Monday, 29 April 2013

Book Review - Vegan Secret Supper

There is no doubting the creativity of Merida Anderson, author, and host of Vegan Secret Suppers all over the continent - she puts flavours together in a way that makes me a little jealous that I didn't think of first (and I'm pretty creative with combinations!).

The book is nicely laid out, with beautiful artfully presented photos for many of the recipes (tempting!), with a nice use of colour in the text, and easy to follow instructions. The chapters are logically grouped by type of recipe, though this does lead to a bit of required page turning for sub-recipes and accompaniments. The introduction is not overly long, just a basic look at how the book came to be and some of the ingredients used, the recipe headers are short and sweet, letting the food speak for itself, though I would have liked a little more information in these at times.

The book is written for dinner parties, and as such has specific plating and accompaniment guidelines, which I didn't follow mostly as I was just making for us, and, because the dishes are meant to be eaten as part of a multi course dinner I found the serving sizes a little out of whack for everyday eating, so bear that in mind. What serves 8 to 10 as part of a larger dinner is really only about 4 servings if nothing else is being served, and I would have liked this to have been mentioned in the introduction or on the recipes. This is my only real nit-pick about the book, and it's not much really.

The recipes I made (still camera free, sorry) are as follows, and I am only going to note the parts of the reciep I made, so if the title includes an accomapniment I didn;t meake I'm not including that in the title here, in case you look through the book and get a little confused -
Page 47 - Spiced Peanut and Yam Soup
Coriander adds a different spice note to this soup, versions of which I'd have from many places. Easy to make and very tasty.

Page 55 - Fennel Portobello Soup
Nice and thick, and very mushroom-y. I think the fennel got lost a little with the mushrooms, but it had a nice kick at the end not usual in mushroom soups.

Page 80 - Pine Nut Caesar with Crispy Oyster Mushrooms
Lovely caesar dressing, nice and tangy. The mushrooms were a little bland and could have done with some spice addition, but were so crunchy and nice with the salad. H thought they were a little gimmicky, but agreed that they'd be a talking point for a dinner party.

Page 107 - Coconut Fettucine Alfredo with seared Brussels Sprouts and Cherry Tomatoes
H loved this one! Nice creamy sauce, garlic-y and rich, with lovely vegetables. I made more vegetables than required as it was for a stand alone main dish, so we all got a bunch instead of a few as a garnish.

Page 139 - Chocolate Hazelnut Pie with Balsamic Chocolate Sauce
Rich and creamy texture - I have to blend in my food processor for ages but it was worth it. Not overly chocolatey, more subtle than I was expecting. The sauce was an intense combination of sweet and sour, which by itself was OK, but with the pie was sublime.

Page 156 - Nut Crust
For the pie. Easy to make.

Page 167 - Cardamom Almond Ice-cream
I didn't get my mix completely smooth, not having a vita-mix or the like, so my ice cream was a little grainy. Flavours were good so worth making.

Page 184 - Ginger Beer Syrup
Oh, yum. Intensely sweet and gingery with a kick at the end.

Recommended? Yes! Especially if you like to make fancier fare every now and then, perfect for entertaining.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Book Review - The 30 Minute Vegan's Taste of Europe

I don't have any of Mark Reinfeld's previous books so can't comment on how this one compares with any of the other 30 Minute Vegan books, or any of his other work, though having cooked from this one I think I'll have to look some of the others out at the library!

The book has a lovely picture insert, for those of you who like to see what the food could look like, which is bright and tantalising. The rest of the book is single colour text. The book is broken into chapters by country / region of Europe, and within the chapters the recipes follow a logical meal progression from starters and smaller dishes at the beginning of the chapter, through to desserts at the end. Each chapter has a lengthy introduction to the food of the country (or region) looking at dishes and ingredients most commonly used. I really like this. The recipes have good introductions as well giving information on the origin of the original, changes to veganise the recipe and serving suggestions. In the front, there is a nice introduction with sections looking at herbs and spices, beer and wine pairings, and mushrooms. Interesting reading.

Overall the recipes are quite simple (to fit inside the 30 minutes they have to be!) and are quite true to the original versions of the dishes. If you are looking for modern fusion dishes this may not be the one for you, as the recipes do quite accurately re-create the dishes they are based on. There are many variations noted if you want to change the recipes up a little.They are well written and easy to follow.

I made -
Page 6 - White Bean Dip
Nice change from hummus. Nicely herb-y, easy to make and great with raw veggies.

Page 18 - Spinach Polenta
Deliciously creamy and rich. We ate it soft and it was comfort food heaven!

Page 32 - Tofu Cacciatore
I coked for longer than stated to get the sauce really thick and the mushrooms really cooked down. Pleasant, and easy to make.

