Book Review: “Food 52 Vegan: 60 Vegetable Driven Recipes for Any Kitchen”

I’ve been holding onto Gena Hamshaw’s new cookbook since October, not because I didn’t want to review it, but because I wanted to give it the proper attention before writing this post.  If you’ve been reading This Vegan Whimsy for a while, you’ll know that Gena’s website The Full Helping (formerly Choosing Raw) was the very first blog I read before I started my transition towards veganism.  I have her first cookbook, Choosing Raw: Making Raw Foods Part of the Way You Eat, because I bought it the second it was released.  I’ve read every Green Recovery story posted on her blog, and made too many recipes from her website to count.  Gena introduced me to foods I didn’t know existed, flavors I didn’t know could go together, and animal rights issues I had never thought about.  I stumbled upon her blog very shortly after being told by my doctor that I was allergic to dairy, and I’ve continued to visit it at least once a week ever since to make sure I don’t miss any new posts!

Because of all of this, I didn’t want to just slap a review together and say the book looked nice.  I’ve been cooking from Food52 Vegan since I received it months ago.  I haven’t been disappointed once.  The recipes are so friendly and colorful that even ingredients unfamiliar to non-vegans don’t seem intimidating.  Every recipe comes with a personal note from Gena at the top.  There’s a beautiful photograph accompanying each recipe as well.
Food 52 Vegan
My favorite dish by far is actually only the fourth recipe in the book – Go-To Pancakes.  I have made these pancakes about 10 times since October.  They truly have turned into my “go-to pacakes”!  In fact, I made them yesterday when I got home for work.  Breakfast for dinner anyone?  Yes please!

Food 52 Vegan
Photo Credit: The Full Helping

The Polenta with Greens, Roasted Tomatoes, and Lentil Walnut Crumble is out of this world.  I was skeptical of the Sweet Pea Hummus, but it completely won me and a few non-vegan friends over with it’s fresh, light flavor.  I can see myself turning again and again to the Penne with Summer Squash, Corn, and Herbs recipe on busy weeknights, because it’s so simple and delicious.  My final favorite recipe is the Mushroom, Pecan, and Lentil Burgers.  I don’t like the texture of mushrooms at all, but in this recipe they’re pureed in a food processor so you get all the flavor with none of the gag-inducing mushroom squeakiness!   There’s also some killer desert recipes like her Double Chocolate Brownies and Perfect Pumpkin Pie.

If I hadn’t been given the opportunity to review this cookbook, I would have bought it myself just like I did with her previous one.  Gena makes vegan food accessible, and this is one of the best things we can do to help animals.  I’m grateful for her work.

I received a courtesy copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  Reviews and opinions expressed are my own, and I will never provide a good review if I don’t believe in, or like, the product/book.

Book Review: “Near and Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel”

Heidi Swanson is the luminous author of the blog 101 Cookbooks.  She’s been writing for years (years!) and is literally almost a goddess in the food blogging community.  I came across her blog while reading Will Write for Food, one of the best books out there about food writing.  Swanson’s site is mentioned in Will Write for Food as an example of what to do when starting a blog.  I immediately checked her website out and was amazed.  There are hundreds (probably thousands) of posts, each carefully and lovingly perfected, with gorgeous photography.  The recipes are detailed and easy to follow.  But aside from that, I just love Heidi Swanson’s voice.  You get the feeling that she’s talking to you like you’re her friend.  She teaches without being overbearing, encourages without making you feel incapable.
Near and Far

I jumped at the chance to review her new cookbook because it’s vegetarian!  And we all know how I feel about vegan and vegetarian cookbooks (hint: GOOD).  I cracked it open and barely got through the first pages before having to stop and make food.  The very first recipe – Cucumber Salad – was divine.  Swanson states in the heading of the Cucumber Salad that she hopes this recipe will set the tone for the book, and it does.  It was simple – I had every ingredient except lemongrass already in my pantry – but sophisticated.  The dressing also didn’t use any oil, which I very much appreciated, since I usually have to substitute oil.  I then only made it to the next page before making the Fennel Stew, and then the Red Lentil Hummus.  I would have never thought to make something like her Mashed Yellow Split Peas, but I’m terribly glad I did.

