One of the ideas I kept coming back to while cooking from Gena Hamshaw’s Power Plates is what Julia Child said: “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients.” Too often our busy lives are complicated and that complicatedness spills over into other parts of our lives. Cooking becomes complicated and sometimes it seems easier to throw a frozen pizza in the oven or order takeout than it is to cook. Or at least that’s what the perception is but what I have been finding that there are more and more ways to get a nutritious meal on the table without fuss and with more joy.
Before I became a vegetarian (over a decade ago!) at first my husband and I were the tofu/block cheese/pasta type of vegetarians. When I ate meat it seemed like that well-rounded, 3-sqaure-meals-a-day existence was ingrained. A starch, a vegetable, and a meat was what I was born into so when I switched to a plant based diet I had no clue what to do! The early days were filled with lots of pre-made veggie burgers, pastas, cheese, and tofu. It wasn’t until our daughter was born in 2014 that I knew that our plant based diet needed to walk-the-walk as it were because she would need to have that ingrained knowledge of what her diet is all about.
If you’re unfamiliar with Hamshaw her blog The Full Helping was started in 2009 as a way to provide nourishing recipes but also a place for people to focus on mindful living. She’s written a couple of cookbooks (Food 52 Vegan is a useful one that I’ve got on my shelf — full of delicious, simple recipes) and she’s a contributor to various publications and also to Food52. It’s her background in nutrition that really gives her recipes a well-balance focus.
What I enjoy about Power Plates is that it’s full of well-balanced, delicious af recipes. Did I mention that they’re easy to make too? Just as a point of reference I’ve made over ten recipes in the past 4 days! The how and why come from the fact that the ingredients used are a combination of easy-to-source fresh produce and pantry staples (such as whole grains, legumes, nuts/seeds, etc). I didn’t have to make any trips to the grocery store because I could start cooking using what I already had. If you’re new to cooking plant based/vegan she outlines all of the basic, important information in the first couple of sections in the book: Using This Book and Noteworthy Ingredients. She’s used her own experiences as a vegan to create a cookbook in which a diet is expanded, not limited and one that is certainly not based on fad-like nutritional information. The basis of her food philosophy is outlined in the Macronutrient Building Blocks section — the key to keeping a meal balanced rests in the combination of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. What she presents is a highly useful strategy for meal planning.
Throughout the remaining chapters — Breakfast, Salads, Soups, Bowls, Skillets and Stovetop, and Bakes — she offers hearty and fulfilling recipes for easy, everyday cooking. Interestingly there are no chapters on snacks, desserts, or appetizers and to be very honest they’re ones I didn’t miss. I don’t want to eat dessert that often and if meals are satisfying that really helps (for me at least) to cut down on the snacking. Most of her recipes are very do-able in that time when you get home from work and dinner but she also gives great advice about what components can be cooked ahead of time and what can be batch-cooked so you’re not scrambling during a busy week.
The very first recipe we tried came straight off the cover because my daughter is lime-obsessed and she said that picture looked “sooo good” (kudos to photographer Ashley McLaughlin for such amazing and enticing photos!)– the Sweet Potato Bowls w/ Cilantro Lime Rice, Black Beans, and Hemp Chimichurri Sauce. I can’t stress enough how much I loved that first recipe — that Chimichurri sauce is incredible (my only complaint is that all the sauce recipes could yield more, so my advice: triple those sauce recipes! You’ll thank me!).
While each recipe presents a dietary balance the cookbook as a whole offers a balance of ingredients — a seemingly even distribution of proteins (from tofu/tempeh, legumes/beans, to nuts/seeds). I really appreciated that each recipe had a solid protein component because 1) meals were more satisfying and 2) often times I find plant-based cookbooks miss out on this aspect. The recipes also are very well-written so that seemingly difficult dishes like stew and dumplings are accessible for any level of home cook. In terms of kitchen equipment/tools the standard items apply with a high-speed blender being a helpful extra but not necessary (I found I could achieve similar results to my blender by using an immersion blender, especially if certain ingredients such as cashews or dried fruit were soaked beforehand).
I’ve found each of the recipes we tried tasty and comforting. Take her recipe for Dinner Toast w/ Savory Mushrooms, Chickpeas, and Greens — as she says, “toast is the quintessential comfort food” and I love how she’s turned it into a hearty, dinnertime version (and, again, the gravy-like sauce is totally to-die-for here). Even for my husband and daughter who have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards mushrooms they really enjoyed the taste and texture (texture being paramount when dealing with mushrooms!).
For those of you who aren’t into vegan cooking, I think Hamshaw does a really great job creating recipes that taste like you’ve been eating them forever, in that they are reasonable and accessible for many non-vegans. No strange ingredients, flavours, or textures just bright, fresh, delicious food. TBH I’ve never considered eating a quesadilla that was cheese-free. Part of the fun (or so I thought) was having a nice, gooey, wedge of quesadilla however I found with her Spicy Chickpea Quesadillas w/ Caramelized Onion that I didn’t miss the cheese. Not one bit! Her filling was incredibly tasty — smoky and spicy with a touch of sweet.
Power Plates is quickly becoming a forever-favourite of a cookbook for my family and I (when everyone is digging what you’re cooking you know you’ve found a keeper!). It’s one of those cookbooks that you can just pick up and find something to cook that will be nutritionally balanced and very, very delicious. While being vegan this book is certainly not limited only to those who enjoy a vegan diet because each recipe is so delicious that it transcends it’s culinary category (hard sell? Can you tell I absolutely adore this book??) If you’re wondering what I’ve been cooking that’s got me so excited check out my custom Instagram hashtag #eatworthypowerplates or my dedicated Facebook post. I’ll keep adding photos as I keep cooking from Power Plates!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my husband and daughter for such an excellent birthday gift! I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, just the adoration of my family for cooking them such delicious food. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.