Monthly Archives: November 2014

Simon Says

shbooksI was very fond of Simon Hopkinson’s books, Roast Chicken And Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, before I ever cooked from them. I just have a weakness for smaller books, on heavy paper and nicely bound, perhaps with tasteful small illustrations, but no garish color photographs. And when such a book comes with blurbs from food luminaries such as Nigella Lawson and Deborah Madison, as does Roast Chicken And Other Stories, I simply cannot resist. I not only bought these books for myself, but also gave several copies away as gifts. But until recently, I had no idea whether or not these were actually good cookbooks. Now, after cooking from these two books and Simon Hopkinson’s vegetarian cookbook, The Vegetarian Option, I can affirm that these are not only pretty books, but also have some good recipes.

rcThe problem for me, though, with Roast Chicken And Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, is that both books are very meat oriented. The books are arranged alphabetically by section, with each section focussing on a particular ingredient. To give as idea of what the vegetarian is up against, of the 40 sections of Roast Chicken And Other Stories , thirteen feature meat and seven feature fish or seafood, and the remaining 20 sections, although highlighting a non-meat ingredient, still have plenty of meat recipes, and sometimes only meat recipes. I was making my task of finding recipes even more difficult by deciding to cook vegan recipes.  Nevertheless, I did find recipes that I could use. All the recipes were enjoyable, although none were truly stunning. Let us first consider recipes from Roast Chicken And Other Stories.

pickendive“Pickled Endives” (page 91) are simple enough to make. The pickling liquid is just vinegar, spices, and a lot of sugar (I used slightly less than in the written recipe). You simmer the vinegar mixture for half an hour, then pour over the sliced endive. These are refrigerator pickles, and can be stored in the refrigerator for a month or so. This is as good away to eat endive as any, but these pickles were not the taste sensation that some of my previous pickle tries were.

Roulade before rolling

Roulade before rolling

For a very attractive company dish, try “Roulade of Peppers and Eggplant” (page 150). This recipe is a little fussy to make, and the taste is not overwhelming, but the roulade slices on a plate look very impressive. To make the roulade, you first fry slices of eggplant. Then you make a layer of eggplant on some spread-out plastic wrap, sprinkle on some garlic, then add a layer of roasted red peppers and a layer of basil leaves. Carefully using the plastic wrap to shape, you roll this all up into a firm cylinder and put in the refrigerator overnight. You will need a sharp knife to slice the roll the next day so that you don’t squish everything.

cocosoupshI did stray from the vegan approach when I made “Cilantro and Coconut Soup” (page 45), since this soup uses fish sauce and cream. The soup itself consists of a broth flavored with, among other things, lemon grass and cilantro. After straining, the broth is combined with fish sauce, coconut milk, and cream. I was not going to use the cream at first, but without the cream the soup tasted too salty and harsh. With the cream it was transformed: tasty and a little mysterious. [Go to the recipe.]

potshSimon uses a lot of olive oil in “Roast Potatoes with Olive Oil, Rosemary, and Garlic” (page 163), which I do not think is strictly necessary. He also uses lots of garlic, which is what makes this dish somewhat magical. He precooks two pounds of russet potatoes in water, then adds the potatoes and whole cloves from two heads of garlic to one cup of hot olive oil and rosemary sprigs, then roasts all of this in the oven. He uses a 450º oven, but I was afraid that the oil might catch on fire, so turned the temperature down to 425º. After they are cooked, you drain off most of the oil; I think using less oil in the first place would still have yielded good, maybe even better results. The potatoes were good, but the garlic cloves were wonderful! I tried not to be too obvious with my attempts to snag as many garlic cloves as possible when I was serving myself these potatoes.

rc2The sequel, Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, does not at first glance seem to be as meat filled; only 13 of the 47 sections have meat, fish, or seafood as the featured ingredient. But the other sections still have plenty of meat recipes, and vegan recipes are few and far between. Still, there were a few good offerings to be found.

pickpears“Pickled Pears” (page 182) are quite similar to the pickled endive; the only significant (and obvious) difference is that pears are used instead of endive. Ginger and star anise are still floating around in the very sugary vinegar picking liquid. I think that all the sugar works better with the pears. The pears also made a more satisfyingly crunchy pickle. Simon tells us to wait a week before using the pears, but I munched on them after a day and served them after only a couple of more days. [Go to the recipe.]

