(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher.)
Lane Gold’s Vegan Junk Food is my new favorite cookbook. (The previous title holder? Wheeler del Torro’s The Vegan Scoop – which should tell you a little sumthin’ sumthin’! Namely, that I like my vegan food filled with empty calories.) At my request, I was lucky enough to receive a review copy – along with two copies to give away – from the publisher, Adams Media. With a name like “Vegan Junk Food,” I figured it couldn’t disappoint.
Whether you like your junk food sweet or savory, chocolaty or cheesy, Lane (can I call you Lane?) has got you covered. The 225 recipes in this collection are divided into ten categories: breakfast foods; deli favorites (i.e., sandwiches, wraps, burgers, and sliders); comfort-meets-takeout foods (entrees); crusts and carbs (pizzas and breads); festive grub (party foods!); dips, hummus, and sauces (including sundae toppings!); savory treats; cakes; candies and cookies; and grab ‘n’ go sweets (brownies and bars). As you can see, the recipes are roughly divided between meal-type items (entrees, main courses) and snacks/desserts.
The husband and I tried out about twenty recipes before I sat down to write this review; and, while I don’t usually review cookbooks, this is easily the largest number of recipes I’ve sampled for a cookbook review, like, ever. (I just couldn’t stop myself; everything looks so good!) Possibly it’s the most recipes I’ve made from a single cookbook, period. Though I own a ridiculous number of them, I don’t use cookbooks with much frequency; more often I cook from memory or pull recipes off the internet. But Vegan Junk Food? Most definitely joining my repertoire!
The book’s obvious strength, of course, is the food: oodles and oodles of junk food! Pizza. Pasta. Tacos. Pot pies. Casseroles. Cupcakes, pies, and brownies. Empty calories as far as the eye can see! Wait, that’s not entirely fair: some of these foods aren’t all that bad for you. Ironically, many of the recipes in Vegan Junk Food are actually healthier than my own versions. The Mac and Cheese Bake, for example, uses a vegan Velveeta-like cheese sauce made of potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, nutritional yeast, and soy milk. Even factoring in the additional vegan cheese shreds in this dish, it’s still way better for you than my own mac & cheese recipe, which is basically just pasta and processed vegan cheeses (namely, Daiya and Follow Your Heart). Don’t let the book’s title fool you: while these foods may look and taste like junk food, they’re not all super-trashy.
With options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, Vegan Junk Food is versatile. Mix and match the recipes for something new – or experiment to make them your own. For example, I used leftovers from some of the recipes to create new banana ice cream dishes!
While some of the recipes call for pricey vegan meats and cheeses, Gold doesn’t rely on these products exclusively. (Unlike the PPP blog, Vegan Junk Food doesn’t read like a Lightlife ad!) In fact, she offers diy recipes for many of these vegan staples so you can make ’em your own bad self, oftentimes at a fraction of the price! See, e.g., gravy (page 61); ricotta (pg. 120); sour cream (pg. 120); cheese sauce (pg. 121) basil pesto (pg. 124); and ranch dressing (pg. 126), to name just a few!
My complaints are few and relatively minor. Some recipes reference other recipes – to return to the Mac and Cheese Bake, the Cheese Sauce is its own recipe, located in a different section of the book – but don’t include a page number alongside the recipe title, thus forcing the reader to consult the index in order to find it. A minor annoyance, compounded by the index’s lack of user friendliness. (I find it counter-intuitive and difficult to use.) An estimated cook time and rating for difficulty on each dish would have been nice too, but I suppose both are easy enough to gauge by reading through the instructions.
I also ran into issues with two of the recipes – the Almond Joy Bar Cake and the Red Pepper, Caramelized Onion, and Hash Brown Quiche – which I’ll explain below. Still, out of twenty recipes, two small glitches? Not so bad! Especially when you consider my lackluster track record with baked goods. Brownies, why you no like me?
What follows is a run-down of all the dishes I’ve tried thus far. I’ve only tackled about half the items on my to-do list, so I’m far from done with this cookbook! I’ll post additional pictures as I take them, so keep an eye out for those.
