So, I was planning on posting a little something in between Cookbook Challenges about the advantages of having vegan pals to hang with, but after the iPad WordPress app ate my blog post just as I was finishing it and trying to add a photo, I lost my inspiration. I’ll probably be posting something about that again soon, but in the meantime, it’s time to tell you about the second cookbook I’m doing for the cookbook challenge: The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman.
I love this book. First of all, it’s adorable. It’s smaller than the average cookbook, and easy to pop in your bag and browse through in the train, in the tram, or on your break at work. Plus, it’s illustrated with really cute drawings of happy farm animals.
Secondly, not only is it filled with great recipes, but the authors do a great job of explaining how the right substitutes work in vegan cooking and baking so that you have a good basic understanding of ingredients to try to veganize your favorite non-vegan recipes. This can be particularly daunting with baked goods, and while I’m not there yet (in terms of veganizing non-vegan recipes), I know I’ll come back to this cookbook as a reference when I’m ready to take that step. Oh, and they’ve got a lot of gluten-free and soy-free recipes in there for folks who are sensitive to those items.
I was kind of crunched for time this week, only really having two days when I had time to cook, and a whole slew of late shifts at work. So I decided to go for three recipes I thought would work well as leftovers to bring with me for my early evening “lunch” (i.e. dinner) break.
The first was the Green Tempeh Veggie Feast, an artful combination of sautéed tempeh, leeks, Brussels sprouts, and this amazing pepita (pumpkin seed) pesto. I always love tempeh, and I’ve become a real fan of Brussels sprouts in the last year, so I knew this would be a hit. What really puts this dish over the top from “yummy, healthy greens and protein” to “oh, wow” is the pesto! The Tempeh Veggie Feast is really easy to make, and makes a shit-ton (or .907 metric shit-tons for those of us in Europe), so it’s perfect for a weeknight meal when you just want something healthy, hearty, and delicious and are happy to have leftovers. And while I really enjoyed the flavor sensations, it’s not really the prettiest dish in the world, so I wouldn’t necessarily make it for an occasion that calls for something fancy shmancy.
The same cannot be said for the other two recipes I made for this challenge. The next night I doubled up my cooking efforts and made the Denver “Quiche” and the Creamy Polenta Chili Bake. These were both AMAZING, and deceptively easy to make. Because of the ease of making these, they could definitely (and likely will) make their way into my weeknight rotation, but they are both also impressive enough to share when having folks over for dinner. The quiche is even good cold, and travels really well, so it would make a great bring-along for a potluck.
The Chili Bake combines a really simple two bean chili (I made mine a bit spicier than what the recipe calls for but that’s just the way I roll), with a topping of creamy polenta (as you not doubt astutely surmised from the name of the dish) that bakes really nicely on the top and reminded me of the comfort food experience of eating chili with corn bread. This recipe could easily be made soy free if you choose a non-soy plant milk (like almond or rice) to make the polenta, and use a bit of olive oil instead of vegan margarine. I liked the chili recipe, which uses kidney and black beans, but I might experiment with using different chili for this as well (like the Quick and Hearty Chili from Vegan Diner that I might make for the next cookbook challenge).
The real star of the show, though, was the quiche. I had no idea how easy or delicious this would be. It’s amazing how the right combination of ingredients (in this case silken tofu, chickpea flour, and nutritional yeast) can come together to make something so perfect. Add the right vegetables, some kala namak, some liquid smoke, and a veggie protein (I subbed vegan bratwurst for the suggested seitan, which I didn’t have) and you’re on your way to quicheville! Ok, it doesn’t taste exactly like an egg-based quiche, it’s true. But what it does taste like is a creamy, smoky, savory pie of goodness. Seriously, I can’t recommend this recipe enough! (And oh, dear lord, please don’t let my poorly-lit cell phone pictures turn you off of this.)
So, week two of the cookbook challenge was a resounding success. Next week, I’ll be tucking into one of the books I’ve had the longest, but have yet to make anything from: Vegan Diner by Julie Hasson. I’ve been checking out the recipes and I truly can’t wait. The only problem is going to be narrowing down what I want to make!
