Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the cookbook club veganomicon review

I'm aware this is a bit late, unfortunately I've been cramming for a massive bio exam since last week and did not have time to finish my review. Here it is!

I have participated in a cookbook club that chose Veganomicon for its first book. As an aside, I received this book a few months after going vegan for the holidays from a good friend. She actually came by last night and was pleased to see I was still making good use of it (the lower-fat banana bread into muffins, in fact) more than a year later.

I spoke about my initial feelings about the book upon beginning the club and making the seitanic jambalaya. I have referred to Vcon as "The Bible" as I believe it to be an essential, comprehensive guide to vegan cooking. All of the guides and information in the front of the book are extremely useful and the book itself, cover-to-cover, is filled with so many useful little tips. I enjoyed the larger font, the pages, and overall the layout makes sense to me. The book is easy to understand and uses simple language. For the techniques that may not be known for an amateur cook, they are described in the front.
With such a wide variety of recipes, this book is the definition of comprehensive (in fact, I have used the term three times in describing this book). It covers every subject and so many different cuisines (Mediterranean, Latin American, Asian, etc.) that there are plentiful crowd-pleasing recipes, many of which I would consider to be omnivore-friendly.

The photo quantity is underwhelming. This book uses excellent adjectives to describe nearly every recipe -- I know why. The use of photography to showcase the food is minimal. The photos selected are good and accurate, but with less than 20 or so, the cookbook has 200-some recipes that missed picture day for the yearbook.
The majority of the recipes I have made from this cookbook are time-consuming, and moreso than the anticipated time suggested. Maybe that's just the type of book this is, but it is somewhat of an undertaking to make many of the recipes because they simply call for so many ingredients. I don't think this is necessarily bad, sometimes a lot of hard work can produce a very satisfying dish, but overall I thought that the majority of recipes were fairly complex. The instructions were clear, but they were multi-step with many ingredients. I know other reviewers may not feel this way, so perhaps it was the recipes I made.
Another complaint is that many of the recipes required using multiple devices/bowls/mechanisms (i.e. pots, pans, cutting boards, bowls, blenders, etc.) that my kitchen was frequently a tornado after making a Vcon recipe (let alone an entire suggested meal).

Diner Home Fries (71) was my go-to recipe for home fries (until I started making HH's, which are baked, not quite as good but much healthier and a little zestier). These are crispy and well seasoned morsels of deliciousness.
Tofu Florentine (72) another arduous multi-step recipe, although I have made this three times, so it must be great! Lots of good flavors and very filling, although the end product is fairly oily.
Chocolate Chip Brownie Waffles (75) I had to make these because of the title. They were rich and delicious!
Blueberry Corn Pancakes (76) I personally didn't love the cornmeal flavor. I found it grainy and too savory, even after drowning them in syrup and complemented by the berries.
Pear/Endive Salad with Candied Pecans (86) Crisp, delicious, sweet, and savory. It was a perfect salad, although missing protein to be a true meal, it was a great lunch.
Herb-Scalloped Potatoes (109) a side that I keep going back to. Creamy, delicious, and filling. I don't drizzle the olive oil when baking (it doesn't need it) and it remains a very guilt-free side.
Chickpea Quinoa Pilaf (115) The first recipe I made from Vcon AND my first time eating quinoa! Delicious. Great combination of flavors and very easy.
Chickpea Cutlets (133) A classic staple in the community. Fairly easy and very customizable based on what's in your pantry and what you feel like making these into.
Seitanic Jambalaya (170) this was the recipe that did me wrong. Read about it in my earlier post.
Leek and Bean Cassoulet with Bisucits (172) a very hearty dish, but not worth the nearly two hours that went into it.
Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Breadcrumbs (194) OH MY VCON. This recipe is worth every minute and every dirty dish. So many flavors come together so beautifully. This dish is hearty, creamy, and delicious on so many levels.
Mustard Sauce (204) I just made this to serve over some simple gimmelean sausage patties and braised kale and it was great. It rounded out the dish with complex flavors that came together quickly.
Lower-Fat Banana Bread (228) A very solid recipe. The only complaint is that 1/4 c. is hardly "lower-fat", but otherwise they taste good.
Apple-Peanut Butter-Caramel Bars (242) WOW! Dynamite dessert. This fooled omni's completely. It was quite a bit of work though.
Fudgy Wudgy Blueberry Brownies (243) Excellent recipe. So great! I have made it with raspberries/jam and it was just as good.

