Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Veganomicon - could it be...seitan?

Alright, that was ridiculous, I'll admit. I'm just in that kind of mood right now. It's 90 degrees in Philadelphia. I live in a tiny apartment on top of a restaurant and my air conditioning is STILL not working. Also, there are now 6 holes in my ceiling, generously carved there by the well-intentioned but in-over-their-heads maintenance men who have been in my home for over 4 hours. Angst will never recover.

Anyway, more or less stuck here and very much confined to one small area of my disgusting apartment, I turned my attention to - you guessed it - food. So, I have two subjects to babble about while I wait to see if I'll even be able to cook tonight and the stupid camera battery is still dead.

Subject #1: next week's menu. Why wait until Thursday or Friday to figure that out when I have nothing to do today? So, complete with some side dishes for the less comprehensively nutritious main courses, I present Next Week's Dinners (drum roll, please?):
1. Seitanic Red and White Bean Jambalaya - I have never had "real" Jambalaya, because I wasn't very adventurous about the things I put in my mouth until I became a vegetarian and realized that pasta, broccoli, carrots, corn, and rice would get old real fast if I didn't open my mind a little. I have another recipe for Jambalaya, though I can't remember where right now and my cookbooks are too covered in drywall dust to figure it out. It's a good recipe, though, and it's the recipe that introduced me to the wondrous texture tofu develops if you freeze it and thaw it before cooking it. Anyway, I have determined that I love Jambalaya, so I was excited to see this one and the name was just too good to resist!
2. Curried Udon Noodle Stirfry - this sounded flavorful. By the way, this recipe and the one above both came from Veganomicon by Isa and Terry Hope Romero, but I'll talk more about that later.
3. Ginger Cakes with Garlic Vegetables
4. Baked Tofu with Coconut Lime Sauce,
accompanied by the Bell Pepper and Bok Choy Stirfry from the side dish chapter of Vegan Express. Look at me getting all fancy.
5. Smoked Apple Tofu Sandwiches, accompanied by Sauteed Spinach and Tomatoes from Veganomicon
6. Roasted Plaintains with Coconut Lime Sauce and Red Rice

There's no point keeping secrets anymore...they'll all sweat to death in the closet anyway. I'm totally psyched about dinners 3-6 because they are ALL originals. Like I mentioned previously, I've been feeling quite creative lately. I'm really excited to see how everything turns out!

Subject #2 - The next cookbook to review (I think two weeks was enough for Vegan Express) is my brand new and already beloved Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I've heard so much about this book, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy it to see what the hype was about. Most people would shudder at a cookbook that has 45 pages worth of introduction, but it is all the most amazingly helpful stuff. Stuff you didn't know you didn't know until you read it and think to yourself, "how have I lived this long without knowing how to caramelize winter squash?"

The book starts with a very comprehensive table of contents, then a charming and pop-culture-laced "hello" from Isa and Terry. One of the (many) reasons I love Isa is her writing style - it takes talent to write sarcasm so unmistakably. I can imagine that her writing style perfectly echoes the way she speaks and I love that. There's a brief explanation of the icons they use, then the rest of the introduction is devoted to stocking your pantry with the items needed for the following recipes, a brief thesis on kitchen equipment and then a glossary of cooking terminology (in case you want the "technical" definition of Slurry). They also devote a whole section to lower-fat cooking techniques, followed by recommendations on how to cook particular vegetables, grains, and beans.

The recipes are, of course, creative and fantastic, as well as thought-provoking. That is to say, you read the titles and/or the recipes and think to yourself, "wow - really? I never would have put those things together..." However, Isa has yet to fail me, so I will trust that her Cornmeal-Masala Roasted Brussels Sprouts are as "mouthwatering" as she claims. In addition to the normal stuff, like how many the recipe is supposed to serve and how to make it (as well as some terrific smart-assed intro to the recipe), the authors include cooking time. Given my love for Vegan Express, it should be evident that cooking time is important to me to know.

The (very comprehensive) book closes with a beloved trait I have found in only two other cookbooks I own - preconstructed menus pairing an entree with side dishes, a soup or salad, and a dessert. In case you care what those other books are, they are the (at the moment dust-covered) Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook (which is my fancy meal bible and most treasured gift from my mother-in-law long before she was my mother-in-law) and Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook, another fantastic and comprehensive cookbook (thank you, mom!).

Anyway, I will blog later about the pizza I will bake tonight since in the time it took me to go away from and come back to writing all of this, the maintenance guys did indeed fix the a/c. The apartment is a disaster area, but there's little point in cleaning too much since they're coming back tomorrow to patch the six holes in my ceiling. I wanted to leave you with an excerpt from the introduction to the Casseroles chapter (yes, a whole chapter devoted to casseroles!) in Veganomicon that shows exactly why I love Isa:

Perhaps at first the word casserole evokes images of a '70s mom. You know, she's the not-quite-picture-perfect version of '50s mom: hair a bit messed up, mascara running, her apron slightly askew over her no-iron poly-blend twin set. But there she is, our hero, with her plaid oven mitts, getting dinner on the table even though she just returned from work an hour ago. And all she had to do was open a couple of cans, pour 'em into a ceramic, and throw it in the oven - patriarchy has never been easier!
Well, there's no canned mushroom soup here in our modern, new-fangled kitchen and we smudge our mascara on purpose. When we talk about casseroles, really what we mean are one-dish meals that are baked. They aren't necessarily faster than other dinners, but the oven time does give you downtime to do your nails...or call your mom and apologize for being such an ingrate.

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