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Great new cookbooks. November 23, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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2 comments

Silence Dogood here. The library at the tiny town near me and our friend Ben, scenic Kuztown, PA, got in two great cookbooks recently that I checked out and loved. (I loved one so much that I asked OFB to get it for me for our anniversary at the end of this month, and of course he did. Yum! Can’t wait to get cooking.) To take my mind off the nightmarish commercialism that has destroyed one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving, I’ll tell you about them so you can check them out.

The first is Salads: Beyond the Bowl by Mindy Fox (Kyle Books, 2012, $19.95). I was put off rather than intrigued by the title, which I thought was too precious, but OFB and I love salads so much that if we don’t have at least one a day, we feel horribly deprived. So I checked the book out of the library, and I’m so glad I did. The recipes are just extraordinary, the photography ultra-inviting. As a vegetarian, I rarely buy cookbooks that contain recipes for meat unless they’re of historic interest, but if I find myself dying to make more that ten recipes from a book, as in this case, I’ll make an exception.

Check out Mindy’s Pimiento Cheese with Cucumber, Scallion and Celery Salad, Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Pico de Gallo, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Olive Oil, Lemon and Peppered Sheep’s Milk Cheese, Asparagus Mimosa with Capers, Radishes and Chives, Red Cabbage, Green Apple and Sweet Currant Slaw, Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad with Lemon-Olive Pesto and Toasted Pine Nuts, Cress, Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Tarragon-Shallot Vinaigrette, or, say, Green Oak Lettuce, Fried Green Tomatoes and Goat Cheese with a Chimichurri Vinaigrette. Wow. And we haven’t even added any of the numerous grains and beans, or eggs, potato and pasta, or any of the other variations Ms. Fox so deftly weaves into her salads.  

Then there’s John Schlimm’s Grilling Vegan Style (Da Capo Press, 2012, price sadly obscured by library tags, but unlikely to be more than $19.95). Not being an expert on all things grilling, I felt somewhat adventurous when I picked up this book. And okay, what about grilling had anything to do with vegetarians, much less vegans, beyond grilled veggie kabobs, frozen veggie burgers, corn on the cob, or pizza? (Let’s please not discuss the horrors of pseudomeats like Tofu Pups, aka vegetarian hot dogs. Spare me, please.)

Having been served grilled zucchini and cherry tomatoes as the “vegetarians’ alternative” at way too many friends’ barbecues—I wish they’d try to eat these horrors for themselves, tasteless, mealy zucchini and unspeakable exploding tomatoes—I was ecstatic to discover a world of grilled delights in John Schlimm’s book. Dishes like Golden Tandoori Seitan. Mushrooms & Peppers over Minty Pesto Triangles, Cedar-Smoked Mushrooms, Midsummer Night’s Asparagus with Mandarin Oranges and Pimiento Sauce, Crackling, Kale, Swiss Chard and Red Bell Pepper, Flame-Glazed Eggplant with Hoisin Sauce, Artichokes with Cumin Dipping Sauce, Grilled Corn on the Cob with Lime & Pepper Sauce, Mexican Tortilla Burgers, Slip-N-Sliders, Italian Herb Burgers on Focaccia, and Flame Day Fries. Plus grilled pasta, pizza, desserts, and cocktails (er, the cocktails aren’t grilled, they’re simply meant to enhance the food).

Our friends Chaz and Delilah are experts at grilling, like our neighbors Steve and Bill. We’re complete idiots, watching, drooling and eating.  But Grilling Vegan Style has inspired us to try to fire up our grill and get beyond the boring veggie kebabs. Thanks, John Schlimm!

I suggest that you check out these books, whatever your dietary habits. You’ll be glad you did!

                 ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

Vegetarian cookbook roundup. June 5, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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8 comments

Silence Dogood here. Recently, I’ve been reading three new (to me, anyway) vegetarian cookbooks. (I love reading cookbooks for inspiration and to relax before bed.) One is from our local library, and the other two mysteriously turned up at my door last week in an Amazon box. (“Now, how did that happen?” I innocently asked an apoplectic—“MORE cookbooks?!!”—our friend Ben.) Let’s take a look at them:

A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen: Easy Seasonal Dishes for Family and Friends by Jack Bishop, Executive Editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine (Houghton Mifflin, 2004, $35). I’m a sucker for seasonal cookbooks, and a vegetarian seasonal cookbook was a must-buy. Jack Bishop’s philosophy is “shop local and cook global, but keep it real.” That works for me!

