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Hitting the Books No. 7: Gena Hamshaw's Power Plates (ftr. Whipped Banana-Coconut Cream)

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I'm pretty jazzed about this little Hitting the Books post. I'll be highlighting two seriously lovely (and easy!) recipes from Gena Hamshaw's Power Plates, which I've been having a great time digging into lately. Anyone who reads The Full Helping won't be surprised that this latest book of Gena's is totally gorgeous:

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Also unsurprising, but still valuable is the conceit of this cookbook, which offers "nutritionally balanced" dishes. Frequently, that means the recipes showcase a grain, a protein, a fat source, plus a buncha veggies. I love that kind of thoughtful framing—basically, Gena thought about it so now I don't have to. It makes reaching for this book a no-brainer when I need to plan meals during busier times.

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And busier times are exactly what I've been having lately. So instead of digging deep into the bowl section—with all its alluring chopped veggies, savory proteins, and variety of sauces and dressings—I've sampled some of the quicker items from Power Plates. Starting with this to-die-for Guacamole Rice Salad with Black Beans. (It's actually a quinoa salad in the book, but I find quinoa aggressively joyless, so I swapped in brown rice. I can't wait to try this with couscous, too, but I've been adoring the rice.)

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Gena advertises this salad as basically a batch of guacamole with mix-ins, so sign me up. And boy howdy, does she deliver. This seems like a dish you would hardly need precise instruction for, but I promise you want to use Gena's recipe. The balance of everything is bang-on, and this is my new favorite meal. Stuff it in romaine leaves and eat it like a taco, and invite me over when you do.

The recipe starts with preparing all the avocado and then adds everything else, but I don't need the whole recipe at one sitting. To make it work for my leftover-reliant weekdays, I assemble the salad first, which keeps well in the fridge for a few days, then add freshly mashed avocado to the amount I want just before serving. Works like a charm.

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I was so eager to dive into this recipe that I bought grocery store cherry tomatoes in April. I regret nothing, but they were predictably sad, so my advice is to substitute chopped Persian cucumbers, diced jicama, or a mix of both, if you're making this out of season (which I continue to do because you could not possibly stop me).

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I'm equally enthusiastic about Gena's Whole Grain Waffles. The first thing that struck me about Power Plates is how generous the breakfast section is, with plenty of savory options. I may have mentioned fifty or so times that I prefer savory breakfasts to sweet. But I make an exception for waffles. These are made with spelt, which I had never used before, and they are super-tasty. If you adore nutty, more complex whole-grain baked goods, then there's nothing more I need to say here. These guys are totally great, and I'll be making these repeatedly whenever I'm craving a waffle with sweeter toppings.

Speaking of toppings, I have something special for you. It's a dead-simple whipped banana-coconut cream, and it adds a dreamy, fluffy tropical note to any baked good, fruit salad, fresh berry, or spoon you care to stuff in your pie hole. I finished off this particular plate with some trail mix I had handy, but cacao nibs are also a nice, crunchy addition. Or you can enjoy the cream atop the waffles without anything extra. I recommend it like I recommend Power Plates.

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Whipped Banana-Coconut Cream

Print the recipe

yields 1 generous cup

1 can full-fat coconut cream chilled at least 24 hours, such as Thai Kitchen brand

1 just-ripe banana

1 TBSP powdered sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

Spoon the solid fat from the chilled can of coconut cream (reserve liquid for another use). You should have one rounded cup of chunks (not firmly packed).

Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth and fluffy. Leftovers may be kept for several days in an airtight container.

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About Hitting the Books: You know that shelf in your house with all the great cookbooks you don't get to nearly as often as you'd like? Yeah, there's one of those over here, too. The Hitting the Books series allows for occasional opportunities to dig into that shelf and highlight some handy cookbooks.

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Party Animals No. 48; Hitting the Books No. 7: White Chocolate Truffles

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Just a short and sweet Party Animals (and a sort-of online edition of HtB) post today to show off these absolutely heavenly truffles. Your food processor turns shredded coconut and macadamia nuts into a rich paste, then melted cacao butter and sugar ride in to smooth it all out. Blissfully, dangerously easy to make.

