Monthly Archives: July 2013

Cookbook Obsession: Review of 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe

Until recently, I wasn’t really part of the audience for 30 minute cookbooks.  Cooking is a favorite hobby and I didn’t really see the need for quick and easy.  Enter baby and suddenly finding even 30 minutes to spare is a challenge.  For that reason, I’ve really grown to love the 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe.  The book is divided by country with sections on England/Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Spain/Portugal and Fusion (which is really just a catch-all for a bunch of recipes from countries that didn’t get their own section).  Each section begins with one of the author’s travel photos, has a little information about the food of the particular country or region and then goes on to the recipes.   I like how this layout makes it easy to put together a themed meal.  So far, we’ve had French night, English night and Italian night.  The recipes I’ve cooked have been delicious and really did take just 30 minutes or less to cook.  In short, this book delivers exactly what it promises — tasty vegan versions of European food that come together quickly.

Upon receiving the book, I began my culinary travels through Europe in the same place that I began my actual travels through Europe — England.  The summer after I graduated high-school, I took a backpacking trip through England and Ireland with five of my friends.  As a new vegetarian, I subsisted almost entirely on vegetable broth with tiny veggie chunks (called “vegetable soup”) and ham and cheese sandwiches, hold the ham (one piece of cheese on bread).  Eventually, I made it to London and salvation in the form of Indian food.  With that background, it was certainly a surprise to me that the England/Ireland Chapter of the 30 Minute Vegan was one of the most appealing.  I immediately honed in on the tofu with horseradish cream sauce and decided to design a meal around it.  For sides, I microwaved some potatoes and then finished them in the oven for speedy baked potatoes.  I also roasted some beets because beets and horseradish are a fabulous flavor combo.  The tofu itself was marinated, grilled and then topped with a quick pan sauce.  That was a very tasty meal, indeed.

Next, I traveled to Italy where we dined on tempeh in asparagus cream sauce.  For sides, I steamed some green beans and  cooked some linguine that I tossed with garlic oil and the herbs used in the asparagus sauce (basil and parsley).  My travel photos are below.

Tofu with Horseradish Sauce

Tofu with Horseradish Sauce

Tempeh in Asparagus Cream Sauce

Tempeh in Asparagus Cream Sauce

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As American As Banana Cobbler

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel back and forth across this beautiful country several times.  So far, my travels have taken me to 44 states.  (Georgia, North Dakota, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina and Louisiana remain on my to do list).  To celebrate Independence Day weekend, I revisited some of my favorite places in meal form.  (Unfortunately, I kept forgetting to charge my camera battery, so I only have photos of one meal).

I wrapped up the weekend with a culinary tribute to one of my favorite cities — Boston.  Boston is the place where I went to college, the place where I met my husband and the place where I spent some of my happiest times.  The Boston of my college years wasn’t particularly veg-friendly, but I had Crescent Dragonwagon’s comprehensive Passionate Vegetarian to keep me well fed.  For my Boston-themed dinner, I turned to Crescent Dragonwagon once more.  Bean By Bean features not one, but two Boston baked bean recipes.  I went with the one that was already vegetarian.  (Bean By Bean is not a vegetarian book, but Dragonwagon is a vegetarian and provides plenty of veg options).  I love that her recipes always have a little story to go with them and her baked bean recipe was no different.  Since the recipe notes said that Dragonwagon wrote the recipe out of nostalgia for the beans of her New England childhood, I figured I wouldn’t be disappointed.  The baked beans are supposed to bake for 6 hours, but I hurried things along by cooking them at slightly higher heat for 2 and a half hours.  I’m sure I lost out on some depth of flavor, but I still had no complaints about this dish.  It hit all the flavor notes that I love about baked beans without being overly sweet.

Baked Beans and Salad

I also made the suggested accompaniment of Boston Brown Bread.  Boston brown bread is a steamed whole grain bread (usually made with corn, wheat and rye) flavored with molasses.  Brown bread just happens to be egg free and Dragonwagon provides several non-dairy alternatives for the “milk” component of the recipe.  Since I don’t have a bread pan that fits inside my stock pot for steaming, I used the ubiquitous Portuguese Flan mold.  I’m kidding.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I have tons of specialty kitchen equipment.  The flan mold was a wedding gift from a friend and came with her Mom’s flan recipe, which I have yet to veganize.  The mold just happens to be the perfect size for steaming brown bread and it’s designed to sit in a water bath.  As a bonus, it made my loaf into a cute ring shape.  Brown bread is delicious and this recipe did not disappoint.

