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Review: Cook Without A Book: Meatless Meals by Pam Anderson

Cook without a Book: Meatless Meals: Recipes and Techniques for Part-Time and Full-Time Vegetarians

*Disclaimer: Pam is a major influence on my cooking, and one of my blog buddies. Pam’s How to Cook Without a Book taught me the difference between following recipes and knowing how to cook, a major step on the path that led to this blog. I can’t be perfectly objective about her books. But this one is worth writing about…

When it comes to dinner, most of us open the fridge and see a daunting mass of isolated ingredients. Take away meat – the easy anchor on most plates – and it’s even more difficult to build an appealing meal…This book is set up to help you learn the skills and techniques you need to create fun, satisfying vegetarian dishes that feature the flavors and ingredients you like best.
-Pam Anderson, Cook Without A Book: Meatless Meals

I have been trying to eat one meatless dinner a week for a couple of years now. I have no plans to become a vegetarian; I enjoy meat too much. What I do want is to eat healthier. I’m an enthusiastic (if scattershot) locavore who loves to shop at the farmers market, and I believe in eating less meat so I can spend more on ethically raised meat. One meatless dinner a week seems like a perfect fit for me.

But I have problems.

The first problem is: “lentils for dinner, again?” I love beans and rice. Black beans and rice, red beans and rice, lentils and rice…I’m there. Beyond that, I don’t have any vegetarian main dishes in my cooking toolbox.

The second problem is picky eaters. Sure, I can serve them vegetarian food – as long as it is nothing but pasta and cheese. Or tortillas and cheese. Or bread and cheese. They’re happy eating vegetarian…as long as there aren’t any vegetables. My kids are StarchAndCheeseitarians.
*”Mac and Cheese Mondays” may be vegetarian, but it makes me feel like fried chicken is a step up the nutrition ladder.

I’ve been waiting impatiently for Pam Anderson’s Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals. Pam’s classic How to Cook Without a Book was my key to unlock home cooking. I hoped Meatless Meals could do the same thing for me.

I love recipes – I’m in the recipe business – but for everyday cooking, I believe recipes can often be a hindrance.
-Pam Anderson, Cook Without A Book: Meatless Meals

The book was everything I hoped for. There are great recipes, of course. Want a vegetarian Pad Thai? Meatless Muffalettas? French Onion Soup? If you’re looking for a vegetarian main dish for a party, Sunday dinner, or other celebratory meal, they are in here.

But there are a lot of vegetarian cookbooks with great recipes. The strength of Meatless Meals is its focus on weekday cooking. The heart of the book is a set of basic techniques – Pam calls them master formulas –  showing how to cook (vegetarian) without needing a cookbook.

In each section, Pam explains a master formula. She follows it with variations on ingredients and flavor profiles, turning the master formula into dozens of potential recipes. Bean burgers for almost any bean, frittatas that will empty out the vegetable crisper, stews you can build in your skillet. Memorize the master formula, keep some basic pantry staples on hand, and you can open the refrigerator and just start cooking. Or, in my case, I can adapt the meal to whatever’s left over from my latest CSA box.
*Let’s see…I have a bunch of carrots, some fennel bulbs, eggs, and a tub of leftover rice. Looks like fried rice tonight!

One technique I use with my picky eaters is “build your own” dinners. For example – Taco night. I put all the fixings in individual bowls, warm up some tortillas, and the kids assemble their tacos from their favorite ingredients. Pam has some great ideas for meatless versions of this type of meal. Of course she covers taco night, but I really want to try her “build your own soup” section – put out Mexican or Asian  filings, let everyone pile what they want in their bowl, then top it with hot broth.
*And, try ignore it when they skip the vegetables for a bowl of noodles and broth.

Now, this was a challenging book for me. I could feel myself resisting it. I’m a dedicated carnivore. While I was reading it, there were a few times I caught myself thinking “but I don’t want to be a vegetarian!”
*Usually when the recipe involved soy milk. Apparently, soy milk is a bridge to far for me. Who knew?

Pam helped me through the resistance with her practical, no-nonsense approach to cooking real food. This isn’t a militant vegan book.* There are no tofurkey recipes, no chicken breast substitutes made with seitan. Pam’s not afraid to use cheese and eggs when they help the dish out. Also, she obviously enjoys these meals, and it shines through in her writing. I found myself saying “I don’t want to be a vegetaria…ah, that looks good, I have to try that.”
*Not that there’s anything wrong with militant vegans. Tofurkey, however, is just wrong.

Do you want to eat less meat? Are you looking for a great introduction to weeknight vegetarian cooking? Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals is the book for you. Highly Recommended!

PS: Visit Pam and her daughters, Maggy and Sharon, at ThreeManyCooks.com

Disclaimer 2: I did not receive any promotional consideration for this review; I bought the book with my own money. If you buy something through the Amazon.com links on my site I get a small commission from the purchase. Thank you!
(OK, I’m good with the FCC now.)

Pam Anderson: Cook without a Book: Meatless Meals: Recipes and Techniques for Part-Time and Full-Time Vegetarians

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Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.


  1. I just bought it as well, as like it too. No soy milk, or soy of any kind since my cancer diagnosis, but I like that their isn’t a lot of fake meat.

    As a single cook and CSA subscriber my cooking has naturally shifted to more vegetarian than omnivore nights, and most of those are without recipes, so I am eager to dig into her formulas a little deeper.

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