Recipes are, of course, arranged seasonally, but there’s also a section of “Everyday Basics” like Greener Pesto, Creamy Polenta, Mashed Potatoes, Lighter Refried Beans, Simplest Rice Pilaf, Basic Pizza Dough, and Vegetable Stock. There’s also a chapter of Bishop’s favorite seasonal menus, and you can tell from looking at them that he really loves them and serves them, not that some editor said “You need to include some menus in this book.”

Let me tantalize you with a few recipe titles: Roasted Fennel, Potatoes, and Artichokes with Fennel Gremolata; Spinach and Arugula Salad with Indian-Spiced Chickpeas and Charred Red Onions; Potato-Leek Pizza with Goat Cheese; Rigatoni with Fava Beans, Ricotta, and Lemon; Red Curry-Braised Tofu with Snow Peas, Red Pepper, and Scallions; Gazpacho with Grilled Vegetables; Spanish Omelet with Peas, Potatoes, and Saffron; Bulgur Salad with Grilled Zucchini and Onion, Middle Eastern Style; Tomato and Mango Salad with Curry-Orange Vinaigrette; Tender Lettuce and Peach Salad with Pumpkin Seeds and Sour Orange Vinaigrette; Fried Green Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese; Black Bean Chilaquiles; Mexican Citrus Salad; Frittata with Caramelized Onions; Fettucine with Mascarpone and Sage-Walnut Butter; Spinach-Onion Quesadillas with Avocado-Chipotle Salsa; Gingered Carrot Soup; Curried Red Lentils with Caramelized Onions.

There are 248 recipes in all, so I could go on (and on). But you’ll notice that there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned, and that’s dessert. There are NO dessert recipes in this book. That’s because Jack Bishop’s wife is a former pastry chef, and the division of labor in their kitchen is that he cooks the meals and she makes the desserts. I don’t view that as a drawback—I have plenty of dessert cookbooks—but just FYI. The other drawback is a lack of color photos—there’s a puny color insert showing just 16 of the 248 recipes, though admittedly the photos are gorgeous.

But there are two big bonuses that dwarf these drawbacks: First, the intro to each recipe is lively, authentic, helpful, and experience-based. No bland generalities (“This dish is warming on a cold winter night!”) here. You’ll both enjoy and appreciate them. And second, the book is simply packed with useful tips on everything from buying and using rice noodles to keeping basil from browning, how to correctly sharpen a knife, the best way to use cream, and how to develop flavor in bean soups. Jack Bishop’s experience helming Cook’s Illustrated and starring in PBS’s long-running “America’s Test Kitchen” cooking show really shine through in these invaluable tips.

Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen by Deborah Madison (Broadway Books, 2005, $19.95). If I had to point a finger, I’d say that Deborah Madison was responsible for transforming American non-vegetarians’ views of vegetarian cooking from the crunchy-granola Hippie-era enthusiasm of the original Moosewood Cookbook and Laurel’s Kitchen or the earnest striving of The Tassajara Cookbook to actual haute cuisine. (Not that others, like Anna Thomas with her wonderful Vegetarian Epicure series, didn’t try. She was just too far ahead of her time.)

As founding chef of San Francisco’s fabled Greens restaurant, Deborah Madison showed America that “vegetarian” wasn’t synonymous with brown, heavy, and tasteless, but rather that it could be colorful, flavorful, sophisticated, and cutting-edge. Her books conveyed that message to a wider audience. Even my brother, who has never eaten a vegetarian meal in his life, came up with Ms. Madison’s The Savory Way for me as a birthday present one year. Wow. And her classic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone opened the door for books like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

In Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, the word “suppers” is actually misleading. Ms. Madison provides 100 main-dish recipes with suggestions for accompaniments (including wines and desserts), but no recipes for anything but the main dishes. (She points out that recipes for the accompanying soups, salads, side dishes and desserts can be found in two of her previous cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Local Flavors.) Again, I have no problem with this, but wish the book had been called Vegetarian Main Dishes from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen instead to avoid confusion.

