One of the reasons I can tell that I’ve been working too hard is because I rarely have time to read for pleasure. That’s why, when our power went out last month and I couldn’t work on my computer, I was excited to have a perfect excuse to dig into the mountain of books sitting in my office. Most of the books are cookbook review copies, but there are a few other types of books sprinkled in as well. I decided to do a “round-up” post of some of the books I especially liked. Of course, it’s taken me over a month to find the time to try a few recipes from the cookbooks, and still more time to write up my impressions. But, better late than never, right? First, the cookbooks:
Vegan Bake Sale by Carla Kelly. What a terrific concept! With bake sales becoming such a popular phenomenon, this is a book whose time has come. It’s filled with information on the ins-and-outs of having a bakesale as well as great baking tips. Even without the unique “bakesale” hook, the book would be a fantastic vegan baking book in its own right with lots of creative sweet and savory recipes that will please young and old alike. Among our personal favorites are the Spanakopita Loaf, Lemon Bars, and Coconut Cookies (my husband’s a coconut-aholic!). Haven’t tried the Vanilla Crème Puffs yet, but the recipe looks genius.
The Natural Vegan Kitchen by Christine Waltermyer. Full disclosure: Christine engaged me as “cookbook coach” when she was putting together her book proposal — and I’m thrilled with the way Christine’s book turned out. It’s fun to see the progress from an idea to an actual book, and this book is a great addition to the vegan bookshelf. Christine’s approach is rooted in macrobiotics (where I began in my journey to veganism) I wish there had been a book with this more relaxed approach to macrobiotics back then. This book is proof that healthy can also mean delicious. Christine’s experience as a cooking teacher comes through in these easy-to-follow recipes. We especially enjoyed the Sweet Potato-Polenta Pancakes and the Clear Noodle Salad.
Raw Food for Everyone by Alissa Cohen. This is a well-organized and very thorough raw foods cookbook. Like the subtitle states, the recipes are from “simple to sophisticated.” It has lots of great information on ingredients, equipment, and techniques, as well as advice on putting together a raw kitchen. Even though some of the recipes seem time-consuming, the instructions are clear and the ingredients are accessible. We tend to eat more raw meals in the summer and I’ve already marked some recipes I’d like to try, such as the Eggplant Bacon and Nacho Cheese. Though I haven’t tried it, the spice-rubbed glazed payaya steak served with vegetable vermicelli in a creamy dill sauce caught my attention, as well.
The Blooming Platter Cookbook by Betsy DiJulio. Full disclosure: this book is published by my husband’s company, Vegan Heritage Press. I love the idea of a seasonal cookbook, and this book makes it easy and fun to “cook through the seasons” with enticing recipes, a great layout, and gorgeous recipe photos. Organized by season, Betsy’s creative recipes play up what’s fresh throughout the year. Among the recipes we’ve sampled so far, some of our favorites include the Spaghetti Squash Picatta, Thai Seitan Lettuce Wraps, Big Kahuna Burgers, and Spicy Baja Tacos. Swoon-worthy desserts include Sweet Potato Layer Cake with Butterscotch-Bourbon Cream, Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Tart, and Pear-Rum Cupcakes with Tea-Infused Buttercream Frosting.
Favorite non-cookbook books:
The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas. As if being a cookbook author and artist weren’t enough, the multi-talented Nava Atlas has also written a fantastic book that draws from the works of twelve famous women authors, with insights into their craft as well as their observations and pearls of wisdom. Beautifully designed and illustrated, this book is a real gem, not just for women writers, but for anyone who admires the work of these illustrious literary figures. Filled with inspirational quotes and anecdotes, as well as Nava’s own reflections, I keep this book at my bedside to indulge in a few beautiful pages each night before sleep.
The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Not a cookbook and not vegan, this reference book is a guide to hundreds of ingredients, including herbs and spices, with insights into getting the best flavor from them, as well as layering and balancing flavors. This is a book for serious cooks who want to know more about the flavors of ingredients and how to combine them.
Good Mushroom/Bad Mushroom by John Plischke III. This is a fascinating field guide to mushrooms by a leading mushrooms expert. As the subtitle states, it’s “all you need to know about the wild mushrooms of North America.” The book is filled with clear photographs and easy to understand information about the various types of mushrooms growing all over the country. The book can help you clearly identify which mushrooms are edible and which are not. I’m tempted to go searching for wild morels, but until I do, it’s fun to read about the fascinating varieties of mushrooms growing right in my own backyard!
That concludes my round-up of recommended books. I still have another stack waiting for me to review. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another power outage for me to get to them!
UPDATE: Soon after posting, I found out about a new second edition of The Ultimate Vegan Guide by Erik Marcus (which I previously reviewed here). This new improved edition is now available on Amazon for 99 cents for the Kindle edition and $8.95 for the paperback.