The recipe comes from Minimalist Baker. The only liberty I took was to finish the truffles in cacao nibs (broken down in the food processor) instead of more coconut, but follow your bliss.

Photograph by Leah Moyers. (More on that later!) Leah also alerted me to this recipe, so three cheers for that lady.

Thanks for reading. See you back here next week.

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Lime and Thyme Blueberry Bundt Cake

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You must make this cake. Make it for all the special occasions, big or small.Make it for yourself to linger over. Make it for anyone and everyone you love. It's so easy and dead lovely.

The first bite will hit you with the sweet toasted wheat flour and thyme. The second bite will surely reveal one of the many berries studded throughout. Wait for it, and you'll notice how the thyme makes a blissful complement to the blueberries and brings out the depth of their flavor. All the while, the lime syrup that coats the exterior keeps flavors bright.

Those berries, by the way, are dried wild blueberries, which makes this cake even easier to make (if more expensive). And the way dried berries plump up and tenderize in baked goods is truly one of the distinct pleasures of the oven.

Now, credit where credit is due. When the seriously fabulous (and fellow Knoxvillian!) Heather Baird of SprinkleBakes posted her very-first-ever vegan cake, there was no choice but to make it as quickly as I could. But obviously not the exact cake she made because that requires time, patience, skill, candy, and fondant. None of which are things I bring to baked goods. But on the MSV shelf is a handy bit of visual inspiration called Luscious Berry Desserts. Around here, it gets used mostly as inspiration for ways to serve fresh fruit gorgeously. But it also includes a pound cake (also not something that happens in the MSV kitchen) flavored with lime, thyme, and plenty of blueberries.

Put them together, and heaven on Earth is achieved.

Lime and Thyme Blueberry Bundt Cake

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serves 8-10, adapted from SprinkleBakes and Luscious Berry Desserts

2 cups full-fat coconut milk

4 sprigs fresh thyme (each 4-5 inches in length)

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

4 tsp lime zest, divided

2 cups natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice), divided

1 cup canola oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup dried wild blueberries

1/2 cup lime juice

Heat oven to 350. Oil and flour a Bundt pan.

Add thyme sprigs to coconut milk in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let steep 10 minutes. Discard thyme. Set coconut milk aside to let cool.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Separately, whisk together 2 tsp lime zest, coconut milk, 1 1/2 cups sugar, oil, and vanilla.

Add wet ingredients to dry and whisk until almost mixed. Add blueberries, stir just until combined, and pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 55-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in pan on a rack.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1/2 cup sugar, remaining 2 tsp zest, and lime juice over high heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Once the mixture boils, remove from heat and let stand five minutes.

Turn out cake onto your cooling rack, and place a pan underneath to catch excess syrup. Pour lime syrup slowly over the warm cake and let cool completely before cutting.

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Smoked Tofu and Avocado Enchiladas with Pinto-Chipotle Sauce

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These lovable enchiladas do it all. They make for an easy dinner, a fun and low-stress entertaining entree, and a breakfast you'll (probably almost) never get tired of. Relying on the convenience of flavorful smoked tofu, canned beans, and store-bought tortillas, this platter is a total breeze to put together. To balance all the ready-made elements, you'll season the tofu filling with fresh scallions and cilantro, plus add creamy satiety from avocado slices.

And the sauce! Bean lovers rejoice, because all it takes is a can of beans and a couple chipotles en adobo to make a seriously satisfying topping—all without much added fat or spending time toasting or soaking chiles. These guys come together in the time it takes to warm tortillas in the oven. No joke.

Unlike the Tex-Mex variety, these enchiladas require no baking after assembly. Simply top with the warm sauce, garnish, and dig in. The ease here is due entirely to the genius of Enchiladas. Being reminded enchiladas don't have to feel like a production (and bean sauce!) pretty much guarantees this won't be the last batch to appear on MSV. But it sure is a good start.

And if you feel froggy, go ahead and make your own tortillas. If not, don't sweat it.

Smoked Tofu and Avocado Enchiladas with Pinto-Chipotle Sauce

Print the recipe

serves 4, sauce adapted from (and full recipe inspired by) Enchiladas

8 oz smoked tofu, such as Soy Boy brand

12 6-inch corn tortillas

3 large spring onions

1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro

1 15-oz can pinto beans

2 small-medium chipotles en adobo

1/2 cup water

1 no-salt-added vegetable bouillon cube

2 TBSP olive oil

2 ripe avocados

Heat oven to 350.