So, after some thought and taking a look at my calendar for October, I’ve decided NOT to do MoFo. With the Vegan Blogging World watching, you’re expected to crank out five blog posts a week, and with a fairly hectic schedule looking back at me, I realized I was setting myself up for a MoFo fail. So I’m just going to blog at my own pace and enjoy it rather than go for the gusto and burn out, never to blog again.
And on that note, I thought I’d share my first experience doing a Cookbook Challenge, put forth by some members of the Post Punk Kitchen forums. Going vegan is not difficult, but you do have to learn a new way of cooking, and the best way to do this is to avail yourself of some of the many amazing vegan cookbooks that are out there. I was never much of a cookbook reader before, but like many budding vegans, I’ve found that (the right) cookbooks/recipe blogs can really make the transition so much easier and less intimidating than I expected. But also like many budding (and long time) vegans, I have found myself amassing piles of cookbooks that I get some inspiration from and then forgetting about while I end up making the same 4-5 weeknight recipes over and over. The Cookbook Challenge gets you picking up those cookbooks again and trying new recipes, and hopefully pulls you out of your recipe rut.
The way it works is ten cookbooks are chosen, and each week, a different cookbook is assigned, and the goal is to make at least three recipes from it that you’ve never made before. As I don’t have all of the cookbooks, nor do I have time to do the challenge every week, I’ll just be doing some weeks. This last week was the start, and the first challenge was a free choice of any book by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and/or Terry Hope Romero. (They’ve done some great books together and both have also done some awesome solo books.)
I decided to go for Appetite for Reduction, the cookbook that not only convinced me that I could actually do this vegan thing, but also the one that changed my relationship to cookbooks. Don’t let the title fool you. While the recipes in AFR are unquestionable healthy and low-fat, this is not a “diet” book. It’s a gorgeous, lush celebration of vegetables, grains, and spices. The recipes are easy to follow, and while some of the ingredients are hard to source in this part of the world, most of them are incredibly supermarket-friendly, and easy to follow. They’re also accompanied by nutritional information, which I never paid a lot of attention to, but I know some people find incredibly handy.
I had varying success with the recipes I chose. The first was Red Wine and Kalamata Tempeh: Tempeh marinated in an aromatic blend of wine, olives, and perfectly balanced spices, then pan-fried with the marinade. I think my favorite part of doing this recipe was how my house smelled while the tempeh was marinating. It was really good over an al dente rotini, and I served it with a side of escarole sautéed in olive oil with just some sea salt and fresh ground pepper. (Excuse the bad lighting in this picture!)
The wine flavor was a bit too strong – I had expected it to mellow more with cooking – so I may try a milder wine next time, but I’ll definitely be making this again.
The next recipe(s) I tried were the Chili-Lime Rubbed Tofu with a side of the Orange-Scented Broccoli. This was my least successful outing from AFR, but I think this was due to a few ingredient problems on my part, rather than a problem with the recipes themselves. I discovered just before starting that my ginger had gone bad, so I ended up using powdered ginger (not the same), I had no chili powder, so I ended up subbing Spanish pepper powder and Adobo powder, and the juicing orange I had bought turned out to not be a juicing orange but rather a navel orange. It was all passable, but not much to write home about, and I’ll have to try it again with proper ingredients. That said, the leftover tofu made a fantastic sandwich the next day for lunch: open-faced with egg-free mayo on a bed of escarole with a generous drizzle of sriracha. Mmmmm….
The final recipe, while not exactly photoworthy, was the absolute winner of the bunch: Forty Clove Chickpea with Broccoli. It was also the easiest to make, and perfect for a lazy weeknight. Basically, it’s a question of assembling the simple ingredients, popping them in the oven, going off to watch Mad Men, stirring the ingredients a few times, watching more Mad Men, and fifty minutes after starting, you’re sitting down to eat and enjoy the next episode of Mad Men. I ate this over some pasta, with some freshly ground pepper and a healthy sprinkling of nooch (more about this wonder condiment in another post). And it was even good right out of the fridge the next day for a post-breakfast, pre-lunch snack. (Don’t judge me.)
Next week I’ll be doing my next Cookbook Challenge: The Complete Guide to Vegan Substitutions.