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Cookbook Review: Moosewood Restaurant Favorites: The 250 Most-Requested, Naturally Delicious Recipes from One of America’s Best-Loved Restaurants by Moosewood Collective

October 30, 2013 5 comments

Image of tomatoes and peppers with a green banner with the cookbook's name on it.Summary:
Moosewood Restaurant is a famous vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York, founded in the 1970s.  According to their website, they have published twelve cookbooks prior to this one.  This cookbook aims to collect together the recipes that have proven themselves to be the most popular in their restaurant over the last 40 years.

Review:
Moosewood is pretty famous in the vegetarian crowd.  It’s a name most vegetarians have heard, and I know some vegetarian who have even eaten at the restaurant.  I’d always been curious about their cookbooks, so I was excited to see the newest one available on Netgalley.  Given the fame, I was expecting something inspiring and special.  Instead I found a rather ho-hum collection of decidedly average pescetarian recipes.

Moosewood claims everywhere (including on the main page of their website) that they are a vegetarian restaurant.  But they aren’t.  They are pescetarian.  There is an entire fish section in the book.  Calling yourself vegetarian when you’re not is misleading and wrong.  (If you would like to read further on why it’s offensive for pescetarians to call themselves vegetarians, check out this post).  I’m kind of shocked there isn’t more of an outcry in the veg community about this.

The rest of the cookbook (that is actually vegetarian) consists of: appetizers; dips and spreads; soups; sandwiches; burgers; main dish salads; curries and stews; beans; frittatas and pies; casseroles; stuffed vegetables; wraps, rolls, and strudels; tofu; pasta; side salads; sides; side grains; salad dressings; condiments and salsas; sauces and gravies; desserts; baking pan sizes and equivalents; and guide to ingredients and basic cooking.  It’s a huge, long cookbook.  But out of all these recipes, I only found eight I wanted to try.  Usually I want to try at least every other recipe in a cookbook.  The recipes here that failed to spark my interest fell into one of three categories: 1) they were painfully obvious and overly simple 2) they were deeply unhealthy, swimming in cups of oil, heavy cream, and tons of eggs or 3) they weren’t vegetarian because they contained fish.

Some examples of the painfully obvious include quinoa with veggies, basic chili, thai vegetable curry, and black bean sweet potato burritos.  You don’t need a cookbook from a famous restaurant to give you these recipes.  I’d say otherwise if there was anything about their recipes that at least made them a variation of the norm, but I have seen the same thing over and over again in multiple recipes in cookbooks, blogs, and websites.

As for the unhealthy recipes, beyond the already mentioned high fat and an unnecessary quantity of eggs, there were things like the suggestion to top your corn on the cob with mayonnaise.  Or the fact that most of their dressing recipes contained 1/4 to 3/4 cup of oil.  The recipes routinely don’t take a well-rounded diet into consideration.  Protein doesn’t get enough attention. For instance, a vegetarianized jambalaya recipe has zero protein in it.  And perhaps it’s not unhealthy, but I found it very odd that a restaurant’s cookbook called for canned pumpkin for their pumpkin pie.

Image of two tupperware containers on a white cuttingboard. The containers contains multicolored salad.On the plus side, the cookbook is well-organized and illustrated with beautiful pictures.  Although, the recipes are written out in paragraph form.  I generally prefer a numbered list.  But this is a personal preference, and the recipes are easy enough to follow.

I have made one of the eight recipes I selected out as possibilities so far.  I made the Winter Salad Plate (page 110).  Since the recipe states it serves 8 as a side salad and my intention was to have it as a side salad with egg sandwiches with my partner and a friend, I halved the recipe.  Also, since I didn’t have greens from my CSA that week, I replaced the greens with more root vegetables.  The consensus was it was yummy, but the dressing needed a touch of bitterness like a vinegar and less oil.  I don’t mind having to adapt a recipe a bit to get it just right but with a high-quality cookbook you don’t have to do that.

