Ask CK: More Cookbook, Less Tofu and Annoying Blog Advertising

Readers! As Casual Kitchen's readership continues to grow, I've been receiving more and more great questions via email, comments and Twitter. As always, I welcome your feedback, so please let me know what you think!
My father needs to cut back on red meat and my mother wants to eat more vegetables. They both are good cooks but not inventive, and they always fall back on a handful of recipes and ways to prepare vegetables. They don't have Internet access, so cookbooks and occasional ideas shared over the phone are the only source of new inspiration.

So, I'm looking for a cookbook for my parents that's mostly vegetarian or light on meat, but one that's not heavily based on tofu and other soy products ("too granola" as my father would put it). Do you have any suggestions?


The ideal cookbook for you is Almost Meatless. I wrote a rabidly positive review of this exceptional cookbook right after it came out. It's perfectly suited for your parents and others interested in reducing their meat intake but not interested in making the leap to full-on vegetarianism.

A couple of other possibilities: Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant and Moosewood Cooks at Home are both excellent. Both are mostly meatless yet also feature quite a few fish and seafood recipes. Cooks at Home tends to feature simple and quick recipes, while Sundays tends to feature more ethnic dishes. CK's Groundnut Stew (borrowed and modified from Sundays) is a typical--and delicious--example.

Finally, Jay Solomon's Vegetarian Soup Cuisine. It's out of print, but you can find a used copy at Amazon. It's purely vegetarian, but there isn't a single recipe in there that calls for tofu. It's full of amazing soups based on beans and a wide range of veggies (our Smoky Brazilian Black Bean Soup is a house favorite), and it's suitable for all seasons and palates.

And I agree with your father! Too many veggie cookbooks over-rely on tofu, as if it's some kind of obligatory meat substitute. To me tofu is a second-order food that I try to avoid. A truly well-made vegetarian recipe doesn't need a "meat substitute" to be delicious. And while this is a common way non-vegetarians think about vegetarian meals, I consider it a limiting belief that prevents people from experiencing veggie cuisine in all its diversity.

Why do you run that big ad above every one of your articles? I'm putting you on notice as a reader. In fact, why do you bother to run ads at all on your blog? They're annoying.

I'm always struggling with how to balance my readers' preferences with my desire to earn at least some revenue for the immense amount of time I put into writing and moderating Casual Kitchen.

Long term readers know I've been a consistent user of Adsense ads, and I've also experimented with lots of other ways to earn revenue--and hopefully minimize reader annoyance. I use Chitika's search ad platform (and found it wanting, quite honestly) and from time to time I use Sponsored Tweets. I've also run text-based advertising as well as one-off ads that I've sold to sponsors.

Of course, ads aren't the only way I earn money here. I earn proceeds from affiliate relationships with great content providers like Jules Clancy and Everett Bogue, and I earn revenue from being an affiliate with The short answer is, I don't know what the best method is to earn money from blogging. But placing some ads here at CK seems like a reasonably unobtrusive way to balance the needs of my readers with the needs of my wallet. Either way, I will always try my best to respond to reader feedback, and if you disagree or want to share any thoughts, please do so via email or in the comments below.

A final point. If you really want to read Casual Kitchen and you cannot stand seeing any advertising whatsoever, there's an easy solution. Join some 1400 other readers and subscribe to Casual Kitchen via RSS (my preferred feedreader is Google Reader). Keep in mind: I earn no revenue from readers who subscribe to me via feeds--I only earn money from Google Adsense ads or any other sponsor or affiliate if you click through to CK's site and then click an ad. But using RSS is the easiest way to avoid all annoyances here at CK. Well, except for all of the annoying things I write. :)

Readers, what are your thoughts? Share them in the comments!

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Sally said...

For Nathalie I would also suggest a couple of magazines -- Cooking Light and Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. She might also check Clean Eating magazine, but it could be "too granola." I'm particularly fond of Everyday Food and find that I rarely need to search for hard-to-find ingredients. The recipes aren't complicated or difficult. There's also a TV show on PBS.

Cooking Light has published a number of cookbooks. Many have recipes that are similar to old standbys and favorites.

I make a lot of soups, stews and one-dish meals. For those that are low on vegetables or high on red meat, I add more vegetables and cut the amount of meat.

Another suggestion would be to explore a favorite ethnic cuisine. Most use far less red meat and more vegetables than Americans do. I happen to be very fond of the foods of the Mediterranean, especially Italian and Greek food. In addition, most of the foods and cooking techniques are familiar to us. One does need to be careful that recipes haven't been too Americanized -- using more meat and fewer vegetables.

figleaf said...

I share your rabid endorsement of Almost Meatless! When I first got the book I cooked almost 30 consecutive dinners from it and my family, including children, raved about all but one or two. And those are easily adjusted.

(Unexpected hit: the cornpone-like turkey cornbread pie that's risen with yeast and starts out in a cold oven. It still takes only 40 minutes to bake, the topping is endlessly adaptable, and my children vacuum it.)

Definitely a good call for someone who wants to add lots more vegetables to their diet (without really making a big production out of it) and use less meat (ditto.)


NMPatricia said...

Couple of things:
First, I love the question and answer posts. Wouldn't want them all the time, but I appreciate hearing a variety of thoughts of Daniel. Thanks.

Second, as to the thing about ads, I find them annoying. I also respect someone wanting to get something for the time they put into a blog. So I "tolerate" the ads because I can see the purpose in them. That said, I read the majority of my blogs in RSS (google reader). Didn't know that you didn't get "credit" for that. Makes me think. Certainly, this one isn't as bad as some I have seen.

Thanks again for the great blog in general.

Joanne said...

