October 17, 2011

Antonio Bandaras and The Happy Herbivore Cookbook

I had kind of a strange dream the other night. I had just been hired to work in a daycare center where parents left their kids while they worked or shopped at the mall. The odd thing was the kids were high school-aged students, not pre-schoolers. The students were well dressed and attractive, and were from various expensive prep schools, and they were not very amenable to following directions from the teachers. At one point I noticed the students going to the school kitchen and getting food, though a scheduled meal was not being served. I went to ask the other teacher, who happened to be Antonio Banderas, if that was OK, and saw that he seemed kind of harassed, and was rolling beans into tortillas, making burritos to serve the students.

I couldn't help but notice that the beans he was using were from the same chili recipe my husband and I had just made from The Happy Herbivore cookbook. It was awkward asking him stupid procedural questions because, um, he was Antonio Bandaras. He LOOKED like Antonio Bandaras, and SOUNDED like Antonio Bandaras so, as you can imagine, it was quite distracting. He was very nice, but so busy rolling the burritos he didn't really have time to chat, and seeing as I was pretty flustered anyway, I didn't try to make conversation. That's all I remember about the dream — or at least all I'm willing to tell you —so let's just talk about the cookbook.

To be honest, I've had a hard time writing a review of the cookbook because when I first received it from the publisher, we tried a few recipes and didn't like them. Go figure. I know there will always be recipes in a cookbook that don't appeal to me, so after taking a little break from the cookbook, we tried again. So many bloggers are cooking from The Happy Herbivore and loving it, I had to give it another shot. We made the Chili sans Carne and it was delicious. (And as you can see, it might inspire great dreams!) The chili seems pretty typical of the kind of recipes you'll find in the book — familiar, easy-to-prepare vegan comfort food — but without added fat, except for the fat that may be contained in prepared ingredients like Thai chili sauce or ... chocolate chips. Lindsay Nixon aims to provide delicious, healthy, low-fat foods that don't remind you with every bite that your dinner is healthy and low in fat.

When I made the chocolate zucchini muffins, I was really worried about how they would turn out, with no added fat except for a few chocolate chips. They were excellent — moist and tender. I served them for dessert, and everyone who ate one loved it. Although I don't cook fat-free, I generally cook relatively low-fat, low-sugar and low-salt foods, and though the muffins had no added fat, they did call for a range of 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar. While I usually use 1/4 cup of sugar for muffins, for these I used 1/2 cup, to stay true to the recipe. (Sometimes no-fat recipes tend to have more sugar and salt to compensate for the flavor and texture fat usually adds, but in general, this doesn't seem to be the case with The Happy Herbivore.) Because the muffins were so low in fat, I decided to continue the healthy theme and frost them with a version of sweet potato frosting, that I originally found on Diet Dessert and Dogs. Trust me, you can't tell this fudge-y frosting is sweet potato-based, and it makes me feel a little healthier knowing I'm not eating big mouthfuls of margarine and powdered sugar. The other little change I made was to use whole spelt flour instead of wheat.

The last recipe I tried was a pumpkin pie that makes its own crust. I love pumpkin pie a lot, and I still like my old version better, but this one was quite good, and my guests really loved it. I sprinkled it with chocolate chips for a little extra pizazz. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this might be a recipe to keep in mind. It's a much lower-fat interpretation of pumpkin pie that the usual crusted version, and I'll probably make it again for Thanksgiving.

In addition to low-fat renditions of all your favorite dishes, Lindsay offers a whole selection of interesting condiments and spice mixes (Berberé, Cajun essence, vegan Worcestershire sauce, etc.) to add flavor and excitement to food. Anyone wishing to reduce their fat consumption might enjoy this cookbook, but I think it would be an especially good resource for new vegans looking to create healthier meals while still enjoying old favorites.

I tend to cook with very little fat, and sometimes cook with no added fat, but I'm not by any means fat-free. We're bombarded with so much information, research, and expert opinions about what we should or shouldn't eat, it can get truly confusing. Is coconut oil a panacea or a highly saturated fat to avoid? Is olive oil a health-giving fat or just an unnecessary fat? Should we avoid sunflower oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil? What about margarine like Earth Balance? Should we be cooking fat-free or is it OK to sauté veggies in 2 teaspoons of oil? What do you think?

