toastie but the little touch of Dijonaise (light mayo and Dijon mustard) really made a difference adding a lot of flavour so I will certainly do that from now on. For me Tomato Soup and Cheese Toasties are the perfect comfort food and this recipe just goes to show you can still enjoy that just in moderation.
Next I tried the Potato and Herb Gnocchi from the “Veggie Mains” chapter. I used to make my own gnocchi a lot but haven't done so for a while so I was inspired after seeing the recipe. It was straightforward but takes time as you have to bake the potatoes for a minimum of an hour. She recommends mashing the potatoes with a fork but in future I would stick to my own method and use a ricer for ultra smooth and lump free potatoes! The end result was good but I served it with my own spicy tomato and chorizo sauce. I tried a bit by itself with just a little olive oil and salt (as suggested) and to be honest it was pretty bland so I certainly wouldn't eat these by themselves. That being said with the sauce I made they were fabulous and everyone loved them so I'm definitely inspired to start making fresh gnocchi again!
For a healthy eating book I was certainly doing pretty well having had Burgers, Fries, Pad Thai, Creamy Tomato Soup, Cheese toasties and Gnocchi! And the best part was I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything or eating a bland “healthy” alternative. So far I certainly couldn't complain about this book so I decided to carry on testing out more recipes. The next recipe that I couldn't resist and certainly sounded too good to be true was her Toasted-Almond Sticky Buns. To be honest I don't have a great track record with making Sticky/Cinnamon Buns....they never seem to rise properly and are tough and overcooked so I was definitely testing out this book by trying this recipe. It's a fairly straightforward recipe but took longer than recommended (both to rise and to bake). That being said it was worth it as the end result was fabulous! I could have probably baked them for a little longer but I didn't want them to dry out or harden. Although the recipe was a bit of a procedure if I want to make sticky buns again (which I know I will and I'm sure will be getting requests from both hubby and Wee One) I'll definitely use this recipe with just a couple of tweaks.
I decided to put one more recipe to the test with this book since I was enjoying it so much and made the Albondigas (Meatball) Soup and I have to say it was fantastic! It was so easy to make (same method as my Italian Meatball Soup), packed with flavour and healthy!! Admittedly the recipe is meant to serve 6 but for an evening meal I would say more realistically it feeds 4, but at only 218 calories a serving I think you are allowed to have a bit more! We all loved it and I will be making this again very soon – it was absolutely delicious!
As well as the above tested recipes I have also made the Pan-Seared Scallops with Skinny Pesto Fettucine (which was really good, especially because I splurged and made fresh pasta to go with it); the Miso Fabulous Soup and Salad Combo (Soup was okay, nothing special but I really enjoyed the salad and have had it lots since); the Raspberry-Oat Muffins (which were disappointing as they were chewy and stuck to the wrappers but I will try them again as the flavour was good and I might have over mixed); the Pumpkin Pie Pancakes with Apple Butter (amazing and the most perfect Autumn/Fall breakfast) and the Orange Chicken Stir-fry over Brown Rice (which was absolutely delicious and I'll definitely make again). And since I am loving this book so much I have also bookmarked the following recipes to try out.....
Bright-Eye Blueberry-Bran Muffins
Peaches and Cream Crepes
SoCali Guacamole and Home-Baked Chips
Hot-Stuff Spinach-Artichoke Dip
Chinese Chicken Salad Chop Cups
Protein-Packed Veggie Chilli
Lemony Shrimp and Bok Choy Lo Mein
Crab and Mushroom Ravs
Chicken Fajitas with Caliente Rub
Apricot Chicken with Quinoa-Almond Pilaf
Easy-Peasy Peanut Noodles with Chicken
Teri-Glazed Turkey Meatball Yakitori
The Hollywood Burger
Totally Mexi-Cali Carnitas
Date-Night Knockout Rack of Lamb
Lamb Ragu with Zucchini Pappardelle
Roasted Artichokes with No-Mayo Aioli
Homemade Chocolate-Peanut Butter Crunch Cups
Chocolate Silk Pie
I have to admit when it comes to “healthy eating” or diet books I'm always pretty hesitant but this book really delivered. It is definitely not a diet book so you won't feel deprived if you are trying to reduce your daily calorie intake. Instead it is a cookbook that is about making sensible choices and swapping high calorie ingredients with lower ones without compromising on flavour. The book is filled with tips and ideas on how you can cut down on calories by making simple changes in your diet and the way you cook. On top of that there is a lot of information at the start of the book about certain ingredients that she uses throughout and their health benefits, referred to as “FWBs” or “Foods with Benefits”.
Since the author and chef herself states that diets don't work and she is against them this book is just honest, sensible home cooking with a healthy slant to it. I'm not a big fan of some of her abbreviations (Lemon-Cran Scones; Roasted Beet and Granny Salad) but I can't fault a book for that, especially when it more than delivers with the recipes.
We don't ever really have tofu but from now on I would be more than happy to add it into our diets on a regular basis when we are having meat-free nights. Since it really doesn't have much taste it's great added into sauces for extra healthy benefits. I'll also now use Almond milk which I previously didn't and have already started adding it to our smoothies instead of normal milk.
Learn anything new?
I wasn't sure if I would and to be honest when I first read through the book I was skeptical but I have definitely learnt how to easily cut calories without sacrificing the flavour.
I can't say enough how much I like this book and I was amazed at times at how good things tasted but without the calories piled on. Not only do the recipes deliver but it is full of lots of helpful information and tips and the Introduction is packed with ideas for how to save calories and cash while cutting the calories and provides a lot of information on her favourite FWB (Foods with Benefits) and why they are so good for you.
The book itself is what can only be described as a 'pretty' book and definitely girly but it really is a lovely book full of beautiful photographs of the recipes and the recipes would keep everyone in your family happy.
Finally for a bit of fun the book ends not with the Desserts chapter as you would expect but a chapter dedicated to 'The Pampered Pantry' which isn't as you would expect a list of pantry must-haves, but a chapter on making your own homemade beauty products which can be made with, you guessed it, food! So if you fancy a delicious low-calorie meal and a little bit of pampering (Oatmeal and Banana Moisturising Mask anyone?!) then this is the book for you.
Pretty Delicious: Lean and Lovely Recipes for a Healthy, Happy New You gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops Stamp of Approval!