Page 68 - Pommes Frites
Fries. Simple. Bit of a gimme recipe in the France chapter, but has to be there I suppose.

Page 86 - Scambled Tofu with Chives and Wild Mushrooms
Nice dish, filling and hearty. Had for dinner but would be good as a weekend breakfast too.

Page 92 - Chocolate Mousse
Interesting to beat the mousse with an electric beater to get it fluffy - gave a lovely texture.

Page 110 - Chickpeas and Roasted Garlic
Enjoyed this very much, though would have liked it to be a bit saucy-er than it was. Personal preference I guess.

Page 111 - Spanish Rice
Again, easy to make and tasty.

Page 132 - Raw Kale Salad with Cranberries and Walnuts
This was a really nice kale salad, I liked the texture of the walnuts after soaking, and the kale was massaged to an easy to eat state.

Page 161 - Red Lentil Soup
Another nice dish, and easy to make. Hearty and filling, perfectly warming.

Recommended? Yes, if you're looking for dishes which mimic favourites from Europe, only vegan!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Book Review - Gardening for Geeks

A little out of my usual zone for books to review, but when I was offered this one I thought, why not?

I don't have a garden, would dearly love a garden, but living in a town house complex with by-laws which forbid them, that isn't happening soon unless we win the lottery! However, I grew up in houses which always had gardens, Mum and Dad always grew loads of the stuff we ate; in fact all my sisters I recently visited on holiday had gardens so growing up with them must have rubbed off!

If I were to be in a position to create a garden I would use this book as my reference bible I think as it contains loads of information, and all relevant. The book covers starting from scratch (building the beds even), planting; including what are good options to choose to grown, and looking after your garden once established.  It offers ways to compost, have a worm farm (their poop is awesome apparently), and get the most out of your garden space - however spacious or otherwise it may be. I really liked the holistic, natural and organic approach to pests and co-planting, and how the ideals of sustainable micro-horticulture is a theme throughout the whole book.

There are a few simple produce recipes in this too - 8 in total! Of these I made 3 so I could include in this review (again photo-less).
Page 187 Garlicky Greens with toasted Sesame Oil
I used a combination of spinach and arugula. Simple, and so fast to throw together. Nice and garlicky too!

Page 191 Sesame Roasted Radishes
My new favourite way to have radishes! I'm not a fan of them raw and generally will roast them, but this Asian-y way of roasting them is a little different to how I'd normally do it and really makes them delicious!

Page 192 Crispy (addictive) Kale Chips
A simple kale chip recipe, and very good. I did have to cook mine for about 3 times the time stated to get them crispy though (may just be my oven!)

Recommended if you're a gardener!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Recipe of the Week - Potato Croquettes

Potato Croquettes
Serves 4

Filling and warming, these lightly spiced croquettes make an ideal side dish for a fusion Indian themed meal, or as a light lunch topped with sautéed spinach or a salad of leafy greens.
Once mixed the croquettes can be held in the fridge until ready to cook.

 cup Chickpea Flour
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Cumin Seeds
¼ teaspoon Onion Powder
¼ teaspoon Garlic Powder
¼ teaspoon Curry Powder, your choice of heat

2 cups cold Mashed Potato
¼ cup Parsley or Cilantro, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Coconut Oil

In a large dry skillet combine the chickpea flour, salt, cumin seeds, onion powder, garlic powder, and curry powder.
Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently until golden and toasty looking, and aromatic, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Keep the skillet handy.
Add the mashed potato and parsley to the bowl. Mix well until the flour is well distributed and the mixture a little stiff.
Use a ¼ cup measure to scoop 8 croquettes, shaping into 2-inch discs. Indent the discs a little in the centre with your thumb.
Heat the coconut oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the croquettes, taking care not to crowd the pan, doing in batches if necessary, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until golden and crisp. Flip carefully, then cook a further 3 to 4 minutes until the second side is also golden.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Book Review - Great Chefs Cook Vegan

I have left my camera behind on holiday, so will have no photos for this post. I will try to arrange an alternate so have some for the weeks ahead, but until then, sorry, the posts will be lacking visuals!

This book won all sorts of commendations and awards, and aims to show how fancy pants vegan food really can be. A range of top notch "name" chefs from well known restaurants all over the US (not vegan chefs just regular chefs) contributed recipes which they would make for vegan diners in their establishments, should they be given advance warning.

The book itself is a big one, and all the recipes are illustrated with a photo, which is great for this book, and the complexity of some of the recipes included. Even the most confident home vegan cook will find a visual aid helpful with some of the presentations. Each chef is introduced and a little of their background shared, along with a quote to outline their food philosophy. I like how this makes a connection between the reader and the chef, and therefore the recipes.