Grate tofu into a mixing bowl. Set aside to allow it to begin coming to room temperature.

Divide tortillas into three stacks of four. Wrap each stack securely in foil and heat in oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop white and firm pale green parts of spring onions. Add to the mixing bowl. Thinly slice tender green tops of scallions and set aside. Finely chop cilantro. Add half cilantro to the mixing bowl and set other half aside. Stir tofu, cilantro, and onions in mixing bowl to combine. (The tofu should be salty enough already, but taste and season, if needed.)

In a wide-mouth quart jar, use an immersion blender to puree pinto beans (along with the liquid in the can), chipotles, water, and bouillon cube. Blend until smooth, about a minute. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add bean sauce and cook until heated through, stirring frequently. (The adobo sauce, canned beans, and bouillon cube should provide enough salt, but taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.)

Halve and pit avocados. Use a sharp knife to carefully divide each half into six sections. Use a spoon to scoop slices from the skin.

By now, the tortillas should be ready. Carefully open a foil packet (leave remaining stacks wrapped until you're ready to work with them) and take a warm tortilla from the top. Place a generous spoonful of tofu just off-center and top tofu with two avocado slices. Roll up and place seam-side down on a serving dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas, working quickly.

Pour pinto bean sauce evenly over assembled tortillas. Garnish with sliced scallion tops and reserved cilantro, if desired. Serve at once.

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Hitting the Books No. 6: Isa's Jumbo Oatmeal Cookies + BBQ Tofu and Thai-Inspired Slaw

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Today, recipe test-drives from Isa Does It (also at the library, for Knoxville folks), Pure Vegan, and Christopher Kimball's new Milk Street Magazine. Without further ado, first up is this BBQ-sauced tofu sandwich:

I don't actually have a go-to BBQ sauce, and have long assumed the Date Barbecue Sauce from Pure Vegan (recipe available here) would be one. Alas. A little too mild, decidedly sweet, this one did not hit my sweet spot. It's possible swapping fresh ginger for the called-for ground ginger could adjust the spice to suit my tastes. But honestly, I don't care enough to try. The first recipe from Pure Vegan I won't revisit.

The slaw from Milk Street Magazine, on the other hand, is a winner. Thai food is famous for balancing bold flavors—savory with sweet, fat with acid—then often adding heat from fresh chiles. Those principles are taken to this slaw that is now my go-to. The lime and coconut milk dressing will likely show up here soon in another application (or three). Get the recipe here, and to make it vegan, swap reduced-sodium tamari for the called-for fish sauce.

Next up, dessert. And/or gifts.

Isa Does It has become an invaluable book on the MSV shelf. I've toyed with the idea of giving up my copy of Veganomicon more than once—I cook from it so infrequently and book space is valuable in my small-ish place—but I cannot imagine parting with this one.

These jumbo oatmeal cookies are totally easy and really fun. This is definitely a recipe to turn to again and again, using whatever is in the pantry. The cookies shown here, which were a gift, include some chocolate I'd just been given. In that went (in fat chunks), along with currants already in the cabinet. Tie them up in a bow, and done. Remember to save yourself at least one for tomorrow's breakfast.

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Thanks so much for reading. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate. Let's all breathe a huge sigh of relief that the solstice has come and gone, and the days are officially getting longer. See you next week.

About Hitting the Books: You know that shelf in your house with all the great cookbooks you don't get to nearly as often as you'd like? Yeah, there's one of those over here, too. The Hitting the Books series allows for occasional opportunities to dig into that shelf and highlight some handy cookbooks.

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Hitting the Books No. 5: Breakfasts from The Vegan Slow Cooker

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Today, a sweet, a savory, and a sweet and savory sampling from Kathy Hester's The Vegan Slow Cooker:

With an eye on moderation and the convenience of setting and forgetting, it might be one of the most practically minded cookbooks on the MSV shelf.

