The Meal Planner

Since last Spring when I started to cook through and review my cookbooks, I knew that Eat, Shrink and Be Merry would be one of the first.  My Dad gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago and it is a bright and cheerful cookbook with tons of amazing sounding healthy recipes.  

To be honest, "healthy" cooking really turns me off.  I always feel like I'll be sacrificing flavor or have to deal with a different texture (like when you swap whole wheat flour for white) or I'd be stuck with salads instead of the gooey, comforting foods that we actually like.  But this cookbook really blows those misconceptions out of the water!  The sisters Janet and Greta Podleski seek to create recipes with lower fat, lower calories, more fiber, more healthy things our bodies need and yet never have the recipes "taste" low fat.  They've definitely achieved that with these recipes...I don't reach for this cookbook because I want to make something healthy, I reach for it because I love the recipes and they taste fantastic!

There are also tons of nutritional facts as well as health, wellness and exercise tips in the margins of the pages and lots of jokes to keep the whole thing fun and light-hearted.  As I mentioned earlier the book is very bright and colorful and I loved that each chapter is color coordinated.  I could easily glance at the closed book and know where to find the "Salads" chapter (green), Beef/Pork (red), or Desserts (purple).

Things to love about this book is the wide variety of recipe options and flavors as well as the use of easy to find ingredients.  There is not a single ingredient in there that would require you to run to a different store to get it.  The ingredient lists can be kind of long, but it does mean the food you are making is full of amazing flavor.

Some of my not-so-favorite things would be that the jokes go a little overboard and all the recipe titles are puns like "Kentucky Freud Chicken", "Wok this Way" and "Glad Thai Dings" just to name a few.  The description of the recipe is right underneath, for example "Salmon Cowell" is "grilled salmon in an orange-ginger marinade" but the description is in small printing and I found myself squinting to read that to see if it sounded good rather than the actual title.  This does, in a way, set this book apart from others and give it some "charm"....but still kind of annoying.  

There are not many photos, only about one per chapter, but this doesn't bother me so much.  I do love when cookbooks are full of mouth watering photography, but I was easily able to read the description and decipher if I wanted to make it or not.  

In the end, the deciding factor is the taste of the recipes.  I made a lot of them and tried to go for a wide variety of dishes.  Here's some of the things I tried:

 "Deviled in Disguise" (pg 33) are deviled eggs flavored with smoked salmon and fresh dill.  I freaking LOVED these.  The smoked salmon and dill were a perfect pair for the creamy eggs, and the addition of lemon and honey mustard sent them over the top.  I brought these to a party and they were gobbled up right away.

"Na-cho Ordinary Taco Salad" (pg 39) was pretty much the best taco salad I've ever eaten.  The beef mixture is flavored without using packaged taco seasoning from the store, instead incorporating fresh jalapenos, grape tomatoes and spices.  I really loved the flavors and would use that as my standard meat mixture for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc.  This is a seriously hearty salad, definitely NOT lacking in flavor.  

"Chop 'Til You Drop" (pg 47) is an oriental chopped chicken salad with peanut dressing and it was wonderful.  It was a great summer time meal. "Feast from the East" (pg 40) was another asian salad I made, this time with noodles as the base and grilled sirloin, broccoli, peppers, cucumber and carrots tossed with a sesame-orange dressing (fantastic by the way). There was very little oil in the dressing, mostly chicken broth and other seasonings so I really wasn't sure how it would hold up, but surprisingly the noodles just soaked up the dressing making it super flavorful and the lack of oil didn't even matter.

I rarely ever make completely vegetarian meals but the "Greek with Envy" (pg 74) cheese tortellini salad with vegetables and a vinaigrette dressing was yummy enough to keep our meat-loving household happy.  

"The Roastess with the Mostest" (pg 83) is a super flavorful whole roasted chicken with mustard and fresh herbs and a hint of sweetness from the brown sugar.  It makes the skin sticky and oh-so-yummy.  One of the only recipes I didn't like was from the chicken chapter as well.  "The Better Butter Chicken" (pg 82) I found to be lacking in flavor.  It tasted very tomatoey with little authentic butter chicken flavor.  I guess I'm a snob since my Slow Cooker Butter Chicken is so good and a tough recipe to beat.

"Dilly Beloved" (pg 90) was a cinch to throw together.  I tossed some chicken breasts with maple syrup, Dijon, fresh dill, lemon, garlic and balsamic vinegar in a baking dish and threw the whole thing in the oven.  Simple and easy but with great flavor.  We ate the chicken with sauce spooned over brown rice and some steamed broccoli.  That whole meal sounds ridiculously healthy (and it was!) but we'd have never known it because it was such satisfying GOOD food.