lentilcurrysh“Spinach and Coconut Dal” (page 82) is a standard issue dal, but that is still exactly the sort of food that I like. This recipe uses red lentils, which are readily available without having to visit an Indian grocer store, and also have the advantage of cooking to a mush in a very short time. The dal is combined with all the predictable spices, as well as coconut milk, and spinach. Simon says to serve with naan or pita bread; I served it with brown rice (inappropriately short-grained).

cabbageshI have made cabbage before, in the cooked to death style, that transcended its lowly cabbage nature, and so I had high hopes for “Stewed White Cabbage with White Wine, Thyme, and Juniper” (page 45). Alas, there was nothing transcendental about this cabbage. It wasn’t bad, it was just cabbage, despite the white wine. Since I like cabbage and noodles so much these days, I may enjoy more what is left of this cabbage mixed with noodles.

appleshOne of the appeals of veganism is that it should lead to better health and weight loss. However, if one practices veganism by consuming Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, one will neither achieve health nor weight loss. It is a bit of a mystery why this stuff tastes as good as it does with its hydrogenated cottonseed oil instead of butter. Since I was trying to be vegan, this is what I used instead of some homemade puff pastry or good frozen butter puff pastry to make “Tarte Fine aux Pommes” (page 9). The tarts consist of sliced apples mixed with some lemon juice and sugar, spiraled on puff pastry rounds. Simon uses butter also, but instead of butter, I brushed the tops of my tarts with apricot preserves. These could not help but be good, and I gave my guests the option to deveganize by serving whipped cream.

vegoptAs mentioned, I liked these two books when I first got them, but even before cooking from them, it was obvious how meaty they were. Thus I was very happy to see The Vegetarian Option when it appeared on bookstore shelves. This book is still on bookstore shelves: a stack has been sitting, copies unbought, on the remainder shelves of our local Barnes and Noble for almost a year. I am not sure why this book was not more popular. It is a solid vegetarian cookbook, with the color photographs that spoiled cookbook consumers want. The recipes are not too complicated, and range from good to great. This book is also arranged by ingredient, but not with the randomness that alphabetizing bestows; instead, ingredients are lumped into larger sections of types of ingredients: vegetables, herbs, pasta, and so on. I found lots of inviting dishes in this book, which quite made up for the dearth of possibilities in the other two books.

relishh“Mario Batali’s Almond & Jalapeño Relish” (page 99) was well received by my guests, but I was not impressed. The recipe was simple enough that I assumed that it just had to be good: process almonds, jalapeños, a red onion, olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of sugar until you have a chunky not-quite purée. My problem was that this relish wasn’t very exciting. It didn’t taste like much of anything. With five ounces of jalapeños, the only way that I can explain this is that the peppers themselves must have been strangely mild and without any flavor.

caponatashSimon’s “Caponata” (page 106) is a little different from other caponatas that I have had in that it is essentially tomato-less, with only a dab of tomato paste. All the other ingredients are there, though: eggplant, celery, onion, peppers, raisins, capers, and olives. Like all caponata, this was yummy, and I think it makes sense to do without tomatoes if perfect tomatoes off the vine in one’s own backyard do not exist.

beetshThe prize recipe of this cooking session was “Beet Jelly with Dill & Horseradish Cream” (page 130). The beet jelly is simplicity itself: cooked beets are grated, then simmered in stock with a little bit of sugar for ten minutes. The beets are then drained out, and the now brilliant pink stock is jelled with agar flakes. I used jaggery instead of the superfine sugar mentioned in the recipe, since jaggery adds a subtle, delicious, and otherwise unobtainable flavor. I initially thought that I would have liked the jelly to be more jelled, but when I finally ate some, I found its semi-jelled state to be quite satisfactory. I skipped the horseradish cream, and just served this with a dollop of horseradish. Beets and horseradish being, perhaps, a flavor combination put together in the last few minutes of the sixth day of Creation (along with the first tongs), horseradish alone was all that was needed to craft this recipe into the perfect first course. [Go to the recipe.]

