Cookbook Review: Cookin’ Up a Storm, Laura Dakin (2015)

January 20th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Vegan Eats with a Side of Direct Action

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program.)

Laura Dakin runs the galley on the Steve Irwin, one of Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling vessels. In Cookin’ Up a Storm, Dakin shares her culinary secrets, as well as humorous and informative accounts of a life spent at sea, protecting whales, seals, turtles, sharks, and dolphins.

If you’re saying to yourself that I own more than enough cookbooks by now, you’re probably right. Totally right actually. But I just can’t help myself! Also, Cookin’ Up a Storm is unlike any other vegan cookbook I’ve seen, in that it’s as much a chronicle of Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling campaigns as it is a cookbook. There are tons of photos of marine life; interviews with the crew; sailing terminology; and a glimpse of everyday life on board the Steve Irwin.

These recipes are eighty of Dakin’s favorites, which she regularly dishes up for a crew of fifty, using items that can easily be stored in the ship’s pantry. This makes for some interesting sea-faring substitutions; for example, the obligatory tofu scramble swaps out refrigerated tofu for shelf-stable silken tofu. (Excess moisture can put a damper on scrambles, but here it makes for an unusual scramble that’s similar in consistency to egg salad.)

The cookbook is divided into seven parts, with sections dedicated to morning starters; soups; mains; salads and sides; sauces, spreads, and condiments; breads; and sweets and treats. From a warm and cozy Sea Shepherd’s Pie to meaty Sailors’ Delight Sausages and savory Boatload of Butternut Caponata, Dakin’s got her crew covered.

In case you hadn’t caught on, many of the recipes have nautical and/or activist-inspired names, which is kind of fun and furthers the “eating at sea” theme.

In preparation for this review, I tried the following recipes:

2015-05-01 - CUS Red Lentil & Lemon Soup - 0002 [flickr]

  • Red Lentil, Lemon, and Rosemary Soup

    Over the past eight months (who me, procrastinate much?), this has become a favorite last-minute meal option. With just a few ingredients – all of them pantry staples – it’s a snap to whip up. The rosemary nicely complements the lemon, and the red lentils cook down to make a deliciously creamy soup. It’s also pretty great with a pound of cauliflower (adjust your spices accordingly), which adds a little chunkiness if added in the last 15-20 minutes of cooking. Or swap out 1/4 cup of the lentils for quinoa for a slightly chewier meal.

  • 2015-05-02 - CUS Red Pepper & Tomato - 0003 [flickr]

  • Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

    This isn’t the first red pepper/tomato soup I’ve tried, but it is my least favorite – mainly because Dakin has us under-roast the peppers (20 minutes vs. the hour I usually leave them in for) and skips the very necessary step of removing the skins afterwards. During blending, the skins never break down fully, making a truly creamy soup the stuff of dreams.

    Granted, I understand why Dakin wouldn’t bother hand-peeling each pepper when cooking for dozens of people; the trade-off just isn’t worth it. But she should have at least included it as an option in the recipe, maybe even as a side note.

    Side note: Adding something chunky, like frozen corn or gnocchi, to the finished soup will help draw attention away from the remaining pepper skins.

    See? Easy peasy!

    Otherwise, this soup is amazing. Red peppers rock my world.

  • 2015-05-23 - Sea Shep Mess O' Pancakes - 0004 [flickr]

  • Mess O’ Pancakes

    “Mess” is an appropriate descriptor for these pancakes: they came out super-thin (yay!) but did not cook all the way through (boo!). Pancakes are about as simple as it gets; the only other time I’ve failed at pancakes was when making gluten-free pancakes from a paleo cookbook (double boo!). I have zero idea why things went sideways.

  • 2015-05-26 - Sea Shep Lemon-Garlic Beans - 0002 [flickr]

  • Lovely Lemon-Garlic Green Beans

    The name does not lie! These green beans are super-tasty and fairly easy to make, with tons of garlic; lemon juice and zest; and toasted almonds and sesame seeds. You’re supposed to use almond halves, but whole ones worked just fine for me.

    To minimize your dishes, toast the almonds and sesame seeds in the same pan you’re planning to use for the garlic. Then transfer them to a microwave-safe bowl for temporary storage, and reuse it later to cook the green beans. Bam! Done and done.

  • 2015-06-26 - Sea Shep Apple & Potato Fries - 0001 [flickr]

  • Apple and Potato Oven Fries

    I have to admit, at first I was a little skeptical of the pairing of apples and potatoes in a french fry medium. But it totally works! Sure, so maybe the apples get a little mushy when baked; but thanks to the sugar, the outsides caramelize a tiny bit. Not crunchy, exactly, but kind of french fry-ish.