Disclaimer: The book was sent to me free of charge by the publisher. I was under no obligation to review it, or to write a favorable review. For reasons unknown to me, I was not offered payment in exchange for writing a review.


  1. This made me laugh out loud, especially that you "couldn't help but noticing he was using the same beans". Imagine shirtless Antonio standing in front of you and noticing his BEANS!

  2. Hahaha! What a great dream...did you tell your husband??
    As to HH cookbook, I like it. I'm not especially wowed by anything but I appreciate that the recipes are healthy, simple and quick. I don't have much problem with natural fats (avocados + nuts) but I tend to not use much oil because it honestly grosses me out. Plus, cookbooks like Lindsay's are good without added oils, so why add them to an already tasty meal?

  3. I was really interested to see what the link would be when I saw the title of your post. I wonder if making this chilli would guarantee me a Antonio Bandaras dream. I would want conversation at the very least.

  4. Love the dream...lol :o)
    I'm glad you gave HH another try. It's my favorite cookbook, but I did have a first at making something that wasn't that great over the weekend. I think it may have been my error though. I love the fact that the foods are quick and easy. I'm always in such a rush with supper that it seems to be the perfect cookbook for me. :o)

  5. Antonio Banderas eh? When you have a dream like that where someone not normally in your life pops up so vividly, do you ever wonder whether you might have been in their dream on the other end? Sort of like a random meeting in the ether...I often think that.

    The chili looks tasty and the muffins and pie both look scrumptious, I love shot of of the pie. I may have to check out more of HH's recipes. I've only made two of her recipes, both of which I found online and, like Maud, I appreciated the simplicity and how quickly they came together.

    As for oil in cooking, I'm not bothered about using oil to saute, though I generally use it sparingly. I figure if I use half a tablespoon or so to make a pot of food that makes 4 servings, I'm just not stress over eating 1/4 of half a tablespoon of oil. And I definitely think it adds more flavor and aromatizes spices better than water saute.

    I don't know about the coconut oil question either...but I'm not too worried, and it makes a great face and body cream.

  6. I'm glad you found some recipes you like out of HH! Out of the ten we've tried so far, we've liked all but one.

    I feel my best when I eat low-fat, so we currently don't have any oil in the house at all. Fats used very sparingly aren't bad, but I think a lot of people (myself included, in the past) overdo it with them.

  7. Ha! Andrea, I love your dream, and if making HH's chili is going to make me dream of Antonio, well, then...I just may have to make it :-)


  8. Great recipe..I think wearing an unbuttoned chest hair revealing shirt in the kitchen is a health hazard. Doesn't Antonio know that, put a net on it. (you are funny)

  9. Ha! I think we need some fat to survive the winter, and feel no guilt at all sauteeing my vegetables in some oil. And yeah, it's not winter yet, but we did turn on the heat for the first time today, there was frost on the car this morning, and I wore a coat out to recess. So I say, fatten away!

  10. What a strange and thoroughly entertaining dream! Even if it is Antonio we're talking about, any mention of him just makes me think of 13th Warrior and those Nasonex commercials, so I can't really think of the guy without wanting to laugh a little. :P

    Ooh, I love the DDD sweet potato frosting! That stuff is so good. I also try to cook lower-fat and -sugar whenever possible, but I don't shy away from them completely. Fried foods and things with gobs of mayo, butter, etc. do frighten me a little, though.

  11. Nice dream! :-) I've made a couple of things from HH and I thought they were great. But I have a tendency to tweak recipes to my liking.

  12. Dreams are so fun. :) I don't have this cookbook yet, but your samplings are very tempting.

  13. Abby,
    I have no idea what you mean! :)

    Yes I did. I'm not responsible for my dreams. I agree with you about the book and about oil, and fat in general, though I do use oil to saute and bake.

    If I thought I could have a similar dream, I'd make the chili again for sure.

    I think the cookbook is great for all the reasons you suggest.

  14. Rose,
    I doubt that Antonio had a similar dream about ME, as he has no idea I exist. But perhaps he made chili from HH and had a similar dream about a random teacher he didn't know. :)

    I agree with you on the oil question.