Within the category of main dishes, chapters cover a wealth of options: savory pies and gratins; vegetable stews and braises; pasta with vegetables; crepes and fritters; tofu and tempeh; eggs; hearty cool-weather dishes; light meals for warm weather; and supper sandwiches. There is also a section called “Pantry Foods” with Ms. Madison’s no-nonsense take on what staples to keep in your pantry and what to avoid. And there’s a fantastic chapter of basic recipes for condiments and sauces (from guacamole and tomato sauce to harissa and tapenade); polenta, rice, and beans; and stocks and seasonings (mushroom stock, porcini powder, and stock for stir-fries).

The book’s presentation is great, with plenty of color photos of both finished dishes and “mood shots” scattered throughout. And the recipes! Green Rice with Roasted Green Chiles and Leeks; Polenta Squares with Gorgonzola Cream, Braised Greens, and Cannellini Beans; Frittata with Sauteed Artichokes; Spicy Tofu with Thai Basil and Coconut Rice Cakes; Lemony Risotto Croquettes with Slivered Snow Peas, Asparagus, and Leeks; Winter Squash Lasagne with Sage, Walnuts, and Black Kale; Dried Porcini and Fresh Mushroom Tart; Sweet Potato Gratin with Onions and Sage; Neelam’s Festive Rice Pilaf; Wine-Braised Lentils over Toast with Spinach and Red Pearl Onions; Yellow Peppers Stuffed with Quinoa, Corn, and Feta Cheese.Yum!!!!

The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet by Alicia Silverstone (Rodale, 2009, $29.99). This one’s the library book, and it’s easy to see from reading it why it’s a New York Times Bestseller. Alicia’s still as adorable as she was in “Clueless,” and her passion for animals and for saving the planet shine through. Unlike the others, this book presents a passionate argument for becoming vegan. The opening chapters present three eating plans to entice readers to make the change: Flirting, Vegan, and Superhero (macrobiotic). They’re followed by hefty sections of vegan and macrobiotic recipes. Atmospheric color photos of the food, ingredients, adorable animals, and Alicia and her husband Christopher cooking and eating add even more to the presentation. 

I’ve really enjoyed reading The Kind Diet, but I doubt that I’ll add it to my bookshelf. That’s because I have problems with both vegan diets, with their emphasis on super-processed meat and dairy substitutes (eeewww!!!), and macrobiotic diets, with their emphasis on heavy, tasteless “brown food” (getting right back to the Hippie health-food era) and seaweed (which takes up every pollutant in the ocean, like organ meats, which also were considered supreme health foods until our toxic lifestyles caused them to become pollutant warehouses).

Not, I hasten to add, that we don’t eat tons of beans and grains here at Hawk’s Haven. But we do add spices, which macrobiotics shuns. If I were going to opt for a totally foreign diet, it would definitely be Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern/Mediterranean, or Thai, not macrobiotic. It would be easy to eat a delicious vegan diet of Chinese or Thai food, and you’d enjoy the most delicious vegetarian meals cooking Indian and/or Middle Eastern/Mediterranean. But frankly, I see no point in giving up Mexican, Southern, Southwestern, and European food, not to mention food from everywhere else on the planet, as long as it’s vegetarian. “Buy locally, cook globally” works for me and for our local economy.

But: I still recommend reading Alicia’s book if you’re a vegetarian or are interested in becoming one, and especially if you’re drawn to a vegan lifestyle. The writing is fun and inspiring, and I’ve picked up some new foods to try (like Earth Balance vegan “butter”) from flipping through. The hefty recipe chapters include treats like Radicchio Pizza with Truffle Oil; Moroccan Couscous with Saffron; Crispy Tofu Slices with Orange Dipping Sauce; Eggplant Chana Masala; Sweet Potato-Lentil Stew; Sugar Snap Peas, Radishes, and Edamame with Lemon Butter; Summertime Succotash; and Alicia’s Sexy Inspired Salad.

Unlike the other books, Alicia’s has plenty of desserts, including Quick Chocolate Ganache Strawberries; Coffee Fudge Brownies; Chocolate-Apricot Coins; Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups; Lemon-Poppyseed Poundcake; Peanut Butter Pie; My Favorite Cupcakes; Mixed Berry Cheesecake; and Peach Crumble. Decadent as they sound (and probably taste), all these desserts are vegan.