Deborah Madison's vegetarian cooking for everyone is also a great veg cookbook! Cooking Light also just put out a vegetarian cookbook that features a few, but not many tofu meals. Mostly just good old veggies and beans and cheese and nuts.

chacha1 said...

I find I am quite happy with a vegetarian dish as long as it contains cheese. Heh. I don't use cookbooks with any frequency, though, so no help to your reader.

Re: ads: if I were trying to monetize *my* blog, you can bet I would have ads! Given that ads are so easy to avoid, complaints about them are more annoying than the ads are.

Nothing in media is free, folks.

Rhiannon said...

As long as your content is this great, put as many ads up as you want. They're easy to ignore and sometimes it's stuff I'm actually interested in.

And affiliate links, as long as they're done in integrity (like yours always are), are actually a great way for me to find out about wonderful things available out there.

I'm getting *a lot* out of your site, and I'd like to think you're getting a lot in return.

Diane said...

I'm an omnivore, and don't eat a ton of tofu. But I would strongly disagree with your statement that it's a "meat substitute" It's a food with a long tradition of being eaten in its own right in many cultures.

Recently I've been making my own tofu from scratch, and the result is outstanding - far better than the store-bought stuff - and versatile and tasty as well as super-cheap (even using expensive non-GMO beans). While I think over-reliance on any particular food is not good, I see no need to dismiss tofu as some kind of degraded meat substitute. It can play its own role in a balanced diet, assuming one isn't allergic to soy.

Diane said...

Oh, and another rec for Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone" - It's awesome and I've never made a bad recipe from it.

Anonymous said...

Deborah madison's Vegetarian cooking for everyone is great. There are plenty of recipes that are great, and if I add a small piece of fish or a few shrimp that changes it up completely in a new way too.

For the folks that are annoyed by ads, there are different settings/plug ins you can get for your browser which minimize ads. I use safari and a big fan of flash block. Also makes my pages load much faster too

Audrey said...

One of my favorite cookbooks that I just got was the Food Matters Cookbook (not the Food Matters book) by Mark Bittman. It concentrates of veggies and legumes, but also includes meat in some of the dishes. He treats meat as more of an accompaniment to the meal as opposed to the star of the meal.

Sarah Walker said...

Regarding the ads:
I think you have every right to try and make money off of your blog. Ads are definitely an acceptable way to do that. There are plenty of ways to read a blog without ads, so those who do view your site with ads are essentially choosing to do so. (similar to your example of people buying overpriced items at the store and then complaining about it).
I think your page layout/design could definitely be easier on the eyes (and I'm not even a web-geek), which may ease the complaints from some, but that will come with time and re-designs I'm sure. I say, keep up the good work!

Daniel said...

Great, great cookbook suggestions and excellent insights everybody. Thank you.

A quick word to Diane. You make a good point on tofu, it has its own tradition, but my point was that too many vegetarian cookbooks tend to over-rely on it as an ingredient. That's what can give non-veggie eaters the mistaken impression that vegetarianism is a limited cuisine.

Finally, I'll definitely check out Deborah Madison's cookbook.

PS: I'll start running huge, blinking, totally obtrusive ads in the next few days. :) Just kidding, obviously. But I appreciate the fact that readers appreciate my thinking here.

Brittany said...

I second the Moosewood cookbook (I have one called "The Moosewood Cookbook"--I think it's an updated version of the very first one published). I could almost happily be a vegetarian (except for seafood. And bacon. Mmm... bacon), and easily eat about 85% vegetarian meals. But my roommate is a major meat eater who recognizes that vegetables are good for her, but hates almost all of them because her mother tended to serve her huge piles of overcooked, poorly if at all seasoned veggies. (I do almost all out cooking.) With my judicious use of this and similar blogs and the Moosewood cookbook, I've completely shifted her outlook on food. I rarely get complaints about me not cooking enough meat. In fact, she's loved every single thing I've made from the Moosewood book (including things including veggies she actively dislikes). It's delicious, creative, healthy, and offers combinations of food and flavors I never even thought of.

PS--You offer great content, Daniel, and you deserve to be able to afford the tasty food you blog about. Yes, ads are annoying, because they're ads. But they're fine on the blog.

Nathalie said...

Thanks for posting my question, and thanks everyone for your great suggestions! Christmas is over, but both their birthdays are coming up in April so the gift shopping starts again!

I took a good look at Daniel's suggestions and I liked Almost Meatless and Sundays at Moosewood. I almost bought them for myself until I remembered my budget :) A few other books caught my attention, like the food matters cookbook someone mentioned earlier. After much consideration, I chose to give them a few magazine subscriptions for Christmas, to get new ideas in monthly instead of all at once. Life in the countryside can get boring for them with no TV or internet, especially now that us kids are all in the city. Anyways, they now receive Cooking Light, Canadian Living and Ricardo. Also, the National Geographic but that's not food related of course! I don't know Cooking Light well but it seemed a good choice. Canadian Living is still too meat-centred but a classic and now they try to publish healthier recipes. Ricardo's magazine is usually a good balance of vegetarian, healthier non-vegetarian options, and sinfully decadent recipes. My mother and I made his fudge last week after I introduced her to sweet potatoes :)

Thanks again for your suggestions!

Anonymous said...

"And while this is a common way non-vegetarians think about vegetarian meals, I consider it a limiting belief that prevents people from experiencing veggie cuisine in all its diversity."

Another limiting belief is the idea that tofu has to be restrictive and boring and not super-tasty and awesome.

It's not clear to me that there's a large difference on "a lot of recipes that use tofu" and "a lot of recipes that use beans." I prefer to rely on mushrooms and dark leafy greens for my protein. (Although I do *love* tofu, as well as seitan, which is super easy to make at home with any flavouring you can imagine.)