"Beijing Beauty" (pg 127) grilled pork tenderloin in an asian-glaze was sticky and sweet and tasted fantastic grilled on the BBQ.  

"Glad Thai Dings" (pg 139) is an ingenious recipe for asian flavored meatballs in a Thai coconut-peanut sauce.  Served over rice, noodles or as an appetizer they are sure to please.

It seemed that the whole time I was testing recipes for this cookbook, I'd run across friends who were cooking from this book and loving it as well!  My husband and I were invited to a friends house for dinner and I walked in and was immediately bombarded by an amazing smell.  I asked her what she was making and she said it was "The Loin King" (pg 117), which was a pork loin roast smothered in a sauce made of brown sugar, ketchup, balsamic, garlic and curry powder.  It was so, so fantastic and I think my husband and I went back for seconds and thirds.  

Another time I was at my daughters's dayhome when my friend busted out these delicious little cookies that tasted both like a peanut butter cookie and a chewy gingersnap.  OF COURSE she said they were the "Girl-Guy Cookies" from page 168.  

"The Died and Gone to Heaven Chocolate Layer Cake" (pg 192) was the last recipe in the book, under a chapter entitled "Your Gonna Die Anyway: One gut-busting, high-fat, calorie-laden doozie of a treat, 'cuz you only live once!"  With rich fudgey chocolate cake layers and chocolate cream cheese icing this is one rich and amazing cake.  All the puns and jokes actually made me laugh out loud on this recipe, because when I glanced down to read the nutritional information it only said "trust us you do not want to know!"  I really liked that they included one decadent recipe to show that eating well doesn't mean NEVER enjoying treats or desserts once in a while.

These Canadian sisters really made me LOVE cooking healthy foods for my family and I never felt like I was sacrificing flavor.  For all the recipes that I tried and came across ONE measly recipe that I didn't care for, really makes this cookbook worth the purchase (and I still have a ton of recipes bookmarked to try!)

This cookbook makes me really excited to get Janet and Greta's next cookbook The Looneyspoons Collection that was released November 1st.  It's a collection of all the best recipes from the first two cookbooks (Looneyspoons and Crazy Plates) as well as Eat, Shrink and Be Merry and a bunch of new recipes.  This will be their first cookbook full of lots of photographs of the food and more great nutritional info.  It pretty much sounds like anything that was a short coming in Eat, Shrink and Be Merry was improved upon.  Well, except for the puns and jokes.  That's kind of their trademark ;)

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6 Responses
  1. Unknown Says:

    I have this cookbook too and it's really great for healthier recipes that are easy to follow for beginner cooks. I also think the jokes and puns are a little too much sometimes and it would be nice if there were more photos, but it's an entertaining and colourful book. Great review!

  2. Amy Says:

    I borrowed this book from my mom, and have yet to give it back. Very interested to hear about the new collection. Sounds like that would be the best purchase instead of grabbing the other ones.

    One of my favourite lasagna recipes is from this cookbook. It is soooo delicious, and the only one I make now. Great review! Thanks!

    ~Amy at Up Mommy Creek

  3. Erin Says:

    Our library only has their older book, Looneyspoons: low-fat food made fun. I am checking it out!

  4. Me Says:

    I believe I've sang the praises of this book to you before'. We quite enjoy the butter chicken, but then again haven't tired the "real" thing or your slow cooker version.
    I had no idea they were releasing a new cookbook. I have the other two though so if there are not enough new recipes it may not be worth getting?

  5. Kindra Says:

    Carla - I've heard it's absolutely worth it to get the new book! They took all the favorite recipes from all three books but then updated them to today's nutritional standards. The earlier cookbooks were really concerned with being low fat but not with sugar or white carbs. They've also inserted more healthy fats, more fiber, less sodium, etc. I'm also really excited to see all the new photography. I'm usually not one to run out and buy new cookbooks, but I really think I will get this one!

  6. Hi there! I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled upon this blog post, but I think it's fantastic and really appreciate your nice comments about our recipes. And, this may shock you, but I AGREE that the jokes are super-corny! Have you seen our new book yet? We toned down the zaniness (did I spell that right?) and really loaded the pages with recipes, tips, photos and up-to-date nutritional tips. Happy cooking and thanks again for reviewing Eat, Shrink & Be Merry :) Greta Podleski