Friday, April 2, 2010

masters in english + world traveler = awesome cookbook

Anyone who owns the cookbook I'm about to rave about probably knows which one it is from the title of this post.  For anyone who has not yet experienced the wonder of a cookbook elegantly written about a diverse collection of edible treasures by a self-proclaimed food hedonist who relies on both her childhood in the coal-mining, rural region of Pennsylvania and her adulthood in the bustling mini-metropolis that is Philadelphia, I'll fill you in.

We're talking about The Urban Vegan by Dynise Balcavage.

I wanted this book because I follow her blog and wanted to support her in this venture.  I really wanted this book after reading about Jess (from Get Sconed)'s adventures with her copy of the book.  I love the very varied aspects of this book - she covers everything from replications of Philadelphia street cart fare to diner favorites to unpronounceable (by non-world-travelers) haute cuisine. 

Not only are there enough dissident recipes to keep a foodie on their toes and in the kitchen, the tidbits she adds throughout the book are a pleasure to read - introductions to recipes, reminiscences of her childhood Polish food, strategies for making a dinner party as hostess-friendly as it is guest-friendly.  In one such tidbit, she reveals seeking a Masters degree in English, which really ties everything together and explains why the book uses such elegant language with obvious ease.  Reading some of her descriptions made my mouth water and I had to take a dinner break...and then a dessert break.  I haven't had the privilege of cooking anything from this cookbook yet, but I have read it cover to cover (I'm not kidding) twice in the last 2 days and have constructed my entire extended-week-plus-special-Easter-dinner menu from those precious pages.

1. Cameroon Mafe which looks to be a slightly more exotic peanut-based stew than others I've made.
2. Granada Paella - I will admit, I hesitated for quite a while before allowing myself to add this to the menu.  I haven't had the greatest luck with these rice-cooking-simmerers, and I have gotten terribly spoiled with my growing collection of blink-and-dinner's-done cookbooks.
3. Orecchiette con Broccoli accompanied by Tuscan Braised Beans.  Orecchiette is such an awesome and sometimes difficult to locate pasta shape.  When I found that SuperFresh (of all places) regularly stocks it, I found a growing desire to use it whenever possible.  I'm actually really excited about the beans - when I saw the recipe, I thought, "I must find a reason to make these."  Neither pasta (generally) nor broccoli packs much of a protein punch, so I figured this was a good combination, culturally and nutritionally.
4. Balsamic-Roasted Vegetables because seriously, what part of that doesn't sound great?  I hate to tweak recipes I haven't made yet, but because she actually invites variation throughout the book and because the things I am adding are actually suggested at the end of the recipe, I don't feel so bad.
5. Tunisian Soup - I was a lot hesitant to include this.  Don't get me wrong - when I saw the recipe, I thought it looks amazing and like something that belongs in my belly.  However, it is not only officially Springtime, but the weather in Philadelphia is supposed to be gorgeous this week - not terribly conducive to soup slurping.  Ultimately, I stared at until I found a rainy day, so there's my justification.
6. Cauliflower-Chickpea Tagine - this ought to make it up to Mister that I'm going to feed him soup in 70-some-degree weather.

I also found the dish(es?) I will be sharing with my family on Easter, but I like surprising my family so my lips/fingers are sealed for now.

By the way, I was so excited about that Spicy Stirfry with Clementines, Asparagus, and Tofu that I made it twice in the same month - I can't remember the last time I did that [heating up leftovers does not count].  As I mentioned in the menu for last week, I planned to use mandarin oranges instead of Clementines.  Let me leave you with a word of advice:  don't do that.
It turns out canned mandarin oranges do not appreciate being cooked at stirfry temperatures and promptly became one with the sauce.  Sometimes you just can't be that lazy.  Observe the difference a little effort makes:
And one last note, as I'm looking at that amazing, healthy sized asparagus - for anyone local, Whole Foods is selling asparagus now for $1.99/lb!  And so, it will find its way into one of those meals, probably roasted because that's amazing.

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