    I think overdoing it is the problem, as you say.

    The chili was pretty good, but the dream was even better. Go for it!

    Actually, he was dressed appropriately in the dream. Darn.

  15. Claire,
    Frost already? Oh no. Hope the winter is not too horrible. You need more fat to survive that climate.

    Another sweet potato frosting fan! That stuff is so good — and it doesn't have gobs of sugar and fat.

    Chow vegan,
    Yes, tweaking helps, but when I'm trying recipes for a review I like to make them as they are written so I have a better idea how they will turn out if an inexperienced cook makes them. I probably would have liked the recipes more if I'd personalized them.

    I love dreams like this. When else would I have a chance to work with Antonio Bandaras?

    You should try the muffins and see what you think. And what your kids think. Miss E was thrilled with hers!

  16. AH! ha ha. I totally laughed outloud at the "I couldn't help but notice that the beans he was using were from the same chili recipe my husband and I had just made from The Happy Herbivore cookbook."

    I like your thoughts on recipe reviews. I have friends that follow recipes to the dot. While for me it's completely natural to just tweak it as I feel like it, if I'm reviewing a recipe or a cookbook or testing for one, it's not an accurate test for those identical recipe followers. :D

    Beautiful pictures as always!

  17. As you already know (since you make the frosting!), I am a fan of healthy fats. Since about 70% of our brain is made of essential fatty acids and we need cholesterol to form our sex hormones (not to mention for every cell membrane in our body, our skin, our ability to stay warm, etc etc etc) I am worried about people who try to cut out all fats. That said, avocados, nuts and seeds are all good sources, and you can enjoy the fats in them without adding oil to anything.

    Thanks for the review. I may have to give the book another try.

  18. thrilled you're loving the recipes! I eat a no added fats diet (esp no. oil) I was convinced after reading Eat to Live and the McDougall program (both say to eat no added fats/no oil) and was re-convinced after watching Forks Over Knives. It works for me!

  19. One person's healthy fat is another person's poison, it seems. I use foods like nuts, seeds and avocados, as well as small amounts of extracted fats like oils, and occasionally, margarine. Sweet potato frosting is my kind of excess!

    What works for you is the key. I'm in the low fat group, but not sure I can give it up completely, even after reading the books and watching the movie!

  20. That dream is a scream! I'm glad you remembered it in such detail ~ mine usually go up in a puff of dream-smoke seconds after I wake up. I wonder if eating Hispanic food from HH inspires Antonio Banderas dreams, while eating, say, an Italian recipe would bring on Leo DiCaprio dreams or an Irish recipe would invite George Clooney in. Wonder what I should make from HH to dream of Johnny Depp? Something with rum in it, maybe. ;-)

    I'm glad you kept trying recipes out of HH and had success, I remember you were disappointed with it at first. And now my question from your Thanksgiving post has been answered - that is chocolate on the pumpkin pie!

    As for the fat question, as you know we are McDougallers, and since we've both lost relatives to heart attacks we also pay attention to Dr. Esselstyn, and so are in the no-added-fats camp. We've done really well and feel really good since going that route in '07. We could sure tell a difference when we were moving and ate out several times over the course of a couple of weeks - it was all vegan, but most of it was cooked with oil and once you've given that up, food made with oil feels slimy. We also gained a few pounds each, despite the physical efforts of moving! Now we're back to our much-preferred fat-from-whole-foods-only diet and are glad of it. Unfortunately, the woman who rented the cottage before us cooked with a lot of oil, and I'm still cleaning up the mess of it. That's one of the less publicized advantages of frying and sautéing oil-free - it leaves your kitchen a lot easier to clean! :-)

  21. I think the only reason I remembered the dream is that I wrote it down the second I woke up. I had to, since it was directly related to the book I was planning to review! If you figure out what food to eat to dream about Johnny Depp, let me know. :)

    Ken is reading "Eat To Live" and considering going fat-free. I dislike eating food that's been cooked in a lot of fat, but I still like using a little. You're right, though, about the effect of fat on the kitchen — I suppose it has the same effect in the body.


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