Cookbook challenge – Jo Stepaniak

Jo Stepaniak has been influential in the vegan world for many years as both an author and editor. She’s written a number of cookbooks as well as books about the vegan lifestyle. I have 3 books (Ultimate Uncheese, Vegan Vittles Second Helpings and Vegan Deli). They were all revolutionary when released, especially the Uncheese book, which was the base for many other more popular cheese recipes. Unfortunately though, I’ve tended to ignore them over more recent and trendier books, so it was time to put that right.

Although I’ve got 3 books they’re quite similar and in fact everything I tried came out of Vegan Vittles. I certainly gave it a good road test making 10 recipes over a couple of weeks so I feel like I’ve got a very good idea of Jo’s type of food. Unfortunately, a lot of what I made was stews and chillis and they weren’t very photogenic so it’s mostly just a text review.

The first dish I made was Chickpeas a la King, a creamy sauce with mushrooms and peppers alongside the chickpeas. This was delightfully quick and easy. I served it with rice, and it was a good comforting dish, perhaps a touch bland but deliberately so. It reminded me of the filling my Mum used to put in her vol au vents for parties growing up and I intend to try it that way too. It was a great dish for the beginning of Autumn and a good start to cooking from this book.

Next was the Chili Bean Macaroni which we both loved. Another very easy dish which would be easy to adapt to whatever vegetables you had that needed using up, it’s pasta, kidney beans, vegetables, spices and tomatoes. I will definitely make this again.

After that came the Sloppy Lennies. I’m always a sucker for a sloppy Joe recipe, which is a type of stew served as a sandwich filling in a bun, or in my case, always open faced. I always love them and this was no exception.

The next recipe I tried unfortunately didn’t work for me at all. The Cauliflower Paprikash seemed like it should have been right up my street. I tried silken tofu as a base for sauces years ago when I first went vegan and didn’t like it but I thought my taste buds might have adapted a bit. I was wrong. I didn’t like this at all and didn’t even touch the leftovers.

The Lentil and Eggplant Goulash was a strange recipe. It didn’t have any paprika in for one thing, and although goulash can have different textures it’s usually quite soupy where this was a very thick stew. If you just think of it as a stew though it’s really very nice. It takes a long time to make but it’s all hands off. I made the lentils the day before so it came together pretty quickly on the day. It had a touch too much cinnamon in for my taste but considering it is totally fat free it was very tasty and filling.

I had some tofu which desperately needed using up so I made a batch of Tofu Bacon. I usually prefer tempeh or seitan for my salty smoky breakfast needs, but this made a very pleasant change indeed. I had some in a sandwich with tomato ketchup, and I used the rest stir fried with cabbage, dill and onion as a base for potato pierogi with sour cream. It was excellent both ways and I’d make it again.

The next meal was my favourite of the challenge by a mile. I made the Bread Stuffing Casserole with Golden Gravy (and roasted broccoli not from the book). I adored this meal. The casserole was very easy and a brilliant use for leftover slightly stale bread. It’s mixed up with vegetables, herbs, dried fruit and nuts and baked. I’m not always a big fan of dried fruit in savoury dishes but this was great. The golden gravy was rich, salty and creamy and a perfect accompaniment to the casserole.

The Macaroni with Tomatoes and Cheez was on the menu last week because I hadn’t been shopping at all and it was made from entirely store cupboard ingredients. I threw in a bit of frozen spinach which added a green vegetable but did not help the look of the dish! It was a comforting hearty pasta dish which wasn’t as rich as a pure mac and cheese but richer than a tomato sauce pasta. Unsurprisingly not my favourite cheesy pasta dish but I’d make it again for a midweek standby dish.

My tenth recipe from this book was the Southern Fried Tofu which I served with chips and coleslaw. I love Southern Fried anything. This blend had more nutritional yeast than I would normally use, and it worked very well. Matthew has eaten chicken more recently than I have and said it tasted just like it. The texture wouldn’t fool anyone but it tasted delicious. Like most similar recipes there was way too much of the flour, milk and spice blend, but I’ve saved the spices blend leftovers to use with either seitan or tempeh another time.

