Monthly Archives: October 2013

20 Days of Happiness Part 5 – My Cookbook Collection

There’s a scene in A Muppet Family Christmas where Ernie and Burt (from Sesame Street) have a conversation with Doc (from Fraggles) and Ernie and Burt can’t help pointing out what letter every word begins with.  “Bunk beds: B words!” they say as Ernie chortles.  When Doc looks at them askance they explain, “Where we come from, this is small talk.”  My sister once said that the scene reminded her of our family — except that complaining, not letters, are our family’s small talk.  It’s not that we are unhappy people.  We just like to air our grievances.  But sometimes it’s good to air positive feelings too and that’s just what I plan to do.  For my next 16 posts, I’ll focus on the many reasons I have to be happy.

 

MY TOP COOKBOOKS FOR NEW VEGETARIANS OR VEGANS

I can count on one hand the novels that I’ve read more than once.   Cookbooks are another story.  Whether flipping through them for inspiration or reading them for fun, my cookbook collection gets a lot of love.  Since not everyone has the space for or inclination to purchase dozens of cookbooks, I thought it might be useful to put together a top 5 list (which wound up as a top 6 list).  This list is targeted at the new vegetarian or vegan — someone who has no meatless cookbooks and wants to put together a collection that will make them a confident meat-free cook.  Here is my list in no particular order:

1. Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon (2002)

Every cookbook collection should include a comprehensive tome with ideas on how to cook just about anything.  With over 1000 recipes, Passionate Vegetarian certainly checks that box, but it doesn’t stop there.  Crescent Dragonwagon has more than 30 years of food industry experience, and it shows in her recipes; I have never had a recipe in this book fail.  The book also includes lots of tips, anecdotes about the recipes and menu suggestions.  My only complaint is that the book has no pictures, but that hasn’t stopped me from cooking extensively from it.  (Note that this is a vegetarian cookbook with plenty of vegan recipes and vegan variations for non-vegan recipes). 

2. The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions by Joni Marie Newman and Celine Steen (2010)

The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions is an adorable and handy little book that will show you how to adapt your non-vegan recipes to your new diet.  The book is divided into sections based upon the food to be substituted (meat, milk, eggs, etc.)  Each chapter has a chart of substitutes with tips on how to select the best substitute for each recipe.  For example, based upon the number of eggs in a recipe, you can determine if they are used for binding or leavening and substitute accordingly.  The chapter then continues with creative recipes featuring some of the suggested substitutions.  There are full color photos throughout.  Nothing is perfect, though.  The index of this book leaves much to be desired and the first edition also had a few typos that I assume were fixed in later editions.

3. Vegan Diner by Julie Hasson (2011)

Vegan Diner is all about comfort food classics.  Are you looking for the best recipe for vegan mac and cheese?  The best recipe for barbecue sauce?  The best recipe for chicken style seitan?  Vegan Diner has those and more.  In fact, every recipe I’ve tried has been “the best” and that’s saying a lot because I’ve tried a lot of recipes.  As a bonus, the book is gorgeously designed with full-color photos throughout.

4. Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (2005)

I don’t think you can put together a cookbook collection without at least one book by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and, to my mind, the original is still the best.  Vegan with a Vengeance has an eclectic (and delicious) mix of recipes introduced with amusing stories from the author’s life.  Buy it and make some falafel while singing a song that Moskowitz was forced to perform at Jewish day camp.  It’s only natural.  

5. Chloe’s Vegan Desserts by Chloe Coscarelli (2013)

If I owned only one baking book, this would be it.  The book is approachable for omnis and new vegans because it does not rely on substitutions that might seem “weird” to non-vegans or be difficult to find (e.g. no tofu or agar).  A wide selection of baking standards — brownies, chocolate chip cookies, birthday cake — are here, along with some creative new ideas like tiramisu pancakes and banana cobbler.  Coscarelli really knows her stuff, too.  The recipes are easy to make and turn out well.      

6. World Vegan Feast by Bryanna Clark Grogan (2011)

One of the best things about becoming vegetarian or vegan is the opportunity to sample totally new foods.  For that reason, my top cookbook list needed to include a book with international flair.  My number one pick in this category is World Vegan Feast — both for its variety of recipes and for the fact that Grogan is a truly expert recipe developer.  Although the book looses points for poor quality photos, that negative is more than outweighed by the quality of the recipes and plethora of helpful tips and interesting food facts.  

 

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20 Days of Happiness Part 4 – Baking

There’s a scene in A Muppet Family Christmas where Ernie and Burt (from Sesame Street) have a conversation with Doc (from Fraggles) and Ernie and Burt can’t help pointing out what letter every word begins with.  “Bunk beds: B words!” they say as Ernie chortles.  When Doc looks at them askance they explain, “Where we come from, this is small talk.”  My sister once said that the scene reminded her of our family — except that complaining, not letters, are our family’s small talk.  It’s not that we are unhappy people.  We just like to air our grievances.  But sometimes it’s good to air positive feelings too and that’s just what I plan to do.  For my next 17 posts, I’ll focus on the many reasons I have to be happy.

