More on Isa Does It

If you read my review of Isa Does It earlier this month, then you know that I am super excited about this book. Well, Isa just increased my excitement because now she is giving away a free tote bag with each book. Austin has a no-bag ordinance for grocery stores, so I have turned into a tote bag hoarder. Woohoo!

She’s also posted a recipe from the book, Everyday Pad Thai. I haven’t had a chance to try this one yet, but everything else I’ve tried from the book so far has been tasty and easy.

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VeganMofo: The Joy of Vegan Baking

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

The Joy of Vegan Baking Cover

The Joy of Vegan Baking seeks to demonstrate that being vegan is not “limiting” by presenting veganized versions of many “familiar favorites”. There are chocolate chip cookies, cornbread, rolls, cobblers and just about any other standard baked good that you can think of. All of the recipes are presented in the kind and encouraging words of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, better known for her inspirational “Food for Thought” podcast. Unfortunately, most of the recipes are lackluster. Anyone with a basic knowledge of how to use egg replacer or flaxseeds in baking–easily learned from the Internet–could then employ those tricks on their own in typical recipes. In a world full of cooking blogs and websites like food.com, I’m not really convinced that even new vegans need a cookbook to teach them to make chocolate chip cookies.

VeganMofo: Viva Vegan!

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

Viva Vegan! cover

Viva Vegan! is Terry Hope Romero’s attempt to teach vegans that there’s more to Latin vegan cooking than swapping out the cheese on your enchiladas with Daiya. It does succeed at introducing a variety of yummy Latin foods that readers may not have experienced before, such as llapingachos, an Ecuadorean dish that combines potatoes and peanut sauce, and–a favorite in my house–arepas. Veganizing these dishes is a more difficult task in a cuisine that relies so heavily on meat for flavoring. Rather than just swapping out meat for seitan, Romero offers creative suggestions for fillings in empanadas and arepas, and yes, great preparation ideas for seitan.

The dessert chapter is definitely the most valuable part of the book. I made a Cafe con Leche flan and didn’t have to spend a week experimenting with the amount of agar to use. For the savory dishes, I will probably keep Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latin by my side and veganize them myself. For the sweets, however, I’ll be glad to turn to Viva Vegan! every time and let Romero do the work for me.

VeganMofo: The Asian Vegan Kitchen

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

Asian Vegan Kitchen Cover

Quick one today since my cat wants snuggles and I’m not one to deny her.

Today’s book is The Asian Vegan Kitchen by Hema Parekh. Parekh gives a sampling of recipes from around Asia. She covers better known cuisines like Indian and Chinese, but also devotes chapters to underappreciated areas like Malaysia and Burma. The recipes are all accessible to home cooks, with surprisingly few ingredients that couldn’t be found in an ordinary grocery store. In some cases, this accessibility means toning down the authenticity, but in this case I appreciate it. Books that focus on presenting a truly authentic view of a country like Burma: Rivers of Flavor or Pok Pok are often ‘special occasion’ books, for those weekends where you want to spend all day in the grocery store and all evening tinkering away in the kitchen. The Asian Vegan Kitchen is truly a weeknight, home cooking kind of book, with many of the recipes coming from her own weeknight repertoire.

This book is an especially interesting specimen of vegan cookbook because she does not harp on the fact that she is veganizing often very fishy meals. Some swaparoos are obvious, like the teriyaki tofu steak. In other cases, she just picks naturally vegan or “all but the fish sauce” dishes, like the delicious Japanese Braised Onions and Potatoes. In this sense, the book is very much like The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen.

Not every cookbook needs to be full color or elaborate. Some just need to be useful, and this book definitely falls into that category.

VeganMofo: Veganomicon

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

Earlier this month, I described how Vegan with a Vengeance is the book I always recommend to new vegans. Veganomicon tends to be the book that everyone else recommends. It seems like a good candidate. It attempts to be a comprehensive work, with guides to all of the basics–steaming vegetables, cooking beans, cooking rice. The chapters cover tempeh and tofu, desserts and breakfast, soups and sandwiches. When Moskowitz and Romero wrote it, they intentionally designed it to be the source you turn to in times of vegan need.

I never recommend it because it just never became that source for me. I never found recipes in it, like the tempeh and white bean patty in Vegan with a Vengeance, that I turned to repeatedly. I tried! I really did! I wanted this book to be the last cookbook that I ever bought. Here’s an abbreviated list of the recipes I’ve tried;

Acorn squash, pear, and adzuki soup — I liked it, even if it was a bit sweet. Two different boyfriends vetoed it, though, so I only made it twice.

Pumpkin ziti with sage breadcrumbs — too sweet and underseasoned

Lemony roasted potatoes — Good, but they are basically just potatoes with lemon juice. I put it on the menu at my co-op and they never disappeared from the buffet as fast as normal roasted potatoes

Chickpea cutlets — The banner recipe of this book. Again, I had this on the co-op menu and it was not wanted back. it just didn’t have the same level of flavor as any decently made vegetable-based dish.

Cauliflower and mushroom potpie — Underseasoned! This is a theme with this book!

Leek and bean cassoulet — I made this one a few times because of an abundance of leeks from my CSA, but it is watery and underseasoned. Extremely comforting though, if you can eliminate most of the water.

For the most part, I just found them to be, as you can see above, underseasoned and occasionally, trying too hard. They attempted to represent a wide swath of traditional American cookery, especially comfort foods. Unfortunately, many of those comfort foods were comforting because of the large amounts of fat and sodium contributed by cheese and animal fat. Swapping out animal ingredients for vegan substitutes one for one is not usually as tasty a tactic as building delicious vegan meals with vegetables in mind from the start.

