Hungry Girl To the Max! The Ultimate Guilt-Free Cookbook by Lisa Lillien

ImageWhile my husband was away for two weeks last month, I pulled out my new Hungry Girl cookbook and made all my dinners from it.  I like to cook while the husband’s away – it sounds selfish but I can explain only by saying I don’t mind eating my own experiments, but I do mind if he has to.  I’m not much of a cook.

I recommend Hungry Girl to a lot of people. Hungry Girl is about making the foods you love “guilt-free” meaning lighter in fat, lower in calories, higher in fiber.  She’s not aiming for high cuisine, she’s trying to replace your fatty takeout (pizza, burgers, etc) with something you can make better and easier at home.  I get lots of tips and strategies from her, which has helped me keep my weight down the last couple of years. It helps that I’m blessed with not-very-discerning taste buds, which means an egg-white omelet tastes just as good to me as regular eggs;  my husband on the other hand, notices the difference immediately.

If you’re trying to eat lighter, there are basically two ways you can go.  For example, if you want a piece of chocolate, you either want a small piece of the best chocolate you can possibly have — or, that teensy piece of chocolate won’t do it for you, you’d rather have a substantial amount of something chocolatey but better for you (like chocolate pudding or yogurt or hot chocolate).  If you’re in the second camp, HG is for you.

Hungry Girl is aimed at the person who loves to eat, but wants to eat better.  If you’re not willing to give up guacamole for example, she’ll show you how to make half of it with mashed peas and it tastes nearly as good.  Not willing to give up fries with your burger?  Make butternut squash fries instead.  She’s good at bulking things up with veggies so you eat more and eat better, and that works for me.

Another great thing about Hungry Girl is that she talks about products.  Every maker of “healthy” or “light” products sends her samples and she’ll tell you (honestly, I think) which ones she likes best.  I’ve discovered a ton of great “diet” foods from her (Popchips, VitaMuffins), although a few have been misses (Holey Donuts).  She’ll also tell you when it’s better to use a small amount of something real instead of fat-free.

But this is a book review, so back to her cookbook.  I will say this: Lillien is great for meal ideas, tips and strategies for lightening things up, and quick and easy meals you sort of already know (like stir-fries).  Her actual recipes can be a little hit or miss.

During my two week run, these were some of the hits:

  • Smothered Veggie Burritos – you may not need a recipe for this, it’s basically chopped veggies sautéed in garlic, refried beans seasoned with cumin and chili, enchilada sauce, high-fiber tortillas and reduced-fat shredded cheese.  Easy but awesome.
  • Hot & Hungry Szechuan Shrimp – again, you might not need a recipe to make a shrimp stir fry but it helps me to have one.  Lots of veggies, shrimp, and a sauce made of Siracha, soy, ketchup, cornstarch and a little sugar.  Yum.
  • Veggie-loaded Cashew Chicken – basic stir fry but full of good ingredients, and lots of flavor.  With HG it’s a good idea to add extra spice – she’s aiming her recipes at the masses but I like more heat.

And the misses:

  • Asian Style Honey BBQ Chicken – okay, but the chicken got a little overdone and it wasn’t as spicy as I like.
  • Cool & Crunchy Salmon Tacos – this was basically salmon salad in a taco shell.  It tasted as weird as it sounds.  Plus my cats went so crazy I just can’t eat salmon in front of them, much as I’d like to.  So definitely not guilt-free.
  • Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese – I’m on a huge buffalo chicken kick, so this sounded amazing but came out really weird.  Maybe I did something wrong.  I made 4 servings of it so it stayed around a while (I throw away nothing).  My everything’s-better-with-buffalo-sauce philosophy took a beating with this dish.

This book also has tons of breakfast recipes – two of her “specialties” are the Growing Oatmeal Bowl and the Egg Mug.  There’s also a huge dessert section – Hungry Girl assumes you have a sweet tooth like me.  One of my favorite breakfasts/desserts is the Caramel Apple Parfait, which is basically chopped apple, light caramel dip, peanuts, and fat-free vanilla yogurt.

Personality-wise, HG is a little “perky” for me.  My husband took one look at this cookbook and said “it’s awfully pink”.  Girly is not my thing, but if Lillien is girly at least she’s a girl who likes to EAT.

I know this is way out of my zone of expertise… but those of you who love to read may also love spending LESS time in the kitchen, and HG is really good for that.  It’s a weird thing that I don’t like to cook but I love buying cookbooks.  If you’re not a cookbook junkie, check out her website.  Enjoy!

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