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HAVE CUPCAKES, WILL TRAVEL

I feel fortunate that my parents started letting me help out in the kitchen as soon as I was able to stand on a step stool by the stove.  Before I was even able to do that, I started baking with my aunt.  My first contributions mainly involved dumping buckets of sprinkles on Christmas cookies, but I soon moved on to measuring, mixing, rolling and cutting.  By the time my sister and I were in high school, our annual Christmas cookie baking was a weekend long marathon at my aunt’s house where we turned out batch after batch.  Family, friends and neighbors would send their empty tins and we would send them back stuffed with a dozen varieties of cookies — or more.

Sharing baked goods with friends and family remains one of my favorite things.  So when my firm had an employee-family potluck recently, I was first in line to bring a dessert.  Sharing with omnis calls for tried and true recipes, so I turned to Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World.

Even though it’s 80 degrees here in L.A., I wanted something autumn-y, so I started with a batch of Apple Cider Cupcakes.  These were a bit of a fail because they sunk like souffles when I took them out of the oven.  Since they still tasted good, I filled in the sunken area with vanilla butter-cream that I jazzed up with a bit of cinnamon.  I also wanted a cupcake that would be enjoyed by picky eaters, so I made a batch of banana cupcakes (the Banana Split Cupcakes without any of the mix-ins) and topped them with chocolate butter-cream.

As I was getting ready to plate some cupcakes to photograph them, I thought of this post from Panda with Cookie.  Sadly, I didn’t have a block of wood, so I just left the cupcakes in their carrier, snapped a photo and hit the road.  That’s apple cider on top and banana chocolate on the bottom.  Interestingly, people loved how the apple cupcakes were “filled” with frosting — so my baking fail turned into a baking success.  (As for my awkward food photography, you be the judge).

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20 Days of Happiness Part 3 – J’habitais a Paris

There’s a scene in A Muppet Family Christmas where Ernie and Burt (from Sesame Street) have a conversation with Doc (from Fraggles) and Ernie and Burt can’t help pointing out what letter every word begins with.  “Bunk beds: B words!” they say as Ernie chortles.  When Doc looks at them askance they explain, “Where we come from, this is small talk.”  My sister once said that the scene reminded her of our family — except that complaining, not letters, are our family’s small talk.  It’s not that we are unhappy people.  We just like to air our grievances.  But sometimes it’s good to air positive feelings too and that’s just what I plan to do.  For my next 18 posts, I’ll focus on the many reasons I have to be happy.

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VEGNEWS FRENCH FOOD FEATURE – MUSHROOM VOL AU VENT

From as early as I can remember, it was a dream of mine to visit France.  I even listed it as my top life goal on a goal chart I completed during my first cookie sale as a Brownie Girl Scout.  No one I knew had been to France — or traveled overseas at all — so I have no idea what inspired this desire.  Wherever my inspiration came from, it was enough to motivate me through 8 years of French classes.  All of my verb conjugating paid off when, as a junior in college, I had my first opportunity to visit France as part of my university’s study abroad program.

Before arriving in Paris, I had it in my head that the Eiffel Tower was nothing special — just an over-rated tourist trap.  My first glimpse of the monument, reflecting the orange glow of my first Paris sunrise, showed me otherwise.  Not only was the tower surprisingly beautiful, it also brought home for me the fact that I really and truly got to live in Paris!

To commemorate my many happy memories of France, I cooked a meal from the Classic French Food feature in the September/October issue of VegNews.  Pictured above is Mushroom (almost) Vol Au Vent with a side of roasted summer squash seasoned with Herbes de Provence (a spice blend from the Provence region of France, Herbes de Provence always reminds me of Paris because it was the only seasoning I kept in my Parisian dorm room).

Vol au vent is a puff pastry shell with a savory filling.  I remember seeing seafood versions on the menu at many Parisian restaurants.  The VegNews recipe, created by Miyoko Schinner, is filled with mushrooms and asparagus in a white wine cream sauce.  My version is more of a deconstructed pot pie because I used up a package of puff pastry sheets instead of purchasing the puff pastry cups the recipe called for.  The vol au vent was time-consuming to make because it required that the sauce reduce for at least an hour.  However, the active cooking time was minimal.  The end result was tasty — creamy and mushroomy with just a touch of the herb flavor from the seasoning coming through.  My husband, who loves creamy sauces, really enjoyed it.