Thus, my copy of Veganomicon sank into disuse. I still feel guilt about it though. Aren’t I supposed to like it? There’s 250+ recipes–maybe the problems are localized to the 20 or so that I’ve tried? I could try again, but it’s hard when there are so many other cookbooks to try–like the one I will present tomorrow.

VeganMofo: The Veganopolis Cookbook

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

The Veganopolis Cookbook cover

In downtown Portland, before the vegan strip mall was even conceived, was Veganopolis. Veganopolis was a cafeteria-style vegan restaurant. You would walk down a buffet line and fill your plate then weigh it and pay per pound at the end. Despite the casual setting, the food had twinges of haute cuisine, while still being, always, comfort food. The chefs, David Stowell and George Black, came from the finer dining scene, supposedly even catering for the Gores before Al became vice president. To pay $5 for a plate of their enchiladas or bread pudding was a treat.

I often tried to make the delicious meals that I had at Veganopolis at home, with varying success. I attempted them from memory, asking questions now and then as I ordered my food. Eventually, the restaurant closed and David and George moved back to Chicago. Their closing was bittersweet for me because they left with a promise, that a cookbook would be published soon. I waited for two years, occasionally checking Amazon to see if it existed yet. After a while, I stopped checking, then on my birthday I was surprised with a copy of the newly published cookbook for my birthday. The Veganopolis Cookbook, finally!

I was thrilled to see that many of favorite Veganopolis recipes were inside. Finally, I would have the secret of the almond pate and their mac and cheese, the vegan mac and cheese that I use as a standard for others. As I started cooking, however, my enthusiasm was tempered. Some of the recipes, like a Cream of Broccoli Soup, were bland. Others, like my dear almond pate, turned out to be complete disasters, probably because I didn’t have the “masticating juicer” that they suggest using. It seems clear that many of the recipes were the restaurant dishes I had been craving, but just poorly converted for a home cook.

Maybe I am just a poor home cook. Maybe I haven’t tried the right recipes. More likely my attempts just don’t match the meals of my memories which are made brighter by nostalgia.

VeganMofo: Vegan With a Vengeance

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

Yesterday I wrote about my first vegan cookbook, and possibly the one that had the most impact on me–The Artful Vegan. Today I want to recommend my second vegan cookbook, another favorite, Vegan with a Vengeance.

Now, of course, Isa and Terry are vegan celebrities. Many vegans consider them heroes. Instagram, in my opinion, doesn’t know how much they owe them because the Post Punk Kitchen forums were one of the original seedbeds of the food porn phenomenon. When I got this boo, though, I didn’t know what was to come. I just wanted ideas for vegan breakfast foods. The Artful Vegan was useful to me because I had to work so hard for it. Vegan with a Vengeance  was the opposite. I could just follow some short instructions and in a 50s housewife jiffy I could have food on the table.

My favorite recipes became once-a-week regulars for me. Garlicky brussels sprouts. Orange cranberry muffins. Mango ginger tofu. My favorite–Tempeh and White Bean Sausage Patties–were eaten daily. I made a double batch once a week and toasted one up with frozen hashbrowns every morning for months. I no longer need to consult the recipe.

I sometimes second guess myself when I recommend this cookbook to new vegans as their starter cookbook. Am I doing this only out of nostalgia? Is it because of its historical value as the key cultural artifact that shifted vegan cooking from its association with lentil eating hippies to its association with knish-eating Brooklyn hipsters? No, it’s because it hits all of the needs of a new vegan–tasty, easy, supportive.

Personally, I’m not ready to relegate my copy of Vegan with a Vengeance to the vegan history museum yet.

VeganMofo: The Artful Vegan

For the month of September, this blog will be devoted to VeganMofo. Tune in while I provide short reviews of some of my favorite, and least favorite, vegan cookbooks. If you are new to Libromancy, please check out some of my non-cookbook reviews, such as my review of Pacific by Tom Drury

Indian summer grilled fig and radhiccio on a rosemary skewer

photo by veggiebytes from the Artful Vegan Flickr collection

The Artful Vegan is exactly the kind of cookbook that home cooks complain about. The recipes require multiple premade components, 20+ ingredients, unusually sourced items, and a massive time commitment. It’s definitely designed to be a looker, not a cooker.

It’s also one of the vegan cookbooks that I use the most.

At first, it was because of necessity. I was a new vegan an my omnivorous friends, lured by the lush photography, gave it to me as a gift. I wasn’t yet hooked into the vegan food blog network like I later would be, so this daunting restaurant-focused guide was all that I had.

From this cookbook, I learned to make vegan sloppy joes. Unlike the mix-with-ketchup recipe you find on the back of a TVP packet, The Artful Vegan version combines 12 ingredients in just the sauce. Another 12 are involved in cooking the tempeh and the suggested serving includes homemade focaccia. I may have used all of the ingredients the first time, but I didn’t make the bread. Overtime I pared down the recipe, stripping out one or two ingredients each iteration, until I had a recipe that was quick and easy but also made a way classier sloppy joe than you can imagine. That’s right–a classy sloppy joe. The Artful Vegan‘s got that.

I learned to do this with several of the recipes in the AV. The Miso-Broiled Japanese Eggplant over Noodle Cakes didn’t need the walnut-miso sauce or wasabi cream to be fantastic, I learned, but it did need something crunchy like the noodle cakes to balance out the texture. Thanks to the AV, I was soon cooking seemingly intensive, gourmet meals cheaply and easily.

Now, roughly 10 years later, I don’t consult the AV anymore. Although I have many of its photos memorized, like the iconic mushroom parcel perched atop creamy polenta with a grilled pear sinking in beside it, I rarely flip its pages. I have already took the lesson that I needed from it–that not all fancy cookbooks are wrong for home cooks, that the only thing keeping cheap food from being quality food is determination–or, in my case–naive experimentation.