When the weather gets warmer, soup might not be the first thing you think of making. But for me, this luscious chilled avocado soup is right at the top of the list of refreshing warm-weather treats. I say “treat” because where I live avocados are expensive, so I don’t make this soup as often as I’d like. And the texture is so rich and creamy, that it tastes more like a luxurious treat that a bowl of soup.
The recipe comes from my book Vegan Fire and Spice. Like most of the recipes in that book, this is adapatable to any range of “heat” — you can leave out the hot sauce and the fresh hot chile garnish entirely for a completely mild soup, or add as much “fire” as you want, according to your own taste. Here’s the recipe:
Chilled Avocado Soup
Add hot sauce to taste for a refreshing and creamy soup that’s only as spicy as you want it to be. The lime juice enhances the flavor of the avocado and insures that the soup will hold its green color for a few hours. This recipe is from Vegan Fire and Spice by Robin Robertson © 2008, Vegan Heritage Press.
2 ripe Hass avocados, peeled and pitted
1/2 cup vegan sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped scallion
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 cups light vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
Garnish: sunflower seeds, minced scallions, and/or sliced hot red chile
In food processor or high-speed blender, combine the avocados, vegan sour cream, cilantro, scallion, lime juice, garlic, broth, salt, and hot sauce. Purée until very smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours (no longer), until chilled. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Serve garnished as desired.
About the product: I often receive sample products and I’ve made it a policy to only talk about the one I enjoy. (Mom taught me that if I couldn’t say anything good about something, then I shouldn’t say anything.) I am happy to say that the Vegetarian Plus products are the best prepared vegan meat alternative dishes I’ve ever had. I’m usually skeptical about products prepared with various sauces. Usually the flavors are inauthentic at best. But VegeUSA really nailed it. Both the vindaloo sauce and the kung pao sauce have a wonderful flavor, rich and spicy, as good as any you could get in a restaurant. And the texture and flavor of the meaty chunks are as good as I’ve had anywhere—scary-good, in fact! Consider keeping a package or two in the freezer for those nights when you’re too busy to cook and want something really tasty that can be ready in just a few minutes—just add a cooked vegetable and some rice…or pizza dough!
I came up with an easy impromptu dessert the other day that I just have to share with you. I had a package of those mini phyllo shells in the freezer, some walnuts, and vegan chocolate chips. Okay, so you probably see where this is heading… “Why not combine the flavors and textures of baklava with chocolate?” Why not, indeed! The resulting mini tarts could only be called: “Choclava.”
The photo shows a few of the first batch I made, with the filling a little on the chunky side. I made a second batch with the filling ingredients more finely ground, and I like it that way better. You can see part of the box for the phyllo shells in the background — this one is Athens brand. It’s vegan and this or another brand can be found in most supermarkets. Since Mother’s Day is also Gary’s birthday (at least that’s when we celebrate it!) I placed my Gary mug in the photo, too. Cute, huh?
Speaking of Mother’s Day, these little tarts would be fun to serve with a Mother’s Day brunch, since they’re not too sweet and they look adorable. For more Mother’s Day brunch ideas, here’s the menu from Party Vegan: Fabulous Fun Food for Every Occasion:
(Hint: Party Vegan makes a great Mother’s Day gift!)
Here’s the recipe for the choclava tarts:
The flavors and texture of baklava + chocolate = “choclava.”
3/4 cup toasted walnut pieces
1/3 cup semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 package phyllo mini-tart shells
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. In a food processor, combine the walnuts, chocolate chips, agave, and cinnamon, and process until finely chopped and well combined. Fill the phyllo shells with the mixture, pressing gently with your finger to smooth the top. Bake for 10 minutes, then cool completely before serving.
Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, here’s a satisfying salad that’s loaded with flavor and can be assembled quickly with just five (count ‘em, five!) on-hand ingredients. All it takes is some cooked or canned black beans combined with fresh or frozen corn kernels, tossed with a spicy tomato salsa, cilantro and lime juice. Depending on how hot your salsa is, you can add some additional minced hot chiles if you want more heat. The recipe is from my cookbook, Vegan Fire and Spice.
Since I couldn’t find decent tomatoes to make my own salsa, I made this salad with bottled fire-roasted tomato salsa that adds a wonderful flavor. You can enjoy the salad “as is” served over shredded lettuce or spoon it (along with some lettuce) into flour tortillas and add some chopped avocado, sliced black olives, shredded vegan cheddar, or vegan sour cream.
Black Bean and Corn Salad
This colorful and flavorful salad is easy to make with on-hand ingredients. For less heat, use a mild salsa. For extra heat, add minced hot chiles, fresh or canned. This recipe is from Vegan Fire and Spice by Robin Robertson © 2008, Vegan Heritage Press. Serve on a bed of lettuce or as a filling for soft flour tortillas.
1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup spicy tomato salsa (homemade or storebought)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until serving time.