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!

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