Cookbook Review: Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Cafe, Joy Pierson, Angel Ramos, and Jorge Pineda (2014)

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

A Celebration of Vegan Food

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through the Blogging for Books program.)

As with many renowned vegan eateries, NYC’s Candle Café is a restaurant I’ve coveted from afar, salivating over the many mouth-watering dishes photographed, enjoyed, and shared by vegan friends and acquaintances on Instagram, tumblr, and other social media outlets. (I have five dogs who I love to pieces – but they kind of put a damper on my travel plans.) Luckily, the burgeoning vegan cookbook market – and the increasing number of cookbooks released by popular vegan restaurants, such as Candle Café, The Chicago Vegan Diner, and Jivamuktea Café – has made it possible to enjoy even the most upscale menus from the comfort of your own kitchen. Hasta la vista, age of vicarious living!

Candle Café ups the ante with Vegan Holiday Cooking, a special cookbook chock full of holiday-themed menus. While this isn’t the first vegan holiday cookbook on the market (there’s also Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas and Susan Voisin, as well as Zel Allen’s Vegan for the Holidays), Vegan Holiday Cooking is unique in its focus: rather than concentrating solely on the “big” holiday season – Thanksgiving through New Year’s – Pierson, Ramos, and Pineda extend their celebration across the calendar.

The book includes ten menus for a variety of occasions, including the Super Bowl; the Lunar New Year; Valentine’s Day; Passover; Easter; Cinco de Mayo; the Fourth of July; Thanksgiving; Christmas; and New Year’s Eve. Each menu receives roughly the same amount of attention – the 4th of July and Christmas both merit 18 pages of coverage! – resulting in a holiday cookbook with great depth and variety.

(More below the fold…)

Candle Cafe’s Snowball Cookies

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

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Baked goods are always a little risky for me – cookies especially, which is tragic because I love them SO MUCH – which is why I usually stick to tried and true cookbooks. (See, e.g., Kelly Peloza’s The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, which I really should review one of these years.) But the Snowball Cookies in Vegan Holiday Cooking looked so tempting that I just couldn’t help myself. Caution, meet wind.

The results are a little mixed. While the cookies themselves are pretty easy to make and taste amazing, the chocolate icing (? ganache? glaze?) proved a bit of a mess. It was thin and runny and didn’t set on the cookies AT ALL, even after fifteen minutes in the fridge. Plus the recipe made at least three times more chocolate than was necessary, and now I’m stuck with an entire pint of extra chocolate sauce. Not the worst problem, but still.

In the end I added about 1/4 cup of cornstarch to thick the sauce up; while it still transformed the cookies into a sticky mess, it was much more manageable (and tastier) than the previous wet mess that was the test cookie. Next time I’ll probably just skip the recommended sauce altogether and use a magic chocolate shell or some kind of chocolate (or not! the eggnog flavor from The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur would go great on snowballs!) icing instead.

Candle Cafe’s Wheat Ball Heroes – and a Pita Pizza!

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

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I’m pretty sure I don’t eat enough sandwiches. Or at least not compared to my high school years. I used to have a sammie a day, like clockwork, and now I’m lucky if I make one or two a month. Adulthood, man. (On the plus side, I eat so much pizza and ice cream that my mom would be appalled if she knew. IF ONLY.)

I decided to rectify this oversight with the Wheat Ball Heroes from Vegan Holiday Cooking – one of the last recipes I’ll try before finally getting around to a review! (Just in time for the holidays, yay!) The recipe involves making both your own wheat balls and marinara sauce from scratch, but seeing as I had a bunch of homemade sauce in the freezer, I took a bit of a shortcut there. fwiw, the Candle Cafe’s marinara sauce recipe looks pretty solid; I’m sure it’s delish.

