Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Vegan Pantry: More Than 60 Delicious Recipes for Modern Vegan Food

The Vegan Pantry: More Than 60 Delicious Recipes for Modern Vegan Food
Author: Dunja Gulin
Publisher: Ryland Peters & Small (2014)

My family, like so many these days, is a mixed bag of backgrounds, traditions, habits and – not the least – diets. The “man of the house” (who is the only man in the house!) is a true omnivore. He loves almost every fruit or vegetable out there, but is hard pressed to call a plate of animal-free food a “meal” no matter how hearty it is. My (not so) little sister would happily live off pancakes and pasta every day, but for my mom and I vegetable-based main dishes are the rule rather than the exception. Neither of us are “true” vegetarians (we both eat fish, and she eats meat in small amounts), but we are not opposed to vegan food as the bulk of our dining routine. Part nutritional, part economical and part sustainable, a totally vegan diet can also be completely delicious, varied and manage to fill any craving you might have. Dunja Gulin, author of The Vegan Baker, sets out to prove this very fact in her cookbook The Vegan Pantry: More Than 60 Delicious Recipes for Modern Vegan Food.

Without manifesto, pomp or harassment as to the “evils” of a meat-inclusive diet, Vegan Pantry is precisely the same style as any other cookbook in terms of it’s organization and language. Shying away from overly processed meat and cheese analogues, Gulin shows how vegetables, whole grains and legumes can form delicious and filling frameworks for a variety of meals – including comfort fare such as Lentil Moussaka (p. 61), elegant Polenta Tarte Flambee (p. 65) and even a hearty Goulash (p. 53). Many of the recipes in this book are gluten-free as well, giving this book an added bonus for people cooking for mixed company. It’s hard to believe that any of the dishes are missing anything – and truly, they aren’t, since the choice to live any sort of dietary lifestyle is one that should be filled with enjoyment, not focused on sacrifice.

Of course, healthy (or “alternative”) food doesn’t always look too gourmet – but William Reavell does the recipes in Vegan Pantry justice with his stunning, full-colour photographs. Even tofu-phobics will crave a colourful Tofu Scramble (p. 35) or Curry (p. 49), and the Vegan Caesar Salad (p. 93) looks decadent enough to make anyone crave a bowl of greens. I can’t promise that every dish that came out of my kitchen while cooking through this book looked as spectacular, but then again, the taste had me coming back for more!

He major stumbling block that most would-be vegan cooks face is the sheer amount of time that most whole-food preparations take. Vegan Pantry is not immune to this, unfortunately, as many of Gulin’s recipes require advance soaking, grinding, chopping or even secondary recipe preparations before a relatively brief “final assembly”. While I would never discount the book entirely based on that detail alone, some simpler and more approachable items would benefit busy households or working parents who are considering this lifestyle.

I thoroughly enjoyed making and tasting a host of things from Vegan Pantry, including the Pure Energy Bars (p. 39) and the Strong Flavoured Tomato Sauce (p. 99). The Gooey Chocolate Cookies (p. 127) are on my must-make list as well without question, since even with the time constraints they look decadent enough to eat off the page. The success of everything I’ve made so far also gives me confidence that more complex projects will turn out equally well. One of the major “pluses” of Gulin’s recipes is that most of them make fantastic leftovers (or freezer meals) as well. He filling in the Soft-Shell Veggie Tacos (p. 62) lasts a week in the fridge and is divine mixed with rice or pasta, as well as being reheated in its original “taco” form. The deserts themselves last in the fridge or freezer too, and if they aren’t gobbled up the second they’re served, a serving makes a fabulous snack or weeknight treat.

Whether you’re a long-term plant based foodie, or simply trying out a few meat-free menus during the week, you’re sure to find something to tempt you in Dunja Gulin’s The Vegan Pantry: More Than 60 Delicious Recipes for Modern Vegan Food. From breakfast to dessert, delicious, nutritious and relatively simple meals are just a page-turn away.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tasting the Seasons: Inspired In-Season Cuisine That's Easy, Healthy, Fresh and Fun

Tasting the Seasons: Inspired In-Season Cuisine That's Easy, Healthy, Fresh and Fun
Author: Kerry Dunnington
Publisher: Artichoke Publishers (2014) 

I am a huge fan of local, seasonal cooking, placing an emphasis on whole foods and sustainable goods over those labeled "organic". Cookbooks are capitalizing on the idea that seasonal eating often means better-tasting, less-expensive food, including Kerry Dunnington's new book Tasting the Seasons: Inspired In-Season Cuisine That's Easy, Healthy, Fresh and Fun. The book shares 250 recipes and is designed to inspire a sustainable approach to cooking and, in particular, entertaining.

The chapters in Seasons include appetizers, "enhancers" (essentially sides), breakfast and lunch, hearty as well as light soups, vegetarian and pescatarian main dishes, red meat, chicken and pork dishes, cold and warm vegetable dishes, baked goods and desserts. There is also a resource list, as well as a section on choosing and preparing food with an ecological mindset.

Looking through this book, it is clear that Dunnington is more of a catering chef and tree-hugging environmentalist than a true seasonal cook. While the majority of the recipes could certainly be prepared with some seasonal and locally fresh items, the message is mixed due to her inclusion of hard-to-find or specialty store-bought ingredients that are impossible to substitute. Two recipes, for example, call for "Winter Sippers Hot Buttered Rum Mix" - a prepackaged mixture of mystery ingredients that you have to order online, and only during certain months of the year. While I can appreciate that it may lend flavour to a certain dish, I would have appreciated an easy to find ingredient list with a suggestion of a pre-mix, rather than providing no alternate at all. I also applaud the author's clear belief in local eating, but a certain amount of globally available components need to be included, since it's impossible to assume every cook has reliable access to Dunnington's marketplace. 

The dishes in the book are certainly flavourful and easy to prepare - in particular, the soup dishes in Seasons pack a punch and are perfect for this time of year. However, the organization of the book could use some work (for example, using the labels "Fish" and "Vegetarian" for two separate chapters of recipes rather than a catch-all "Pescetarian" title) and since recipes are not organized according to the seasons (a reasonable assumption, given that the book is internationally distributed), the premise of the book is somewhat lost. Truly, this could just be another cookbook of delicious, entertaining-friendly fare, which while perfectly deserving of appreciation is not necessarily helping the reader with "Tasting the Seasons" as implied.

Available on Amazon