I recommend this book with some reservations. I really think it has a LOT of information that would be helpful to a novice cook and a new vegan. At the same time, I think someone with minimal cooking experience may be intimidated by the daunting steps and ingredients that so many of the recipes require. As a foodie with great cooking experience, I embraced going vegan as a fun challenge and was looking for ways to cook in a new way. For someone fairly new to cooking, this may scare them slightly. So maybe it will sit on the shelf for a few months and gather dust until a newbie finds their bearings and wants to throw together an elaborate dinner party! My lasting message is that there are several other cookbooks I would use everyday to make simpler recipes that are nowhere near as labor intensive, but that this cookbook belongs in your kitchen.

I promise for the next review I will be more diligent about my postings, photography, and diversity in selection of recipes! You can tell that I favored breakfast and neglected soups and casseroles, although I bookmarked several soups and two casseroles!

Friday, February 18, 2011

a guide to going vegan

When Oprah's episode about veganism aired a few weeks ago (unless you've been living under a rock, the vegan community has been commenting about it for some time!) I received a message from my cousin Melissa, a 20-something living in suburban Orlando with her boyfriend. Melissa has always been fairly active and healthy but wanted to complete a vegan challenge for a week. She also enlisted my aunt to join her in their "vegan week" which is now scheduled for early March when they are traveling less. She asked me for some meal ideas, but of course, being the thorough person and experienced vegan that I am, this is the message that I sent her. Obviously this is entirely my opinions and expressed beliefs, not medical advice or facts.

This is a bit long, but overall I wanted to give you a lot of recommendations so you and William will (hopefully) have a good experience with veganism! I've been doing this diet for 1.5 years and have tried many different recipes and used ingredients I never would have as an omnivore -- it really is an entirely different way of living and eating.

Soy-based products:
Generally, I avoid purchasing soy-based products frequently, but do so on occasion as they are not the best option. Soybeans are heavily processed in order to become soymilk or soy protein isolate, which ruins a lot of the health benefits. Soybeans are often genetically-modified and not something I would want to eat. I really enjoy knowing about what goes into my body rather than having to guess or ignore funny preservatives or foreign chemicals. Many of these include several processed "fake-meats" (containing that funky soy protein isolate that I try to avoid) and soymilk (I much prefer the taste of almond milk or coconut milk, both of which are more natural and a perfect replacement for dairy-based milk).
That being said, tofu and tempeh are all really exempt from these. When tofu is organic, it is not genetically-modified, and in moderation is completely fine (and tasty when prepared well!). Tempeh is a fermented soybean product, completely healthy and adapts well to baking.
A major complaint by many in the vegan community against the Oprah episode was that on Kathy Freston's trip to Whole Foods, she emphasized many meat alternatives. In transitioning or flirting with a vegan diet, I think these are a suitable alternative, but these aren't really ideal for any diet. So much of being vegan is about knowing what you are eating, and so many great bloggers I follow have helped me create delicious meals that are focused around delicious, pure, and healthy fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes, so why would I waste that potential on over-processed, frozen products? I do use Gardein products probably once or twice per month when I'm short on time (the scallopini is incredibly similar to chicken) and those are fairly natural in ingredients. These are often found at WF or even your regular grocery store.
You can dabble in vegan imitations for cream cheese, sour cream, even regular cheese (Daiya is the new brand of choice for many, although I personally don't enjoy it completely, only finding it especially tasty when melted down into a sauce). Earth balance is a great substitute for butter. All of these are available at WF and some are available at regular stores. I shop at WF more often only because I don't like my regular grocery stores, and I have a WF less than 10 minutes from my house. Trader Joe's is another great option, not sure if you guys have that.

Obviously there is a whole lot of information in films or books that emphasize the negative health effects of meat products, dairy, and eggs, which are very important to me, and then even more that cover the lack of humanity and respect for animals, important as well. You don't need to go out and purchase cookbooks or anything like that right away. If you think that the diet really agrees with you guys and fits into your lifestyle and is something you'd like to integrate more often, I can definitely recommend some great cookbooks (I think I own about 10 or 12, haha). Here are some blogs that offer some great recipes and tips:
Oh She Glows: I swear by everything she makes. Angela embraces wholesome ingredients over the processed in favor of great recipes. She definitely makes sure that balance and protein are emphasized and her food photography is stunning!
Mama Pea: Sarah throws together some brilliantly creative recipes that are never labor intensive. She always uses very accessible ingredients, and because she cooks for her family of four, they are always kid-friendly. She recently put together a complete meal plan that is completely structured, you may want to glance at that as well!
Happy Herbivore: All of Lindsay's recipes are whole-wheat and fat-free (well, no fat added cooking) and she just came out with a cookbook last month that has many more recipes!

