Monday, 16 July 2012

Book Review - Cornelia Guest's Simple Pleasures

On my initial read through this book didn't resonate with me, at all, to the point where I wondered if I could get past that to make the recipes and give them a fair evaluation. (I'm glad I did as some of the recipes were really good, but more on that later) It may be an inbuilt bias, but the life of the author is so very, very far removed from mine, or of anyone I've ever met, that I really felt no connection with her through the introductory sections, nor any desire to have one. I think this book does nothing to debunk the myth that you have to be rich and white to be vegan (which is so far from the truth), but may appeal to those who are - and may then encourage those folks to spend some of their spare cash to make a difference in the lives of animals (which would be a wonderful thing).

Apart from having to see past the references in word and photo to the authors' wealth, the book itself is a little confusing in its layout, once you get past the initial grouping of recipes by season (which is a great idea). Each section starts with a seasonal menu with the recipes for those dishes, and then branches into other dishes for the season, with not a lot of explanation in between or in the section headers. The different parts of each section don't have enough differentiation in title or pagination for them to make sense (from my point of view). Scattered throughout the book in a seemingly random way are sections on grains and beans with recipes attached - again not really differentiated.  The introductory sections tend to be a bit rambling, and overly personal, even for me - and you know I love to read cookbooks like novels.

I applaud the focus of the book, which is fresh, seasonal food, but do disagree with the lumping of tofu, tempeh, and seitan into the "faux meat" category - these to me are traditional protein sources, which happen to be vegan - they are not made from broken down parts of many other things clumped back together again to look and taste like something else. Otherwise the focus on fresh, in-season, organic (if possible) produce, and use of real whole foods is one I can ascribe to completely.

I would not overlook this book, as many of the recipes I made were true gems, (as you'll see in a bit) and I am sure there are many others in its pages. You may need to browse this one at a store, or get it out from the library before deciding if it is right for you. I'll just be focussing on the recipes, and the foods, and enjoying the pleasure they bring.

All the recipes I tried were simple (as to be expected from the title of the book) with no complicated steps or equipment needed. The flavours were great, and do live up to the seasonal eating concept. The recipes I made -
Page 85 Quinoa Salad with Mint and Parsley with Lemon Dressing
A tabbouleh with quinoa basically. Very nice, though the dressing could have done with just a touch of sweetener for balance.

Page 96
Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
For me, far too sour without the agave I added to balance the flavours. This one I would not make again.

Page 100 Baked Vegetable Risotto
Really good. Could make this one over and over. Creamy and comforting, yet fresh. My only note would be that the recipe states it serves 8 as a main course, however only has 1 cup of rice in the recipe. Either these 8 folks have very small appetites, or it is meant to be part of a longer multi-course meal. 

Page 105 Chocolate Coconut Squares
A little like a chocolate granola bar! Very good but not so much dessert-y. Maybe if you topped them with ganache.... Recipe also doesn't say if it is Old Fashioned, or Quick Cooking rolled oats. I think it is Quick as I used OF and they weren't cooked through.

Page 109 Curried Quinoa
Nice idea, though I found the end result a little unbalanced, a little too heavy on the bitter / sour taste from the curry powder, green apples, and lime juice. (I also find that the recipes where only "Juice from X Limes/Lemons" is in the ingredients list really needs to have a measure also - some are juicier than others)

Page 136 Lemon Chickpea Puree
Lovely, luscious and smooth this one, with vibrant lemon notes. Does make WAY more than the 2 cups noted in the recipe however.

Page 153 Roast Tomatoes with Fennel and White Beans
Don't be put off by all the oil - after all the cooking this has reduced and the end result is superb;creamy, rich and super delicious (seriously good!). I would make this every day if that wasn't ridiculous.

Page 158 Caesar Dressing
For me, this was not tangy enough, and too sweet from the dates. I did add more lemon juice as my lemons weren't super juicy ones. Would maybe blend in some capers if I made again.

Page 177 Debra's Granola
No fruit in this one so I added a little dried fruit with each serving as I felt like it. Not too sweet as stated which was nice. I also found this to be way too much for the one cookie sheet called for, even with only making a half batch I had to spread over 2 sheets to get any browning. Nice version of granola though.

Page 179 Guacamole Hummus
I love this idea, and enjoyed this one very much.

Page 183 Sweet Potato Watercress Salad
I subbed arugula as the store didn't have watercress, but this one was really good. Enjoyed by all, and will be added to the rotation for sure!

Page 188 Oven Fries
Mine stuck, which I blame more on my baking sheet than the recipe! Tasty and more--ish.

Page 201 Kale Chips
Yum. Nice and garlic-y, though the recipe is a little confusing in that it calls for only some of the oil and garlic to be added at the beginning, but never tells you when to add the rest.

Page 207 Lentils with Red Wine
I really enjoyed this one - even better the next day with  more spinach wilted in.

So, a few misses, but more hits, some of which were superb, so the food in this book makes it a keeper!


radioactivegan said...

I really appreciate your honest review! I think the idea that veganism is a rich privilege is far too common. At least the recipes were a hit, though :)

Alexis said...

I always enjoy cookbooks that organize themselves by season. It helps choosing seasonal recipes be a lot easier. said...

what a great review! that curried quinoa looks fabulous! yum!