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Cookbook Review: Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods by Renee Loux Underkoffler

Image of raw sushi with yellow lettering.Summary:
With an intro endorsement from actor Woody Harrelson, who just so happens to also be vegan, Chef Renee Loux Underkoffler seeks to present not just the ins and outs of raw cooking, but also the beauty in it.

Review:
So, I picked up a copy of this via Better World Books back when a close friend and I were getting into trying some new raw food recipes.  They’re great in the summer for a change from salads when you want something cool, fresh, and healthy to eat.  Plus, I’m always interested in learning more, so I was excited to see that Underkoffler provided more than just recipes, but also chapters featuring the benefits of the various raw ingredients and preparation techniques.  Unfortunately, ultimately this cookbook really did not work for me.

First there’s the fact that a book seeking to show the beauty of raw foods has zero color pictures and almost no black and white illustrations.  It is almost entirely straight text.  Very unattractive in a cookbook!

Second, the background information goes on for an excruciatingly long time.  The recipes do not start until page 261 of the book!  And as much as I like learning more about some veggies and fruits, it felt like information overload to me.  If I really wanted to know all the properties of every fruit and vegetable out there, I’d become a nutritionist.  Knowing the basics, such as what is provided by the scientists in DASH–lots of servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables are good for you–that’s really all the consumer needs to know.  Well, that and how to properly assemble the foods for the right tastes and textures.

So I was pleased to get to the recipes, but only found three that I found to be at all doable by me.  The rest required either an insane amount of prep time, special tools, or special ingredients that even with all of my grocery options in a city like Boston I was unable to even fathom where I would find them.  (Vegans should also note that the recipes make abundant use of raw honey).

I, admittedly, have yet to try the three recipes I did find, primarily because they all require a blender, and mine is broken.  I did save them to try in the summer during a hot spell of a week.  But even if Underkoffler’s recipes are delicious, they are overly involved and intimidating, even to someone like myself who cooks a ton.  I suppose her market might be raw chefs, but then why have the entire beginning of the book be toned toward beginners with no idea what’s in fruits and vegetables?  The book is a bit of a mystery to me, honestly.

Ultimately, although the title of the cookbook is lovely, the recipes and content themselves are not.  Underkoffler’s cookbook lacks a true direction.  It is unclear if her target audience is talented raw chefs or the average American developing an interest in raw foods.  As such, neither audience is properly served.  I would not recommend starting with this book if you have a new interest in raw cooking, but chefs may be interested in flipping through the recipes in the back to see if any are new ideas to them.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

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Cookbook Review: Alive in Five: Raw Gourmet Meals in Five Minutes! by Angela Elliott

April 9, 2012 6 comments

Colorful picture of a raw vegan pasta.Summary:
Using mainstream ingredients and quick-fix instructions, Elliott seeks to show the intrepid new raw food cook how easy it is to incorporate vegan raw food into their everyday life.

Review:
I’m finally doing cookbook reviews!  I’m afraid mine won’t be as in-depth as on some blogs.  I simply don’t have the time to snap pictures as I cook and copy out recipes.  But I will tell you the basics of how the cookbook is set up, how well it works, and whether I would recommend it.

I have no intention to go full raw food, but I did think incorporating some raw recipes into my week might help up my veggie and fruit intake.  I also am a busy young professional so don’t have tons of time, so clearly the title appealed to me.  So are these 5 minute recipes?  Um. Not for me they weren’t.  I’d say that on average the recipes took me anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes to accomplish, and I don’t think learning the recipes or improving techniques would help with that.  Five minutes is definitely an understatement.

The book is set up with a list of all the ingredients she uses, a suggested weekly meal plan, and then divided into your typical breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, etc…. categories.  It is a convenient size, although you will need something to hold it open for you.  It is wonderfully illustrated with gorgeous full-color pictures.

I selected a breakfast, lunch, and dinner to try out since snacks are best kept simple (in my book), and I’m not much of a desserts person.

Breakfast was a smoothie.  Something I am incredibly skeptical of keeping me full.  It consisted of freshly squeeze orange juice (TIME-CONSUMING), half a banana, almond milk, and ice cubes.  It tasted surprisingly good, but did it keep me full? HAHAHA NO.  I was hungry again by the time I got to work.  So that was kind of a fail.  Especially with all the effort that went into making it.  Seriously, I think I expended those calories purely in squeezing out the oj.

Lunch was….a salad.  A salad that did not taste nearly as good as my salads I usually make.  Plus, I was bothered by the fact that she wanted half of your leafy greens to be iceberg lettuce when spinach and kale are so much healthier for you.  I consider this salad kind of a fail.  It did keep me full, though, and others might like the proportions and such better than I did.

Dinner was a raw avocado “soup,” which basically was a bunch of things blended in the blender.  You guys.  This did not taste like soup.  It tasted like a good dip, so that’s how I ate it.  It totally would score 4 stars as a dip, but as dinner it failed. Really. A lot.

The main problem I had with this book, then, was a) the recipes take way more than 5 minutes and b) I kind of like to chew things periodically.  All of this blending made me feel like an invalid.

That said, the book is definitely not bad, it is just not my cup of tea.  Others might enjoy the tastes and style better than I did, and it is well-organized.  Plus others might be less irritated by the fact that the recipes take 10 to 15 minutes rather than 5.

Recommended to vegans with an openness to incredibly simple raw meals being integrated into their diets.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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