Ichilish made the almond and jalapeño relish in order to decorate “Chili con Carnevale” (page 103), as suggested by Simon. Perhaps because the relish disappointed, this chili did also. The chili was made with bell peppers, celery, mushrooms, and standard vegetarian chili ingredients. I decided that it was not worth the work to chop up vegetables and measure ingredients when instead I could open six cans and a jar and get a much better chili.

barleyshWhen I was planning my menu, it was not clear how successful it would be, so I searched for a recipe that was not too unusual and that would fill people up if they did not care for the other offerings. Thus I made “Baked Barley ‘Pilaf’ with Provençal Vegetables” (page 176). The combination of vegetables from sun-drenched Provence and barley, a staple of Tibetan cuisine, and with Russia the main producer of this grain seemed somewhat improbable, but workable. This dish turned out not only edible, but ended up being my favorite of the hot dishes I served, and a dish that I am now appreciating as leftovers.


Coconut Soup

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson, Roast Chicken And Other Stories

2 cups vegetable stock
2 inch piece of unpeeled ginger, roughly chopped
6 scallions
4 dried hot red peppers
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, cleaned and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
½ cup cream

Simmer the stock, ginger, scallions, peppers, lemongrass, and garlic for 30 minutes. Add the cilantro, lime juice, fish sauce, and coconut milk, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Strain, add the cream, reheat, and serve, or let the concoction steep for a while, then strain, add the cream, reheat, and serve.


Pickled Pears

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson, Second Helpings of Roast Chicken

4 large, firm pears
Juice of ½ lemon
1 cup taragon vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
2 star anise
1 inch piece unpeeled ginger, sliced
4 cloves

Peel, core, and thinly slice the pears. Combine with the lemon juice. Simmer the vinegar, sugar, anise, ginger, and cloves, covered, for 30 minutes. Let the vinegar cool for another 10 minutes, then pour it over the pears. Stir the pears for the first few hours until they are all under liquid. Store in the refrigerator and eat over the next month.


Beet Aspic

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson, The Vegetarian Option

1 pound beets
3 cups stock (Better than Bullion recommended)
1 teaspoon sugar (jaggery recommended)
4 heaping teaspoons agar flakes
Prepared horseradish, for serving

Cook the beets, either in the oven or in water on top of the stove: about 45 minutes in a 400º oven, or 45 minutes in simmering water to cover. When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel and grate. Add the grated beets and the sugar to 2 cups of the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the grated beets out of the stock. Dissolve the agar in the remaining 1 cup of stock, then combine stocks. Put the beet liquid in a smaller bowl, and place the smaller bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice water; stir as the beet liquid cools. When it starts to thicken, pour it into individual serving containers; I made five servings from t his amount of beets and stock. Put in the refrigerator to finish jelling. Serve with horseradish.

Bookstore Vegan

There is a lot of vegan food that does not taste very good, and there are a lot of vegan cookbooks full of recipes for this not very good tasting food. But disliking food does not have to be a prerequisite for embracing veganism; there is a lot of excellent vegan food out there for people who do not want to contribute to the suffering and unpleasant death of other animals, yet still enjoy eating. Two recent vegan cookbooks, both blog-based, have, based on my sampling, more good recipes than bad. Even though I no longer buy cookbooks, I can still cook from new cookbooks, but this puts me behind in the project of plowing through all the cookbooks that I have bought.

bgTess Masters, the Blender Girl, loves her Vita-Mix. Almost all the recipes on her blog and in her book, The Blender Girl: Super-Easy, Super-Healthy Meals, Snacks, Desserts, and Drinks–100 Gluten-Free, Vegan Recipes!, involve tossing ingredients in a blender at some point. And often a super blender is needed; my wimpy blender was just not powerful enough for some of these recipes. I also used my food processor, but often my blend was not as smooth as it should have been. Still, I liked her recipes a lot. There’s lots more that can be made with a blender besides smoothies, and a super blender is very useful in a vegan diet: blended nuts or blended cauliflower can contribute to sauces that replace dairy sauces.

seavegI like the idea of incorporating more sea vegetables into my diet, but Whole Foods Market is not making this easy. They used to carry lots of different packets of sea vegetables, but now our local store only has nori, konbu, and a packet of mixed sea vegetables. So instead of buying hijiki and arame, I just used this mixed packet to make “Citrus Sea Slaw” (page 99). I also could not find water chestnuts (not being willing to use canned water chestnuts), so I used more jicama. I was making the slaw in advance, and was not sure how well the “mixed leafy greens” called for in the recipe would survive, so I used cabbage. The final result tasted fine, but was not particularly attractive.