So there’s today’s roundup! Check ‘em out and let me know what you think. And if you have your own favorite vegetarian cookbooks, please share them with us and let us know why you love them!

                ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Soul food and other vegan delights. August 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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7 comments

Silence Dogood here. I’ve been a vegetarian almost half my life, but have never been able to take the plunge and become a vegan. It’s not that I don’t approve; in fact, I’m convinced that it’s the right thing to do. And it’s not even that I love cheese, butter, yogurt, and other dairy products (though I certainly do).

It’s more that I don’t trust pseudofoods. I not only don’t trust them to taste like what they’re supposed to be imitating—surely no one in their right mind would actually claim that soy and dairy products are interchangeable, that carob tastes anything like chocolate, that anything at all tastes like butter, or that the unending pseudomeats taste like meat. You might as well say that roasted chicory root tastes like coffee. In the case of something like carob or tempeh, I’d rather see it treated as a food on its own than considered a “substitute for.” But beyond simple tastebud outrage, I’m concerned that by the time you transform these pseudofoods into a form, texture and flavor that nature never intended, you’ve added so many chemicals and steps to the process that you might as well just grab a bag of chemical fertilizer and eat that instead.

When I think about it, many of the foods I already enjoy would qualify as vegan: rice, pasta, whole-grain bread (oops, maybe vegans refuse to use yeast), tortillas and tortilla chips; fruits and veggies; herbs and spices; olive oil; tofu and miso; an almost endless array of condiments. (I can’t even imagine stepping into the raw-food world, but all of us eat “raw foods” daily when we enjoy salads, fresh fruit, crudites, or, say, lettuce and tomato on our sandwich.) But that final frontier, the absence of dairy, still looms like the Great Wall of China between me and veganism.

Oh, and did I mention that I’m offended by the holier-than-thou attitude vegan treatises often take? Yes, I’m a vegetarian for moral rather than health reasons. No, I don’t think that puts me above people who eat meat. Maybe those people volunteer to help the sick and elderly, work in a soup kitchen or animal shelter, visit prisoners and the mentally ill, foster orphans. Who the hell am I to set myself above these? We’re all doing what we can, and vegetarianism just happens to be something I can do.

However, I’ve discovered a way to narrow the gap, and that’s through ethnic cooking. Exotic dishes that are vegan might be easier to make (and take) than trying to veganize standard menu items like macaroni and cheese. I was reminded of this when I saw that chef Bryant Terry had written a cookbook of soul food called Vegan Soul Kitchen. Like his earlier collaborative effort with Frances Moore Lappe’s daughter Anna, Grub, Bryant’s soul food book feeds the soul with much more than food, offering songs, art, and reading recommendations to accompany each recipe. It’s pretty amazing. I’ll give you a recipe to try from Vegan Soul Kitchen in a mo, but first let me mention some other ethnic-inspired vegan and vegetarian cookbooks you might want to check out. (I’m not going into Indian, Mexican, Turkish, Greek, Moroccan, etc. cookbooks here, since I’ve covered them in earlier posts.)

I know I’ve recommended it before, but whenever I think of soul food I’m reminded of a favorite cookbook, The Ethnic Vegetarian by Angela Shelf Medearis (Rodale, 2004). Subtitled Traditional and Modern Recipes from Africa, America, and the Caribbean, this is a must-have book for any adventurous cook, or for that matter, for any Southern cook. Check out Angela’s Texas Caviar with Corn Cakes (black-eyed peas are the “caviar” base) as an introduction to her irresistible recipes!

Where else do vegan recipes lend themselves to a tropical holiday? There’s The Tropical Vegan Kitchen, with its Pineapple Five-Spice Dipping Sauce, Chilled Australian Curried Mango Soup, and Jamaican Cook-Up Rice. (No music recommendations with this book, but can’t you just hear Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley?) And there’s The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, with recipes running the gamut from Baked Black Olives with Herbes de Provence and Anise, Tunisian Chickpea Soup, Moroccan Orange and Black Olive Salad, Braised Broccoli Rabe with Prunes, Golden Raisins, and Pine Nuts, and Polenta Pie with Wild Mushroom Filling. Both books are by Donna Klein and are published by Home/Penguin.

