It’s been a busy period here at Nerdsong central, so I’ve had less time than normal for both cooking and updating my blog, but I figured it was way past time I posted about the rest of the Vegan Diner cookbook challenge. For those just joining us, the cookbook challenge involves taking one underutilized cookbook in your collection per week and making at least three new recipes from it. As I mentioned in my last post, I was really inspired by Julie Hasson’s Vegan Diner, and went a little crazy, making a lot more than the three recipe minimum, so I thought I’d spread the Vegan Diner love over several posts.
I already posted about the “breakfast” diner food I enjoyed. Today, it’s time for lunch and dinner.
Vegan cheese (or cheeze, as it’s often spelled to differentiate it from its dairy counterpart) can be a contentious issue. Cheese is one of the hardest things to give up when going vegan, and is also one of the hardest things to replicate. Commercial plant-based cheezes like Daiya, Cheezly, and Sheese have their fans and their detractors, but I think most vegans agree that if you expect them to taste like dairy cheese, you’ll be disappointed. A lot of them are good when used in recipes, or melted on pizza, but not the kind of thing you’d happily eat on a cracker*. So I was really curious to try the Great Smokey Mountain Cheeze in Vegan Diner. It would be my first attempt at making my own cheeze, and it looked simple enough. But how would it taste?
The answer is, it tasted amazing! It’s a creamy, spreadable cheeze that’s got a bit of a smokey, spicy bite to it (thanks to the addition of smoked paprika). It’s spreadable, but also holds up to slicing, not like a hard cheese would but like one of those spreadable cheeses that come individually wrapped in foil. And most importantly, it passed the cracker test!
I found myself taking little nibbles of it every time I went to the fridge for something else, and the fairly large batch I made on Monday barely made it to the end of the week. I ate it on crackers, on bread, on a bagel. So, this is definitely a cheeze that stands on its own. The next test is, how would it melt? Enter the grilled cheeze!
As I mentioned in my last post, diner food is comfort food, food that reminds you of your childhood. Grilled cheese and Tomato Soup are a classic combo that fits that bill. I was happy to discover that the Smokey Mountain Cheeze lends itself perfectly to this all-time favorite sandwich, and The Old-Fashioned Tomato Soup – fresh, creamy, and just garlicky enough – makes the perfect foil for it!
So far, I’ve focused on breakfast and lunch foods, but of course, diners are known for their down-homey dinner foods too. The one I decided to try from Vegan Diner was the Veggies and Dumplings. This was somewhat more labor-intensive than the other dishes I’ve made from this cookbook, but so worth it!
As Northern Europe slides inexorably into winter, I find myself craving hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meals, and this was just what the doctor ordered: saucy, veggie-rich stew, with fluffy, steamed dumplings. This recipe makes a buttload, so it’s something that you could serve to the whole family, or in my case, have lots of leftovers for generous late-shift work dinners.
If anyone had asked me before what my favorite cookbook was, I would have unhesitatingly responded that it was Appetite for Reduction. Now, I can say without a doubt that Vegan Diner has shot into the number one spot in my cookbook case!
Coming up: Chloe’s Kitchen, and some thoughts on why I made the choice to go vegan.
*Recently, there has been more focus on making actual cultured vegan (generally nut-based) cheezes that seem to take things to the next level, but these are not a feasible option for everyone. The store-bought ones are both expensive and only available in limited areas, and the homemade ones take a certain level and skill and patience that I certainly don’t have at this time.
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.