Cookbook Challenge 2 - Vegan with a Vengeance

Cookbook Challenge II - Vegan with a Vengeance

This is the book that started it all! As the humorous and heartfelt introduction points out, Vegan with a Vengeance is Isa Chandra Moskowitz's first cookbook. The tangible product of her veganness and public access cooking show (The Post Punk Kitchen - some episodes are still available here), Vegan with a Vengeance is a compilation of recipes developed over a decade, and it is full of veganized classics - - and utterly unique creations. It's really fun to read (yes, I read cookbooks) and Isa's got a great attitude and perspective that reflects much of what I also value - compassionate cooking, feeding good food to your friends, loving all animals and loud punk music.

This week, like prior weeks, I sought to test out recipes I'd never made before. I've cooked my way through about half of this book, so the pickins were still plentiful.

Baking Powder Biscuits with White Bean Tempeh Sausage Gravy

Last Sunday's breakfast was unexpectedly easy to make, and was made up entirely of pantry staples (if tempeh isn't a "pantry staple" for you, I think you need to reevaluate your life). The White Bean and Tempeh Sausage Gravy combined crumbled tempeh with warming herbs - dried rubbed sage, crushed fennel seeds, a small sprig of thyme and a dash of oregano - and pureed white beans to create a thick and velveteen gravy akin to what any Southern grandma would serve with homemade biscuits. Oh wait, I did that, too! The Baking Powder Biscuits are the other half to this harmonious love story of a breakfast. They were flaky and buttery to the point of perfection, and not at all sticky! Biscuits in generally are so easy to make, but often leave you with clumps of dough stuck between your fingers - well, not these babies! They were some of the easiest I've made, ever. 

Banana-Pecan Pancakes
Contrary to those breezy biscuits, only once have I ever made a perfect vegan pancake (most of my love&devotion are reserved for waffles, anyway). It was so long ago that I hardly remember the recipe, or from where it originated. Most likely it was my own interpretation of one of the many pancake recipes recipes found of Vegweb.com. Why are pancakes so difficult, you wonder? I haven't the slightest clue! Mine have always burned to easily, been too runny, or tasted slightly chalky. Ignoring my inner thoughts and warnings, I decided to give the Banana-Pecan Pancakes a shot because I had all of the ingredients on hand, and I was intrigued by the thicker-than-you-average-pancake introduction. Oh, these were thick all right - almost like eating a cake. 

Banana-Pecan Pancakes

Thick, dense and moist, these pancakes weren't terrible. The flavors were perfect and the texture would have been wonderful...if I didn't have frantic and finicky stove top burners! Canola spray oil should not smoke on medium-low, right? Well my pan was smoking in a matter of minutes - so much that I had to change pans half way through because it was taking too long to cool down. The recipe suggests medium-high heat, but that was clearly not an option. As a result, my p-cakes were nearly burnt on the outside and wet on the inside, but my immaculate photography skills had you thinking otherwise...right? Overall, the recipe will receive a positive review, because I can't pass my poorly executed pancakes off as a recipe problem. Next time, I'll probably just make waffles.

Fettuccine Alfreda

A recipe that has always called out to me is the Fettuccine Alfreda. I thought this was really tasty, albeit nothing to write home about. In the recipe introduction, Isa warns that this isn't exactly like the alfredo found in Italian restaurants & pizzerias, but more like a spur-of-the-moment creamy pasta dish resulting from the ingredients she possessed on hand - mainly nutritional yeast and pine nuts. There was too much nutritional yeast for my preferences and I couldn't get over the fact that it wasn't vegan fettuccine alfredo in the aforementioned restaurant style. It almost reminded me of macaroni and cheese cheese sauce (kind of American/cheddar-y), but much more mellow, which I did enjoy. It was really thick for me so I thinned it with pasta water. Also, pine nuts are waaaay to expensive to use on a sub par sauce (roughly $30/lb here!), so if I were to make this again, I will most certainly sub cashews for pine nuts, cut back on the nooch and add a little bit of unsweetened almond milk...and probably a dollop of earth balance for good measure.

White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup

This was fantastic! The White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup from Vegan with a Vengeance is criminal. The soup was alarmingly easy to make, but the final flavor profile blew me away. Two words: roasted garlic. Two whole bulbs cloaked in olive oil roasted for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees until they were a mellow paste encapsulated in their shell. Just thinking about them has my mouth watering! They were combined with creamy canellini beans (any white bean will do), sauteed onions, earthy spices - fennel, thyme, oregano - and pureed into a thick soup perfect for rain or snow or whenever! I left about one ladle's worth of soup whole, which for me was a good thing; a few chunky beans and garlic cloves here and there are definitely welcome. This was perfect for the recent dip in temperatures (Louisiana had freezing rain!). We dipped the leftover Baking Powder Biscuits in the soup and ate just about the entire pot - yes, there were only two of us...

Brooklyn Pad Thai

Never having had Pad Thai from Thailand, I'm ok with this version reining from New York. Brooklyn Pad Thai tasted almost like what I've eaten numerous times at Thai/Fusion restaurants, and Matt (a man obsessed with all things Pad Thai) gave it two thumbs up. Rice noodles are so easy to work with, and this recipe really comes together in a sinch. Just make sure to use a large sauteing vessel - preferably a wok with high sides. I didn't, so it was a bit of a mess for me. If you chop all your vegetables beforehand, the meal is ready in less than 20 minutes (10 of which are reserved for cooking the rice noodles!). The sauce was a little spicy for me, so I'll be sure to reduce the amount of chili sauce (I used Sriracha) next time. I also had to omit the bean sprouts because I forgot about them on my grocery run (lemongrass, too!). Considering my minor changes and omissions, this was really good. Full of flavor and easy enough to make on a weeknight, but only if Matt will agree to clean up afterwards!