Cookbook review: The Vegan Scoop

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Start of summer: check.

Cheap-o ice cream maker: check.

Collection of vegan ice cream recipes ranging from “vanilla” to “seaweed”: check.

Mint Chocolate Chip By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of Wheeler Del Torro, the mysterious man behind Wheeler’s Black Label Vegan Ice Cream, based in Boston.  I reviewed some of his flavors here last year and was super excited to see that he was sharing his secrets to homemade ice cream greatness.

Wheeler learned his craft from a high school girlfriend’s grandmother in France and perfected it upon returning to the United States.  Though he wasn’t vegan until a bet he made with an incredibly unhealthy boss, Wheeler was able to adapt what he had learned about making ice cream to his new vegan diet.  Before long, he was making vegan Cristal ice cream with gold flecks for Alan Iverson that cost thousands of dollars.

While that recipe doesn’t appear in the book, there’s still quite a variety.  The Vegan Scoop is divided into nine sections:

  1. Classic Flavors (Vanilla, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Black Raspberry, Caramel)
  2. Fruity Flavors (Blueberry, Plum, Date)
  3. Healthy Flavors (Cinnamon Ginkgo, Yam, Orange Dragon Fruit)
  4. Asian Flavors (Black Sesame, Thai Chile Chocolate, Seaweed)
  5. Caribbean and Island Flavors (Orange Passion Fruit, Ginger Beer Sorbet, Ginger Lychee)
  6. Novelty Flavors (Peanut Butter Cucumber (no, I didn’t miss a comma in there), S’more, New York Irish Cream, Jalapeño)
  7. Aphrodisiacal Flavors (Lavender, Rose Water, Pumpkin and Oats)
  8. Ice Cream Vessels and Sauces
  9. Ice Cream Sides and Desserts

In addition, there’s a very helpful introductory chapter on how to construct your own unique flavors in case you’ve been itching to try a Basil Carob Rhubarb ice cream.

A true measure of a cookbook is in how often it gets used.  The fact we’ve made six quarts of ice cream in the last month-and-a-half should give some indication of how much we’re digging the book around here thusfar.  Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve made:

Vanilla – I used Mimicreme instead of a soy-based creamer which resulted in a very, very creamy rich ice cream, but definitely not classic vanilla in flavor.  It had that nuttiness that some may or may not appreciate.  Next time: soy creamer, as recommended.

Rocky Road – This was our favorite.  Made with Sweet & Sara marshmallows, the Rocky Road was nothing short of amazing.  It lasted the shortest time in our fridge.  Creamy, chocolatey, nutty, and just delicious.

Mint Chocolate Chip – My all-time favorite flavor is done justice here.  The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 T. of peppermint extract, which is enough mint to singe your eyebrows.  Cut it back to 1 T. for near-perfect results.

Apple Pie – The least orthodox of the ones I tried, the apple pie ice cream really is just that: apple pie in ice cream form.  Though it took twice as long as the instructions said to prep the apples, the end result was quite intriguing: just enough apple and cinnamon to not be overwhelming, yet distinctive enough to stand out.  I liked it.

Key Lime-Strawberry – This was our first attempt and was far, far better than the commercially available key lime soy ice cream.  It packs a punch, but isn’t overly sour.  Great stuff.

Other flavors I’m most looking forward to trying: Wasabi, Pomegranate-Grapefruit, Vanilla Saffron, Green Tea, Peanut Butter and Flaxseed, and Peanut Butter and Jelly.

The recipes themselves are straightforward and follow a simple formula.  It should be noted, however, that you need to plan ahead.  You’ll need to freeze the ice cream maker bowl the night before and start making your ice cream about six hours before you’ll want to eat it.  (Ice cream makers are cheap – I got this one a few years ago for a mere $20.  There are some alternative solutions on Wheeler’s site if you don’t have space for a dedicated ice cream maker.)

There are only two notable criticisms that I offer about The Vegan Scoop.  First, the recipes all call for vanilla extract rather than vanilla beans.  While that makes sense when you realize that a single vanilla bean can cost you $9 in your local grocery store, here’s a secret: you can get 60 quality vanilla beans for $14 on eBay.  For that reason, it would have been nice to have the option to use actual beans in place of the extract.  I found a suitable substitution online: for each teaspoon of extract, use one inch of vanilla bean.  Most of the recipes here use a tablespoon of extract, so one 3” long vanilla bean does the trick.  Drop the full bean into the milk/cream mixture while it heats.  When the mixture is done heating, remove the bean, slice it down the center, scrape out the vanilla paste inside and add the paste back into the milk/cream mixture.  I confirmed this method with Wheeler and local vegan cooking teacher Mimi Clark.

My other nitpick is the subtitle of the book: “150 Recipes for Dairy-Free Ice Cream That Tastes Better Than the ‘Real’ Thing.”  I’ve gotten to the point that I dislike when a non-vegan version of a food is called “real,” implying that a veganized version is somehow fake or less real.  Minor nitpick, I realize, but I think language is important when presenting veganism to a mainstream audience.

All told, Wheeler Del Torro’s The Vegan Scoop is a big win for those looking to put that ice cream maker to good use.  You won’t grow tired of the options and the old favorites will be new again.  And, honestly, you may not buy another store-bought ice cream again.

(If you’re avoiding soy, you can substitute other milks in these recipes.  If you prefer cashew-based ice creams, Vice Cream is worth checking out.)