DSC_0367“Dream of Spinach” (page 108) is the best possible green puréed soup ever! It is a blend of roasted garlic, scallions, red onion, celery, zucchini, parsley, and spinach, in vegetable broth, with some soaked raw cashews for creaminess. I think that the roasted garlic and soaked cashews are the secret ingredients that make this soup so much better than others. [Go to the recipe.]

padI went through a phase several years ago of trying every pad thai recipe that I came across; some I enjoyed more than others, but I never came across the definitive (at least according to what I like) recipe. Blendergirl’s recipe (page 135) set me back on this quest. This recipe came close, surprisingly close given that there is no fish sauce, but the search is still not over. Tempeh, carrots, and bok choy are combined with the rice noodles; the sauce is quite nice, with sesame oil, soy sauce, coconut nectar, red curry paste, and a few other ingredients. As long as there was some of this left in the refrigerator, I looked forward to heating a bowl of it for a light meal.

veganthaicurrybg“Penang Curry” (page 141) did not quite work for me. You make your own curry paste in this recipe, and the curry paste was good. The problem came with the ingredients to be sauced: tofu, chard, and orange squash. I think mushrooms, zucchini, and spinach would have worked better, even if the tofu was still included. Unlike the pad thai, this dish resulted in leftovers that I kept pretending that I did not see when I opened the refrigerator door.

“I-Love-Veggies! Bake” (page 144) is a gratin of butternut squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green beans, in a sauce made creamy by blending cauliflower in vegetable broth. Butternut squash and sweet potatoes are too many orange vegetables in one dish for me; if I ever make this again I will omit one of them. The sauce, however, was tasty, and succeeded as a vegan replacement for milk or cream. I had the same problem with this gratin that I have with dairy gratins: my sliced vegetables just didn’t cook. After the one hour and fifteen minutes cooking time in the recipe, the vegetables could barely be penetrated with a fork. I left the gratin in the oven, turned the heat down, and took Wuffles to the vet. The vet visit was much longer that I had anticipated, but when I came back two hours later, the vegetables were cooked to perfection.

veganchocpieMy version of  “Raw Chocolate-Orange Torte” (page 152) was not that raw, since there are steps involving heat in the processing of chocolate.  Raw chocolate does exist, but the chocolate that I used was not raw. Furthermore, the cashews in the crust are also an issue: “raw cashews” are rarely raw; heat is used to separate the nut from toxic resins within the shell. But I was looking for vegan recipes, not raw recipes, and this recipe is certainly vegan, as well as naturally sweetened and gluten free, and yet quite edible. I would call this a pie, not a torte. The crust consists of almonds, dates, and cocoa powder blended together; the filling has coconut oil, orange juice, agave nectar, soaked cashews, and more cocoa. For a recipe that conforms to all sorts of dietary restrictions, this was fairly good, but in the universe of all desserts, this recipe rates at best an “okay”.

osgAngela Liddon, creator of the Oh She Glows blog and The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Over 100 Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out tells of her journey to veganism through the valley of eating disorders. Although I am pleased when anyone goes from less healthy to more healthy eating habits, I am, as a cookbook consumer, a little suspicious of recipes from a person with such a history. However, this is a transition that Angela has successfully made, for her recipes are the recipes of a person who likes food.

