Catherine McCord’s Weelicious blog and its two associated cookbooks are ideal for certain types: people who do not know how to cook but have suddenly been placed in a position (voluntarily or not) of needing to cook for their children instead of relying on restaurants, takeout, convenience foods, or someone else’s cooking. Instead of ranting about people who do not have the kitchen skills necessary to feed their own children, let me applaud those without these skills but who decide to attain them. Catherine can help: in her books there are recipes such as “Butternut Squash Puree” (ingredients: 1 butternut squash); a recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches (ingredients: bread, butter, cheese); variations on peanut butter and jelly; and recipes for simple salads. There are somewhat more complicated recipes, but nothing overly challenging. Every recipe I tried was simple and mediocre, but simple and mediocre is a good place to start when feeding children. However, with no children in the house and as someone who knows how to cook, I found this to be a rather dreary week for Cookbook Cornucopia.
The first thing I noticed about the book Weelicious: 140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes was its ridiculous title. I was not familiar with the blog of the same name, and just could not get my mind around the fact that someone thought that “weelicious” was a marketable word. But obviously it is marketable, so I will refrain from further comments. On opening the book, what next struck me next were the many pictures of Catherine and her children; this made sense after reading the back flap of the book and learning Catherine is a former model and television hostess. Nevertheless, there seemed to be enough simple and appealing recipes for me to find a place on my shelf for this book. Catherine is interested in having her children eat healthy food, although I think she should consider cutting back on the meat. She does use a minimum of prepared and processed foods, which is good. The recipes are not exciting, but if her children eat everything in this book, I am very impressed. My children, even Alan, my “good” eater, have always had much more sensitive taste buds.
“Miso Marinated Fish” consists of fish, black cod or salmon (I used salmon), which marinates in a mixture of miso, agave syrup, and mirin for several hours and is then broiled. The fish was fine but not memorable. I served it with some interesting black rice ramen that I had found only recently at Whole Foods Market. This ramen was a very nice slippery accompaniment to the salmon.
“Brown Rice and Veggie Casserole” (page 162) looked healthy enough. For this casserole, cooked brown rice is combined with tomato sauce and cheese, then layered with some cooked vegetables, also combined with the tomato sauce and cheese. I happened to make this casserole along with some much better food, so the leftovers were rather neglected and ended up being thrown out.
Catherine’s “Baked Ziti” (page 195) is a big nothing of a recipe. It is a combination of cooked ziti, a can of tomatoes cooked with onion, garlic, and bell pepper, and cheeses: mozzarella and Parmesan. It’s starchy and filling, and edible enough, especially with more Parmesan added. I suppose the inclusion of this recipe, along with the accolade from Weelicious follower Emily can be explained by the complete helplessness in the kitchen of the Weelicious audience.
I like the idea of gnocchi, but most recipes seem to be more trouble than they are worth. The exception, so far, has been Clotilde Dusoulier’s recipe for Parisian gnocchi. The Weelicious “Spinach Gnocchi” (page 226) were, alas, no exception: they tasted good enough, but I could not help thinking that some sort of casserole with the exact same ingredients would have been just as good and no trouble to put together. The ingredients are frozen spinach, cheeses, and egg yolk, and a little bit of flour to hold everything together. You roll this mixture into little balls, then cook the balls in boiling water. The baked ziti was improved when I tossed some of these gnocchi onto my serving of the ziti.
With the Weelicious “Carrot-Pineapple Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing” (page 236) I finally feel that Catherine and I might have something in common. Catherine does not put raisins, which I regard as an abomination, in her carrot cupcakes. She does add pineapple, a necessity. True, there are no nuts in these cupcakes, but then most children do not appreciate nuts in baked goods. Finally, the cream cheese icing, sweetened with agave syrup, is some of the best cream cheese icing ever. Catherine also uses agave syrup as the sweetener in the cupcakes, but I successfully cut the amount of sweetener by a third—apparently Catherine did not get the memo on healthy eating about cutting sugar consumption. Catherine makes 14 cupcakes from her recipe; I made 12 medium small cupcakes. The amount of icing is generous, even for 14 cupcakes, but that is okay since it is so good. [Go to the recipe.]