With Wheeler

Cookbook review: You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan!

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(I am way, way behind in my cookbook reviews and I’ve been getting more and more to review — three just last week! — so this is the first in what I hope will be a frequent series of catch-up reviews.)

you-wont-believe-its-vegan-gail-doherty-paperback-cover-art

With so many great vegan cookbooks on the market, it’s easy for some to slip under the radar and get overlooked. Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty’s You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan! is one of those books surely due to a poorly chosen title that not only infers inherent poor quality of vegan food but also brings to mind stacks of overstocked, generic $5 cookbooks in a bin in front of Borders.

But guess what? This book is anything but generic. In fact, it’s often downright inspired.

Sher and Doherty may be known to vegans in the Northeast as the owners of New Jersey’s Down to the Earth, an organic vegan restaurant that they ran until 2006. Their 2008 reprint of their 2007 Down to Earth Cookbook falls neatly between an accessible everyday vegan cookbook and a gourmet cookbook like The Artful Vegan. The recipes are all within the reach of most home cooks, but combine to make dishes with an impressive complexity that isn’t always immediately obvious.

Our family’s tried a number of recipes so far. Among them, two soups: a filling Mediterranean Lentil Soup and an amazing Potato-Leek Soup with Lemon and Dill that far surpasses any other Potato-Leek soup we’ve tried. From the salad section, we enjoyed both the easy-but-satisfying Chickpea Untuna Salad and the Quinoa Salad with onion, peppers, and corn. Also, thumbs up for the tasty Tofu Hot Wings with Ranch Dressing. They definitely bring the flavor.

The most interesting dish we’ve encountered is the “Love Bowl,” a giant dish of layered brown rice, black beans, greens, and marinated tempeh, topped with scallions and sesame seeds. The recipe says “serves one,” but it’s huge bowl that is hearty and filling for two people, easy. (My notes for this one indicate it could have also been titled “A Bowl of Things Ryan Would Never Have Eaten Ten Years Ago.”)

The only not-so-great recipe we tried was the falafel, whose texture and flavor were off and not what we were hoping for. Thankfully things like the pizza and easy Raw Cashew Cheese recipes made up for the one subpar recipe.

You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan! features 200 recipes divided into breakfasts, drinks/juices/smoothies, sides, soups, salads, sandwiches/wraps, appetizers, entrees, raw/live foods, desserts, and there’s even a section for kids’ food. Beyond what we’ve tried already, I look forward to trying out their Chickpea Socca, Tortilla Torte with Creamy Pumpkin-Seed Pesto, and of course the entire dessert section.

Sher and Doherty’s book is a pleasant surprise that proves the old adage, don’t judge a book by its title. Or something like that.

You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan!
Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty
Da Capo Press
978-1-60094-070-5

Poplar Spring on NBC4

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NBC4 in Washington, DC is featuring a really nice video featuring Poplar Spring sanctuary.  It’s primarily a review of Karen Dawn’s new book Thanking the Monkey (Really?  That’s the title?  And with a peeled banana on the front cover?), but it’s shot at Poplar Spring and features some great footage of the animals.  I thought the tone of this piece was particularly noteworthy, especially in contrast to the local FOX affiliates’s patronizing animal feature last month.  The NBC 4 piece doesn’t attempt any goofy wordplay, respectfully presents the issues, and even makes mention that “cage-free doesn’t mean cruelty-free.”

Of course, the sole comment on the story is completely trollish:

(August 12, 2008 11:32 PM)

What a waste. Those animals could feed homeless people and other hungry humans. These animal "rights" activists should be ashamed of themselves. There’s a place in this world for ALL of God’s creatures — right next to the beans and mashed potatoes.

I submitted a reply, which hasn’t been approved yet:

You know what else could be used to feed homeless people and other hungry humans?  Money spent on pointless wars.

Compassion for animals and compassion for humans aren’t mutually exclusive.

I know, I know, don’t feed the trolls.  And the “pointless war” thing is kind of played out, but at its most basic level, it’s still true, no?

In addition, the station’s blog entry received its own trollish comment:

Alexandria, VA

I can’t believe that in this day and age some people are still working for the “rights” of animals. My goodness — have they run out of CONSTRUCTIVE things to do? Next thing you know they’ll want legal rights for potted plants. This is what happens when overprivileged brats lose focus in life and forgot what’s truly important: watching out for the welfare of PEOPLE.

I replied to this one as well:

It’s always funny to me how people like Adam seem to assume that a person’s belief in animal rights somehow means they’re anti-human. Animal rights and human rights are inextricably connected, as they recognize (rather than ignore or capitalize on) the suffering of “the other.”

I’ve found that those that accuse others of “wasting” time on “unconstructive” things like animal rights really aren’t doing much of anything to advance any cause other than their desire to hear themselves talk.

Anyway, I’m happy to see Poplar Spring get such good coverage on local news.  And it sounds like Karen Dawn’s book has that Skinny Bitch mainstream appeal that will get new people thinking and talking about animal issues.

(For those in the DC area, two dates to mark on your calendars: First, on Monday August 18 from 5-8:30pm, Karen Dawn will be doing a signing for her book at the sanctuary. Then, on Sunday August 31, Great Sage restaurant will be donating 10% of the day’s profits to the sanctuary.  Go get some tasty eats and support the farm.)

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:

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.