In spite of the shortcomings, the recipes do indeed work, and the cookbook is well organized and prettily illustrated.  Recommended to pescetarians and omnivores who don’t cook a lot, so the recipes would be less familiar to them, who also don’t mind a high fat/oil and low protein content in their food.  Also recommended to long-time fans of Moosewood.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Cookbook Review: Green Smoothie Magic – 132+ Delicious Green Smoothie Recipes That Trim and Slim by Gabrielle Raiz

Image of a glass filled with green liquid surrounded by brightly colored produce with the book's title underneath.Summary:
Lots of leafy greens are important to incorporate into your diet for health reasons (vitamins! fiber!) but it can be difficult to work them in.  Enter the green smoothie.  Blend up the greens with other ingredients to give yourself a delicious sweet or savory drinkable treat and get 1 to 2 cups of leafy greens into your belly in the time it takes to drink a drink!  Raiz walks you through all the steps to incorporating green smoothies into your life from the basics of what greens to use and how to what makes a good blender to recipes to how to tweak and personalize the recipes.

Review:
I picked up this cookbook when I spotted the kindle version on sale for 99 cents because I wanted exactly what it promised.  A way to work in more leafy greens into my life in a delicious way.

The cookbook is organized into sections entitled: introduction, the magic of the green stuff, not all green smoothies are green, don’t get stuck with the same green, greens, how green should my first smoothies be?, green smoothie magic basics, the pragmatic approach to health nutrition and everything!, freezing fruit, green smoothie rescue — what to do if a recipe doesn’t work out!, about blenders and blending, about drinking and storing your smoothie, green smoothie magic 101: instructions at a glance for blending any smoothie, and green smoothie magic recipes.  If that sounds like a lot of sections, it’s because it is.  Raiz has a lot of information to give the reader.  She clearly knows what she’s talking about, and I found a lot of what she had to say very useful! Particularly how to pick the right blender, the different flavors of greens and how to pick which ones to use, how to store greens, how to save a smoothie that doesn’t taste quite right, and the basic elements of a smoothie.  Also, the recipes of course!  But how this valuable information is organized is a bit haphazard and can sometimes be repetitive.  I’m glad I took the time to read it all and glean out the important bits, but I’m not sure everyone would stick it out through such a disorganized and long introduction.  A more concise introduction to the hows and whys of green smoothies is needed.

The recipes themselves are creative without going too far off the deep-end in exotic ingredients.  For instance, even though Raiz recommends making your own nut milks, she provides substitutions for those of us who would rather not do that.  The recipes are easy to read, fully utilizing bullet-points and simplicity.  I really appreciated that.  There are also full-color illustrations throughout the cookbook , although they are primarily of the ingredients and not the smoothies themselves.  I get it that green smoothies tend to be, well, green colored, but a few more smoothie pictures would be nice.

So I read through the whole book and was ready to try a recipe.  I knew from reading the book that my low-powered food processor wasn’t ideal for blending but would work with a recipe with less tough ingredients (for instance, the beet smoothie might be a bit too much for my food processor).  I also followed Raiz’s newbie caution and went with a recipe with a more traditional smoothie taste to ease myself into it.  Below is the recipe I tried out with a picture of the result.

Image of a wine glass full of green liquid sitting in a sunbeam on a wooden countertop.

My first homemade green smoothie! In a wine glass because everything tastes better in a goblet.

“Cinnamango Smoothie (location  1558)

Blend first:
1 cup water with 1/4 cup almonds (soaked overnight) OR 1 cup nut milk OR 1 cup coconut water

Then add:
1 cup mango (frozen)
cinnamon, salt, and vanilla
2 cups spinach leaves (or any combination of mild greens)
1 T chopped mint leaves

Ice and extra water to get your desired temperature and consistency.”

You can see how simple the instructions are.  It is a smoothie after all.    I left off the introductory paragraph, which is primarily featured in the earlier recipes and talks more about the ingredients, and skipped right to the actual recipe.  The ingredients introduction is nice and makes it more conversational, but it is a smoothie after all.  You just put in the general ingredients to fit your tastes and away you go, and most of the recipes utilize this simpler style I chose here.

I used coconut water for the base of my smoothie, and my mango had kind of defrosted by the time I got home from the grocery store.  I also didn’t have spinach, but I did have swiss chard from my CSA, which was listed as a mild green in the cookbook, so I subbed those in.  When I took the first taste, it felt too strong and not smoothie-like enough to me.  So I read over the section on how to fix your smoothie and noticed that Raiz states that the temperature of the smoothie affects the taste.  Perhaps my mango being defrosted mattered?  So I added in ice, blended again, and voila! An incredibly delicious green smoothie!  It was, admittedly, a bit less well-blended than I would have preferred, but I was well aware that was the fault of my food processor, not the recipe.