As for the wheat balls, they’re really tasty, but also rather troublesome. They’re made of seitan (homemade, using the Simple Simmered Seitan recipe from Vegan on the Cheap!),

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fried onions and garlic, bread crumbs, and assorted seasonings. After mixing the batter in the food processor, it turns into a crumbly mixture, which you’re supposed to form into little balls and bake. The dough didn’t hold together quite as well as I hoped, even after adding a little extra oil and a splash of water. Some balls took multiple tries, and still imploded while in the oven. To wit:

(More below the fold…)

Candle Cafe’s Sweet Potato and Apricot Tzimmes

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

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Orange food is orangey!

With carrots, sweet potatoes, dried apricots, orange juice, and orange peel, among other things. (Namely cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice, with a little extra cinnamon sugar for sprinkling.) Boil, bake, bada bing, bada boom.

Actually I think the boiling is overkill; the carrots and sweet potatoes were so tender after ten minutes on the stove top that I wasn’t sure that they’d hold up to 30 minutes of baking, too. Probably you could jack the temp up from 350F a bit and bake them a little longer in lieu of boiling?

Also, I wonder if maybe I overdid it with the carrots and sweet potatoes; I used the correct amount of each (six and four), but there was no way the recommended ten cups of water would have covered them all for boiling! I used at least three times that much. They barely fit in my 9″x12″ baking pan!

Anyway, the result is super-tasty and a nice departure from my normal side dish routine. Plus they made my house smell heavenly while they were baking, so that’s good too.

Candle Cafe’s Potato Gratin

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

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I’d say that these Potatoes Gratin from Vegan Holiday Cooking are kickin’ it, but it’s hard to go wrong with potatoes and cheese. Like, next to impossible.

So this is a fairly standard recipe as far as Potato Gratin goes – though I guess it’s been awhile since I made it, so grain of salt. Thinly sliced potatoes are layered with mozzarella Daiya cheese, topped with breadcrumbs, and kept moist with soy milk seasoned with chives, parsley, salt, and pepper. During baking, the cheese melds with the soy milk to create a wonderfully creamy mozzarella sauce.

Since I wasn’t sure how many layers of potatoes I would end up with, it proved difficult to evenly distribute the two cups of cheese throughout the dish. In the end I underestimated and only used about a cup of cheese. Though I still think two full cups is maybe a little excessive (blasphemy!), my potatoes could’ve used more cheese. Maybe next time I’ll shoot for a cup and a half?

The only thing I didn’t like about this recipe were the breadcrumbs. Or rather, the bottom layer of breadcrumbs, which became gummy and adhered to the bottom of the pan during baking. Even Peedee, after an hour of frantic licking, couldn’t dislodge all the chunks. If you’re trying this recipe, definitely throw all the breadcrumbs on the top – and broil the dish before serving for extra golden crispy good measure!

Candle Cafe’s Quinoa Vegetable Cakes

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

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I’m a sucker for homemade veggie patties, and the Quinoa Vegetable Cakes from Vegan Holiday Cooking are among the tastiest I’ve ever had! Technically they’re a “cake,” not a burger, but they’re pretty much the perfect size for slapping between two slices of bread, so there you go.

The batter is a mix of quinoa, onions, carrots, and red peppers, half of which you blend into a mash using a food processor (resulting in the burgers’ psychedelic neon orange color). Add breadcrumbs, shape into patties, and bake!

The primary spice is cilantro, which made me a little nervous; I’m not the biggest fan (tastes like soap!). To my surprise, the cilantro isn’t at all overwhelming, and actually adds a rather nice flavor to the finished patties.

You’re supposed to bake these bad girls at 350F for ten minutes, after which time they should be nice and crispy. Mine weren’t, even after twenty minutes in the oven, so I cranked the heat up to 400F to get the job done: about ten minutes on each side. (The recipe also doesn’t say anything about flipping, but that’s the only way I could get both sides nice and crispy.) The next time I make these, I’ll go right to 400 degrees; ten to fifteen minutes on each side ought to do it.

These are freaking amazing when served with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, mustard, and Vegenaise (pictured above) – and even better when you swap out the fresh vettable topping from friend onions and mushrooms. YUM.

Sweet Potato Latke Fail!