 

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20 Days of Happiness Part 2 – Birthday Cake

There’s a scene in A Muppet Family Christmas where Ernie and Bert (from Sesame Street) have a conversation with Doc (from Fraggles) and Ernie and Burt can’t help pointing out what letter every word begins with.  “Bunk beds: B words!” they say as Ernie chortles.  When Doc looks at them askance they explain, “Where we come from, this is small talk.”  My sister once said that the scene reminded her of our family — except that complaining, not letters, are our family’s small talk.  It’s not that we are unhappy people.  We just like to air our grievances.  But sometimes it’s good to air positive feelings too and that’s just what I plan to do.  For my next 19 posts, I’ll focus on the many reasons I have to be happy.

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LEMON BLUEBERRY CAKE WITH LEMON FROSTING FOR MY SON

I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in over a year, but I’m not complaining because I have a good ( and cute, funny, and clever) reason: my son.  On Wednesday, we celebrated his first birthday.  With the often difficult first year behind us, I can now say that, without a doubt, it was worth it.  (For any new parents reading this, I can assure you that there were plenty of days during the first year when I questioned what I had gotten myself into and I’m sure there will be many more such days going forward).

On top of that, I can’t believe how much my baby has changed in a year.  Not only does he barely resemble his newborn self, he can do so much more — crawling, standing, talking and even telling jokes.  I’m not really sure what his jokes are about.  He just babbles and then starts laughing, but his laughter is infectious.  Veteran parents tell me that kids only get more fun as the years go by (until the dark period of the tween years) and I am looking forward to all the fun yet to come.

The first birthday cake is all important because it will live on — in cake smeared face photos in my son’s baby album — for years to come.  When I was picking a recipe, I knew I had to incorporate his favorite food — blueberries.  I thought about trying the blueberry banana cake recipe from Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, but I decided to go with something tried and true instead.  I made a double batch of the lemony variation of the vanilla cupcakes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, added blueberries and baked the batter in two cake pans.  (To convert cupcakes to cake, bake at the temperature called for in the recipe, but increase the cooking time by 5 to 10 minutes.  My cakes took 7 minutes more than the cupcake recipe’s bake time.)  I frosted the cakes with the lemon frosting from the same book (again a double batch).   I’m no cake decorator, but I’m proud of how the cake turned out.  And, of course, it tasted great as the recipes from VCTOW always do.

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20 Days of Happiness Part 1 – Biscuits and Gravy

The Vegan Month of Food is an annual blogging challenge where vegan bloggers commit to blogging for 20 days or more.   This year, for what was to have been my second MoFo, I thought I was way ahead of schedule.  By early September, I had a theme picked out and had come up with some ideas for posts.  Then I checked the PPK forums (birthplace of MoFo) and discovered that I was actually woefully behind schedule.  MoFo was moved up to September this year and I was too late to participate.  Rather than miss out on the fun, I’ve decided to go ahead and share my 20 themed posts anyway in a series I am dubbing 20 Days of Happiness.

There’s a scene in A Muppet Family Christmas where Ernie and Bert (from Sesame Street) have a conversation with Doc (from Fraggles) and Ernie and Burt can’t help pointing out what letter every word begins with.  “Bunk beds: B words!” they say as Ernie chortles.  When Doc looks at them askance they explain, “Where we come from, this is small talk.”  My sister once said that the scene reminded her of our family — except that complaining, not letters, are our family’s small talk.  It’s not that we are unhappy people.  We just like to air our grievances.  But sometimes it’s good to air positive feelings too and that’s just what I plan to do.  For my next 20 posts, I’ll focus on the many reasons I have to be happy.

BISCUITS AND GRAVY FOR MY HUSBAND

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter H for happiness — and husband — the guy who’s been cracking me up for 13 years, who watches Christmas specials with me every year without ever suggesting I’m too old for such things, who writes funny songs about our cat and who’s the very best Daddy our son could have.

When I think of my husband, biscuits and gravy are the first food that comes to mind.  Before I met him, I had never seen or even heard of this combination.  It is, apparently, a Southern (U.S.) staple and I am definitely a Yankee.  My husband, however, is from the Midwest, which embraces a lot of Southern comfort food traditions, and biscuits and gravy were a staple of his high school years.  Several times a week, he would head to a local diner chain for his gravy-fix.  After he stopped eating meat, I began trying biscuit and gravy recipes in an effort to find the best one.  When I tried the recipe from Vegan Diner, I knew I had found the winner.  As a bonus, the recipe relies on ingredients I usually have on hand.  The gravy recipe is just margarine, flour, nutritional yeast, soy milk and spices — but the end result has a great flavor and the thick texture that my husband loves.

Recently, my son and I got up early to make this favorite breakfast for my husband.  We went all out and even made breakfast sausage patties from scratch using the Vegan Diner recipe.  (I actually made them the night before because they need to steam for about an hour before being pan-fried).

Vegan Diner biscuits and gravy topped with sausage patties

Vegan Diner biscuits and gravy topped with sausage patties

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