Cookbook Review: Veganomicon

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Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero
Marlowe & Company, 2007

Even though there are only four episodes, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s Post-Punk Kitchen remains one of the most entertaining vegan cooking shows ever.  EVER!  After all, what better way to find out about an awesome band like Made Out Of Babies than by watching them play vegetable-instruments in Isa’s living Brooklyn living room?  Sadly, I doubt we’ll be seeing any new episodes now that Isa’s moved to Portland to live with the other 98% of North American vegans, but don’t fret too badly: Isa and Terry’s cookbooks will help you forget the lack of good vegan cooking shows.  Vegan With a Vengeance remains one of my favorite vegan cookbooks and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World was so successful, it made Isa hate cupcakesVeganomicon continues the tradition of greatness (three makes a tradition, right?).

This nearly 300-page book offers up over 250 snacks, brunch items, salads, dressings, sandwiches, casseroles, one-pot meals… you get the idea.  Everything’s covered.

The Eggplant-Potato Moussaka with Pine Nut Cream was the first thing we tried.  My margin commentary reads: “Takes a long-ass time, but is really good.  Very lasagna-y.”  There are layers of eggplant, potatoes, zucchini, tomato sauce, and breadcrumbs topped by an incredibly delicious pine nut cream that I think would also taste good in a pizza setting.  This dish isn’t one you’ll want to make on a night you get home from work at 6pm, but it’s an outstanding one to break out on a weekend.

One recipe that’s gotten a lot of praise on various forums is the Chickpea Cutlets.  It lives up to the hype.  It’s the cutlet for vegans who are ready to to move beyond regular ol’ mock meats.

The Curried Tofu was really good on sandwiches, the Black Bean Burgers are a good go-to burger, the hummus is what you’d expect (in a good way), and the White Bean Aioli is a nice variation on the standard mayo-heavy sauce.  The only dish we haven’t cared for so far is the Grilled Yuca Tortillas.  It’s OK, but not one we’ll be returning to.

Some other recipes I’m looking forward to trying: Chestnut-Lentil Pate, Saffron-Garlic Rice, Leek and Bean Cassoulet with Biscuits, Pineapple-Cashew-Quinoa Stir-fry, Pumpkin-Cranberry Scones, and a simple Vanilla Ice Cream.  Oh, and the Smlove Pie because it looks absolutely insane.  Quite simply, there is so much here, you will never tire of this book.  The variety that Isa and Terry come up with is truly amazing and it’s exceedingly rare that you stumble upon a dud, thanks to how much testing goes into each of their books (hi PPK forum people!).

The book’s been compared to a high school math book and I’d say that’s apt.  But I like it.  It’s sturdy and stands out on the bookshelf.  And huge thumbs up for presenting the full list of recipes in the table of contents.  As you may remember, that’s my number one most important requirement in a cookbook’s design.

Of course, the writing’s great.  Isa and Terry know their stuff, but their writing lacks the pretense of most cookbooks of this complexity level.  There are sections on kitchen equipment, stocking your pantry, terminology, how to lower fat in your cooking, and basic instructions for cooking vegetables, grains, and beans.  In addition, they provide helpful menu combinations and an organization of recipes by the time they take to cook, their fat content, gluten-free and soy-free recipes, and the most interesting: “Supermarket-Friendly Recipes.”  For this last category, the ingredients had to be easily found in a supermarket near Isa’s in-laws in rural Vermont.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Veganomicon for someone who has to call their mother to find out how to boil water (I swear, I never did this.  OK, maybe I did, but I was 15 and babysitting.), as the recipes can be somewhat involved and time-consuming.  But for those of us that have gotten comfortable around a kitchen since becoming vegan, it’s an absolute must-have.

The next book in the series will be a brunch-themed book, which may or may not be named after an object in Evil Dead 2 (Vegan Brunches for People With Chainsaw-Hands, perhaps?).  Isa’s blogged about other books-in-the-works, but I’m having trouble finding the post.  I’ll be eagerly awaiting each and every one.

I’m closing with this picture.  It’s old, but I still love it:

Vegetarianism in Pop Culture: May 2008

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It seems like vegetarianism is getting ever more prevalent in pop culture. Sure, the numbers of converts may not be skyrocketing, but the awareness of fake meats and even veganism is popping up in unexpected places.