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

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After a pretty respectable streak in the kitchen, I encountered an epic fail with the most unlikely of suspects: latkes, which don’t usually prove much of a challenge at all. The Sweet Potato Latkes from Vegan Holiday Cooking – a 50/50 blend of shredded sweet and russet potatoes that looks so amazing in the gourmet food photo from the cookbook – came out more like hash browns. These guys could not hold a patty shape to save their lives. Like, not even close. I put a ball of batter in my palm to flatten it out, and it just crumbled everywhere. Not to mention, they didn’t even rival the neon orange color of the latkes pictured in the book.

Not wishing to waste four potatoes (or all the effort spent grating them), I did the obvious thing: made them into baked hash browns! Basically I followed the alt. baking instructions, adding about 15 minutes to the recommended bake time. Since I needed two cookie sheets to hold all the potatoes, I tried a little experiment: the first cookie sheet I lined with parchment paper, while I lightly sprayed the other with Pam. The results? Nearly identical. Go figure.

You’re supposed to top the mini latkes with a dab o’ almond creme fraiche – but, seeing as the recipe is so similar to the one featured in the Roasted Squash Soup – i.e., the one that already didn’t work for me once – I skipped it altogether. Good thing, since there were no latkes in need of garnishing after all!

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For what it’s worth, the leftover potatoes made a wonderful add-in for a tofu scramble. Pictured above is a scramble with mushrooms, onions, red peppers, tomatoes, and about a cup of hash browns (fried separately for maximum crispiness). So good, I’m not even 100% sure I can call this a fail.

Candle Cafe’s Roasted Cauliflower and Fennel Soup

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

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Another hella tasty soup from Vegan Holiday Cooking! The title’s pretty self-explanatory: the base consists of roasted cauliflower (2 heads) seasoned with fennel (3 bulbs). Simply roast the cauliflower and fennel, then cook it with the soup stock for bit; blend and serve! I couldn’t find any fennel bulbs locally, so I used a mix of dried fennel seeds and ground fennel instead: 2 teaspoons of seeds and 1 teaspooon ground fennel.

If you want to be extra-fancy, you can serve it with truffle oil to garnish.

Candle Cafe’s Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Tofu Dumplings Potato Gnocchi

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

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This might be my all-time favorite soup, you guys. AND I FREAKING LOVE SOUP! It’s like Candle Cafe’s roasted red pepper pasta sauce, but drinkable!

So there are four roasted red peppers in this bad girl, along with corn (I didn’t have any peas, so I doubled up), leeks (or scallions, in my case), onions, veggie stock, and basil. The recipe includes instructions for making your own tofu dumplings by hand, but I took a shortcut by using premade potato gnocchi instead. It turned out aces.

I’m not gonna lie; after my last red pepper fiasco, I was a little nervous about roasting my own, even if my method had served me well up until last week. But I seeded and sliced the peppers as usual, divided the slices between two glass baking pans, drizzled them with about a tablespoon of olive oil each, and then roasted at 425F for about 40 minutes. The skins? Peeled right off. Smooth as silk! Or whatever the vegan equivalent is. Satin, maybe?

I reused the roasting oils – now infused with sweet peppery goodness – in the soup. Zero waste! (I even left the skins to the insects outside.)

Candle Cafe’s Make Your Own Chili Bowl

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

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So this make-your-own chili bowl is from the “Super Bowl Big-Game Party” menu in Vegan Holiday Cooking (hey! that’s not a holiday!), but I made it for the last game of the World Series. (Yes, my queue is that far behind. VeganMoFo, you do it to me every year!) Personally, I think it goes well with any sports (Channeling my inner Mitchell here.), a sentient with which Shane heartily agreed,

Anyway, it’s really easy to make – just a whole lot of chopping and simmering really – and Candle Cafe offers a bunch of topping ideas. I mixed some Tofutti sour cream with chives, stirred it into my chili, and garnished it with tortilla chips. (Okay, so maybe “garnished” is an understatement.) So good, and the abundance of lentils is pretty chill on my stomach.

