This week I thought it was only fair to share a review of one of the books that led to last week’s “Rent Before Buying Cookbook Pledge.” The Meat Free Monday Cookbook: A Full Menu for Every Monday of the Year by the Meat Free Monday Campaign, Annie Riggs and Paul, Stella, & Mary McCartney was a cookbook I looked forward to reading. I admit, without hesitation, that a lot of that enthusiasm came from my fondness for Paul McCartney. He seems like such a nice, colossally rich, nice, vegetarian, nice, enormously talented, nice guy. If he contributed to the book, I reasoned, it must be very nice.
I also love the theory behind Sir Paul’s Meatless Monday campaign: get carnivores to give up meat one day a week. The benefits of this strategy are two-fold. First, it has the effect of immediately reducing meat intake, which is good for health and the environment. Second, and more importantly, it should have the long term effect of convincing carnivores that giving up meat is not really a sacrifice at all – in fact, lots of meals are completely delicious without it!
There is no doubt that the book is beautiful, as one might expect from the influence of the artistic McCartney clan. The presentation is unique -- rather than provide individual breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes for each season, 13 complete daily menus are presented for each season, including “packed lunch” and “lunch” (I assumed to eat at home) and dessert options, taking advantage of produce in season. The first thing I noticed is that there was no definite criteria for the lunches – some of the home lunches appeared simpler than the packed choices.
Another thing I noticed was that some daily menus didn’t provide much dietary diversity. For example, Spring Week 10 offered a packed lunch of Pasta with Spring Herbs and an at home lunch of Crunchy Cauliflower and Macaroni – so far, so good, although the packed lunch is supposed to be heated, and that’s not possible at every office. But then you turn to dinner for the same week, and the recipe is for Stir-Fry with Spring Vegetables and Noodles. Really? When you’re trying to convince carnivores that vegetarian fare is not bland or boring you suggest pasta for 3 meals in the same day? Autumn Week 2 suggested a potato Rosti for at home lunch, followed by dinner – which featured a side of potato salad. I don’t think most of us would plan family meals that way.
I have made some of the recipes from the book – the Rosti was really quite delicious. I wasn’t as successful with the Sicilian Cauliflower Pasta – as written the recipe was far too dry. It was easily saved by a can of diced tomatoes and some wine, but if you’d followed the recipe slavishly, it would have been inedible. One of the biggest disappointments was that some of the celebrity contributions had a “phoned in” feel. Sir Paul, all around nice guy, contributed the Winter Week 12 breakfast offering: Toasted Bagel with Hummus. It may well be his favorite breakfast, but did I really need to pay $20 for that recipe? No.
Bottom line, had I taken this book out from the library first, I wouldn’t have purchased it. Meat Free Mondays is really geared for complete veggie-phobes, something I definitely am not. Or perhaps those who simply don’t know how to cook without meat – but that’s something I do far more often than not. It’s not a total loss – I made both the Rosti recipe and the Glamorgan Sausages more than once, and they are now part of my repertoire. But lesson learned: Rent before Buying!
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FTC disclosure: I did not receive a free copy of this book for review.˚