I am not a big daily breakfast person by any means. Normally I get up and go straight to classes 2-3 days per week, so I am not really in the mood to do anything that requires preparation. I usually eat a soy-milk based yogurt (o'soy and whole soy & company make great flavors) and an apple/banana on my way in, or when I get to work. I would suggest adapting whatever you eat now to a vegan alternative: mix non-dairy milk in your cereal or oatmeal, schmear vegan cream cheese or earth balance on your toast (or opt for a natural fruit spread) or something of the like.
I enjoy a green monster smoothie of some kind almost every day, usually after the gym or on my way to work. I find it really refreshing and an amazing way to get your vegetables in the morning. I would suggest starting with spinach because it's flavor is so mild and transitioning to kale eventually as it is more nutrient-packed. I like about a tablespoon of flax seed, some peanut butter, 2-3 handfulls of spinach, an apple, and a frozen banana, plus some sweetener (I use stevia or agave, natural!) to taste.
When I'm not working, I like to make a hearty brunch, something really satisfying. Tofu scrambles are a staple in the vegan community. This fruit & nut quinoa is similar to oatmeal and is great. This french toast is ridiculously easy. And I've made this fast sausage/cheese sandwich several times already.

I combined these as 9/10x, my lunch is just leftovers from dinner. When I'm at work, I usually eat a microwaveable Amy's product (the enchiladas are awesome, as are the burritos and the mac and cheese, although the green labeled one is the gluten/dairy free!) when I don't have leftovers. Otherwise, I make a large serving of whatever I cook for dinner and it's lunch throughout the week. This Zucchini Quinoa Lasagna is a recipe I keep going back to, I've made it at least five times. I've made this Red-Hot Chili Tofu many times, it is probably my favorite tofu dish, super spicy and great over brown rice with double the sauce. My go to burger recipe has been the Spicoli Burgers from eat, drink, & be vegan -- they are simply the best. A hearty entree, even for someone that never liked mushrooms, are the really delicious Portobello Steaks. I am not big on salads. I probably eat fewer salads then many other vegetarians/vegans, haha. I just find so many other foods much more satisfying. If you're looking for a salad, this Kale Salad with Peanut Dressing gets better over time as the kale holds up to a dressing, and you can throw in whatever you have (celery, red onion, cucumbers, bell peppers, what have you). This Butternut Squash and Garbanzo Bean Salad was also really great as well.

Snacks/Dessert:I put these categories together because for me, my desserts are usually healthy enough to snack on, and my snacks are typically salty/sweet. I definitely snack on things like Cliff bars and nuts regularly (I buy a combo pack of almonds/cashews/peanuts from costco) both of which are great sources of protein. I also snack on hummus, veggies, and crackers. Reid enjoys these kale chips, and when perfectly dry and crispy, they are really good. These super fudge low-fat brownies are a little time consuming but well worth the effort - extremely rich and fudgy brownies full of flavor without the fat. And the brown sugar bars are my new addiction.

Hopefully you enjoyed my compilation of information! :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

a fantastic pasta a la vegan.

One of the most satisfying bowls of pasta you'll ever eat. I promise.

Boil water for pasta and select pasta from your cabinet. I saw linguine first, so all bets were off. Also set another heavy saucepan with a slight amount of EVOO, probably a tablespoon, over medium heat.

In a food processor, mix 2 vegan sausages (I used a Tofurkey brand of Italian sausages) with half of an onion, sliced. Pulse until crumbly and onion pieces are small, around 30 seconds.

Chop up a garlic clove, or two or three, and add. I'm into garlic, so I added three. Drop in the EVOO saucepan, sweat for 30 seconds until it begins to turn light brown, and then dump in your sausage/onion mixture.

Stir the pot often for 5 minutes over medium-high heat such that it may brown slightly throughout. The sausage is already cooked, but flavor will ensue beautifully.

Add in about 1 1/2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce, about a 2 teaspoons of italian seasoning, and a good tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes, along with some salt and pepper. Drop the pasta, your water is probably boiling. Bring the sauce to a boil, then put a lid on the saucepan and allow the flavors to develop even more while the pasta cooks for a few minutes.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it off and add it to the pasta sauce. Turn the heat off and allow the noodles to absorb some of the sauce for about a minute. Serve warm, with nutritional yeast if desired.