Review of The Art of Fermentation

Cookbook Reviews, Reviews

Sandor Ellix Katz’s Art of Fermentation; An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World may not be a vegan cookbook, but it does go into detail about how to do many fun vegan projects.  Within the last year or so, I’ve successfully made sourdough, injera, sauerkraut, and some fermented nut cheeses.  I have an attempt at a ginger bug (to make ginger beer) on top of the fridge right now, but for some reason, it’s never bubbled vigorously.  For all you ginger beer experts out there: yes, its organic ginger.

Since recipes/instructions for all the fermented foods I’ve made can be found online and fine-tuned with some experimentation, not everybody may find an encyclopedic book like The Art of Fermentation a necessary addition to their cookbook library.  Nevertheless, if you like having references like this in one handy place, The Art of Fermentation is a relatively complete guide to the processes of fermentation.  It might also be worth checking out from the library (if you can patiently wait your turn on the waiting list–the Hennepin County Library system has 10 copies and 43 requests at the moment) if you plan to set up a tempeh incubator or other such homemade equipment.

Review of Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food

Cookbook Reviews, Reviews

Alicia C. Simpson’s Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food: 150 Down-Home Recipes Packed with Flavor, not Calories is a black and white cookbook with one section of full color photographs.  I counted pictures of 20 recipes.  Helpfully, the recipes which have pictures appearing in the photo insert have a camera icon next to them.  As much as I rely on good pictures of every recipe to help me decide what I want to try cooking, I understand the dilemma of vegan cookbook authors–often publishers aren’t willing to spring for full-color pictures of every vegan recipe.

I’ve found that one good test of vegan cookbooks is its recipe for basic seitan.  With this in mind, when I wanted to stock up my freezer, I found the basic seitan recipe in this book.  The overall procedure is great–you make a dough and boil it in water–but it seems odd to me to flavor the cooking broth and not the dough directly.  Nevertheless, with modifications, this is my new favorite seitan recipe.

One neat feature is the section called “A Menu for Every Size and Occasion” which lists menus of various caloric values.  Additionally, nutrition information per serving appears for every recipe.

At first glance, this book seems to include many soy ingredients, but substitutions are easy enough.  A great feature is that many of the recipes build on each other–you start with a recipe for some basic component and then use it in a more complex recipe.  I love when cookbooks do that instead of instructing readers to buy and use their favorite vegan hot dog.  Speaking of hot dogs, the recipe for those on page 161 looks pretty delicious.  It uses the foil and steam method of seitan cooking.  Surprisingly, I’d have to find my own recipe for reduced-calorie hot dog buns.  You’ve got to draw the line somewhere, I suppose.  You can find a recipe for corn dogs on the next page, however.

I think there are some tasty gems in this cookbook.  If I had it on my shelf, I think I’d use it as  a go-to source for making comfort food.  But for now, back to the library it goes.

Cuisinart Griddler Indoor Electric Grill

Gadget Reviews, Reviews

I’ve recently rediscovered my panini press.  Well, technically, it’s called a griddler, as I discovered when I looked it up on Amazon.  Whatever.  My mom got it for me nearly brand new from a garage sale a few years ago for $5 or something.  Anyway, when you make homemade bread, my beloved sandwich maker doesn’t always work out for the best.  Enter The Griddler.  The thing I really like about it is that the plates come free and are dishwasher safe.  It’s hard to beat trendy sandwiches and easy cleanup.



I just made some yummy little sandwiches with pesto, fermented almond cheese olive spread and roasted orange peppers on sourdough bread.  (Edit: try my simple pesto here)  All homemade.  All vegan.  All yummy.

I’m sure the burgers pictured at the bottom of this post are vegan.  Pretty convincing, eh?  🙂  If you click on it, you use my affiliate link and can check it out on Amazon.



Review of The Sexy Vegan Cookbook

Cookbook Reviews, Reviews

A while back, I requested The Sexy Vegan Cookbook by Brian L. Patton from the library and was able to pick it up this afternoon.  The first thing I noticed was that there are no color photographs.  The book does have some black and white photographs, but they are used more as graphical elements than for highlighting recipes.

