Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I must admit that when I first flipped through Hannah Kaminsky’s latest book, I was a little skeptical, despite it’s enticing cover and photographs. Avocado in a pie? Basil in cookies? Olive oil ice cream?!? I was mildly terrified, but decided to be adventurous and chose 4 recipes to test – 3 adventurous ones and 1 safe one; just in case the rest failed. I went with the Avocado Creme Pie, Mexican Chocolate Creme Caramel, Sweet Basil Shortbread Cookies, and my safe choice was the Marbled Chocolate and Zucchini Bread. I lined up several recipe testers: my friends Dan & Amy, Nick, our roommate, Tyler, and, of course, myself  and spent a weekend baking.

Avocado Creme Pie

I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The Avocado Creme Pie was cool and creamy and the avocado flavor wasn’t overwhelming (which was a plus in my book, because I’m not a huge avocado fan so I only eat it in small doses), the Mexican Chocolate Creme Caramel was incredibly rich, the Sweet Basil Shortbread Cookies were a unique twist on an old favorite and the Marbled Chocolate and Zucchini Bread was moist and absolutely delicious!

Sweet Basil Shortbread

I had all of my testers try every dessert, but the Mexican Chocolate Creme Caramel, because half of it was a failure and half of it came out great, so there wasn’t enough for everyone. The common consensus (3 out of 5) was that the Avocado Creme Pie was “Amazing!” Tyler was so into it he probably could have eaten the entire pie by himself! The second most popular item was the Marbled Chocolate and Zucchini Bread (recipe after the interview with Ms. Kaminsky!), which was my favorite. The Mexican Chocolate Creme Caramel was only tested by Nick and myself; we both thought it was rich and delicious, though a little grainy (perhaps I need to blend the tofu longer next time). The underdog was the Basil Shortbread Cookies, I enjoyed them, but no one else was a fan. I must admit I was forced to use dry basil in them because I couldn’t find any fresh basil anywhere, so they had a vague tea-like quality. I want to give them another chance and try them with fresh basil, like the author intended.

All of the recipes I chose were from the Spring section of Vegan Dessert: Sumptuous Sweets for Every Season. I can’t wait to try out recipes from the rest of the seasons. Summer includes recipes like Mean, Green Pistachio Ice Cream; Raspberry Cheesecake Popsicles (yum!); and Red, White and Blue Layer Cake. Autumn features favorite fruits and veggies of the season, like pumpkin and apples in recipes like, Candied Apple Cookies; Cranberry Custard Pie; Stuffed Cider Donuts and Pumpkin Butter Cookies! Winter includes Chestnut Muffins; Marzipan Tea Cake; Meringue Kisses (vegan meringue?!?); and Triple Ginger Cheesecake. Winter is followed by Components and Accompaniments, which includes recipes for Canine Cookies; Lady Fingers, Whipped Cream and more!

Ms. Kaminsky’s instructions are clear and concise and she uses ingredients that are fairly easy to find. All of the recipes are accompanied by stunning photographs that make your mouth water, taken by Ms. Kaminsky. The book includes an ingredients glossary, troubleshooting tips, a regular index and a food allergy index, which has the recipes broken up as gluten free, peanut free, soy free and tree nut free, which is very helpful. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking to break out of traditional baking and explore all of the flavors and tempting treats each season has to offer.  I was so happy with the results of my test that my curiosity was piqued, so I did a short interview with Hannah Kaminsky:

SCV: What inspired you to use ingredients more commonly found in savory cooking, like avocado and basil, in your baking?

HK: I think that there are so many wonderful flavors and ingredients that are simply underutilized when it comes to desserts. So many fruits and vegetables that we might not think of as “sweet” actually have very powerful sweet flavors when coaxed through cooking and seasoning properly. It seems a shame to overlook these unique tastes, just because they’re not as familiar! There’s also that ever-present sense of seasonality that I take with me into the pastry kitchen, that pushes me to use what I have and what’s at its prime in that moment, rather than reaching for the mealy apples from cold storage in summer for example.

SCV: This book focuses on the seasons. When it comes to baking, do you have a favorite season? Why?

HK: Now that’s an easy one: Summer! It seems like everything is ripe and delicious all at once, with an abundance of berries, stone fruits, and so many other delicious ingredients that are practically self-contained desserts withough any further tinkering necessary. Savory chefs get more excited about Spring, what with the wild greens and baby vegetables that it brings, but summer is the height of seasonal baking in my eyes.

SCV: You wrote your first cookbook (My Sweet Vegan) at an early age (she was in high school!) – how long have you been baking/cooking?

HK: It’s curious to look back through my blog archives, because it ended up unintentionally chronicling my journey as a baker. As I started sharing my sweet creations about 5 years back, I started getting more and more experimental, writing my own recipes and sharing the resulting successes and failures. I was never formally taught, so it’s been a great learning experience just through trial and error, and the feedback through the blog. Cooking is in my blood though; my mom and both grandmothers are quite accomplished cooks and even before I realized that food was my passion, I was working at a vegan/vegetarian restaurant, Health in a Hurry, at age 16. It was my first job…and I still have it actually! Now I’m helping develop recipes and consult on marketing more often, but I still throw down in the restaurant kitchen at least once or twice a week these days.