Candle Cafe’s Homemade Pappardelle with Spinach, Portabello Mushrooms, and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

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Confession time: I did not make this pasta from scratch! I am way too lazy for that. However, the roasted red pepper sauce is homemade (do they even sell such a thing in stores?), and furthermore I roasted and peeled the peppers all by my little lonesome. And it took forever, I might add!

Usually I seed and slice them prior to roasting, which is always in olive oil and a glass baking dish. (The olive oil is awesome for reuse in pasta dishes, since it’s infused with pepper juices!) With this method, the peels practically fall off the roasted pepper slices.

This recipe instructed me to spray the whole peppers in Pam, roast them, and then seed, slice, and peel. Instead I compromised by seeding and slicing them, spraying them lightly with Pam, roasting them, and then peeling them once cool. Or at least I tried to: after 40 minutes in the oven, the edges had crisped up so much that the skins were basically melded onto the peppers. It took me 45 minutes and much finagling just to peel half of them! After that I tried a Hail Mary: I roasted them a second time in olive oil, like I would normally. That helped to loosen the skins from the edges a bit, but it was still a struggle to get them all off. Never again! From now on it’s olive oil for this girl and her peppers. (Though I’m sure the other method would have worked well too. Or at least better than the weird Frankenstein process I came up with.)

ANYWAY. The resulting sauce was crazy delicious. I threw some cornstarch in there to thicken things up, but otherwise I followed the recipe to a T. As for the spinach/mushroom mix, I did include spinach but chose not to cook it. (Wilty greens, ew!)

SO GOOD. I need to make red pepper sauce more often, y’all.

Candle Cafe’s Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Almond Cream and Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

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My very first dish from Vegan Holiday Cooking! I decided to make it a practical one, so I chose a recipe that requires two of my current arch nemeses (butternut squash and apples, which are conspiring to make my fridge/freezer burst open at the seams). Seasoned with cinnamon, sage, rosemary, and chile powder, this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup is topped with an almond cream, as well as pumpkin seeds toasted with lemon juice and cinnamon.

The soup is hella tasty and easy to make; no problems there. The almond cream was a little trickier; mine didn’t get terribly creamy and didn’t look much like that in the fancy gourmet food photo. Actually the difference in aesthetics isn’t terribly surprising; my almonds had their skins intact, hence the variation in color. But it also seemed a little heavier that Candle Cafe’s version, even with extra water added. When I plopped a little into the soup using an ice cream scoop, it just sank right to the bottom, with only a tiny bit staying afloat. Kind of like an iceberg! It still tasted great, though; ultimately I just blended the unused cream with the leftover soup and enjoyed them as one. Why use two containers when one will suffice?

Also, you might notice that those are not pumpkin seeds perched atop the almond cream. Right you are! I didn’t have any, so I subbed in pecans instead. I think they worked just as well.

My to-do list for Vegan Holiday Cooking is more than a dozen items long, so stay tuned for more!

Mini-Review: Candle Café’s Vegan Holiday Cooking

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

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As with many renowned vegan eateries, NYC’s Candle Café is a restaurant I’ve coveted from afar, salivating over the many mouth-watering dishes photographed, enjoyed, and shared by vegan friends and acquaintances on Instagram, tumblr, and other social media outlets. (I have five dogs who I love to pieces – but they kind of put a damper on my travel plans.) Luckily, the burgeoning vegan cookbook market – and the increasing number of cookbooks released by popular vegan restaurants, such as Candle Café, The Chicago Vegan Diner, and Jivamuktea Café – has made it possible to enjoy even the most upscale menus from the comfort of your own kitchen. Hasta la vista, age of vicarious living!

Candle Café ups the ante with Vegan Holiday Cooking, a special cookbook chock full of holiday-themed menus. While this isn’t the first vegan holiday cookbook on the market (there’s also Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas and Susan Voisin, as well as Zel Allen’s Vegan for the Holidays), Vegan Holiday Cooking is unique in its focus: rather than concentrating solely on the “big” holiday season – Thanksgiving through New Year’s – Pierson, Ramos, and Pineda extend their celebration across the calendar.

(More below the fold…)