So overall the results of my Jo Stepaniak testing were very positive. The books don’t have any pictures of the food, which doesn’t especially bother me but may explain why I don’t reach for them too often. They’re definitely hearty, comforting food – no fancy swirls or fiddling around, so they’re perfect for busy people and families, but probably not so much for dinner parties or impressing sceptical meateaters. The recipes hardly use any processed or fancy¬†ingredients like bought cheeses or meats so they’re also very useful if you don’t have access to storebought products or are on a budget.

There are still plenty of recipes I want to try from these books, so if you’ve used them a lot please let me know your favourites!

Cookbook Challenge: Donna Klein

Another personal cookbook challenge over the last couple of weeks – my 3 Donna Klein books. I’ve got 3 of her books – Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, Vegan Italiano, and Tropical Vegan Kitchen. She has written others, and I’ve been tempted recently by Chinese Vegan Kitchen, but I wanted to get some more use out of the others before I purchased. I’ve had Mediterranean Vegan for years now; in fact, I bought it before I had ever even thought about becoming vegan about 10 years ago, when I spotted it on holiday and thought it might help me cut down on cheese a bit. The other two were both presents. Like my previous challenge, I liked all the books but really hadn’t used them much. Time to see if they are worth the space on my expanding cookbook shelves.

First I used Vegan Italiano to make this Broccoli Tart and served it alongside the Romaine Salad with Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette from Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, just adding in a few chickpeas to make it more substantial. As you can see I added some Vegusto blue cheese on top – I knew it wouldn’t melt but it needed using and I love the flavours of blue cheese with broccoli. I liked this – I like pretty much anything with puff pastry, but the tomato sauce was a touch too sweet and without the sharpness of the cheese it would have been a bit dull. Quite a nice summer lunch but wouldn’t rush to make again.

Next was the Thai Style Stir-Fry with Crispy Tofu and Hoisin Sauce. I marinated the tofu overnight so it was very quick to make and I served it over rice. It was quite simple but tasty.

The Thai Style Pasta Salad was a bit odd, as it contained lightly cooked cucumber. I had a huge cucumber to use so I tried it, but added quite a bit more curry paste than the rather stingy 1/4 tsp the author suggests. I knew going in that there wouldn’t be enough vegetables in this for the ratio of pasta, and I was right, but I did quite like the cucumber in it and it’s a decent base recipe but I’d throw in red peppers and green beans next time.

I didn’t get a picture of the Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe (chickpea variation but with normal broccoli) but it was a standard pasta and broccoli dish, very quick and simple and hit the spot.

Finally, and again no picture, I made the Bolivian Lentils over Rice from Tropical Vegan. This was my favourite of the bunch without question. It was very simple to make – I cooked the lentils the day before then finished it off when I got in late the next day. It’s just brown lentils cooked with tomatoes, garlic, onion, chipotle and loads of parsley, but it was so tasty it’s untrue. I will definitely make this over and over and try it as the author suggests in tacos or as a side dish.

Overall it’s quite a mixed picture from these books. As you can probably tell from my reviews, they pretty much rely entirely on fresh produce. The first 2 don’t even have any tofu in, and the only pre made product I could find apart from a couple of sauces was purchased bread dough which appears a few times and which I certainly can’t get here. That sounds great in theory but it does mean that a lot of the recipes are very simple indeed, and can tend to be a bit bland and I often overlook them for that reason.

When I said I hadn’t used these books much, I wasn’t lying. I can only find 2 things I’d made before my mini challenge – the farfalle with courgette, mint and almonds from Vegan Italiano, and the ditali with cauliflower from Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, both of which I’ve made a couple of times and really like.

None of the books have any pictures which doesn’t bother me, but might turn some people off. Vegan Italiano has menus, which I like, especially when so many of the dishes in it aren’t main meals, more just ways to cook vegetables. My definite favourite is Tropical Vegan as it suits my tastebuds better than the others, but if you have easy access to great fresh produce and like clean, simple flavours, the others will suit you well.