SCV: So far both of your cook books have focused on sweets, any plans to write a book focusing on savory recipes?

HK: No solid plans right now, but I’d certainly love to explore my savory side more sometime in the future! For the time being though, I do frequently post main dishes, sides, salads, soups – you name it – on my blog. You can get all of those recipes for free, too, so be sure to check out the recipe index at http://bittersweetblog.wordpress.com/recipes-a-z/

SCV: I couldn’t help but notice that you included a dog treat recipe. I have yet to bake for my dogs (Ian and Harlow), but can’t wait to try it. Do you have a furry friend? If so, what’s their favorite treat?

HK: Yes, I make a point to always include at least one treat for our canine friends in each of my cookbooks! My constant companion is Isis, a sweet little Basenji, who is always willing to “help” clean up my edible messes, so it seems only fair that I reward her with a little something special every now and then. She’s not terribly picky, but some of her favorite morsels are actually cucumbers – stems, peels, pieces, anything! I guess I’m lucky she has such healthy preferences.

Marbled Chocolate and Zucchini Bread

6 Tbsp Non-Dairy Margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup Dark Brown Sugar, packed
1 2/3 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/4 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 cups Shredded Zucchini (2 small zucchinis did the trick)
3/4 cup Non-Dairy Milk (I used almond)
1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract (I used Frontier’s non-alcoholic vanilla)
1/4 cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate (I used Whole Food’s brand regular sized vegan chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

With your stand mixer, cream the margarine and both sugars together thoroughly. Mix together the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and cinammon in a separate bowl. Slowly add in the dry mix, giving the mixer time to catch up and incorporate the new ingredients. Mix until mostly smooth, but don’t go crazy and overdo it; a few lumps are just fine. Squeeze the shredded zucchini lightly to remove some of the excess water, and add that in along with the soymilk, vinegar and vanilla.
Divide the batter, pouring half into a separate bowl. Add cocoa powder and chocolate chips to one half and mix so that it’s smooth and homogeneous. Add alternate dollops of the plain and chocolate batter into your prepared pan until both are used up, and then run a spatula through the whole thing to lightly marble the two together.
Bake until wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out and moving to a wire rack.

Makes 10-12 servings.

Vegan Desserts: Sumptuous Sweets for Every Season
By Hannah Kaminsky
Skyhorse Publishing Hardcover
On Sale: May 20, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61608-220-8
Price: $17.95


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The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur contains 140 recipes that range from simple everyday cookies to fancy special occasion cookies. The book is broken up into 13 Chapters (How to Be a Cookie Connoisseur, Cookies Inspired by Drinks, Totally Nuts and Seeds!, Blissfully Chocolate Cookies, No Bakes, DIY Versions of Mass Produced Cookies, Fruity Cookies, Bar Cookies, A Take on Tradition, Healthier Cookies and Baking for Specific Needs, Nostalgia: Everyones Favorite Cookies, Cookies You Would Find at a Tea Party, and, Decorating: Ideas and Recipes for Homemade Cookie Fixin’s). The book also includes an index and a conversion chart.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I received this book. I was hoping for new and exciting recipes, but expecting to be disappointed with unimaginative recipes. I didn’t know anything about the author. All I knew was that I’ve seen a lot of vegan dessert books lately and while they all contain some tasty looking recipes, they aren’t anything that hooks me and I don’t feel like I need them for my collection. The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, however, was a pleasant and exciting surprise. Though I received this book for review, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have purchased it had I seen it on the shelves of my local book store.
The photographs are inviting and while some ground is retread, there are a lot of new recipes that I was very excited to try. It seemed like every other page made me want to crack out my mixing bowls and measuring cups in order to get baking. Among the must-try recipes are: Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies, Root Beer Float Cookies, Vanilla Wafer Cookies (the Nabisco Vanilla Wafers were my favorite cookies as a kid!), Graham Crackers, English Toffee Squares, Peanut Butter Cups & more!
The first cookies I tried out of the book were the Giant Bakery-Style Double Chocolate Cookies, which weren’t quite as chocolaty as I’d hoped, but they were still good and the Jam Kolaches (another childhood favorite – see recipe below). I could eat Miss Peloza’s Jam Kolaches everyday. I made them with three different types of jam: strawberry, black cherry, and apricot. I even made some for my friend, Ralph as a birthday gift and shared the extras with the guests at his party and they were a hit!
I was impressed when I found out that Miss Peloza is merely a college student studying art in Milwaukee, WI. Being a published author at 19 is quite the accomplishment!
Aside from containing a bevy of tempting recipes, The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, also contains helpful tips and inforation, like ways in which variations can be made to recipes, how to bake for people with allergies, tips on baking with a toaster oven and more. Miss Peloza’s instructions are clear, the recipes are easy to make and so far every recipe I’ve made hasn’t contained any ingredients which are hard to find, which is always a plus in my book. So if you’re a cookie lover (and really, who isn’t?) make sure to pick up The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur this winter.