So what’s the verdict? Well, I got so excited about green smoothies after this cookbook that my partner got me a blender for my birthday (using the recommendations in Raiz’s book to help him choose which one).  So I’d call it a success!  The recipes are easy, adaptable, and Raiz arms you with troubleshooting techniques to help you learn to get it right.  The beginning of the book needs more focus, organization, and clarity to help Raiz’s true expertise and talent shine through but if you want to start incorporating green smoothies into your life, this book is a great place to start.  It both explains greens and green smoothies and blenders AND gives you a bunch of adaptable, easy recipes to get going.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Cookbook Review: Veggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas Volger

July 19, 2012 2 comments

Colorful font reading "Veggie Burgers Every Which Way" alongside pictures of veggie burgers.Summary:
Far more than just your basic veggie burger, this cookbook offers up interesting varieties of veggie burgers plus veg*n versions of everything else you will need at your summer bbq.

Review:
This is such a pretty cookbook!  Beyond gorgeous full-color photographs of the food, the recipes themselves are colorful with the numbers in blue and the headings in red or green.  It’s not just readable and usable; it’s fun to do both.

This is a vegetarian cookbook, not a vegan one, but there are quite a few vegan recipes, and they are all clearly labeled with a green “V.”  There are also some gluten free recipes labeled with a green “GF.”  These labels are found in both the contents and on the recipes themselves.

The cookbook is divided into: Introduction, Veggie Burger Basics, Bean Grain and Nut Burgers, Vegetable Burgers, Tofu Seitan and TVP Burgers, Burger Buns, Sides: Salads and Fries, and Condiments and Toppings.  I have to say while I was pleased with the inclusion of sides, I was most impressed by the inclusion of the section on burger buns.  I also really appreciate the anti-processed food stance in the Introduction.  It’s a nice touch, particularly for people who follow a diet that often leaves us wallowing in processed foods at friends’ bbqs, and we can’t complain because, well, they bought us veggie burgers, didn’t they?

One drawback to the cookbook is quite a few of the recipes call for ingredients that are kind of hard to find like: chickpea flour, bulgur, roasted chestnuts, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), or arame.  If you’re pushing for people to do fresh, whole foods instead of processed, you shouldn’t make the ingredients list so complicated.

I found about three recipes that intrigued me enough to add to my “to try” collection.  So far I’ve tried one, Beet and Brown Rice Burgers on page 59.  It’s a fairly straight-forward recipe: combine shredded beets with cooked brown rice and mashed up beans, along with a few spices.  I made them all at once then froze them.  I also added in vital wheat gluten, which Volger oddly doesn’t use in a lot of his recipes in spite of its binding qualities and protein content.  I’m glad I did because the burger still had some issues staying together even with it in there.  However, the flavor and textures are different from other veggie burgers I’ve made, so it was definitely worth the effort.  I still think the recipes in the book in general need a bit of tweaking, particularly for flavor and stay-togetherness (shhh that is so a word).  The burger was good but not great. It’s almost there….I do intend to try it out again and tweak it a bit.

So….out of the whole book I found 3ish recipes, have made one, it was different and interesting but needs some tweaking.  Not exactly a result that would make me encourage others to purchase.  I do suggest you borrow it or check it out from a library if my review has intrigued you at all.  You may find it more useful than I did or perhaps enjoy the flavor combinations more or even just have more easily accessible oddball ingredients in your town.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Cookbook Review: Eat Vegan on $4.00 a Day by Ellen Jaffe Jones

July 18, 2012 7 comments

A couple of plates of food with the new of the cookbook on a banner over them.Summary:
This cookbook is a response to the myth that eating vegan must be expensive. Jones offers up recipes and a 7 day meal-plan where each day costs $4 or less.

Review:
The idea of this book is great, but the execution is poor, particularly compared to other eat cheap vegan cookbooks such as Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson or The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay S. Nixon.  The recipes simply lack creativity and skimp on flavor.

The book features an interesting introduction on why veggies and fruits don’t get ad space, followed by chapters on financial planning for grocery shopping and veggie nutrition and cooking.  Both of these chapters are kind of common sense, but I am fully aware a lot of adults, particularly young adults, are completely lacking in this common sense, so these chapters are good to have.