But it hasn't been all roses. Nearly every recipe I've made from this book required an adjustment—most minor, some major. One chance taken resulted in deep embarrassment in front of already-veg-skeptical family when the combination of silken tofu and the suggested vegan cheese produced a great deal of something roughly the consistency of mayonnaise suffocating some potatoes.

But the recipes that have worked have made weeknight meals fun to come home to. And as long as you're comfortable adjusting recipes to suit you, you'll likely find this book a good source of inspiration for low-stress dishes.

And this book is responsible for tofu-pecan meatballs, don't forget. That forgives all other sins.

There's no shortage of tempting entrees, but switching up the breakfast routine is what was needed in the MSV kitchen, so that's what's featured here.

First, let's rip off a band-aid. That hot bowl up top was an enormous waste of food. To start, it needed a batch of sausage crumbles from the book:

These are made from walnuts, brown rice, and vital wheat gluten, which sounded like a very promising ingredient list on first read. But despite high hopes and a generous dose of herbs, this was stunningly bland. (To be fair, Hester compares the flavor to a lite-sounding commercial product I'm not familiar with. I might have been warned.) Sausage is to be spicy, salty, and at least a little greasy, something used sparingly because it's so potent. There's not a whiff of that to be found here.

Things went from bummer to worse when those sausage crumbles were put to work in this sweet-and-savory dish. (The recipes get better, promise. Hang in there.) If there's a more misleadingly alluring title than "Pear and Cardamom French Toast Casserole," then friends, I do not know what it is(*). The recipe notes say it's "similar to bread pudding in texture." You know what traditional bread pudding has? Heaps of voluminous protein and fat to cut the starch. What you see here is bland, gummy bowlfuls of bread mixed with a generous serving of underseasoned "sausage," which itself is partially made of wheat, too. The admittedly delightful pears can't make up for all that gray goop. After some time has passed, the memory of what it was like to try to eat this having faded, I intend to make a pear and cardamom rice pudding, free of bread in any form.

(*NB Several titles are strange in this book. Hester doesn't go out of her way to respect the variety of culinary traditions she borrows from in naming recipes, and there's an overall emphasis on familiarity over precision. This book's tone is pretty much the network-television-newscaster flat American accent.)

Or maybe instead of rice, a nice polenta dish:

You might notice that isn't a slow cooker back there, but rather a stove-top pot. This one can't be blamed on the book: using applesauce containing ascorbic acid (despite helpful directions to check the label for just that) caused the slow cooker batch to curdle. To avoid another failure (and, frankly, another round of washing the slow cooker crock), the same ingredients—minus applesauce—went into a pot and came out rather lovely, indeed.

There are peaches in there and a little fresh thyme, plus my very own favorite secret ingredient for adding richness to savory grits: almond meal (I'll post my grits recipe someday). This one, though simple, is a keeper, and bound to be dressed up with different fruits and herbs as the seasons and moods change.

Finally, a savory breakfast: "Chile Relleno Casserole." It isn't actually advertised in the book as a breakfast at all. But since it's a recipe that cooks on high for 90 minutes instead of on low for eight hours, this one's perfect for lazy weekends. And in the MSV house, savory breakfasts beat sugary ones every time.

A generously seasoned mixture of tofu, cornmeal, and chickpea flour gets layered with roasted poblano peppers (it's like everything on MSV all at once). It's a pretty great blend, and with a tweak or two, will likely make for a nice tofu pie. And happily, the leftovers eat cold like a champ for instant breakfasts any day, which is what I was really hoping for here.

Plus, there's something that doesn't get a lot of use in the MSV kitchen: firm vegan cheese, here Field Roast's Chao Original. Its addition here made the casserole a bit richer than I might feel like digging into on any given morning, but again, not bad for a weekend. To bring this into the weekday routine, it will be worth experimenting with bringing down the seasoning a touch and substituting a layer of spicy salsa instead of the cheese and see if the texture holds (or failing that, maybe a layer of mashed pinto beans). Overall, a nice bit of comfort food.

In short, the recipes in this book could be tighter, but you might find them tough to resist even once you know that. It's great that Hester obviously and repeatedly leaves lots of room for people to adjust the recipes to their tastes, which makes folks more likely to get in the kitchen without worrying too much about nailing everything just so. (This does not excuse that bread casserole—that was tragic.) That said, it would be helpful if I felt like I could adjust the recipe if I wanted to rather than knowing I'd probably have to. But there's tons more to try, and everything's easy enough that even those not-quite-right recipes don't feel like failures, but more like something to revisit soon with a tweak. Some days you just gotta get dinner (or breakfast) on the table.