This was the first recipe we tried out, and quite possibly it’s also my favorite! The pureed white beans, seasoned with vegetable broth, nooch, and garlic, makes for a savory and filling pizza sauce, and the Basil Pesto is simple yet delicious. Enjoy this pizza with a fork and bib, though – it’s a messy one!
What do you do with leftover Basil Pesto? Toss it on some pasta and veggies, of course! Made with pine nuts, basil, garlic, nutritional yeast, and olive oil, it’s a relatively healthy way to add some variety to an otherwise plain old pasta dish. Gold also includes variations for Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Cilantro Peso, both of which I hope to try in the future.
Breakfast for dinner! (Seriously, who’s awake enough in the morning to make pancakes and syrup from scratch? Not this vegan!) These pancakes are delish, though I’m still a little partial to Bisquick’s batter (I know, boo hiss boo!) – it’s somehow lighter and fluffier than any other pancakes I’ve ever tasted. The syrup is yummy too, but here’s a little tip: don’t start making it until the pancakes are done cooking, or nearly so – cook the syrup too long (in my case, as long as it takes to make the pancakes), and it’ll be too thick to pour, let alone easily eat. Seriously, it was more viscous than molasses! The more you know.
Rather than try to use the leftover Cinnamon Syrup as a – ahem! – syrup, I tossed it in the food processor with a few frozen bananas and – voila! – Sweet Cinnamon Banana Ice Cream! This was so ridiculously good that I’m seriously considering messing up another batch of Cinnamon Syrup just so I can make more ice cream. I’m a huge fan of banana ice cream, and this is quite possibly my new favorite flavor.
(If you’d like to try it out, it’s pretty simple: mix three to four sliced and frozen bananas with a cup of overcooked Cinnamon Syrup, and enjoy! Banana ice cream is the best.)
If this casserole taught me anything, it’s that I like onions – but only in moderation. Having never tasted French Onion Soup before (I’m allergic to milk, so many of these dishes were entirely new to me!), I wasn’t sure what to expect of this French Onion Soup Casserole. In a word, it’s very onion-y. The recipe calls for one-two-three-FOUR onions, yo! THAT’S QUITE A FEW ONIONS FOR ONE CASSEROLE!
All in all, I liked the dish – but once the bread was gone, I still had a significant amount of the onion layer left over. Shane, who proved a bigger fan, used it as a topping on his Boca chicken patties, so it didn’t go to waste. I might try a modified version of this dish in the future – half the onions, perhaps followed by a layer of mixed veggies to take the edge off? Or half the onions, twice the bread? (Cubed, even, so I can cram more of it into the baking dish?) We’ll see. But if you heart French Onion Soup, this just might be the casserole for you!
Vegan Junk Food pairs this gravy with Scrambled Tofu and Biscuits, but I just dumped it atop a plate of steak fries and microwaved mixed veggies. In-freaking-credible! Definitely one of the highlights of the book, this recipe has already joined my regular rotation. I’m going to have to start buying Lightlife’s Gimme Lean Sausage by the case!
This pizza is a work of art – and, not surprisingly, is rather labor-intensive. Shane made it for me one Saturday night, and it took him nearly an hour just to bread and fry the eggplant! Still, it’s so worth it, especially if – like us – you usually stick to simple cheese and pepperoni pizzas. Treat yourself!
It’s fast, it’s soup – and it’s an excellent excuse to gorge oneself on tortilla chips! Just make sure you have instant rice on hand, otherwise this fast soup isn’t so quick to cook. ‘Nuff said.
I already raved about Gold’s Mac and Cheese Bake earlier in the review. While this is a little more time-intensive to make than some other mac & cheese dishes, it’s one of the yummier recipes I’ve tried – and it’s also somewhat healthy, as far as mac n’ cheese goes. Oven-baked mac and cheese dishes tend to dry out, but here the Cheese Sauce stays moist and creamy.
I still like mine better, though! 4 1/2 stars!