The recipes are, as you would expect, restaurant quality, many with multiple sub recipes. I feel a number of these are more suited to a restaurant environment where there are more folks to make all the parts, and is likely to be more folks to eat the results. If you're making a sauce that makes 4 cups and you need 2 tablespoons to drizzle on the plate you're left with lots of sauce! In a restaurant environment you can do that, and the sauce would get used up, not so much at home. Another "more suited to a restaurant environment" point I found is that some of the ingredients called for may be hard to source for the average vegan cook at home, at least in small quantities required.

The recipes I made were the more simple ones!
Page 47 Curried Cauliflower with Currants and Pine Nuts
I was a little concerned about all the raw red onion, but adding the cooked cauliflower to this while the cauli is still warm cooks the onion just enough to remove its sharpness but leaves a pleasant crunch. I did enjoy this one a lot.

Page 133 Butternut Squash Soup
Tasty. I did make the stock for it which was very nice by itself too. Really allows the squash to shine.

Page 169 Sauteed Cauliflower with Olives and Dried Fruits
I think there is a typo in the amount of cauliflower called for as 4 ounces for 4 people doesn't compute as a serving size for me, especially with the amount of olives and dates. I used the whole recipe as a side for me! I didn't add the fancy sherry called for, just added some stock so probably didn't get the full taste experience.

Page 214 Lemon Cheesecake with Mixed Berries
I made this using a different (GF) crust. The cheese part was OK, not too sweet, nice lemon touches coming through, but it did still taste quite a lot like plain silken tofu.

Page 230 Yellow Tomato Gazpacho
I made this with regular red tomatoes as the yellow weren't available. Lovely gazpacho really.

Page 262 Soy Milk Panna Cotta with Crushed Blackberries and Vanilla Muscat Sauce
Didn't make the sauce, didn't have the wine. Blackberries were very good! The panna cotta itself I found too firm, I expected a little more jiggle and this set up really really firm. Tasted OK, not too sweet, and lovely with the berries.

All in all this is a good book, more suited to occasion use than the everyday. Many of the dishes are super impressive and would wow anyone. So if you get a chance to check it out I would recommend it. However, I did find while reading through the book that overall the recipes didn't utilise "staple" vegan protein ingredients such as tempeh, seitan, or even beans and lentils, in a way which most vegans would expect. There are some recipes using tofu but these didn't appear to me to be overly creative, or to really embrace the ingredient.

To close, I would really like to see the opposite of this book created (maybe Linda Long would be the perfect person) where "Great Vegan Chefs Cook" - vegan chefs from the top notch vegan restaurants from all across North America donate recipes to showcase vegan food and ingredients as they do everyday in their establishments. I know many vegan restaurants do have companion cook books, and even if the recipes were taken from those already in the public sphere this would be an impressive insight into how great vegan chefs do it, and enable those cooking at home to re-create some awesome food!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Recipe of the week - Roasted Asparagus Soup

Roasted Asparagus Soup

Roasted Asparagus Soup
Serves 4 to 6

I look forward to the first Spring asparagus. Locally grown asparagus that is, which is so much sweeter and flavourful than the stuff which has been shipped from half a world away. What is even better than those first few stalks, is that, in a few weeks, when the season is in full sway, the prices drop so much that it is practically given away! I adore asparagus and this is one of the ways in which I like to use it.

Use the ends of the asparagus for stock! Have a bag in your freezer specifically for the hard ends of asparagus and save them until you have enough to make into stock.
If you’re not used to Asparagus, don’t be surprised if you find your urine takes on a distinctive color and smell after eating it. I refer to this as “Asparagus Pee” but I doubt this is the technical term.

Preparation Time – 35 Minutes

3 bunches Asparagus, hard ends removed and cut into 1-inch lengths, 1 ½-pounds without ends or 5 cups once chopped
1 medium Onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stalk Celery, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Onion Powder
½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
¼ teaspoon Black Pepper

½ cup White Wine, see Note

3 ½ cups Roasted Asparagus Stock (page 000), or Vegetable Stock, or combination

½ cup Soy Creamer or Milk
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss asparagus, onion, and celery together in the oil and seasonings in an 11-inch by 13-inch roasting dish. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes until vegetables are soft and lightly caramelized.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine and transfer contents to the slow cooker.
Add the stock to the slow cooker, stir to combine.
Cover, set heat to low and cook for 3 ½ to 4 hours until flavors well combined and the vegetables are very soft.
Blend until smooth using an immersion blender.
Add soymilk, stir through then taste and season as required.

A herby Sauvignon Blanc with asparagus-y undertones would suit this soup really well, if you like to pair wine with food. Otherwise, whatever wine you use for cooking.
If you don’t use wine, then please use more stock in its place.