And if all else fails, there's always tofu-pecan loaf.

About Hitting the Books: You know that shelf in your house with all the great cookbooks you don't get to nearly as often as you'd like? Yeah, there's one of those over here, too. The Hitting the Books series allows for occasional opportunities to dig into that shelf and highlight some handy cookbooks.

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Hitting the Books No. 4: Simple Entrees from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen

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This week, a dip into (an old edition of) a non-vegan, totally classic cookbook just snagged from the second-hand bookseller's shelf: Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen.

Again, decidedly a cookbook for omnivores, but one that honors beans and masa and masa and beans. To wit:

Talk about a crowd-pleaser. And the book itself is pretty lovely, too.

As tempting as it is to pour a whole bunch of oil into the pot and fry up some puffy masa, that's a hot, stinky, and delectable chore for another day. In fact, much of Mexican Kitchen involves a few separate processes per recipe. They look to come together smoothly with only minimal multitasking (and the notes helpfully provide make-ahead options throughout), but right now just isn't the time for ambition on any level in the MSV kitchen.

So today, two entrees that are low-demand and high-reward. The flavor construction is elegant and the textures deeply comforting, which makes for a winning combination for the home cook.

First up, black bean chilaquiles (the full dish, slightly more appetizing in appearance, is at the top of the post). Cook your beans, toss in tortilla chips, and there you have it. The core of the dish is entirely vegan, and it's garnished with chipotle, avocado, and Mexican Thick Cream. (Bayless's instructions for Thick Cream are the precise at-home creme fraiche mock-up ones I learned in my omnivore days.) Pictured here is a vegan experiment that showed great promise but ended up a bit underwhelming. You may see it again in the future if it works out. For a mystery-free version, thinned vegan sour cream, a little extra avocado, or a drizzle of poblano coconut sauce could easily replace the called-for dairy garnish.

The revelation in these chilaquiles, however, were the beans. Chipotles en adobo are frequently used as a bold addition to condiments—they're a generously flavorful shortcut. But used sparingly in a pot of beans (cooked from dried), they provide a surprisingly subtle, yet robust depth that likely forever changes the way beans get made around here. Seems obvious, and yet.

Next:

One of the great things about this book is Bayless' candor about the inherent corruption involved introducing a dish from one culture to another, especially for the home cook. He's clear about these being translations. So if this one is a cinch for a kitchen in the U.S., why not a vegan kitchen in the U.S.?

Here we have a tofu scramble, but this mixture of tomatoes, poblanos, onions, and garlic would also be gorgeous, naturally, over white beans. It's fairly lean, so extra avocado on top along with the cilantro really rounds it out. (And to stray from the recipe and stretch the dish, this also works tucked into warm corn tortillas.) The book offers an optional shortcut using canned tomatoes, which will do in a pinch, but freshly roasted will make the plate sing.

Back next week with a new recipe. Until then, happy reading.

About Hitting the Books: You know that shelf in your house with all the great cookbooks you don't get to nearly as often as you'd like? Yeah, there's one of those over here, too. The Hitting the Books series allows for occasional opportunities to dig into that shelf and highlight some handy cookbooks.

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Hitting the Books No. 3: A Giveaway: Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The 30-Day Vegan Challenge

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MSV's first giveaway! If you're not already familiar with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, this book is a fine introduction. Creator of the extensive Food for Thought podcast, Colleen has been advocating for years and has the body of work to prove it (The Joy of Vegan Baking alone is arguably the most powerful piece of advocacy ever created).

But today's Hitting the Books installment is specifically about this new edition of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, a valuable resource for anyone looking for guidance in practicing veganism(*). Because it is a practice, and it's vital to talk about it as such to set practitioners up for long-term success. Colleen's approach is emotionally earnest and detail-oriented, and it's tough to come up with too many basic topics she doesn't cover here. There are 30 chapters, for easy digestion at a suggested rate of one per day, each devoted to a specific challenge that arises in changing your diet, like Day 9: Eating Out and Speaking Up; Day 12: The Power of Cravings: Fat and Salt Taste Good; Day 17: Demistifying Tofu: It's Just a Bean!; and Day 29: Keeping It In Perspective: Intention, Not Perfection.