This is the vegan french toast recipe I’ve been waiting for! (Those banana batters just don’t do it for me.) Delicious and fairly easy to make, and topped with a cinnamon glaze AND a vanilla icing. YUM. This one gets ALL the stars! Tip: If you’re running low on time, skip the glaze and icing and just make the french toast. It’s also good with plain old maple syrup!
(Gold also includes recipes for Sticky Caramel Baked French Toast and Eggnog French Toast with Butter Rum Sauce, but it’s hard to imagine that either one could live up to the Cinnamon Roll French Toast. Still, I’m gonna try them all! Probably the Eggnog French Toast will have to wait for next November, but that’s okay! I have other french toast to tide me over!)
Carbs, meet carbs! Minus the vegan ricotta, which we were too lazy to make! Super-yummy and probably easier to make than my own version. But eating it? Every bit as messy! Next time I think I’ll try it with a more bite-sized pasta; elbows, maybe?
The Almond Joy Bar Cake is the first and only dessert I’ve tried from Vegan Junk Food. It’s not that I have anything against sweets – for from it! – but I started my Invisalign treatment not long after receiving this book, and the trays are difficult enough to remove that my days of casual snacking have come to an end. Or rather, are on a one-year hiatus. Le sigh.
And so it was with great excitement and eager anticipation that I tried this one sweet treat. Sadly, I ran into problems from the start. The bar consists of three layers: 1/2 the chocolate batter, followed by almonds and coconut shreds, followed by the rest of the batter and some almond slivers to garnish. Gold instructs you to “pour” the batter into the pan; the thing is, the batter’s much too thick and viscous for anything but spreading! This wasn’t a problem until I reached the third layer: since I couldn’t spread the batter on top of the loose ingredients without disturbing them, everything just got jumbled together (as you can see in the photo). Still, I’m not fussy; a messy dessert is just as yummy. AND THEN THE CAKE STUCK TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PAN.
Now, as I mentioned before, my track record with baked goods isn’t so hot, my main problem being pan stickage. Still, I went through the recipe multiple times and couldn’t see where I went wrong. Usually I blame myself in cases of massive recipe FAIL – me being the amateur and all – but I don’t know what I did wrong, if anything.
But wait! This story has a happy ending! The bars tasted much better the next morning and, even though they were a mess of crumbs and jagged pieces, I still enjoyed the entire pan….
…both on its own and in a batch of banana ice cream! It just so happened that I had a few more frozen bananas to use up, so I blended them – along with some cocoa powder, almonds, and shredded coconut – in a food processor until smooth, and then added the remaining Almond Joy Bar Cake (about 1/8 of the pan) for good measure. Dare I say that the ice cream tasted even better than the bars? I DARE!
Linguine Alfredo, where have you been all my life?
This is another one of those dishes whose non-vegan counterpart I’ve never tasted due to my galactosemia. (It’s a real thing! Look it up!) I never really gave it a second though because, milk? Yuck! But OMG have I been missing out, and missing out hard! It turns out that Linguine Alfredo is AH-MAY-ZING! Or Lane Gold’s vegan version is, anyway. Rich and creamy, with just the right amount of seasoning. And the bacon bits? Genius! Shane, who has had dairy-based Alfredo dishes, reports that this is every bit as good as the “real” thing. (Scare quotes because vegan food is real food too!)
I will be eating you again, dear friend. Until next time.
In a word: awesome. And not that difficult to assemble! (Did I mention that the Savory Pie Crust is made from scratch? GO ME!)
KFC’s recent retro ’70s chicken pot pie commercials left me craving a Tofurky pot pie. Enter Lane Gold. Stuffed with carrots, celery, potatoes, vegan chicken patties, and a savory gravy sauce (nutritional yeast, I’m a convert!), this is one filling meal. Two, actually: we had enough for leftovers! It may not be as pretty as KFC’s pies, but I bet it’s every bit as delish. Also, animal-free. Score!
So eggplant bacon is a recipe I’ve seen floating around in various forms for some time now. (See, e.g., Isa’s version, which is simpler than that found in Vegan Junk Food.) I’ve been meaning to try out it, and this cookbook finally gave me the push I needed. It’s simple and fairly easy to make (mandolin be damned!), though I don’t recommend using a dehydrator to cook the eggplant – mine emitted a weird smell, similar to dirty socks, that lingered in the room for days afterward. Weeks, even. (Yes, we put the dehydrator in the gym when in use, so that it’s out of Lemmy the cat’s reach. No, our gym doesn’t normally stink of feet!)
