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

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

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:

(More below the fold…)

Big Boat Banana Bread

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

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

Banana bread is pretty much my favorite use for overripe bananas – except MAYBE for banana bread banana ice cream! – so when I saw the Big Boat Banana Bread in Cookin’ Up a Storm, I knew it was just a matter of time before I tried it. Time to remember to pick up a bunch of bananas, wait for them to properly brown – while also not eating them in the interim – and then bake ’em instead of slicing ’em up for future ice cream. It took me at least three tries before I got it right, you guys. The instinct to turn ALL THE BANANAS into ice cream is strong.

The end result turned out quite tasty, though procuring bananas wasn’t the only misstep I encountered along the way. Exhibit B: The recommended bake time for this bread, which is 25 to 30 minutes. Considering that banana bread normally takes ~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. (You can kinda sorta see what I’m talking about in the last picture.)

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.

2015-07-28 - SeaShep BB Banana Bread - 0001 [flickr]

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.

2015-07-28 - SeaShep BB Banana Bread - 0002 [flickr]

The center seemed to firm up a bit overnight, and it only got better when toasted. I reheated a slice in the toaster oven – about ten minutes at 350F – and it seemed a little closer to done after that. A little pat of margarine added with an extra minute to melt it = pure bliss. And a thick slice is actually hearty enough that it filled me up for an entire meal.

There’s a second recipe (Chocolate-Banana Fudge Cake) utilizing brown bananas that I’m curious to try, but I don’t know if I’ll get to it before writing a review. It took me a month just to get the bananas together for this recipe!

Scramble at Sea

Friday, July 17th, 2015

2015-07-13 - Sea Shep Scramble & Hash - 0006 [flickr]

I’ve been so lax with the cookbook reviews, you guys! I haven’t been cooking much these days, and when I do it’s so flipping hot that I just wanna make (and eat, and rub my naked body all over) ice cream. (Sorry for the visuals.) Luckily I only have a few more recipes I’d like to try before reviewing Laura Dakin’s Cookin’ Up a Storm – so the finish line (the land?) is at least in sight.

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.

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

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]

The Hot and Hearty Hash Browns were a little less of a success, I’m afraid. I’m almost never able to fry diced potatoes in a skillet; they always end up dry and mushy and not at all browned or crispy. I know it can be done; I watched my mom do it ~once a week FOR YEARS. I just seem incapable of mastering the skill. Or maybe it’s time to update my cookware? idk. Until then, I’ll stick to the oven (toss with olive oil and bake on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper for 30-40 minutes).

Anyway, I followed the recipe as written even though I knew it was a fool’s errand. The result wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.

Also, the recipe calls for five potatoes; I reduced it to two and still had trouble fitting everything in my largest non-stick skillet. I don’t know how anyone without an industrial-sized stove could fry that many potatoes at once.

Next time I’ll probably bake the potatoes and fry the other goodies (red onions and spices) on the stovetop and combine before serving. More dishes but fewer tears.

Apple and Potato Oven Fries

Monday, June 29th, 2015

2015-06-26 - Sea Shep Apple & Potato Fries - 0003 [flickr]

From Cookin’ Up a Storm, natch.

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.

The recipe calls for five potatoes and two apples, giving it an almost 2:1 potato:apple ratio. Since that serves way more than two people – plus generates more potato and apple wedges than will even fit in my dinky little oven – I halved it, kind of. Two large potatoes, one apple. So a true 2:1 here.

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!

Served with leftover pizza for minimum effort. (Hey, we’d just gotten back from walking the dogs, okay.)

Lovely Lemon-Garlic Green Beans: The Name Does Not Lie

Monday, June 8th, 2015

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

I made a double batch of the Lovely Lemon-Garlic Green Beans from Cookin’ Up a Storm to go with some leftover pasta (nothing fancy, just a tomato-red pepper-red lentil sauce; simple but good). The name? Pretty spot on. 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.

Mess O’ Pancakes (at Sea!)

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

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

The Mess O’ Pancakes from Cookin’ Up a Storm – seen here topped with maple syrup and toasted pecans – were not my favorite. Which isn’t a total surprise, because those Perfect Pancakes from Vegan Brunch? Tough to beat.