It's also physically substantial, something you'll be happy to hold in your hands, show friends, and keep on your shelf.

And it's pretty gorgeous to look at.

This is a food blog, so recipes will be the emphasis in this post, but this is really a book for reference, bursting with practical information. There's time devoted to not only personal satisfaction, animal exploitation, and social interaction, but also lots of attention to nutrition, giving ample room for people who are interested in eating vegan for health reasons to come on board, featuring details about micronutrient and macronutrient concerns.

On occasion, Colleen's brand—though she's far from alone in her approach—of nutrition advice calls to mind the scene from Arrested Development in which Tobias (David Cross), faking confidence and attempting to save face after trying and failing to open a jar of mayonnaise his wife Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) can't open, drops the jar into the trash and tells her as he saunters out of the room, "You don't need the calories." Sometimes omnivores could be forgiven for thinking vegans are dodging the issue when they ask about missing the pleasures of fatty, salty food and are given a response that involves the dangers of saturated fat.

But that's not to say that Colleen doesn't emphasize choice and moderation, welcome treats, and talk about fat's importance in satiety. She does. Again, see chapter 12. In fact, today's two recipe highlights from the book are proposed answers to common none-too-healthful omnivore hurdles: bacon and cheese. Colleen's suggestion to let go of specific foods and look instead to the seasonings (and textures) that define them to fulfill our cravings is a powerful one—and one that can empower people to cook their own food, to boot. As she says, we season our food with plants. And how.

First up, bruschetta, featuring Herbed Cashew Cheese. The recipe calls for strawberries, and the called-for herb in the cashew spread is basil (with an option to add chocolate shavings to take this beauty deep into dessert territory). Since strawberry season is far away, featured here are apples atop the cashew spread made with chives.

The book calls for making the spread with a food processor, which will leave you with some texture. The styled version in the book really looks to have been made with a high-speed blender, appearing impossibly creamy. Even with soaking and processing for the longest recommended time (four minutes), you can see there's still a touch of grain remaining.

But another of Colleen's powerful, smart messages suggests getting condiments off the spoon and into dishes, where they belong. And happily, the cashew spread atop toasted baguette slices, finished with crisp and juicy apple bits was entirely lovely. Not a single reservation about texture remained. Additionally, the distinctive flavor of cashews, already toned down by the herbs and other seasoning, mellows further in this context. The end result is pretty dreamy. So much so, this spread and apple slices were served in grilled sandwich form (alongside the bean variation of MSV's Dead Simple Winter Tomato Soup) to feed a friend who came over for dinner. Compliments were made, questions were asked. A decided success.

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Next up, Coconut Bacon (which Colleen has generously shared on Instagram). So much fun. With the convenience of store-bought dried coconut flakes, it's tough to think of any way to add comforting, savory flavor to a recipe with less effort. One batch makes a ton.

For those of you cool with coconut, the mildly sweet flavor goes well in pretty much all the places you want fat, smoke, and salt. Case in point: these easy, totally fun little BLT tacos, topped with a quick homemade chipotle mayo. Highly recommended.

For a book that isn't a cookbook, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge still sprinkles a hefty stack of recipes throughout. There's salad, soup, a gorgeous Mexican Chocolate Cake recipe, and a huge list of breakfast ideas (the first few chapters will likely make you crave a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she mentions them so frequently) that accompany the reasons practicing veganism is a good idea, and the ways you might increase your comfort practicing it.

To win a copy of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, simply leave a comment below telling MSV readers about one thing that made eating more plants easier for you. It can be a dish, a cooking method, an ingredient, or a piece of information unrelated to cooking. Whatever it is, share your wisdom. If you don't have a specific revelation, just share your favorite plant food. The contest ends February 28 and is limited to U.S. shipping addresses. Winner will be chosen at random.

Good luck! Next week, you'll get a brand new recipe featuring Colleen's Coconut Bacon (so make a batch before next Thursday). See you then.