The book is split into two main sections, Near and Far.  Near includes recipes inspired by her life in California.  Far includes recipes from Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, and India.  From Harira in Morocco to Baby Artichoke Salad in France, the recipes span cultures, ingredients, and tastes.  I personally found myself staying in the “Near” section of the book more.  I’m not sure if that’s because I liked the recipes more, or if I’m just more comfortable and familiar with those ingredients.

There is no way I can top the gorgeous photography in Swanson’s book, so I’ve included a few photos from her website below so you can see the mouthwatering recipes for yourself.  As a note for vegans, many of her recipes include dairy and eggs.  Some of them are easily substituted for vegan versions or left out, but I wish a larger percentage of the total were completely vegan.  Still, the simplicity and deliciousness of the meals as a whole makes it worth it to me.

Photo Credit: 101 Cookbooks
Photo Credit: 101 Cookbooks
Photo Credit: 101 Cookbooks

Swanson’s book Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel can be found on Amazon, or where any vegetarian/vegan cookbooks are sold.

I received a courtesy copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  Reviews and opinions expressed are my own, and I will never provide a good review if I don’t believe in, or like, the product/book.

Book Review: “A Modern Way to Eat” by Anna Jones

A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
As vegetarian and vegan cuisine becomes more mainstream, chefs around the world are starting to take notice.  Where vegetables were relegated to side dishes and salads before, they have been swept into the limelight.  Just a few years ago, I didn’t know a single vegan.  Now, I know several vegans and quite a few more vegetarians.  As more people make begin their transitions away from the consumption of animal products, the question is continually asked: “What about the food?”  Very few persons have the sheer force of will to continue adhering to an ethical ideal that affects what they eat if the food isn’t good.  My personal journey towards veganism took quite a while because I simply didn’t know what to eat.  I could follow a recipe, but I didn’t have any vegan cookbooks.  Some people find the internet helpful, but I felt lost in the vortex of Pinterest.  How was I to know which recipes were worth trying?  Who was going to explain these new foods to me, like quinoa, farro, chia seeds, and silken tofu?  How was I, a person who lived on boxed mac n’ cheese and chicken fingers, going to know which recipes to start with?

I wish I had Anna Jones’ cookbook, A Modern Way to Eat, when I started.  It has over 200 unique recipes, and all the ones I’ve tried so far have been divine.  I grew up hating lima beans, but the Lima Bean, Almond, and Rosemary Hummus has changed my mind entirely.  The Lemony Lentil and Crispy Kale Soup is bursting with flavor, and the bright yellow color makes me smile.  It’s also packed with turmeric, which has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
Jones’ book has given me the courage to step out of my cooking comfort zone of pasta, simple salad, and steamed/roasted veggies.  Her recipes have complex layers of flavor without having long ingredient lists.  Most ingredients can be found at your local grocer, and where hard to find items appear, Jones gives alternatives.  I normally wouldn’t try a recipe like her Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet, but the picture was so inviting and the ingredient list so simple I couldn’t help myself.  Now I’ll be eating this dish regularly!  Other favorites include Laura’s Herbed Green QuinoaBrown Rice Pilar with Toasted Nuts and Seeds, and Perfect Chili (I can’t say enough good things about the chili!).

To me, the most valuable thing about this cookbook is that in addition to the recipes, Jones gives the home cook the tools she needs to start creating her own family favorites.  There are pages scattered throughout the book that tell you how to build a meal without using a recipe.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
There’s endless variations of soup, salad, and other meals that can be created simply by following her process.  Not only does this book give the home cook the ability to make restaurant quality meals by following its recipes, it allows a nervous new vegan to spread her culinary wings and try combinations of ingredients that seem “out there” but have a fantastic outcome.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
Jones also includes instructions on how to cook vegetables, grains, and a myriad of other ingredients.  For example, if you have a bunch of rainbow chard but don’t know what to do with it, simply turn to the “Vegetable Underdogs” page, and you’ll find a list of suggested pairings to make any weeknight dinner sparkle.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

Overall, I was blown away by this book.  The binding is sturdy – the cookbook is hardcover and the pages are matte.  The photography is simply gorgeous (although not every recipe has a photo).  I especially adore the personalized messages written by Anna Jones at the top of each and every recipe throughout the book.  I was on the fence about trying a few of her creations, but the recipe headers convinced me to chance it every time.  I’m so happy I did.  Jones’ love for vegetarian food and expertise as a professional chef shine through on every page.