The “bacon” is tasty, though I don’t think it tastes very much like bacon (or even the processed vegan versions). I can’t see downing an entire platter in one sitting, but it does make for a nice garnish on sandwiches and pizzas and such.
I also set out to make the Kale Chips, but accidentally bought cabbage instead of kale. (Hey, the bins were mislabeled!) File this one under “vegan problems.” The seasoning was tasty, at least!
Another huge win! This is saying something, since I’m not normally tofu’s biggest fan. This casserole layers blended and seasoned tofu (Firm tofu! And here I thought that only silken tofu would blend so smoothly! Imagine that!) with fried Lightlife Gimme Lean Sausage and tater tots. All your favorite breakfast foods in one dish!
I was especially impressed with the tofu; with the nooch, chives, and garlic, to add flavor, it really has the taste and texture of scrambled eggs, or an omelet. Makes me wonder what else my fussy, stubborn self has been missing out on all these years!
Hummus is the yummiest – and this Pizza Hummus makes for a nice change of pace! Gold recommends using it as a dip for french bread, but I just layered mine together with tomatoes and greens to make a sammie. Quick, tasty, and healthy. Vegan junk food what now?
Parmesan is yet another milky food to which I never afforded much thought in my omnivore days. Prepackaged vegan parms exist, but can be kind of pricey – and so I never bothered to try ’em out. Until Lane Gold introduced me to the diy stuff in her Eggplant Parmesan Pizza recipe. Now I’m hooked!
This recipe uses walnuts, nutritional yeast, salt, and olive oil to recreate the texture (and taste? I don’t know!) of Parmesan cheese, but I’ve also seen blends that use other nuts and seeds. Search around online for similar recipes – or check out the ingredients list on a prepackaged blend and start experimenting!
I love this parm so much that I’ve taken to sprinkling it on all my pasta and pizza dishes. Mix it with a bowl of pasta, veggies, and just a pat of margarine for a quick, tasty meal.
Mushroom Stroganoff: Shroomy! This is another case of less is more. I like the idea of Mushroom Stroganoff, but there are just too many mushrooms in this dish for me! (Mushrooms in Mushroom Stroganoff? Who would’ve thunkit!) The sauce – similar to that found in the Linguine Alfredo – is quite good, rich and creamy and seasoned not just with the mushrooms, but vegetable broth as well. I think I’d like to try mixing this dish up a bit, perhaps by replacing some of the mushrooms with other veggies. Probably it no longer qualifies as “Mushroom Stroganoff” then, hmmm?
As always, Shane really enjoyed this dish. Super easy to please, is he.
Last but certainly not least, we have a lovely Hash Brown Quiche. (Hint: the hash browns act as the “crust”!) This is kind of like the Tater Tot Casserole, but in reverse: potatoes, followed by the fried onions and red peppers (no sausage this time, sorry!), and topped with the “egg” (tofu mixed with sour cream and seasonings). Very good, though I encountered the same problem with the blended tofu as I did with the cake batter in the Almond Joy Bar Cake: namely, that it’s not pourable. Probably you could nip this problem in the bud by layering the tofu first (a la the Tot Casserole), but then it’s definitely not a quiche! Who cares, it’s nommy either way.
Super stars: Pesto Chicken Pizza with Creamy Garlic Sauce; Cinnamon Roll French Toast; Fettuccine Alfredo; Chicken Pot Pie; Tater Tot Breakfast Casserole
Simple pleasures: DIY Vegan Parmesan; Basil Pesto; Sausage Gravy
Still on my to-do list: Strawberry Daiquiri Crepes; Waffles with Creamy Maple Sauce; Black Bean Burger with Onion Rings; Pizza Rolls; Sausage Puffs; all the pies, cakes, cupcakes, and brownies, starting in mid-2013
Enjoy with: Riots, not diets