(*This post is not sponsored. The giveaway copy was obtained as a reward for my personal contribution to the Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to issue this new edition of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.   —Amanda)

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Hitting the Books No. 2: Easy Dinner Pies from The Vegan Stoner and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

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Welcome back to Hitting the Books. It's another two-fer, featuring two low-stress meals. First up, a dish from Colleen Patrick-Goudrau's The Vegan Table (available at Lawson-McGhee under 641.5636 PATR).

Sweet browned onions and wilted greens (here spinach, though the recipe calls for chard) are combined with intense Kalamata olives and briny little capers to create one tasty pile of eats. Even better, it's gives great depth of flavor while being friendly to even the newest of cooks. If you can slice an onion and stir, you're in.

The book presents this melange as a side dish, but for you bowl-of-food lovers, it seems just the thing to heap over any creamy starch, like polenta/grits or mashed potatoes. But a note on the recipe says it makes a fabulous pizza topping, so here we are. Definitely recommended.

And just imagine what a little crispy tempeh might do for the whole thing.

Next, another dip into The Vegan Stoner Cookbook. This falafel pie--complete with yogurt-cucumber sauce--was slightly less fun than expected, but it did turn what would've been a dinner of hummus and crudite into something more satisfying, with very little effort. Just add water to falafel mix for the crust, chop your veg and puree the sauce while that bakes, and done.

A note on the recipe suggests tucking pieces of the pie into pita, which is probably how this eats best. Maybe next time. In any event, it's dead simple, and still pretty fun. If you have kids, this would be a great one to get them cooking with. If you're comfortable explaining to them the tomato with the drugs on the cover, anyway.

As always, thanks for reading, and see you next week with a new recipe.

About Hitting the Books: You know that shelf in your house with all the great cookbooks you don't get to nearly as often as you'd like? Yeah, there's one of those over here, too. The Hitting the Books series allows for occasional opportunities to dig into that shelf and highlight some handy cookbooks.

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Hitting the Books No. 1: Tempeh from Isa Does It and The Vegan Stoner

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New series! You know that shelf in your house with all the great cookbooks you don't get to nearly as often as you like? Yeah, there's one of those over here, too. The Hitting the Books series will allow for occasional opportunities to dig into that shelf and highlight some handy cookbooks.

This first HtB post is all about comfort food. First up: Red-Hot BLTs from Isa Does It (available at Lawson-McGhee Library: 641.5636 MOSK) by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

A total win for hot sauce lovers, this one features a generous amount of Frank's and was just the thing to perk up a chilled day when it seemed like it might never stop raining. Nothing combats a rainy day like vinegar and cayenne. This is among the simplest recipes in the book, but the timing was right. Isa's book will definitely pop up here again, because there's a long list of recipes to jump on, sooner rather than later.

Since tomato season is done for, above is a Bell pepper (roasted red), Lettuce, and Tempeh sandwich on whole grain. The sweetness of the pepper is a nice foil for the spicy tempeh, and a great autumn alternative to the traditional BLT. The mayo is homemade from the next book, The Vegan Stoner Cookbook by the Vegan Stoner team (pictured up top).

The mayo is blissfully straightforward, like traditional mayonnaise is: oil, liquid protein (here, soy milk), and vinegar. Plus, seasonings you can easily adjust to get your preferred blend. Whiz with an immersion blender, and you have fresh mayo in a snap. The no-fuss style of the Vegan Stoner folks is completely genius. Come for the great illustrations, stay for the food.

With vegan mayonnaise already made, tartar sauce couldn't be far behind. Because it contains not only capers, but also cornichons (we used this recipe). So Vegan Stoner's tempeh and chips was the next recipe on deck. Crispy, and hearty, and totally fried, this one made a confirmed tempeh-hater pal totally happy. Again, totally fried.

The thick slabs of tempeh get nice and tender (and not at all bitter, without pre-steaming), surrounded by a golden blend of flour, cornmeal, breadcrumbs, and in this version, a healthy sprinkle of Old Bay. Roast up a pile of potatoes (mixed is lovely, or use frozen fries, as the book directs), and tuck into some serious comfort, which is what this book is all about.

See you next week with a new recipe. In the meantime, happy reading.

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