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Almost Meatless:
Recipes that Are Better for Your Health and the Planet
By Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond
ISBN: 1580089615
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Publication date: April 2009
Format: Paperback
List price: $22.50 
Type: General; Diet & Nutrition
Sample recipe: Tuna Tartine
Intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
Apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive coffee-table Biblical stature
Competition: outclassed follower in the pack strong challenger likely champ
Variety: too little too much unusual nice mix just right
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 ≥300
Practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% ≥80%
# of ingredients: ≤4 ≤7 ≤10 ≤12 >12
Ingredient hunt: 7-Eleven airfare required online pantry supermarket
Recipe complexity: too hard simple medium challenging professional
Instructions: inadequate verbose bare-bones full-figured educational
Time conscious: unconscious outright lies white lies realistic honorable
Cooking time: weekend project takes all day takes time ≥30 minutes <30 minutes
Added info: zip overwhelming scant balanced generous
Photos/drawings: none distracting decorative instructive glorious
Recipe results: ≤dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
Nutritional info: none overwhelming hit or miss adequate comprehensive
Tone: food police intense neutral supportive comforting
Result: guilt-inducing heavy-handed balanced encouraging inspiring
Format/Ease of Use
Layout: ugh cluttered fine considerate work of art
Legibility: unpleasant challenging tolerable clear brilliant
Production quality: cheesy dubious years of service gift quality stunning
Page numbers: non-existent hard-to-find spotty sufficient every page
Table of contents: AWOL frustrating passable useful excellent
Index quality: none tragic adequate good a treasure
Page flipping: upsetting tedious acceptable rare never
Writer: beginner food writer writing cook personality auteur
Cook: unknown self-taught chef teacher celebrity
Fulfills ambitions: falls short almost there satisfactory exceeds home run
Flavor delivered: sad inconsistent tasty delicious exceptional
Overall tone: sterile trying too hard straightforward best friend mom
Value: ouch! a little pricey worth splurging on the money a deal
Overall rating: skip it good very good excellent Ochef Top 100

Comments: From the title, we thought this would be a book of vegetarian recipes with a meat dish here and a meat dish there. In fact, it is a collection of recipes where meat plays a modest, supporting role. In general, the recipes provide 1 to 2 ounces of meat per serving, rather than the 4 ounces generally considered a "serving," or the many, many ounces that actually constitute a serving far too often in daily life.

The chapters include recipes for chicken, turkey, fish and seafood, pork, beef, lamb, eggs, and stocks and broths. Many of the recipes can be produced for vegetarians by omitting the meat and swapping a vegetable stock for a meat stock.

An issue that the book does not explicitly address is that it is much more complex and time-consuming to prepare these stews, soups, pies, salads, and mixed dishes than to grill or pan-fry a hunk of meat. Many of these recipes include as many ingredients and are as complex as putting together a lasagna from scratch. We also think the dishes are seasoned quite heavily, presumably to add flavor to grains, vegetables, etc., that are standing in for meat.

There are some inconsistencies. The authors "strongly recommend against buying chicken in restaurants" (because it is inevitably a factory-farmed bird), but a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is fine. We do not understand the inclusion of the egg chapter. Are we supposed to be cutting down on eggs, or are the recipes included because they're just simpler than most of the meat recipes? And lardons are not slices of bacon cut in 1/4-inch sections (they are quarter-inch cubes).

There is a little too much cheerleading for our taste – when you're trying to reform someone, a more straightforward approach is better. Similarly, there is too much mocking of perfectly good foods – Shepherd's Pie "with flavorless cubes of beef with gluey, instant mashed potatoes," for example, and meat loaf that "evokes images of bland dinners." Many of us turn out a pretty amazing meat loaf and a lot of us have had a decent shepherd's pie. These authors, even though they're trying to break some new ground, didn't invent cooking, for heaven's sake.

And why do cookbook authors say things like "turkey bacon is just as satisfying" as bacon from a pig? You may have dozens of good reasons for choosing turkey bacon over regular in your recipe, but it does not provide a particularly similar taste or the same level of satisfaction. We think you lose too much credibility – no matter how good your book is – when you pretend that something that is clearly a compromise is certainly not a compromise, but a delight!

Now, having ranted for this long, we really like this book. We like the concept, we like the recipes, we like the support of flavorful, sustainable, humanely raised meat and eggs. We would have done a few things differently, that's all.


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