Catherine’s second book, Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box with More Than 160 Happier Meals is really just a continuation of the first book. The biggest difference is that Catherine now has an expanded cast of children appearing in her pictures; there’s even a little diversity. Perhaps because of the lunch theme, carbohydrates are over-represented, with, for example, a chapter on pizza and a chapter on sandwiches (“sammies” in wee-talk). This book has recipes both for lunch box food and hot lunch food served at home. As with the first book, the key words are “simple” and “mediocre”.
Years ago I learned how good grated carrots mixed with a simple vinaigrette could be. Catherine’s take on this sort of recipe is just as good: She combines grated carrots and grated beets (both uncooked); she adds a tiny bit of salt, a tiny bit of rice vinegar, and a tiny bit of honey. This salad was quite satisfactory by itself; I also liked adding it to my usual lettuce salad. [Go to the recipe.]
I like trying hummus variations; Nigella Lawson’s peanut butter hummus is inspired. Thus my eyes lit up when I saw the recipe for “Avocado Hummus” (page 208). I cannot decide which is the better name for this: guacummus or hummamole? There are real possibilities for this recipe, but not with Catherine’s method. I usually cook my own chickpeas for hummus, but I was feeling lazy and followed Catherine’s recipe and used canned chickpeas. What a mistake! Hummus made with canned chickpeas tastes like canned chickpeas no matter how much you rinse the canned chickpeas. As for tasters’ reactions: Danny liked this, Mindy S liked it a lot, and Susun B saw no great improvement over hummus and avocados just served together.
Catherine seems to think that she is being very creative with her idea of adding diced dill pickle to her egg salad, but the salad I made from her recipe for “Egg Pickle Salad Sandwich” (page 106) was a completely undistinguished egg salad. In addition to the pickle, she adds a little bit of mayonnaise and a little bit of mustard; I was more generous with both mayonnaise and mustard than Catherine was.
“Minestrone Pasta Soup” (page 73) would have been much better without the pasta. Without the pasta, we have a basic vegetable soup, with onions, carrots, celery, zucchini, and canned beans added to a soup base of broth and canned tomatoes. Add the pasta, and instead of a healthy and relatively filling vegetable soup, we have a soupy pasta dish, which uses up the starch quota for the meal, perhaps even for the day. I probably would have enjoyed this more had I just used regular macaroni for the pasta instead of breaking up whole wheat linguine to use. But I wanted to get rid of the linguine, since I do not particularly like whole wheat pasta.
“Cocodate Cookies” (page 280) did not taste that bad, and they are relatively healthy, the only ingredients being dates, a banana, coconut, and sesame seeds. But they did not taste that good either. I would much prefer an unadorned date to one of these cookies. The cookies are not quite raw: they are cooked in a slow oven until the outside gets a little crusty but the inside is still soft. Some children might like these, but I do not think that any of my children would have voluntarily eaten these during those many long years when they ate like children.
Adapted from Catherine McCord, Weelicious: 140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes
1½ cups flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup agave syrup
½ cup walnut oil
1½ cups grated carrots
¼ cup drained crushed pineapple
Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup agave syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, bat together the agave syrup, walnut oil, and eggs. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir in the carrots and pineapple. Divide the batter between the 12 muffin cups. Bake until the cupcakes start to brown on top, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool, out of the muffin pan and on a rack.
To make the frosting, beat the frosting ingredients together. When the cupcakes have cooled, spread the frosting on top.
Carrot Beet Salad
Adapted from Catherine McCord, Weelicious Lunches
2-3 carrots, grated
1 medium red beet, grated
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
You want about the same amount of carrot and beet, so choose how many carrots to use accordingly. To make the salad, just combine the ingredients.