Boston Brown Bread

topped with Earth Balance

For dessert, I wanted to make something that screamed America, like cherry pie or shortcake with red and blue berries.  But I had some very ripe bananas that needed to be used up, so I went with the Banana Cobbler from Chloe’s Vegan Desserts instead.  Boy was this stuff good and it was easy to make too.  I think it’s my new favorite Chloe recipe (until I make something else from this book).

   Banana Cobbler

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Cookbook Obsession: Review of Vegan Eats World

I started my review of Terry Hope Romero’s latest cookbook, Vegan Eats World, so long ago that the post originally began by wishing you a Merry Christmas.  Instead, I’ll wish you a happy Independence Day.  May your day be filled with friends, fireworks and vegan barbecue.  On to the review.

My copy of Vegan Eats World arrived at my apartment just a few days after its October 30th publication date, so I’ve had the opportunity to read through the book a bunch of times and cook a few recipes.  Vegan Eats World has nearly 400 pages and about 300 recipes, so I haven’t yet scratched the surface. However, my first impressions of the book are mainly positive.

To start, the book is beautifully done.  It’s hard cover with full color photos throughout.  Not every recipe has photos, but there are way more photos than your average vegan cookbook — no photo insert with a just few recipe pics here.  And the photos are beautiful to boot; they are crisp, bright and artfully arranged.  Flipping through the book, dozens of recipes caught my eye (including the entire chapter on dumpling!)

On to the negative.  Unfortunately, the book could have used another round of editing to correct an error that occurs a number of times throughout the book.  It appears that some of Terry’s original variations became main recipes and vice-versa and the copy was never updated to reflect that.  For example, the recipe for Roasted Beet Salad (page 103) says that Terry enjoys the recipe as is, but that you can add romaine lettuce.  However, romaine is already called for as an ingredient in the recipe.  Similarly, the Greek Eggplant Lasagna recipe (page 238) doesn’t call for any eggplant, but there is an eggplant variation listed after the main recipe.  Hopefully, this issues will be fixed in subsequent printings.  For now, it hasn’t taken away from my enjoyment of the book too much.

Finally, there are a couple of things to be aware of that may be either plusses or minuses depending on the reader.  First, the recipes in Vegan Eats World are heavily weighted towards Asian food, particularly Thai and Indian.  African, European and South American cuisine are represented, but certainly not given the depth of treatment afforded to Asian food.  Second, many of the recipes call for ingredients that you may need to visit a speciality store to find.  I live in a large city with a diverse population and there are still a bunch of recipes I won’t be able to make until I get around to ordering spices online.  I’m certain that this makes the recipes more authentic.  (I remember once asking an Indian friend what I could substitute for certain spices in a curry recipe and having her tell me, “nothing if you want it to taste right.”)  However, it’s limited the number of recipes I could dive right in and cook using my current pantry.

The recipes I’ve cooked so far include:

Roasted Beet Salad  – This was a winner — simple to put together and delicious.  As I mentioned, the ingredients errroneously call for romaine lettuce, which is intended as an optional add in.  Be aware that if you use the lettuce, you might want to double the dressing recipe.  I’m not one who drowns my salads in dressing and the only reason I had enough was because my husband decided to eat his salad dry.

Afghani Pumpkin Ravioli – This recipe has several components: a pumpking dumpling, a spiced tomato sauce and a yogurt sauce.  Although it took time to put everything together, the results were worth it.  The pumpkin dumplings were so flavorful and delicious that I would have gladly eaten them dry.  The sauces, both individually and together, were different from anything I’ve ever eaten and I really enjoyed them.

CIMG2285

Yellow Split Pea Soup with Chard – I’ve never met a pea soup that I didn’t like and I had high hopes for this one.  Given the number of spices used, I expected big flavor.  To my surprise, the soup was actually a bit bland.  Although none of the soup went to waste, this recipe won’t be going into my regular rotation.

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Braised Leeks – The flavor of this recipe was enjoyable, but next time I will cut the leeks into rings.  Leaving them whole as directed in the recipe made them hard to clean and resulted in an overly chewy texture.

Pumpkin Churros – You heard right — pumpkin churros!  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get these babies to cook in the middle no matter how small I made them.  I’m really not sure what went wrong.  Perhaps my oil was too hot?  (I followed the temperature directions in the recipe, but I can’t think of any other explanation).

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