There’s certainly no lack of visual coherence, however.  Overall, the book looks aesthetically pleasing in a self-consciously edgy sort of way.  In looking through the book, the second thing I noticed (after the lack of helpful photographs), was that some recipes have QR codes.  Throughout the book, there are 15, which can be used by tech-savvy and smartphone-equipped readers to quickly access videos that will help them with the recipes.  Slightly less tech-savvy readers can use the URLs which appear in an appendix.  Non tech-savvy readers are stuck with a book with very few black and white pictures.  The QR codes are a neat gimmick that help the book stand out in my mind.  In fact, I learned a great way to roast and peel beets by watching one of them.

This book also offers a lot of personal commentary from the author.  It seems like it would be an entertaining read for some.  What stumps me about The Sexy Vegan Cookbook is trying to figure out its target demographic.  It might be the type of book a hip vegan twenty-something something woman would buy for her non-vegan live-apart boyfriend as a passive aggressive means of convincing him to be vegan.  And if he opened it, he might be entertained.  And if he was entertained, he might try a recipe.  And if he tried a recipe, he might be more open to vegan food.  And that’s a good thing.  But, that can’t be the book’s sole appeal, which makes me wonder, do vegan men really want that much ball/wang/ass humor with their recipes?  Give me unadulterated recipes any day—the extraneous humor (“Here they are!  For the whole planet to behold…My Balls!”) detracts from a cookbook in my view.  But that seems to be The Sexy Vegan’s shtick.  I think the bottom line is I am not part of this book’s target audience.

I think if this book were in my permanent collection, I’d use it occasionally because there’s some good basic recipes in there.  As long as we’re theoretically speaking, however, I might begin to wonder if a less edgy and more complete vegan recipe reference book would be my first choice.  Something like 500 Vegan Recipes.  To The Sexy Vegan Cookbook’s credit, though, I don’t think 500 Vegan Recipes contains any mixed drink recipes.  The chapter on cocktails is definitely a cool thing about The Sexy Vegan Cookbook.

There are some good recipes in this book.  One such recipe is “The Luigi”, a 14-inch pizza with 20 cloves of garlic (on page 162).    Now you’re cooking!  That’s some serious garlic!  I also like that each element of this pizza is homemade and the book offers recipes for everything from the dough, cashew ricotta, not-zzarella sauce, parmesan topping, and basil chiffonade.

When it comes to vegan cooking, “chiffonade” sounds a whole lot sexier to me than “balls”, “wang”, or “ass”.   While much of the book’s humor is lost on me, it’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into producing this cookbook.  After all, it’s the first cookbook I’ve seen with QR codes that direct readers to online content.  In the end, perhaps I take a page from Brian L. Patton’s book when I say, “different strokes for different folks.”

Review of 500 Vegan Recipes

Cookbook Reviews, Reviews

I had to take 500 Vegan Recipes: An Amazing Variety of Delicious Recipes, from Chilis and Casseroles to Crumbles, Crisps, and Cookies by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman back to the library yesterday. There are 3 reservable copies in the Hennepin county library system and one request besides the 3 that are checked out. Not bad for a vegan cookbook with no photos published in 2009.

The Asian-Inspired Seitan Crumbles and Basic Seitan Crumbles on page 210 are both yummy. They offer a technique that I was unfamiliar with before. Because they have you cook the seitan quickly in a pan with oil instead of steaming or boiling, this is a good recipe for when you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and you realize you haven’t incorporated a protein source yet and there’s no other protein source that will be ready to go within 20 minutes or so.

That being said, I’m pretty sure that’s the only recipe I’ve tried from this cookbook and I think I’ve checked it out from the library twice. I get inspired by photos of food and since this book has none, I haven’t gotten around to looking through it. In fact, my sweetie pie was the discoverer of those seitan recipes in this tome—I’m pretty sure I would have missed them if left to my own devices. I bet I would be likely to find many good recipes in this cookbook, but it’s been hard to stick with it due to the lack of pictures.

I’ll check it out from the library again pretty soon and give it another go. Who knows, 500 Vegan Recipes may eventually end up on my shelf permanently as a reference.

Review of The Healthy Voyager’s Global Kitchen

Cookbook Reviews, Reviews

I recently checked out Carolyn Scott-Hamilton’s The Healthy Voyager’s Global Kitchen: 150 Plant-Based Recipes From Around the World from the library.  I was surprised how short the waitlist for it was, given that it was published in 2012.  Right now, in the Hennepin County library system, where there are likely to be 10 or more copies of a popular vegan cookbook with a waitlist of 50 or more patrons, there are only 4 copies that are all checked out and a waitlist of 3.