These gals were super-thin, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s a nice deviation from ye ole fluffy stack of pancakes. Weirdly enough, though, the insides didn’t quite bake all the way through. Needless to say, I was not expecting that.

And that concludes the shortest post ever.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

2015-05-02 - CUS Red Pepper & Tomato - 0002 [flickr]

As we’ve already established, I love roasted red peppers, and adore soup; put them together, and I damn near have an excitement aneurism. So this soup and me? Well, we were made to be. Almost. But we’ll get to that.

With three red peppers, three yellow peppers (which I had to swap out for more red peppers, due to lack of availability), eight tomatoes, and an onion, this bad girl is bursting with roasted veggies. So much so that I almost couldn’t fit them all in a pan for roasting, even after eliminating the chiles (I’m a baby, you knew this already) and subbing in canned Roma tomatoes (the fresh ones? currently out of season and flavorless). To wit:

2015-05-02 - CUS Red Pepper & Tomato - 0001 [flickr]

You only roast the veggies for twenty minutes, which is 1/2 to 1/3 of the total amount of time I usually take to bake roasted peppers. After just twenty minutes, the skins aren’t yet ready to peel away – and they don’t need to, since this recipe doesn’t require you to skin the peppers.

You guys, I was skeptical.

I really, really hate loose pepper skins, even more than I hate hand-skinning roasted peppers. But I wanted to follow the recipe as closely as possible, so I swallowed my doubt and DID NOT SKIN THE PEPPERS. Also, I can’t lie, it was hot and I was feeling lazy. Since you blend the whole shebang anyway, I was hoping/praying that the skins would mostly be pulverized into unassuming bits.

And they were, mostly. The operative word being “mostly.” There’s no doubt in my mind that the finished soup would’ve been much creamier had I roasted the peppers separately and then skinned them afterwards. That said, for the most part the skins weren’t terribly noticeable. A few times I had to stop and spit out an especially sizable piece (impeccable manners over here), but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared.

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

But. When I mixed some corn and gnocchi into the leftovers for a heartier meal, the pepper skins became much less noticeable. So there’s that. Only skin the peppers if you’ve got your heart set on a creamy, smooth-as-silk soup, I guess.

Otherwise this soup was to die for. Or not, you know what I mean. Very similar to Candle Cafe’s Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Tofu Dumplings, just minus the dumplings and with double the peppers. Actually, in my write-up of that recipe, I raved that the soup was similar to their roasted red pepper pasta sauce, “but drinkable!” Since Dankin’s version also has tomatoes, I imagine this one’s even more on point.

All the stars.

Cookin’ Up a Storm with Laura Dakin – and Red Lentil, Lemon, and Rosemary Soup!

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

2015-04-25 - Cookin' Up a Storm - 0001 [flickr]

I don’t think it arrived in time to make it into my last Stacking the Shelves post, but I recently received a copy of Laura Dakin’s Cookin’ Up a Storm: Sea Stories and Vegan Recipes from Sea Shepherd’s Anti-Whaling Campaigns for review. (Thank you, Goodreads & Book Publishing Company!)

Initial thoughts: 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. Given that excess moisture can put a damper on scrambles, I’m really curious to see how this one turns out.

Also on my radar: the Vegetable Crumble (I’ve tried a million fruit crumbles, but not a single veggie-based one!); Sailor’s Delight Sausages (that’ll be Shane’s job, he’s the seitan man in our house); Rockin’ the Boat Risotto; Lemon-Garlic Green Beans; Boatload of Butternut Caponata; Big Boat Banana Bread; and the Apple and Potato Oven Fries. Oh, and all the breakfast foods, of course.

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.

The cookbook isn’t terribly 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.)

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

So. The first recipe on deck: Red Lentil, Lemon, and Rosemary Soup. Mostly because it’s super-easy to make and I already had all the ingredients on hand. Also, I love soup.

And I loved this soup! It’s hearty, comes together in a snap, doesn’t require very many ingredients (and nothing that demands much prep), and the pairing of lemon and rosemary is THE BEST. I’ll definitely be making this one again.

2015-05-01 - CUS Red Lentil & Lemon Soup - 0003 [flickr]