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.
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.