    I wasn’t sure what to use for a dipping sauce – Dakin recommends lemon wedges to garnish, but I used concentrated lemon juice – so I put some ketchup on the side and only dunked the potato fries. The apples I ate semi-separately, kind of like a sweet kick in between the tomato-covered potatoes. It sounds weird but worked out really well!

  • 2015-07-13 - Sea Shep Scramble & Hash - 0002 [flickr]

  • Southern Ocean Scramble

    Of the eighty recipes in Cookin’ Up a Storm, I was most curious to try the Southern Ocean Scramble. Mostly I wanted to see how silken tofu would perform in a tofu scramble. Depending on the add-ins (mushrooms and tomatoes can really get you into trouble), I sometimes have an issue with excess moisture in my scrambles. No one likes soggy faux eggs, okay! Silken tofu seemed like it would present a special challenge on this front.

    While this scramble is a little wetter than I’m used to, overall I was pleasantly surprised with the results. It’s kind of like a cross between an egg salad and a scrambled egg – perfect for spreading on toast. On the downside, it does use a lot of oil (1/3 cup for two pounds tofu), which may be a deal breaker for some people.

    I still prefer regular tofu, but this recipe’s a great alternative for when you run out. Silken tofu usually comes in shelf-stable packaging, so it’s much easier to keep some on hand for ye ole rainy days.

  • 2015-07-13 - Sea Shep Scramble & Hash - 0004 [flickr]

  • Hot and Hearty Hash Browns

    These were kind of a disaster, but not unexpectedly so: I very rarely have good luck frying potatoes on the stove top, no matter what kind of cookware I use. From now on it’s the oven for me and my home fries.

  • 2015-07-26 - SeaShep BB Banana Bread - 0003 [flickr]

  • Big Boat Banana Bread

    This banana bread is pretty good (and a most excellent use of overripe bananas), but it does require a little tinkering. Exhibit A: The recommended bake time, which is 25 to 30 minutes. Considering that banana bread normally takes around an hour to bake, I had my doubts. Actually I thought it was a typo but whatever. I checked as directed at 25 and 30 minutes, and to no one’s surprise, the batter was still wiggly and jiggly – not even close to done. After that I let it go for a half hour and then started checking on it every ten minutes or so. Ultimately I let it bake for 90 MINUTES before the toothpick came out clean. Even then, the bottom quarter of the loaf remained a little undercooked, as I discovered when I cut it open.

    Also. This recipe makes enough batter to almost completely fill a 9″x5″ loaf pan. I wasn’t even sure it’d all fit! Anyway, it’s by far the thickest loaf I’ve ever made; I bet if I were to divide the batter between two loaf pans, it’d bake more quickly and evenly.

    On the plus side, I am hella glad I lined the pan with parchment paper as directed. I hate hate hate trying to cram and jam parchment paper into deep pans, but it totally paid off here. While the lower portion of the crust ended up thicker than normal, the paper kept it from burning outright.

    Also awesome: The topping, which is an even mix of brown sugar, rolled oats, and crushed almonds (I used almond meal/flour). Even if I never make this exact recipe again, I WILL carry the topping over to other banana breads.

    The bread itself is tasty enough, though a little plain; I think some walnuts or chocolate chips could work wonders with it.

  • Usually I try at least a dozen recipes before reviewing a cookbook, but I was dealing with some personal issues this summer that just sapped me of my will to cook. Also, to be honest, not too many of the recipes caught my eye. Many are either basic (I don’t consider myself a master chef by any means, but I’ve been vegan for almost ten years and vegetarian for nine years before that, so I do have some experience in the kitchen) or include little “twists” that are a turnoff (nori in my spaghetti? no thanks!). I’ll also admit that the early pancake failure wasn’t terribly encouraging; pancakes are like breakfast 101.

    The cookbook isn’t super thick, but it is gorgeous and a bit different from the usual. And given the difficulties of cooking at sea, the recipes are well-suited for beginning cooks; you won’t find any complicated, multi-step recipes or uncommon ingredients here. Give it to a non-vegan fan of Whale Wars for some guerrilla activism. (As Dakin notes, while Sea Shepherd isn’t an animal rights organization, it is one of the few environmental groups that recognizes the importance of a vegan diet in combating a whole host of environmental issues.)

    Overall, I give it three stars (“okay”) for the recipes; while I found a few new favorites (Red Lentil, Lemon, and Rosemary Soup; Southern Ocean Scramble), as well as tricks I might try elsewhere (the topping on the Big Boat Banana Bread), few of them really spoke to me.

    Four stars for the entertainment appeal and crossover potential. Cookin’ Up a Storm is a nice introduction to vegan cooking fans of Whale Wars, with a unique spin that ties in well with the show.

    Whip out your calculator and you’ll see that that averages out to 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 because more enviro groups need to get on board with veganism, okay.

    (This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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