Moosewood and Mollie: The Same Old Stuff

mmThe Moosewood Collective and Mollie Katzen are not very fond of each other. At the Moosewood Restaurant, all of the Moosewood Collective cookbooks are displayed and on sale, but Mollie’s Moosewood Cookbook is nowhere in sight. As for Mollie, in the acknowledgments to her cookbooks she thanks everyone with whom she has ever crossed food paths, with the notable exception of Moosewood Restaurant and the Moosewood Collective. There was some question as to just whose recipes appeared in The Moosewood Cookbook and who should profit from them; according to Cornell Alumni Magazine, “A dispute over the book’s ownership led to years of legal wrangling; in the end, Katzen got the copyright but the collective retained the rights to the Moosewood name.” It is not clear just what this means about how the money made from the over four million copes sold to date (and the additional 20,00 or more sold every year) has been distributed. But both Moosewood and Mollie owe a lot to each other: it is hard to imagine Mollie having much success with her later cookbooks (or for her art or for her nutritional consultations) without the jumpstart from Moosewood. Moosewood Restaurant itself might well have ceased to exist (as did one-time competitors such as Cabbagetown Café, deemed a superior restaurant by at least one Ithaca native) and not now be a hot spot on the vegetarian pilgrim trail had there been no Moosewood Cookbook. Also, although Moosewood and Mollie have not been associated with each other for over 35 years, the recipes in their new cookbooks, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation by Mollie Katzen and Moosewood Restaurant Favorites: The 250 Most-Requested, Naturally Delicious Recipes from One of America’s Best-Loved Restaurants, are quite similar: not too subtle, not too exciting, not too complicated, and all too often, not too tasty, which can also be said of the recipes in all recent cookbooks from Moosewood or Mollie Katzen. But at least the recipes are vegetarian (if we ignore the Moosewood fish recipes).

Favorites-Cover-252x300Moosewood has a new publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin, and I am not sure that I like this change. One of the good things about all the previous cookbooks from the Moosewood Collective was that soft cover and hardcover editions came out simultaneously: one could go with more affordable or more sturdy. Now, however, we have only a $30 hardback edition; furthermore, the cover is not only hard but puffy, and I really dislike puffy covers. Unlike previous Moosewood cookbooks, this one has color photos of many recipes, but I do not think that this book will be winning any food photography awards. The pictures are mostly food closeups and not too attractive or informative. As in other Moosewood cookbooks, the structure of the book is very fragmented, divided into 22 chapters. I would prefer fewer chapters, but with the chapters subdivided. The recipes are not supposed to be ground breaking; these are all the favorites collected together. I find it rather interesting that none of my own Moosewood favorites are among the “250 most-requested naturally delicious recipes” from Moosewood.

misodressingI love the ginger miso dressing served on lettuce in sushi restaurants, and so I was quite happy to see “Ginger-Miso dressing” (page 306) in this cookbook. This dressing is a blend of miso and ginger, with sesame oil, vinegar, water, and more, less assertive oil. I used only half the amount of oil called for, and I think the dressing was better for this. Maybe even less oil would have been better, for although the dressing was good, it was not as orange, not as gingery, and much milder than the restaurant dressings. [Go to the recipe.]

kalesalad“Confetti Kale Slaw” (page 255) was a fine way to eat raw kale. A dressing of orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil is added to a salad of kale, cabbage, carrots, celery, scallions, and apple. This was all healthy enough and edible enough, but it did not really excite me. One of the suggestions at the end of the recipe is to eat this on a cheese sandwich. This I may try, as one of my favorite uses for slaw is on a toasted cheese sandwich.

moosebrocThe “Chopped Broccoli Salad” (page 251) is quite similar the broccoli salad from Smitten Kitchen. Here, raw broccoli is mixed with currants (I used pickled yellow raisins), bell peppers, and scallions; the Smitten Kitchen broccoli is mixed with almonds, dried cranberries (I used cherries) and red onion. Both use a mayonnaise based dressing, but Smitten Kitchen tarts up the mayonnaise with buttermilk. I liked the Smitten Kitchen version better, but this salad was not bad for those who like raw broccoli.

spotsoupDanny liked “West African Peanut Soup” (page 65) much more than I did. This is a sweet potato and peanut butter soup. I have noticed that Moosewood and other vegetarian restaurants have a tendency to put sweet potatoes in any dish they label “African” or “Caribbean”. When shopping for ingredients, I saw some interesting looking purple sweet potatoes at Whole Foods Market, and got them for this soup. This was a mistake. Instead of being a nice orange color, the soup was a muddy purplish color. Even if I actually liked sweet potatoes, the color would have put me off. I eventually came to terms with this soup by adding several generous squirts of sriracha.

drytortillasThe biggest problem with “Chilaquiles Casserole” (page 161) was that it was way too dry. This dish consists corn tortilla chips layered with salsa, cheese, and a vegetable mix of bell peppers, corn, and beans. It would have been better with twice as much salsa, or with a small can of tomatoes mixed with the vegetables. The leftovers were better when we spooned on extra salsa.

hopMollie Katzen also has a new publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for The Heart of the Plate, and this book seems to be much more nicely produced than her previous two books. It has an attractive purple cover, and a spine covered with light purple book cloth that unfortunately frays. Mollie’s art work (cute when she was 22, but a little too precious now) decorates the end papers, the chapter openings, and occasional white spaces throughout the book. We also get the benefit of Mollie’s photography, which at least is better than my own. Although her technique has not improved much since Get Cooking, the photographic reproduction in this book is quite superior to that in the previous book. There are a few recipes recycled from older books, including the disappointing “Mushroom Popover Pie” (page 275), which I made when reviewing Get Cooking. The new recipes are not much different from old Mollie Katzen recipes; I am not sure just who makes up the “new generation” targeted in the title of this book. In an effort to encourage her readers to be more creative, Mollie has a list of “Optional Enhancements” after most of her recipes. She frequently refers to “the Enhancements” in her recipe introductions, and although somewhat annoying, this is probably a good thing to do since most of these recipes do indeed need  enhancement.