My main irritation with this book is that some of the recipes have the ingredient list on one page, a photo on the adjacent page, and the instructions on the page after.  This means that I have to keep flipping the page over to check how much of something I need before going back to the directions.  It’s a pet peeve of mine when cookbooks make me flip unnecessarily.  Several of the pages of this cookbook now have finger stains from my frantic turning of the pages.
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
This book is also vegetarian, so some recipes call for cheese, and some for eggs.  Many of these can be easily substituted or left out by the knowledgeable vegan.  Some would not be so easily altered, but it is perhaps only about ten-fifteen percent of the total recipes, leaving the majority vegan already.

I think A Modern Way to Eat is well worth the price.  It’s already safely tucked in my kitchen next to my most-used cookbooks.

I received a courtesy copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  Reviews and opinions expressed are my own, and I will never provide a good review if I don’t believe in, or like, the product/book.

Book Review: “Street Vegan: Recipes and Dispatches from the Cinnamon Snail Food Truck”

Today was full of rainclouds.  The constant peaceful drizzle was just what I needed, and I’ve been curled up with books and my cat since I got home from work.  Day three of following the Happy Herbivore meal plan involved very little cooking – the recipe was simple baked tofu and corn on the cob.  It turns out that it’s nearly impossible to get plain tofu with barbecue sauce and corn to be photogenic!  I fiddled with pictures for a few minutes, but decided that most of you probably already know what tofu and corn look like.  Instead of a detailed post about Day Three’s meal plan recipe, I thought I’d share my review of a lovely new vegan cookbook by Adam Sobel, creator of the utterly fantastic Cinnamon Snail food truck!

Photo Credit: VegNews.com

Adam Sobel is famous for bringing gourmet vegan food to the streets.  And from everything I hear and read online, the food is TO DIE FOR.  The Cinnamon Snail has won several highly coveted Vendy Awards, and has been given praise from all over the place.  Vegans and omnivores alike can’t get enough of Adam’s food.  I must (sadly) admit that I’ve never eaten at The Cinnamon Snail food truck, but if I can ever make it to New York it’s going to be one of the first things I do!  There has been high demand for a Cinnamon Snail cookbook for some time now, and it finally happened!  I was lucky enough to snag a review copy, so that I can enjoy these vegan creations in my home fifteen hundred miles away from New York City.
Street Vegan

Things I Loved:
-Adam shares personal information, such as the story of how he found veganism, and front-line stories about what it really takes to run a food truck.  I never in a million years knew how hard it was to start up and maintain a food truck operation.  The Cinnamon Snail gets parking tickets every day, even while legally parked!  I also discovered that the food truck is required to also rent commercial kitchen space for ingredient preparation and food storage, and that health inspectors visit without warning and at all times during the day.  I’m not sure why I thought owning a food truck was easy, but it certainly isn’t!  According to Adam, however, operating the Cinnamon Snail is the most rewarding, wonderful thing in the world.  I appreciate his love for what he does.
-There is a vegan pantry section that lists the staples Adam uses in many of his recipes, along with an explanation of their uses and health benefits.  Because so many nonvegans love The Cinnamon Snail, this section takes away the “scary” nature of unfamiliar ingredients.
-The book is well organized and spans the gamut of vegan food – from breakfast to sandwiches, desserts to main courses.  I especially love the chapter of beverage recipes.  Most vegan cookbooks don’t include recipes for drinks, unless they’re smoothies. Street Vegan shows the reader how to make various nut milks, which is invaluable, as well as refreshing coolers for the summer.  He even threw in a hot chocolate recipe!
-There is an entire chapter dedicated to vegan donuts.  The Cinnamon Snail is famous for their fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth donuts, and it would have been a crime against humanity if this chapter were not included!  If you do nothing else, buy this book because of the donuts and gobble some up.  You will die happy if you do.
-The recipes are detailed, clear, and easy to follow.  And delicious.  If you’ve eaten at The Cinnamon Snail, you won’t be disappointed with this book.  The recipes are not second rate or throwaways.  Adam has given us an entire book of food that he cooks himself and sells to the public.  He’s held nothing back, and it shows.  I stopped bookmarking recipes to try after I realized I was putting a tab on every single page.