The recipes are divided into: breakfasts, soups, salads, salad dressings, entrees, spreads and sides, and desserts and snacks. Now, I have nothing against soups or salads, but to have three chapters really devoted to those two things (I mean, a whole chapter of salad dressings? Come on!) is not offering up much variety or doing anything to dispel the myth that vegans just eat salad.  To top it off, the entree chapter  starts with a chili and a stew, which are basically chunkier soups.

I also feel that a lot of the recipes are pure common sense.  There is a recipe titled rice and beans. COME ON NOW. You make rice, stir-fry up some beans and veggies, boom, rice and beans.  If you’re offering up a book on eating vegan on the cheap, don’t offer up recipes that we all already know anyway and that are commonly thought of as a poor man’s food.  What a person looking at this cookbook wants is creative, cheap, delicious vegan recipes.  What we are offered is basic stir fries, basic pasta and sauce, basic salad, etc…  For instance, the salad “recipe” on page 50 just offers up a list of veggies and nuts then says “combine any five of these ingredients.”  Gee, thanks, I had no idea that a salad is made up of a combination of veggies. What a help!

Now, I did try making a recipe in the cookbook, “Sweet Potato Muffins” on page 35.  The pros: it was cheap and edible. The cons: it was barely edible and I felt like I was having hockey pucks for breakfast.  There has got to be a better way to make vegan sweet potato muffins. There just has to be.  And, side-note, I’ve been cooking long enough to know that when a recipe fails this badly, it is most likely not my fault. Particularly when I try it a second time, and it still fails.

So overall I suppose if you are an absolute complete beginner in cooking and wanting to eat plant-based, you might find this book moderately useful.  I’d recommend to you that you get Vegetarian Cooking For Dummies instead though. (Seriously, that’s what I used when I first went veg).

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Cookbook Review: 130 New Winemaking Recipes by C. J. J. Berry

Wine, bread, and fruit on a table.Summary:
A recipe book for making your own wine at home. Geared toward those who already have winemaking skills.

Review:
I requested this via Netgalley um *coughs* last year when I had the dream of making my own wine.  People in my family have done this for years, so I thought I might.  Well….the start-up and learning curve are a bit more than I anticipated or had time for, so I wasn’t able to make any of the recipes.  I did, however, still want to provide a review, particularly since I sent my dad a few of the recipes. (He has his own winemaking set-up).  So, let me put on my librarian uniform and get to it!

Given that making your own wine is kind of a down-home skill, the tone of this book is perfect.  Berry takes on an older relative giving you the low-down on secret family recipes tone to his writing, and it works beautifully.

The wine recipes are primarily organized alphabetically, although a few that are similar (elderberry wines, for instance) are clumped together that way.  It sounds odd, but it makes sense when reading through the book.  The book ends with some holiday punch recipes (including wassail) and, oddly, some beer brewing ones.

The recipes themselves are easy to understand, but I would suggest in the future that Berry either numbers the steps, bullet points, or splits up into a few paragraphs.  They are basically one huge paragraph, which can be less easy to use.  Another suggestion I would make is that the wines for the most part don’t say if they are red or white, and I’m sure that is something the reader would like to know before getting going in the making.

Overall, this is a nice collection of wine making recipes.  It feels as if your uncle handed you a book of secret family recipes, just the alcohol variety.  A working knowledge of winemaking is assumed, so this is recommended to those who already have a wine making setup and want to try out some new, unique recipes.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Cookbook Review: Vegan Vittles by Joanne Stepaniak

June 21, 2012 3 comments

Image of a country kitchen.Summary:
A farm sanctuary is a farm whose sole purpose is to save animals from farm factories and slaughter.  The Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York was started in 1986.  In this cookbook, one of the proprietors has gathered vegan recipes inspired by farm life.  Think down-home cooking that is cruelty-free.

Review:
As a country girl, I was delighted to find a down-home cookbook free of animal products.  Everything about the cookbook hearkens back to classic American cookbooks from the layout to the simple black and white pictures at the beginning of each section to the layout of each of the recipes themselves to the sayings peppered throughout the book.  (The sayings are veganized versions of classic American ones).

The cookbook starts with an intro to the Farm Sanctuary, followed by a very personal explanation for her veganism by Stepaniak.   This is followed by the more scientific explanations for eating vegan and how to do it properly.  Substitutes and special ingredients are explained, and the intro is rounded out by a sample weekly menu.