Kelly Peloza is also the author of the Vegan Cookzine Vegan Candyland and writes the blogs: Vegan Cookies and Seitan Beats Your Meat.

Jam Kolaches – from The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur (p. 180-181)

1/2 cup margarine
3 ounces (a heaping 1/3 cup) vegan cream cheese
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup jam, any flavor
About 1/4 powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 F

Beat together the margarine and cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Sift in the flour and stir until incorporated. Don’t mix too much or the dough might be a bit gummy.
Roll the dough 1/8-inch thick on a floured counter (if you’re having trouble with the dough being sticky, pop it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.)
Cut 2-inch circles out of the dough with a glass, cup or cookie cutter with a 2-inch diameter. If you can’t find anything, a knife works fine, too, but it’s a little more time-consuming.
Plop a heaping 1/4 teaspoon jam in the center of each circle. It’s tempting to add more, but it will melt all over the cookie and onto the tray when baked (personal experice!).
Fold two opposite sides of each cookie to the middle so that the edges touch. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until firm, then remove from the oven and sprinkle with the powdered sugar, preferably using a sifter to make them look pretty.
Transfer to cooling rack and eat!

The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur
By Kelly Peloza
Skyhorse Publishing
November 2010
ISBN: 9781616081218
Price: $17.95

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Melisser Elliott, founder of Sugar Beat Sweets and Urban Housewife author’s recent book, The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life, is a must read for every girl looking to live a cruelty free life.

When I first received the book I was a bit surprised by it’s size. I was expecting a larger tome, but I was pleasantly surprised upon cracking the cover. Ms. Elliott has compiled a plethora of information for the 21st century vegan girl which is clear, concise, aesthetically appealing and entertaining.

The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life covers everything from the basic to the complex. The book is broken down into 7 chapters: Understanding What Vegan Is (And Isn’t), Nutrition, Vegan Living, Shopping Like a Vegan When You’re Not Buying Food, Vegan Food, Get Started in the Kitchen: Recipes and Do It Yourself! Short profiles of ordinary vegans and not so ordinary vegans are sprinkled throughout the book. Among the not so ordinary are Chicago’s very own, Leanne Mai-Ly Hilgart of Vaute Couture, and Laviyah of Ste Martaen, as well as several other prominent vegan business women.

Elliott begins the book by describing how she became a vegan, before she goes into veganism basics. Unless you’re new to veganism you can probably skip the first chapter which is filled with facts and myth debunking. If you’re a seasoned vegan you can probably also skip the second chapter, which covers nutrition, however, if you’re newer to veganism, like myself, you’ll find it’s a nice refresher (I find having occasional reminders about nutrition helps me stay on the right track, kind of like going to the dentist twice a year reminds me why I have to floss – even if it is kind of a pain). The third chapter covers everything from fielding questions about your choices to eating out/traveling to getting a 100% vegan tattoo (I knew most inks weren’t vegan, which is why I haven’t been inked yet, but now I’ll be ready if/when I decide to go for it)! “Shopping Like a Vegan When You’re Not Buying Food” (Ch. 4) was by far my favorite chapter. I learned about so many companies that offer vegan products without having to search/sift through the internet for hours. The chapter covers clothing, beauty products (Top 10 Lists by both Elliott and Sunny Subramanian, editor of Vegan Beauty Review), feminine products, cleaning products, and condoms/birth control (however, the book is short, so don’t expect to find info on everything, though it comes close!). Chapters 5 & 6 cover food, the former offers tips on stocking your kitchen & pantry, non-vegan ingredients to watch out for, vegan substitutes and cooking tips, while the latter offers a wide variety of recipes, including contributions from authors, Kelly Peloza (The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur) and Terry Hope Romero (Viva Vegan!, Veganomicon, etc.). Ms. Elliott closes the book with a chapter called, “Do It Yourself!”, I felt some of the information was a bit superfluous (but fun), like the crafts she includes. However, some of the sections within the final chapter were very informative, like the gardening section and the knitting/crochet section (knitting warm vegan items is possible despite what wool purists might tell you).

My only complaints about The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life are the book’s lack of an index and the ordinary vegan girls’ profiles. Almost everyone profiled has a blog or website listed, unfortunately, some of these links are no longer active. Also, though it was cool to see the similarities and differences between vegans, the profiles would’ve been more relevant to would-be-vegans & current vegans if they contained recommendations or tips, as opposed to the “Funniest Vegan Moment” sections, as many of these weren’t funny. That being said, I found many of the noteworthy vegan girl’s profiles to be very inspiring.

So whether you’re a seasoned vegan, an aspiring vegan or simply curious about the vegan lifestyle, you should check out The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life.

The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life
By Melisser Elliott
Skyhorse Publishing
November 2010
ISBN: 9781616080922
Price: $16.95

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