The idea of “Glowing Strawberry-Mango Guacamole” (page 81) is surprisingly successful: onion, mango, strawberries, and cilantro added to mashed up avocados and flavored with lime juice and salt. Before I mixed everything together, it seemed that the flesh from one mango, finely chopped, and a cup and a half f finely chopped strawberries would be way too much for only two avocados, but this was a very satisfactory amount of add-ins. I did add more lime juice than called for.

sobasssNeither soba noodles nor edamame are my favorite ingredients, and so I am not quite sure why I added “Empowered Noodle Bowl, Two Ways: Thai Peanut & Orange-Maple Miso” (page 153) to my menu. Perhaps it was the miso, an ingredient of which I am quite fond. I only made the miso version, which consists of a sauce with miso, rice vinegar, sesame oil, tahini, orange juice, and maple syrup, over a salad with soba and edamame and other vegetables. My fondness for miso ended up trumping my dislike of soba and edamame, because I enjoyed seconds of this salad.

redlentcaul“Indian Lentil-Cauliflower Soup” (page 133) is not particularly special or unusual, but it is nevertheless exactly the sort of food that I like. The lentils are red lentils, cooked to a mush, and along with the cauliflower, there is spinach and sweet potato. The sweet potato might have ruined this soup if the soup flavors were less assertive, or of there had been more sweet potato, but it all worked out. I made more of a sauce than a soup and served it over rice, although later I thinned the sauce and got a soup.

peanutstewAuthors of vegetarian cookbooks seem to think that all vegetarian dishes of Africa contain peanuts (or peanut butter) and sweet potatoes or an orange squash. Angela is no exception. Her “Soul-Soothing African Peanut Stew” (page 120) has sweet potatoes as well as a few other vegetables in a peanut butter sauce. This stew was good version of vegetarian cookbook-style African food. The peanut flavor was not overwhelming, and there were enough other vegetables to keep the sweet potato under control.

detox“Eat Your Greens Detox Soup” (page 139) looked and tasted so healthy with lots of vegetables floating in a mostly clear broth. Along with the detox type vegetables, there are other detox ingredients such as ginger and tumeric. At the end of a month of Jewish eating occasions, this was the perfect soup to serve. The only problem I had with this soup was the color of the cooked broccoli, but I will just have to live with that unpleasant shade of green. [Go to the recipe.]

bsproutspotI am not that fond of Brussels sprouts, but I am intrigued by the theory that since bees share my dislike of Brussels sprouts, one way to keep bees out of the sukkah is to serve Brussels sprouts. Therefore I prepared “Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fingerling Potatoes and Rosemary” (page 205), and we had no bees! This dish is about half Brussels sprouts and half potatoes, and so the non-lovers of Brussels sprouts can usually manage a serving that is mostly potatoes. The lovers of Brussels sprouts at my table also approved of this combination.

For Angela’s contribution to the dessert category, I made her “Gooey Pumpkin Spice Latte Chocolate Pudding Cake” from her blog, a version of a recipe appearing in the cookbook. I served this warm, with fake (coconut) ice cream. Warm plus cold plus chocolate goes a long way, so even if this is not a great dessert, it’s easily appreciated, especially considering how relatively healthy it is.


Spinach Soup

Adapted from Tess Masters, The Blender Girl

¼ cup raw cashews
1 head garlic
Olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled and chopped
1 large or 2 small zucchini. chopped
½ bunch parsley, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
5 ounces baby spinach

Before you do anything else, put the cashews in water and let them soak for 2 to 4 hours.

Wrap the garlic in aluminum foil and put it in a 350º oven for about 45 minutes. When the garlic is soft, remove it from the oven, and when it is cool enough to handles, cut off the top of the garlic bulb, and squeeze out all the good roasted garlic.

Now to make the soup: heat some olive oil in a soup pot. Add the onion, and after the onion has cooked a few minutes, add the celery and zucchini. Let the vegetables cook a little longer, than add the parsley, broth, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the soup simmer for 10 minutes. Add the spinach and simmer another 5 minutes. Drain the cashews, and add the cashews. Remove the soup from the heat, and blend it all together. I think that this soup is best smooth, so a standing blender will work better than an immersion blender.


Detox Soup

Adapted from Angela Liddon, The Oh She Glows Cookbook

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
2-3 carrots, sliced
1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon tumeric
Pinch cinnamon
1 bunch broccoli, separated into florets; stems peeled and chopped
5 cups vegatable broth
1 bunch lacinato kale, spines removed and chopped

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onions and cook until soft; then add the garlic, mushrooms, carrots, ginger, tumeric, and cinnamon. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the broccoli, broth, kale and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the soup until the vegetables to your desired degree of doneness, perhaps another 20 minutes.