katzenaspar“Gingered Asparagus with Soy Caramel” (page 93) sounds a lot better than it actually is. The recipe bears some superficial resemblance to my favorite asparagus and soy sauce dish from Barbara Tropp’s masterpiece, The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, but is decidedly inferior. This is simply barely cooked asparagus sprinkled with raw ginger and garlic, and Mollie’s own “Soy Caramel” (page 364), a syrupy combination of soy sauce and agave nectar over which Mollie inexplicably enthuses. The flavors all stayed separate and never came together.

sobasalad“Soba-Seaweed Salad” (page 132) was almost totally tasteless. The soba and seaweed are combined with vegetables: carrots, radishes, purple cabbage, cucumber, and scallions, and a pointless dressing made of peanut oil and rice vinegar. The only one of the “Optional Enhancements” suggested that might put some life into this salad is Mollie’s “Misoyaki Sauce” (page 362), a mixture of miso and mirin; she suggests “a dab”, but I think a lot more is needed. At least the salad was pretty.

chickpeasegg“Lablabi (Tunisian Chickpea Soup)” (page 30) consists of chickpeas and their cooking broth, to which onions and garlic cooked in olive oil and some lemon juice are added. It might have been useful if Mollie had more information in her recipe introduction about how this soup is traditiionally served; instead she directs the reader to “the Enhancements”. I enhanced my chickpeas with sriracha, a poached egg, and parmesan cheese on top. So enhanced, this was a simple but quite enjoyable dish.

katzencurry“Curried Cauliflower Stew” (page 137) is just a standard cauliflower curry. Mollie gets no points, but no demerits for this dish; its like can be found in any Indian cookbook. She uses canned chickpeas in her stew; given her praise of dried chickpeas in the chickpea soup above, I do not know why she does not cook her own chickpeas for this stew (as I did), or at least suggest doing so as an “Enhancement”.

katzencheeseMollie indulgently disparages the approach of her younger, naive self during the Moosewood years and shortly thereafter. We read in the introduction: “My early recipes were packed with rich ingredients like butter, cheese, sour cream, eggs, in large part to appease those who might be worried that the lack of meat would leave everyone hungry.” Now she claims that she has “a better understanding of how to make food taste wonderful through seasoning, selective and various uses of heat, timing, attention to detail and a stronger sense of aesthetic economy.” Here I must disagree. Her early recipes, those in the original Moosewood Cookbook, taste a lot better than the versions in the revised , supposedly healthier, editions, and better than the recipes in her newer cookbooks. But every now and then there are exceptions. I am not sure what Mollie’s state of mind was when she decided to include “Mac, Chili, and Cheese” (page 238) in her new cookbook, but I approve. This is not a standard chili mac recipe, with macaroni and cheese topped with chili. Rather, chili vegetables (except for the tomatoes) are mixed into macaroni and cheese, and Mollie does not stint on the cheese, although I still used a little more. I also used, based on my own ideas of what is healthy food, quinoa macaroni. This dish made leftovers to which I looked forward. After I waved my bowl of macaroni, the sauce separated, yielding a bubbling dish of oily cheesy macaroni with a few vegetables. Yum! I did not even feel the need to add sriracha to this. [Go to the recipe.]

Although being rather negative about these two books, I expect that I will continue to acquire any future cookbooks by the Moosewood Collective or by Mollie Katzen. Occasionally, these authors come up with a recipe that I really like, but the true reason that I will continue to be a loyal follower, even with only a 20% recipe success rate, is that the first Moosewood Cookbook was a great cookbook that had a significant impact on my cooking life.


Miso Ginger Dressing

Adapted from The Moosewood Collective,  Moosewood Restaurant Favorites

1 cup white miso
1 cup chopped ginger
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup toasted sesame oil
1 cup peanut oil

Blend the miso, ginger, vinegar, and water in a blender. Combine the oils, and slowly pour the oil into the blender while the blender is running. You should end up with a creamy dressing.


Macaroni and Cheese with Vegetables

Adapted from Mollie Katzen,  The Heart of the Plate

8 ounces quinoa macaroni
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups milk
1 onion, finely chopped
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 large or 2 small poblano chili peppers
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1½ tablespoons flour
6 ounces cheddar
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350º. Cook the macaroni according to package directions, aiming for a teeny bit underdone. If you are using quinoa macaroni, it does not take very long to cook.

Start the sauce as soon as you put the water for the macaroni on to boil. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and also heat up the milk, which I do in the microwave. Add the onion and peppers to the oil. When the onion and peppers are soft, mix in the  garlic, chili powder, and cumin. Cook a few more minutes, then stir in the salt and flour. Stir the flour about for half a minute or so, then stir in the heated milk. Stir until the sauce thickens somewhat, a few more minutes. Add the cheddar, kidney beans, and as much pepper as you like.

At some point the macaroni will be done (or, better, almost done). Drain the macaroni, and stir it into the sauce. Dump the macaroni and sauce into a baking dish, and top with the Parmesan. Cook in the oven until bubbly and the cheese has melted, perhaps 20 minutes.

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