If you’re not a part of the Beachbody circuit and you don’t work out to the P90X videos then you more than likely have no idea who Melissa Costello is. Have no fear fellow veganeers I am here to spread the news about this incredible lady. Melissa Costello is a personal chef to a lucky few, such as P90X creator Tony Horton, and founder of Karma Chow. She resides in Los Angeles but she does travel to grace kitchens across the US with her private cooking lessons. You can even host a cooking party at your home! Doesn’t that sound like fun? Check out her website to get all the details on services she provides.
How do I know about her, you ask? I’m not much of a work-out person but my mother-in-law is. Melissa is a good friend of hers. Even though I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Melissa I can honestly say she is an inspiration. I was gifted her cookbook, The Karma Chow Ultimate Cookbook: 125+ Plant-Based Vegan Recipes for a Fit, Happy, Healthy You (photo cred of cover above: taken from karmachow.com). I have had this book for a while and have made quite a few things from it. We even have a few favorites that we have made multiple times. I thought it was about time to give this book a review.
With Melissa being a certified nutritionist I guarantee that all of these recipes have been well thought out and are nutritionally balanced. There is no need to question whether or not you are eating what you should be as long as you’re cooking from this book. The best way to describe her recipes are fresh, clean, vibrant, and full of life, as I’m sure she is. Their tastiness factor leaps off the page with all the colorful photographs throughout the book. The best part is she doesn’t use a lot of soy. You know I love that! Most are gluten-free and refined-sugar free as well.
These recipes are a perfect mixture of gourmet and comfort. They may not all be quick to prepare but they all possess that too-good-to-be-healthy-even-though-it-is factor that makes comfort food so comforting. The ONLY negative I have to say about it is we have had a hard time finding a few ingredients that some of the recipes call for. It’s probably a regional thing or we aren’t looking hard enough. On the up side she uses a lot of my favorite ingredients and has introduced me to a few new ones.
Melissa starts the book off by sharing her personal story of how she became plant-based. After growing up on processed junk that most of us can relate to and an unfortunate battle with an eating disorder she realized what she eats determined how she felt and discovered nutrition. She offers some tips on what she has learned through experience. She also provides a nice list of staples similar to the list I compiled (great minds think alike). She also has a note about soy explaining why she uses little of it and why she uses what she does. Her knowledge and passion for a good whole-food diet is apparent. Melissa ends the book with a helpful baking substitution guide, fantastic list of resources, and a list of books and films about the vegan diet she recommends. I have read, watched, and own some on the list so I second that.
Now, let’s review a few of the recipes I have tried.
1. Kinda Like Mom’s Beefy Stew (Hearty One-Pot Soups and Stews, p. 107)
Talk about comfort. Beef stew is the ultimate comfort food, isn’t it? This was especially great on the cold snowy night we had it on. This was so delicious I couldn’t stand it which is hazardous for me. When something is so good I can’t stop eating it even though I’m plenty full. I might have had thirds… don’t judge me. This recipe is on the quicker side but the prep takes a while. Once everything is chopped and ready to go it comes together very easily. Of course I did have to sub a few things to make it soy-free. My favorite thing about this dish are all the different veggies. I don’t remember the beef stew I grew up on having all the freshness this one is full of.
2. Soba Noodle Stir-Fry in Creamy Cashew Sauce (Main Dish Favorites: Veganized, p.141)
I can’t resist a good stir-fry and this one has a creamy cashew sauce. Hello, irresistible! Remember how I said we’ve had trouble finding some ingredients? Well, the cashew butter this recipe calls for was one of them. We went to three different stores looking for it and turned up with nada. I suppose I could have made it myself. However, we don’t really have the best blender to be able to do that. We ended up being lazy and just used peanut butter. It didn’t ruin it so it’s all good. I recommend using these buckwheat soba noodles so you don’t have to cook them yourself which saves time. If you can’t find that then be careful looking for a dried kind. Most of the ones I’ve found have egg in them, if not soy.
3. Mac and Ch-ch-cheeeeze (Main Dish Favorites: Veganized, p. 147)
This one is my husband’s favorite. He can’t get enough of good mac and cheeze. Melissa suggests adding some veggies “for even more nutritional bang” which I did. It’s really easy to add some frozen veggies. An easy way of doing so is adding the frozen veggies to the boiling water with the pasta a few minutes before it’s done. You don’t have to dirty extra pots or anything. I added fresh carrots that I diced small so they would cook quick and frozen peas to the cooking pasta and it turned out perfectly. I also added some fresh baby spinach at the end just so it would wilt slightly. I topped ours off with a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Don’t be afraid to think outside the recipe and make it your own.