Finally, there’s Vegan Fire & Spice: 200 Sultry and Savory Global Recipes, by Robin Robertson, one of my favorite vegetarian cookbook authors (Vegan Heritage Press, 2008). From Jumpin’ Jambalaya to Avocado and Jicama Salad with Lime Dressing to Nigerian Peanut Soup to Kimchi and Cold Buckwheat Noodles with Jade Vegetables, Robin takes you on a globe-trotting investigation of hot and spicy recipes that happen to be vegan.     

Okay, about that recipe from Vegan Soul Kitchen. This one inspired Bryant Terry to write his wonderful cookbook, and it might inspire you to try more vegetarian or vegan or Southern or soul food in your own home. 

                      Citrus Collards with Raisins Redux

coarse sea salt    

2 large bunches collard greens, ribs removed, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Chiffonade the collards: Stack several collard leaves, stems cut out, roll them widthwise into a tight, cigarlike cylinder, then slice crosswise with a sharp knife, cutting the leaves into thin strips.

In a large pot over high heat, bring 3 quarts water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the collards and cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, until softened. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of ice water to cool the collards.

Remove the collards from the heat, drain, and plunge them into the ice water to stop cooking and set the color of the greens. Drain by gently pressing the greens against a colander.

In a medium-size saute pan, combine the olive oil and the garlic and raise the heat to medium. Saute for 1 minute. Add the collards, raisins, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add orange juice and cook for an additional 15 seconds. Do not overcook! Collards should be bright green. Season with additional salt to taste and serve immediately. (This also makes a tasty filling for quesadillas.) Serves 4.

My copy of Vegan Soul Kitchen just arrived yesterday afternoon, so I haven’t yet had a chance to make this dish. But there’s a photo of it in the book and it looks out of this world!  I can’t wait to try it and the other recipes in this and the other vegan cookbooks. I doubt I’ll ever give up dairy altogether, but it can’t hurt to come a little closer.

              ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Could we please just eat?! August 6, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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8 comments

Silence Dogood here. Yeah, all right, our friend Ben just wrote a post, “The cookbook wars continue,” making fun of my obsessive cookbook collecting, my enjoyable quest for personable, delightful cookbooks. Fine. I like cookbooks. I love cookbooks. You have a problem with that?

After giving Ben a few choice comments on that post, I checked out my Yahoo! mail and saw that our dear friend Huma had forwarded a New York Times article by Mark Bittman called “Rich, Luxurious, French (Not to Mention Vegetarian).” It was about his visit to a restaurant called La Zucca Magica in Nice (that’s in France, for those who are geographically challenged; say “neece,” not “nice”). This restaurant happens to be vegetarian (“zucca” means gourd or squash; you can see the relationship to “zucchini”). Bittman proclaimed the restaurant good and traditional, despite the bizarrity of its location. (As he says, “The French can be quite hostile to vegetarianism.”)

What makes it possible for La Zucca Magica to thrive in Nice and to satisfy omnivores as well as vegetarians? Quoting Bittman, “Zucca’s owners, Marco Folicaldi and Rossella Bolmida, believe in sizable portions… and extremely rich food. If you associate ‘vegetarian’ with ‘meager’, this place will change your mind.”

Which brings me full circle. It’s horrifying to me to go into bookstores and see the vegetarian sections dominated by minimalist, vegan, raw-food cookbooks. Rather than delighting in books that, for example, tell vegetarian cooks how to create authentic Lebanese or Greek or Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, vegetarian-style, the shelves groan with books that tell us how to imitate meat by torturing soybeans, create raw-food meals with five ingredients or less, or reduce our portions to pinhead size while eliminating all fats and flavor.

Folks, this is a sea change. Prior to the raw-food, postage-stamp-portions trend, vegetarian cookbooks celebrated abundance and flavor and joy. It all reminds me of the saints and latter-day mystics whose goal is surviving on nothing but air. Pitiful, miserable anorexics, say I. Food should be pleasurable. Food should be joyful. Meals should not leave you hungry. Food should be an opportunity to thank God Creator for the bounty we have been given, the delight we find in deliciousness and abundance.

Puritans, go eat raw seaweed—but not too much, God forbid—and flog yourselves if you want anything more. Everybody else, let me just say that vegetarian cooking is not about paucity and deprivation. It’s about delicious food and plenty of it. It’s about celebration. It’s completely about joy, both in the cooking and in the eating. As all good food should be.

          ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

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