The cover doesn’t look all that promising, but I have to admit, I have never seen a cookbook with recipes “from around the world” that impressed me—vegan or otherwise.  The whole endeavor of global cooking smacks of tourist privilege.  And here I mean “tourist” in the worst possible sense—one who doesn’t speak the language or make sincere attempts to understand the culture—they just want to swoop in, surround themselves with all the comforts of home and have an “exotic” experience that will impress their Facebook friends.  Harsh? Yes, and not necessarily fair.  But in the interest of full disclosure, this is my bias that The Healthy Voyager’s Global Kitchen was up against.

The book has 150 vegan recipes and  I counted 53 full-page, full-color photos of featured recipes.  That many pictures (they’re the kind that make you want to drop everything and make the featured recipes, by the way) in a vegan cookbook is notable.  Another feature  that stood out right away was a helpful legend that makes it easy to tell if a dish is gluten free, soy free, low fat, low glycemic, kosher, and/or raw.

The introduction is two pages long and pretty functional.  I like that.  I have little use for a lengthy introduction that incorporates the author’s long-winded philosophy of the good life and detailed arguments about being vegan or a lengthy story of how the author became vegan.  Scott-Hamilton’s introduction provides a quick orientation to the book and lets me know how she approaches cooking and eating.  The first chapter is called “Stocking a Global Kitchen”.  I usually skip sections like these, but I noticed this section not only lists products you can buy at the store but also recipes for stock, spice mixes, condiments, and other elements.  I will very likely try the recipe that appears there for Worcestershire sauce alternative (so keep your eyes peeled for my notes on that recipe).  This chapter also includes shopping and kitchen tips—again, it is brief and functional.  I’m not in the habit of reading sections like this, but for the sake of this review, I read this one and was torn between responding, “I know, I know” and “Preach it, sister!”.  The tips seem concise and helpful; I think they’d be spot-on for beginners.

On to the main event—recipes!  There are 17 regions which each have a chapter: USA, Latin America, Caribbean Island Nations, United Kingdom, Spain, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark, Italy, Germany, Greece, Russia, The Middle East, Africa, India, China, Thailand and Vietnam, and Japan.

My main question as I pick up a new global cookbook is, are the recipes authentic or are they Americanized?  While I love global cooking and food, my first-hand experience with authenticity is with USA, United Kingdom and China.  I opened the book up to the China section and landed on a recipe for Spicy Mapo Doufu (Zesty Tofu and Seitan Stew).  Because my sweetie pie and I have been working on a hemp tofu recipe lately and because we recently got some Sichuan peppercorns, Mapo Tofu has been on our list to try.  We may be adapting this recipe soon, so stay tuned.  First of all, I was heartened to see that the most important ingredient for mapo tofu was included: freshly ground Sichuan pepper.  I find it interesting that the author chooses the Mandarin Chinese pinyin romanization  for tofu (“doufu”) instead using the English word “tofu” but uses the English word “Szechuan” (which comes from the Wade-Giles romanization of “Sichuan”).  I digress; this is a blog about cooking, not about linguistics.  Scott-Hamilton says that cayenne pepper can be substituted if Sichuan pepper isn’t available.  It would be a completely different recipe in that case since, as you may recall from my entry for Sichuan Pepper Vegan Prawns, Sichuan peppercorns add a mouth sensation (something along the lines of numbing) as well as a flavor.  I’m being picky though.  I’m looking forward to trying this recipe and I think it will be delicious and authentic.

The book also contains recipes that I’ve been wanting to try for a while but haven’t found good vegan recipes yet or haven’t gotten around to working on veganizing them myself.  For example: tiramisu, matcha green tea ice cream, and gyros.  If this book were permanently on my shelf, I can see myself happily cooking through the recipes.

I don’t often get as excited about vegan cookbooks as I am about this one.  While I haven’t tried any recipes yet, they look very promising.  I tend to check out many books on vegan cooking from the library (I have 8 out at the moment), but I don’t own that many.  In fact, out of curiosity, I just checked and noted that I own only 1 vegan cookbook.  The Healthy Voyager’s Global Kitchen: 150 Plant-Based Recipes From Around the World  is a book that, pending successful recipe testing, I hope to add to my permanent collection sometime soon.