4. Chipotle Cashew Cheeze Sauce (Nosh, Nibble, and Dip Away, p. 85)
I have this new craving for some reason that I’ve been exploring. Every so often I want nothing but a good baked potato topped with some veggies and/or beans and finished off with an awesome sauce that ties everything together. So one night that’s what I did. I made baked potatoes and topped them with green beans and black beans and chose this sauce from the wonderful section on dips and things. I do love my cashews! This sauce couldn’t be easier or more perfect. It’s not in the directions to heat it up but I did want it warmed. If you do heat it up I suggest using a non-stick pan or to oil your pan. I have found that cashew-based sauces burn and stick really bad.
5. Cherry Chocolate Smoothie (Plant-Based Breakfasts and Beverages, p. 47)
This was a special breakfast treat I picked out for our Valentine’s Day. Normally I would not have chocolate for breakfast because that’s just weird. There is one ingredient that we weren’t sure about since we’ve never used it before, maca powder. She explains what it is but I’m weary of anything new knowing I have to watch out for soy now so we looked into it further online. There were some warnings we found regarding breastfeeding moms so as an overly cautious new mom we decided to leave it out. I’m sure it would have been fine but you never know. Anyway, I love love love this smoothie! It was so indulgent. All the flavors marry perfectly and has this unexplained bubblyness to it that makes it very refreshing.
6. Chocolaty Rice Krispy Thingies (Ooey, Gooey, and Delightfully Decadent Desserts, p. 215)
These “thingies” were a second Valentine’s Day treat we chose to have. You would think I’m obsessed with chocolate or something. I’m really not, this just happened to be what I was in the mood for. Also, as a side note, I have this weird thing about having an uncontrollable craving for Sprite or any lemon-lime soda after eating chocolate. It’s been that way since I was a kid. I know, I’m strange. Back on topic! Holy (bleeeeep) these “thingies” are indescribably good. These are actually quite easy to make and I absolutely love what she uses instead of marshmallows. It’s pretty healthy considering this is a dessert. These were also way more decadent than I anticipated. I could only have a few at a time because of their richness. Nothing wrong with that. Something needs to keep me in check since my willpower doesn’t. These do have to be refrigerated and with that I recommend cutting them into portions before doing so because they get very hard when cold.
7. Black Bean Brownie Bites (Ooey, Gooey, and Delightfully Decadent Desserts, p. 195)
I’m not sure you can even classify these as a dessert. Sure it’s chocolate and they’re sweet but you have to admit they are more healthy than their counterparts. These are gluten-free and barely call for any flour causing them to turn into light fluffy bites of heaven. I just made these a few hours ago and have already eaten a dozen give or take. Brownie bites are dangerous. It’s hard not to just keep popping them in your mouth. That’s alright I got way more out of the batter than she says it yields. I got 48 when they’re only suppose to make 30… I hope I didn’t do something wrong. If I did it doesn’t taste like it. Super easy to do: blend, mix, and bake. I think you can handle that.
8. Un-Shepherd’s Pie (Main Dish Favorites: Veganized, p. 143)
A popular dish in this house shepherd’s pie is. This is one of the best ones I have had. This was tonight’s dinner actually. It makes a TON so it’s good for a big family or if you have guests to impress. As with the beef stew above we did have to make this soy-free. Whenever a recipe calls for tempeh we just use our homemade seitan. A made a few other subs so that we used what we had instead of buying new stuff. It all works, most veggies and beans are interchangeable. This is one her more involved recipes but suck it up! It’s a classic so work a bit then enjoy.
That should do it. There are a few other recipes we have made that weren’t documented, such as Banana Chia Pancakes with Coconut Creme Sauce, Garlicky White Bean and Kale Soup, Korean-Style Tempeh Tacos with Coleslaw, Greek Tomato Burgers, Chickpea Fillets, Veggie Loaf with Tomato Glaze, and Baja-Style Fajitas. I could go on but I won’t. There are so many more recipes we haven’t gotten to yet. We haven’t been disappointed by anything either. Have I convinced you to buy this book yet? You must not be very hungry if I haven’t. Obviously I recommend this one. I don’t do reviews for things I don’t recommend. Don’t forget to check out her website where she has some of these recipes and much more information.