First up is an episode of Hell’s Kitchen from a few weeks ago where celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, who’s always viewed vegetarians as an annoyance (though not to the degree of Anthony Bourdain), decided to test the competing chefs on their palates. He tells them to try a bunch of dishes and identify what’s missing from each. Most of them are looking for small ingredients like a spice here or there, but what’s missing in each dish is the meat. It’s pretty amazing how these chefs are fooled by mock meat:

Ramsey seems distraught by their inability to identify mock meat, but me? I was cheering.

Then, last week on the always-terrible Wife Swap, an artist from Arizona went to live with a motorbiking family who subsisted on fast food. Though the vegetarian angle was (mercifully) limited in this episode, when she enforced the rule where her host family had to eat vegetarian for a week, the father of the clan rebelled by going into town to get hamburgers on the very first morning. He taunted cows as he rode past them (on a horse because he’d been banned by the woman from using gas-powered vehicles), chomping away on his burger. He came off as quite the jerk.

The latter isn’t exactly the way I like to see vegetarianism portrayed in popular culuture, but the Hell’s Kitchen example shows that meat substitutes have come a long, long way.

Lastly, here’s a behind-the-scenes clip from a past season of Hell’s Kitchen that shows that maybe Gordon Ramsey doesn’t despise vegetarians as much as I thought. Check out how seriously he takes serving vegetarian risotto that was accidentally cooked in chicken stock:

Cookbook review: The Damn Tasty! Vegan Baking Guide

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damntastylarge Cookbooks that focus on baking take me a little longer to get to since I don’t bake as often as I cook, but that’s still no excuse after having had this one around so long waiting for a review.

Portland’s Kris Holechek, who you may know from Squirrel’s Vegan Kitchen, self-published this fun collection of breads, cookies, cakes, and other assorted goodies.  The first thing I noticed and loved about The Damn Tasty! Vegan Baking Guide was the "baking basics" section where she expounds on why she just uses the term "milk" throughout the book rather than "soy milk," "non-dairy milk," or some other similar term:

As I refined the content, I truly agonized over the way to write about milk.  I’ve seen books that assume soy milk for the milk and I’ve seen books where the word milk is in quotes, calling for "milk."  Now just think of coconut milk.  No one protests calling that milk.  Alternative milks date back hundreds and hundreds of years to different regions of the world, so they aren’t a new invention, they are just newly recognized by western society.  Because of my strong views on the linguistics of eating, I chose to simply write the word milk.  This is a vegan book, so clearly the use of cow’s or goat’s milk is unacceptable.  But people have preferences, allergies and limitations to what is available to them, so the milk you prefer, be it so, almond, rice, it’s up to you.  If there is one kind or another that I’ve found works best, it is noted in the recipe.

She also points out that something like Boston Cream Pie isn’t called Boston Cream Pie with Eggs and Cow’s Milk, so a vegan version isn’t any less "real."  "Let’s stop playing semantic games and not allow mainstream eating habits to make us feel like our vegan "food" is any less enticing than it is."  Well said!

Onto the food.

I still haven’t had a chance to try as many recipes here as I had hoped, but we’ve had good success with the ones we’ve made thus far.  The Raspberry-Lime Muffins are every bit as awesome as they sound and the Pumpkin-Cinnamon Zig-Zag Bread is excellent, even when made with whole wheat pastry flour.  The simple white icing recipe has become a go-to when making anything that needs a quick icing.  The recipe for garlic rolls has a great little side note about a very easy cheesy topping made with raw cashews and nutritional yeast that tastes absolutely perfect on popcorn (go just a smidge lighter on the salt, though).  Our recipe queue includes: Polski Apple Crisp, Blueberry Streusel Muffins, Basic Biscuits, and Danish.  I look forward to trying each of those in due time.

The only less-than-success I had was with the Baked Chocolate Glazed Donuts, which I made as donut holes instead (dropping the batter into a mini-muffin tin).  They tasted OK but were… weird.  The consistency was off and they didn’t come out in a very appealing way.  I suspect, though, that this may be due to baker error.  Baked goods can be hard to review for this reason — they’re generally not as forgiving of mistakes as recipes made on the stovetop.

There’s a lot to like in Damn Tasty.  There’s a good variety of recipes (they’re not all sweets) and the voice is conversational and a pleasure to read.  Though there’s no food photography, its absence didn’t bother me; the descriptive text was often enough.  If baking is your thing, you’ll certainly want to put Kris’ book on your wishlist.  Good stuff.