Three Words: Vegan Comfort Food!
I was lucky enough to win a copy of American Vegan Kitchen through a giveaway hosted by author Tami Noyes on her blog, Vegan Appetite. I can’t even tell you how glad I am that I did, since I probably wouldn’t have given it a try otherwise. Not because the recipes aren’t enticing (they are! some epically so!); rather, I own way too many cookbooks as it is, many of which go largely unused. I’m happy to report that this hasn’t been the case with AVK.
With chapters devoted to breakfast foods, starters, soups, salads, sandwiches, main dishes, sides, and desserts, it was difficult to know where to start. (The Dessert Case. Always start with dessert!) Cue: the old adage about one’s eyes being bigger than one’s stomach.
So far I’ve made about two dozen recipes – some of them multiple times! – including the following:
Mediterranean Scramble (page 23)
Noodle Omelet (page 25)
Summer Waffles with Lemon Sauce (page 36)
Cinnamon Flapjacks (page 37)
Vegan Sausage Links (page 41)
Mighty Miso Soup (page 73)
Loaded Baked Potato Soup (page 74)
‘Big Soup’ Minestrone (page 77)
Seitan and Herb Dumplings (page 134)
Italian Big Bowl (page 137)
Italian-Style Seitan with Linguine (page 138)
Fettuccine Alfredo (page 140)
Spaghetti Pie with Arrabbiata Sauce (page 141)
Brewpub Tater Tot Pie (page 152)
Margherita Pizza with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (page 157)
Cheesy Mac and Greens (page 164)
Stovetop Mac and Cheeze (page 165)
Taters and Strings (page 165)
Homestyle Gravy (page 167)
Mom’s Apple Pie (page 178)
Apple Butterscotch Pie (page 180)
Peachy Keen Cobbler (page 184)
Vanilla Espresso Shake (page 198)
I blogged each of these as I went, so I won’t rehash each and every dish here. (But you can click through the recipe titles to read more.) Instead: a highlights reel!
With the exception of the Peachy Keen Cobbler – the only dish I didn’t love, though that’s probably owing more to the fact that I’m not much of a cobbler girl than any deficiency in the recipe – I’ll likely make all of these dishes again. The Homestyle Gravy has become a staple in our kitchen (put gravy on ALL the things!), and Noyes’s Minestrone is by far the best version I’ve tasted. The Brewpub Tater Tot Pie and Loaded Baked Potato Soup are nothing short of inspired. (But be careful of the potato chunks in the latter – those suckers can get HOT! Best to cut them a little smaller than recommended.)
AVK features not one but two apple pie recipes, both of which are scrumptious. The crust is a bit on the delicate side, and thus hard to work with, but then again I’ve yet to find a pie crust recipe that I truly love.
Likewise, each of the two macaroni and cheese recipes are good, and healthy too – one even includes spinach! (Heads up, parents of veggie-averse kids.)
While we’re on pasta, the Italian Big Bowl and Italian-Style Seitan with Linguine are both winners, but they pale in comparison to the awesomeness that is the Spaghetti Pie with Arrabbiata Sauce. Talk about love at first bite – right away I knew I’d found my new favorite recipe! A four-layer masterpiece consisting of pasta, a blended tofu concoction reminiscent of ricotta cheese, red sauce chunky with tvp, and vegan mozzarella cheese, this casserole is totally worth the hour plus assembly time. If you’re strapped for time, you can prepare it in advance and refrigerate until meal time. The Spaghetti Pie has already replaced lasagna as my go-to Christmas recipe! (Make dinner the day before and spend the holiday relaxing, is my motto.)
As for difficulty, I’d say that American Vegan Kitchen is appropriate for advanced beginner to intermediate cooks. Some of the recipes are more complicated, require a wider variety of ingredients, and take more time to prepare than others, with waffles and pancakes falling on the “easy” end of the spectrum and a few of the pasta dishes demanding more planning and patience. The Spaghetti Pie is an excellent example: though no one step is particularly difficult, add them all up and you might spend several hours in the kitchen, start to finish. That said, the more you practice, the more efficient you’ll become. I’m fairly confident that I can shave fifteen minutes off the Spaghetti Pie the next time around.
While it’s true that some of the recipes requite a good number of ingredients (Noyes is generous with the spices, which I appreciate), few of them are what I’d call hard to find. (In fact, the only ingredient I’ve run into trouble with is vegan butterscotch chips – they appear to be an online-only item.) Noyes makes moderate use of vegan meats, cheeses, and other “substitutes,” so some of these recipes might require a trip to a specialty health foods store.
But – and here’s the kicker – when possible, she also offers recipes for making these things yourself! In AVK you’ll find do-it-yourself instructions for making your own sausage links, seitan, and bacon. (A steamer is required.) Additionally, many of the cheesy sauces are homemade, with liberal use of tofu and nutritional yeast. Since I live an hour’s drive from the nearest vegan-friendly grocery, these recipes are quite useful for those weeks when we’re in between shopping trips and running low on expensive indulgences. They’re also helpful for those on a budget – buy a 25-pound sack of wheat gluten and make all the sausage you can eat!
As for nutrition, American Vegan Kitchen strikes a pleasant balance between taste and healthfulness. Many of these dishes aren’t exactly what you’d call “health food” – but, as far as comfort food goes, they aren’t all that bad. Take for example the Fettuccine Alfredo: while it isn’t the most decadent I’ve ever had – that distinction goes to the Linguine Alfredo in Lane Gold’s Vegan Junk Food – it’s still quite good and, since it’s a cashew-based cream sauce, relatively healthy to boot. (The one in VJF contains cream cheese and soy creamer. Deliciously fatty – and a rare treat.)
For those who enjoy their cookbooks peppered with food photography, AVK includes an eight-page insert of glossy, full-color photos. I don’t personally find photos necessary – that’s what the internet is for – but the insert strategy is a nice compromise between cost and aesthetics, helping to keep prices down while still prettying things up a bit.
American Vegan Kitchen is a huge win in my book. If you *heart* comfort food, want to try slightly more healthy and/or vegan versions of the diner foods you enjoyed as a kid, or just plain find vegan food sketchy – nothing but lettuce and bird seed! – then you should definitely give AVK a try.
(Pssst! Start with Mom’s Apple Pie. You can never go wrong with pie!)
1. 2013-02-04 – AVK Apple Butterscotch Pie – 0004
2. 2013-01-12 – AVK Mediterranean Scramble – 0005
3. 2013-01-23 – AVK Italian Big Bowl – 0009
4. 2013-01-20 – AVK Margherita Pizza – 0003
5. 2013-02-03 – AVK Seitan & Herb Dumplings – 0007
6. 2013-01-18 – AVK Summer Waffles – 0002
7. Tofu Omelet from American Vegan Kitchen (0015)
8. 2013-01-17 – AVK Cheesy Mac & Greens – 0004
9. 2013-01-27 – AVK ‘Big Soup’ Minestrone – 0012 [square]
10. 2012-12-23 – AVK Spaghetti Pie – 0024
11. 2012-08-23 – Flapjacks from AVK – 0011
12. 2012-12-22 – AVK Stovetop Mac & Cheese – 0012
13. Taters & Strings from American Vegan Kitchen (0004)