The recipes themselves are divided into: tips and tails (hints and basics), beverages, breakfasts and breads, uncheeses butters and spreads, hearty soups and stews, salads and dressings, sandwiches, the main dish, sauces gravies and condiments, and happy endings (desserts).  Each section starts with a photo of one of the rescue animals and their story.  It’s a sweet, light-handed approach to veganism that I appreciate.

So what about the recipes?  They are definitely geared toward beginner plant-based cooks with a desire to replace their animal-based recipes with similar tasting ones.  There’s a plethora of traditional American recipes with the animal products simply switched out.  As a long-time vegetarian, I found this focus not quite my style, but I can see it being enjoyed by newbies or when hosting omni friends and family or to find that one thing you still really miss like bacon or meatloaf.  Personally, I found the dairy substitutes far more useful and interesting, since these can be expensive to buy, but are far healthier for you then the dairy norm.

I was able to find quite a few recipes of interest to me that I copied out.  So far I’ve only been able to try one, but it was amazing!  I tried Chuckwagon Stew on page 89. Seeking to replicate a hearty, country stew without the meat, the stew is built around tempeh.  The ingredients were easy to find (I got everything at Trader Joe’s), cheap, and the recipe was a quick one to make.  I fully admit I inhaled half of it that very evening.  I am eager to try the rest of the recipes, particularly the Crock Cheeze on page 74 and the Seitan Salami/Pepperoni on page 40.

Overall, this is a country style, omni-friendly vegan cookbook that lets the animals and recipes shine for themselves.  The recipes predominantly use grocery store ingredients, the exceptions being vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast, which are easily ordered via Amazon.  They are also simple enough that any moderately skilled cook should be able to follow them with ease.  I highly recommend it to omnis and veg*ns alike, as the recipes are happy, healthy, and friendly.  Personally, this is definitely going on my to own wishlist.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Note that the second edition has a different subtitle and more recipes.

Cookbook Review: Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World by Gil Mars

June 12, 2012 1 comment

Fruits and vegetables with olive oil.Summary:
Just as the title implies, this is a collection of recipes from Jewish communities around the world that are suitable for vegetarians.

Review:
Vegans beware. When this says it’s a vegetarian cookbook, it really means it!  Almost every recipe is drenched in animal products, primarily dairy and eggs.

The Introduction explains the various food cultures that have sprung up in Jewish communities around the world, complete with maps and such.  This part was fascinating, although I felt that it was a bit too Old Wold focused.  I know for instance that there are strong Jewish cultures in Argentina and Brooklyn, but they are not included in the book.

After the Introduction is an explanation of vegetarian foods incorporated into Jewish holidays.  I found this part rather averagely done and skimmed over it.

The recipes are oddly divided up.  The chapters are: cheese and dairy spreads; pickles, marinated vegetables, and relishes; salads; soups; savory pastries; cooked vegetable dishes; vegetable stews; legumes; grains; dumplings and pasta; eggs; sauces and seasonings.  As you can tell, some of the recipes are put together based on the type of dish (salad, soup) and others based on the ingredients (eggs, legumes).  This makes the book appear disorganized.  Also the complete lack of dessert is sad.

Beyond the maps in the Introduction, there are no pictures.  Additionally, the recipes are mostly designed to serve 6 to 8.  I’m not sure what planet the author is from, but that is not a typical family sized meal in America.  I must admit, that I didn’t try any of the recipes because I couldn’t find a single one I wanted to try.  They are all completely swimming in cholesterol and insane food portion sizes.  Looking at the soups, which should presumably be a healthier option, the Persian Onion Soup on page 123 contains 3 eggs and the Hungarian Cream of Mushroom Soup on page 125 contains TWO CUPS of sour cream.  Similarly, almost all of the breads and pastries are fried.  My cholesterol practically spiked just looking at the cookbook.

Essentially, then, this book is a good introduction to Old World style Jewish food but ignores the healthier options that I know from experience exist in Jewish communities in the Americas.  It is difficult to enjoy the cookbook since there are no pictures or colors.  Additionally, all of the recipes are designed for 6 to 8 servings, which is a bit large for the typical American household.  Overall, then, I would recommend this book to those with a vested interest in Jewish culture and cuisine who can see past the dull layout and design of the cookbook.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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