Street Vegan
Photo Credit: The Cinnamon Snail

Things I Didn’t Love:
-He uses a heck of a lot of oil.  I know that this is to be expected, because street food is made to be fantastic, and adding a little fat makes everything taste better.  However, I try to limit my oil intake and get my calories from foods that have fiber and other vitamins and minerals.  Some of oil is easy to substitute, such as the oil called for in sautéing, but some of the desert and breakfast recipes aren’t that easy to change.
-Some of the recipes are very complicated.  If you don’t mind spending a lot of time in the kitchen, then it’s no problem, but I don’t see busy working people turning to this book regularly on a weeknight.  The recipes take preparation and dedication.

Overall, I think this book is solid.  I’m extremely glad I have it in my cookbook arsenal, and I feel that it’s worth the money.  It’s especially worth having if you have doubtful omnivore’s in your life who think that all vegan food is tasteless and terrible.  These recipes will knock their socks off!  You can check out Street Vegan on Amazon, or wherever awesome vegan books are sold!

I received a courtesy copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  Reviews and opinions expressed are my own, and I will never provide a good review if I don’t believe in, or like, the product/book.

“Feeding the Hungry Ghost”

I’ve been sick this week.  Miserably, hopelessly sick.  Call it a stomach infection, or the plague, or “just a bug.”  I call it hell on earth (yes, I know I’m being dramatic).  When you’re sick enough that your partner drags you to the hospital so someone practiced in disease-care can pronounce you “Not dying! At least, not yet,” you tend to reevaluate your life choices.  Of course, reevaluating life choices is awfully hard to do when you can’t form a coherent thought because the pain medicine they injected you with is mucking up your brain.

Then you sleep for a few days and wake up hopeful again.  Hopeful about the world, about yourself, about other people.  It’s amazing what thirteen solid hours of sleep can do for a person’s mood.  What is decidedly awful about getting over a stomach infection is that you can’t eat anything.  And by “anything,” I mean anything good.  No juicy tomatoes, no spicy lentil soup, no perfectly ripe berries or savory stuffed peppers.  What you can eat is summed up in one word: BRAT.  Which is how I feel while being forced to exist on bananas, rice, applesauce and toast – bratty.  Try pasta too soon, and you’ll regret it the rest of the night.  So, since I’ve been deprived of tasty food since Monday, I’ve taken up the next best thing – reading about food.  I love to read cookbooks, but I also enjoy memoirs, getting to know people who speak the language of food.  Ellen Kanner is one of those people. Feeding the Hungry Ghost is a peek inside her mind, her food, and her love for the world.

She says “Honey” too much, and tends to get tangled up in tangents.  She inserts recipes here and there, scattered next to a memory of traveling, or staying home.  She talks about God sometimes, but whose God?  We’re not always sure, and neither is she.  She moves through the seasons gently, sing-songing dialogue between her and you, her and food, you and life.  It’s brilliantly frustrating and addicting, just like a conversation with a human tends to be.  We all get lost in tangents, and sometimes we talk about God.  Food is inserted into our lives right along with traveling, or staying home.  We’re not always sure, and we feel the hungry ghost creep about, begging to be fed.  Fed with what?  Food, sure.  But also love, and connection, and faith, and the happy privilege of sharing meals with each other.  Feeding the Hungry Ghost is about feeling and sharing, and being alive.  It’s wonderful and haunting and you should read it.  I’m nibbling on my toast and sad banana, but I feel less bratty, and my own hungry ghost is dozing off.
Feeding the Hungry Ghost